Continuing our World Cup tech series of articles, where we initially delved into brakes at Val di Sole, we now find ourselves at Fort William for the World Championships. Given the relentless punishment this track inflicts on wheels and tires, it's the ideal location to engage with brands, mechanics, and riders to look at these crucial components.
We started by visiting Grant Wildman at Schwalbe to delve into the details of the new Tacky Chan and to learn more about Schwalbe's outlook on downhill tires. We then ventured to the Gamux Factory Racing pits, where we spoke with their team mechanic Romeo Cairoli about their tire strategy. Finally we concluded with a discussion with Schwalbe rider Mikalya Parton gathering her insights on her approach to tires.Schwalbe: Grant Wildman
How did the Tacky Chan develop?
Well, if anything, this kind of the tread pattern is more evolved from a Big Betty, where we've had people cutting Big Betty's in different ways and shaving bits off of them and liked the kind of paddle shape, the sort of tread pattern that they had with them, but they wanted something faster than a Mary. So that's kind of where the genesis of this tire came from, and obviously developed quite closely with the comments of Muc-Off riders and then birth of this new tire, so it's an addition to the range rather than a replacement for anything.
The Magic Mary still has a very solid place at the front of things but it's interesting talking with the teams of how they run their tires. For instance, personally I run front and rear tires that are different from each other with different tread patterns. Some teams now are really sticking to having the same tire front and rear because it gives them a better control to work with which is interesting, I suppose this is the difference between this level of riding and humble human beings like ourselves, you know, wouldn't dream of being able to get as fast as these people are riding.
So it's interesting to hear, even from what experience we've got from the teams, of what they're doing with our product, and how they're changing it and obviously, we spoke earlier about with the Cube team, and how they're kind of essentially gluing tires to their rims, and things like that. It's the levels people are going to to run low pressures but avoid burping and spoke tensions, we were talking earlier about all of these factors and this is where, like Formula One, you get the hand down, technology that gets to us humble human beings. We were saying how adjusting tire pressures then has the knock on of adjusting suspension pressures and setup. There's a bit of a chain reaction that you have to set up with them and it's very easy to forget, seeing as most people don't check their pressures or even check the condition the sealants in but it's easy to forget.
What are the big things you see from the World Cup riders? I mean, we've spoken before about people cutting tires, cutting Bettys. Is that something you kind of support them with and give them advice on? Or is it purely just things that they come up with by themselves?
This is the head of the arrow, isn't it? You know, these people are finding our products and seeing if there's faults, or alterations they can make to these to improve it further. It's almost like free R&D in some senses. But this is why we like to work with them. So we can get a control with it, not controlling them but just to have a baseline of what they're doing, how and why. And then obviously different rider styles is the other thing that comes in with it; some people cut down Dirty Dans, other riders won't touch Dirty Dans. So it can be quite subjective, but it's nice to have this level of sport using your product because it's further development.
Fort William has to be one of the hardest tracks on tires. If people are finding they're getting lots of flats, what's your recommendation?
It's always difficult because it's always that magic question of what pressures to run. Obviously, you want a bit firmer pressure so you're not bottoming the tire out, but you don't want it too high that you're losing the grip and the deformation of the tire to enhance the ride. A lot of people use inserts, but inserts reduce the volume of the tire. It also, in some cases, depending on the insert used can create almost like a shear point on the sidewall. It's kind of the impact pinpointed into the sidewall and things like that through certain inserts, not just passing the buck, but it can cause issues with those sorts of things.
We work on the practice that if you need inserts with our tires, we're not doing something right. So we think they work best without them but there are certain demands and certain riders need certain things. So we get it, you know, it's difficult, but yeah, it's that magic question of tire pressure.
Is that probably your biggest takeaway is maintenance? Keep on top of pressures, fluids, how long you've had the tire, things like that?
And how much you ride, you know, like you do get water ingress, and certain sealants, whilst they may still sound like there's liquid in your tire, the kind of the coagulum, the activator in it, normally ammonia and things like that, can evaporate. So you might still have liquid in there, but it's not going to seal any holes. Also with certain types of sealant the particulates in it, they can gather and create balls or stanimals as some people call them.
So yeah, so there's always a maintenance, you know, for your average rider I'd say between four and six months, depending on how much you're riding. Also a lot of people put too much sealant in their wheels. Like if you put more than kind of 100ml in a 2.4 tire it's extra rotational weight and if that 100ml can't seal the hole, nothing will, so you're just carrying extra weight.
What's the single biggest issue you see here the World Cup?
I mean, this sort of course is pretty demanding with the rocks, so you can get a lot of rock strikes and things but again, this comes back to pressures and mechanics toying with spoke tension or running different types of spoke to get different levels of compliance and things like that, but yeah, punctures.
Fortunately, we've been pretty good, I haven't seen a huge amount of flats so far, which is great. There's a few riders that we're keeping an eye on, and we just don't want them to burp them or whatever. That's always the battle, and then you've got different rim profiles as well, which can affect that, because not all rims are built the same. Industry standard of ETRTO sizing isn't upheld with all rim manufacturers and that's where a lot of problems can arise with fitting or running of tires.
