What are The Best Mountain Bike Tires, and How do you Choose Them?

This post looks at the best mountain bike tires for beginners and pros alike. We also discuss how to choose a pair of tires and give you some great tips on buying them.

For several years, I have endeavoured to maintain and expand a base of articles covering the models, rubbers, and casings each brand offers in mountain bike tires. These articles are some of the most popular sites and collect many questions.

It is clear that the latter are often agnostic of a specific brand and that the concern of a good part of the readers of the site is, above all, to find the shoe that fits them, whatever the colour or the typography of the badge stuck on the side of our sausages.

  • The best Trail, All-Mountain, and Enduro tires
  • The Best Cross-Country Tires
  • The tires to use for an electric mountain bike
  • Which carcasses to favour
  • Which erasers to choose
  • What about the different sections or width

And since, as you know, it is difficult for me to ignore a bit of philosophical reflection, I also offer you as an introduction a reflection on the approach to be adopted to make one’s choice in the ten years to come.

Finding the Best Mountain Bike Tires: an endless quest

By way of preamble, a word of warning. Finding the perfect tire can be as long and arduous as short and straightforward. It is as easy to put our fingers in a gear that pushes us to test everything that can closely or remotely correspond to our expectations to optimize our machine with an optimal pair of socks as to ride with blinkers thinking that the XC tires fitted to his latest bike offer the ultimate grip, starting from references that give pride of place to supermarket tires.

Finding the right balance between grip and performance is an essential part of the problem we try to solve in the hunt for the perfect tire. The answer to this question is very personal: some like tires that provide plenty of grip in cross-country, while others ride cross-country tires in the mountains to climb them at full speed.

“Choosing the perfect MTB tire is a complex and personal matter.”

If the answer to the question depends on everyone, it requires knowledge, at least approximately, of the performance offered by the extremes of this spectrum. The need to improve to go beyond the limit to locate it is handy when choosing a tire to be able to compare it with references which are what is done better in one area or another.

But choosing a tire is not only a matter of balance between grip and performance. With the explosion of electric mountain bikes, the performance is a facet of our tires, which has been completely wiped off the map on specific models. It is also a story of behaviour and the evolution of performance on different terrains.

In short, choosing the perfect MTB tire is complex and personal, where everyone’s feelings and expectations differ. The typical example that I use regularly is the High Roller from Maxxis. It’s such a treacherous model to me that I shudder with dread every time I see it mounted on a test bike and would like to see it disappear from circulation. Yet, despite this gaping flaw in his behaviour, many followers appreciate his great potential on the angle.

“You only really know that you have found the rare pearl after comparing it to others.”

Finding your perfect tire cannot be done through a screen. It’s a long quest that requires testing many models that today abound in a given category. It’s funny how we can separate mountain bikers into groups: those who have found it and those still looking. The first is constantly changing and never rolling the exact tire once the one in place has expired.

The latter always rely on the same combo for a given practice and wouldn’t change for the world. Existential dilemma, we only really know that we have found the rare pearl after comparing it to the others, even though we discovered it on the first try.

With these considerations in mind, the idea for me in this article, and each time I answer your questions on the subject, is to give you indications of the models that may correspond to certain expectations rather than a definitive answer.

Not everyone can take the equivalent of a tire shop to their home to test everything being done on the market in the next five years to come up with the winning model or models. If the test remains king, I will endeavour to paint as objective a picture as possible by taking into account my personal feelings and sometimes those that generally emerge from the community.

Which Trail, All-Mountain, or Enduro tire?

Ultimate grip and front tires

Nowadays, the Trail category is a catch-all that includes machines intended for peaceful rides as much as for a practice that has its eye on the Enduro, which justifies the grouping of these two categories here, all the more that, as we will see, it is common to mix Trail models at the rear and Enduro at the front.

