You’d think Maxxis would steer clear of messing with a hugely popular classic like the High Roller, but the latest incarnation of this big gripper only serves to reinforce its status.
After a week spent riding in Alpe d’Huez racing the insane Megavalanche mass-start downhill endurance race, one thing became very clear: everyone, and I mean everyone, rides Maxxis tyres.
The company has become the default choice for all-mountain/gravity/downhill riders and one tyre in particular stands out above all others. It’s a modern classic, such is its ubiquity. The High Roller is the choice for any mountain biker riding steep, technical trails as found in the French Alps.
For the High Roller II, Maxxis set about making a series of small and subtle changes that improve crucial cornering and braking performance.
Revised tread pattern to find small performance gains
From a distance the High Roller II looks very similar to the original version, but the pattern has been reshaped and refined.
The central knobs now have a sipe (shallow groove) that allows them to flex under load rather than break loose from the surface, and so provide more braking traction.
Between these central knobs are two wider-spaced knobs that, with a new sipe running front-to-back. This improves the transition from straight up to banked over in corner, giving more feel as you push the tyre over on to the shoulder knobs.
The final change is the improved shoulder knobs, which give the new tyre even greater cornering ability than the previously very good original. They’ve been angled slightly differently and every other knob has a slim cutaway in the centre, giving the knob added flexibility.
Underneath the revised tread is the exact same casing as the previous tyre so their durability is proven.
Currently the new tyre is only available in 2.4in two-ply casing with a choice of 60a rubber or Maxxis’ softer 3C triple compound number.
So how do they ride?
I rode them for a week in the Alps, and came away highly impressed that Maxxis had managed to improve on the great performance of the original High Roller
Mounted on Easton Haven wheels (a little narrow for ideal performance) the tyres do come up a little small, but then Maxxis tyres always look smaller than other 2.4in tyres. The tall shoulder knobs gives them extra width. With the tape measure out we counted 2.32in across. Wider rims would push them out a bit.
A week in Alpe d’Huez culminating in the Megavalanche downhill race is surely a good test for any new tyre. This is the sort of riding these tyres are intended for, particularly in this two-ply version.
After a steady first day to get familiar with the trails, the bike and the tyres, I soon found my confidence rocketing as I got to know the High Roller II’s capabilities.
Their performance is startlingly impressive. Maxxis say they wanted to improve cornering performance with this design update, and that they managed. It’s not a massive difference, but it’s noticeable when you roll the tyres over. Many found the previous High Roller lacked progression when transitioning to the shoulder knobs, which resulted in a slight loss of control in corners. This has been well addressed with the updated design.
I quickly found I could push the tyres as hard as I wanted into corners and be confident that I knew exactly how they would handle. Cornering on the High Roller IIs is tidy and precise. They give incredible traction and hook up smoothly all the way through. Push them over and there’s a very good feeling of exactly what the tyre is doing as it leans onto the shoulder knobs.
There is a huge level of traction on offer but you can get them to break loose, if you choose. Before you know it you’re controlling perfect two wheel drifts out of every corner. But it’s their control that makes them such an engaging tyre to ride.
I ran the tyres at between 25 and 29psi front/rear, with small adjustments throughout the week depending on trail conditions, with a Maxxis downhill tube in the rear wheel and lighter freeride tube in the front.
And after a week, there’s some serious wear to the tyres. These are high performance tyres so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. You don’t get traction like this without some sort of trade-off, and here it’s the high wear rate.
The central section that has weathered the worst of the wear, with the shoulder knobs still in good condition. As the tyres have worn there hasn’t been the dramatic drop off in performance that I might have expected, though they definitely don’t quite have the same sharpness they exhibited on the first couple of days.
On occasions, where the trail is harder packed and there’s lots of underlying rocks, it’s possible to detect the tyre squirming. This feels like a punctured tyre, and had me looking down to check a couple of times. On closer inspection it’s clear the base of the knobs are under a lot of stress, with plenty of cracks and tears showing the use they’ve copped.
Impressive improvements on one of the most popular tyres in recent history, with stellar braking and cornering performance. If you want the best performance tyres with incredible traction, control and cornering performance, stick the new High Roller II at the top of your list.
In this guise they’re heavy for UK trail riding, though, so unless you’re heading for the Alps, wait until Maxxis bring out the lighter LUST and EXO versions.