We've seen World Cup athletes with First Ride-branded tires. What's the story behind those tires? How different are they from what's on the market?
The First Ride blue writing on the side of the tires people have seen that for years, and people always want First Rides, but essentially that means it's the development tire. So that's where we are testing new compounds or carcass or tread patterns, with the highest end of riding performance, to see where these will develop and eventually that gets handed down that technology to aftermarket products. So the ultra soft compound has been through many guises and it's always running changes as well. So the Ultra-Soft when it first came out is very different to the aftermarket one that you can buy now, and we're always developing these and improving on them all the time.Gamux Factory Racing Mechanic: Romeo Cairoli
So Gamux has been riding Schwalbe for two years now, what's the kind of go to tire set-up for you guys right now?
Last year was Magic Mary. This year at the beginning it was Magic Mary until we received the Tacky Chan, then we had like Lino hopping straight onto Tacky Chan. He liked it pretty much right from the Val di Sole round, so we're on Tacky Chan now front and back.
We like to ride the same tires front and back. No mixing up the tires because we have a balanced grip and not more grip in the front and less in the back. Now like this we know we have the same grip, front and rear and if there's grip missing, we can easily go with suspension setup or stuff like this, we don't need to worry about the tires.
You're kind of eliminating a variable?
At what point do you start to make the decision to change tires? Do you guys just go off of feel, what the riders are feeling, to go to a more wet weather tire?
At Gamux we go for Pareto concept, so like 80:20. So if the tire feels good on 80% of the track, we stick to this one. For example, on this track, we wouldn't go to a Dirty Dan because most of the track, top and bottom motorway is like Magic Mary or Tacky Chan terrain and like woods would be something for Dirty Dan but not always. It really depends if it's like super wet and the mud is fluid. So we can go to a dry tire or intermediate like a Tacky Chan. But if it's like super sticky, as we had in Leogang for World Champs 2020, for example, there you need to go with a proper mud tire.
I see a fair few teams cutting tires. Is that something you guys do?
We did last year, we stopped doing that because like Yanick Brown, mechanic at Dorval AM Commencal, is a very good friend of mine so I do a lot of exchange with him and he gives me a lot of feedback from their tire testing. He told me as soon as it starts raining, or like a mud tire would be interesting, they put on Dirty Dans because the difference from an uncut to cut Dirty Dan isn't that big. So let's go with a full tire, it's easier for the mechanics, easier for the riders, because you have full grip. Also, the rolling resistance with an uncut Dirty Dan isn't that bad.
What are the biggest tire issues you see at the World Cup?
Sometimes on big berms with g-out turns, where you're coming in with a lot of speed, the riders are just putting in a lot of force into the rear wheel especially. So we had issues there where like tires get ripped off. We were working there together with Ollie and Carl from Schwalbe and they're super motivated to make the best out of it. So we send over complete wheels for the test lab and they're putting them on their test machine to find solutions, because there are no problems, only solutions.
Do you guys run inserts?
Do you find it makes a big difference to that problem supporting the sidewall a little bit more?
Depends, we tested them a lot last year. We're also in development for the inserts of PTN (Pepi's Tire Noodle). We will for sure go back to tests without inserts, we have something new we want to try for the future. You always need to think further and further, and try to be a little bit in front of everyone.
Any top tips for people at home when it comes to tires in terms of looking after them or setting tires up?
If you know you need to set up tires, do that the day before or a couple of days before your ride. Put your tires on, pump them up without sealant, put three bars into it. Look if the tire pops out correctly, give them a spin. If there's no wobble or anything, take out the valve core, put in milk with the syringe, then pump them up to three bars again. Let them rest. Yeah, if you mount them and they're still filled with air, then they're ready to go.Schwalbe Rider: Mikayla Parton
How long have you been riding Schwalbe tires?
I've been running Schwalbe tires before I was supported by them, I would always buy Magic Mary's. It's kind of always what I've run since I've started, I genuinely love that tire.
Is your tire set up typically Magic Marys?
Have you tried the Tacky Chan yet or are you just kind of staying with what you've got?
At the moment I'm racing on the Magic Mary, but that is a sick tire as well.
Do you change your tire up a lot?
I quite often do stick to a Mary but obviously if it gets really sloppy I put on a Dirty Dan, but often I think that the Magic Mary just rolls really good in the mud too.
Are you the type of rider who gets your mechanic to cut up Dirty Dan's and stuff and do crazy cut tires?
Well Lewis is newly with me this year and he's not done that yet but I'm sure that's gonna happen at some point. I would do it wrong.
Tire pressure wise do you change them up a lot? Or are you really a fit and forget kind of rider?
No, I always know my tire pressures. Every time I ride my bike I check my tire pressures, I think that's really important. It's your two points that contact the ground, it matters.
Any tire inserts for you?
I don't often run a tire insert but I've actually got a CushCore in the back for Fort William. This year I've been running one for Fort William, but I don't run it everywhere.
Any kind of top tips for people back at home, about tires and how they set them up?
I think that quite often a lot of people make a mistake by not checking their tire pressure and they go for rides like "Oh, it'll be fine", but if it's too soft or too hard, that can really make a difference to your ride. So honestly, invest in a tire gauge and it will change your life.