Hutchinson Kraken 29″ X 2.3″ Tires: Getting Rolling – by Guitar Ted
The title of this review might cause you to look strangely at your monitor/phone/lap-top/device of choice. “What is Guitar Ted reviewing? a mountain bike tire? I thought this was Riding Gravel?” Yes readers, this is Riding Gravel. News flash: Not everyone rides a “gravel bike” for gravel roads/back roads riding. In fact, there are a lot of people riding mountain bikes on gravel. So, why not look at a brand new tire that may be a good one for those of you that are riding MTB’s on gravel?
What It Is: Hutchinson set out, in tandem with several of their sponsored athletes, to make a faster, grippy, more capable XC racing tire. I’m going to leave a lot of the ‘dirt-centric’ features Hutchinson designed into the tire out of this as we’re going to focus on what would make this a good tire for your MTB bike on gravel or back road type rides. That said, much of what makes a great XC racing tire also translates over to what makes a good gravel riding tire.
Hutchinson Tires is a company based in France, in case you are not familiar, and still does most of their manufacturing and design/R&D at their factory located in Chalette-sur-Loing, about 130 km south from Paris. They have a long history in XC racing going back into the 80’s and have multiple XC championships with a heavy emphasis on R&D. I remember their Python 29″er tires, having had the pleasure of testing and reviewing those over ten years ago. Hutchinson is also notable as being one of the partners with Mavic in developing UST tubeless, so they know how to do tubeless tires well.
The Kraken builds upon this history and features ideas which are good for the gravel road cyclist. The central tread blocks are made in such a way that they form what Hutchinson calls a “backbone”, a fast rolling tread area, but one that grips on climbs and during braking. The intermediate knobs were designed with traction in mind, but they also have the added benefit of helping to ward off punctures. The higher, outer knobs feature traction for cornering, but in looser crushed rock and sand, they may also be a stabilizing feature for the gravel rider.
Hutchinson makes two versions of the Kraken. The 127 TPI version is the lightest and is made for all-out speed. The version we received to test is the Hardskin version, which is a 66 TPI casing and features Hutchinsons Hardskin textile grid from bead to bead underneath the tread for further protection against punctures. Claimed weight for the Kraken in the Hardskin configuration is 800 grams per tire. MSRP on the Kraken is $79.99 each USD.
First Impressions: Whoa! It’s been a while since I have handled a 29″er tire. You forget how much those sort of tires weigh and how big they are, if like myself, all you look at all day are 700c X 42mm tires. After the initial shock of that, I was impressed with the feel of Hutchinson’s rubber and the crispness of the molding of the various knob shapes. My scales came away showing that these samples weighed 790 grams each. Consistent with the claims made by Hutchinson.
I decided to mount the tires on some WTB Frequency Team i23 rims I have been using on my Salsa Cycles Fargo, a generation 1 model I have had since 2008. The tires mounted up easily with a quick blast from a air compressor. After setting for well over 24 hours at 30psi the tires measured out to 54.49mm casing/55mm outer knobs. Well below the advertised 2.3″ width, but if I bumped up the pressures to max, I bet they’d be closer. But in my opinion, there is no need for that when they ride as smoothly as they do at 25-30 psi.
Yes, these are super smooth tires, even with that puncture protection belt in there. I can barely feel any vibrations from the knobs on smooth asphalt and on gravel and rough trail these tires exhibit a well damped characteristic that I find very nice. Sharper edged hits are a jolt to the behind and hands, so these are not erasing everything, but for gravel riding, they are really pretty good.
What isn’t quite so good is rolling resistance and that weight. I have had tires in a similar weight class on here in the past. Those being the Terrene Honali’s, and I have had faster tires on here as well. The last set I had on this bike being the speedy Donnelly MSO 700 X 50mm tires. The bike I am intimately familiar with, and the wheels I built myself probably ten years ago now. So the only variable here are tires and the Hutchinsons are just not quite as fast or easy to get going as the others mentioned here.
That said, the Krakens do lend a bit of stability in sand and especially on loose, deep crushed rock. The tires damping characteristics help to keep the vibrations down on that sort of stuff. I took a four hour long ride on these over mixed surfaces of pavement, dirt, big rocks, gravel, and some really fine sandy tracks. I think this tire is really great for anyone that has some single track in their gravel loops, or for those of you who live in areas with widely ranging conditions. The Kraken isn’t going to be terrible on any surface, not even on pavement, considering the size and weight here. I wasn’t working too hard. However; the Terrene Honali would be better on pavement, and the MSO best on gravel, but neither would do single track, loose, deep rocks, and sand really well like the Kraken.
So Far….. The Kraken tires from Hutchinson are a MTB XC tire but these should be a consideration for anyone looking to do gravel and more on their mountain bike. While they are not superlative gravel tires, and obviously are not pavement tires, they do surprisingly well on both types of surfaces. Especially in deep, loose gravel.
They set up tubeless and hold air very well. The biggest takeaway I had though was the very smooth, damped quality these tires have over gravel and rougher trail. They ride very nicely, and surprisingly the inner puncture protection belt doesn’t seem to interfere with that ride feel. Next I would say that the stability these tires have in looser terrain is very nice as well.
I am expecting that these will continue to give a nice, damped feel over gravel and the wear of the tread is my only concern at this point. Not that I’ve noted any as of yet, but I am curious to see how these tires hold up, that is all.
The only negatives so far are the weight and the lack of true 2.3′ width. Maybe these will stretch over time? Perhaps it is the ‘skinny’ i23 rims I am using? Hmm…. But beyond this, I am pleased with the outcome so far. These are the best Hutchinson tires I’ve tried yet, and I have tried a few.
Stay tuned for the “Checkpoint” post coming soon.
Note: Hutchinson sent over the Kraken tires for test and review at no charge to Riding Gravel. We were not paid, nor bribed, for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.