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Trying tubeless - Better late than never! Schwalbe Fat Albert review done a little differently.

Sebastian S. 20. June 2016

Do you still have tubes in your tyres? This is the story about a tube advocate that gives tubeless a shot while testing a new version of the legendary Schwalbe Fat Albert.

Do you still have tubes in your tyres? This is the story about a tube advocate that decided to give tubeless a shot while test riding the new version of the legendary Schwalbe Fat Albert.

I have been a mountain biker for many years now. When I started riding in the mid-90s, there was no way around Schwalbe’s Fat Albert, the tyre that revolutionized the market with its innovative design and 2.4” width. Finally there was a tyre that offered a fair compromise between traction and little rolling resistance for fast climbing and the security of grip and strong side walls for the descents. The Fat Albert was praised in reviews and sold well around the globe before Schwalbe stopped making them in 2014.

Now, it’s 2016 and mountain bikes have changed a lot: more travel, better brakes, improved climbing capabilities, and of course the riding has become more aggressive and extreme with new Enduro and All Mountain bikes. In addition, wheel sizes changed, tyres tend to be wider and many riders opt to go tubeless.

Tubeless 101

And what about me? I have followed most of these trends, but to this day, I ride with tubes in my tyres. Time for a change? Maybe. Off come Rock Razor and Magic Mary to be replaced with the new Fat Albert 2.35” set first presented at Eurobike 2015 last fall. And I will install them tubeless. I have always resisted this step, but eventually my co-worker’s arguments like “It’s not really a mess at all.” or “The advantages through the added traction, savings in weight and protection against flats...” Convinced me to give it a try.

Easy Fit - some questions remain...

I got together a tubeless service set and the tyres to get started. First, I clean the rims and apply the tape carefully under tension to avoid creases and air pockets. Now, I install the valves and tyres without the sealant – and only using a floor pump. OK, that was too optimistic, the tyres won’t inflate and air escapes at a million places. The air compressor solves the problem and the rear tyre seats the bead under loud plopping sounds. I had prepared the sidewalls with Schwalbe’s Tubeless Easy before, but soapy water does the trick as well. I release the air, fill the sealant through the valve into the tyre and inflate the tyre to 3.5 bar again. No air escapes, the tyre sits correctly on the rim. Wow, that was easy.

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On to the front tyre. I don’t waste time inflating the tyre without the sealant this time. Big mistake! The tyre does not move into place and a puddle forms on my basement floor. Sh*#T! I dry and clean off the rim, check the tape and the valve and try again. But to no good, the bead simply won’t seat.  

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Now clueless myself, I get on the phone with our Schwalbe rep to tell him about my mishap. We chat about small manufacturing variances in the tyre diameter and the circumference and width of rims. In theory it should fit, however the reality is clearly a different story and also messier as I just proved. Mr. Schwalbe suggests to mount the tyre with a tube at 3.5 bar and let it sit for 24 hours. This way the tyre is supposed to take on the rim’s shape. Said and done, it worked! The tyre seats perfectly afterwards and holds the air as if it had always been that way.

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Trail Performance

Now let’s get on the bike, after all I am curious to find out how the new Fat Albert performs. I weigh in at 85 kg, that’s about 188 lbs, and decide to inflate my tyres to 1.9 bar in the back and 1.7 bar in the front. That’s 0.2 bar less when compared to what I use to ride with tubes. Of course, a few grams have been trimmed off my bike overall since the tyres only weigh 750 grams, just like the manufacturer promised. The design of the front and rear profile differs significantly as you can see in the pictures. In theory, that makes a whole lot of sense, we’ll see what the performance on the trail is like. My first impression of the front tyre is that of comforting width suggesting traction through turns without causing too much rolling resistance.    

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The rear tyre reminds me of a tractor tyre. Let’s see how it rolls and how much traction it provides.

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To get a better idea of the tyre’s characteristics, I ride the same section of a trail for a few times. It’s a winding path on a light downhill slope through leaf trees and the surface is of soft and wet dirt, not very compacted but also not too slippery. With every run I increase the speed and pay attention to the tyre’s performance, especially through the turns. I am impressed with their grip even when leaning into the side lugs. It’s great and gives me a feeling of safety. Obviously, you can only take it so far, but even then the front and the rear tyre don’t slip away abruptly, but rather give away gradually.

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My second test takes me steep uphill. I’m interested in the traction of the rear tyre. The Fat Albert masters this test with ease. Even on loose gravel and through slippery and wet sections, the tyre provides tons of grip and I have to try hard to get the rear wheel to spin. One reason for this is certainly the wide spacing between the knobs as very little dirt gets trapped there permanently. Awesome!

Finally, I perform a series of abrupt decelerations from high speed before manoeuvring through a tight 180 degree switchback. I’m testing traction and grip when braking and cornering. Obviously, it’s very subjective, but here the front tyre gives me a lot of confidence as it does what it’s supposed to do, decelerating and staying on the track following the line I choose.

My test run also includes a couple of gnarly downhill sections over rocky terrain and down bigger drops. I did not manage to get a flat or damage a rim.  

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Conclusion

My conclusion after a day of riding: the new Fat Albert is a great all-rounder made for trails and longer outings that take you up and down hills. The tyre set offers great traction and grip through turns, while it rolls well on fire roads. With respect to tubeless, it was not as easy as promised, but the little trick from Schwalbe with the tube to help seat the tyre and mould it to the rim was excellent.