Cushcore Review | How it Lives up to the Hype

cushcore
Cushcore is a big beefy tire insert that doesn't mess around.

Cushcore claims their tire inserts improve suspension performance, cornering speed, rolling speed, and damping, all while protecting your rims.

Cushcore is one of many mountain bike tire inserts on the market. It is among the heaviest, beefiest, and most expensive options.

But (so we’re told) their performance improvement is unparalleled.

This summer I bought a high quality Race Face Turbine R wheelset for my latest hardtail build. Everyone–wheel manufacturer, bike mechs, and former pros–insisted I had to at least get Cushcore for the rear wheel. Not optional.

Even then, it was tough to believe Cushcore’s marketing. Was this bike industry hype, or could Cushcore truly do everything it claims?

The answer I can confidently tell you…is Yes.

In my experience, this mtb tire insert absolutely lives up to the claims. They’re a difference maker, for the right kind of rider.

Cushcore Review

Test Conditions

I’m 220lbs and ride an aggressive/ enduro style hardtail.

The Blacks in my backyard have been the perfect testing ground for all of Cushcore’s bold claims, as they have no shortage of steep, bumpy, rocky and rooty lines on my local DH trails.

What Does Cushcore Do?

cushcore mtb insert
Cushcore fits tight around the rim.

Cushcore is a tire insert that fits around the rim of your wheel. It is tubeless; you do not use tubes with Cushcore.

The high density foam supports sidewalls, absorbs hits, dampens, and prevents rim strikes.

You can safely drop your PSI as well. My rear tire pressure went from 26 PSI down to 20. This resulted in improved traction and less bounce.

What are Cushcore Valves?

cushcore valve
High quality tire insert-specific valve. Notice how air exits the sides.

Cushcore comes with specific valves that must be used with the insert.

The air exits the valve on the sides, as opposed to straight through. This is necessary because the insert presses against the valve and would block flow on straight-through options.

Cushcore does come with valves, so you don’t have to worry about buying them separately. The valves are high quality.

How Do You Install Cushcore?

cushcore install
The critical tuck phase.

Hardtail Canada will publish a separate article about installation, as there are many things to consider.

It does not have to be as bad as some people claim. I was able to install mine by only removing one bead and laying it in like a tube, then stretching it over and around the rim.

When putting your tire back on, a critical point to remember is to push the slack bead into the middle of the rim, under the Cushcore insert. If you skip this step, you’ll be breaking levers trying to get that last 3” of bead to lift over the rim.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth installation article.

How Much Does Cushcore Weigh?

The Cushcore Pro standard width insert weighs nearly half a pound.

The Cushcore XC and Cushcore Gravel CX weigh less and are designed for narrower rims and less aggressive riding. The Cushcore Plus weighs more and is designed for plus tires.

How Much Does Cushcore Cost?

Cushcore isn’t cheap: about $250 a set. Luckily, you can buy them individually. This is helpful if you just want one to protect your rear wheel (especially on a hardtail) or if you have a mullet bike.

How is Cushcore's Trail Performance?

cushcore tire insert
One serious piece of foam. The material is high density and won't absorb sealant.

This section compares Cushcore’s performance claims against my experience running it in the rear wheel of my hardtail this summer.

12% Reduction in Shock and Vibration

This is absolutely true. I would argue this makes an even bigger difference on a hardtail.

Even with 2.6” tires, the first rides without inserts were quite hardtail-esque. Pinging off rocks, erratic rear tire contact on steep rooty gnar, little forgiveness.

After putting the Cushcore Pro in the rear wheel, the difference was night and day.

The tire is quieter, incredibly predictable, and cushier. No doubt much of this has to do with me dropping PSI from 26 to 20, but the tire noticeably absorbs bumps and doesn’t ping or slide off rocks.

None of my measurements in this review are scientific, but I can certainly say Cushcore will reduce shocks and vibrations.

Cushcore should run their tests on a hardtail: I can guarantee there would be more than a 12% reduction in shock and vibration for the rear wheel.

