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Hutchinson Blackbird: Their fastest road tire yet

The French brand Hutchinson has been producing tires and rubber-related products for over a hundred years. Founded by the North American Hiram Hutchinson, with an initial factory in Châlette-sur-Loing opened in 1853, the business has grown exponentially and it is now the third-largest world manufacturer of non-tire rubber in the world, covering multiple sectors from aeronautics to automobiles. Being experts in compound formulation, fabrication, and tread design, the bike industry could not be left out and in 1890 they started investing in this direction.

Redesign and optimization: The Blackbird

A few weeks ago, we were invited to a press camp in the French Provence to discover more about their next releases and business direction. Among other news mentioned, their major novelty was the introduction of a high-performance road tire, the Blackbird. This was not introduced just as another iteration of their last road models but as a reassessment of all the challenges around bike tires: weight, rolling resistance, grip, comfort, puncture resistance, and tubeless compatibility.

The whole concept of the Blackbird is to aim for a superior tire that stands out from the rest and can satisfy the demands of professional cyclists as well as amateur ones who acknowledge performance. As they describe it, this will be their fastest tire yet. Compared to the previous ones centered either on leisure (Nitro 2) or four-season training (Challenger), the Blackbird will be the weapon of choice for racing all kinds of events and enhancing your overall riding experience.

The concept behind Racing Lab

One thing that characterizes Hutchinson is their investment and know-how in research and development, which goes hand-in-hand with fabrication since everything is made in France. All of the magic takes place in a setting they call the Racing Lab, a space where they directly collaborate with professional athletes to improve their performance and save any possible watt. This year they are aiming their products for world-class events like the Olympic Games, the spring classics, and top triathlon events, so all the developments having this label will fulfill the most demanding conditions.

The leading scientists and engineers from Hutchinson have been working for over two years to find the best rubber formulation to reduce rolling resistance and improve cornering grip while offering a good compromise of long-lasting wear and comfort. This is how they came up with the MachTread 3.0 compound, their fastest compound ever developed. It offers more rebound for lower rolling resistance (positive 25% increase of energy return), it is less sensitive to tear (positive 75% improvement), and slightly harder (around 10%), with an overall improved performance all around.

However, this lower rolling resistance is not just a matter of compound but also construction. If we focus on their main model, the tubeless version (which they believe is the way to go), we can see that the inner casing does not overlap in the middle of the rolling band but instead, it is open with an extra polyamide anti-puncture layer. This results in the symmetrical SwiftEasy construction with 2×127 TPI in the center and 3×127 TPI on the sides. Despite a smaller central TPI the puncture resistance is not compromised thanks to the polyamide and the improved compound.

Then, the casing is covered with the MachTread 3.0 compound, with a tread that is 15% wider to the sides. The wider tread, construction, and materials result in a flexible and reliable tire for the most audacious cornering maneuvers. Despite being a high-performance tire, the lifetime is over 4000 km, but will always depend on the rider’s weight and terrain. The tread pattern is flat, with minimal side patterns that offer some extra grip when cornering in bad weather conditions.

The tubeless model is the go-to version if you seek ultimate performance. It comes in different sizes (26, 28, 30 mm) and colors (black and tan), but it is only hookless compatible for 28 and 30 mm. If you still disagree with tubeless, you can always mount them with tubes on your old wheels or use the tube version of the tire, the ‘tubetype’. This latter version also comes in the previously mentioned sizes and colors, with a structural difference since the casing overlaps and there is an aramid anti-puncture layer instead. The weight of the tubeless version weighs around 300 g, while the one made for tubes weighs 250 g. Despite this weight difference, remember that the whole tubeless setup (liquid instead of a tube) is usually lighter and has some advantages in riding comfort and punctures.

Our riding test in Pays d’Aubagne et de l’Étoile

As we could already test first-hand with their ultimate gravel tire, the Tundra, we were not deceived at all when we rode the Blackbirds, but the contrary. The chosen location for the press camp and test was a wine château situated in Pays d’Aubagne et de l’Étoile (Southern France). Despite the weather being usually sunny with dry roads, the days before the event a strong rain forced the organizers to adapt the route so that we would be riding around the Termes in Peypin instead of tackling the Col de l’Espigoulier.

For this occasion, we rode 28 mm tubeless tires fitted on carbon wheels mounted on a carbon bike to have the most precise riding feeling of the tires. After around 20 km of riding, we had already tackled some small hills, descended through winding roads, and stopped to chat and change the pressure if we desired. The tires felt very smooth and light on all the terrain we found on the way, and despite the rugged surfaces, the speed sensation was constant all along.

After this brief pause, we had some drizzle, which might seem inconvenient at first, but it was ideal to test the grip in adverse conditions. Despite the wet tarmac, the grip was not compromised and you could feel the bike responding immediately as you applied some power on the pedals. For the longest climb of the route, we decided to put ourselves and the tires to the test. Going all in, we managed to maintain a high speed all along the climb without feeling glued to the road, but feeling light. Besides, on the following downhill, we felt very safe in every corner. A total of 40 km and +800 m of enjoyable and free-flowing riding.

Despite those good feelings, you are never able to really appreciate a product unless you test it with your gear. Some days after the camp, back at home, we mounted the same 28-mm tubeless tires on our aluminum wheels. The riding feeling of the bike immediately changed. Despite having larger tires than the 25 mm we had before, the bike felt faster with the add-on of extra comfort on the rough local roads. Besides, on the downhill, we felt like we were on rails as we could lean on the turns with total confidence.

All in all, we are very satisfied with these tires. On the flat and climbing portions, the tires roll fast and it feels like you are on a cloud. On the rough terrain, the compound gives you grip and it adapts to absorb the little bumps and the roughness. On the technical downhill, you can feel the grip so that you can link successive corners without losing momentum. Finally, we did not acknowledge this particular aspect, but the dark-tanned side gives the bike a distinctive touch that we really like.

What is next on the agenda?

Very briefly, despite being very tempted to do some spoilers, we cannot unveil the next products Hutchinson has planned to release in the upcoming months. However, we can tell you that great things are happening, which will put Hutchinson among the top bike tire manufacturers in the market.

What we can say is that they are working hand-by-hand with professional athletes of all cycling disciplines, designing compounds, treads, and overall tires to fit the most demanding and high-performance needs. That said, we can expect to see in the future a wider selection of tires for more specific applications like time trials, gravel, and ultimate performance events. In addition, they are moving towards a green and eco-friendly direction.

The Blackbird fills a hole in Hutchinson’s catalog, putting their road range on par with their wide portfolio in MTB and gravel tires, as well as other industrial sectors. It was the next logical step for them, and their fastest tire yet will help them to step up their game in this discipline to become the one-stop shop of the tire industry.