We know our knobbles better than anyone and here is our recommended rubber
We’ve ridden and reviewed 28 tyres for this comprehensive round-up!
For every condition, type of terrain and trail, there’s a perfect tyre. Finding it isn’t easy though, so we’re here to help you decide.
Tyres are arguably the most important component on your bike, simply because they’re the only thing between you and the dirt. Fortunately, modern tyres are better than ever, and set up tubeless, the right tyre can virtually put an end to punctures, offer impressive rolling speed, alongside cornering grip and traction in spades.
While weight saving is important, it must be balanced against durability, puncture resistance and sidewall stability. Even top XC racers, such as Julian Absalon, are seeking to reduce the chance of punctures, and pay a weight penalty as a result, so there will always be a compromise.
The 12 tyres here are capable of handling all kinds of terrain, and span a broad range of tread patterns, rubber compounds, weights and prices. No one model can ever truly do it all, though, which is why we’ve split this test down the middle with six front-specific options and six rear-optimised models. By mixing and matching tyres you enjoy the best of both worlds, maximising grip and control up front, while reducing rolling resistance at the back.
Durometer is the quoted measure for rubber hardness, with higher numbers signifying a firmer compound — 60a is harder than 50a. This is only a guideline, as the make-up of the rubber can also make a huge difference to grip, rebound damping and rolling speed. Softer durometer tyres do, however, wear faster than harder ones.
Open tread patterns should bite into looser surfaces, hold onto less mud and clear more easily once up to speed, but with these taller, widely-spaced knobs, can come increased rolling resistance. A more pronounced trough between shoulder blocks and centre treads often delivers better off-camber bite, but some riders prefer a more continuous, rounded tread than the on/off feel of an aggressive shoulder ridge.
Different tyres require different air pressures. A rough rule of thumb is: the thicker the casing, the lower the air pressure you can get away with. For maximum comfort and grip, aim for the minimum pressure that keeps the casing from twisting too much and still prevents rim strikes under impacts. We wouldn’t run any of the tyres in this test with more than 30psi.
Casing thickness and construction has a huge impact on ride feel. Carcass thread lay-ups affect conformity, rolling speed and durability. Harder charging riders might have to accept the weight penalty of thicker casings to prevent punctures and to stop the sidewalls folding under hard cornering. Heavier casing tyres accelerate more slowly, but can often feel more planted and stable once momentum takes hold.
Wider, more aggressive tyres use more rubber, and need significant support to keep tread blocks stable, which adds weight. Bigger tyres can stabilise the bike by being harder to deflect at speed, and larger air volumes offer more isolation from the ground too. Overall, tyres are becoming heavier as wheel sizes have grown and bikes become ever more capable, but we reckon this is a fair return for the advances in performance.
Using wider tyres up front for extra grip and comfort makes a lot of sense. Hands get extra cushioning, and slightly narrower rear tyres can also help initiate faster turning. Tyre width is directly relative to air volume, though, and a larger air volume provides more isolation, damping and control.
With a faster rolling, lower profile centre strip and pronounced edge blocks for leant-over grip, semi-slick tyres can be a great UK option. This is why we’ve largely resigned full-on XC tyres to history for trail riding. The extra bonus of the slip-to-grip attitude of semi slicks makes them a real hoot in greasier conditions.
Continental Der Kaiser
If you’re riding somewhere dry and rocky, and want a long-lasting tyre that absolutely rules in these conditions, the Kaiser is totally recommended. The lifespan offsets the high price too, but it would only be a winning enduro tyre in the UK during the summer months.
Maxxis Ardent Race 3C EXO TR
The only downside for this class-leading performance is the £50 price tag, but tyres are so crucial to ride quality that’s it’s worth saving up to get this one on your bike.
Specialized Storm Control 2Bliss
At £30, the Storm is fantastic value, and a great option for taming those unintentional drifts through the winter.
Maxxis High Roller II
The High Roller II is confidence-inspiring and if you like to ride hard then this trail tyre is simply unbeatable.
Specialized S-Works The Captain
If you want a fast-rolling trail tyre that’s lightweight and tubeless compatible you can’t really go wrong for £30. This is easily the best rear tyre on test. Very highly recommended.
Read the full review of the Specialized S-Works The Captain tyre
Maxxis Beaver EXO
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.
Schwalbe Nobby Nic II
The Nic II isn’t cheap, but performance-wise it’s one of the best all-round XC tyres on the market for the front or the back. It’s a great all-seasons trail tyre, but only a fit-and-forget winter tyre if you ride in a really sandy or rocky area.
