With the right rubber you can find grip while all around you slip.
Here’s our rundown of the best mountain bike mud tyres to help you beat the gloop and keep on rolling until spring comes around.
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.
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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.
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 mud tyres
All of the following mud tyres scored at least 9/10 in our test. Here’s a complete list of all the tyres we’ve tested.
Schwalbe Magic Mary
For aggressive riding in UK conditions, the Magic Mary is a great performer. The moto-style blocks clear crud well, cornering and braking is excellent and the tyre never over or under steers on severe cambers or dragging brakes down ruts. 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
Almost certainly a tad 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.
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.
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.
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 Hillbilly simply gets the job done without any issues.
The best mountain bike mud tyres: the verdict
The best mountain bike mud tyre for XC duties: Specialized Storm Control.
The best mountain bike mud tyre for mixed loose conditions: Schwalbe Magic Mary.
The best mountain ibke mud tyre for utter filth/race conditions: Michelin Wild Mud Advanced.
The best mountain bike mud tyre for a budget: Specialized Hillbilly.