Thursday, February 7, 2013

Schwalbe Rapid Rob MTB Tire Review


Schwalbe has an excellent reputation for putting out stellar, high quality MTB tires. The up side has been their grip and superior compounds, the down side has been their prices, that is until now. The New Rapid Rob follows a long tradition of tires named with the alliterative double R, like Racing Ralph and Rocket Ron. Not a bad tradition to be a part of. So, what is different with the Rapid Rob that we haven't seen before? I bought a pair of 26 by 2.10 and put them on my bike to find out.


The Tread - The Rapid Rob is advertised as having a 50 EPI carcass, LiteSkin sidewalls and puncture protection. It is actually a retread of the old Racing Ralph design. Not a bad choice since the goal appears to be to provide a popular and proven pattern for the sake of reaching economically minded consumers like myself. 

Seating - Putting the tires on was a pinch. They slid easily onto my Bontrager Camino rims and filled up quickly. However, after taking them out onto the street, they felt a little too plush so I had to add more air to solidify the bike's balance. Even then the Rapid Robs reminded you that they were not meant for pavement. They stick to the concrete when turning and display adequate though not impressive rolling resistance.


On the Trail - This is where the fun begins. The grip continued on hardpack, grass and dirt allowing speed to flow from the guidance of the front wheel to the push of the rear. The tires are directional with tilted side knobs meant to optimize efficiency. This seems intended to allow the rear tire to use the reverse knobs for sharper grip when climbing. However, I have read that this also wears out the rear tread faster. I did not reverse my rear tire having learned that the grip is just fine without changing it.

I put the tires through a handful of fun tests that included braking, ripping, jumping and sprints. They performed adequately in all areas but the best result came from my switchback. This is a corner that descends a couple feet, turns around a fence into a deep section of sand and ascends immediately up a couple more feet. I have attempted this particular trick corner 20 times in the past and only successfully completed it once. With the Rapid Robs tracking gracefully I was able to turn the corner tighter than usual and I used the grip of the rear tire to propel the bike out of the deep sand and up the incline. It worked on the very first try.


In Comparison - It is important to note that I have been riding on Bontrager LT3s. These came stock on my Trek 4300 and are recreational tires meant for the street and hardpack. In comparison the Schwalbe Rapid Robs are a godsend. Where the LT3s slide out in corners, the Rapid Robs stick like glue. The LT3s roll atop the terrain, while the Rapid Robs dig into the terrain. The LT3s force you to feel every tiny, little bump while the Rapid Robs absorb the small stuff so you can enjoy the big stuff. The only place where the LT3s win is on the street.

In Conclusion - I still have to take the Rapid Robs on a long distance ride to see how they respond in a wider variety of situations but so far they are living up to their intended use. If nothing else, you can't lose on a tire this inexpensive. I purchased my pair at Real Bikes of Englewood for only $23. each. You can't beat a price like that.


Review Update: After one year of riding I can report that the tires still inspire confidence when it comes to grip. They are narrower, harder and heavier than their sister tire the Racing Ralph but I have been enjoying all the benefits of all that ripping power. I have ridden in very wet conditions, dry hardpack at high speeds and on the road in time trials where rolling resistance barely slowed me down. The big test came when I used them for a 40 mile off road endurance race. The toughness of the rubber paid off as I was able to maintain a strong pace throughout without fear of puncture. These tires have already earned back their cost plus much more.

13 months after first putting them on, the rear tire finally went flat. I ran over a construction staple that went through both the tire and tube. I rode four miles to get home with the staple in the tire and it held most of its air. I mourn the loss but it was so worth the journey.

Schwalbe Rapid Rob Tires


If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Twisted Trails, my book of mountain bike short stories. Now available in paperback and on the Kindle.


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