In these disciplines where the ultimate grip is most often sought, at least at the front, there are, in my opinion, two references: the DHF from Maxxis on the one hand and the Magic Mary from Schwalbe on the other. The DHF (or Minion DHF by its full name) is a pillar of committed disciplines, an essential downhill tire that proves to be an excellent choice in dry conditions. Its range of use goes from hardpack to softer terrain, but if it can hold its own in wet conditions, it is much less comfortable in these conditions than the Magic Mary, meanwhile very slightly set back on the aridest lands.

These two tires are predictable and easy to catch while providing excellent grip in a straight line and at an angle. The DHF is marginally better than the Magic Mary on tricky terrain, but Schwalbe’s tire is much more versatile, being totally at home in soggy terrain and mud where the DHF can’t. Wrestle. The ultimate all-around tire is, therefore, in my opinion, the Magic Mary, but a DHF is a perfect option if you drive almost exclusively in the dry.

“At Maxxis, there are three complementary options: the DHR II, the Assegai and the High Roller II.”

There are three complementary options at Maxxis: the DHR II, the Assegai, and the High Roller II. While the side studs are identical on the DHF and DHR, the centre row sets them apart. The DHF is a directional tire: the knobs on this centre row encourage the bike to stay on its line.

The DHR, on the other hand, is not directional but optimizes braking grip: the lugs arranged perpendicularly offer more edge length to sink into the ground. If the DHF was designed primarily for the front, it could easily be used in the rear. While the DHR was designed primarily for the rear, it can also be used at the front if you want to maximize grip under braking.

The Assegai and the DHF are very close, the first being a little slower still, with a better transition when passing the angle. The High Roller is an exceptional tire, which I strongly advise against, but it makes some people happy.

The problem lies in this transition when you have to take the angle: the High Roller requires you to thoroughly engage in the turn and lay the bike down to make its side row bite. Otherwise, you end up with a loss of temporary or permanent grip. It’s a treacherous tire and almost unrecoverable when it slips away.

If it is appreciated for its grip on the angle in optimal conditions, the game is not worth it for me against, for example, a DHF.

To finish with Maxxis, we find the Shorty, a tire with many grips, but more for wet conditions. The Shorty is very close to Schwalbe’s Magic Mary, perhaps a bit superior in the wet and trailing in the dry, and although less popular than the alternatives listed above, it is a good option for those who want to stay with Maxxis but want to opt for a more comfortable tire than a DHF when conditions deteriorate.

If Schwalbe does not offer a range as plethoric as Maxxis in this segment, the Teutonic brand offers the Big Betty, a rear tire that complements the Magic Mary. Like the DHR II at Maxxis, which favours grip under braking compared to the DHF, the Big Betty adopts a design where the rows of vertical studs typical of a rear tire do the same.

While most of the market is captured by the two giants, Maxxis and Schwalbe, other brands offer exciting alternatives.

One of the competitors mainly well distributed in France is Hutchinson, the tricolour brand relying on an absolute spearhead through its range, the Toro. This model, like the Magic Mary or the Shorty, has mud tires that work very well in dry conditions.

Moreover, the Toro is at Hutchinson declined almost to infinity since one finds it in sections, rubbers, and carcasses that lend themselves to the Descent, the Enduro, and the cross-country in muddy conditions. It’s an all-around tire, which offers a lot of grip in the significant sections intended for committed practices.

In terms of large tires, we can also mention the Baron and Kaiser at Continental, the Judge (rear) and Verdict (front) at WTB, the Scorpion Enduro S/M/R at Pirelli, or even the Maza at Vittoria (more for dry conditions), Mota (more for wet conditions) or Martello (more for the rear).

Top performance and rear tires

In this second part, going back to the models intended for a practice that goes from Trail to Enduro, I suggest you see the intermediate tires that compromise grip and performance while keeping priority on the first.

