Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Schwalbe MTB Tires Review : Rocket Ron and Nobby Nic

I made a huge upgrade recently to my mountain bike. No, I did not change my bike. It is still the Taiwan frame Orbea.
My first "proper" MTB. Before this, i was riding "hand me down". 
The bike served me really well. Superb almost. Because it was sized to my frame and the parts were hand-picked to my pocket-affordability, it served the purpose. Sufficient for some hard riding and "cheap" enough to trash it around (and not worried if I scratch it).
OK. Cheap is subjective. I did pay substantial for this - but compared to what I am (and still doing)  to it, I won't be too alarmed if i break anything as they are built to take the abuse. This bike was a many first for me. To start it off, my first hollow crank. First hydraulic brake (which i broke after two rides falling from top of the descent to the bottom over rocky surface). First color coordinated bike (yes, we want to look good while getting dirty).
Hollow-crank, just because it's sexy.
However, the sticky point was the tires. I've wanted Kenda Nevegal (otherwise known locally as Kenda Never-Gagal) as this rubber is superb in Kiara. Those that ride Kiara will know that Nevegal is the best to handle the condition thrown at them in Kiara. Because of lack of choices, I sort of settled for a 1.9 Hutchinson Scorpion.
The Rubber.
There is nothing wrong with the tires. It served it purpose well during Sabah Adventure Challenge 2010. The only complains i have was that this tire is ol-skool. It has wire bead in it making mounting and dis-mounting during puncture repair a painful process for the fingers even with tools.
Good grip in dry condition, not when wet
With Xterra just (then) three weeks away, I need to get my bike serviced and a few things sorted. The seat need to be changed as the old one is falling apart. The handlebar need some re-config. The gears need tuning. And the tires really need some major overhaul. I went to Bike Elementz, in Kepong for some TLC.
Bikes. Bikes. Bikes. and More Bikes.
Reason why i went all the way there was because I tested their Boardman EM1.7 that was loaned to me for a while. But since I am more comfortable to ride my own bike, i decided to bring it there and "test" their services. Once I was there, the store manager Gavin and his partner Justin helped me with the two bikes and proceed to ask me what I need to do.
"Service?". I don't usually send my bike for servicing, but with Xterra nearby and the need to make sure everything was superbly tune came to mind.
Then the shopping begin.
The Schwalbe
I have never had any experience with this brand before. Preferring the tried and tested Ritchey tires for mountain bike (Z Max was my favourite) and never gone beyond 1.9 width. I told Justin my riding style (mostly Cross-Country or XC) with a little technical portion (because i PUSH most technical trails - shy!). I told him this will be specific for Xterra with mix of technical and plantation route and he suggested a combination of two tires from Schwalbe.
"But I want NeverGagal (Nevegal)", I said.
He explained that Nevegal is good, but what he is about to introduce, is better....
And much more expensive.
Nobby Nic. 2.10 for front
Rocket Ron 1.85 for back
Each tires cost me almost RM190...but it took me 3minutes to decide. Yeap, that was 27 minutes faster than when bargaining for car tires (when obviously the car would require better features, safety wise). My reason for this was because I wanted something reliable and a quick googling on my phone did confirmed that the tires were "control" and "speed" freaks. So, what better way to...AYE.
Two days later, I collected the bike from Bike Elementz. I had both the tires changed, my handlebar(too long) sawed off, had my seat replaced (Selle Italia Q-bic). The bike has been tuned and the front fork has been matched to my current 69kg weight. Before that was pressurized for 85kg. If i ride using that pressure, I will not have any shock absorption. I did not manage to try my bike as it was pouring that evening (of the bike collection). But come Sunday Morning at the trail familiarisation, I was super excited.
Nobby Nic 2.10
This tire was placed up-front for better control in the technical trail. A check on the official website mentioned that this tire is "versatile on all ground" and "light and fastest". Tires is light, fold-able and tubeless-ready
Meet Nic.
Rocket Ron 1.85
Lower rolling resistance and good control placed this tire on the back for me. I decided on the 1.85 instead of the 2.0 or 2.1 simply for the speed. Doubted with superb grip and yet low rolling resistance, Rocket Ron promises to bring you from slow to fast effortlessly. Likewise like the Nobby Nic, the tire is light, fold-able and tubeless ready.
Hello Ron.
The Ride
First experience on the tires were awesome. Both were filled with pressure at 40psi for a compromise between grip and speed. Yes, i also thought it was too high. I usually run it at 32psi. On sealed tarmac the ride was very neutral, almost road tire like. I hardly feel the bumps. Once it went into the loose gravel of the plantation road, the Rocket Ron started to show why it is favoured for speed - It was fast.
Leading the pack
The front Nobby Nic gripped the loose gravel pretty well too. One thing i noticed was that the bumps on the tires were not felt as much compared to my older Hutchinson. Schwalbe tires fitted on my bike felt "soft" as it mold itself into the surface. We went through a patch of silty road and the silts sort of caught onto the tires to the extend that it wrapped the tire.
Rocket Ron all covered
Nobby Nic too
One of the reason for the tire's tread to be spaced out is for "self cleaning" to take place. This is achieved when the tire spin again and "throw" the dirt off. I a interested to see how long that will take.
Everyone's tire were covered in muck
As expected, it did not take too long for the pair of tires on my bike. These were about 5minutes after the silty section

