CushCore XC Install & Ride Review
I started thinking about rim protection a few rides ago. I managed to shove a branch through the center of a tire. Murphy’s law meant it went straight through a spoke hole puncturing the tubeless tape. No quick fix to that one on trail… Before we get into the CushCore XC Install & Ride Review here’s a quick bio and which aspects of my riding suggested rim protection because frankly, I didn’t see myself as a candidate for CushCore.
Riding Bio (R) / Purchasing Bio (P):
R: I’ve been riding long enough that I feel competent in most terrain. I have enough gray hair to know I don’t need to be pushing into the red zone risking crashes. Maximum performance isn’t necessarily my goal, but I don’t want to leave performance on the table either.
P: While traction is game changing for confidence, I’m confident in my particular terrain, and not really out searching for the biggest / burliest lines. I’m not sure I’d pencil in tire protection based on the bio above.
I knew I would be testing this product in a true sense – it might be right for me or it might not.
Balancing tire pressure, tire retention (ie not burping) and sidewall performance have a huge effect on your bike’s personality.
I was shooting self-portraits for the Ride Concept shoe launch when I caught this image. I was going relatively slow and easy (about a bike length roll in) over this rock so the amount of tire deflection caught me off guard and made me think about rim protection more seriously.
R: As a heavier rider with decent cornering I run substantial PSI (around 32) to keep from burping tires. Currently I’ve been riding Maxxis EXO+ sidewalls for the additional support, protection and notably improved damping (another convo for another day).
P: Some of CushCore’s biggest draws are the lower PSI, additional sidewall support and to a lesser extent tire pressure ramp. CushCore PRO and XC both act as a volume spacer for your tire as well as contacting the tire’s sidewall, lowering the leverage and adding support.
Burping tires is a sign that you lack support for the conditions. But at over 30 PSI in most conditions I know I’m leaving traction on the table – but I like keeping both air and sealant in the tire. The options here would be going to a Double Down sidewall or looking at rim protection to get the pressures down a bit.
R: I don’t often flat, but, the last two flats I’ve had have been a pain to deal with on-trail.
P: CushCore will help minimize pinch flats providing material between your rim lip and tire. It will also help protect rim tape from deep punctures like mentioned above.
While it might not eliminate all sidewall cuts there are certainly conditions where a bit more sidewall support will get you rolling past the shark’s tooth trying to cut into your tire.
Another factor I considered was a CushCore would help me get out after a near flat and low PSI condition without too much stress on the wheels.
R: I ride aluminum rims. My front wheel tends to stay in good condition. The rear? Well, I’ve been known to be hard on those.
P: Protecting carbon rims from karate chop hits with at least a CushCore XC is a good idea.
Aluminum rims might cost less than carbon, but if you’re constantly bashing on aluminum the maintenance costs add up and the interval between service will continue to decrease. You’ve got to keep them true and tensioned, rim edges start taking a beating and might not seat tires as well. Etc, etc.
And when finish one off it’s still going to cost you spokes, nipples and labor to get back out on trail.
R: I’m not a great climber (I have no idea what this “pain cave” people talk about is in riding – I’m looking for the Fiesta Plateau hahaha) and everyone I ride with is faster than me uphill – so – compromising climbing performance isn’t big on my list of “to-dos”.
P: Well weight is weight. And rolling weight factors out even more. However, the weight can have benefits (I can’t even imagine riding skinwall tires these days) so it might be worth a chat.
I’ve added rolling weight going to the more substantial EXO+ tires without noting too much grief so I thought a CushCore XC would behave similarly.
R: While fairly adept mechanically I don’t need any additional work or pain in the ass processes in my life.
P: CushCore PRO requires more patience to mount. The CushCore XC is easier to mount as it’s less substantial. I figured if I could get the XC on without too much heartache it would hit my requirements.
You can see the purchasing bio weaves back and forth on whether rim protection was for me. I thought about whether I’d prefer rim protection or going from an EXO+ to a DD Double Down tire as well.
So what put me over? The last couple flats I’ve had have been a pain. The most recent would still have compromised a tire, but with a CushCore to protect the tape I could have used a Stan’s Dart or equivalent.
My previous flat to that was a slice in the sidewall that I believe a CushCore (or the DD) would have prevented.
Finally my rear rim is kind of at a point where if I slowed the wear and tear I’ll get a notably longer service interval out of it.
Not to mention I thought it would be interesting to work with tire pressure and check on gains from a bit more damping from the tire setup.
And, truth be told, I get to write articles about it to help clients and call it work! Sorry boys, gotta go test…
CushCore XC Install:
You can check out the video for the actual installation of my CushCore XC as well as some tips on taping a tubeless rim.
I found following the steps to install a CushCore Pro with the XC were problematic for me. As I worked the first tire bead the CushCore would fall out of the bottom of the wheel. After a couple tries I ventured off into my “I think this will work better” mode…
What I found was mounting one side of the tire bead, inserting the CushCore into the tire and then mounting the second bead worked well.
