By Ambassador Peter Wojnar

A few weeks ago, the lovely people at Kona let me borrow a Hei Hei CR for a little while. And at first, I wasn’t sure what to think—I had never ridden an XC bike before, and the internet would have had me believe that they’re like a greyhound: very fast, but only on smooth surfaces. All I knew was that there was a monsoon in the immediate forecast, and those tires did not give me much confidence.

My first ride on the Hei Hei confirmed that it is an absolute rocket ship when you point it up hill. Every pedal stroke felt like being shot out of a cannon, and the harder I pushed myself physically, the more fun I had.
And when the trail pointed back down hill, the bike did not feel sketchy at all. Actually, what I noticed most was that the acceleration and snappiness I felt going up hill translated to the descent as well. The Hei Hei was was fast out of corners, and it was easy generate speed—both on the pedals and by pumping small dips in the trail. And while the tires did not deliver the same confidence I’m used to, they kept surprising me by hooking up when I thought my life should be flashing before my eyes.

But still, I felt reserved, like I had to step carefully when things got extra steep and gnarly. But I had ridden bikes with similar geometry before—67.5 degrees isn’t that steep, after all. And while 120mm might not seem like a lot of travel, it’s a lot more than the hardtails I’ve ridden for years. At least on the descents, it had to be the tires.

But then while struggling with a particularly steep, wet, rooty and slippery ascent, I began wondering about rubber on the climb, too. Sure, those XC tires were lightning fast—but when traction was at a premium, they couldn’t deliver.

My normal bike is a Process 134 CRDL. It’s set up as a do-everything, go-everywhere machine. It’s just as comfortable on 100-km “day rides” and bike packing missions with big backpacks, as it is dropping into freeride lines and bike park laps—and to be honest, I don’t think I’d change anything about it. On paper, it really isn’t that different from the Hei Hei. 14mm of rear wheel travel, 20mm of fork, and 1.5 degrees in the head tube isn’t much. But it does have DH casing tires.

By comparison to the Hei Hei, my 134 feels more planted and confident descending, and considerably slower climbing—although it does deliver much better traction over loose terrain, slippery roots, off camber sections, and steeps, both up and downhill. I began to think about how much of that difference was in the geometry, suspension, and weight, and how much was just rubber. So I replaced the ultra light, bologna casing Maxxis Rekons on the Hei Hei with my preferred choice of rubber—2.5” wide, downhill casing Minion DHFs, front and rear.

All of a sudden, I had traction in spades. I felt completely comfortable on the bike on all of Squamish’s rowdiest trails. I rode all of my usual lines, blasting through off-camber roots and chundery rock gardens without giving it any thought, and considered drops and features I knew should be well above the Hei Hei’s pay grade. All of a sudden, the bike transformed into a short travel, quick steering, aggressive descender, capable of anything you’d tell your mom about, and some things she’d better not know.

Of course, I felt the rubber while climbing, too. Technical climbing felt easier (but slower), and places where I had struggled with traction felt less challenging. But for every scoop of traction it gained, the Hei Hei lost two scoops of acceleration. While it became a super confident descender and planted climber over even the gnarliest, most difficult sections, it lost that magical race car acceleration that pushed me to pedal harder, and that brought me so much joy, in the first place. I found myself less likely to be out of the saddle sprinting, and more likely to reach for an easier gear.

Putting such heavy, grippy rubber on the Hei Hei did exactly what I hoped it would do—but did it really make any sense? After all, if I wanted a bike that gave excellent traction and DH prowess, I’d probably want a Process X. And if I wanted a short travel, all-day play machine, I’d wind up back with my Process 134. Really, I think the sweet spot for the Hei Hei would be somewhere between the road-slick Rekons and a DH casing Minion, and probably on the lighter side.

So should you put DH casing tires on your Hei Hei, or any XC bike for that matter?
Of course you should. Just probably not for ever.