20 October 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Schwalbe Big Betty 2.4 UST tires

If you consider yourself only an XC type rider, then this review probably isn’t for you. If you have a big squishy bike that you do some trail riding and some all-mountain gnarly-ish stuff on, then you might be interested in these tires. My perspective of the Big Betty is as a trailrider who is pushing the limits of his technical descending. Schwalbe considers the Betty a freeride/light-downhill tire, and that is a fair description, but it is light enough to pedal uphill for some distance. Sure, you can feel the weight (1,100g each) on the uphills and your legs will scream at you and tell you you’re a fool to run these, but when the downhill starts, you’ll be happy you chose to run these tires. Astonishingly, the Big Betty rolls pretty well. I never feel as though there is a lot of drag on this tire and can tell that they are efficient (for this type/size) when accelerating and they quickly do what is asked of them.

I installed these tires on my Maverick ML8 which, at 6.5 inches of travel and only 29lbs, can double as a trailbike and an all-mountain machine. For a long time, the ML8 was set up as my ultra-long-travel trailbike, but over the last six months or so, I have been beefing it up some to give it even more ability on the downhills. This whole process started when we planned our spring trip to Moab, and I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that the bike (and I) came out unscathed and grinning. The first thing I thought to do was mount the Big Betty's- and they were great. I had them mounted on some Mavic 819 rims, which was good, but I noticed some washing out in the loose stuff while cornering and maybe a bit of tire roll. A month later, some Mavic Crossmax SX wheels showed up and that was the ticket. The wider rim and stiffer wheels took these tires from good to great. The difference was so pronounced, I couldn’t believe just a few millimeters of wheel width could do this. After Moab, a few months went by and I only rode the ML8 a few times- all of it on trails that didn’t really push the boundaries of the tires. Recently though, I have been riding some of the hardest trails we have around here, and I am impressed with the Schwalbe's. They seem to comfortably handle anything that comes their way. Even the loose stuff seems to provide reasonable stability under the Big Betty. The only problem I’ve had is that these tires have “burped” air a few times when I am really bowling over rocky terrain. I don’t blame the tire- yet. I have been running the Betty’s at 30-33 psi (typical pressures for xc/trail stuff) but that just isn’t enough for the Betty. The tire allows me to go much faster than usual so I can really plow into/over obstacles at speeds that require higher psi to keep the bead seated. Schwalbe states that the tires can go up to 55 psi, and although I don’t think that much pressure is neccesary, I do believe I’ll put 40 psi in it for my next high-speed descent. I have to mention that both “burps” of the tire resulted in no accident and I was able to ride for some time before stopping to add air.

The Big Betty’s use Schwalbe’s Tripple-Nano construction; which I’ve talked about before with some of their other tires. It is basically the use of three different types of rubber to maximize traction and tread life. It is a good technology but you start to see the wear on the side-knobs fairly early. I don’t have a huge amount of mileage on the Betty’s (probably 300 miles) but they are holding up pretty well. These tires also have “Heavy Duty” features which is Schwalbe’s way of saying they put a more durable sidewall rubber into this tire.

In regards to this review, I want to remind readers that I am not a “downhiller," so I don’t have the experience to review the Betty for that use- Schwalbe makes this tire in a non-UST wire bead version specifically for downhill. I really like these tires for what I am using them for, though. If you have a long-travel trailbike that you want to “beef-up” for technical descents or a week in Moab, I highly recommend these tires. The UST version sells for around $87. Pricey, as all Schwalbe’s are, but there is a lot of rubber in the Big Betty.



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