We put the Maxxis Minion head-to-head-to-head with Vittoria’s new Mazza and Teravail’s new Kessel, both self-proclaimed ‘Minion-killers.’ Here’s what happened.
The Maxxis Minion DHF is a cult classic that has been in the Maxxis line since 2001 — unchanged. To this day, the Maxxis remains one of the most frequently specced and most ridden tires for enduro bikes.
At age 23, Ken Avery, now VP of product design for Vittoria Tires, designed that first Minion with input from elite downhill racer Colin Bailey.
Before the Minion, mountain bike tires made for aggressive riding (now called enduro) and downhill racers used cross-country tires with reinforced casings. Bailey wanted a moto-inspired design, so Avery worked out the subtleties.
Fast forward 20 years, and the Minion — originally named for a 1990s video game character — still tops the charts. But that may soon change. This spring, at least two tires, the Vittoria Mazza and Teravail Kessel, both claim to be “Minion-killers.” So we put all three to the test.
Head-to-head testing: All tires were tested by three riders on 27.5- and 29-inch Next Cycling Huck Wheels. Testers rode the tires on Yeti SB140 and SB150 bicycles.
When available, we tested across multiple compounds. Spring and summer Vermont conditions ranged from slick and muddy to dusty and dry.
Left to right: Teravail Kessel, Maxxis Minion, Vittoria Mazza
Keep in mind that every ride presents different challenges and conditions, and most riding mishaps can’t be attributed to just one thing. Sometimes flatting, slipping, or tearing a lug is just bad luck.
Testing duration lasted 3 weeks to 3 months, depending on when we received the tires. Testers rode each tire three to six times per week for 4-18 miles on singletrack.
Minion DHF: The Reigning Champ
The gold-standard enduro tire, this classic has grip and aggressive lugs, and it still rolls fast. Those who run it and its partner rear tire, the Minion DHRII, love it. As a pair, they’re one of the best sets of tires for enduro riders and racers.
Tread Pattern & Rubber
The moto-inspired Minion was the first tire to have four distinct rows of knobs — two on the center and two on the side, with a mud-shedding channel in between.
It also boasts ramped L-shaped side knobs and Maxxis’ trademark curved siping. Siping is a groove carved into the tire that helps the lugs deform appropriately to give you grip and control.
This design gives this tire a confidence-inspiring feel. When you’re riding off-camber, the center treads grip laterally when you first lean in. But the side knobs wear out quickly because the lug sipe is huge and unsupported, which also prevents this tire from being even faster.
For rubber, the tires use Maxxis 3C, a single compound across the tread side, a second for the center, and a third compound for the lug base.
They stick, they corner aggressively, and the DHF tread design hasn’t been updated since it first launched nearly 20 years ago.
By placing a series of sipes on the tread, the knob can more easily compress laterally under a cornering load, creating a more tactile feel. When the Minion was designed, micro-siping, also called progressive siping, wasn’t a thing.
Maxxis uses micro-siping in its relatively recently released Assegai. Schwalbe uses it on its more aggressive tires, but Maxxis hasn’t updated the Minion.
Maxxis also uses ramps on the leading edges of the Minion’s center tread to help the tire roll. That’s why the DHF is a front-only tire. Ramps don’t dig in when you’re climbing, so Maxxis made the DHRII, which has horizontal bars for climbing grip.
Maybe the brand doesn’t want to mess with a good thing, but in the past 20 years, tire technology has progressed in ways that could help the Minion. For example, the Minion’s grip cornering is solid — until you push it so hard that the side knobs fold instead of compressing and the grip abruptly gives out.
Look at a used Minion, and there’s consistent wear at the base of the knob, or knobs that are starting to rip. That’s because they’ve flexed past their limit with no support, stressing the base.
Minions come in an impressive array of 27-inch size, compound, and casing models, including 3C MaxxTerra, 3C MaxxGrip, and Super Tacky compounds, with single-ply, DoubleDown, and DH casings for 24- to 29-inch wheels. Find the entire line here.
Maxxis Minion Specs
- Cornering: 4.7
- Durability: 4
- Rollability: 4.8
- Price: $40-75
Is it a Minion-killer? That’s a silly question — it’s the Minion. But it could use some updates to make it even more awesome.
It makes sense that the guy who designed the Minion would be the one to improve on its performance. Vittoria’s Mazza got the highest marks from all three testers for trail speed, grip, durability, and balanced performance climbing and descending.
Tread Pattern & Rubber
The Mazza’s progressive sipe width and 4C layering make it the best-performing tire we tested. Vittoria layers different durometer rubber in each lug, with separate base layers for side and center lugs, and separate top layers for side and center lugs.
Cut one off, and you can feel that the bottom portion is stiffer and the surface is softer. Layering gives the tire stability, increased grip, and better wear. Layers also give the side knobs a progressive feel when riding.
You can see how the tire works by pushing on the inside effective edge of the tire’s knobs — the edge that’s doing the work, whether it’s braking, cornering, or climbing. When you press, the sipes collapse. And when you’re riding, this gives the tire a gummy feel.
Thus, the lugs conform to and stick to rocks without the outer edge folding over. So, at the limit of traction, there was never a skid-inducing, abruptly collapsing lug.
