Sunday, July 1, 2012

Schwalbe Nobby Nic 650B Review

I have ridden multiple Schwalbe tires through the years, including the Albert series, Big Betty's, Hans Dampf, and I was always very impressed, so I was looking forward to trying out my first set of the aggressive XC Nobby Nic, and especially since they're magic 650B size. The 650B is becoming the hot item, and all the bike manufacturers are jumping on its bandwagon, so new frames, tires, wheels and forks are all popping onto the horizon. For the 2013 product year, Schwalbe has the complete model range in 29er sizes, and 650B will get the Hans Dampf, Nobby Nic, Racing Ralph, Rapid Rob and Rocket Ron. I enjoyed my time on the 650B Nobby Nic, and found them to be an excellent all around tire, with great traction and cornering characteristics.

Schwalbe Nobby Nic
The Evolution series Nobby Nic 650B in the 2.35 x 27.5-650B size that will be rolled out this summer for $90, and it's tubeless ready and has the tough Schwalbe Snakeskin sidewall protection, and uses their XC oriented PaceStar rubber compound. Schwalbe has designed the 26, 27.5 and 29-inch tires to have the proper contact area, and instead of just bloating each tire outwards; they have shrunken the footprint slightly in width as you move up the diameters, because the corresponding length is increased.

The tire utilizes a nylon fabric casing, and is constructed with three plies of 67 tpi under the tread, and two plies on the sidewalls. The sidewall has an additional Snakeskin protection layer, to guard against cuts and abrasions, which greatly increase their abuse quotient. The PaceStar is comprised of a base layer, which provides knob stability and good rolling properties, and then a medium rubber running down the center knobs for fast center and acceleration performance, and finally, a medium soft rubber on the side knobs for grip in corners and riding over adverse and rocky terrain. In addition, the knobs have sipes/grooves (small micro cuts) for better flexibility, braking and grip. The center blocks are non-directional and the side U-Block knobs offer additional control when loaded. Their Tubeless Ready system uses a specially shaped and coated tire bead, which offers air tightness, safety and strength at the bead lock when combined with the synergy of a sealant.

Nobby Nic Specs:
  • MSRP: PaceStar $90
  • Size: 27.5 x 2.35
  • Weight: 700 grams
  • Casing: 67 EPI, Snakeskin Sidewall
  • Compound: TrailStar, Evolution Line
  • Tire Bead: Folding
  • Tubeless Ready

Schwalbe also is changing their information on the tire, so it’s easier and more legible to read. On each side of the tire is a section of icons and text, which gives detailed information of the tire's construction and compound (Pace Star 3), product line (Evolution), and variants (Tubeless ready and Snakeskin sidewall), etc.

Testing Rig and Terrain
Testing was performed on my medium Ibis Mojo HD with the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air and Magura TS8 27.5 fork. I got a set of the sweet carbon Enve AM wheels with Chris King hubs to toss the tires on, so I was in seventh heaven with those babies. I am 5'9", weigh in at 155 lbs and have been riding since the inception of the RockShox RS-1, and started out on a Bridgestone MB-2 for my first MTB steed. I have mostly ridden in the West, including vast portions of the Colorado Front Range, Sedona, Moab, Fruita/GJ and many parts of the Colorado mountains.  The testing terrain is predominantly loose rocky conditions, with many long steep climbs and descents, rock gardens, slick rock, an occasional smooth singletrack and lots of ugly loose gravel. In the Colorado Springs area where I ride, we have Pikes Peak gravel (pea gravel) on most of our trails, and it's one of the most nightmarish traction eaters that I have ever dealt with. Cornering, braking and climbing can be a lesson in humility.

I ran Nobby Nic with tubes for about a week until Enve sent me some longer valves that were required to set their wheels up tubeless. Although the Nobby Nic runs fine with tubes, they totally come to life in a tubeless mode, so I highly recommend bypassing anything but tubeless if your rims allow or work with that setup?

As a tubeless ready tire, they're easily installed, and with my compressor, they popped onto the rims with little persuasion other than a dab of their Easy Fit mounting fluid that I applied along the outer tire bead. The Easy Fit mounting fluid is a treasure of a tool, and the bottle has a sponge applicator on one end that you apply to the bottom most edge of the tire, and it makes getting any tire much easy to work, so there is no need to use a messy water/soap mixture to get a persnickety tire to meld into the bead. I always love the lovely loud pop a tire makes when it snaps up into the rim seat, a very satisfying and reassuring sound. I added one mini bottle of sealant to each tire after the initial inflation to aid with any leaks, and to make sure it sealed any tire and rim interface issues. The tire didn't show any permeable spots on the tire walls where the sealant usually plugs holes, and only bubbled a bit down by the rims. I never had any leakage, loss of air and burping problems while running them tubeless.

I tested running the tires a huge variance of pressures, but found the lower the better, and tended to keep them at 18-22 psi, as that's where they really started to purr. Once installed the tires measured at a whopping 27 13/16" tall, which is pretty monstrous, and they felt taller than wider while riding? You could really feel the girth of the tires on the terra firma, and they offered great contact, support and floatation, greatly aided by their gargantuan 650B sizing.

