SCHWALBE BILLY BONKERS TYRES
26x2.1 745g £17.99 (each)
The Schwalbe Billy Bonkers Active Line Wired Tyre 26x2.1 are designed for Pump track, dirt jump, and slopestyle audiences, thanks to the blend of speed, agility and compliance. Qualities that also lend them very nicely to dry trails, dirt roads and backwaters. They’ve also handled surprisingly well in the wet. However, ours seemed more vulnerable to flints and other sharps, especially the sort hiding in silty mud.
Pros: Relatively fast, engaging, yet compliant ride, keenly priced.
Cons: More susceptible to sharps than some
The Active Line are the budget versions, which means they have wire beads, thus a little portlier. The compound is also less puncture resistant than their performance line siblings. There’s not a major jump in quality but a difference, nonetheless. The SBC (Schwalbe Basic Compound) is versatile one, designed for all contexts.
50 EPI casings suggest a decent balance between speed and longevity. A maximum payload of 100kilos apiece and the 30-85psi operating range gives plenty of scope for most conditions, rider weights and indeed, tagalong/trailer tugging duties. It's worth noting that the close-knit blocks are designed for dry/hardpack/loose soil, rather than gloop.
Puncture resistance comes courtesy of their K-Guard belt, which is layer consisting of natural rubber, reinforced with Kevlar fibres. A standard feature throughout the Active series.
These big tyres have literally rolled aboard my Univega’s Rigida Snyper and Mach1 hoops with dexterous thumbs, although they’ve needed a (single) lever to scoop them off again.
Jump/freeride tyres might sound an odd choice for “Ursula”, who is essentially a drop bar cross country mountain bike cum four seasons rough stuff tourer. However, converting older, cross country mountain bikes to gravel builds has become quietly trendy. Some transformations are more extreme than others, but all following the drop bars and knobby tyre narrative.
Ride Quality & Handling 3.75/5
Ride quality is very plush, ironing out washboard tarmac and moderate trail buzz beautifully-even at the higher pressures. According to some guides, based upon bike and rider weight, my optimal pressure would be 26psi with a 2.1 section tyre. Before the February snows blew in, I dropped the Bonkers to 35psi- the lower end of their pressure range, for some additional contact along icy lanes.
Plenty of traction, permitting spirited cornering without squirm, although 55-70psi were my defaults, depending on whether I was intending on exploring dry bridleways, woodland and green lanes, or wanting to do some tarmac terrorism.
At 55psi, the Billy Bonkers just glided over, lumpy unmade roads, meaning I could just let rip and enjoy the freedom-being mindful of the odd horse and series Land Rover. Silty mud typical of singletrack lanes hasn’t presented any handling challenges either (although did get impacted between the blocks, which in turn harboured flints, thorns).
For big tyres, acceleration is brisk and provided you’re erring on higher pressures, they don’t require much effort to keep on the boil either. Gearing and rider fitness play their part but with a range of 29 to 69inches, I was able to cruise at a steady 17mph, with sufficient in the tank to chase down, or socially distance from other riders.
Characteristics that make town work fun. Accelerating away from the lights, weaving around holes, opening car doors, raised ironworks all become a grin-inducing game. Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Dual Defense Tyres are palpably quicker but then, they’re also a good bit dearer.
Off road, their plush, agile casings meant spotting and weaving around hazards was great fun and inspired confidence, even descending at 27mph. Wet, greasy roads haven’t taxed them, or me for that matter and there’s been plenty on surface water these past few weeks.
Puncture Resistance/Durability 2.75/5
A fortnight and approximately 200 miles in, I succumbed to our first flat. A very slow hiss that I initially attributed to the tread slicing though puddles and lanes carpeted in dung. Indeed, pressure loss was super pedestrian -I was unaware of it until the next evening, when the lanes were calling.
Flint removed, tube switched, and small cut filled with super glue-sorted. 400 miles later and yep, another puncture. Similar culprit and similar riding contexts, so well worth giving the casings a periodic purge with Oxford Products Tyre Scrub or similar medium-stiff brush. Otherwise, aside from those small cuts, the tread and sidewalls show little deterioration.
£17.99 is keen these days, let alone for premium brands. Kenda Small Block 8 Sport MTB tyre are a quick rolling option for loose surfaces and also handle well on tarmac. I've run previous incarnations of folding Small Block 8 in both 700c and 26inch MTB guises long term and found them similarly perky.
However, their relatively soft compounds are also vulnerable to sharps. Panaracer Comet Hardpack weigh in at £29.99, come with folding aramid beads and are designed with hard, dry, fast tracks in mind. They are also offered in a 700x38 option, which may appeal to gravel and adventure riders.
The Billy Bonkers aren’t just for jumping and similar duties. They’re surprisingly quick and super compliant, so a good choice for those seeking a budget tyre that will bowl along the tarmac quite nicely and allow exploration and spirited detours. There are better choices for laden, mixed terrain touring but if you’re looking to experiment without blowing heaps of cash, the Billy Bonkers could be a winner.