The Road less travelled, Schwalbe X-One

No, don’t go. Stay, listen, enjoy. I know that “off road” tyres may have limited appeal to you. Perhaps they’re only of interest to us Sunday morning mud festers, but, the thing is there’s more to talk about than just CX. Indeed, we come back to talking about tubes, or the lack of them. Tubeless is big and it’s only going to get bigger. There’s an investment both in terms of the skill needed to install them and, of course, the financial price. But it is one worth paying in my view.

You’ll remember that, in this piece, I talked about installing Schwalbe G-One tyres. Well, they’re still on and have seen hundreds of miles since, some on road, some on gravel and some well off the beaten path. Frankly they are a revelation. Since they were put on they’ve retained their pressure, stood up to massive amounts of punishment and got me round Battle on the Beach. That itself was a rather interesting test for them. Off road, mud, sand, gravel, tarmac, grass, you name it, they came through it. Now, I won’t tell you that they’re the best mud tyres, indeed the mud section was tricky to navigate on them, but they worked. I will tell you that they are extraordinarily good gravel tyres though and if I were doing something like the Dirty Reiver tomorrow they’d be on my go to list as long as the weather was decent. And so far they’ve yet to need any of the sealant which lurks within and the centre knobs are only becoming slightly worn. The G-One might actually be my favourite tyre of all such is the depth of its ability. A few weekends ago I took my One equipped XLS with its 1x gearing on the Sunday morning club rub. No problem at all, I even led out the very mini peloton on one of the windier sections.

Sometimes you want to wander so far off the beaten path that there are simply no paths left to beat. Sometimes you want to start there and on Sunday mornings from September to December that place is cyclocross. That’s pretty much what the X-One were made for but getting off road on a drop bar bike shouldn’t be the preserve of racing.

It may well be that, if you own a gravel/CX bike, owning the G and X-One is pretty much the ideal combination of tyres to have. Of course, much will depend on your ability. If you’re a seasoned pro you may still prefer tubs and some exotic mudbuster from the likes of Challenge. Me? I’m not good enough, I get by. But if I were up there I reckon I’d be able to give it a fair go on the X-One. And Adam Craig, 2 time US XC champion, doesn’t seem at all limited in his use of them!

CX terrain varies widely. If you’re lucky then an Indian Summer might well mean that the September and October rounds are fast and relatively dusty affairs. A quick tyre might be better than a mud orientated one. Sadly, such things are relatively rare and, certainly last year, many rounds were a complete mud bath. So getting the right tyre is important. The thing about getting the right tyre is that you have to keep swapping between them. There’s no one size fits all, not really, though some will get you round most things. And where those who challenge turn up with a variety of tyres, wheels, pit crew and jet washers, I generally choose the one bike that’s sitting in my garage and put on whatever tyres I can bothered to put on/own.

And if there was an “intermediate” sort of thing that suits my riding then the X-One may well be it. Thing is, it’s not cross season. So that’s going to be hard to test. What I needed was a wide variety of terrain. Luckily for me we have access to all that here in South Wales and then some.

Schwalbe’s X-One tyre is one of a range of next gen Schwalbe tubeless. Indeed, there’s pretty much something for everyone in their range now from the road warrior, gravel racer, beach bum and that bunch who spend Sunday mornings getting covered in mud. It’s fair to say that Schwalbe have done more than (m)any to embrace this new tech. In fact, if we ignore the “commuter” tyre than Schwalbe’s entire road range (which includes CX) is tubeless. Go for MTB and there are few that are not.

The X-One is not a cheap tyre. In fact it’s a very expensive one indeed and retails at £56.99 per tyre. Yes, that’s more than your car tyres probably. Ultimately though it’s just more expensive than the tyres that you normally run. Do have a google though, a lot of the german sites have them for quite a lot less. You might even be able to get your favourite site that rhymes with giggle to price match? It’s what I’d do.

The X-One are constructed from Schwalbe’s microskin high-tensile micro fabric which is vulcanized together with the rubber compound and the carcass. That should guarantee a very high level of puncture protection which, combined with sealant, should stave off any visits from the puncture fairy. I should say that I have yet to have any issues at all with the G-One tyre which has been on and off road over a few thousand miles now and, in my testing of the X-One, no issues either.

The PSI rating is 40-70 which is perhaps a little on the conservative side at the lower end. I’ve run these down to 30 psi with no issues. I do tend to run my tyres higher than others in a lot of conditions though, I’ve always preferred them that way. But first, getting them on. Schwalbe market their new tubeless range as “tubeless easy” and to a very large extent I agree with that. The thing is that there are so many other factors at play which can make the tubeless experience a frustrating one.

