With the right rubber you can find grip while all around you slip.
Every winter, rather than slip and slide defensively through the gloop and muck, it pays real dividends to fit specific mud tyres. They bring extra grip and promote greater confidence at every turn, allowing you to keep attacking the trails.
Pick a versatile mud tyre and you’ll only need to swap tyres once this winter. With half an hour in the workshop, you can enhance your riding until the clocks go forward again next spring.
Front tyre priority
Front-end security remains a priority in winter — a back-end slide is always much more manageable — and mixing and matching tyre brands, compounds and sizes at either end is the best way to balance rolling speed, weight and control. If you’re a proper tweaker, you can always trim knobs down for custom grip levels.
Rear winter tyres face a difficult balancing act, since weight and rolling friction are far more noticeable out back, and rear tyres are also much more prone to damage and punctures, so require extra casing thickness and protection.
Traction versus drag
Well-spaced, spiky blocks are the signature tread pattern of winter-friendly tyres, but the height and aggression of these knobs, and the weight and width of the tyre casing, are further factors that directly affect drag, overall bulk and a product’s optimal terrain and purpose.
Even with mud tyres you can have too much of a good thing, which is why you need to balance wet weather grip with acceptable rolling resistance.
Durometer is the quoted measure for rubber hardness, with higher numbers signifying a firmer compound, i.e. 60a is harder than 50a. This durometer measurement is only a guideline, as proprietary compounds and blends can also make huge differences to grip, rebound damping and rolling speed. In this respect, rubber is something of a ‘dark art’, with certain tyres often surprising on specific terrain and surfaces.
Mud tyres need significantly more support to keep big tread blocks stable, which adds weight. More fabric and rubber in the construction of grippier, wider tyres also adds weight, but bigger air volumes offer more comfort and isolation from the ground — especially useful on hardtails to smooth out the rougher ride.
Overall rotating weight becomes very noticeable when big tyres pick up clag, and therefore muddy tyres can make it hard to change direction at speed — although that isn’t always a bad thing in extreme conditions!
It’s harder to stick to precise lines to protect sidewalls from abrasions and sharp edges in slippery winter conditions. Therefore it’s worth thinking about running a heavier casing with better protection and durability — the caveat being that riding in the winter is slow-going, and a heavier carcass can decrease acceleration and rolling speed further.
More open tread patterns should hold onto less gloop and clear more readily once up to speed, but the downside is greater rolling resistance. Mud tyres get pronounced shoulder blocks for better cornering hold and off-camber bite. Rubber formulas and special coatings on the outer casing surface (beneath the blocks) are also designed to shed sticky mud more quickly.
Thinner tyres carve through deep, thick mud more effectively, but be realistic as to how much of your ride time is spent in proper gloop, as wider tyres are generally better everywhere else. A good compromise is a wider ‘grip’ tyre up front and a thinner ‘drive’ tyre out back, but beware that super-fat front rubber can ‘float’ a little in serious mud rather than ‘cutting’ in.
Different tyres require different pressures and, generally, the thicker the casing the lower the air pressure you can get away with.
Watch: How to set your tyre pressures
Year-round, aim for the minimum air pressure that keeps the tyre casing from twisting too much under hard cornering forces and still prevents rim strikes under impacts. If you often run with more than 30psi, try reducing pressure and experimenting with softer tyres in winter.
Schwalbe Magic Mary
With simple, huge square blocks jutting out at all angles, the tread pattern looks a lot like a classic motocross tyre, and, sure enough, chuck it at some gloop and it’ll take everything in its stride — only a pure downhill spike has more bite.
Michelin Wild Mud Advanced
Using Michelin’s super-squishy Magi X grippy rubber mix (that’s usually only found on its front-specific tyres), this hefty Wild Mud tyre proved a revelation in the nastiest conditions.
Specialized Storm Control
A firm favourite here at mbr, the tubeless-ready Specialized Storm Control is studded with small blocks, and designed for mud, but versatile enough for most trail riding.
