For the Scott 24 hour race this year, Bike Box (Australian distributors of Schwalbe) were awesome enough to be able to supply me with my tyres of choice for the harsh conditions at Stromlo. I have ridden at Stromlo since it was constructed and know that Stromlo is incredibly tough on components, especially tyres. There are a lot of rocks. That is probably the understatement of the year. Whether you are pinning the Red lap or smashing the blue lap there are a lot of rocks set up strategically to test your ability as a true mountain bike rider. You need your equipment to be bulletproof as Stromlo will just wreck sub-standard bike gear. If you don't have good tyres, then you are at the side of the trail spending 3-5 minutes practising your tyre changing abilities.
A 24 hour race is a unique beast. As a teams rider you will hit each lap refreshed and wanting to punch out the laps as fast as you are able. Add into the mix up to 500 riders on the track at any time and your ability to pick the 'perfect' line is hugely diminished. When picking your way through traffic some people peel off into the bushes and give you the entire track, some people give you half the track and some people give you nothing! What this means is that your line choice is constantly compromised. We are all aware of the randomness that you encounter at the edge of a trail. The unseen rocks that grab at the sidewalls threatening to shred them and your forward momentum.
Add into the mix night riding where you can see even less, and fatigue where you are just pointing and shooting, and you start to realise how vital your tyres actually are. They are the contact between your bike and the ground.
With this in mind, the tyres of choice were the Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25 Snakeskin. That is a bit of a mouthful so I will attempt to decode this below.
Schwalbe Racing Ralph - this is the brand and the model name of the tyre. The Racing Ralph is the standard tyre in the Schwalbe range for cross country, marathon and other sort of riding. It sits between the Furious Fred and Nobby Nic. It is a 'do everything' sort of tyre pretty much.
It has closely spaced lugs in the middle to allow for straight line speed. It also has strategically placed side knobs to allow for extreme lean angles. The soft rubber compound allows for speed and grip.
2.25 - this is the width in inches. I run a hardtail 26er. The 2.25 allows for a fair bit of float in the tyre and the extra width provides a very large footprint which equals grip. If you haven't looked into the benefit of wider tyres for reducing rolling resistance, it might be worthwhile doing some research on this. Tracks are only getting rougher these days, so the ability to run a bigger tyre at lower pressures is quite a benefit for straight line speed.
Snakeskin - this is the major reason I run these tyres at Stromlo. The sidewalls have a 'light and flexible woven layer on the sidewall which guards against abrasion damage' The picture below shows how this is (the grey component). These are bulletproof when it comes to sidewall protection. I can run these at Stromlo and ride as hard and fast as I want through rocky areas with maximum confidence. I am not going to lose 3 minutes fixing a flat tyre with these on my bike.
Now the 26 x 2.25 size tyre weighs in at a competitive 575grams. Not a superlight by any means, however, when you think about what the tyre is designed for and compare it to a true UST tyre at 650+grams, then you can appreciate that this is actually quite competitive in the weight stakes.
The rubber is Schwalbe's special compound which grips amazingly well in all of Stromlo's conditions. I won't go into the fine detail here about the actual compound. However, as a racer you want fast straight line ability as well as absolute confidence in corners when leaning at extreme angles both on smooth surfaces and uneven rocky surfaces. The Schalbe Racing Ralph has this in spades. They are my 'go-to' tyre for Stromlo when speed and grip is required. I never, ever lose grip at Stromlo with these tyres.
I have used a few different types of tyres in the past 5 years and have about 4 that are favorites. Kenda Small Block 8, Continental Race King, Specialized Renegade and the Schwalbe Racing Ralph. At Stromlo you need 2 things with tyres. Grip, and Sidewall protection. As a racer you need a couple of things also. Lightweight(ness), and Straightline speed. On these, the Racing Ralph Snakeskin scores 3 and a half out of 4. Pretty much th others only score 3. The Racing Ralphs are only reasonably light weight in the Snake Skin version. However, compared to riding Stromlo with 450 gram tyres, you can only really do this for special races where you are taking a big risk trying to avoid sidewall issues, OR you need to have the track to yourself to pick perfect lines.
For 24 hour racing at Stromlo and other locations that require speed as well as sidewall protection, I would not hesitate to recommend these tyres to anyone. They are extremely fast in a straight line, and inspire awesome amounts of confidence in the huge number of corners that Stromlo has. For standard courses where you don't have copious amount of rock, you could quite easily get away with the standard EVO tyre offering from Schwalbe.
This year at the Scott 24 hour race at Stromlo you had just about every condition that could be thrown up at you. Dry and Dusty, Wet and Slick, a bit of mud and hero grip. You can pretty much ride a slick tyre when there is hero grip. It's when it is dry and dusty or wet and slick that things can be highly modified by a good tyre choice. My lap times at Stromlo were pretty consistent, both day and night. Training and conditioning aside, I am getting as much out of the trail as I can. This is purely down to the tyre being run. People who race downhill know that it's in the corners where it counts. The Stromlo cross country tracks have more corners than you can count each lap. If you can take speed, or create speed into and out of every corner then you can go faster. It is pretty much as simple as that. If you are fighting for grip, then you are bleeding precious seconds from your race time. The side lugs on the Racing Ralph allow you to lean the bike harder and longer than you could on other tyres. This creates and keeps speed. Speed is good for fast laps.
A big thanks to the guys at Schwalbe for supplying me with tyres that allowed me to get the 10th fastest day lap and the fastest night lap of the Scott 24 hour race at Stromlo. Consider checking them out for the future. They may make a difference to your confidence, cornering ability and your results.