About the company
Schwalbe, a subsidiary of Bohle Germany, is a well-established bicycle tire producing company with a long history in Western Europe. Schwalbe is one of the leaders in the bicycle tire market, and they are constantly pushing the edge technologically. They make tires for virtually every bike-related discipline, and have a particularly strong reputation for their durable, world-tour trekking tires. Schwalbe features a full line-up including tires for road racing, cyclocross, cross-country, downhill, recumbent, BMX, and even several models with studs for use on snow and ice. They are fairly new to the North American market (Schwalbe North America was established in 2002), and they are just becoming a commonly recognized brand name in the U.S.
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In 2004, Schwalbe came out with the first ever front- and rear-specific tire models in the industry. Although their German competitor, Continental, may have received more notoriety for their version of this design in the U.S., it was in fact Schwalbe who originally developed this technology with their Stelvio Evolution line. The technique of using different rubber compounds for the different needs of a front vs. a rear wheel has been commonplace in both auto racing and motorcycle racing, but had never been attempted with bicycle tires. The theory is simple enough: the front tire is what gives a rider grip or traction, and as such needs to have stickier, grippier rubber. The rear tire, on the other hand, is mostly used to propel the rider forward. Most of the rider’s weight is on the rear wheel (typically about 60%). So the ideal setup would allow the rear wheel to have lower rolling resistance and a smoother surface, allowing the rider to have as little energy loss as possible. This combination, as used in the Stelvio Evolutions, should allow the rider better and safer handling combined with optimally low rolling resistance.
To make this vision a reality, Schwalbe developed two different rubber compounds to meet the specific needs of each tire. The rear tire features the low rolling resistance of what they call the Race Qualifier Compound, while the front tire provides the control with the Maximum Grip Compound. The front Stelvio Evolution tire excels where it needs to; cornering and braking abilities are enhanced. There is just enough of the Maximum Grip Compound to ensure reliable handling, but this is blended with the need of racers to maintain a top speed. The rear tire features their easy-rolling Race QualifierCompound in the center tread, but with the Maximum Grip Compound on the sides of the tread. This combination of compounds on the rear Stelvio Evolution allows for maximum speeds on straight sections, as well as safe, controlled handling around corners without rear wheel slide-outs.
Both the front and rear tires also feature a thin layer of puncture protection, which Schwalbe terms the RaceGuard puncture protection.
Out on the Road
So, there’s the theory… but what about the practice? How do these tires hold up to real-world racing and training conditions? Well, I actually have some particularly good insight into these products. While a typical reviewer may have a couple of weeks to report on a product, I’ve actually been racing predominantly on the Stelvio Evolutions for the better part of the past 2 years. I’ve raced long road races, criteriums, hillclimbs, and even done some training on this setup. These tires were among the only pieces of cycling equipment which ever immediately impressed me. I typically ride what I have, am a bit neglectful about mechanical upkeep, and put more energy into pedaling the bike than fine tuning adjustments and obsessing over the details of equipment. However, with these tires I instantly noticed that something was different. It’s a tough attribute to verbalize or quantify; they were just incredibly smooth. My experience was very similar to the claim of all the old-school tubular tire die-hards; the tires just “felt so good”. There was something special about the way that they rolled and hooked up with the pavement that really inspired confidence. This sentiment was not unique to me either; I have a teammate who is perhaps less discerning than I am, and had the same reaction to these tires.
I can’t pinpoint how much of my positive experience with the Stelvio Evolutions came from the front- and rear- specific compounds; all I can say is that I was very happy with the ride quality, and continue to race these tires exclusively. In terms of durability, they wear and last about as well as any race tire. They weigh about 235 grams per tire, which is a respectable weight given their ride quality. It’s worth a little extra weight for the improved durability and puncture protection they have over superlight tires. These are too expensive (retail is about $109 for a pair), and a bit too soft to be used as training rubber. What makes them ride so great is the suppleness of the casing, but this is also what will make them susceptible to cuts and damage. So, buy yourself a set of these for your high-zoot race setup, and buy something super-durable for your daily training. Besides, that’ll make your racing setup feel that much better when it’s time for a race event.