Schwalbe have released the Big Betty, reviving a legendary name and offering a tyre that aims to offer a Magic Mary alternative when things aren’t quite as loose.
Pete had a chat with one of Schwalbe Tyres’ Product Manager Carl Kämper about developing their new tyre, and how they get the Big Betty from concept to reality.
What are the key elements that you have to start with for any Schwalbe tyre?
First off, we always start with identifying the intended field of use and thus very rough tread block proportions like spacing, general knob shape and defining the block placement. If it’s a tire for loamy or wet conditions, you’ll go for a rather spikey design with smaller block surfaces so that the tire can dig in better. If the tire is intended to work well in dry conditions, you’ll go for higher block volume and surface to improve the stability and durability.
How many people are involved in bringing the idea from concept to prototype?
For an MTB tyre, it’s usually 2-4 people that are mainly involved in this process.
And what’s involved in that process?
First, we simply discuss about the idea and placement of the product. Afterwards, we go for a first design study and try to bring our ideas to paper. After that, it’s mainly drawing tread designs in 2D, convert them to a 3D prototype, 3D print the design, recheck and start again. As soon as we’re satisfied with the design of the tyre, we go for a first tire mould to prove the design in field tests with teams, in our lab etc.
Has that process changed over the years?
Definitely. Maybe the biggest leap was the introduction of cheap and fast 3D printers. They help so much to get a real idea of tyre proportions and design and are definitely a very essential part of our development.
Where did the inspiration for the new tyre come from?
The idea was definitely born in the DH World Cup. Even though Magic Mary really works great in almost all conditions, there’re some conditions where the pattern lacks some capabilities, for example braking performance as well as high stability in dry conditions.
However, changing Magic Mary was not an option as we’d have lost some of the capabilities that it currently offers, for instance it’s superior controllability in loose or loamy conditions. So the idea for an additional pattern that is a bit more specialised in dry and hard pack conditions and additionally complements Magic Mary was born.
What did the tyre borrow from existing tyres, if anything, or was it a ‘from the ground up’ design?
It might not surprise you that the new design borrowed some design elements from Magic Mary such as the rectangular shoulder knobs and V-Grooves. However, we also took some inspiration from the old Big Betty, such as the open transition area and very long braking edges.
However, compared to the former Big Betty, we really improved the breaking performance again by adding a ramped support blocks. These do not only improve the rolling resistance of the tire but also offer more support on the braking edges which leads to higher precision as well as higher longevity of the blocks.
What did you know you did and didn’t want to do with this tyre?
What we really didn’t want was to create a pattern that replaces Magic Mary. Even after 8 years in the market, we’re still super convinced of Magic Mary and it proves its performance in the DH WC year after year again. Instead, we wanted to create a tyre that makes a great addition to Magic Mary and that works well where Magic Mary might have been a compromise.
What are your priorities when designing the tyre?
This slightly depends on the intended use, but for Big Betty it was definitely performance over weight. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to create such a fun and reliable tyre.
How many prototypes did you have before getting to the production tyre?
Including the 3D-Prototypes, we went through roughly nine iterations till we and the riders were satisfied with the performance.
Beyond the development of prototypes, what form did your testing take?
Basically, we do only test prototypes. FEM tests are very hard to perform with bicycle tyres in a way that they allow conclusions to the real-world performance.
How important are athletes to your testing process, and did they have any influence on the tyre?
The feedback of our athletes is really crucial for the development of new patterns. If they’re able to go fast with a tire, you’re certainly going to be fast with it as well. Furthermore, many professional athletes are really able to filter and concentrate on how a tyre pattern compares to another. This helps to frame out specific properties that we have to enhance in order to improve a tire.
For instance, the very large shoulder knobs of Big Betty are a result of the feedback of our riders. For them, the first prototypes didn’t provide enough bite and stability while cornering so we had to improve on that.
My favourite moment with every new tyre project is definitely the moment you hold the first prototype out of the mould in your hands and go out to ride it! It’s surely even better when it works well and the riders are happy.
You might expect that there may have been some disasters due to Covid-19 but actually, our disaster with Big Betty happened already last year. Back then, the tyre had another name that we all really liked but very late in the process, we found out that despite our first researches, we’d face legal issues with this name.
Fortunately, we still had our working title for this project which was “Big Betty” so we had a great alternative and revived a legend.