Rather than being purely an out-and-out mud plugger, we’ve always found the Maxxis Beaver a better all-round trail tyre. The dual-compound construction sees a softer layer applied over a firmer base, making the Beaver pretty fast rolling for a wet-weather tyre, yet it still excels in damp and slippery conditions.
The design is essentially a cut-down mud spike, but it’s proven way more versatile than a pure mud specialist and will happily double up as a dry weather tyre.
It is essentially a cut-down mud spike, with a hollowed-out, sucker-pad version of the Storm tread. The second thing we noticed is how, as mountain bike tyre technology moves forward, more tyres begin to look like blocky motocross treads.
On-One Chunky Monkey
In deep, gloopy mud, there are better solutions, as the broad profile can float rather than bite, but for the price it’s a steal.
Continental Mountain King II
The Continental Mountain King II Protection is a versatile trail tyre that can handle drenched trails and some mud well, but you need to buy the Black Chilli version tested here for maximum performance.
The WTB Warden is an unashamed enduro beast. Designed for hammering the nastiest Alpine-style tracks with minimal issues and maximum security, the flipside of which is a weight that reflects the toughness of the casing and the height of the fang-like knobs.
Continental Der Baron Projekt
Using smaller ramped and siped (grooved) blocks, it’s slightly wider, with a near continuous row of edge knobs, than the older Baron we rated highly in the wet. This tread tweak is designed to improve dry-weather performance and grip levels, especially braking control.
Schwalbe Nobby Nic II
It’s no exaggeration to say we didn’t like the old Schwalbe Nobby Nic. But the redesigned tread pattern and new casing has completely transformed its performance, and in its softer Trailstar compound, the Nobby Nic II is a jack-of-all-trades.
Hutchinson Toro Enduro
The 2.25in version shares the same supple, ground hugging carcass (a Hutchinson signature), but the centre knobs are straighter and lower profile, so designed to be faster rolling. The tyre compound is a mixture of 50a rubber in the lower central tread zone and sticky edge blocks for more cornering bite and to prevent any sudden pinging off roots or edges.
Cutting into loam or loose dirt, there’s great edge bite in both the wet and dry, and control on rocks and roots is excellent — the Charge literally takes the heat out of the sketchiest situations.
Outside of the slop and deep mud the tyre cleans well, and the Vigilante is very capable in firmer dirt and on rocks and roots. It’s worth considering the thicker Tough casing and accepting the heavier weight if you’re really going to smash it downhill.
Already highly rated by us in dry weather, Specialized also reckons it’s a good mud-friendly tyre, thanks to the softer, outward-facing 42a rubber that sits on top of a harder 70a base compound, used to keep the tread blocks sturdy.
Hutchinson DZO Enduro
These DZOs bite fiercely but don’t quite offer the same sensation that you can take liberties when leant over hard whatever the conditions underneath the wheels. However, as a solid, long lasting, pure mud downhill tyre, the Hutchinson DZO Enduro is a good choice.
Hold and braking poise on greasy surfaces going straight is very assured. Leant over hard, grip seemed to fade away in a few instances — nothing too bad, but the tyre tends to float, rather than catch an edge. There’s also a sense that the offset edge knobs flutter in long, flat, greasy corners or when holding off-camber slopes.
For pure grip up front, the Michelin Wild Mud is ridiculously capable, but only ideal for riders with unadulterated descending priorities.
We’re totally sold on Schwalbe’s more versatile Magic Mary tyre, since it can handle everything from dust to mud. It’s not the fastest, and turnover is at the slow end of the scale, but the weight is manageable on the front, and combined with a faster rolling rear tyre, it should be just about acceptable for most trail riders.
One factor we’ve not touched on so far is price, and on this front Specialized cleans up, being almost half the cost of the competition without compromising on quality — its XC-focused Storm Control is one of the best thinner, lighter models and the new, heavy-duty Hillbilly is a fantastic no-nonsense operator.