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Here in the desert, our tire expectations do differ from those in loamier parts of the world. Most of us have been attracted by the siren call of 400 and 500g tires, only to find ourselves cursing our foolishness while walking towards a distant finish line, sealant dribbling from the paper-thin sidewalls of a brand new $65 tire. If I’m going to be riding hard, when tired, or at night, I want a fast rolling tire that will forgive a bit of rider error and save me from the ‘converted tire’ walk of shame.
When we approached them about our Project 24 build, Schwalbe offered to send out their most successful cross country tire: the Racing Ralph. Though the Racing Ralph is available in a 465g 2.1, the sturdier SnakeSkin casing is only available in a 2.25. The additional 50g (over a non-snakeskin 2.25, 100g over the 2.1) seemed like sensible insurance against Tucson’s sharp rocks and trailside cacti.
Looking at the Racing Ralph, one could be forgiven for wondering how on earth it could live up to it’s name. Honestly. It’s fat. It has actual knobs. It even has Schwalbe’s sturdy SnakeSkin casing. It must be heavy. And slow.
Actually, it isn’t. The honest-to-goodness 2.25in tire weighed in 565g. Not freakishly light, but certainly reasonable. And I’ll be darned if it doesn’t roll as well as anything I’ve ridden recently. Not to mention that it corners fantastically. What good is rolling fast if you’re spit off the outside of the first corner? Read on to see how the Ralphs handled 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo…
My personal experience with Schwalbe tires has been mixed. I love the tread of most of the tires that I’ve tried- but many of their earlier tires met their end far too early thanks to sidewall cuts. More recent models have been better in that respect- but some of their high-end multi-density rubber compounds wear alarmingly fast when used as rear tires. Schwalbe make no apologies for their propensity for wear- it’s a tradeoff made in favor of both good traction and low rolling resistance. Seeing as I’ve killed tires that haven’t worked as well for me just as quickly, it’s a bargain that I’m willing to strike, especially for racing. Riders whose local terrain is a bit less abrasive shouldn’t have the same sort of wear issues that we see in the desert Southwest.
Schwalbe rate the Racing Ralph at 3 out of 5 for loose terrain grip. It’s no surprise, then, that I found that the front tire would push to the outside of gravely corners- especially with 40mph winds making weight transfers a bit unpredictable. Once the rains hit, the Ralph came into its own. It’s hardly a mud tire, but the shallow knobs prevented mud buildup and from then on, the additional moisture meant that the Racing Ralphs never broke loose again. Not once. Though I found myself flagging physically, having ridden a course 6 or 8 times in the course of 24 hours gave me the confidence to really push the bike through the corners, right up to the end. This meant that I was asking a lot of my tires- and the Schwalbes delivered.
The large volume of the 2.25s had me eying the Truth’s limited tire clearance and wondering about narrower rubber, but when all is said and done, I was happy to have had the extra volume and the SnakeSkin casing. After 200-250 miles of hard racing and training use, the Ralphs’ tread is in good shape and the casing appears unscathed. The rear tire’s shoulder knobs are starting to show the strain- but still have loads of sharp edges and perform as well as they did when new. A number of cactus spines did make their way through the tread, but the tires held air impressively (thanks, in part, to 2 scoops’ worth of Stan’s sealant).
So far, my only hesitation in recommending the Ralphs is their asking price. At $82 apiece, they’re certainly at the high end of the price spectrum. That said, there aren’t many high-volume race tires in the same weight range that are as able to shrug off that much high-intensity desert riding- especially with an increasingly sloppy pilot at the controls. Given the amount of money just getting to the start line can consume, an extra $15 or $20 on tires that will get you to the finish line, intact and in control, is probably money well spent. We’ll be spending the rest of the summer on the Ralphs as well as their Nobby-er brother Nic and report back around fall. Stay tuned…