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front tyre experiments

obmal's picture

By obmal - Posted on 29 March 2010

I found out first hand at the Mont the difference that tyre selection makes.

First up; while at the pre race brief they were chucking freebies into the crowd, I was tossed a Schwalbe Ralph! It went into the spares box as I already had two new tyres on my bike for the Mont. It was a real top score that turned into a rather fortunate one as well (about 5 hours later) I think someone was trying to tell me something!

Historically I run Maxxis monorail on the front and on my normal rides (lots of rocks and gravel) have never really noticed a lack of grip when cornering, however after two front tyre washouts stacks in my first lap, those pine needles can really cushion a fall and luckily I found them twice! Including one that bent my hanger/derailleur.. I got up after the second one and had to realign the stem/handle bars.

I swapped out to my freebie Schwalbe for my 2nd lap. The result was an immediate and total transformation of the bike, I would have never believed that the difference between the Ralph and Monorail ( both brand new ) would be like chalk and cheese, but by then I had that bent derailleur/hanger (as a result of the previous stacks) giving me random gear changes to deal with over the next few laps 8-(

I wish we had a sparrow hill on the northern beaches.. how much FUN is that place!!

nh's picture

I would be interested to know if you find the same sort of improvement in grip when you try the Ralph on the local trails.

Noel's picture

I found the Ralf up front good on Awaba when it was dry and there was a layer of dust on the track. It cut through the dust (similar to dust on SH). They are an expensive tire ($120 rr). The Ralf 2.2 (which looks) like a 2.1 is going well on the front of my bike.

daveh's picture

I had Crossmarks on the front and back until last week when I put an Ignitor on the front. I went from going around corners covered in a bit of sand or loose soil and feeling like I was about to end up on my side (because I was) to confidently making turns in deep-ish sand. It doesn't roll as well as the Crossmark but then who cares about that if you crash out taking a mild corner.

darkmuncan's picture

During my prac lap I had a Crossmark/Larssen 2.1's combo and washed out heavily a few times.

For the first lap of the race I ran Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.25's (borrowed a Genius 30) and the difference in grip up front was much improved.

Ive always been a Maxxis customer, but was very impressed with the Schwalbe's in the dust.

Hasbeen Racing's picture

Dave, how much difference does the rolling resistance make? I'm considering the same move as I'm not completely happy with the crossmark up front but I do like the fast roll. I've also found getting the pressure right makes a massive difference.

FLY's picture

I am looking at changing my crossmark on the front so I might try one of the others mentioned.
What pressure in the crossmark gives better grip?

Antsonline's picture

So - a couple of consistant points here....
1/. Crossmarks are not all that - despite the huge amount of riders with them
2/. Ralphs are awesome (except for their price)

Of further interest is that regardless of what you might think (central tread etc) the Ralph has SIGNIFICANTLY lower rolling resistance that a Crossmark. There have been a number of tests done.
Ralphs are lighter, roll faster, grippier and bigger (more cushioning and traction)

With three flavours of Ralph (Evo, Snakeskin and UST - ascending weight and punture resistance) they are the benchmark do it all tyre.
You are so lucky to have been 'tossed' one.

daveh's picture

I am no speed-demon and haven't been back riding that long but the difference in rolling resistance is noticeable, albeit only slightly. To counter that, the confidence boost that I have with a beefier tyre up front more than makes up for what I might have lost. I also run the Ignitor at a higher pressure than the Crossmark which is is a small bonus. Put it this way, I didn't really think about my tyres riding over the weekend as opposed to previously thinking about them too much.

As I say, I am no expert so I probably need the increased stability more than many but it definitely feels a lot better. I still like the Crossmark on the back as I like how it slides around corners which is now even more fun with the front wheel going where I expect it to.

obmal's picture

Yes it was indeed a "lucky toss"..

I'm probably not going to keep it on for the local trails as they don't require that amount of grip and it would be a shame to shred it to bits riding Red Hill as the sidewall seems thin ( like maxxis exception series ) although since I have not yet had a chance to wear the sidewalls out on the ralph yet.. i'd only be guessing about it durability.

I'm not sure I will run it for the Dirtworks ( lots of rocks as well )

CRC has the Ralph for 50 bucks

Hasbeen Racing's picture

I've found 30 psi to be the best. Any harder than that and it loses bite. At 40 psi they are just dangerous in sand / gravel.

Brian's picture

I wrote a bit about my experience here and will be going back to Crossmarks as even through the Schwalbe's feel a bit better now I feel I just can't trust them.

Antsonline's picture

FWIW, I think the Ralph is the tyre of choice for the DW.
Its not too bad. I (albeit slightly illegally) rode the whole 100km course on Saturday and its not too rocky this year. The rain has brought a lot of sand with it, and its looser from sand than I ever remember.
It was SUPER fast if you hit the sand with speed. If you got bogged down, it could be trouble.
The one downhill (at about 20km in) where there were a lot of pinchflats and sidewall rips is still a bit sketcy, but this is only 100m. that is 0.1% of the race - I reckon its worth the risk.

