Choosing the right wheels and tires can make one of the biggest impacts on your overall bike performance. And, when conditions are known to be hard on equipment, picking the right combo for the conditions could mean the difference between finishing strong or limping home with a DNF.
For our 2018 Project XC Race Bike, I wanted to test two very new products and designs, both of which made bold promises of improved performance. Here’s how things worked out at the True Grit Epic 50 mile endurance mountain bike race with the ENVE M525 carbon fiber wheels and new Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Thunder Burt tires…
ENVE M525 Carbon Mountain Bike Wheels Review
Last year, ENVE introduced a real innovation to the rim game in the form of shapes and designs that all but eliminate pinch flats. Or, at least, that’s their promise. They had an impressive little lab test set up at Eurobike to demonstrate, too. But how would that hold up in the real world with repeated rock strikes?
Since I’d be riding a hardtail on the rocky terrain in St. George, UT, I wanted to run larger tires with lower volume to soak up some of the bumps I’d normally rely on suspension for. The lack of suspension also meant a real threat of pinch flats or rim damage over the very hard rocks in Utah’s desert.
Fortunately, ENVE’s M525 wheels are light, stiff, strong, and proved to be just the right tool for treacherous terrain like this. I tested them with intentionally low pressure over a square-edged rock multiple times, and they and the tire made it through without a scratch (check the video for slow-motion showing what could easily have been a pinch flat or produced a snake bite).
My only gripe about these wheels is that, for the price, they should come with the upgraded 36-tooth ratchet rings inside the DT Swiss hubs. The stock 18-tooth counts provide a very loose engagement rate, which is fine for the road. But I prefer quicker engagement in technical trail sections, particularly when picking my way up a rocky climb.
At $2,800, these wheels are admittedly expensive. But so is traveling half way across the country for a race you’ve been training all year for. Think of them as insurance that might just mean the difference between finishing and crying. They proved themselves even after a small pinhole-sized hole that wouldn’t seal forced me to put a tube in for the second half of the race. Their performance is worth the price, and peace of mind is priceless.
Schwalbe Addix Compound MTB Tire Review
Like ENVE’s M-series wheels, Schwalbe made a lot of promises for their new Addix compounds, so I wanted to test them out. One of the most common complaints I heard about Schwalbe’s tires over the years was that knobs would shear off too easily. I had experienced it a few times myself, mainly on their more aggressive tires with taller knobs when riding them on, particularly gnarly, rocky downhills. And I’d heard complaints about quick wear, which is never good when a tire costs $60-$80 or more. The Addix compounds and new construction techniques promised to alleviate these concerns.
On the front, I tested the Racing Ralph, and in the rear was the lower profile Thunder Burt. I waited until just before packing and shipping the bike to choose those tires, waiting to see what the weather would do. The Thunder Burt is definitely a dry conditions tire, and we absolutely lucked out with perfectly cool, dry weather for the race.
And the tires delivered. Both were the red-striped Addix Speed compound. This blend prioritizes low rolling resistance, but there was still a surplus of grip. They offered fast rolling performance on the slick rock and hard pack singletrack, yet never lost their grip even on sections with loose scree over top
The Racing Ralph has well spaced knobs that hold up to hard cornering on solid surfaces thanks to a low overall height. It made a perfect front tire choice since it was able to punch into the sandy stuff just enough, but the true-to-claim 2.35″ width helped float over it, too.
On one particularly steep, oversized slick rock hump that required full power to crawl up, the minimally treaded Thunder Burt proved the perfect partner for grabbing hold and preventing any slippage. This tire was the right blend of fast, light and grippy for XC racing in dry conditions. It did measure a bit narrow, though.
Utah’s desert rocks could easily shred knobs. Fortunately, these two suffered no such fate. Both tires held up to the rocks and racing well, too, with no apparent signs of wear and tear. They’re still rolling strong.
For full technical specs, measurements and actual weights, check out the original Project XC Race Bike wheel and tire post. And check out the rest of our recap reviews:
- Frame & Fork: Pivot LES with Lauf TR Boost
- Cockpit: Ritchey Logic, ESI Grips, KS dropper & Syncros saddle
- Wheels & Tires: ENVE wheels and Schwalbe tires (this post)
- Drivetrain: SRAM Eagle, Kogel & Crank Brothers (coming soon)
- Brakes: Formula Cura 2 (coming soon)
- Gear: Hydration, Tools, and more (coming soon)