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Multi-Condition Test: Specialized Butcher T9 Tires

Whether your trails are dry or damp, Specialized's unique rubber mix is ready to sink its teeth in

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Basics

-Slow-rebound T9 compound
-29 and 650b diameters in 2.3 and 2.6 widths
-2 Casing options
-Also available in firmer T7 compound and dual T7/T9 compound


Pros

-As tacky as it gets
-Predictable
-Confidence in the corners
-Reasonable weights

Cons

-Narrower than advertised


Price

$70

Brand

Specialized


Like most components, tires perform differently in different conditions. And the conditions that matter most when the rubber hits the rock garden is whether the trails are wet and slimy or dry and dusty. Those two scenarios rarely occur in the same region, and are rarely accessible to the same tester. So, we got creative. I rode the Specialized Butcher T9 tires on my parched southern California chunky hardpack while Ryan Palmer covered them on his lush Pacific Northwest soil. I’ll cover what makes Specialized’s new compound unique, and how that compound worked on my home turf, and Palmer will chime in on how he got along with the Butchers up in Bellingham.

Butcher T9 in the Dry

Southern California is known for a lot of things, but good dirt is not one of them. While other parts of this area pray for rain to perfect their trail conditions, my local “loam” turns to peanut butter with any introduction of moisture. It’s a tricky landscape, but a good testing ground for critiquing how tires perform in dry conditions. It turned out that, despite the adversity it faced, the Butcher had my normally traction-less singletrack feeling like a loamy day in BC.

The heart of the Butcher is Specialized’s T9 Gripton compound, which was developed to be tacky but also fast. There’s a balance between delivering confident traction but not so much as to create a tire that is slow and doesn’t release the trail. A large part of this is how much rebound the knobs have. T9 allows them to grip the trail, but then rebound slowly for a consistent feel and better handling. The Butcher uses generously sized, siped knobs with carefully considered spacing between the center and shoulders. Along with the T9 compound is Specialized’s Grid Trail casing that the company claims reduces pinch flats by 15 percent and puncture protection by 30 percent. The Grid casing is 60 threads per inch with for a stiffer and more supported structure at lower tire pressures. The Grid Trail casing has a weight of 1,050 grams for the 2.6 and 975 grams for the 2.3, which is on par with a Maxxis Minion DHF with similar casing and compound.  The Butcher tires are available with 2.35 and 2.6-inch widths with a retail price of $60. 

I tested my tires on a set of WTB CZR i30 rims with an internal width of 30 millimeters. I didn’t have any issues mounting or getting them to seat. A tad stiffer than most “trail” tires, the Grid casing was a little difficult to manipulate, but installation was pretty straightforward. The measured tire widths were consistent from day one to several weeks later. My rear 2.35-inch (advertised) wide tire measured about 2.35 and the front 2.6 (advertised) measured 2.5 from start to finish at the widest point.

I could immediately feel the difference in traction compared to the many other tires I’ve carved across my local dust over the years. Normally, I find myself dropping air pressure to sometimes dangerous levels in search of the right amount of grip. But with the Butcher T9, I set my PSI and never looked back. The ability to run more reasonable pressure made the Butcher T9s easy to live with on the climbs. I wouldn’t consider them to be fast-rolling, but they never broke loose on steep pitches and stayed consistent regardless of torque or terrain.

 

Pushing up over technical sections, I could feel the tires holding to whatever they could grab, and that continued on the descents. These are about the best corning tires I have ridden. There were never any vague moments, and they delivered consistent traction when being pushed into berms or loose off-camber turns. With the amount of traction they deliver, the Butchers aren’t the most playful in terms of breaking loose or sliding through corners. Instead, they reward a rider’s deliberate choices and hold a line without question. I spent most of my time with the 2.6 mounted in the front, but I did occasionally opt to run it as a rear. It didn’t feel out of place, and I appreciated the extra air volume. But I didn’t find the traction lacking when running the more shred-ready 2.3. The Butcher is about the tackiest tire I have ridden in dry conditions with an exceptionally well balanced feel and ride.