The tires rolled decently for such a big tire, and accelerated well while climbing and cranking up through terrain, especially rocky and rooty terrain. Get them on a paved road and the large knobs were counterproductive, though they rolled with aplomb on fire roads. The large and widely spaced beefy knobs are comprised of the center I-blocks,  intermediate and side (two types) knobs, which each offered distinctive characteristics and deforms for adhesion and traction. They tires are directional, and they roll in the direction of the large side knobs grooves opening.

Abusing the tires - side note
I have tossed them into a lot of ugly rocky terrain, and they have proven themselves pretty tough, but their long-term durability in those types of conditions is questionable since I saw some early micro tearing of the outer knobs? I tear tires to pieces, much more than the average user, so I placed them into some pretty extreme abuse, with continual rock gardens, rock slabs, and just plain shredder terrain. I loved the Nobby Nic to death, so their abuse factor was higher than a normal tire review.

On long slow climbs where you weren't creating much momentum, the 650B wheels and tall size of the Nobby Nic meant they felt more like a 29er, and took more energy to coerce upwards. When you could get the tires rolling up to speed they felt great, and plopping them in and out of berms and corners was fun, as they were predictable and had good contact and adhesion.

They had good braking and cornering, though they could wash out if you weren't pushing the front end hard. They had great traction, and pulled through sloppy gravel, sand and loose conditions. I wasn't able to really test them in wet and muddy stuff, since it has been extremely dry in the west, but they held well when the tires were wet and had to snag onto rocks. They climbed nicely in rock gardens, especially if the pressure was kept low, which helped with their adhesion. They're not the stickiest tires, and they felt squirrelly and slippery on rock slabs and slick rock, which meant a slight loss of control, so they felt out of place on that terrain.When pushed extremely hard in All Mountain terrain, they felt could feel stiffer and gave a harsher ride, though they still retained a great deal of control and stability.

I have always been a big fan of Schwalbe's Snakeskin sidewall protection, and it has provided me with a reassuring sense of security, no matter what type of terrain I encounter. The Snakeskin fabric provides a tough armored sidewall, and I never had any flats or sidewall damage, and I tend to ride in pretty ferocious and heinous terrain, and can quickly destroy less adequate tires.

Schwalbe calls the Nobby Nic their "all grounder" and although I am not exactly sure what that means, I assume it's an all types of trails and conditions tire? I would call it more of an all around aggressive XC tire that can plop itself into All Mountain terrain as needed. It rides taller than wider, but its significant size means it plows through loose conditions with aplomb. The tires liked to roll up to speed, especially when slamming them into berms, where they were delightful and enjoyable, helped greatly by the uber light Enve carbon rims. When tossed into super meaty All Mountain conditions, they start to get out of their comfort zone, and although they retain their composure, their XC oriented carcass is too soft and supple to maximize control and comfort in that environment.

The height of the tires meant it was a very tight squeeze in the rear of my Mojo HD, so be aware that it might be a front only tire for many bike geometries, as I slightly scrapped my rear yoke in wet conditions. It's obviously not a fault of the wonderfully massive tires, and it's just a fact when trying to squeeze them into a 26-inch frame that was never designed for 650B wheels.

Tire Comparison
I don't really have a lot of 650B tires that I am familiar with other than the Pacenti Neo-Moto, and I have gotten a lot of ride time on them during a review I completed last year. I found the Neo-Moto has excellent braking, decent traction and good climbing attributes, and tough sidewalls, but the lack of width, and a harsh ride flying down rough terrain left me wishing for more volume. I swapped the rear with the Neo-Moto during my test period, and I got a great cross comparison against the Nobby Nic. The Nobby Nic blew the door off them in cornering, traction and volume, and they could be run at a significantly lower pressure without undo issues. The Neo-Moto had better acceleration, quicker steering and their size meant they fit in the rear yoke of my Mojo HD. Even though they barely fit on my Mojo HD, I greatly preferred the monster Nobby Nic, as I found the Neo-Moto entirely too Skinny Winne in direct contrast.

Nobby Nic Measured Specs:
  • Weight - 714 and 692 grams
  • Full tire height - 27 13/16"
  • Carcass width -  2.28" or 57.8mm
  • Carcass/knobby height - 2.1" or 53.7mm
NeoMoto Measured Specs:
  • Weight - 722 and 719 grams
  • Full tire height - 27 5/16"
  • Carcass width - 2.1"or 53.7mm
  • Knobby Width - 2.25" or 57.2mm
  • Carcass/knobby height - 1.95" or 49.6mm

Bottom Line
The 650B Nobby Nic is a great all around tire and offers a wide footprint with good contact, though it rides taller than wider. The aggressive XC tire, has big beefy knobs, which work in synergy with each other for great adhesion and traction properties, for better control, steering and excellent cornering characteristics. These babies love to haul through berms, and come into their own when brought up to speed in that terrain. The tire is predictable, and can be ridden fast and in most any conditions with confidence, though when pushed hard in All Mountain terrain, they felt harsh and slightly out of their comfort zone. It's easy to set up tubeless, though it's not the stickiest tire in their line-up, it has performed admirably. They roll well for a big monstrous tire, and that height means they might not fit into the rear yoke of all frames?

  • Great Cornering - Berm loving machines
  • SnakeSkin sidewall protection
  • Easy tubeless installation
  • Great traction (at low psi)
  • Low pressure monsters
  • Monstrous tires
  • Not sticky on rock slab and slickrock
  • Expensive
  • Durability?

Overall Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers
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