These are models that are often used either on two wheels for a quiet Trail practice or on the rear wheel associated with one of the tires that you have seen previously on the front, to combine the best of both worlds, either good performance at the rear where it counts so as not to waste too much energy uphill, and excellent grip at the front, where it is essential downhill. Be careful; however, this is not the case for all, some models being reserved for a rear mount.

Schwalbe offers two options in this area: the Hans Dampf and the Nobby Nic. These two tires are regularly reviewed, the Hans Dampf at the time of writing these lines in its second version and the Nobby Nic in its third iteration. The Hans Dampf is the big brother of the Nobby Nic: more grip, less performance. Therefore, the choice between these two tires is mainly a question of choice between grip and efficiency, their behaviour being similar.

“[The Hans Dampf and Nobby Nic] are both very predictable, easy to catch, but their round profile prevents them from really ‘carving’ a turn.”

They are both very predictable and easy to catch, but their round profile prevents them from “carving” a turn. This weak point should be considered when riding in the rear but should be kept in mind according to each person’s aspirations.

Attention to the first version of Hans Dampf, which I cannot recommend because its lifespan was ridiculous, and to the first version of Nobby Nic, which is very different and inferior to versions two and three. Finally, even if its profile has opened up a little in version two, the Hans Dampf breaks in very moderately, the Nobby Nic a little better. They are not mud specialists, but this is the case for more or less all tires of this calibre.

At Maxxis, the offer is very busy. You could once look for a rolling rear tire only in the manufacturer’s XC range. Still, today a more specific collection exists since the Taiwanese giant offers two models geared towards aggressive Trail and Enduro: the Aggressor and the Dissector.

The first is a little older than the second, which is now a more solid alternative, despite an arrangement of studs furiously reminiscent of the Ardent. They are primarily meant to be rear mounted with a big tire up front.

In addition to these two models, the Trail category allows you to choose from the Forekaster, the Rekon, and the Ardent, which can also be used on two wheels for wise practice.

The Forekaster is close to Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic with a round profile and good performance, as well as the ability, all things considered, to get by in the wet. The Ardent and the Rekon are perhaps more XC/Trail light and more at ease on dry terrain; the second more recent deserves, in my opinion, to replace the first.

Between Schwalbe and Maxxis, we can, therefore, despite their different profiles, face Hans Dampf and Dissector below the tires seen in the first part and Nobby Nic and Rekon below them.

“At Hutchinson, the Griffus was launched in 2019, with a specific front and rear version.

At Hutchinson, the Griffus was launched in 2019, with a specific front and rear version. This tire, whose design and sections differ according to these two versions, is more intended for dry terrain for AM/Enduro use, with a directional front tire and a rear tire that optimizes grip under braking.

If they are not quite at the level of the large tires seen previously (despite an excellent grip on the angle), they are clearly above the Trail alternatives like the Nobby Nic or the Rekon, which we could instead put in front of the Gila at Hutchinson.

Finally, the other brands also have their say. At WTB, we find the Vigilante and the Trail Boss in this category, the first being at ease in varied conditions while the second breaks in less well and prefers dry terrain. These are also tires whose design was recently revised in 2018.

At Vittoria, the Agarro takes on the role of rolling rear tire that can be associated with a much more aggressive tire or used on both wheels for practices. More peaceful. As is often the case when improving this yield requires a high number of small studs, it prefers dry ground.

Pirelli still uses its Scorpion Trail S/M/R/H scheme, which must make it possible to meet all the conditions, as I explain in the article dedicated to Pirelli tires.

“Don’t forget the semi-slick option.”

To conclude this part, we must not forget the semi-slick option, which, if it seemed today to return to the shadows after a particular interest a few years ago, nevertheless constitutes, in my opinion, an exciting alternative for its saves on the climb during mountain outings in good weather. The interest of the semi-slick, in rear fitment only, is to combine small studs on the central row and a side row using studs that have nothing to envy to the larger tires or almost.