And on my local trails, it may also be the most balanced tire I have ridden. It delivers good, consistent traction without a sluggish feeling. The 2.6 did measure narrower than advertised but there is nothing wrong with a 2.5-inch wide tire. In fact, with a tire that’s naturally this grippy, I would never need to go wider in most scenarios.—Joe Mackey

Photos: Chris Wellhausen

 

Butcher T9 in the Wet

 

Specialized advertises the new Butcher as an “intermediate” conditions tire, which does feel accurate considering how well it does in mixed terrain. But, that description might also sell the T9-equipped Butcher short when it comes to its exceptional wet weather performance.

It’s also not enough information, because “intermediate” could be referring to somewhere between fully dry and soaking wet (moisture content), or somewhere between soft and hardpack terrain (surface hardness). Or both.

In the case of the new Butcher, however, it’s somewhat irrelevant to ask for clarification since it excels on almost any surface, in all conditions. Up in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s wet for a large portion of the year, many discerning riders will swap to tires made specifically for soft, wet terrain during the winter and spring.

I’ve found, though, that the soft, grippy, slow-rebounding T9 rubber compound is ideal for the wet, slippery conditions up here. The rubber compound makes a huge difference. For instance, the harder T7 compound will roll a little faster and last longer, but does not provide nearly the same level of traction in inclement conditions. For the wet, you really want T9.

Tread pattern plays a role too. On most rides, I think the Butcher is a smarter choice than a full-on mud spike. This type of speciality wet-weather tire may handle deep mud better than anything else, but is not always the best option when a million slick roots are involved. The knobs on mud spikes are so tall and slender that they tend to have difficulty sticking to things like wet roots and mossy rock slabs, and they often wind up feeling mushy and vague on anything other than in deep mud. The shorter, flatter, knobs found on the Butcher are better suited to more types of wet-weather riding.

The knobs are spaced far enough apart that mud can clear away easily, but not so far apart that the tire feels inefficient or sporadic when it comes to the way it hooks up. Unlike a lot of tires that perform well in the wet, the Butcher doesn’t feel like it’s sapping precious energy. The alternating center knob placement, as well as alternating square and ramped knobs and horizontal and vertical sipes offer all the tricks in the book to minimize rolling resistance while maximizing traction for braking, accelerating and cornering. And the uniform row of beefy, nicely buttressed side knobs dig in with confidence and predictability. On a 30-millimeter-wide rim, the side knobs sit high enough on the tire’s profile that there’s a nice transition between the center and side knobs, and they’re angled just right so that they dig in rather than fold over. This makes the tire feel nice and secure in the slop.

And, the Butcher’s tread pattern is suited just fine for front and rear use, which I love because by being a bit clever with tire rotations, I’m able to run the soft compound front and rear and maximize traction and wear in a relatively economical way. Once the rear tire starts to go, I’ll rotate the front tire to the rear wheel and install a fresh tire on the front, scrapping just one tire, and maintaining the best possible cornering performance.

As for casing, everyone has different needs and preferences, but when it’s wet, I want the tire to have the best chance of conforming around slippery surfaces, and softer casings are far better at doing so than beefy dual-ply casings. Here, traction is more key than puncture protection, and I always opt for the softest casing I can, within reason. And, I think Specialized nailed the intermediate Grid Trail casing this time around. The tire is supple, but still offers enough sidewall support for me, and it strikes a pretty ideal weight, at just under 1,000 grams for the 29 x 2.3-inch option, and just over 1,000 grams for the 2.6” one.

I’ve heard people complain that even this new Grid Trail casing isn’t robust enough, but it’s a definite improvement over the previous Grid casing, and it’s just perfect for my preference, my home trails, and how I ride. For those looking for more, Specialized also offers the Butcher T9 in a full 2-ply Grid Gravity option as well. Whichever casing you choose, if you’re looking for the best wet-weather performance from this tire, make sure it says T9.—Ryan Palmer

Photos: Ryan Palmer