- by John Hawkins
- Published: 28 January 2011
Having a brief play on riding buddy Hans’s Specialized Enduro a little over a year ago opened my eyes to the existence of the Schwalbe brand. Until recently I’d been quite happy with my chosen tyre combination and didn’t feel the need to experiment. My Maxxis Ignitor 2.35 front and Larsen TT 2.0 combination was however looking rather worn, and after a recommendation by another acquaintance I was keen to give Schwalbe a go.
I’d been searching a while for something different, but each time I asked the question “how does it compare to the Ignitor on the front?” the answer from the bike shop staff was either “it moves around a lot more more” or “it weighs a ton”.
Why run a different tyre front and back? On a mountain bike, the front and rear tyres each do very different jobs, and running different rubber at each end is very common among the more experienced riders. Given the varied nature of the trails around Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I prefer to run a slightly more aggressive front tyre for general trail riding. I’m not out to bust any records riding with mates so absolute best rolling resistance is less of a concern than control, but on the other hand I don’t want to be slogging away trying to pedal gooey marshmallows either.
So I settled on a Nobby Nic 2.25 for the front and a Racing Ralph 2.1 for the rear. As I prefer to run lower pressures, I opted for the Kevlar-beaded UST tubeless version, which came labelled “Triple Nano Compound”.
The Nobby Nic has relatively widely spaced medium height nobs on the tread area and higher profile, angled side lugs (a combination of square u-shaped and hollow rectangular blocks). This is intended to give it more bite, both while upright and cranked over to the side while cornering, but the price is a slightly higher rolling resistance. While really only noticeable to XC racing whippets, the front tyre has less impact on overall rolling resistance compared to the rear.
The Racing Ralph has low profile nobs closely positioned along the centre of the tread area, a more open spacing in the mid shoulder, while the knobs on the shoulder have a slightly more prominent squared-off U shape form set at an angle. This improves rolling resistance at the expense of reduced braking bite while upright, but provides a smooth transition and predictable grip while cornering.
Schwalbe Racing Ralph on the rear
The Triple Nano Compound means that three rubber types are used in construction. A firmer rubber is used for the carcass and core of the tread lugs, providing better support to stop the lugs being rolled over under load. A medium compound is used for the centre contact area of the tyre and a softer rubber for the cornering lugs on the tyre’s edge.
Both tyres were quite light for their size, noticeably lighter than the tyres they were replacing, despite the wear evident on the older tyres.
Getting the tyres on was a challenge. UST-beaded tyres are tight and not easy to get over the last section of rim lip at the best of times. The Schwalbe UST beads required careful use of all three tyre levers to get the tyre mounted. A tip I’ve since been given is to use talcum power and if possible, a hair dryer to warm the rubber, so I’ll give that a go next time.
The upside of the tight bead is that they aired up tubeless almost instantly without any problems getting the bead to ‘sit’ properly. The risk of them burping off the rim is reduced, giving increasing rider confidence at low pressures. My standard practice is to use Stans NoTubes liquid tyre sealant. Air retention on some tubeless tyres can be a little leaky, Stans helps create a better seal and also provides a measure of protection against thorns and the like by plugging any holes.
Schwalbe Nobby Nic on the front
After inflating the tyres at my usual pressures of 30psi for the front and 32 for the rear, the first ride showed impressively low rolling resistance. Pedalling felt easy and the bike hummed along with what seemed like little effort on the flats.
However, the lower levels of grip were noticeable compared to what I was used to, so I elected to take my sighting-in lap a little slower. Steering was a little vague and, sure enough, I almost had a front washout at low speed on a dusty sandstone corner. The rear seemed to bounce around a bit too on the rough sections and braking traction left a lot to be desired.
This was not what I was after. I rode a few more laps, taking it easy on loose over hardpack. I had no more incidents but was left pondering whether my experiment would succeed.
Following an on-line discussion with friends, the feedback I received was to drop the pressure. I dropped the front to 25psi, and the rear to 27.
A slight increase in rolling resistance was noticeable, but the traction was completely transformed.
The front felt planted. No more skittishness on loose-over-hardpack. Softer sections of trail were also great, as was railing through berms without any movement and understeering on the front. Even leaning the bike over hard on tarmac felt more settled, I’m assuming because more of the tyre was in contact so it doesn’t leave the side lugs alone to carrying the load and squirm under the pressure. Braking traction was excellent. When the front tyre was getting close to the limit it did start moving around, though it didn’t lose grip suddenly. The difference was dramatic.
The Racing Ralph on the rear also felt really good. It just followed the front which is what a good rear should do. On some steep sections of the track where others were wheel spinning and stalling, Ralph just stuck to the track. On a couple of occasions where it did break traction, it caught again without stalling and I was able to keep going without putting a foot down. I’ve since bumped the pressure up closer to 30psi on the rear to claim back more of the excellent rolling resistance, with little apparent loss of cornering grip and only a slight loss of braking grip.
Confidence over rooty sections was excellent
In damp conditions the Nobby Nic is a moderate performer at clearing mud off the tread, and throws up a fair bit into the air in front of you. The Ralph doesn’t clear mud very well at all, becoming clogged relatively quickly. This is no surprise though as the Ralph, with a low rolling resistance tread, is not billed as a tyre for damp conditions.
The price is a little more than competitors’ rubber, retailing at around the hundred dollar mark. The lighter construction may mean reduced resistance to sidewall cuts in rocky terrain.
Schwalbe Nobby Nic’s have excellent traction with the right tyre pressure
For my varied riding conditions in Sydney I think I’m onto a winner with the 2.25 UST Nobby Nic on the front and 2.1 UST Racing Ralph on the rear in Triple Evo construction. It’s been a long search to find an improvement on my previous setup.
The rolling resistance is great, traction is excellent, and behaviour is predictable with no sudden surprises. The key is to experiment to find the right operating pressure for your riding weight.
Thumbs Up for
– Confidence inspiring grip across a variety of trail conditions
– Lighter weight than competitors
– Great rolling resistance
– Excellent combination for general recreational trail riding
Thumbs Down for
– Sensitive to inflation pressure
– Tight bead can be challenging to mount to some rims
– Slightly higher price than competitors
– Racing Ralph not great for damp conditions.
Schwalbe tyres are imported into Australia by Bike Box and are available at bike shops throughout Australia. The Nobby Nic and Racing Ralphs both retail for RRP $99