Disclaimer - if you ride Ralphs, and puncture, rip one, and generally have your ride ruined, I am sorry, but not accountable! Eye-wink

Lach's picture

How did you cross the river?

VC's picture

I recently put an Ignitor (maxxis) on the front, it's a new bike...!
I ride Red Hill frequently and it works well
, and discovered it seems to work well at

Nick R's picture

Unless the course has changed significantly.

Last year both Whisperer and I got sidewall gashes in our Racing Ralph EVOs at Dirtworks running a Stan's tubeless setup

I am not going to risk it this year and will run a thicker sidewalled tyre

muvro's picture

Guys Shwalbe are the gun!

I run a single ply BIg betty up the front of my Norco 6. It is amazing the amount of grip I get out of it compared to other Maxxis equivilents. I'm not worried about rolling resistance, and found that I get better braking with the front tyre reversed. It seems to bite in better and I get no ill side effects regarding cornering. I found this out by mistake when fixing a buckle, I put it on backwards. lol Best thing I ever did.

hairylittlehobbit's picture

Im doing the dw50 for my first race, as far as i can tell its all fire trail and dirt road. There is no chance of getting side wall punctures are there?

what tyres do you reckon? cross marks on both ends?

BT's picture

I had a Crossmark on the rear and a Maxxis Advantage on the front, both 2.1 - Does anyone else use an Advantage? I love them yet there's little talk of them. I was lapping around the 1hr mark and had no wash-outs at all. I find they roll pretty fast and have great cornering grip. I dropped the pressures too and that made the cornering control even better.

brakeburner's picture

fairly new to mountain biking so just getting into the nuts and bolts of bike set up, but i rode awaba last saturday with an ignitor upfront and crossmark at the rear, was running on around 38psi ( i know this is quite high) and the track had a real fine dust over the hard ground below, found the first lap to be really skittish around the corners and it was quite hard to find confidence and trust in that lap, so after a discussion with a mate dropped the the pressure to 28 in the front and 30 at the back and made a huge difference so much more grip but was just wondering if anybody else runs there tyres that low or could give examples of tyre pressure's they use for different conditions?

Chitts's picture

.... with Racing Ralph EVO's (i.e. not the UST), and Stan's rim strips. I am pretty light at 64kg (and weight and tyre pressure go hand in hand). I (touch wood) have never had any issues and regularly ride Manly Dam, and have also done the Scott, Mont, Dirtworks, and Highland Fling with this setup. Importantly I run the 2.25 Ralphs rather than the 2.1 which seem very narrow for a 2.1.

brakeburner's picture

i've only just heard of running prressures that low, i thought low was around 32? i weigh 90kg... (on a good day)!!

Rob's picture

While low pressures are nice for grip uphill and stuff like that, watch out in the corners. You don't want to be leaning in and have the tyre roll off the rim, or 'burp' the tyre elsewhere.

For those looking to do longer rides, don't forget low pressure also increases rolling resistance and increases the chance of pinch flats (which is why tubeless is so nice of course - the pinch flat comment doesn't really apply there).

chuckie's picture

I recently just switched my front tire from a small block 8 to a friends spare 2.1 Ignitor for the dam, as I was washing out in the sandy bits with the sb8. The Ignitor is fantastic!! i can take those same sandy corners much faster and with way more confidence!! still running a sb8 at the rear and works well so far. The ignitor rolls a lil slower obviously but its not enough to worry about at the dam and well worth it for the extra traction

I will try the Racing Ralph next time, as I just herad Belrose Bikes have got a whole heap in

Hasbeen Racing's picture

I've been playing with my pressures a bit lately and I think I've finally got it about right with 30 front and 40 back. I like the extra grip of a low front but find I feel like the bike is moving about on the tyre if the back is too soft. The other consideration is suspension setup. I've dialled the rebound on the fork right down and this has improved front grip as well.

Lach's picture

In my experience the grippier the tyre, the softer the compound, the quicker it wears out. By all means sort out what might be a good race tyre combo if you want to be a bit serious about that, but its worth also looking at what gets some reasonable longevity.

I'm north of 110 kg kitted up, so run my tyres (esp. rear) at pretty high pressures (no idea what really, but as much as I can get in on the rear), trading off a bit of skittishness for minimal punctures, less rim damage and better rolling resistance. I'm not fast so that doesn't worry me too much. Biggest problem I have is with rear tyres developing cross hatch wear patterns on the side wall from flexing under the weight - have got through to the canvas on some and ditched them before the tread was worn down to where I'd normally replace it. Have tried some DH tyres on the rear but they are hard work to roll and wear quickly in the middle. I go through about 3 rears for each front.

