We test the Specialized Hillbilly and Butcher tyres - your next go-to aggressive trail combo?
Late last year Specialized sent up a pari of new tyres to test out - some 29x2.6" monsters. A Hillybilly for the front and a Butcher out the back, with the Gripton compound and Grid casing, and of course being 2Bliss ready.
A couple of years ago we tested the Specialized Butcher and Slaugher combo, and found them a super combo with s good match of speed and traction, but optimised with the Grid casing. This setup follows from that combination, but with a nod towards how, and what we are riding a couple of years down the track.
29ers trail bikes are super common now, with Boost spacing really helping to get the geometry dialled, as well as making the wheels a little stiffer too. And with rim widths expanding to give better support for wider tyres - all of a sudden 2.6" wide tyres seem about right for trail and all-mountain riding.
Both of these tyres were set up on WTB i29 rims, tubeless. With a butyl wrapped bear and a firm Grid casing they inflated first time with a track pump and so Orange Seal sealant to make sure they were good to go.
As we found out from our rim width tests, the ratio of rim to tyre width is important. a 2.6" wide tyre would be a bit of a waster on a rium much narrower than the WTB i29 (with a 29mm internal width). A narrow tyre on a wide rim tends to square off the tread, moving the edge knobs too far in. So check woith your dealer about what width will work for your wheels.
Inflated and ready to ride, here's how the tyres stacked up, first with a tread width taken from the outer edge to the outer edge, and then the carcass.
Specialized Hillbilly 29x2.6"
Specialized Butcher 29x2.6"
With only about 1mm of edge knob extending beyond the sidewall (in a completely static environment) this is about spot on - 30mm internal is about where you want to be running the 2.6" tyres, and maybe rims a little wider too. This matches up perfectly with how Specialized spec their bikes, but it's something worth considering if you're looking for new tyres. Putting these on a rim with something like a 23mm internal width might mean a lot of floppy tyre at the pressures you might want to run.
The Specialized Hillbilly Grid 2Bliss Ready
This tyre is essentially a trialbike tyre made for mountain biking. Ok, not quite. but it's spare, deep square knobs are designed to penetrate in softer trail conditions, giving unprecedented levels of grip. The addition of the Gripton rubber is said to help reduce squirm too, in the way that the compound is said to be more static by passing small trail chatter through it, instead of absorbing it and adding to rolling resistance.
On the trail, the response to that is "well, sort of". On hardpack it's still a squirmy tyre, and in loose, dry terrain it absolutely punishes late braking.
However, it's not a tyre designed for dry terrain or hardpack - that's just what we've had a lot in summer. In softer trail conditions, be it loamy soil, even sandy soil, tthis tyre just digs in. With bikes getting longer and slacker, there's a trait to get off the back and let the bike plough on through. But if you really want your bike to perform, you need to take control, weighting the front wheel when the terain allows, and when needed to get the front tyre gripping and guiding you out of a corner. In conditions other than hardpack that is exactly wheer this tyre shines.
The stiffer Grid sidewall reall helps with pushing the tyre hard. It supports lower pressures that can be achieved with a bigger tyre and wider rim, and while what you run will likely be different than what I did, it is worth getting a digital pressure gauge to take the guess work out.
Given the open tread pattern the tyre cleared the gritty mud that we had a couple of times this summer, and I'd say like any tyre, heavy clay would clog it up. The only solution I've ever seen to mud like that is running.
That same open tread pattern means this isn't the fastest rolling tyre out there - but if you live for the descents in an area that's a little more wet than dry, or has a higher dirt and loose-stuff component than hardpack - these would be an ideal aggressive trail tyre.
The Specialized Butcher Grid 2Bliss Ready
All the same casing, compounds and tech as the above - but this time with a bit of a more all-purpose tread. With ramped centre knobs and a rounded profile you might find this model suits a front and rear combination in drier conditions - but it might just be more versatile in a lot of Australian conditions as well.
The closer spacing and ramped tread of the Butcher means this thing really grips under climbing and braking, and the side knobs are well-supported when pushed over. They are essentially big paddles in the middle, either slicing into for braking grip, or ploughing into dirt for uphill traction.
The Gripton rubber stayed super planted on a variety of conditions, and while these photos were taken soon after fitting, the rear tyre has been wearing very well. There aren't really any downsides to this tyre if you're after a strong and grippy tyre for aggressive trial and all-mountain riding.
If that's not you, then you'd be better off looking at something else in the range. This tyre, like the Hillbilly, has a lot of rubber. Both tyres are well over 1kg in the real world, with a not inconsiderable amount of drag on smoother terrain. If getting to the top of a trail is just a chore, then that isn't a problem. If you tend to shuttle - even less so. But if you want a tyre for trails that dip up and down, and flow through valleys with small climbs over ridges before dropping down chutes, you might be better with the Slaughter out back, or even the Ground Control.
That said, for big mountains, and big features in soft conditions - this combination would be prime. Heading to Maydena Bike Park? This setup would be the ticket. Doing shuttles at Blue Derby? These would suit but a Butcher combo might be better given the amount of slabby rock. Hitting up the Thredbo All-Mountain trail? This combo would be the pick if there's some moisture in the ground.
If you're not sure - get in touch with your Specialized dealer and see what they suggest for your riding.