We thus benefit from a superb performance while maintaining an excellent grip in curves. Braking is, however, logically very poor in a straight line at the rear, which requires, on the one hand, a period of adaptation (braking is better in a curve than in a straight line, which is the opposite of what we are used to), and on the other hand, a terrain that lends itself to their use.

The higher the slope, the less this weak point is felt, most of the braking being carried to the front. It’s also an excellent option for getting on the cuties and playing with the bike’s rear.

Trail, AM, and Enduro semi-slicks don’t run the streets, the most common being Maxxis’ Minion SS and Schwalbe’s Rock Razor. For me, the Minion SS is to be avoided; too narrow, too bad in terms of pedalling grip, and not very convincing on the angle.

Conversely, the Rock Razor goes wonderfully with a Magic Mary. It gets my votes, thanks to a central row which, despite its minimalist studs, provides surprisingly good traction in many conditions and side studs that give it an excellent grip on the angle.

Which Cross-country tire

Priority to performance but essential compromise

In terms of the offer intended for cross-country, there is again a grey area between the models intended for this practice and the light Trail tires, of which we have seen some previously.

The spectrum is broad since it goes to tires intended primarily for the competition, emphasizing ultimate performance to grab every second uphill. It is easier to widen the gap on a climb than on a descent, especially since the latter is not very technical.

The practitioner must, therefore, once again choose between grip and performance, and it is not always easy to decide between the large number of models offered on this point. I will go over this part quickly, XC not being the focus of Glisse Alpine…

At Maxxis, there is a significant history, replaced over the years, which now coexists in the catalogue with new models while gradually ending their days in dealer stocks.

Today the generalist XC offer focuses on the Rekon and the Forekaster, the first being more geared towards dry terrain, while the second is intended more for general-purpose use.

At Schwalbe, in addition to the Nobby Nic already mentioned, which is an option similar to the Forekaster that can be used both in slightly more demanding disciplines and in dynamic cross-country, it is the Rocket Ron which offers the best performance without going on models “ race” throwing the grip out the window.

The Barzo at Vittoria, the Ranger at WTB, the eternal Taipan now supplemented by the Kraken at Hutchinson, or the Scorpion XC range at Pirelli are other options of the same calibre.

Models with ultimate performance to chase the clock

Beyond this approach, which remains a compromise, although geared towards performance, most brands also have models that sacrifice grip for maximum performance, with minimalist lugs. These tires, often combined with very light but fragile carcasses, aim to chase every second off the clock without much interest in puncture resistance. They are necessarily intended for dry terrain, their use in wet terrain being debatable.

At Maxxis, this role is provided mainly by the Rekon Race, assisted by the Ikon, while at Schwalbe, it is the Racing Ralph at the rear and the Racing Ray at the front who take care of it. The German brand also offers an XC semi-slick, the Thunder Burt.

We find at Vittoria the Mezcal and the Nano at WTB. Pirelli offers an RC version of its Scorpion XC to fill this need, while at Hutchinson, it is probably the Skeleton to which this role is attributed. However, the Python in the second version is still in the catalogue, unlike the Cobra designed in collaboration with Julien Absalon.

What tires for an electric mountain bike

Electric mountain biking is a market that has exploded over the past five years, and there are now tires dedicated to this use. The question that often arises is: do I need e-MTB branded tires for my e-MTB?

In short, the answer is no. In my opinion, three axes push manufacturers to offer dedicated models.

The first, which we will quickly cover, is purely marketing. As always, there is a commercial advantage to offering a product that seems eminently suited to its practice, and the VTTAE is no exception to the rule. As I noted in my article on Vittoria MTB tires, the differentiation of the brand’s VTTAE offer concerning its classic lineup seems, in fact, and for the moment at least, non-existent.

The second, more palpable, relates to the more significant mechanical stresses these tires have to withstand. There is, for me, a side that is technically justified and another that is more justified on a marketing level in this pursuit.

