Full disclosure: Schwalbe gave me a pair of Marathon Supremes for my 2012 U.S. West Coast trip, asking for feedback and an honest write-up of the tyre in return.
From the ashes of the much loved Schwalbe Marathon XR expedition tyre arose a phoenix. Or, more correctly, a number of phoenixes. Or perhaps phoeni. Anyway. The point is that Schwalbe now make no fewer than 10 varieties of touring tyre, instead of just two or three; each specialising in a particular kind of touring.
While this is probably better for Schwalbe’s profits (popular rumour has it that the XR was discontinued because it lasted too long), the jury’s still out as to whether or not expanding the range was a good move for their customers, as it takes time for new tyres to earn a reputation. In any case, for my springtime tour in America I decided to take the new Marathon Supreme tyres for a spin.
What kind of tyre is the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme?
The Supreme is a touring tyre, so it’s designed first and foremost for longevity under load. However, the Supreme is distinguished by its place at the fast and light end of the spectrum. It features a fast-rolling asphalt tread, with noticeably lower rolling resistance against my brother’s Continental Contacts (on the same model of bike).
To suit the kind of bike and riding style this will attract, it’s available in sizes down to a rather skinny 700x28C, which weighs just 310g – a third of the weight of my old XRs. So if you’re off to break the world record for cycling round the world (again), the 100PSI 700x28C Supreme is probably your tyre.
It’s also available for 26-inch mountain bike wheels and road wheels at up to 2 inches diameter, though it’s difficult to see many circumstances in which this would be useful except as a city semi-slick. Most varieties of the Supreme are folding, so carrying a spare is practical. There’s no dynamo track, however, if you do still use a sidewall dynamo.
How do they perform?
I chose the 700x35C Schwalbe Marathon Supremes to put on my touring bike, having tested the 32Cs and decided I’d like a little more plumpness in the medium term. Like most tyres, they took me where I wanted to go, and didn’t explode. Unlike most tyres, they did so without a single puncture over the course of the two-month ride. Given their very low weight, this was impressive. (My brother’s Continental Contacts suffered 2 flats on the same ride.)
Of the two months I’ve toured with the tyres, one full month was conducted in near-ceaseless rain, and the other month under an incessant sun, so I can vouch for the Marathon Supremes’ grippiness in both very wet and very dry conditions.
I was also impressed when I took them off-road at a lower air pressure for a few days, which I’d be reluctant to do with any standard road slicks. Sure, it wasn’t a particularly comfortable ride. But the Supremes survived unscathed, and the semi-slick tread only lost grip on the harshest and loosest of climbs. Impressive.
How long do they last?
Wear was slightly more noticeable on the rear tyre, as might be expected, but practically non-existent on the front tyre. I’ve pictured both here with two months’ wear on them. First the front tyre…
…and now the rear tyre:
Regular switching of front and rear tyres would go a long way towards evening-out the wear, though there is an argument for maintaining more grip on the front tyre which plays a more important part in braking (likewise, there’s a counter-argument that this argument is not so applicable to loaded touring bikes as two brakes are usually needed to slow the extra weight).
Based on the amount of wear accumulated over two months of riding, I’d conservatively and loosely estimate a pair of the Supremes to last at least six months on a tour of average pace and load, if not longer.
If you want to tour fast and light on asphalt, but don’t want to sacrifice durability or longevity, you probably won’t find better than the Marathon Supreme. (Unfortunately, you probably won’t find pricier either…)