15 March 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evo 26x2.25 UST tire

I have been Schwalbe's new-for-2008 Racing Ralph tire since the fall of last year and I think it is destined to become a legend in the race/endurance community. This tire is fast and light, but still able to grip quite well on most surfaces. I do some racing, but I’m not great, and will never win anything, so I’ve been using this tire mostly for general trail riding- much of it on very rugged terrain. It doesn’t have quite the grip that most trail/all-mountain tires have, but it is so much lighter (mine averaged 660gms- crazy light for such a large UST tire) than most of those tires, that you can make-up for it with the extra speed you’ll carry into the tough stuff. Despite its lightweight construction, the Racing Ralph seems to be reasonably rugged. I experienced one puncture on this tire from a sharp stick that was angled just right, but I had a similar puncture in the past on a much heavier and tougher tire, so I don’t blame the tire. I was even able to get the Stan’s sealant to seal the larger than normal hole with some extra effort from the hand-pump- all on the trail. I experienced no sidewall problems with the Racing Ralph but, I must confess (again) that I never seem to ruin sidewalls like some people [marc], so I can’t be sure that the tire can take credit there. I weigh about 195 lbs. and I run these tires at about 31 psi. I have yet to have a burp, or other problem at this pressure.

These tires are very close to a true 2.25 (I measured with digital calipers) and that is just about the perfect size for a trail tire around here. The tread is different than the previous version of the Racing Ralph, and in my opinion is much better. It still has a fairly low knob height for rolling efficiency, but seems to have improved cornering knobs and slightly more aggressive center knobs for forward/braking traction. The tread is now made from three rubber compounds. There is a harder rubber in the middle to improve wear and reduce rolling resistance, a softer rubber with more grip on the shoulder of the tire, and a third rubber underneath to help control rebound. That is a fairly high-tech construction, and is probably partially responsible for the traction that these tires are able to achieve. On the downhills you should be able to keep up with your friends who have more aggressive tires- unless you are riding on loose rock/sand over hardpack, where you will probably fall a little behind. The Racing Ralphs just blaze on hard-pack and forest trails though. The Ralph is much more capable than anything else in this weight-range when you hit a rock-garden at speed too- the large size of this tire really helps the rider keep control. That kind of sums this tire up though: light and large. For riders who like the weight of the 1.9 – 2.1 tires, but would like some of the benefits of the larger all-mountain tires, the Racing Ralph is a great choice.

This tire has two significant weaknesses though: price and tread-wear. The price for the UST Racing Ralphs is astonishingly high at $75 and although technology costs money- this price is certainly up at the top of the range for tubeless tires. It might even be justifiable if they lasted longer, but that brings me to the second problem, which is that the tread-knobs wear very quickly- with the side knobs really going fast. I would wager that this effect is probably more pronounced if you live in the dry rocky part of the world, and may be less of an issue for those of you in greener areas. Schwalbe can solve this problem by addressing either one of these issues (or both). If Schwalbe drops the price, people will say “they wear fast but the tire is worth it.” Increase the life of the tread and people will say “they are expensive but they are worth it”- though harder-wearing rubbers could reduce cornering ability. Where it stands now though is that only racers and people with a lot of money may find the performance/price ratio acceptable. That is why I said these tires will be a legend in the race/endurance community. They are a great tire for competition in rough terrain and such- but if you are going to use them for everyday riding, expect to pull out your wallet a lot more often. I really like the Racing Ralph's performance but I can’t always justify the price- and that's with a my healthy discount.



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