Yes, with an average of 10kg more on the bike, the constraints increase and dictate the use of a more solid carcass. Is it essential? No. We will return to the choice of casing later, but it is possible to roll a tire in Super Trail without any problem on many terrains and without sparing your mount. Above all, the proliferation of E-25, E-45, and E-50 badges raise questions. We have been driving DH for a long time at such speeds in worse conditions than a tarmac road pushed by an engine.

Finally, the last axis is the one that relies on the presence of the engine to ignore performance constraints. It’s a legit pursuit, one that makes sense and one that rolls tires with phenomenal grip, allowing you to climb trees and circle the moon on descents. However, it raises the question of the necessity, or not, of this absolute grip, a point on which I am relatively conservative.

It is, therefore, possible in electric mountain biking to choose from a wide range of models, which go roughly from the classic Trail offered for the small travels to the mastodons VTTAE for the larger ones, passing the flagship models seen at the beginning of the article.

Regarding dedicated tires providing excessive grip, Schwalbe was among the first to offer a specific range with its Eddy Current Front and Rear, almost closer to a motorcycle tire than what we were used to until then.

How to choose the best carcass

I’m not going to compare here or come back to each carcass offered by each brand: the choice of a carcass is made mainly after deciding on a specific tire model in terms of design. Instead, I will focus on the level of protection potentially required depending on usage and terrain while reminding you that I have written a specific article that details all MTB tire casings and that I am currently in the process of including this information in the sheets for each manufacturer whose links you will find at the end of this article.

So how do you choose one of the casings in which a tire is offered? In my opinion, there is a lot of one-upmanship on the forums in this area, a theme that is ultimately quite recurrent in mountain biking. It’s a bit like the syndrome of George-Antoine, who ran over a nail on a DFCI without his three-year-old pellet preventive being able to seal the incident, which therefore comes from a confidential adviser to ride in a DD carcass to avoid pine needle punctures in EXO+.

The choice of a carcass is again a compromise, this time between weight and solidity, the latter being transcribed on the one hand in terms of resistance to punctures and cuts, on the other in terms of support. We too often forget that the more solid a carcass, the more low pressures can be used for identical support, which allows, on the one hand, to put more rubber on the ground at tread level, and on the other, to keep a good response on extensive supports.

For most energetic Trail, All-Mountain, and reasoned Enduro practices, the medium casings that offer a good compromise are sufficient in most cases. It is, for example, at Schwalbe of Super Trail or late Snakeskin (Super Trail being its official replacement but more resistant and heavier than Snakeskin), or at Maxxis of EXO and EXO+. On the particularly brittle terrain in the south of France, where you often ride on flints, switching to Super Gravity from Schwalbe or DD from Maxxis may prove necessary.

Going directly on significantly reinforced casings because you are driving “in the mountains” is, in my opinion, unjustified. Still, everything depends on the terrain targeted and the constraints imposed on the equipment, which result from its practice, level, or weight, for example. The average carcasses mentioned above are a good starting point that allows adjustments to be made if necessary.

For a cross-country practice, we take the problem in the other direction by starting on the bare carcasses so that if we feel the need, the ground lends itself to it, and that we are ready to take the risk, go for very light “breed” casings. For example, we would go to Schwalbe on a Super Ground before eventually evolving towards a Super Race. These ultra-light casings are, in any case, often only offered on models with very little crampon.

How to choose the best eraser

By choosing a rubber, or rather a mixture of rubber, we play on the level of grip of a tire model. The softer the rubber, the better the grip, the harder it is, and the better the longevity. The positive evolution of this grip is linked to the terrain. For example, a soft rubber will have a more marked difference than a hard rubber on rock or wet solid surfaces. Also, tires that focus on performance tend to opt for more complex compounds, which, on paper at least, are in line with less energy loss.

Like the casings, there is a page dedicated to the different rubbers offered by the manufacturers. However, this information is, over time, grouped on the pages dedicated to each brand: mountain bike rubbers.