Designed for all-mountain/enduro use, the Ibex uses the slightly thicker FRC freeride casing and a dual RC2 rubber compound, which is 65a for low rolling resistance and long life in the inside, and 55a on the outside for improved grip.
If you want a quick-rolling rear tyre with impeccable manners for a short-travel trail bike, the Ikon definitely won’t disappoint. It matches the S-Works The Captain on performance, but the skipper bosses it on price.
Schwalbe Racing Ralph
The Racing Ralph is on a par with the S-Works The Captain in terms of speed and acceleration, but it’s not as surefooted in damp conditions and it’s nearly twice the price.
WTB Vigilante TCS Light Fast
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.
Bontrager XR4 Team Issue
It’s a medium-weight tyre that is reasonably priced, but feels a little flimsy despite the reinforced casing. It tends to roll at low pressures, but at least it won’t add too much weight to your bike. Just as Bontrager promised, it’s a good all-rounder.
Kenda Slant Six Pro
With its shallow tread the Slant Six Pro is easy to get rolling and carries speed very well. Due to the large footprint and interlocking knobs, braking traction on dry trails is reasonable, but it tends to skid when it’s steep, rooty or there’s any moisture present.
Panaracer Driver Pro
The low weight combined with the tiny centre knobs and hard 65a compound makes this a lightning fast tyre on smooth trails. There may be faster tyres, but compared to everything else on test here the Driver Pro always felt the quickest on the climbs and when accelerating out of turns.
Specialized Butcher Grid
The Specialized Butcher Grid is a tough tyre with good durability, shape and tread, and it comes at a great price, but it really works best during the drier months here in the UK.
Too harsh for normal use, the rubber is just way too hard for anything other than armoured singletrack.
Last winter the Maxxis Shorty was the new kid on the block, and after a full year of extended testing, we’ve now used it in more scenarios, including dry loam and blown out rocks and dust. 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.
As a versatile XC tyre the Taipan has proven durable, but the ‘enduro’ rating is a bit ambitious, especially if you like to lean the bike and ride steeper tracks. If you want a low-drag rear tyre for more DH-focused trail riding, you’re better off with something like Schwalbe’s Rock Razor.
Continental Mountain King II Protection
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.
For mountainous riding and rugged terrain — such as the Lakes or Scotland — the well-shaped Charge is a good choice, so long as you’re fit enough to handle the relatively high drag. For those riding in a claggy, muddy area, a thinner, more aggressively spiked tyre might be a better option.
On One Chunky Monkey
he rubber compound handles all surfaces and textures with a nice, comfy, damped feel; in most situations it’s a tyre you don’t have to think about. 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.
Hutchinson Toro Enduro
A wider front and narrower rear Hutchinson Toro Enduro combo affords excellent all-round grip, but the Toro really excels as a rear tyre in the narrower size, especially since there are lighter and faster-rolling front tyres available with equivalent grip levels.
Schwalbe Magic Mary
The bottom line is this German tyre is tough to beat as a year-round front tyre in UK conditions, and is therefore our number one choice for aggressive riding.
Continental Der Baron Projekt
Conti’s Black Chili rubber formula has a well-earned reputation for durability and, after several long rides, the Barons still look like new — which helps justify the £60 price. The reinforced Apex sidewall is designed to resist cuts and rips and should also enhance tyre life.
Michelin Wild Mud Advanced Reinforced
Overkill for 90 per cent of UK riding then, but an awesome tool if you want to embarrass your mates on an uplift day in the rain, or ride the gnarliest tracks in your area.
Hutchinson DZO Enduro
The DZO Enduro is yet another Hutchinson tyre with a great casing. The French brand seems to have a knack for manufacturing supple, comfortable mountain bike tyres and the DZO irons out the creases on the roughest terrain even though it has a reasonably modest air volume.
Specialized Hillbilly GRID 2Bliss
Mud clearing ability is superb, but the Hillbilly is also surefooted and predictable on intermediate surfaces. The highest praise we can give it is how we often forgot this was a test tyre, and just got on with our riding.
The Warden is a very specific product, but if your aim is to tackle the sketchiest, slipperiest, steepest terrain at speed, it could prove a useful ally. The thick dual-ply WTB casing has already proven itself to last well in the Alps and the aggro tyre rolls a bit faster than the Michelin Wild Mud too — which is the only other product here with more outright grip.
Like its dry-conditions equivalent, the Onza Ibex (which shares a similar rubber compound and casing), the Greina lasts well, and clears superbly, so we can only conclude that it’s the tread pattern we’re not fully sold on.