The Trouble With The Specialized 29 x 2.6 Butcher and Cush Core
By Matthew George
New tires.... Always a struggle for me. I've been mountain biking for a long time, I've gone through this process many times. Two sets of tires a year hasn't been outside the norm recently, yet still I struggle. My indecisive nature is rooted in my desire for perfection, that balance that actually helps me perform best in my endeavor, the Goldie Locks zone. I try to be self critical, to make a honest attempt to look at myself how I'd look at someone else and address the strengths and weaknesses. This is where things get muddy. When I first moved to Colorado, I realized that nothing was going to change about my riding style, I like the techy stuff and I'll likely never be a super fast guy when the trail is anything but down. Colorado terrain quickly let me know that if I was going to continue my quest for tech, my older, steeper, 120mm bike was under gunned. I made the decision to promote my skills and get to know my new home, I bought a big travel 29er. What does all this have to do with tires? Everything really. Most people would say that the nuance in spec and parts is personal, I'd agree but note that it is equally situational. My current bike is set up to promote, improve and compliment my skills at technical terrain. I've gained climbing skills and fitness on this bike for sure but, most of those improvements still lie on the technical side. It isn't lost on me that I've put years into this technical path and seen great gains and that it might be time to let those ride while leaning my gear towards the things I need help with (like endurance and the non-technical side of climbing) but, my current bike isn't going to vastly help with those issues, regardless of what particular tire set up I use. At this point I've decided that I'll likely get a new bike at some point during the next riding season. It'll be lighter, might have a few pieces of plastic fantastic on it and will improve upon my weaknesses vs playing on my strengths, there's no reason to risk even a slight handicap on this bike while I have it. The strong possibility that my time with this bike is limited has given me some freedom to test a few things that I might have been timid about before. So, bring on some controversial new tires and a newer technology for rim protection and running lower pressures. Let's do this!
Why Specialized Butcher Grids and Cush Core? A friend and one of the better riders I know received an extra Cush Core and the company was not interested in having it returned so, he brought it to me in case I wanted to review it (thanks Ben B.). The tires were an exercise in indecisiveness. I needed new tires pretty badly and had to make a call. I've been running Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5f and 2.3r tires lately with great results, it was very tempting to go like for like and be done. As always, I tend to push my fickle nature on my friends, get their opinion. When you have been at the helm of a large active mountain bike group, you tend to build a large mountain bike friend base and in turn, get a lot of opinions. I asked and I received, the opinions came flying in like sharp nosed paper airplanes! The Specialized 29x2.6 Butcher Grid was certainly on my radar as I tend to lean towards Maxxis and Specialized tires and the opinions certainly geared towards these two storied brands. I began my own research, quickly noting that while the performance of the new Butchers and their new Gripton compound seemed to be virtually unquestioned, there was a big concern with these tires looming on the interwebs......size. Words like "Posers", "Fail" and "Dissapointment" were being thrown around regarding the claimed versus true width of these tires. More investigation would be needed and I decided that I certainly wasn't going to buy these tires sight unseen. I'd heard first hand accounts from very reputable FRMB riders that the Butchers we're great and if they were under their claimed size, it wasn't by much. Ok, I'm good with that being that I'm on 30mm ID wheels but lacking boost spacing. Fine. However, it was quickly pointed out to me by another equally reputable (if not a bit more "snarky") FRMB rider that I'd likely just purchased a set of 2.35's at best and that to exacerbate the issue, they'd likely be a detriment on the rear. Hmm...
Fast forward to a Friday lunch break when I'm not hungry, add a plan to hit two of the most technical trails on the Front Range this weekend, the fact that my front tire is aging and my rear is a traction dumpster fire and it's time to hit the bike shop. After several calls to two nearby shops, my safe bet; Maxxis Minions, are not available at either and I'm told that they are back ordered in the 2.5 size. Well, that makes the Butchers an easier call. I'm in luck, the nearest shop, just a few minutes North of my jobsite has two of the Butchers in 29x2.6 (I'd have tried the 2.6 Purgatory if it was available). First impressions of the tires, wrapped in packaging that would appease the most vegan environmentalist, is good. They seem wide but not preposterously wide, the center tread is certainly aggressive but they don't seem like a complete boat anchor, steps ridges and edges look appropriate for a directional tire. Side lugs are menacing and will likely create an attractive profile. In fact, they remind me of the Minions that I've been riding if you ran them through a software program designed to predict what a Minion upgrade (if only aesthetics) would look like in the near future. A 2020 model Minion DHF. Perfect.
Still, the possible size issues noted by people on the web, haunted me. This is my whole quarterly safety bonus and then some, on top of the work to install, not a decision to be made lightly! All kidding aside, I don't like to make a poor decision but, holding them in my hands and noting the positives listed above, I went for it. Done. Committed.
I got home later in the day and posted a picture. In the words of the hilarious and pointed Kentucky comedian Stuart Huff "Well... Shoudna dun that....". I'm immediately regretting my decision due to comments and banter. Not just the tires but the potential complications and weight of the Cush Core too. Great. I'm holding up the Butchers to the just removed Minions, squeezing them to what I perceive my 30mm rim width to be and thinking that I may be a fool. Pondering where that receipt is and how I might sternly explain to the bike shop that I expect what's written on the package to be what's actually in the package. Alright, lets get this party started, that way I can be properly pissed while returning these tires after not only mounting them, wasting sealant and dismounting them but, doing all this in the cold while fighting this brutal Cush Core system on the rear tire, to boot. I'm fired up!
