After spending over 30 hours riding the new Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires in every state between Oregon and Tennessee, I’ve gotten a pretty solid impression on a tire that I wouldn’t normally mount on any one of my bikes. My experience during this road trip has reaffirmed some of my notions while also changing my mind on in other aspects of Schwalbe’s mountain bike tire lineup. Recently Schwalbe Tires refreshed their lineup with new compounds and nomenclature and while we’ve got another tester on a more aggressive and burly set of Big Bettys, I was tasked with testing out their lighter, thinner and faster rolling Nobby Nic Super Grounds.
Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic tire is one of the most recognized and historic tread patterns in the brand’s lineup and is a pretty solid do-it-all tire. Available in diameters from 26- to 29 inches, the tires are most widely offered in 2.35” widths, but there are options in 2.25”, 2.6” and 2.8” as well. The Nobby Nic is also available as a wire bead or with a folding bead in either their Evolution or Performance line offerings.
Earlier this year Schwalbe announced their full revamp on the naming and construction philosophy of their tires. We posted a pretty in-depth story about that, which you can read here to learn more about the Super series tires. The Nobby Nic tires are available in either Super Ground or Super Trail construction. For our test period we got the natural, tan wall tires in the Super Ground construction, which is essentially Schwalbe’s TLE, Snakeskin tire with the Addix SpeedGrip compound. We wouldn’t normally pick a Super Ground tire, but as we said before, last minute shopping combined with inventory issues and a lust for the retro style didn’t give us many options. Because this tire isn’t normally something we’d voluntarily select for our riding style and terrain, we used the opportunity as a chance to have our minds changed and write a review on a new product.
Due to our more aggressive riding style, penchant for longer travel bikes and rocky terrain, we typically stick to riding Schwalbe’s Downhill and Super Gravity casings with Soft or Ultra Soft compounds. Our first outing on the tires had us a bit stressed and really re-examining our tire pressures due to the lighter construction and lack of Apex protection, because nobody wants to pinch flat on their first ride on new tires. Compounding that nervousness was the fact that our test tires had the SpeedGrip compound, which is on the firmer, longer-lasting side of the spectrum.
Very quickly into our first ride we realized that the new Super Ground tires are far more capable than we gave them credit for. We typically like running tire pressures in the 22-25 PSI range depending on the conditions and terrain, but went straight to 29 PSI for some rocky trails in St. George, Utah. These first test rides were a bit of a battle in my mind however as the casing, and toughness of the tires were actively changing my preconceived notions of lighter weight trail tires, but the harder compound was performing exactly as I’d expect and left me feeling timid in the loose-over hard conditions on many of the desert trails.
Over the next several weeks and States I continued to learn more about the tires and figure out where they excel, what I learned from riding a lighter weight tire and where I’d like to see more out of them. Something that stood out almost instantly is the supple and sensitive feel the tires give. After spending so much time on heavier, stiffer casing tires, I was really impressed with the cushioned feel. It’s like having a fork with a buttery off the top feel that really conforms to the terrain effortlessly. Naturally, the downside to that suppleness is a more linear sidewall that isn’t intended to offer the protection of Schwalbe’s Apex or other pinch flat protective technologies. If you ride on smoother, flowier trails overall, or want to save weight, then these may be a solid option for you.
While the sensitivity and compliance of a lighter weight tire opened my eyes in some areas, the firm rubber compound performed as we expected and showed us why these tires wouldn’t be ideal for a lot of our riding. On loose-over-hard pack terrain the tires drifted on top and struggled to find predictable traction. Similarly, as I encountered larger roots and embedded slabs of rocks in Arkansas and Tennessee, I intentionally pointed the front tire at diagonal edges to see how they’d do. The tires would squirm, slide or deflect rather than conform and roll over the way Schwalbe’s Soft of Extra Soft tires do. The upside to the stiffer compound is that the tires roll a lot faster and after quite a few miles and lots of skids, they still look new.
There are few components on the bike that are as important and subjective as tires. What may work for dozens of riders in one region may be utterly worthless for a rider in a different region and for that reason brands like Schwalbe offer so many different compounds, casings and tread patterns. The Nobby Nic Super Ground tires opened our eyes in many ways as to what a lighter weight trail tire is capable of and what sort of ride advantages a lighter casing trail offers. We also saw the limitations of the SpeedGrip tread compound on certain types of terrain and obstacles. If you ride harder pack terrain, want a fast rolling tire that has a solid tread pattern, can climb, corner and brake well, these are certainly worth considering. The downside to this long lasting compound is that they won’t offer the confidence and traction on wet roots, loose terrain or angled and steep rock faces. If that’s you, then perhaps the Super Trail version with Soft compound would be more up your alley.
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