Back on Sept 7th we finally had a chance to start riding on a set of Schwalbe Ultremo ZX and I provided by First Impressions: Schwalbe Ultremo ZX Tires in a blog entry on Sept 8th. To recap those initial impressions:
… the Schwalbes [...] felt light, lively, and cornered pretty well [...] . There was a bit more perceptible road buzz coming through the tires and a little more bump transfer to my hands than what I experience with our Vredestein Fortezza’s.
After putting about 150 miles on the Schwalbe’s, I pulled them off and put on a brand new set of the Vredestein Fortezza today for some back-to-back comparisons. I opted to use one of the new sets I have on hand vs. putting on a broken-in set to make the comparison as close to apples-to-apples as I could.
Wow, I gotta tell ya… although subtle, the differences were pretty significant, especially when it comes to cornering performance. The Vredestein’s are hands-down more grippy, sure-footed and comfortable than the Schwalbes. Even on the brand-new Vredestein’s, I was able to dive into the corners and pick my line without any tire slip, something that the Schwalbes would still do even after 120 miles. Road buzz and bumps were also less noticeable on the Vredestein’s. However, I’m pretty sure the Schwalbe’s roll a bit faster than the Vredesteins and will clearly outlast the Vredestein’s. In regard to the latter, the Schwalbe’s still have a pretty visible center mold seam showing after 150 miles on the rear tire, and the front still has lots of flash left attached to the center mold seam. The Vredestein’s, on the other hand, always begin to show tread wear as soon as they hit the road and a new rear tire is good for less than 1,000 miles at best.
Ultimately, it clearly comes down to having two very different philosophy’s about tire construction, materials and value. Both the Vredestein and Schwalbe tires use a fairly high 120-127 thread per inch in the casing thread construction, but the Schwalbe seems to use a much harder, synthetic rubber compound for the tread vs. the much softer, natural rubber-feeling compound used by Vredestein. That single difference would explain all of the differences I’ve detected in just the very few miles of use we’ve logged on the Schwalbes.
From a consumer standpoint the trade-off in cornering performance and comfort are things that I suspect 90% of cyclists would never notice unless they really like to drive hard through corners or are highly sensitive to road feel. However, if the Schwalbe’s prove to be more durable and have a significantly longer tread life — which is what I’m expecting — that same 90% of cyclists would certainly appreciate the cost savings they’d enjoy as the miles rolled by.
We’ll do our Tuesday night ride on the Vredestein’s and then I’ll switch them out with the Schwalbe’s for our Thursday night ride just to revalidate my impressions.
Bottom Line: These are both very nice tires. I think I’m more inclined to live with the lower tread life / better cornering since I place a premium on our ride time. But, we’ll see. I’ll be anxious to see if the Schwalbe’s get more grippy with time and miles: that tread compound is REALLY tough, so I’m not holding my breath.