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Bontrager Chupacabra Mid-Term Review

A Touch of Southern Comfort

Let me just get to the point and write that these tires are da bomb. They are fairly light (for a 3” 29er tire), the tread design rolls well, grips like a slot car in most conditions, seems to have good durability and has awesome tubeless characteristics. If you are looking for 29er+ tires, I heartily recommend the Bontrager Chupacabra. I am already way ahead of myself so let me delve into some details.

DSC_0801If you are interested in specs and how the tires set up tubeless, check out the product spotlight I wrote up near the end of October after a couple weeks of using the tires. Since initially mounting up the tires I have seen very little casing stretch so all the dimensions listed in that article still hold true and the tubeless performance has remained excellent with no bead stretch issues which can make it tougher to mount them up with a floor pump.

I have spent around 6 weeks on these tires now and have been able to ride them in a wide range of conditions so I feel like I have been able to get a really good assessment of their performance. When I first got these tires I was able to slip in a couple rides in Northern Michigan on my home trails before the leaves started dropping in earnest. This gave me a good comparison to the Surly Knard, Vee Tire Trax Fatty and Maxxis Chronicle which I had been riding throughout the summer. The leaves then dropped, the rains came and I then did a fair amount of slippery leaf and mud riding with them. Around Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to head down to North Central Florida for a week and was able to get in a lot of miles on their buff singletrack with a few rocks and roots thrown in there. Throughout it all, the Chupacabras have performed as well or better as any other 29er+ option I have been on.

The Chupacabra rolls well with low rolling resistance. On the road it does hum a bit but nothing too extreme. It is hard to tell if they are quite as good rolling resistance-wise as the Knard and Trax Fatty which are both excellent rolling tires but if the Chupacabra gives anything up, it isn’t much.

 

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Traction has been excellent in a wide range of conditions. In normal dry, buff singletrack the drive and braking traction is excellent but all four of these tire options do pretty well in those conditions. Cornering in dry conditions is excellent and rivals the Chronicle. For more hard pack type conditions the Chupacabra seems to be the best cornering tire going but if you get into softer or leafier conditions the tall, sharp knobs of the Chronicle sink in deeper and find a bit more traction. That said, right at the ragged edge of sticking vs. drifting in a corner, the Chupacabra tends to be a bit more “user friendly”  than the Chronicle and allows you to feather the edge more easily. There are no weird or quirky aspects to the handling like I have found with the Knard and Trax Fatty.

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Wet conditions are where the Chupacabra shines compared to the competition. The widely spaced knobs shed mud well and I had no issues with them packing up in even thick, heavy mud and snow. The Chronicle comes closest in this regard but it only sheds mud well in the side knob area making it corner well but ends up with poor drive/braking traction. None of the tires have very big knobs to hang onto wet roots and rocks but at least with the Chupacabra it is rubber on root/rock compared to having a layer of mud in between.

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Durability has been excellent with the Chupacabras. The knobs do not seem to be wearing quickly and there are not chunks missing out of any of the knobs.  There are no threads showing on the sidewalls of the Chupacabras and as previously mentioned, there has been no measurable casing stretch even though they have been tubeless throughout the duration of the test period.

Bontrager also provided their TLR Sealant with the tires. I can’t say I gave the sealant a full and proper test due to the duration of use but so far I have had great success with it. I have had no flats or other issues during the test period and the couple times I have cracked open the tires I have seen no visible reduction in the quantity of sealant indicating that it isn’t evaporating very quickly leaving me with “Stans monsters” bouncing around inside my tires. I have been a consistent Stans user for years but Bontrager really seems to have dialed in their tubeless system so I am very interested in seeing how their sealant works over a longer period.

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The bottomline in regards to the Chupacabra is that it is the best 29er+ tire available for the vast majority of conditions. They are comparatively light weight, have excellent tubeless characteristics and are a wonderful allrounder tire on the trail. If you need something more burly, the Chronicle is a good option but you will pay by hauling around a fair bit more weight and increased rolling resistance. There are the possibility of some more tires like the Panaracer’s Fat B Nimble and mythical Surly Dirt Wizard but until those tires see the light of day, the big winner in the 29er+ tire game is Bontrager with their Chupacabra.

 

Tire Cornering Mud Clearing Sidewall Durability Weight Rolling Resistance
Surly Knard (120 tpi) 2.5 2.5 2 3 4
Vee Tire Trax Fatty (120 tpi) 2.5 2.5 3 4 4.5
Maxxis Chronicle 4 3.5 4 2 2.5
Bontrager Chupacabra 4 4.5 4 4 4

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24 Responses to Bontrager Chupacabra Mid-Term Review

  1. BikesBeer&Banjos January 6, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    These look real promising. Running Trax Fatty with grip studs this winter. This summer I want to run the Chupacabras tubeless on my Rabbit Hole rims – will that work?

