Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver DH tires review

Great traction, grip, and braking performance

27.5 DH Tires
Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver

The front and rear are ready for loose and unpredictable conditions.

What is it

The Kenda Nevegal used to rule the roost. It was the de facto standard of MTB tires a decade ago, very similar to the Maxxis Minion’s domination of today. But the Nevegal’s design stayed dormant for a while, as it is very risky to mess with success. Recently, though, Kenda followed it up with the Nevegal X, which rolls a lot better than the predecessor, but is not as grippy. Now Kenda is attacking this segment with a very grippy tire and starting to push into the downhill market.

They addressed cornering speed, braking power, rolling resistance, and tested it on the DH circuit. They also worked on the often-ignored casing technology, attempting to deliver sidewall durability while still providing good feel and traction. And they mated the very aggressive Kenda Hellkat with a rear-specific Helldiver for better overall performance.

Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver

Casing is very tough near the bead but it transitions to a more compliant material in the middle of the sidewall.

Key Details
  • Size: 27.5 x 2.4
  • Weight: 1200g Hellkat, 950g Helldiver
  • Bead: Wire bead for Hellkat, Kevlar for Helldiver
  • Rubber Compound: RSR dual-layer compound
  • Casing: Advanced gravity casing with Iron Cloak belt and Kenda Vector shield
Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver

Cornering and braking traction is excellent.

Pros
  • Amazing cornering knobs
  • Casing that is tough but still has good feel and traction
  • Matching speed on the rear with grippy front
  • Soft, sticky, low-rebound rubber with solid structure inside
  • Clean and straight tire construction.
  • Rolls well for the amount of grip
Cons
  • No 29er version
  • Waiting for folding versions
Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver

Mounted on a 30mm Bontrager rim and Evil Calling.

Mtbr’s Take

Our home trails in Santa Cruz are starting to get blown out with more ruts, roots, rocks, and a fine layer of dust. So it’s actually good tire testing conditions for a change. A friend got these new Hellkat and Helldiver tires and he scooted right along with us on the climbs without missing a beat. But when it was time for the downhills, he descended better than ever before, dogging the ride leader and blowing him out of the water on loose corners.

So we jumped on this new offering from Kenda to explore its limits for ourselves. We’ve ridden the downhill versions before in all their 1200-gram glory, but didn’t spend too much time with them because they were a bit portly and they didn’t have a 29er version, which happens to be the majority of our test bikes at the moment.

Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver

Kenda Helldiver is the rear-specific dance partner of the Hellkat.

The profile of the Hellkat is a bit rounded and the tread pattern is gnarly. Knobs are big and complex with many angles and holes to maximize surface area. The side knobs are well supported and they seem to extend beyond the casing with good transition knobs leading up to them. The rear-specific Helldiver is an interesting tire, similar to the Slaughter. It doesn’t have big center or transition knobs but has a good profile leading to the side knobs. On climbs, they rolled well and exhibited good compliance on rocky descents. They are heavy though at 1200 grams, which puts a damper on the big rides.

Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver

Climbing is surprisingly good with the Helldivers.

The most important news of all is that these tires have incredible cornering traction. Loose corners are its specialty, as they dig in to find stable ground and claw out as the rider changes direction. Grip is there and it’s easy to control, as the transition is handled by the well-supported side knobs hanging out there like a guiding hand. With the Helldiver on the rear, it is easy to throw the back around and change direction. We imagine putting another Hellkat back there will deliver quite a bit of traction and braking power in the rear for very steep and difficult conditions.

Braking is excellent as well, as the front digs in and provides much of the stopping power. The rear holds its own and keeps the rear tracking well, willing to change directions easily with rider input. In the rain, it might not do as well, but putting another Hellkat back there should address that.

Kenda Hellkat

Kenda Hellkat wire bead weighs in at 1200 grams.

Bottom Line

This is a great tire and the R&D Kenda invested in this effort is evident. This tire will be key in Kenda’s rise back to upper echelons of aggressive riding. But the Kevlar and 29er versions of this tire can’t come soon enough.

Rating: 5 out of 5 5 Flamin' Chili Peppers
Price: $80 for Hellkat, $85 for Helldiver
More info: www.kendatire.com

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


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  • SteveO says:

    Did you miss the part where these are DOWNHILL tires?

    • MikeG says:

      Clearly you missed, or haven’t made it to the lesson in which nasty terrain and race courses turn standard trail tires into leaking, piles of rubber that even the most liberal pre-race Stans and 30+ PSI setup can’t mitigate. I have spent much of the season watching riders in all classes have tire-related mechanical before taking the weight penalty and racing (if not riding full time) full downhill casings. More people then you would assume run these, or similar tires on trail bikes.

  • toad says:

    Get rid of the DH sidewall stuff and make a lighter 29er trail version and I would totally get the Hellkat. Kenda’s 29er options suck.

  • Kenda_Wake_UPPPP says:

    Kenda PLEASE listen up…

    Take your Small Block 8, stiffen up the sidewalls and make it in a 2.6 / 2.8 size and you will sell a TON of tires. The Small Block 8 is a GREAT tire for the desert and I “used” to buy a ton of them till Kenda stopped at a 2.1 racer weight wennie size.

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