The Schwalbe Racing Ralph mountain bike tire has been around since at least 2012, and over the years it’s been a favorite among cross-country racers for its light weight and fast rolling demeanor. For the 2021 model year Schwalbe updated the tire with a new tread pattern, from center to edge, that promises even better performance on the trail. I’ve put in a couple hundred rear wheel miles on this tire, and here’s what I’ve found.
Schwalbe Racing Ralph specs
Schwalbe positions the Racing Ralph as an XC/Marathon mountain bike tire, and as the name suggests, it’s meant to be raced, or at the very least used for race training. Buyers can choose from a number of Racing Ralph configurations, from the spandex-friendly, 630g, 29×2.1″ version up to the 745g, 29×2.35″ tan wall tire I’ve been testing on a Canyon Lux Trail short-travel trail bike. Schwalbe even offers a sub-600g, 29×2.0″ tubular version of the Racing Ralph that still uses the old tread pattern for those who are very serious about chasing podium spots.
This 29×2.35″ Racing Ralph features Super Race construction like the Wicked Will I wrote about a couple weeks ago. This construction is optimized for rolling resistance with just a thin strip of Raceguard puncture protection running down the middle of the tire. The tire I’ve been testing utilizes Addix Speed compound which is Schwalbe’s fastest rolling rubber that also prioritizes durability for putting in the miles, either in training or on marathon courses.
The Schwalbe Racing Ralph is directional and can be run at the front, rear, or both ends. The angled knobs are all siped which allows them to deform more easily and compensates for the firm rubber compound. The alternating center blocks are packed closely together, and transition knobs are few and far between. Dedicated side knobs are roughly the same height as the center and transition knobs, and are shaped to provide just enough bite and structure in the corners.
Schwalbe Racing Ralph on the trail
Low rolling resistance is a big selling point for the Racing Ralph, and in my research on the topic over the years I’ve come to learn that outside of a lab, rolling resistance isn’t so easy to quantify. One clue that I look for when I’m evaluating a tire is how loud it is when rolling across a hard surface, and on that measure the Racing Ralph is quiet and presumably also fast.
Test pilot profile height: 190cm (6’3″) weight: 72.5kg (160lb) testing zone: Southeast, USA
But what’s really convinced me this is a very fast roller is how it translates into increased momentum on the descents. I noticed myself cruising past heavier riders who usually have the freewheel advantage over me on the downs, and I could coast farther than usual on familiar sections, delaying the need to spin the pedals again. I don’t know if it’s the tread pattern, or the tire carcass, or the compound — or all three — that make this a fast rolling tire, however I am confident that it is well above average in that department.
The flip side — and there’s always a flip side, as anyone reading this knows — is the tire doesn’t provide a ton of grip on uneven or steep climbs. The relatively short knobs, along with the less sticky rubber compound, resulted in more than a few unexpected rear-wheel slip outs on high-power climbs. Since this is a race tire, I switched up my strategy for those stingy, rooty climbs and relied on speed over raw power, and found that to work much better. This is the more efficient approach to racing anyway, where conservation of energy is the name of the game.
Race tires have a reputation for sacrificing toughness for lighter weights and more supple construction. Clearly riders can’t have it both ways, yet racers want to avoid punctures and pinch flats too, especially given that a flat tire almost certainly means a lost race. I’ve been running 15-19psi in the Racing Ralph on the rear and haven’t suffered any flats, or felt the sidewalls to be overly floppy. The Racing Ralph feels lively on the trail, with minimal damping and good deflection when leaned into the corners.
The Racing Ralph cuts a round profile, and there really isn’t a noticeable transition from the center treads to the side knobs. Leaning into the corners and back to the middle is smooth, though it feels like there isn’t a lot of extra bite in the turns for getting close to horizontal.
Pros and cons of the Schwalbe Racing Ralph
- Fast roller
- Durable for a race tire
- Not much climbing grip as a rear tire
- Minimal side knobs make this a better rear tire than front
The Racing Ralph lives up to its name, and while non-racers on short travel trail bikes could make it work, it’s at its best for trails and conditions that are fast and smooth.
- Price: $98 as tested
- Buy from Worldwide Cyclery.
Pinch flats? Are you not running these tubeless?
Thanks for clarifying. Definitely running tubeless. I was referring to pinch flatting the tire itself (basically a sidewall pinch/tear), which isn’t uncommon with lightweight tires.