Schwalbe Rocket Ron UST Tire
The Schwalbe Rocket Ron UST tire — with a name that fast we had high expectations. Schwalbe has quickly made a name for themselves as one of the lightest tires on the market. But can they perform? Naturally each tire brand claims to be the best in either the dry or the wet. But now, the Rocket Ron claims to be the best in both wet and dry — that is quite a statement.
In choosing our tire selection we usually stick to corresponding tire sizes front and rear, but on this test we decided to switch it up for a few reasons. First, the Rocket Ron is designed as a fast rolling, light-weight competition tire. With that in mind we put the 2.25 up front to enhance handling characteristics, but kept it narrow with a 2.10 in the rear. It's well known that sizing across various tire manufacturers rarely stays consistent. We threw our digital calipers on each tire to get actual numbers. The 2.25 actually measured 2.18 at the widest part of the casing, while from knob to knob it was 2.23 inches. Moving to the rear 2.10 we got an actual measurement of 1.98 at the widest part of the casing, and 2.04 from knob to knob. These were measured "cold" with 35 PSI in each tire. They were mounted to a Crankbrothers Cobalt rim which measured 24mm (.93") wide externally. To summarize, the average discrepancy was less than 0.95" from casing to casing. The actual weight of the 2.25 was 690 grams, while the 2.10 tipped the scales at 633g. While this doesn't scream lightweight, remember that it is UST certified, which adds a layer of treatment to the inside to hold air and incorporates a more durable sidewall. In that case, it's real light.
We didn't want to get too caught up in numerical details, so it was finally time to ride the tires and let them do the talking. After dumping a small cup of Stan's sealant the tires immediately inflated on our Cobalt rims without hesitation. Not that we think Stan's is required for sealing the bead, but it is always safe assurance when on the trail, especially on race weight tires and unforeseen perils. Immediate inflation was a pleasant relief considering some of the headaches other UST tires have given us in the past. Once inflated the oversized graphics look very Euro, (not exactly a surprise coming from a German company) and the tire rolled perfectly round.
Our first ride included a few miles of pavement before hitting the trailhead. We immediately noticed nothing. In this case that's a good thing. No chatter, no rumbling, no continuous stutter-bumps as we made our way down the road. Obviously the tires are designed to live out their life on the dirt, but it's still nice to know they keep a fast clip and relatively silent treatment on the way to the trail. In comparison, the Continental Mountain King can be categorized in the same family as the Rocket Ron on the trail, but puts up a roar and a rumble as you cruise down the road. It's a minor detail in the big picture, but one worth noting.
Once on the trail, the Rocket Rons rolled effortlessly along the hard packed singletrack. While the Mountain King is at home in the roots, these felt notably faster on the other 90% of the trail. The low knobs in the center of the tire kept it fast in a straight line, but more importantly the similar short knobs on the sides kept it predictable on fast switchbacks and sweeping turns. More than anything else, we want a tire to be predictable. If it washes out, it washes out. If it grips like Velcro, it's perfecto. Just stay consistent is all we ask! It's important to understand when your tire is going to do what. We were pleased with the predictability of the Schwalbe Rocket Ron, both front and rear. The big 2.25 up front was confidence inspiring — we never hesitated to compress the suspension and really put our weight into it for traction while turning.
Side note: rather than relying solely on your brakes to slow you down for a turn, compress your suspension. This elongates your wheelbase in most instances, and drives the wheels into the ground enhancing your traction, and allowing you to drive through the corner. Traditionally when you hit the brakes, either feathering or skidding, the wheels want to track in a straight line. Make a conscious effort to slowly lay off the brakes more and more, and use the compression of your suspension to literally push the bike into the trail for grip. This technique takes some time to master, but once your get the hang of it you will be thanking us. Brake less, go faster.
To provide further confidence in cornering, Schwalbe engineers strategically created what they call U-Blocks for the side tread pattern. For every traditional knob, there are two U-Blocks working their way around the tire. They are positioned against the direction of rotation, which is against traditional thinking. With this pattern the tire actually resists the naturally occurring outward force applied while corning. We could feel the tire ride more freely through the turn, rather than consistently trying to pull its way into a straight line again. Combine this tech feature with your newly adapted cornering style and your purchase will have much greater value than just a set of tires.
If you find yourself riding more slickrock and less dirt you will appreciate the Nano technology used by Schwalbe. Yep, it's not just for iPods anymore. Just as Continental has done on a number of their tires, Schwalbe now uses millions of tiny particles measuring only 10 nanometers each, compared to 200 nanometers on previous tires. This compound has two distinct advantages. First, the internal rubber friction is reduced which in turn lowers overall rolling resistance. Second, many small particles provide greater surface area than fewer, larger ones- resulting in significantly better grip. This compound is used in the center tread, sitting on top of an extremely easy rolling base layer compound. While it didn't feel quite as sticky as the Black Chili compound created by Continental, it was noticeably stickier than a Hutchinson or Kenda tire.
Finally, the biggest claim we wanted this tire to live up to was the ability to "work just as well in wet or dry conditions". Combine a high-volume tire with widely spaced yet short knobs, and on paper you have a winner. It not only shed the mud, but it rode with the same predictable characteristics both before, and after the rains. It's a good thing it sheds so quickly because as you can see in our pictures it wouldn't take much to clog the arch on our Rock Shox Reba fork, as the clearance was just half an inch. On the rear, the 2.1 tire had ample clearance all the way through the Santa Cruz Blur XC Carbon rear triangle. The narrower 2.1 allowed the tire to sink though mud and grip on the solid dirt below. Meanwhile in dry conditions, the same narrow characteristics kept the rolling resistance minimal and climbing traction was virtually slip free even while hammering out of the saddle.
The Schwalbe Rocket Ron is similar to the very popular Nobby Nic, but with a bit more spacing between the knobs and a faster tread pattern down the center. Although we had zero issues with durability, Schwalbe does not recommend using a patch kit in the event of a puncture. If you are looking for a competition level tire that truly does ride as advertised, look no further than the Schwalbe Rocket Ron UST.