Vittoria alternates stepped and ramped center lugs for best-in-class climbing front and rear. At speed, the Mazza’s staircase lugs rolled with the smoothness of a ramp, but the stepped edges dug into terrain on slow-speed climbs when the tire was fully loaded with the weight of the rider.
The Mazza is the only tire that we’ve used that closes the leading edge of the heavily siped center knobs, creating a miniature horseshoe. That helps the tire roll faster while also allowing directional flex without losing traction.
The horseshoe shape supports the sipe to help you maintain traction. It’s the same concept as the zig-zagged tread on a car’s snow tire pattern. Like the horseshoe, the zig-zag supports the sipes, which limits flex.
Vittoria’s secret sauce is Graphene 2.0, a compound the brand combines with rubber to fill the spaces between the rubber molecules. This gives the Mazza noticeably exceptional performance in wet conditions while slowing wear.
Vittoria has used Graphene 2.0 before, but in the Mazza, engineers fine-tuned the tread, layering, and how and where they use the Graphene 2.0 most effectively. Paired with a butyl sidewall, these tires look new — even after 3 months of heavy testing, with no lug tearing.
We tested these tires on rooty, rocky Vermont singletrack, which at times was slick and muddy and at other times was dusty and dry. But we’re told they work just as well in the desert. Vittoria-sponsored pro rider Jeff Lenosky claims that he’s been trying to ride up Grand Junction’s Horsethief Bench drop for 11 years, and this tire finally let him do it.
Vittoria Mazza Specs
- Cornering: 5
- Durability: 5
- Rollability: 5
- Price: $70
You can find the Mazza with Trail and Enduro casings in 27.5 × 2.4, 27.5 x 2.6, 29 x 2.4, and 29 x 2.6 inches, optimized for 30-35mm inner width rims.
Is it a Minion-killer? Yes. If you ride Minions, this tire feels like your tried-and-true favorite — but better.
The Kessel was a beefy, loam-eating tire with predictable handling in corners and on descents. An aggressive trail, all-mountain, and enduro tire, the Kessel tread looks a lot like a Minion DHF tread but with slightly different siping.
According to Teravail, tall, angular lugs and an open tread pattern made from dual-compound rubber give riders grip on loose and technical terrain.
The company added that ramped center lugs keep rolling resistance low, and durable and ultradurable casings with sidewall and puncture protection keep you rolling for “predictable performance as you push your limits.”
Tread Pattern & Rubber
Like the Minions, the Kessel, launched in April, doesn’t use progressive siping. But these tires use two compounds instead of the three found in the Minions. Teravail used separate lug and side compounds, not layered lugs. That translates to less control over where the tire is sticky and where it’s long-wearing compared to the Minion.
As with the Maxxis, the leading edge of the Kessel’s center tread is ramped to make the tire roll faster. Maxxis addressed this with a purpose-built rear tire, the DHRII. However, Teravail markets the Kessel for both front and rear.
Teravail said it wanted to build on the Minion DHF’s strengths of cornering grip, braking grip, and shedding. But the brand also wanted to improve upon its weaknesses. So it ramped the lead edges of the knobs and increased the height of the tread blocks, which allows a smoother rolling tire, all while still having strong gripping faces for acceleration and braking.
“The center lugs have somewhat wide spacing to bridge the gap to the side lugs, which increases transitional traction so there’s less feeling of falling to the side knobs in hopes of finding grip before it’s too late,” said Stephen Wilcox, Teravail brand marketing manager.
Teravail drafted each of the block faces out to aid with release while bolstering the strength at the casing. It also maintained its signature rounder tire profile so the treads track and steer with minimal pull.
Kessel comes in Teravail’s Durable and new Ultra-Durable casing options, as well as a Durable tan option. The construction features robust woven nylon in the sidewalls to prevent tearing and lacerations, as well as fine woven nylon under the tread cap to prevent punctures.
Ultra-Durable includes all of the elements of the Durable construction and adds butyl inserts in the sidewalls for added strength and structure. It also protects against damage from the rim on hard hits. And it has an additional half ply of 120TPI casing beyond the foundational 60TPI casing, which is another layer of bead-to-bead protection.
In both casings, testing showed that grip and durability suffered because the Kessel is two compounds, not three. A quick look at a set of Kessels that have been ridden for 3 weeks shows multiple lugs tearing off in the outer rows.
When lugs wear in the Minions, they shred at the base. In the Kessels, there are slices at the base of the lugs. None has fully failed, but they look close to doing so.
On the first ride on these tires, one tester placed his wheel poorly while riding down a rock ramp. The tire burped instead of supporting him so he could recover. He didn’t blame the crash on the tire, but under stress, the tire folded instead of helping him correct the mistake.
As mentioned, every ride presents different challenges, and most riding mishaps can’t be attributed to just one thing. While testers didn’t think the Kessel was a Minion-killer, we did think it’s a good tire — and one we’d choose over others in the market.
But the price is a deal-breaker. The Kessel is around $15 more per tire than Minion or Mazza. Find it in Durable, Durable tan, and Ultra-Durable casing in 27.5 x 2.5, 29 x 2.4, and 29 x 2.6 inches for $85.
Teravail Kessel Specs
- Cornering: 4.2
- Durability: 3
- Rollability: 4
- Price: $85
Is this a Minion-killer? Sadly, no. It’s a good tire. And if it was specced on a bike, I’d surely run it until I needed a new one. But the price makes it a deal-breaker.