I've been planning to post a review of my Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 29x2.0 tires for a while but have been waiting until I had a few more miles on them. However, I've recently been asked about them, and my enthusiasm is outpacing my patience. So here's a preliminary review, which I hope to update later.
Let's start with a picture:
Schwalbe lists it at 50mm wide, and that matches what my caliper tells me. They say it weighs 645 grams (nearly 100 grams less than a 700x28 Marathon Plus!), and I'll take their word for it, more or less.
The recommended pressure range, according to Schwalbe, for this size (as well as the 26x2.0) is 30-70 psi, while most of the other sizes are 50-85 (55-95 for the 700x32).
I got these tires from Niagara Cycle Works for about $45 each plus shipping. At the time, most places didn't have them in stock, including Schwalbe. That's the case again right now, but if you Google, I think you can find them somewhere, though not Niagara.
So, those are the technical details.
Let me start the subjective part of the review by saying up front that I have a seriously high level of irrational infatuation with these tires. Towards the end of summer, I was thinking about replacing the frame that I've got them on, and my number one requirement was that the replacement had to be able to use these tires. Everything else was negotiable. (FWIW, I ended up keeping the old frame.)
The picture above, being a side view, doesn't do justice to how truly huge this tire is. It's no Surly Endomorph, but after a summer of riding on 700x25's this looks gigantic. I like it!
I got these tires for my Marin Muirwoods 29er, which I use almost exclusively as a rain bike. Schwalbe says the Marathon Supreme has great wet grip. I tend to ride carefully on wet roads and haven't hit any unexpected obstacles yet, so I can't confirm that directly, but I haven't seen anything to make me question it.
I got the Supremes to replace a pair of 29x1.6 Conti Town Rides. I don't think I can make a good empirical comparison based on speed, because I hadn't used the Contis for a month or so before the switch, but my subjective impression was that the Supremes were faster. Without question, they have a better feel, which I'd probably describe as supple even knowing that probably doesn't convey anything precisely. You don't really feel the tire like you do with some tires. It just rolls. Does that make any sense?
I've got just over 300 miles on them with no flats. That doesn't mean anything, of course. Schwalbe says the puncture protection is very good. I don't question it. They better not flat a lot. I really don't like the idea of trying to fill these babies with a hand pump.
I've been running them at relatively high pressure up to now, mostly because I was trying to assess their speed potential. The description of the ride feel above is mostly based on that. But really, you don't buy a tire like this to ride at max pressure, do you?
I took the bike with these tires out for a leisure ride with my daughter this weekend, and I dropped the pressure to somewhere around 30-35 PSI, depending on whether you believe my cheap pump (30) or my cheap pressure guage (35) -- probably both are wrong but in the ballpark.
My first impression was that it was a lot firmer (as measured by squeezing) at that pressure than I expected. I was mentally comparing it to my 700x35 CX tires at the same pressure, which I realize is probably kind of a dumb comparison given the difference in air volume between the two.
The first day out at 30ish PSI I rode mostly on paved bike paths, with just a little bit of grass and hard-packed dirt. It did great with that ride, so I took it out the next day with the same pressure for my commute. Again, it felt great.
I can't say much about the speed because I had platform pedals on and I usually use clipless. It was maybe 1-2 mph slower than my typical speeds on the commute with these tires at high pressure (just looking at the numbers on the computer) but didn't feel slow. The tires still felt like they were rolling great.
Early on in the commute, I could feel the rear tire compressing a lot when I was climbing. I attributed that mostly to poor weight distribution on my part, and I was able to make it go away by shifting my weight forward when climbing. It probably would make sense to give the rear tire a little higher pressure.
The pavement on my commute is pretty smooth, so I had to seek out rough patches to get a feel for the shock absorption. It rolled over the kind of debris you typically find in a bike lane (twigs, small rocks, acorns, etc.) pretty well. I could feel it, but it wasn't rough. On badly broken pavement (tree roots growing under a paved bike path), it was good but didn't blow me away.
Then I took it across a choppy grass and gravel field/parking area at the local county fairgrounds. There I was really impressed. It ate it up without bouncing me around or bottoming out, and it was really easy to maintain around 14 mph. I enjoyed it so much I took a 2-mile shortcut through an even rougher patch of dirt and grass under some power lines on the way home. Once again, it was excellent. It reminded me for the first time in a long time that the bike these tires are on is a mountain bike.
When I first got these tires, I took them out on the Banks-Vernonia trail, which is mostly paved but has a stretch that isn't paved and one short, steep hill that is uneven with a bunch of loose rocks about 4-inches in diameter. I was running high pressure that day and tried to take it slow coming down this section (both completely wrong for that kind of terrain) and wiped out completely. Obviously no one would expect these tires to be good for conditions like that which would challenge most MTB tires. I mention it because they did so well on dirt and grass that it would otherwise have made me wonder why Schwalbe gives this tire such a low off-road rating.
I've never tried a set of Big Apples, so I can't offer any sort of comparison with regard to the comfort provided or other qualities. If anyone wants to send me some Big Apples, I'd be happy to give a detailed comparison review.
Update: Added information on the recommended pressure range, 30-70 psi, and how it differs from other sizes of the Sumpreme.
Update: 11/14/2010, my first flat at 580 miles. See description below.