Increases sidewall stiffness 35% Reduces tire roll by 25%

Cushcore definitely improves sidewall stiffness and tire roll. But by these big of numbers? I’m not so sure. There’s no doubt, though, that it does make a difference.

I will comment more accurately next season when I install Cushcore in my front wheel and can really feel the tire bury itself in fast corners.

But this season, with Cushcore in my back wheel, the tire feels stronger and doesn’t wallow. It stays on line and isn’t easily deflected.

For me, the increased lateral stiffness is the second biggest benefit to having Cushcore in the rear tire of my hardtail.

50% More Protection on Big Hits

Of all the claims, I’d say this is the easiest one to confirm. Cushcore provides plenty of absorption which is obvious on bigger hits.

I had several impacts that left me wincing, thinking, “My wheel is gonna be bent. Major bummer.” Yet, my wheel always came out fine.

My aluminum rear wheel is still running laser true, even after a season of chundery gnar and 220lbs of rider weight.

Without Cushcore this would not be the case, and I would have had some majorly jarring impacts.

These weren’t from casing big jumps; more step downs and ledges onto unforgiving terrain.

Cushcore is a smooth ride and big hits are absorbed in no time.

50% more protection on big hits may sound like an exaggerated number but Cushcore takes up half the volume of the tire and is constructed of stiff high-performance foam–I trust the claim.

3.2% Less Rolling Resistance Than Tubeless

This claim I’m not so sure about. I don’t doubt the results, I just know in my experience “less rolling resistance” wasn’t super noticeable.

I’d like to meet the person who could say they felt 3% less rolling resistance. This stat does gain credence when we explore in more detail some of Cushcore’s other benefits.

Since Cushcore provides puncture and rim protection, you can get away with a lighter casing tire. There’s some improved rolling speed right there.

Rolling speed is also increased because the inserts do such a good job of damping the ride, especially on a hardtail. Smoother lines and less vertical movement mean more speed.

Closing Remarks

Cushcore does what it claims and does it well.

But, there are some negatives to keep in mind.

For those watching their bike and swing weight, Cushcore is a detriment. The weight penalty is one of the biggest drawbacks to this insert.

Evaluate your needs and decide if all these performance gains are worth the extra weight.

If you want some performance improvement without the weight and have trail/ XC rims, consider Cushcore XC.

Cost is a consideration as well, as is trail side maintenance.

Although it has not happened yet, I have heard trail side repairs can be difficult/ not possible because it is so hard to break the bead.

On the other hand, I have friends that have ridden out on the tire insert after blowing the tire off or getting a puncture. I purchased the bead dropper tool, which is supposed to help break the bead. I will report when I use it in action.

Bottom line: for the right rider, Cushcore is a game changer.

It made a huge difference on my hardtail and I will absolutely not go without it in my rear wheel.

Is Cushcore Worth It?

Cushcore is absolutely worth it, if you need the extra ride characteristics it offers.

In my opinion, if you are over 200lbs and ride a hardtail, Cushcore is absolutely essential to protecting your rear wheel and vastly improves your ride quality.

If you have nice wheels you want to protect, want to run lighter tires, or weigh over 200lbs, Cushcore will protect your rims.

If you are an aggressive rider that wants the performance effects of stiffer sidewalls and increased damping on bigger hits, Cushcore is definitely for you.

If you are a casual rider and most of this sounds like flashy mumbo jumbo (and I wouldn’t blame you if it does) Cushcore is not for you.

If you want lighter options, the XC version is the way to go, assuming you have the appropriate rim size.

Cushcore Gravel CX would also be a great choice for those who spend long days grinding on gravel roads on gravel/ cx bikes and want the damping benefits.

Cushcore is a high-performance product that lives up to the hype. For anyone on a hardtail, definitely give them thought. They noticeably improve ride quality.

I keep up to many of my friends on enduro bikes, as I comfortably straight-line my Rocky Mountain Growler on sections that would have me bouncing all over if it were not for Cushcore.

I will add to this review next season when I put Cushcore in my front wheel.

Stay tuned.

 

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