I'm not good at this. I've swapped tubeless tires, affixed and repaired rim tape and set difficult beads many times over the years and I've never gotten good at it. Don't get me wrong, it always ends in success. Just not before I have sore hands, a sealant coated garage floor and have stated "I should've just paid a shop to do this!" at least three times. I dutifully followed the online video instructions from Cush Core's website and still struggled mightily to set the stiff foam band on the rear wheel. It looked so easy on their video.... Anyway, step one, done. Moving on to the front wheel, I thought that getting this tire on (which should be a breeze) might calm my nerves related to the size issue. The install was pretty smooth actually, a good thing being that I'd already been tackling this in the cold for longer than I'd expected. The tire was tight but reasonable and I only spilled a bit of sealant on the floor. Airing it up is where the fun really began; I've got a compressor, an auto tire inflator with gauge and the right presta valve adapter. Should be easy, and it was except for one tiny detail, this thing is dumping air from somewhere. Beads look set and the familiar pings of a properly beaded tire were already in the past. Valve! It's leaking from the valve! I've got this, I'm not thrilled right now but, I've got this. There's a spare, new valve in my hydration pack! Fast forward past removing one side of the bead, checking that the valve hole looks good, swapping the valve, re-seating the tire with a fresh load of sealant on the floor and in the tire and PRESTO! Still leaking like a torpedoed battleship. Damn. I'm getting happier by the minute. At this point I'm texting two awesome riders and amateur bike mechanics who live in the neighborhood for technical and emotional support. I hadn't even addressed the width issue and was already over this whole endeavor! Alrighty, ok, lets move on, this can wait.
Time to set the rear tire on the Cush Core. I'm not looking forward to this, my attitude at this point is akin to a birthday kid who just dropped his own cake. Not happy. Using the rolling method shown on the video helped a lot to get the bead onto the rear tire within the tight tolerance that the Cush Core had created at the rim edge. So far, so good. Time to add some sealant and set the last eight inches of the bead. Fast forward 35 minutes and I've gotten nowhere. I'm angry, frustrated and ready to cut the Cush Core off my wheel. About this time Ben K. shows up, not a moment to soon. He gets me to step away from the rear wheel, lets peek at this front wheel and see what we have. Lets try valve number three.... Ben has an ENVE valve that happens to have a slightly different shape and an additional O-ring, we'd found that the air was leaking between the valve and the rim, this'll do the trick! Fast forward 10 minutes, more sealant on the floor, a visual on the tape (looks good) a new valve and viola..... It's still pissing air. Ok, don't lose your shit Matt... let's go back to the rear and see if an extra set of hands ends the issue with that end of the bike. Besides, more reinforcements are on the way, Clay texted that he'll be here in 20.
After a bit of a struggle, a couple extra tire levers and Ben's extra hands, the back tire is on, sealed and aired up. Clay is just pulling in, things are looking up! Let's tackle this front tire! After a brief explanation of the issues to catch Clay up, he stated what I already kind of assumed, we'd need to take the tire off, clean the rim, and likely re-tape it as the issue likely lies in air getting under the tape at a spoke connection. Ok... round 4 of taking this tire off (or is it 5). We get the tire off, run it under the outside tap to clean off the sealant and dry it. TAPE. WON'T. STICK. This fancy ENVE tape won't freaking stick!! The rim is too cold, the tape is too cold and we're too cold. Ugh. Wheel and tape go into the coat closet inside and we're over it. Time for beer and a movie.
Saturday Morning. Here we go, lets finish this strong. I walk out to the garage and my new "2.35 tires" that are supposed to be 2.6 (of which only one is installed) look pretty damn.....BIG! Good stuff. I'm not going to measure this mofo yet though, I don't even want to know before I tackle this front wheel, I'm in a good mood.
Cleaned the wheel, dried it thoroughly and massaged a ring of ENVE branded Gorilla Tape meticulously into its ridges. After a bit more sealant on the driveway, the tire sets fine and its time to air it up and and wash this bike! Boom! Clean, tires look good, the sun is shining and all is right with the world! Let's roll these things for a few, see how they feel on pavement. Wow, they feel less chattery on the road than my DHF's, sweet. I wonder if that has to do with the ramping on the center knobs? Wait a minute... is the tire on backwards? Yep....
In the end I got it all straightened out with a little help from my friends and 5 attempts on the front tire. As far as width goes, they're sitting right about 2.5 (as I'd expect for a 2.6 that hasn't been stretched out on a few rides) and they look to be high quality and thoroughly modern. The Cush Core really wasn't terrible, especially if you have four strong hands on deck. I'll be looking forward to testing all this out on Dakota Ridge and Morrison Slide this weekend and I'll report back soon. All the install fun aside, I'm quite happy with the end results of the Cush Core and the Specialized Butcher Grid's. Turns out that the only trouble with the Specialized Butcher Grid 29x2.6 and the Cush Core system is, well, me...
Thanks to Ben, Ben and Clay for helping me with the install. Thanks Patt, Gill, Peter and Silent Bob for working so hard on the trails that I'll be testing this tire and wheel system on!