Hutchinson has been a first mover in tubeless-ready tires for both road and cyclocross, and that experience shows through. On both the pavement and grass, we’ve seen them seat easily, sometimes even on rims that have been challenging with other tires.
We’re testing several of their cyclocross tires this season, the fastest of which is the barely-there treaded Mamba. It’s a dry conditions tire that’s lightweight, supple and very quick. Mostly, we really like it, putting two sets under two riders in two different locations. But, like everything, there are tradeoffs for making something so specific…
The Mamba’s tread is extremely low profile across the entire center patch, but it works. The little nubs dig into grass and dirt equally well, providing grip for both acceleration and braking without sacrificing rolling resistance in the least. Couple that with the soft casing and ability to run lower pressures thanks to being tubeless, and you’ve got a tire that whips across the straights fast and smooth.
Side knobs are slightly taller, about 3/5 the height of what’s found on most cyclocross tires. They, too, do a good job of biting into the grass. On dirt, it’s a little more dependent on the type of dirt. On the North Carolina soil and clay, they grab just fine. When it’s dust over hardpack, the limit is reined in a bit, but they let you know when it’s coming up so you can back off a little. Just don’t back off too abruptly or you will skid a little. As for acorn covered hardpack? Fuhgeddaboutit.
The Black Mamba comes only in a non-UCI legal 700×34 size. The tread design is directional, running one way for rear and the other for front. Visually, those directions look reversed, but they work. The ProtectAir Max casing is their tubeless-ready casing with bead to bead puncture protection, though one of us managed to beat it. The rubber is their grippy Race Riposte, borrowed from some of their mountain bike tires.
Mounted on the HED Ardennes+ rims (which have a claimed 25mm external width), the Black Mamba measured almost 36mm wide. Cory’s set measured 34.2mm on DT Swiss X1700M rims.
On the HED wheels, that gives them a well rounded profile.
Actual weights for Tyler’s test set are 352g and 367g. Claimed weight is 350g. If you prefer tube-type, those have a claimed weight of 310g, but then you’ve got to add the weight of the tube and risk pinch flats. A tubular is also available with a claimed weight of 400g. Prices are $89 (TL), $65 (TT) and $119 (TUB).
With HED’s wider rims, I’ve had a bit of difficulty setting up some other tires. So I was pleasantly surprised when one of the Black Mambas seated immediately with a compressor. I didn’t even bother trying a floor pump first. The other tire took a few attempts and about 30 minutes sitting in the sun to gum up the sealant around the bead for enough of a seal to get things started. I used Stan’s NoTubes sealant in mine, and they’ve held air at a rideable level for about four days after setting the pressure appropriately.
Hutchinson recommends using their ProtectAir sealant, but we didn’t have any on hand so I used Stan’s and Cory used Caffelatex.
I’ve ridden the tires for several training rides that included road, gravel and dirt trails with plenty of roots. They’ve also seen one race (the one dry one I’ve done so far this season!), but it proved a perfect test course. At my weight (184lb before getting dressed), I’m running about 34-36psi on most tubeless setups. That puts me in the sweet spot of good traction, smooth rolling and little chance of squashing and rolling the tire off the side in hard corners.
If puncture protection is in there, the supple nature of the tires hide it well. Some brand’s protective casings create a too-stiff structure that makes it hard to find the right balance between low pressure and good ground feel. Not so here. They morphed their way across uneven grassy fields smoothly and wrapped themselves around corners predictably.
The course in NCCX Winston Salem, NC, threw us into a few tight S-bends at speed and had one large sweeper at the bottom of a big drop. Both put quite a bit of lateral stress on the tires, the former on dry hardpack and the latter on grass. Both required picking just the right line to maintain the desired speed. Otherwise, the combo of speed and lots of G’s challenged the tiny knobs’ grip. And those damn acorns. Nothing has traction on acorns.
For a dry conditions tire, the Hutchinson Black Mamba is my new number one. I’m sold on tubeless for ‘cross, and this one’s got very little competition in the semi-slick category. There are a couple options out there, but from what we’ve seen, the Hutchinson’s combination of tubeless readiness, supple casing, fast tread pattern and exceptionally low weight puts it in a class of its own.
I’ve also been testing these (and the Toro) tires in Europe, putting them head-to-head with their tubular versions. Look for a comparison report in the next month. For now though I’ve done a couple races on the Mambas and have been pretty happy with how they handled frost-and-dew-covered grass. The ability to run them down to tubular-comparable tire pressures of 27-29psi has really taken advantage of their light weight casing for a surprising amount of grip from a tire with such limited tread blocks. While I was able to get them to break loose on wet, grassy corners, their grip has been predictable, and they certainly roll fast on any hard surface.
The problem I’ve had so far is that the light casing has made the tires susceptible to punctures. I haven’t burped a tire from either Hunt 4Season or DT X1700 wheels, even down to 25psi. But I suffered one puncture at the hands of sharp gravel on a trail training ride, and the 3mm long slash in the tread didn’t seal, spraying Stan’s everywhere and needing a tube to get home. Then I also got a tiny sidewall scrape (1mm diameter) that didn’t immediately seal during a cross race, since it was just off the tread where the tire would flex every time it would roll around. So in half a lap was down to around 10psi by the time I made it to the bike change. (Interestingly enough, even then the bead never came unseated.) The first tire with a gash is done as far as tubeless in concerned. The second tire with the pin hole sealed on its own with Effetto Mariposa’s Caffélatex once it wasn’t being ridden for a while. Neither instance was anything you wouldn’t expect to encounter regularly on a normal cyclocross course, so while the performance of the tires has been great, I’m a bit concerned that Hutchinson created a supple tire at the expense of durability.