Every mountain biker recognises the iconic Schwalbe name. After all, they do manufacture some of the finest and fastest treads known to man.
In our latest issue’s Industry column we took you behind the scenes of Europe’s largest bicycle tyre brand with the hope of discovering the company’s philosophy and what it is that sets their products apart from the pack. Read on…
“If a tyre works good for the pro, the benefits for the average rider are huge.’
Let’s kick this off with a little bit of background about how Schwalbe grew to become one of the worlds leading bike tyre brands?
Certainly, the brand Schwalbe was founded in the early 70’s but our first real successes came when we began producing tyres for long distance riders and racers around the mid 80’s. Then, when MTB began to really take off across Germany in the early 90’s Schwalbe started to develop tyres for that segment. A breakthrough was the launch of the Albert Family: Little Albert, Albert and Fat Albert enthused XC-Bikers as well as Enduro-Fanatics. Since then we tried to improve our tyres further and further. Tread patterns, carcass constructions, rubber compounds and puncture protection systems – our first aim is to make bikers happy!
What is it do you think that sets Schwalbe tyres apart from other tyre brands?
We at Schwalbe focus on bicycle and wheelchair tyres only. We do not produce car or motorcycle tyres. So we obsessively focused on the needs of cyclists and always have the aim to make cycling more safe, comfortable, fast and more fun to ride with our tyres.
Without giving any secrets away, what is it about the rubber you use that makes a Schwalbe tyre perform so well?
Improving grip and rolling resistance, durability and damping. Those are the standard conflicting aims of tyre technology. Where enhancement of one property always comes at the expense of another. So ultimately it’s all about making intelligent decisions aimed at edging that little bit closer to perfection.
If you had to rank these 3 tyres qualities in order of importance which would come first; Grip, Durability, Speed?
This depends strongly on the intended use, but for most MTB tyres its Grip, Durability, Speed.
Who would you say is the quintessential rider that is going to choose Schwalbe when they walk into that bike shop for some fresh rubber?
It’s the rider who knows how a good MTB tyre can significantly improve riding quality and the fun you have on your bike. When you’re out there and ride your favourite trail and have a ton of fun, you don’t want to be held back by your tyres. Instead, they should enable you to ride new and aggressive lines, hit berms hard and don’t flat even if you land that one jump short into a rock garden.
In terms of volume which model is the most successful/popular in your current MTB range?
This is always a head-to-head race between Nobby Nic and Smart Sam. But since one year or so, Smart Sam is slightly ahead of Nobby Nic.
Schwalbe has been one of the brands to create e-bike specific tyres. Can you tell us a bit about that range and how they differ from a conventional MTB tyre?
Our target is to offer products that deliver the best performance with the least compromise for every field of use in mountain biking. With e-Bikes developing so drastically, we were confronted with a shift in requirements from our customers. Tyres that have been considered to be too heavy to be pedalled up hill back then, suddenly became the standard for e-MTBs. People were asking for even more puncture protection and grip, so we had to reconsider our former assumption that no special tyres are needed for e-MTBs. To explain it with other words, the former order of qualities was Grip, Weight, Durability, Speed and now became Grip, Durability, Weight, Speed. This conclusion lead to our design idea of Eddy Current, which largely differs from every MTB tyre we ever created before. It’s specially designed to last long, deliver a ton of braking/accelerating-traction and be super puncture proof through massive blocks, sturdy carcass construction and our grippy Addix Soft compound. But the best thing about Eddy C is probably that he’s able to handle speed like almost no other tyre in our MTB lineup. It’s very supple so it delivers a confidence inspiring feeling on the trail and even if you have missed your line and need to slow down rapidly, it will keep you in line and get your heavy e-MTB to come to a stop like nothing. The flip side is of course the weight penalty which is, compared to Magic Mary, approx. 15% depending on the size.
“We are quite proud about the number of teams and riders that have chosen Schwalbe as their tyre partner. We always watch out for riders and teams that are demanding and give a good feedback, so we can improve our tyres even further. And of course we are always trying to have long term partnerships.”
You mention rider feedback, how heavily does the brand rely on that kind of feedback from your riders to assist with developing new models?
Even though the pros are riding on a completely different level compared to 99.9% of our customers, their feedback is tremendously valuable. If a tyre works good for the pro, the benefits for the average rider are huge, even though the setups (air pressure, rim width, tyre inserts) may differ. So before our products become available to the market, the pros get to ride the tyres and give their opinion on it. There have been numerous times we have redesigned or adjusted a product due to our riders feedback. A tyre that is not suitable for the DH World Cup might be okay for the average rider, but it doesn’t correspond to our idea of the perfect product for every use and the expectations from our customers towards our brand. But it’s not only the feedback from the pros which is important. As they run a set of tyres mostly just for 5-10 runs, we hardly get feedback from them regarding reliability and durability. For this reason, we have a few dozens of riders all over the world that we equip with new test tyres on a regular basis to gather data for a wide variety of conditions.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today about the brand. It’s been really interesting to learn more about how you guys develop your tyres.