Tyre Tech

Interview: Schwalbe’s Downhill Tyre Tech for the 2023 Fort William DH World Championships

Continuing our exploration of the World Cup tech scene, we’ve made our way to Fort William for the World Championships. This storied course is known for punishing tyres and wheels, making it the ideal setting for engaging in deep conversation with manufacturers, mechanics, and riders. into these critical components.

We started our tour by paying Grant Wildman a visit at Schwalbe. We were interested in learning more about their most recent design, the Tacky Chan, as well as the downhill tyre philosophy of Schwalbe. Grant provided us with some insightful information about what makes their Tyre Tech unique.

We next stopped into the Gamux Factory Racing pits and spoke with Romeo Cairoli, their team technician. We were interested in learning how they choose their tyres for this difficult course. Romeo gave us a glimpse into their tactics and how they tackle the Tyre Tech challenges at Fort William.

A sit-down interview with Schwalbe rider Mikayla Parton brought our excursion to an end. We were keen to tap into her wealth of experience and learn about her tire preferences and strategy. We concluded our examination of this critical aspect of downhill racing with some fascinating comments from Mikayla about how she approaches tyres.

How did the Tacky Chan develop?

You see, the tire’s new tread design is sort of an evolution from the Big Betty. With Big Bettys, people have been experimenting, cutting them in different ways, shaving off sections, and they really liked the tread pattern they had. But they desired something more swift than a Mary, which is how the concept for this tyre emerged. It is a new addition to our tyre selection and is not intended to replace any other tyres. It was a collaborative effort that was carefully developed with input from Muc-Off riders.

In particular up front, the Magic Mary continues to occupy a strong position. It’s interesting to hear how teams are running their tires differently. Personally, I prefer having various tyres with varied tread patterns on the front and rear wheels. But some teams are sticking to the same tire both front and rear because it gives them better control, which is quite intriguing. I guess this is the difference between these elite riders and us regular folks; we can only dream of riding as fast as they do.

It’s fascinating to hear about the teams’ interactions with and customizations of our products. We previously discussed the Cube squad and how, among other things, they are essentially glueing their tyres to the rims. It’s amazing how far people will go to maintain low pressures while avoiding problems with spoke tension and burping. We were discussing earlier how adjusting tire pressures can set off a chain reaction, affecting suspension pressures and overall setup. It’s easy to forget these details, especially since most people don’t regularly check their tire pressures or the condition of their sealant, but they play a crucial role in the performance.

World Cup riders’ highlights? Bettys and cutting tyres are mentioned. Have you counselled and supported? Or are they kidding?

Certainly, you’re absolutely correct. Do you think that these riders can be compared to the vanguard? They work in the field, closely examining our products for any flaws or modifications that might raise our goods to a higher level. In a way, it’s similar to getting free research and development. But it’s precisely for this reason that we enjoy working with them. Instead of attempting to influence their behaviour, we are working to get a solid understanding of their thought processes and fundamental assumptions.

Additionally, there is the complex issue of varying rider preferences. It can become decidedly subjective. Certain individuals prioritize streamlining those “Dirty Dans,” while others wouldn’t contemplate even the slightest alteration. We place such a great value on this diversity of viewpoints and the feedback that results from it. Enlisting athletes of this caliber to employ our products is tantamount to an ongoing cycle of refinement, and it’s a facet we genuinely hold in high regard.

Fort William is one of the toughest tyre tracks. If folks are acquiring many flats, what should they do?

An ongoing challenge is figuring out the ideal tyre pressure. In order to prevent tyre bottoming, pneumatic rigidity must be balanced with excessive inflation, which compromises traction and the tire’s ability to adapt to various terrains. Many riders turn to tyre fillers, but these come with a number of technical issues of their own. Inserts, contingent upon their particular configuration, can diminish tire volume and induce stress concentrations along the sidewall. This is not an attempt to place blame; rather, it is a harsh fact that certain inclusions might lead to situations of this kind.

Our core tenet states that an examination of our tyre design is necessary if the need for inserts develops alongside our tyres. We insist that without these additives, our tyres operate at their best. We do, however, recognise the various needs and preferences of various riders, allowing for the possibility of exceptions. It develops into a difficult puzzle to solve, with finding the perfect tyre pressure serving as the ultimate conundrum.

Maintenance probably is your biggest takeaway? Keep track of pressures, fluids, tyre age, etc.For the typical rider, I’d suggest testing your sealant every four to six months, depending on how frequently you hit the trails. 

You know, your riding habits also have a significant impact on this. Water can seep into your tyres over time, and some sealants, even though they appear to be liquid, may lose their efficacy due to the activators, which frequently contain ammonia and such, can evaporate. So even though you may believe your tyre contains sealant, it won’t really help to close any holes. Additionally, some sealants’ particles have a tendency to group together and form these tiny balls, or “stanimals,” as some like to call them.