Currently have a good ol' Hutchinson Python 2.1 on the front. Hardish compound but lets me corner at the sort of (mediocre) speeds I want to. Have a Crossmark 2.1 on the rear. The sidewalls are holding up OK so far. Depending on how much "training" I do, it'll probably last well enough to make it to the DW 100.

obmal's picture

Not wanting to pinch flat (I'm nearly 90KG.. perhaps why I'm sooo slow?) and ran about 40 PSI at the Mont to avoid flats, this is about 5 and a bit more than I would do normally, this probably had a lot to do with the lack of grip and the resulting washouts.

I ran the same pressure with monorail and then the Schwalbe, and the Schwalbe still had tones more grip, was comparing the two last night and cant really see how the two pattern differences ( mainly on the tyre edge ) resulted in such a dramatic grip difference?

However.. I did pinch flat at 40PSI on my first night lap (Schwalbe) at the dry creek crossing just before the uphill to transition ( was still deflating when I crossed the line ) and i then went to 45PSI for the next two laps.. still heaps of grip but I was freaking bouncing all over the place, rebound was dialed down as well.

I ran 50PSI+ for Dirtworks.. no pinch flats but 100K of that all but shook out my tooth fillings.

BT's picture

I had around 30-35 psi in my 2.1 tubed tyres at the Mont. No flats, awesome cornering and pretty decent rolling. I weigh around 85kg kitted up.

40psi seems like way to much...for me anyway.

Antsonline's picture

Hey all,
Whilst talkign about tyre pressures, its really important to ber in mind that it will be very different running them tubed or tubeless.
Tubeless can be run much lower as there is no chance of a pinchflat.
Lower pressures also offer lower rolling resistance (off-road only). There is also an argument that suggests that lower pressures will 'bend' round sharp objects rather than tearing. Maybe.

The biggest issue with tyre pressures and rolling off the rim though is actually the strength and support offered by the sidewall of the tyre. A super sknny tyre will flop all over the place, where as a heavier tyre will support the weight better. Stands to reason.

So - as an example, Mrs Antsonline is sub 60kgs (she'd kill me if I was exact in public!) on her training tyres (2.1, tubeless ready Bontrager XDX) she runs.......19psi on the back, and 22 on the front! Scarey low, but the tyre supports this fine.
For racing, she is on a much much lighter Bonty XR1 and can only get down to 25 on the back and 28 on the front.
I run the same tyres and on the training tyres run 25 and 28 and racing run 30 and 32

Hope that helps. FWIW, sub 20psi scares the bejesus out of me, but works really well.

Scottboy's picture

around 100kg fitted up I ran around 35 at the mont & even know I wasn't racing some places I was pushing my limit catching up too a few ppl, in some spots I think I should have had a bit less air in the tyres.

Noel's picture

27-28 Front with RacingRalf 2.1
30-33 Rear with KendaSmallBlock8 2.1

I'm 70 kg

I had KendaSmallBlock8 2.1 front and back, the Ralf seems to be much better on front with the cornering. I also find the puncture resistance on the KendaSmallBlock8 pretty good.

obmal's picture

A correction to earlier post; on closer inspection tonight, it was not a pinch flat while running 40PSI.. it seems that there's a small ( 3mm ) puncture/tear in the sidewall of the "free" Schwalbe... bugger!

Harry's picture

an Ardent on the front and Crossmax on the rear and have been pretty happy with that combo - changed to Crossmark on front as well for Mont and ran 29 psi and 28 psi (LUST) and never had any issues lap times were between 1.03 to 1.08 and I'm over 90kgs kitted up. In all of this what works for one is not guaranteed to work for another and it's worth a play around to see what feels best for you.

modelcitizen's picture

I think I've tried just about every tyre out there over the last couple of years and I can't go past the Kenda Nevegal for cornering grip, they're fantastic.

For the Mont I paired this up with a small block 8.

For somewhere like the dam, I'd chuck a high roller on the back. (better for the rocky bits)

Like plenty of people above - one of my teammates was running crossmarks front and rear and experienced wash out on the front so put an ignitor on instead. I'm personally not much of a fan of the crossmark, but the ignitor seems to work well on Canberran trails.

Pants's picture

I run a Minion on the front (42a compound) and high roller on the rear (60a compound). As said by Lach I also go through about 3 rear tyres for 1 front tyre from wearing. The minion handles great on the front.

I have the same tubes on the bike as when i bought it 5 years ago and have never had a flat. I have run the front at 10 psi, flattened the tyre and not got a puncture.

I normally ride the Dam and Red Hill and have also taken my bike down the Cannonball run in Thredbo. The tyres handle anything I throw at them, but do not roll easily.

I run 25/35psi for the Dam and 20/25 for red hill (due to the sand and technical bits).

I do have a heavy (20kg) bike and do not care about fast speeds (except downhill Laughing out loud) and I don't race so I don't mind sacrificing rolling resistance.

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