The first step in the process today was removing the existing G-One from my Pro Lite Revo tyres. Believe it or not tubeless tyres (and indeed non tubeless ones) can get stuck on the rim. Perhaps it’s their inherent tightness or perhaps their stronger beads. But it happens. And if you have a particularly difficult wheel then the issue is exacerbated. And the Pro Lite Revo wheels, for all their brilliance, is amongst the hardest set of wheels I’ve ever put a tyre on. By contrast, getting Schwalbe One tubeless (and they weren’t even the easy tubeless type) onto a Pacenti Sl25 was a piece of cake. Getting them inflated wasn’t necessarily so. Getting G-One onto a Pro Lite was hard, getting them up was a piece of cake, getting them off…..well, I have two plasters as I type this because I wore out the sides of my thumbs trying to get the bead to break from the wheel. This is not a Schwalbe issue, I can’t get my Vittoria (tubed) off my other Pro Lite set easily either. And most of this applies, weirdly, to the rear rather than the front (on both pairs). Anyway, with some swearing, off came the G-One and I prepared the rims for the X-One.

The tyres arrived with some tubeless tape, easy on fluid and some valves. I’ve shelved the tape and valves for now. What was already one there was working and, given how finicky tubeless can sometimes be, I’ve left it. But the valves and tape look like quality offerings.

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So, onto the X-One themselves. Schwalbe’s claim for them is that they are 370g. As you can see both samples were a little more than that. It’s not an inconsiderable difference and you wonder where the weight comes from, perhaps that moulding in the centre? Whatever the case it’s on a par with my previous Vittoria XG Pro TNT (tubeless) model and not unduly heavy in any event. Remember that a tubeless tyre adds some weight in order to beef up the sidewalls and beads. While the weight of each tyre varied it’s not a massive issue, certainly not for Cross.

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With the G-One’s off I set about installing the X-One. The front went on quickly and I was very grateful to Schwalbe’s easy on solution in this regard. It’s pretty much like fairy liquid but the canister does make getting it all round the bead easier, press in the foam bit, rub it around the rim. No levers were needed to get the tyre onto the rim, just thumbs. These are the easiest tyre ever installed on a Revo. A quick pump up and all sorted. The rear was similarly easy to get on but took a little longer to seal, once I did it too went up easily. There was some very slight air loss here, I blame user error, so I added 60ml of sealant quickly and gave the tyres a spin. That sorted it. When on they came up pretty much 33c as suggested. Although slightly over I can’t see the UCI pulling you out. In your local cross race no-one will care.

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As you can see they’re a pretty knobbly affair so one of the interesting issues will be to see how well they shed mud. They’re marked as directional, and I complied, though it’s hard to make out any directionality from the actual tread. I think that the outer knobs are that tiny bit more pointy at the front than the rear so I’ll go with that. Each of the knobs also has a little siped section running through it. They are very flexible actually and bend nicely to the touch, far more flexible than some of the knobs on other similar tyres I’ve tried. They point out nicely as well and should offer reasonable side grip. To the touch, as much as these things can be ascertained, they feel rubbery. You might expect that, but it’s not always the case. Some feel more plasticky than rubbery. Not these, they feel like they’ll grip onto most things.

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So, on a damp Bank Holiday Monday (are there any other types?) I set out to test them. I ran them at about 50psi given my intended direction. In some ways a similar test to Battle on the Beach, but with less sand and more broken dreams.

To get to where I was going I needed to take the road always travelled. At 50psi on road these are actually pretty good and mostly pretty quiet. They were certainly a little harder to get and keep going than the G-One (which I run at 60-70 psi on road) but no real issue. I won’t be commuting on them and will be limiting them to off road.

But before we get to our destination let’s pause for a minute to talk about the Welsh TV and film industry. It’s hot at the moment, Dr Who, Casualty, Stella etc. Then we have bits of Harry Potter of course. And Da Vinci’s Demons, no I’d never watched it either. And off the back of the success of Game of Thrones we have The Bastard Executioner. The filming location for that is where I decided to carry out this test.