To stretch the new CushCore over the rim I found getting low gave me the best leverage. This meant I could push with my arms instead of just pulling with my hands. Also, for the last third or so rather than pushing in a thumb width at a time I would stretch the insert about a fist width then drive that into trough.
I managed to mount the insert and tire without levers. Which says a lot as I have bad hands and use levers nearly all the time!
Watching the video over my shoulder Joe pointed out he can do that with the CushCore Pro’s too. Not sure I want to try that – but its possible!
CushCore XC Ride Review
PSI Dial In
There’s a fun little test trail in San Diego called E-Ticket. Relatively short, not super burly and has some high G corners with a bit of rock to bang into if you choose.
Best part? SDMBA tool kit at the top complete with a pump! Put the digital gauge in the pocket and do a handful of drops at different pressures.
I typically run about 32 PSI in my rear tire. I decided to start at 28 and work my way down looking for tell-tale x’s or slashes in the tire sidewall.
At 28 I didn’t see any sidewall loading. After a couple drops I found around 23/24 PSI I had X’s in the sidewalls, typically a sign that you’re about a PSI or so too low.
Just a little low on the PSI for my taste. The X markings have me increase pressure about 2 PSI.
You’re looking for “/” marks showing some deformation but less than the “X”. The tires felt like they behaving, I didn’t notice squirm or roll, but sidewall marks have always been a good reference for me.
After another drop or two I settled in with a sweet spot around 26/27 psi. About 6 psi, or nearly 20% lower air pressure from my typical. This also let me keep the rear tire at the same PSI as the front. It seemed sacrilege to run less PSI in the rear…
CushCore XC On Trail
Deciding that 26.5 would be the test pressure I put a few test rides in.
My biggest fear was getting so soft or heavy that climbing would be notably compromised.
As far as the weight – much like the jump to EXO+ from EXO tires – as long as I wasn’t in full “trudge” mode it wasn’t too bad. If I could keep some momentum on the wheel and a clean cadence through the pedals I was happy with it. If I was riding slow enough to “stall” the wheel or quit paying attention to spinning good circles with the pedals (which I’m notorious for) I could feel the added weight. But in most conditions it wasn’t a notable thing.
In fact climbing some of the chunkier trails in my networks I found the added traction was a nice feature. The mental “this should stick” versus “I’m probably going to spin it out and not make it up” made a difference.
It’s certainly not a secret that traction is confidence in the corners. But if the sidewalls start rolling or squirming around you feel like the bike (and thus you, the rider) might fling themselves past the tire’s contact patch.
Without tire inserts I frequently burp tires in the 30 PSI range so heading into fast corners in the 26 PSI had me attentive the first few times. I heard the growl of the tire working into the corners but not the tell tale “hiss” when you slip a bead. No spray on the tire at the end of the rides either.
The bike felt like it was on rails rather than having a bit of skip and slide at the same speed and higher PSI.
What I Noticed Most
This sort of surprised me actually – but what I noticed most with the CushCore XC setup was when you float off a waterbar or whatever into a corner.
Without the insert I felt like my bike had two small wiggles, or spikes when it landed and you tried to instantly change direction. Not sure if it was bounce from the PSI or sidewall wiggle or whatever but it had a distinct extra motion side to side.
With the CushCore the bike just stuck. Instantly. Even if you started leaning the bike before you landed it was well behaved. This got me paying attention to other conditions that would really test initial or small bump compliance.
The setup’s additional small bump compliance is really notable. Similarly braking is improved as the tire is more apt to dig in then skip over.
What I Wonder About
The improved small bump compliance and damping does have another side to it. Pushing the bike hard the rear end is a bit more “numb” than before. I don’t notice it at slower speeds but as I creep into the faster stuff I think I loose a little bit of feel out of the rear end. Now whether that’s good or bad I’m not sure just yet. It’s just different.
I wonder how it would feel in really choppy terrain at speed. Will the bike react as I suspect? Will it kind of monster truck over without my input making as much of a difference? Not sure yet. I guess the other side to that is in a choppy, high speed, high stress situation is when you’re most likely to karate chop a rim or pinch flat a tire. So maybe it all would balance out? Definitely haven’t heard any rim “tings” with the insert.
Is a CushCore XC is for me long term or not? You know I haven’t made my mind up just yet. When I went to the more aggressive EXO+ sidewall instead of the lighter EXO option I wasn’t sure I’d stick with it either. With the sidewalls I decided they were for me when I quit thinking about it every ride. Will the CushCore get there? We’ll see – so far it’s passing the tests.
Wondering if a CushCore PRO or XC is for you? Or questions on sidewall technology? Reach out to our expert team today to discuss your riding bio, terrain and aspirations. Our staff will help you dial in the best setup.