As far as the best XC tires are concerned, Schwalbe’s reputation is difficult to dispute having successfully dominated the Absa Cape Epic with Team Bulls for years under the leadership of five-time winner Karl Platt.
The Racing Ralph Performance Line TwinSkin tires pictured here might not be as light as the Evolution Line SnakeSkin-equipped version, but they still possess the same basic tire architecture and tread pattern. While the Racing Ralph has, traditionally, been used as a rear tire in cross-country and marathon racing, it can be used at the front when conditions permit. We spent time using it in front/rear configuration and came away mighty impressed by its behavior and handling characteristics.
Design and specification
In terms of design, Schwalbe’s unmistakable brand identity is hard to ignore. The silver Schwalbe logo takes up prominent real estate on the sidewall, while the Racing Ralph wordmark balances things out on the other end – it’s all very premium in look and feel. While it lacks the red or blue color-coded circumference stripes of the Evolution Line (an attribute that denotes the Addix compound), it still cuts a distinctive facade.
It’s designed for cross-country racing, featuring a low-profile tread pattern down the center, and more prominent shoulder lugs on the sides. The Performance Line tires pictured here weigh in at 770g a piece, which isn’t as light as you’d expect but the upshot is a super-strong casing and sidewall.
As previously mentioned, it’s become popular for cross-country riders to use the Racing Ralph at the rear in combination with a Nobby Nic or Racing Ray up front. While this is a somewhat tried-and-tested configuration, the Racing Ralph is perfectly at home marshaling traction at the front. The low-profile tread pattern has been designed to improve rolling resistance and acceleration – and the shoulder lugs are perfectly placed to foster high grip levels in the corners. The impressive sidewall protection – dubbed TwinSkin TLR – adds assurance for when things get gnarly, but also allows lower pressures to further improve ride pliancy and traction.
The Racing Ralph is most at home in dry conditions, as its tread has been designed to deform around the obstacles. For a relatively light tire, the Racing Ralphs were adept at dismissing the fast and semi-technical trails of Minley Manor with ease. There’s a suppleness to the casing that helps foster trust and communication from the front, while the paddle-like lugs help boost rear-end traction up the climbs.
With perhaps the exception of the Vittoria Barzo, the Schwalbe Racing Ralph is the most at home in all weather conditions and terrain types. Despite the toughness of the carcass, it's still prone to the odd puncture when riding aggressively, so caution should be taken if that’s your style. That said, it is an extremely reliable tire and seldom disappoints – which is one of the reasons it’s praised by so many riders and testers around the world. It’s supple, communicative, fast, and grippy and will suit any rider, regardless of your skillset.
Tech Specs: Schwalbe Racing Ralph Performance Line tire
- Price: $65 / £51 / €60
- Wheel size (inches): 26-, 27.5-, 29-inch
- Compound: Dual compound
- Carcass: TwinSkin TLR
- Dimensions: 2.25in
- Weight: 770g (29 x 2.25)