Friday, 6 November 2015

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Intro

The tyres that you put on you bicycle can make a huge difference to how it performs and feels when you are riding it. Balloon bike is a term introduced by Schwalbe (a company that manufactures tyres), to describe high volume tires with a bouncy feel, which usually have a shallow tread being intended for on majority road use.

Balloon Bike Tyres - Not Just Schwalbe

There are a number of offerings from Schwalbe if you fancy a pair of balloon bike tyres, but other companies are now also starting make to high volume semi slick tyres that give a similar effect, some of which I have listed below.

Fitting Balloon Bike Tyres

All of the below tyres bar 1, are 2.35" or 60mm tyres. Above this is unlikely they will fit in a standard MTB frame. It is important to note that the final width of the tyre will change dependent on the width of the rim on to which it is fitted. 

Choice of Inner Tubes for Balloon Bike Tyres

It is worth noting that is probably worth using a wide inner tubes with all of the below tires, as a general inner tube will be stretched very thin when using a high volume tire and increase the chance of punctures.

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Schwalbe Big Apple 

I first roade these in the 50mm (2") size, and there were a very good practical tyre. However, I have since been running a set of 2.35" Abig Apples, which are superb. They have virtually no tread, and are lovely of tarmac / asphalt.

When compared to normal MTB tires or even touring tires (such as the Marathon Mondial) they seem to almost push the bike along, they have so little resistance. You can cut 5 minutes off of a 45 minutes journey, whilst applying the same effect, and the comfort is much increased.

The big apples with the newer tread design, have an endurance compound rubber, which sits very nicely on the road. A lesser compound which is available on "active line" Schwalbe tyres is not so good, but still perfectly adequate.

2.35" Big Apples are available with a race guard puncture protection, which is OK against most things except thorns, which will punch straight through it.  "Green guard" would offer more protection but is only available in 2.00" and 2.15" variants.

I have run 2" (inch) balloon bike tires and whilst these would be OK for a light rider, always go for a 2.35" (60mm tyre) if you can fit them in your frame, the balloon effect is much more pronounced.

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Fat Frank


The fat frank can be had quite cheaply online. It offers the main advantage of having the Kevlar protection belts that has been replaced by "race guard" in the newer big apple tyres. Having tried these tyres for that exacting reason, I found them not to offer better protection against thorns, which will go straight through the kevlar belt.

The main disadvantages are that it has a little too much tread for on road use, and that is uses schwalbes SBC rubber compound. The result is a squirmy feeling tire, that has too little tread for off road use, and too much for on road. 

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Big Ben

This is similar to the big apple in every way except for the tread pattern. 

At this point it is worth noting that 55mm Big Ben tyres, and Big Apple tyres are available with "green guard" which is a super tough puncture protection layer within the tyre. I have owned two sets of tyre with green guard (Marathon and Energizer) and have found that it creates a "dead" feeling when riding the bike. Of course this could because I am imagining things. . .

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Supermoto

The supermoto tyre is in apperance exactly the same as the Big apples. However, as it is design for racing etc. it has been lightened up, by removing the puncture protection belt, and uses a kevlar bead.

The one reason why I would like to try these out is becuase they use a "pacestar compound" which is suppoosed to be super gripping, aznd genrally lovely to ride on.

These supermoto ballon bikes tyres are very expensive compared to other offerings.

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Michelin Pilot Sport

So these are not a ballon bike tyre because that is schwalbe brand, but there are high volume and semi slick with a puncture protection belt. Below image from  .

I have never run these tyres but I am very tempted to try them if I can find them on sale at a good price. There is a review by a chap who has used these Michelin Pilot Sport Tyres here.

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Hutchinson Low Rider

The Hutchinson Low Rider Rigid Tyre has an imposing profile ideal for beach-cruiser bikes. 

The Hutchinson Low Rider tyre in 2.35 is designed for urban/city use. It's ultra-wide cross-section makes it the ideal tyre for a beach cruiser. The large size provides great riding comfort and a unique look. + 33 TPI carcass for faultless reliability and sturdiness  + Reflex: reflective strips on the sidewalls for increased visibility at night + Unique look Weight (manufacturer): 990 g 

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Maxxis Hookworm

These are really a street BMX type tire but function well (so I've heard) as a cargo bike or commuter tyre.  These are BIG, at 2.5" it is unlikely these will fit in a standard frame. Although you may be lucky.

These do not have any puncture protection which is a major disadvantage, although running these with sealant would get around that problem.

Blurb: Urban assault! 26 x 2.5 Inch (61-559 ISO). Bead-to-bead slick tread with wavy water channels. Large air volume for comfort under abuse. Lightweight single ply casing. 60a durometer rubber for long life. Wire Bead. 1250 grams. 65 PSI Max.

Thorpy's Guide to Balloon Bike Tyres - Schwalbe Crazy Bob

This description provided courtesy of Matt.
Essentially dirt jump/skate park kind of tire it has a stiffened sidewall and rim-to-rim tread, and overall a higher weight capacity than the same size in either Big Apple or Big Ben. No puncture protection belt, but with Stan's sealant in the tubes I've had no issues with mine for several hundred miles now. 

I believe they're grippier feeling and the stiffened sidewall actually helps improve the feel. I think Big Apples felt a little slower, maybe because the sidewall was a bit too flexy. Nominal size is 26x2.35 but mine (on 39mm wide rims), blow out to a massive 2.50!


  1. Thank you, nice selection. Seeing the recent trends I'm oriented in replacing my 26x2.00 MTB offroad tyre with a 26x2.35 asphalt tyre (I'm doing like 80% asphalt 20% light offroad) to increase the wheel diameter (like this it should be almost like a 29") and consequently the speed and smoothness on traffic roads. I also put bar end to reduce drag resistance. I'm running a 2006 Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail.

    1. Gald to hear you too are enjoying balloon bikes tires. They are great! I have been using the Schwalbe Big Apples for 10 years now and they are excellent.

      I find an asphalt tire is very good in all but the worst off road spots. It is good on tracks and foot paths, muddy roads and gravel. If it is very muddy I just get off and push!

      Which tire you purchase?

  2. Thank you for your reply, up to now I mounted none :( I was involved in other projects. In the meantime I also had a hole in the tyre (I use the bike just for free time). I will soon get back to my project, in particular I found this tyre which is a 26x1,2 asphalt (slick) which is very appealing:
    So I'll have to choose between the two (Big Apple and Slick). Do you think the slick could be a good choice?

    1. That is a narrow tire daniel, I think I would go for 1.75" as a minimum.

      Try Schwalbe: Spicer, City Jet or Marathon. All same price as decathlon, and a bit wider. Get a 2" tire if you can, the ride is softer, and a narrow tire will alter your gearing slightly.

    2. Ended up selling the MTB: I converted an old Pinarello steel racing bike from 1984 into a gravel one, mounting 28" wheels with Schwalbe CX comp 1,2" wide (they fit without any frame modification). It runs fantastic, both on asphalt and flat gravel roads, which are very common in the area I live in. It's not super good instead on mud (tyres are too thin) and on very steep climbs (because of the original gears).

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