    • Martyn Pearson January 16, 2015 at 11:19 am #

      Hey BikesBeer&Banjos, I mounted Chupacabras to 50mm rabbit holes tubeless yesterday. With a couple extra rounds of wide tape they popped on just fine. You’ll need to use enough tape to pad out the spoke nipple ends so the sidewalls can jump out when you inflate it – but my GOD what a tire! Great review by the way

      • BikesBeer&Banjos February 5, 2015 at 8:09 am #

        My LBS was able to procure these for me even though Trek site says out of stock again. Picking them up today! Can’t wait for tubeless. I’ve had so many freakin flats this winter from trax fattys + grip studs…

  2. Steve Vigneau January 10, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    Thanks for the update, Ken. This is the tire I’ll be spec’ing on my new 29+ build.

  3. Paul G January 31, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    Anyone know if this tire can be use with a tube, I ride the Trek X-Caliber 9 29er with 2.2 on tube but would like to try the Chupacabra 29

    Thanks

    • Gomez January 31, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

      It can be run with a tube.

      g

    • Jasper October 19, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

      How did this work for you? I ride same bike and planning to try these tyres too.

  4. Paul G January 31, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Thanks Gomez

    I dont have much fork clearance but it might just fit.

    PG

  5. Odawg February 4, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    What size rims are recommended for the Chupacabras? Will they work on a Stan’s Crest rim?

    • Odawg February 12, 2015 at 11:07 am #

      Trek Cust Srvc Rep said that recommended inner rim width should be greater than or equal to 40 mm. So, Crest wouldn’t work, but Hugo would.

  6. vince February 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    Curious:

    1. What did these weight in at?
    2. How wide are your rims?
    3. What does the casing width and the tread measure when mounted?

    Thanks!

  7. Grayham March 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    Any comments or ideas on why this tire couldn’t be used on a rim with an inside width narrower than the 40mm quoted by the Trek Service Rep? Would the beads not hook up into the rim properly it they’re too narrow? The inside rim width on mine is a puny 23mm, but I’d love to try these tires out for a “low fat” option on my 29er mountain bike.

    • Ken Blakey-Shell March 4, 2015 at 6:29 am #

      In general, I would never recommend going against a manufacturers recommendations on something like this. I ran them on rims with an inner width of 30mm and had no issues. Note that this is an example of one person with an early release of the tires so “mileage” may very greatly.

      From my experience on dirt (this doesn’t apply to soft conditions) with tire/rim combos, the key metric to look at is the ratio of the tire casing width to inner rim width. The absolute worst ratio you would ever want to possibly consider is what we see with a 2.4″ tire on a “traditional” MTB rim width (around 21mm inner width). That comes in around a ratio of 2.8. That ratio makes for a “floppy” tire at low pressures and is going to be easy to burp. Richard Cunningham wrote an excellent article on the physics of this if you want more info: http://www.pinkbike.com/u/richardcunningham/blog/Tech-Tuesday–Wider-Rims-Are-Better-and-Why-Tubeless-Tires-Burp-.html

      To get to your specific situation with an inner rim width of 23mm, I would highly recommend against running a 3″ tire. At best it will ride like crap. At worst it will be dangerous due to the tire possibly blowing off the rim.

      • Grayham March 4, 2015 at 11:07 am #

        Thanks Ken!

        Great info and the link made for an interesting read.

        I guess I should have quantified my intended use for the tire. I’m hoping to mount it on my XC bike in the winter to get some extra flotation on ski-doo trails and packed snow as an alternative to buying a full on Fat Bike. Generally the soft conditions you suggest that won’t apply. Riding on this type of terrain and surface is usually fairly slow around 9 to 15 km/hr and doesn’t include much hard cornering or bouncing over hard, rough terrain. I’d likely be running tubes as well stretched as much as needed to fill the tire.

        I’ll definitely stay clear of running them during the summer on harder terrain as I could imagine them rolling off the tire all too often or causing some other problems you don’t want to happen when there isn’t a soft blanket of snow to crash onto.

        I also get that this is slightly outside the design intent for the tires, in numerous ways, so I’m expecting they may not work as intended. But it’s fun to tinker with things and see what works. At this point I’m not even sure they’ll fit in the frame and fork for clearance. But it may be fun to try.

