Another Tire Insert Option
CushCore XC Tire Insert Review
After quite a successful launch and positive response from riders and media, the original Cushcore has become the benchmark for tire inserts. This in spite of being more difficult to mount than a cranky bull. Following CushCore’s directions drastically improves the mounting experience but they’re still not easy or efficient to work with – not even close.
Despite the accolades and trailside banter about the merits of CushCore, whispers continue through the grapevine questioning their need. Is that much protection necessary for anyone not racing or riding as aggressively as the world’s fastest? What if there was a streamlined version of the original, one that offered some protection and to a lesser extent, the trail comfort provided by the larger one, at a lower weight? Was it even possible?
CushCore founder, Adam Krefting wasn’t keen on slimming the insert down either. He felt the original CushCore is ideal the way it is and that changing the design would make the product less effective. Adam gave in eventually and the CushCore XC was born.
While following CushCore’s installation directions for their original insert goes a long way to keeping your sanity, there are still rim and tire combinations that make it one royal P.I.T.A.* But as soon as I popped the XC inserts into the rim bed, it was clear the smaller version was going to be more manageable. Forcing the tire bead of Maxxis EXO+ and DD tires under the insert also proved simpler making the entire mounting process far more palatable.
The inserts did as the bigger brother does when it came to inflating the tires too and there were no issues with seating. I pumped the EXO+ tires up to my usual summer pressures for thinner carcass tires – 25psi rear and 22psi front. When moving to the DoubleDown version, I also opted for my usual 24 and 21psi for that tire carcass. Without having run the XC inserts before, I needed to start with what I was used to. Needless to say, installation was a breeze and when it came time to try them in the burlier Double Down tires, I was able to force the inserts onto the rim. There was no need to stand on a hammer handle and force the wheel to remain grounded, as suggested by CushCore.
On The Trail
During my first outing on the XC inserts – back in July 2019 – conditions had suddenly gotten greasy. On technical singletrack, the inserts initially went unnoticed because of the slippery conditions, which I consider a good thing. But once I got onto smoother trails with catchers mitt berms their impact became clear. Sidewall support wasn’t as pronounced as with the original CushCore, which is understandable given the shorter overall height and narrower width resulting in less material making contact with the inside of the tire. Nevertheless, in corners where I could normally make the tires squirm, the bead held solid. Tire response remained quicker, propelling me forward out of the corner and down the trail.
Repeating the loop, I stopped at the top and pulled out a pressure gauge to drop the air by 2 psi in each tire. As expected, the bike was quieter over the ground with the lower pressures damping feedback but in berms and sharp compressions, I found the bike lost composure. Pushing hard into corners, there was still no burping, but the squirm I was getting wasn’t ideal. The narrower width of the smaller CushCore still provides a connection with the tire sidewalls, even though I was just outside the recommended 2.4 tire width with the 2.5 WT Maxxis tires. Grabbing the tire, it’s clear where the insert presses up against the sidewall – there’s just less of it to provide support.
I spent the rest of my time on the CushCore XC and EXO+ tire combination at 21 and 24psi (f/r). With this setup, I found the CushCore did a great job of softening the blows and protecting my rims, while also helping quiet trail feedback, although less than the big CushCore Pro. Thanks to the CushCore XC being easier to work with, I didn’t dread tire or wheel changes and when the time came to test them in a set of DD tires, things also went smoothly. The stiffer casing of the Maxxis Double Down tires made the installation a touch more time consuming, but none more than it would be installing DD versus an EXO+ without an insert.
Before installing the XC inserts in the Double Downs, I rode the tires on their own. I run my DD tires aired up to 21 and 24psi, and often bump up a fraction in the middle of summer. At this pressure, I found the cornering feel similar to the EXO+ with insert. Given there isn’t a lot of support added with the smaller inserts the lateral support of the DoubleDown tire felt marginally better without the insert than the EXO+ with, but whenever things got chunky, the lack of insert was noticeable. Slapping in the inserts proved that when the tire does bottom, and even when it gets close, having the cushion there to dull the hit was nice.
Throughout testing, I was impressed that the weight of the smaller inserts was hardly noticeable. With these inserts weighing 155 grams, roughly 120 grams less than their bigger brother, they were much better mannered when it came time to get up to speed. Climbing was more enjoyable than with the original thanks to lower rotational weight.
In the end, I found that with the DD casing, I didn’t need the insert in the front tire if I had adequate pressure. In the rear wheel, I enjoyed the added protection of the XC insert and while I wasn’t happy dropping tire pressures 3psi – which I found to be my sweet spot with the CushCore Pro – I was happy running within 1psi of my normal pressure. Thanks to the XC Inserts smaller size, I preferred the tires close to normal pressure to maintain the response I wanted from the tread.
During the summer months, I enjoyed the usability of the CushCore XC. I’m no longer racing the clock and see less need to run the full hog of the CushCore Pro. The Pro version certainly has benefits over these, most notably the added lateral support and extra damping qualities, but I’m not willing to blow more time faffing with tire/wheel changes or to add weight to my wheels. However, this smaller, lighter-weight version strikes a great balance for riders looking for rim/flat protection and firm hold for the tire bead. The trail damping effects are less than the original and I found I couldn’t lower my pressures the same amount but they still offer peace of mind on the trail.
If you don't mind dropping to a lighter tire carcass with an insert, or you're racing, I recommend sticking with the full-size CushCore Pro. If you want a small security blanket, and no more burping worries using your current casing, the CushCore XC is a great option.
Ape Index: 1.037
Trail on Repeat: Changes as often as my mood.
Current Regular: Every test product spends time on Entrail