Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evo 29er: Grip is Hip

So I’m biased: I work for a Very Large Bike Company that makes its own tires. When these pretty things arrived, I had to keep them hidden from my coworkers. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29X2.25″ tires showed up right before the thaw. It was mighty mild during the winter here in Wisconsin, so things were …

So I’m biased: I work for a Very Large Bike Company that makes its own tires. When these pretty things arrived, I had to keep them hidden from my coworkers.

The Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29X2.25″ tires showed up right before the thaw. It was mighty mild during the winter here in Wisconsin, so things were sloppy for a while. I didn’t get a chance to ride these until a few weeks ago which is a good thing based on the challenges I had getting them on the bike and full of air. But once they were on… well, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, there was plenty of work to get there.

As some of you know, the joys of a tubeless setup (light weight, self sealing of small punctures, no pinch flats, lower pressures possible for massive grip) come with some tears during installation. Without sounding like a whiner, let me lay out some of the pain we go through to be free of the inner tubes that are SO last century:

1. Unless it’s a special rim, you’ve got to cover those darn spoke holes so the air can’t get out through there. Until recently the only game in town was strong tape that you wrapped all the way around the wheel in the rim bed. A challenger has arrived, more on that in a minute.

2. Since you’re running lower pressures you want to make damn sure the tire stays on the rim. That usually means a wicked tight fit. If you’ve got soft hands that have never known the sweet sting of a hard days’ work (and the calluses that develop from it), you’re going to be hurting after you wrestle these things on.

3. Once you’ve got rim tape in place and tire on wheel you’ve got to get air in. But since the tire is kinda laying there, not seated in the bead all the way around, you’ve got to have a blast of air that is strong like bull to pop the tire on. Floor pumps need not apply. Compressors rule this step.

4. The goo. There are many wizards out there that have special formulas with additives known only to themselves, but for the rest of us you just pick up some from your shop or preferred internet retailer. Stan’s is the Big Boy in this game, and that’s what I went with. If you’re an accident prone mechanic, don’t wear nice duds in the shop for this step.

Ready? OK, here we go.

First I peeled off the Bontrager 29.3 tires and rims strips, then I taped the rims and spooned on the Schwalbes.

I thought to myself “Self, you should see if you can seat the bead before you go messing with the goo.” Good point self, so I just gave it a try with my floor pump. Didn’t I just say up above no floor pumps? Yes, but hope springs eternal, and how sweet would it be if they just went on with me having to go find a compressor. There’s snow on the ground and stuff. Whine whine whine. As you all can guess, they didn’t go on that easily. No joy with a CO2 cartridge either, though I’ve heard from folks that works occasionally.

The things we do when we can’t ride the trails. I strapped the wheels onto my town bike to go in search of a gas station air compressor. Yes, that’s snow on the ground. I live in Wisconsin don’ cha know?

So here we are. I learned very quickly that this particular gas station had an air compressor with a serious motivation problem. A couple tries was all it took to realize this was not going to get the job done. Oh well, time to bring in the big guns.

Damn, this place has everything!

Once I was cozy in the race-level shop with everything a mediocre mechanic like myself could want, I felt finally ready to put this task to bed. Badass air compressor, real nice work stands and benches, tools on those pegboard hooks that just make you feel… capable. The first thing I did was peel off the horrible rim tape job I had completed in my basement. There is something better: Stan’s Rim Strips. I can’t say for sure, but when I took them out of the package I think I heard angels in harmony like in the movies. Think of them as half of an inner tube that fits nice and snug in your wheel’s rim bed. Installation took all of 60 seconds apiece.

Now for the goo. The shake is the most important part of this step. There are particles floating in this self-sealing juice that fill small puncture holes when they occur. If you simply grab the bottle, fill the measuring cup and dump it in the tire you’re missing out on those little buggers that have settled to the bottom. Instead you should invert the bottle (cap on, of course) and shake the hell out of it. The instructions tell you all this, but who among us hasn’t gotten so excited for a new project they blasted right past the paper that tells us the ‘right way’ to do it?

Rim strip in, goo bottle shaking, bike in stand with tires mounted almost all the way around and ready to receive this magic dose of trail happiness. The valves that come with the Stan’s system have removable cores so that you could theoretically mount the tire all the way and inject the goo through the valve stem, but pish posh on that. Watch this:

BAM! Goo in tire, ready for seating that last bit of the bead

So it’s in, the tire is mounted, let’s air these babies up. Put the chuck onto the valve and blast that air into the tire. If you’re lucky the tire will puff up, grab the bead seat and inflate. Keep going until you hear the pops of the separate sections of the bead seating into the rim. Keep going…keep going…getting nervous…will it blow? Probably, but if you did it right it should be good to go. I like to inflate to about 80psi to really seat things well. Now it’s time to shake again. Hold the wheel in your hands parallel to the ground, bend at the waist and bop the tire against the ground a few times to shake up the goo and encourage it into every crack and crevice inside the tire. Spin the tire a few degrees, repeat. Flip it over, repeat. Now if there was any hissing it should be gone and your tire should be nice and airtight. I’d recommend leaving it for a while (overnight if you can) to confirm that it’s holding pressure.

So, should we go for a ride?

Girl, you is FINE

Rolling on the tasty Novatec wheelset reviewed in a prior post I hit the trails in style. My beast is a Gary Fisher Collection Rig that I changed from the stock single speed to a SRAM XO 1×9 gearing. For the local trails I ride it couldn’t be better suited if it made espresso for me apre shred. I love testing new gear or setups on these trails because the smallest change is immediately apparent. I hate to admit it, but I never stuck to the ground better than this day on my Teutonic tubeless tires. I was telling a friend on a ride today that I’ve had to relearn the relationship between speed, lean angle, and grip because in particularly tight curves where previously I would drift or lose grip completely I was now on rails. The small, square-ish knobs both center and side dug into the dirt for a good stick, but never felt slow rolling. The compound is nice and tacky. I haven’t ridden them enough to judge durability, but so far the wear is on par with other brands I’ve used. But the ride: magic.

On a ride with my coworker, “The Crusher,” I led out and just kept building speed. It’s early in the season and he’s one of those rational fellas that do not go out hammer and tongs before his legs and the lungs are there for support, but it still felt fantastic to hear him comment at our first pause for water “Nice pace!” This is the same guy who can get out in front and just dissolve in the trees, only to look back and be surprised there are no longer any other riders behind him. With every turn I carried more speed through and realized this is what going fast is about; not constant high rpm grinding and spastic lunges but the conservation of momentum through every change in direction. The more I could lean into every curve the more I knew I could hold this heated pace. Glory was found in the springtime…

So for the final summation of the 29×2.25 Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evo tires: did I like them better than any MTB tire I’ve ever ridden? Yes. Did they grip the ground in a way that was tenacious but predictable and drag-free? Yes. Were they light and happy to spin? At 640 grams (claimed) each I’d say they did the trick. Did I have any gripes? Going tubeless is a chore, but that’s not Schwalbe’s fault and the payoffs FAR outweigh the hassle. Do it and you will be glad you did.