The route then brought us into PCP. By then, or about 3km from the silty area, the mucks has left both the tires.
Rocket Ron self-cleaned 
another angle - take note of how other tires still has mucks on them - compromising tractions
Nobby Nic looked cleaner than the tire it was touching
The ability of the tires to self-clean is very important expect of a good technical tire. Having the tires tread all covered up heavily with muck or mud will compromise the gripping quality of the tires and in critical section, you will lose traction and could be disastrous. 
I am happy to report that the grip rendered by both the model of tires were superb. The control of Nobby Nic were good too as I go around the technical trail in PCP. Tight switch backs, technical descent were all taken in the World Championship loop. The low rolling resistance of Rocket Ron -lets just say I wondered what will happen if i used the same setting up-front in an out-and-out XC race.
Fast downhill before entering into the technical trail
You truly get what you paid for. While the tires were not exactly cheap, they both performance as claimed. The control with a wider tires upfront and the speed with a narrower back setup. The Nobby Nic helped me manoeuvre through the roots and ruts while the Rocket Ron provided traction and low rolling resistance when it needed to. 
While the combination of the tire might be weird for some, i for one learnt never to be afraid to mix two different tread tires and two different sizes (width). If ever in doubt, listen to opinions of your local bike shop (LBS) as they would have gotten feedback if the items they sell actually work. 
No. I did not wash this. 
Both the tires can be obtained from your LBS, in this case for me, Bike Elementz in Kepong. By the way, the service and tuning to the bike was good. I had my wheels alignment done as it was wobbly previously. A full list of services for the bikes can be queried from the shop. Now to wait for Xterra Malaysia this weekend to put these good tires and to clock in some good timing on the bike loop. See you this weekend!


  1. Please try it in Kiara and post an update on it. Haven't heard any good reviews about these tires when it comes to Kiara.

    1. I will ride it in Kiara on Monday. Will update. My previous Scropion was ok in Kiara. I attribute it more to riders' problem. You see, i am not that skillful when it comes to technical trail.

    2. i really agreed of what you meant for,,, i also ride my xtc giant mtb for the first time with nobby nic 26x 2.10 it was terrific both xc riding and cross country ,, light and fast,,,,,road biking i used 45psi both tires ohhh yes superb ,,,,with my weight 64kg , it's nobby nic,,,,,, i love it ,,,,

    3. Victor- I raced Xterra on 32psi and it was superb. The slightly damp ground helped with the grip tremendously and there was no slippage.

  2. Stupe..i m a tonne load of nervous energy here ! see u this weekend! and wish me luck n courage to complete my first ever tri ! good luck to u too!
    -syikin wondermum :) -

    1. You will do mighty fine Syikin. You will and i promise you that. :)

      See you this weekend!

    2. Thanks for believing in me, Stupe..
      And thanks for all the countless tips that u gave..
      U r a gem of guy !
      Oh well..like they say.."bring it on, baby! "
      (shivers) ;)
      Redah je!!

    3. Congrats on winning the Women Sprint Syikin! You did it!