Unless you have an unlimited tire budget, you often opt for a rubber that is a little harder at the rear than at the front, which reduces wear on the more stressed rear tire, a tire whose small reduction grip has little effect on the performance of the bike, and can even improve its behaviour by causing it to stall from the rear before the front leaves, which is always much easier to catch up.

For our eternal Trail, AM, Enduro triptych, the classic scheme is to opt for a soft rubber at the front and medium at the rear, either Soft and Speedgrip from Schwalbe or 3C MaxxTerra and 3C MaxxSpeed ​​from Maxxis.

If you are looking for more grip, again with faster wear, you can take everything a notch forward with Ultra Soft and Soft from Schwalbe, 3C MaxxTerra, and 3C MaxxGrip from Maxxis. As with casings, not all compounds are available for all tire models, which logically does not allow you to find, for example, a very rolling cross-country tire in Super Tacky (the softest compound at Maxxis).

In cross-country, the tires used are harder. The principle remains the same; although we use identical rubbers between the front and rear tires more often, the emphasis on the front wheel’s grip downhill is less significant.

A word about sections or widths

Finally, a quick word on tire sections or widths. Things have changed a little over the past five to eight years with a hardening of practices, wider rims, or even the rise of VTTAE.

We generally ride between 2.35″ and 2.6″ for edgy practices, while cross-country runs around 2.1″ to 2.25″. These indications are not standardized between brands; some sizes are more significant than others, some calculate this width with the ball, others with studs, and some models must spend a few nights at 3 bar before swelling to their expected size.

The wider a tire, the heavier it is, and the more rubber it puts on the ground, a point reinforced by slightly lower pressures, so the better the grip, the worse the performance.

This question of performance is a point of debate when the ground is very uneven: with lower pressures, a wider tire, in addition to being more comfortable, is potentially more efficient since it saves effort to pass every micro-obstacle and gets tired of maintaining grip.

Even if there is some truth in this observation, the fact remains that when a waxed man passes you on a DFCI with his cross-country bike and 2.1 tires, this philosophical reflection gets lost in the 2.6″ flanges that move you forward at tractor speed running on three cylinders.

For a practice geared towards the joys of downhill or “pleasure,” wide tires make sense, especially since they provide a significant increase in grip, usable with a basic technical level, unlike some tire designs, which require an excellent technique to be superior.

Finally, be careful; you cannot fit any section on rim width. Count roughly between 28mm and 35mm of internal width for 2.6″, 23mm to 30mm for 2.35″, and 21mm to 25mm for cross-country models around 2.1″ to 2.25″. If wide rims between 25mm and 30mm have now become standard, Maxxis still markets certain tires in the classic version or WT (Wide Trail) version, intended precisely for these wider rims than before.

What you must remember

As stated in the preamble, choosing a pair of MTB tires is difficult, especially when determining the best option for your practice and your tastes. It is often a long-term search, and everyone has their preferences. However, in conclusion, I offer you a few combos which are safe choices depending on the terrain and conditions.

For a versatile, committed practice, my first choice on the front is the Magic Mary from Schwalbe in Trail Star, Soft. For the rear, it is possible to modulate according to your tastes by staying with the brand.

I usually ride a Hans Dampf, Trail Star, or SpeedGrip, but you can choose more grip via the Big Betty or less grip and more performance via the Nobby Nic.

For committed practice on dry ground, the DHF is excellent at the front in EXO 3C MaxxTerra, which can be combined with a Dissector or a Forekaster for more or less grip at the rear.

The double Nobby Nic is a classic for unpretentious Trail or cross-country a little edgy. At Schwalbe, you can switch to a Rocket Ron at the rear, then a double Rocket Ron; the more you tend towards pure XC before entering the territory of Racing Ralph and Racing Ray.

Marcelline
Marcelline

Marcelline is a writer and covers several categories thanks to her multidisciplinary expertise.

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