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Nice eh? Big castle. That was the set for the above series, a rather amazing thing. It stood on some wasteland in the middle of Llanilid in South Wales, not far from where I live. The series was filmed at Dragon Studios which arrived a few years ago and promised the world. The truth has been a bitter pill. We got Ironclad (castles again) but Ironclad 2 went elsewhere. Some Tardis scenes were filmed there. Richard Attenborough, who trumpeted its arrival, has passed on and whilst the studios themselves remain there’s not much going on. Shame, it’s really well placed, almost directly on the M4, and with good transport links. The surrounding countryside is varied and dramatic. It’s all here. We were to have houses, two business parks, a hotel and “celebrity housing” all on the site of a former colliery. But it never hit the heights. Arguably it’s never really hit anything much at all. It’s a crying shame and a real missed opportunity.

But bizarrely it’s also left us an infrastructure. Check out this brand new, now slightly fading piece of road, with roundabouts, lights and even a cycle path. The intent was, and perhaps will be some day, to link the M4 to this piece of road to feed whatever eventually comes here.

Whilst it may be sad that the promise of riches never arrived the thousands of hectares that are left over are a playground, and it gave me a brilliant opportunity to test the varied conditions capability of the X-One.

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Good eh? You can spend literally hours in there hooning around bits and bobs. There’s even a few big mounds which offer some hair raising opportunities. Much of the surface is either hard pack, gravel or dirt (or mud). Here’s a video of one of the nicer gravel sections complete with nature reserve. As we reach the end of the video you can see the steep muddy bits up ahead.

When I came back this morning I sent off an email to the administrator (the site is in liquidation) to ascertain who owns it and whether I can stage an off road type event there. Not quite as sexy as Battle on the Beach perhaps but it might actually attract a decent following. It’s a fairly impressive little playground overall. Might be my first event as a promoter? Though I have no idea where to start.

Now, truth be told, there’s not much on there that the G-One aren’t already really pretty good at dealing with, I’ve found them to be exceptional tyres. But there are more than a few sections where they aren’t up to the job, chiefly the mud, water and goo sections but also some of the more gritty downhill bits and that is where the X-One excels. They are also much better at anything that involves grassy surfaces. As you can see from the photo below, which was taken after navigating a particularly muddy section, they shed mud very quickly indeed. Obviously that’s an area that the G-One, with their quite densely packed smaller and more numerous knobs, does not do quite so well, ditto wet sand.

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Now, I don’t yet know how well they will cope with the really sticky stuff at places like Carmarthen showground and Caerphilly mountain (stages in our local CX league) but they seem very promising. Even when I hit some claggy stuff a quick sprint saw them clear very easily indeed. I suspect that in the true mire they will still get clogged, but that happens with virtually everyone. There’s a nice flexibility about the knobs that I hope means that shedding mud will be a much quicker affair than I’ve become used to. Combined with my decision to go 1X then build up of “various crap” should be much less of a problem.

They have a really plush, cushioned quality about them. Now, that is a tyre’s job. And at 127 TPI they’re not really one thing or another on the TPI plushness scale. But at the pressures I ran them they felt very comfortable. There was maximum grip and minimum slippage (none in fact). I felt safe descending and going uphill was no issue.  I’ll be running them at lower pressures shortly on my trip up the mountain for the second part of this test.

So far, I’m impressed. They are the most expensive tyre I’ve run on my CX bike so far but easily the best performing off road. Though the G-One were no slouch they didn’t quite have the increased capability of the X-One. For the road less travelled the G-One are still a brilliant choice, where the road less travelled becomes the stuff rarely travelled I think they’re hard to beat. The hardcore will no doubt stick to their tubulars. The rest of us would be hard pushed not to find something to like about these. Later this week they’ll be hitting the forest trails and the high mountains. I should probably wear my Assos Rally jersey as it’s going to be epic! You’re going to have to wait a while yet to see how they, and I, perform in the CX league but I’m sure it will be here before you know it.

Oh, and by popular demand, here’s the sheer scale of the thing, and that’s just the central section. To the bottom of the screen there’s even more.

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8th May, phew what a scorcher! So I just wanted to try the “dry gulley” a little off road section near to Ogmore in South Wales. It is as described, a gully. Plenty of slightly different terrain going on here including grass sections, mud and lots of sandy bits. All while climbing.

There was a large amount of rain and I expected a bit of a quagmire. In fact it was a bit of a desert, dusty, flat grass sections and quite a few bits of loose sand. Not unlike, in fact, the Battle on the Beach circuit. So a good comparitor for that. But first I had to get there. 7.5 miles of tarmac despatched at about 18mph average. On CX knobblies. Great comfort, good speed. Obviously a little squirmy on cornering. But really good overall and, I suspect, would have performed superbly along the beach at Pembrey.

