Schwalbe has recently announced an improved lineup of entry-level tires. This is yet another example where more advanced technical features of the higher-end models migrate down to the cheaper end of the market in a number of brands. SRAM has done this with elements of the their higher-end gruppos trickling down to the lower-level offerings with each year.
In SRAM’s case small innovations happen at the top with Red becoming “Black” whilst getting lighter and quieter. As the innovations move down the line there is plenty of incentive for cyclists to upgrade to better technology whilst staying in the same price bracket.
A big part of what’s cool in biking is checking out the latest products. You just can’t help casting an eye over a fellow cyclist’s steed when crossing paths out on the road, not to mention an event of some sort with bikes all over the place. There’ll be several there that will make you stop and have a closer look.
And it seems to be that no matter if it’s a brand and model that you know well, it’s going to be unique. The rider will have tweaked it in his or her own special way to make it so. We can hardly be surprised with that since the components industry is depending on it.
There’s no shortage of components or gadgets to add to your steed one way or another. You head down to your local bike shop for some chain lube and end up buying the latest 10-in-one tool set that will tuck perfectly into the gusset inside of your saddle bag.
The thing is there’s not much that’s new under the sun and cosmetic changes are guaranteed every year. Whether or not those changes are based on real technological innovation giving a proven advantage is often hard to see.
The first time I gave Schwalbe a go was when the local distributor dropped by the workshop with a few samples several years ago. The ones which seemed to stand out were Blizzard and Durano. The big thing then was the Kevlar bands that had been incorporated into them.
Durano were a bit on the expensive side but Blizzard were about right and came in a wide range of colors. So I fitted a pair and rode them for several thousand kilometers without puncturing once. Wore ’em out in fact. One bike shop said to me, “Ahhh….a fluke..you just got lucky”. But I’ve had the same experience with another set of these impressive treads.
By that time Ultremo, the top of the line model, needed to be tested out: they were ultra-light and looked good. But it was not long before I punctured and several times after that. Righto, back to Blizzard.
But there was a pair of Durano waiting, begging for a test, so on they went. Better than Ultremo, but punctured inside 1000 km. Back to Blizzard for the next few years. I had to swap my spare tube carried in the back of my jersey several times as the rubber perished. Meanwhile the Blizzards just kept on rolling.
Then last year Schwalbe ended Blizzard. Gone. Poof! Lugano sort of took their place but coming in at a lower level.
When it comes to superior technology as a selling point in this range, I must say that the evidence is not convincing. Well, maybe that’s not so fair. The metric I’m applying is the number of times I have to interrupt a ride to change a tire ie. durability. Still, there’s no clear scale of durability that correlates with price in this range it would seem.
At the top end of the range you get a marginally lighter, more raceable tire, though less durable. The middle end used to provide a rock-solid endurance tire with no meaningful weight disadvantage. I can’t see it now.
Hopefully the spirit of Blizzard infuses this new range of lower-end offerings and that their technological beefing up results in less cycling time lost through having to fuss around changing tubes too often. Surely that’s the bottom line of a good tire. That and satisfactory longevity. Heaven knows it’s hard enough to squeeze quality cycling time into busy schedules these days.