First up in my ongoing review of tubeless cyclo-cross tyres is the Schwalbe X One. Schwalbe have gone into tubeless in a big way, on and off road. They are no longer producing cyclo-cross tyres as tubulars, so confident are they in the quality of their new tubeless offerings, sounds exactly what I’m looking for.
The Schwalbe X One tyre is new for 2016 along with the gravel road orientated G-One. While the G-One is more at home on gravel and grass, the X-One aims to be “one of the fastest cross tires ever”. Nothing like setting your sights high!
Weighing in at 389g per tyre the X One tyre isn’t the lightest tyre out there, it sits in the Goldilocks position, not too heavy, but not so light as to risk taking damage from the usual culprits that lurk off-road. They come in UCI friendly 33mm width, although that’s hardly an issue for me as I’m hardly likely to be entering any UCI races soon, still, handy to know if it affects you.
Schwalbe have used their One Star, Triple Compound for the X One’s tread, this three part material has a harder centre and softer shoulders, enhancing grip when you’re leaning in and improving straight line rolling resistance and wear.
The X One’s grip pattern is directional and made up of little cylinders with angled leading edges. These are grouped close together in the tyre centre, with the shoulders alternating double width grips with singles and two mini grips paired with the singles. This arrangement hopefully leaves channels for mud to clear from.
The main tyre carcass incorporates Schwalbe’s MicroSkin fabric. This is a high-tensile micro fabric which is vulcanised together with the carcass and rubber. The MicroSkin ensures the tyres impermeability to air – stops it leaking out! – and “guarantees reliable high-pressure stability”, not a big issue with ‘cross tyres, but the same material is used in their road tyres where pressures are a lot higher. Another benefit is improved resistance to cuts.
So that’s the basic technology behind the X One, how did I get on with it? I was confident going into this one, as I had some experience with Schwalbe’s One road tubeless tyre and was expecting a similar performance from the X-One.
Out of habit I charged up my diy fizzy pop bottle air cylinder, that’s what I’ve been using over the last few months to get tyres to seat tubelessly. The X One fitted to the rims by hand, which had me a little worried. A loose fitting tyre is usually a sign that I’m going to have problems getting the tyre seated on the rim, but I needn’t have worried. With 60psi in the cylinder, the tyre popped straight on with no audible leaks and plenty of pops and bangs indicating that the bead was clicking into place nicely.
Although the first tyre went on easily enough I thought I would try it using only a track pump. I was expecting to have to put in some serious effort at this stage, but no. At 30psi the first pop happened, followed by more and the X One was in position by the time I got to 50psi. I had hardly broken a sweat!
Now before I got my diy compressor going, this stage could be a real nightmare. Some tyres would see me pumping like a maniac, turning the air blue as yet another tyre/rim combination refused to play ball. Even with the compressor going, I still couldn’t guarantee that the tyre would stay up for more than a few seconds. But, here I was with the X One popping on so easily and staying inflated, no sealant, soapy water or swearing required.
Schwalbe recommend using their own assembly liquid when fitting tyres, basically soapy water to help the rims into position, it also provides a useful indicator of any leaks – if airs escaping then you’ll get bubbles. Once the tyre was on I deflated, unscrewed the valve and poured in some sealant. With the valve back in give the wheel a spin, then shake it around, this is to help the sealant getting in to any leaks you haven’t spotted.
Usually I would leave a tyre with about 40psi overnight before riding. This would give the sealant a chance to work on any little leaks, but with the X One I gave it about four hours and seeing that it was still holding pressure, took it for a short ride. Checking after, they were still at 40psi and I raced them the following day.
So far this goes to show that if you are going to try out tubeless tyres, then getting tubeless specific wheels and tyres is a whole lot easier than the diy method. I wasted hours struggling to get standard tyres to work. Yes it can be done, but it’s not straightforward and you can’t guarantee that a particular combination will work every time. I had a set up that worked using 40mm Schwalbe Smart Sams and a wide touring rim, but not with anything else. And when I changed the tyres and then attempted to re-install, one of them flat-out refused to go back on.
So now we know that tubeless works, how does the Schwalbe X One ride? I’ve been running the X-Ones in the London Cross League and have so far been very impressed. I’m running them around 26psi – on my track pump – and they have stayed put while providing a supple, grippy ride. At these low pressures it can be unsettling when you ride fast across hard, stony ground and feel the rims hitting sharp edges, but so far there have been no punctures and the rims are still true.
Riding a ‘spiral of doom’ at a recent league race, I could keep the speed up while pedalling in ever decreasing circles with no loss of grip. Through deep mud the X Ones kept going and when they did slip, were quick to re-gain their grip. They seem to clear pretty well, but can be overwhelmed by really ‘sticky’ mud, although a ride across firmer ground or through water will help clear them fast if they do start to clog. The only surface they didn’t like was fine gravel over hard pack, but I don’t think there is anything that would help in that terrain.
Climbing or riding off-camber sections I have been impressed. A combination of tread pattern and compound, plus lower pressures allowing the tyre to flex and grab onto what ever it can, meant I was able to ride tricky sections with a lot more confidence.
Riding on tarmac they aren’t at all slow and produce only a low audible hum, not the usual tractor like cacophony you normally get with off road tyres on the black stuff. But if you are running them at race pressures, then you are going to be squirming and bouncing around. I would recommend increasing your pressures if you are going to be on a lot of tarmac.
So for my first ride on tubeless specific tyres and wheels, I’m impressed. Setting up Schwalbe’s X One is straightforward, as simple as a clincher, with the added benefits of lower pressure performance and increased puncture protection. Hand made tubular fanatics will probably still hang on to their private collections of carefully aged tubs, but for regular riders wanting a performance tyre, without the cost and hassle of tubs, I think you need look no further.
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