Tested: Kenda Karma DTC

Cost: $45

Contact: 866-536-3287; www.kendausa.com

In a perfect world, we’d all have tires that grip like 2.5-inch knobbies and roll as fast as semi-slicks, but life is cruel and we’re forced to settle somewhere in between. The new Kenda Karma DTC (Dual Tread Compound) tires are the latest attempt to solve this dilemma. Low weight and a combination of durable L3R rubber center section and soft, Stick-E rubber side knobs set these tires apart from the competition. At 490 grams per tire, the new Karmas can compete with the lightest cross-country offerings on the market, while still offering the performance advantage of a dual-compound tire.

On the trail, the Karma DTCs didn’t give Velcro grip, but hooked-up better than I expected for a tire with small, square knobs. On loose gravel, hard-packed sand, rock slabs, loamy forest-floor soil, loose beachy sand and nearly everything but thick mud, the Karmas outperformed similar fast-rolling tires, and gripped almost as well as more aggressive trail tires. On boulder-strewn climbs, the sidewalls were surprisingly soft, providing a supple feel but also a constant fear of pinch flats at low pressure. Since the knobs are all the same size and closely spaced, leaning into corners at speed felt stable and predictable, but on steep, technical descents you’re immediately reminded that the Karmas are lightweight race tires. The low weight and low profile design of the Karma DTCs lacks stability at speed. While they perform superior to a semi-slick in these conditions, they still lack the overall grip of an all-around trail tire.

Another downside to these soft compound tires is short wear-life. If you value durability over performance, spend your money on something else. These tires are designed for racing, and will wear out faster when used every day. If the tires were only used on race day, the Stick-E compound would easily endure the majority of the season. But after just one long ride on loose, sharp chunks of granite, the soft compound knobs were visibly more worn down than the other, harder tread compound.

Most tire designs lean toward either traction or efficiency, but the Karma DTCs offer an impressive balance between the two. They’re not as fast as semi-slicks and don’t offer the stable confidence of knobbier tires, but for today’s non-technical, NORBA-style race courses Kenda has found a good formula for success.