Maintenance is key here. For the typical rider, I’d suggest testing your sealant every four to six months, depending on how frequently you hit the trails.  Putting too much sealant in your tyres is another issue to be careful about. If you pour more than around 100ml into a 2.4 tire, you’re essentially adding unnecessary rotational weight. And if that much sealant can’t seal a hole, then nothing will, so you’re just lugging around extra weight for no good reason.

What’s the World Cup’s biggest issue?

In the realm of rugged terrains like this, the resilience of your tires faces an arduous trial amidst the unyielding presence of jagged stones. The specter of rock strikes looms ominously, but it all hinges on the delicate art of striking the perfect balance in tire pressures. Mechanics frequently delve into the realm of spoke tension adjustments or the utilization of diverse spoke varieties to meticulously calibrate the ideal amalgamation of compliance and peak performance.

Fortunately, our current expedition has bestowed upon us a modicum of good fortune, sparing us the substantial inconvenience of frequent tire deflations—an outcome that brings immense relief. Among our cadre of riders, we vigilantly monitor a select few individuals, for our utmost priority is to shield them from the vexing ordeal of a tire burp or similar misadventures. It remains a perpetual, intricate struggle. Additionally, the labyrinthine intricacies of various rim profiles come into play. It’s essential to acknowledge that not all rims are cut from the same cloth, and the purported industry standards enshrined within the ETRTO sizing conventions are not always observed with unwavering fidelity by every rim manufacturer. This is the precipice upon which one may encounter complications in the seamless fitting and operation of tires.

World Cup athletes wear First Ride tyres. Why those tyres? How do they differ from market offerings?

It’s no surprise that the “First Ride” label on the tire’s side has drawn attention for so long considering how everyone wants to participate. of the first ride. However, such designation essentially denotes a development tyre. It is where we test novel chemicals, corpses, and tread patterns to the maximum extent possible. We utilise it as a proving ground to evaluate the performance of these advances, and eventually, that knowledge filters down to our aftermarket items.

Take the ultra-soft compound, for example. It has undergone multiple revisions and is always changing. The original Ultra-Soft was very different from the one that is currently available for purchase. To increase performance, we are constantly modifying and enhancing these chemicals in the lab.

Gamux has been riding Schwalbe for two years; what’s your go-to tyre setup?

The Magic Mary was everything to us the previous year. But this year, the Magic Mary got things going before the Tacky Chan entered our lives. That’s when Lino hopped right onto the Tacky Chan train, and he took a liking to it pretty much from the Val di Sole round. So now, it’s Tacky Chan all the way, front and back.

We firmly believe that the bike should have the same tyres on both ends. We have a balanced grip due of it, thus no mixing and matching. We don’t want more grip in the front and less in the back. With this setup, we know we’ve got consistent grip both up front and in the rear. Without worrying about the tyres, we can easily modify our suspension setup or make tweaks if we ever feel like we’re lacking some grip.


Tire Evolution:

The successful Big Betty tyre was evolved into the Schwalbe Tacky Chan tyre, which features a paddle-shaped tread pattern for speed and traction.

Collaborative Development:

The Tacky Chan tire was developed in collaboration with Muc-Off riders, highlighting the importance of rider feedback in product development.

Tire Customization:

Elite riders often customize their tire setups, with some using the same tire both front and rear for better control.

Tire Pressures:

Tire pressures play a crucial role in performance, and adjustments can affect suspension setup and overall ride quality.

Maintaining Sealant:

It’s crucial to regularly examine the efficiency of sealants because they can degrade over time and influence tyre performance.

Tire Inserts:

Some riders use tire inserts to prevent flats, but their use can have drawbacks, including altering tire volume and sidewall stress.

First Ride Tires:

“First Ride” labeled tires are used for testing new compounds, carcasses, and tread patterns at the highest level of riding performance.

Changing Tire Preferences:

In response to comments from the riders and the track conditions, Team Gamux switched from Magic Mary to Tacky Chan tyres.

Cutting Tires:

Some teams used to cut tyres for increased grip, but due to identical performance and simplicity of use, uncut tyres have become more popular.

Challenges at World Cup:

The resilience of tires is tested on rugged tracks with jagged stones, requiring careful tire pressure balancing and adjustments.

Rim Compatibility:

There are issues with tyre fitment and functioning because not all rims adhere to ETRTO sizing guidelines.

Ongoing Development:

Teams and tyre manufacturers like Schwalbe collaborate extensively to fix problems and enhance tyre designs.

Importance of Rider Feedback:

Elite riders offer insightful feedback that helps tyres improve while pushing the limits of performance.

Consideration for Inserts:

Although depending on the track conditions, tyre inserts may not always be required to support sidewalls.

Tire Setup Tips:

Checking tire pressures regularly, using a good tire gauge, and setting up tires in advance can enhance biking experiences.


Tire technology is a critical aspect of downhill racing, where performance and reliability are paramount. Brands like Schwalbe continuously innovate, collaborating with elite riders to create cutting-edge products like the Tacky Chan tire. Customization, tire pressures, and sealant maintenance play significant roles in achieving optimal performance. The choice between cutting tires and using uncut ones is a matter of preference, with the latter gaining popularity due to simplicity and similar performance. However, tire challenges persist on rugged tracks like Fort William, necessitating a careful balance of tire pressure and rim compatibility. Overall, rider feedback and ongoing development efforts are driving advancements in downhill tire technology, ensuring top-level performance in the World Cup scene.