        Grayham

  8. max May 20, 2015 at 11:50 pm #

    hi ken and fat-bike.com
    i have been trail riding the chupacabras for a while now on a jones plus 25″.
    relatively early into our relationship, the front tire got a freaky rip-tear right along the upper bead edge, right inline with the rim (wtb scraper)
    just hit a rock weird and pffffffffssssssshhhhhhhh…..
    it took a while but eventually the stans sealed it up again, and since then no problems.
    trek emailed me back and said, show the dealer, if it’s a defect, ..but of course, stans sealed it up so for my local trails, not such a problem.
    however i am planning a trek across iceland this summer, and, well, now i kind of doubt the chupacabras integrity.
    what’s your take on this, is the stans reliable enough to trust long term, and are the chupacabras tough enough for proper wilderness?
    would appreciate your input
    thanks
    max

  9. Gomez May 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    Ken, Sven and I all agree that replacing the tire would be a wise move, especially due to your Iceland trip. You can always run that tire again, after you return from your trip. There’s no real way for us to predict how long that tire will last. Have a great trip and don’t forget to send your uncle gomez a post card!

  10. ken October 3, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    Would these be a good choice for my Yeti SB-95?–not sure enough clearance.On the other hand have a Rocky Mtn Blizzard–fun fat bike but….stock tires “Bulldozers”-are not the best rollers – my other frustration is at a 1×10 I can out pedal this bike-I am not a blazer either, at 58 I am just a fair rider.
    Chris

    • Ken Blakey-Shell October 5, 2015 at 5:35 am #

      I would be surprised if these would fit on a Yeti SB-95 but have no firsthand experience. However, they should fit on the Blizzard since that bike fits the Bud/Lous. You will just need to build up a second set of wheels for that bike to fit the 29er tires.

      As for the gearing on the Blizzard, the stock 24t chainring is pretty small when combined with only an 11t small cog. Assuming there is clearance on the frame, you should be able to bump up the size of the chainring and improve the top end speed of the bike. This is something I do each season, running a 4-6t smaller ring in the winter compared to the summer. More than likely you will need a different (longer) chain if you bump up a lot of teeth on the chainring. It is a good thing to consult your LBS on if you are not familiar with dialing in chain length.

  11. SkiCo November 19, 2015 at 2:09 am #

    Love my Chupacabra’s. I built up 29+ wheelset for my Borrealis Echo and I have a whole new versatile bike. The Chupas shred loose over hard and make riding my hardtail the best solution for solid climbling and blastings turns. No problem setting up tubeless…hope I can run them into winter as this settup is fast and fun.

  12. Diazel May 13, 2016 at 1:45 am #

    Great review.

    If I could give any feedback it’s that your table at the end comparing the different tires doesn’t do a good job of capturing what you’re trying to portray.

    ie. It looks like you’re giving between a 1 and 5 rating. For grip, I assume 4.5 means better traction than 2.

    For weight, I don’t know if 4 means it’s lightweight or heavy.

    Rolling resistance: does 4 mean it has little resistance or high resistance?

  13. Don November 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

    I’ve had 3 crashes from front wheel wash out. Easy flat turns. Trying to figure it out? Trek Fuel 9.8 27.5 plus. Tubeless 15lbs in front 17 rear. Fairly new bike. Wanting to lean in on a turn after a hard ride , wheel goes sideways and throws me down hard. Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Gomez November 8, 2016 at 11:12 am #

      Do you have a native population of gnomes in your riding area? 10% of my unexplained crashes are caused by gnomes. The remaining 90% are attributed to pilot error. What pressure are you running? What kind of dirt/grass/gravel/sand are you riding? Were you steering with your hands or with your hips?

      We’re here to help – you can call into the fat-bike radio crisis center just about every wednesday evening for fat-bike group therapy. 818-919-2453 between 8-9 pm CST.

    • Ken Blakey-Shell November 9, 2016 at 6:21 am #

      To add another piece of this, it may be due to your weight distribution on the bike and has nothing to do with the tires (especially if this is a new bike). That Trek has a pretty slack headtube angle at just over 67 degrees, short stock stems, long top tubes and a fair amount of fork rake. All of that adds up to a bike that has a lot more weight on the rear wheel than the front because the front wheel is pushed out further in front of you. Running your handlebars higher up will exaggerate this effect even more. Having the front wheel way out front will feel good going downhill and will work ok in bermed corners but will handle like crap on flat sweeping corners unless you are purposefully getting more weight on the front wheel. If you have two bathroom scales, put one under each wheel and see how much weight you have on each wheel. When you are sitting on the bike in your normal riding position. If you are bias towards the rear wheel much more than 45% front and 55% rear, you are almost certainly experiencing a weight distribution issue, not a tire issue. To address the weight distribution issue you can rotate your body position on the bike (saddle forward, longer stem and drop handlebars) or actively move forward on the bike when going into that type of corner to improve your flat land cornering performance.