I’m not sure whether to laugh or cringe at Schwalbe’s latest tyre pun. And it's not only the name that’s unconventional; the tyre itself comes at downhill performance from a whole new angle, which means it rides with a very distinct character.
Only coming in a 2.4in width for both 27.5in and 29in wheel sizes, the new Tacky Chan from Schwalbe focuses on all-out speed for racing. The majority of its rivals however, target all-round grip and maximum braking traction first, with rolling pace a lesser concern.
Key to prioritising more speed is a narrower width and shallower height than many DH tyres, along with a ramped lug design that’s more spaced out to save weight. Developed with the Commencal/Muc Off Team, the tread also targets steering precision, and has already had over a dozen World Cup DH wins, including several by Amaury Pierron on his way to the 2022 overall World Cup title.
Tacky Chan is claimed to be around 8% lighter than the brand’s other main gravity tyre – the well regarded Magic Mary – with a 10% increase in distance between centre lugs. Fewer rubber blocks around the crown shed weight for faster acceleration, as do lower – yet 20% stiffer – shoulder blocks. These edges see L-shaped lugs offset at a significant angle to the rolling direction (more exaggerated than a Magic Mary even) and with more siping than other Schwalbe tyres, such as the Big Betty, to better deform and connect to the dirt. Even with its reduced rubber ratio, the Tacky Chan isn’t exactly lightweight, with this 29 x 2.4in Super DH model test tyre weighing well over 1,300g.
The lower profile tread has directional ramps for faster rolling and slightly wider lugs for improved braking traction, as well as a huge continuous grip channel between centre and side lugs. Although it sounds like nonsense, I’ve been told by a leading World Cup mechanic pal that downhill is so competitive these days there are measurable aerodynamic gains by not having extra lugs in the transition zone (like a Maxxis Assegai) on the front tyre, and although Schwalbe isn’t claiming this in their literature, it could be a side benefit.
The extra speed claimed is noticeable too; I suspected a spaced-out tread pattern and high weight might bobble too much, but Schwalbe’s claims of fast rolling proved genuine. Heavy it may be, but the Tacky Chan has excellent turnover across flatter sections and climbs, and not only rolls quickly, it also feels lighter to steer and change direction than many DH tyres.
In fact, it’s this precise steering feel that really stands out from its rivals, where there’s a common sense of self-correction away from the straight ahead. Riding no-handed on the Tacky is therefore a bit of a weird sensation, as the aggressively-angled shoulder lugs want to carve either left or right (a bit like a ski with a side cut to initiate turns), and unless you hold the bars dead straight, the tyre is constantly trying to tip onto one or other of the shoulder ‘rails’.
This means there is a very dynamic ride from side-to-side on the trails, especially from the front tyre. So you have to tell the Tacky Chan exactly what to do, really stuff it into corners, and keep a firm hand on the rudder at all times. Grip is phenomenal once you’ve settled onto the edge blocks, even at high lean angles, and rather than schralping across the dirt, the back tyre just seems to accelerate bike through corners the harder you push with your feet. I can’t think of another DH tyre that rails corners and cuts turns with such sharpness and support without breaking away. It helps that braking control and mud clearing is also really good.
I’ve had limited experience with the Tacky Chan in the wet, but its enthusiasm for turning can feel a little hectic in sloppy ruts, where it occasionally tries to ride up and out, rather than taking the path of least resistance. And on slippery, hardpack clay it’s definitely less neutral than something like an Assegai, which boasts a more predictable and rounded feel to the grip.
The Tacky’s stiffer side knobs can also kind of flutter, and bobble around a bit if the ground is really baked hard – a trait it shares with the offset edge blocks of the Magic Mary.
Schwalbe has created a complicated tyre that really needs loading with body weight to maximise all the grip and on offer, but if you put in the effort, and trust in the grip, cornering bite and hold feels pretty special. Being thinner than most 2.4in tyres also means there’s zero vagueness, so you know exactly where you are, but there’s less cushioning and both casing and blocks lean more to supportive than squidgy and damped, which points to a tyre less built for comfort than maximum grip and precision.
Tacky Chan clearly isn’t an XC tyre, but compared to a Michelin DH22 or a new Pirelli Scorpion Race compound (two tyres offering amazing grip at the expense of rolling speed) it’s seriously rapid and that’s a plus point, not only for racers, but for everyday riders looking to balance effort with grip on all-day rides on steep, gnarly trails. This is especially true considering the brand offers its lighter and thinner Super Trail casing in the sticky Ultra Soft blend, which looks like a great option as a UK enduro front tyre.
The razor-sharp attitude won’t suit everyone, especially if you like to float across terrain, rather than push into it at every opportunity. I also have my doubts about the tread pattern being forgiving enough or versatile enough for use in UK winters, when it’s greasy and slimy, because even though it clears well, it doesn’t respond well to being ridden in a loose and relaxed manner.
As a comforting, confidence-inspiring tread to take exploring a new riding spot, it wouldn’t be my first choice. But for racing (whether DH or enduro) where the track is a known quantity and a good result rests on achieving that one perfect run, I’d run the Tacky Chan in a heartbeat. It does feel like it might be able to gain you some extra seconds by really pushing its limits.