Off road they were once again brilliant. I wasn’t hammering along but knocked up a few PR’s, raced along the top of the common then back home. Nothing I came across upset the X-One so the only test left is that really nasty mud. Lots of showers around this week so I may get the chance yet. Oh, wore the Assos Rally jersey as well, it’s brilliant.

EDIT: and there’s more. I finally got to take them on the really off road section. A place where I’ve only been on the MTB before. There are some traily bits but a lot of it is simply broken ground, grass, mud, rock. It’s an eclectic mix and probably about as far as you’d take a cross bike. Bit hard on the wrists. Here’s a gallery so that you can see what I’m talking about. There’s even some wildlife.

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Last time I did this route it was on Maxxis Ikon 29 er tyres. Not the last word in off road grip. More of an all rounder. But still sufficiently big and balloony to give a good impression and to compare the much thinner X-One against.

And the result? The X-One are outstanding again. I’ve yet to come across anything they can’t do, though I suspect dry grass crits won’t really be their forte. And, as stated above, the true test of their mud plugging will come mid October at Carmarthen showground cross. I suspect they’ll be as good as anything else I’ve ever used with the advantage of getting that pressure down low.

I love these tyres. And I love the G-One. I hope to be able to try the S-One as well very soon. I reckon if you’re not worried about outright speed and your bikes can take them, the Schwalbe One range is about all you’d ever realistically need.

UPDATE: It’s Cross Season. And I said I’d report back. How good are they? Well, let’s not pretend that they make me win. That’s never happening. But what’s relevant is whether I think they work for me. And that’s where they win. The first league meeting was a typically dry affair, minimal mud, some sand but mostly grass. Grip was outstanding and they are very fast on such circuits. Through the shallow mud they performed effortlessly. I didn’t use them through the sand, preferring instead to hop off and run that section. But they really do perform very well. Bear in mind also that I flatted twice on this circuit last year but had no such issues this year at all. It’s still early days in the CX season, sadly I cannot do this week but round 4 is the acid test as it were. Or, rather, the mudfest. That’s the race where every tyre I’ve ever owned has been comprehensively overwhelmed. I figure that if they can perform well there then they are a true all rounder. You will note from my recent S-One review that there is now an X-One “bite” which I should use for such races but let’s see how these do first. Expect an update in a couple of weeks.

UPDATE: Cross round 4 didn’t disappoint. In fact it was epic. But there was a certain something missing. Mud. The unseasonably dry weather mean that it was only present in a few patches and nothing like the utter slogfest of earlier years. But there was still a greater opportunity to check out how the X-One performed and, for that course, a mixture of grass, mud, tarmac and gravel they once again performed superbly. In terms of the sticky mud they did pick up a bit and if conditions had been as expected then a swap out in favour of the X-One Bite (mud) tyre would have been advisable. Nevertheless these are exceptional tyres. They’re still unmarked, they keep their pressure and they ride wonderfully. Fiddle with the PSI before each race and you’re set up. In terms of all rounders you really can’t beat them.

UPDATE: Cross Round 6. Still no real rain, still no real mud. There were sections though and it was that type of mud than can get a little claggy. They continue to shed well enough at the right PSI and I experienced no loss of traction on any off camber sections. Always comfy and I do think that they excel on dry singletrack.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “The Road less travelled, Schwalbe X-One

      1. It’s between Llanharan and Pencoed, south of the main road. Not sure whether it was an opencast at some point, possibly. Loads of interesting parts to explore. If you google map Llanilid it’s there just to the North, click on satellite!

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  1. Hi bendelaroubaix,
    Do you have any update, now that CX season is here? I’m always looking for new CX tires, and I’m interested in these ones (although I suspect they are sold out now for this season). I’m currently on Vittoria XG Pro tubeless, but they’re starting to wear. Incidentally I also have a set of G-one 700x40c, which are my go-to gravel/gnarly trail tire. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all tubeless for CX, gravel, and MTB.

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    1. Weird, WP didn’t let me know this comment was here! Anyway, yes, and I’ll update after next week’s mudfest. But, so far so great. They excelled in the dry conditions of the first round and they’re damn fast. So they do that. They do trails. They do rocky stuff. It’s the really gloopy round Sunday next so that will determine whether you can cope all round with them. But, on that score, there’s also a new variant called the Bite which has even higher knobs on it for the proper mud. I might have a word with Schwalbe…..

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