Specialized started making bicycle tires 1976, three years before they made their first bike. This coincided with the beginnings of mountain biking, largely agreed to have gotten its start in Specialized’s home-state of California; after they launched the first mass-produced mountain bike, the Stumpjumper, the rest is history.
Tires have continued to be a large part of Specialized’s business. The first Butcher and Hillbilly, now household names in the mountain bike world, appeared right at the turn of the century. Specialized has continued to make advancements and improvements, and with their newest line of compounds and casings, their tires are worth serious consideration when it comes time to get new rubber for your ride. Let’s take a look.
All-New Rubber Compounds
The biggest change Specialized has made is to introduce three new tire compounds. If you’ve used their tires in the past, you may have felt a little underwhelmed by their rubber compounds in comparison to some of the competition.
Although they retain the GRIPTON name, the compounds are new formulas that have been split into three types: T5, T7, and T9. The “T” stands for “Tread Compound,” and the higher the number, the higher the grip. These replace the single old GRIPTON compound that was used in most of Specialized’s mountain line of tires, and come as a major improvement, allowing us to be more specific about our tire’s grip and wear traits.
They bill their T7 compound as being the middle ground, a good balance of grip, speed, and durability. Although I don’t have a durometer to actually tell you how much softer this is than the old Gripton compound, it does feel softer to the ol fingernail test, and in my experience, performs much better in wet, slippery conditions. T9 is the softest compound, with a slower rebound and substantial grip, similar to Maxxis’ MaxxGrip compound.
The T5 compound is designed specifically as a harder compound where speed and low rolling-resistance are prioritized. This compound only comes on Specialized’s XC oriented tires, which we won’t be focusing on here.
Specialized has also revamped their tire casings, simplifying the nomenclature into a much more user friendly system. The two I’ll focus on are called Grid Trail, which is their general purpose, do-it-all casing and uses a 60 thread-per-inch layer and plus sidewall protection, and Grid Gravity, which uses two full 60 tpi layers to provide even more support and puncture protection. I have not been able to confirm this, but based on tire weights, I suspect that the construction of the Grid Trail casing is quite similar to the BLCK DMND casing that Specialized pits against something like Maxxis’ EXO+ casing.
Our Favorite Tread Patterns: The Butcher
The Butcher has been in Specialized’s tire line-up since just after Y2K, and has undergone a lot of changes in the two decades since. Its current iteration uses double center knobs that alternate between narrow and wide spacing. The side knobs have gotten larger since the 2019 model, decreasing the empty space in between side and center knobs and making transitions into cornering feel more predictable. Its larger, stable knobs don’t fold over, providing substantial grip and braking power on both harder pack and loose dirt, and it sheds mud well enough that you can run it year round without issue. As with its competition from Maxxis, the DHRII, this is a tire that serves well front and rear. As such, Specialized offers it in both the softer Gripton T9 compound, great for your front wheel, as well as the harder T7 compound, which would be better run in the rear to get a bit more life out of it. It’s offered not only in a comfortably wide 2.3” version, but also a fat 2.6” tire for those of us who like a lot of coverage up front.
If you’d like something a bit faster rolling but with similar cornering characteristics, either for a lighter trail bike or as a rear tire only, the Eliminator is what you should be looking at. Identical side knobs as the Butcher will give you the same confidence entering into a turn, but a more closely spaced series of three different center-knob clusters makes it faster rolling, especially on hard-packed trail. This tire is offered in the T7 compound as well as a T9/T7 double compound, to get you the longer lasting and harder rolling center compound plus softer cornering knobs. Like the Butcher, it’s also offered in both a nicely shaped 2.3” as well as a big ol 2.6” tire.
My Ideal Combo
A T9 Butcher front tire in combination with a T7 Eliminator is what I’ve been running on my Following since July, so I’ve gotten a good taste of their performance in both dusty, blown out conditions and the sloppiest of slop. They are both 2.3” tires (as makes sense on my lightweight Evil Following) and they replaced 2.3” Nobby Nics from Schwalbe with the Super Trail casing and the Addix Soft compound. In comparison to those tires, which are around 100 grams heavier than the Specialized ones, I have had to run 3 to 4 more psi per tire to avoid a slight squirm feeling. This makes it so the tire doesn’t conform to the ground to quite the same degree, and results in a little less traction, but after the first ride it wasn’t something that I noticed. If you run any type of tire insert, I suspect you won’t notice it at all.
All in all, I found this set of tires to be almost parallel to the choices I’ve gotten used to from Schwalbe and Maxxis in terms of performance, but at a significantly lower cost. It’ll cost you $40 to $60 less to get on this set of tires than a comparable pair from those two brands, and if you go with their tan-wall versions, Specialized will donate some portion of the sale to to their Soil Searching program, which helps reimburse various trail-building and trail-maintenance groups around the world.
The last tire in Specialized’s line-up that I want to look at is the Hillbilly. This mean looking thing is similar to Schwalbe’s Magic Mary, with big, sharp knobs that are approaching mud spike terrain, albeit much more usable. All the knobs are widely spaced to shed mud well, and sharp enough to really bite into soft ground. These don’t have the same ramping that Magic Mary’s center knobs do, so it rolls a tiny bit slower than a Mary, but it makes up for that with even more grip.
When winter comes around the Magic Mary has always been my go-to tire, but with great reviews from my coworkers and availability in both T7 and T9 compounds, I’m definitely going to be giving this a try. It’s not something I’d run on a bike like my Following here, but it’s without a doubt something that would be at home on my Transition Sentinel or anything designed for going down hill at high rates of speed.
Are Specialized’s tires worth their weight?
Specialized has always positioned their price point at slightly less than that of the competition’s and previously, that was reflected in the user experience. With the latest revisions, particularly in the rubber compound, I’d say that these tires have the same level of performance as those from Maxxis and Schwalbe, and remain anywhere from $15 to $30 less expensive. With offerings in both a wide 2.3” and an extra-wide 2.6”, and enough variety in casing construction to suit anyone’s needs, running Specialized tires turns into something of a no-brainer. If it’s time for new tires on your bike, take a look at these first.