As a group, mountain bikers are a very particular bunch: we all have our favorite jersey, shorts, brakes, and of course tires. What do we talk about over after-ride beers? Well, of course we talk about the epic ride we just hammered out...but after that, it's all about gear. As an avid mountain biker - and owner of Chasing Epic - I recently set out to specifically test out one of the most talked about elements of a mountain bike - the tires.
Maxxis and Schwalbe are two of the more popular brands on the market, so I decided on two of their most-run combinations of tires: the Schwalbe Hans Dampf and Rock Razor versus the Maxxis Minion DHF and Minion SS. All of my summer rides are in the Rocky Mountains, where I'm concerned with rolling resistance, grip, and of course durability. Here goes nothin'.
I'll begin by saying my normal setup is the Maxxis DHF 2.5" up front, and the Maxxis Ardent 2.4" in the rear, both with EXO casing (which is what I used for this test). Once I put the Minion SS on my rear tire, I immediately felt an improvement in rolling resistance; that is to say, it felt faster right away. The DHF is a slower-rolling tire due to its huge lugs and side knobs, so the Minion SS balanced it out nicely.
All that said, once I swapped over to the Hans Dampf and Rock Razor combination, the rolling resistance and speed was taken up yet another notch. I attribute that to the improvement of the Hans Dampf over the Minion DHF, since I see no real difference in the rear tires. The Hans Dampf has shorter knobs with a more rounded profile, and lends itself to ripping on hardpacked trails.
ADVANTAGE: THIS ONE'S EASY, SCHWALBE.
As mentioned, I do all of my riding in the Rocky Mountains between Utah and Colorado, so our terrain is a mix of smooth dirt, loose over hardpack, and occasionally a little wet rock after a rainstorm. These tires were tested on terrain around Boulder, Colorado and Park City, Utah.
The breakdown for this is simple, as it really comes down to the front tires. The DHF is far and away a grippier front tire than the Hans Dampf; with its huge side knobs and large centers, it grips for days and has some left over. It has a smooth transition area when you lean into corners, and doesn't really lose much at any point in the tire contact patch. The Hans Dampf is no slouch either, but when going up against the DHF, it just doesn't compare in my view.
Another positive for the DHF is the tire profile, as it is clearly a higher volume tire and the side knobs allow it to look even larger. I've had many people stop and ask me if they were "plus tires", when in fact they're the 2.5" version.
"I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this." Well, they are, Lloyd. And because of it, I'm always concerned with sidewall tears and overall durability of the tires I use. This is where Maxxis shines - their tires (in my experience) are absolutely bombproof. I've nailed rocks at full speed and felt the impact on my front rim, and just kept on going with nothing to worry about. Maybe I'm the lucky one, but all my riding buddies use Maxxis tires and I can't remember the last time we had to fix a tire on the trail because of a pinch or sidewall gouge.
I wish I could say the same for Schwalbe. Four rides into my experiment with the Hans Dampf and Rock Razor (in Park City, no less), I nailed a fist-sized rock and tore THREE holes in the Rock Razor. If you can't guess, that was no fun to repair on the trail as two of the tears were in the tread. I will say, I've had luck with the Hans Dampf up front on another bike in the past, and didn't encounter any issues. But talk with most people familiar with mountain bike components, and you'll hear plenty of horror stories with Schwalbe Tires. And now I have one to tell myself, as our group was hanging out on top of the epic Wasatch Crest Trail for about 30 minutes while I progressively tried to seal the tire, then plug it, and then finally give up and just put a tube in. Good times.
ADVANTAGE: MAXXIS, BY A MILE.
When it comes to deciding on tires, the order of importance for me personally is grip, durability, then rolling resistance. Because of this, I'll take the Maxxis pair any day of the week over Schwalbe tires. I get that the Schwalbe tires can save you about 1/4 pound of weight, and to some people that means a lot. But for me, I'll go with the exceptional grip and durability that Maxxis offers; it's what I ride, and it's what I put on my customers' bikes as well.
I went into the experiment hoping to find a new tire combination, but it wasn't to be. The new guard is the same as the old guard, all hail Maxxis.