If holding onto the ground - or catching it again on the way down - is your primary concern, mount Schwalbe's Magic Mary up front. Garrick Tischler photo.
The Magic Mary is Schwalbe’s most aggressive tread and is not to be effed with when thrown on the front of your bike. Loaded up with big, square knobs that seem to double in size when you get to the corner-hugging side knobs, this is the tire you reach for when braking traction, and grip in the turns, far outweighs your concerns about winning an XC race.
At 1,165 grams for the 29” version in the Super Gravity casing (Schwalbe makes two burlier casings, Downhill and Bike Park), this is about as agro as you’ll want to go on a bike you intend on pedaling uphill. With the Magic Mary, you’re paying in rolling resistance on flatter terrain for the puncture resistance and unfazable grip, but if you pedal up solely for the reason of partying on the way down, there’s few tires that are as confidence inspiring on the front of your rig.
The design of the Mary – with big square knobs spaced well apart - means that it digs in well in loose dirt and mud, or in our case out West, the silty dust that makes up trail surfaces for much of the summer. Hit the brakes, and you can feel the bike digging in and pulling the bike to a stop. The even bigger cornering knobs and stiff sidewalls hardly ever fold in corners, even if you lower the tire pressure to an irresponsible level. At about 175 pounds full loaded with gear, setting these up at 21 psi felt right on the dial.
Compared to other brands – Maxxis especially – Schwalbes tend to have more of a damp feeling to them. They tend to absorb a little bit more chatter and feel a little bit more neutral overall, whereas other brands might have more spring to the way their rubber is set up. If cornering confidence is something you’re prioritizing above all else, it’s a nice asset, and in the endlessly fun chunder of Big Sky's Nameless trail, they were a fine companion.
At just under a hundred bucks a whack, a Magic Mary is not a light load when it comes time to run the debit card. But while Schwalbe’s higher-performing compounds are known to burn through tread, run as a front tire, the Mary still has a ton of life left in it three months later. And you’d have to be one stubborn sonofabitch to run this as a rear tire.
When it's steep, loose, and nasty, the Mary steps up. Ryan Dunfee photo.
If you’re a more advanced rider looking to recoup some rolling speed, it’s worth checking out Schwalbe’s Rock Razor as a rear tire. The RR features just as burly of cornering knobs but with a semi-slick design of center knobs so small you’d never imagine they’d actually allow you to stop (and unfortunately won't if it's muddy out). They roll like hell, have furious grip in corners, and the small center knobs mean you can break the tire loose easily and make the trail become a lot more playful. However, you’ll have to adapt to the reduction in stopping power and learn to hit the brakes earlier, and whip it out when the trails are dry.
The Hans Dampf
Schwalbe's Hans Dampf has been around for awhile, and the tread works. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Coming stock on a top of different bikes these days, the Hans Dampf strikes a bit more of a balance between rolling resistance and grip than the Mary. While smaller square blocks laid out in hexagonal patterns across the width of the tire, the HD has a more consistent feel in its grip no matter how little or how far you’re leaning the bike over in corners. While some prefer the more distinct difference in feel between the braking-focused knobs in the center and the cornering knobs on the side - the Mary falls into this category - others will instead be more down with the Hans Dampf style, whose rounder profile accentuates further the consistent feel no matter what angle your wheel is sitting at. It’s a beautiful feel laying them in and out of corners, with control and grip that remains the same the whole damn time and stays as smooth as microwaved butter.
The Hans Dampf's Trailstar compound after two months of regular use. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Again, with more of a balance in its design between grip and speed, it’s pretty common to see the HD mounted on both the front and back of bikes today – especially 150-160mm enduro bikes meant to pedal up every downhill they crush - although the better-gripping, softer TrailStar compound meant that the Dampf we tested as a back tire wore its center knobs down almost entirely within just two months. Bummer. However, you could always opt for the firmer and longer-lasting PaceStar compound at the expense of a lighter-weight casing.
With a damper and more neutral feel to them, Schwalbe has a bunch of tire options depending on what kind of fun you're looking to have. Ryan Dunfee photo.
But few tires handle as many different conditions as well as the Hans Dampf does, or achieve as good a balance between aggressive grip and reasonable rolling speed.
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