With the right winter 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.
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.
Watch: Why a good set of tyres are integral to your set-up
There are plenty of winter tyres to choose from, but choice does vary according to the wheel size you need. In general, 29ers are better served by lightweight, XC-style tyres, whereas 650b wheels are clearly deemed more aggressive and duly offered bigger, heavier-duty versions that lean more towards enduro racing and DH.
As a rule, it pays to remember that tyre choice is best tailored to your individual riding and terrain, so keep in mind your specific needs when reading the test and choose your tyres accordingly.
We’ve got rubber targeted at taming the steepest, most treacherous, downhill trails, right through to those more suited to general wet weather riding on firmer surfaces. In short, whether you’re a mile-munching race whippet or a bona fide DH shredder, we’ve got the optimal tyre for you.
Know your mountain bike winter tyre
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.
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.
The best mountain bike winter tyres
Our number one choice for aggressive riding - £49.99
A tyre for the nastiest, gnarliest conditions - £56.99
Fantastic value but punctured in UK conditions - £30
A great XC option - £37.99
A tough, versatile, aggressive trail tyre that can handle wet or dry conditions - £54.99
An amazing budget option - £35
A great budget option - £29.99
Bestter for trail and XC - £49.95
An unashamed enduro beast - £55
We'd use Der Baron all year if it wasn't for the fact it lost air when tubeless - £59.99
One of the best all-round XC tyres on the market for the front or the back - £49.99
Excels as a rear tyre in a narrower size - £49
One for a more aggressive rider - £50
Most capable on firmer ground - £40
Might be better in the summer months - £35
A long lasting tyre that's best for pure mud riding - £49
The tread pattern failed to impress - £59.95
Winter tyres transform riding in the moist months, but need careful consideration if you’re going to find the best tyre for your riding style and terrain. Whichever brand and size you choose, there’s inevitably going to be a compromise between pure rolling speed and sheer grip in wet conditions.
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.
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.
Watch us struggle in the mud at the Tweedlove EWS
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. Hutchinson’s Toro is a solid and durable option that rolls okay, but weighs the wrong side of a kilo. Maxxis’ Shorty, and the Nobby Nic II are lighter and almost as tough, with the Shorty leaning way more to mud-specific, and the Nic boasting a broader remit and much faster rolling.
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 for anyone with a burly 29er in the shed.