 You’re kind of eliminating a variable?

Absolutely, making decisions at the proper moment is key. So, swapping tyres depends on rider feedback and track sensation, especially in rainy circumstances.

Here at Gamux, we follow a bit of a Pareto concept, you know, the 80:20 rule. If a tire feels great on 80% of the track, we usually stick with it. Take this track, for example. We wouldn’t rush to swap to a Dirty Dan because most of the terrain, both on the top and bottom motorway, feels like it’s built for Magic Mary or Tacky Chan. Even in the woods, Dirty Dan might not always be the answer. It really depends on how wet it gets and if the mud is more on the fluid side. In those cases, we might opt for a drier or intermediate tire like a Tacky Chan. But if we’re dealing with super sticky conditions, like we had in Leogang for World Champs 2020, then it’s time to break out the full-blown mud tires.

 I see a fair few teams cutting tires. Is that something you guys do?

We used to go for the tire cutting option last year, but we’ve since changed our approach. Yanick Brown, the mechanic at Dorval AM Commencal and a good friend of mine, has been a great source of tire testing feedback. He shared an interesting insight with me: when the rain starts pouring or when mud tires become a necessity, they simply slap on a pair of Dirty Dans. The difference between a fully uncut Dirty Dan and a cut one isn’t all that significant. So why not go with a complete tire? It’s easier for the mechanics, less hassle for the riders, and it guarantees you full grip. Plus, the rolling resistance with an uncut Dirty Dan isn’t all that bad either.

 What are the biggest tire issues you see at the World Cup?

You know, there are moments when you’re tearing down those big berms, hitting those g-out turns at breakneck speed, and the riders are really putting a ton of force into that rear wheel. That’s where we’ve had some issues, with tires getting ripped right off. But here’s the cool part: we teamed up with Ollie and Carl over at Schwalbe, and these guys are absolutely driven to find the best solutions. We sent them complete wheels to put through the paces in their test lab, and they’ve been running them on their test machine, all in the quest to iron out these challenges. Because, as they say, 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?

Well, it’s a bit of a toss-up. We put those inserts through some rigorous testing last year. Plus, we’re knee-deep in developing some new stuff for PTN (Pepi’s Tire Noodle) inserts. But you know, we’re definitely planning to circle back to tests without inserts. The future holds some new concepts we wish to try. Being ahead of the game and thinking ahead of the pack is key.

Any top tips for people at home when it comes to tires in terms of looking after them or setting tires up?

Here’s a handy tip for getting your tires set up just right: do it the day before or a couple of days before your ride. Pop those tires on, pump them up without any sealant, give them a good three bars of pressure. Check if they seat properly and spin smoothly. If you don’t notice any wobbles or issues, remove the valve core, use a syringe to inject the sealant (the good ol’ milk), and then pump them back up to three bars. Let them chill for a bit. If you mount them and they’re still holding air, then you’re all set and ready to hit the trails.

How long have you been riding Schwalbe tires?

I’ve been a fan of Schwalbe tires long before I had any support from them. Back in the day, I used to buy Magic Mary’s, and that’s pretty much been my go-to tire since the beginning. I’ve got a genuine love for that tire.

 Is your tire set up typically Magic Marys?

Usually yeah.

 Have you tried the Tacky Chan yet or are you just kind of staying with what you’ve got?

Right now, I’m out there racing on the Magic Mary, and I’ve got to say, it’s a fantastic tire too.

 Do you change your tire up a lot?

Most of the time, I tend to stick with the Magic Mary, but when things get very murky, I’ll switch to a Dirty Dan. But guess what? Even in muddy situations, I’ve found that the Magic Mary holds its own and rolls remarkably well.

 Are you the type of rider who gets your mechanic to cut up Dirty Dan’s and stuff and do crazy cut tires?

Lewis just joined my team this year, and he hasn’t experienced that yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s bound to happen at some point. I mean, we all make mistakes, right?

 Tire pressure wise do you change them up a lot? Or are you really a fit and forget kind of rider?

You know, I’m pretty meticulous about my tire pressures. Every time I saddle up on my bike, I make it a point to check those pressures. It might sound a bit obsessive, but I think it’s crucial because those two contact points with the ground, they really do matter.

 Any tire inserts for you?

Although I don’t use tyre inserts all that much, I do have a CushCore in the back for Fort William. It’s one of those tracks where the difference is noticeable. But I just use it when the terrain warrants it; 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’ve noticed a common mistake among riders is not checking their tire pressure regularly. They often think, “Eh, it’ll be okay,” but having the wrong tire pressure, whether too soft or too hard, can seriously impact your ride. Honestly, my advice is to invest in a good tire gauge; it can make a world of difference in your biking experience.

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