We know our knobbles better than anyone and here is our recommended rubber
We know our knobblies and so here are mbr’s best mountain bike tyres of the moment. For every condition, type of terrain and trail, here’s a perfect tyre.
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.
Mountain bike tyre rubber compound
Rubber hardness is measured by Durometer; higher numbers signifying firmer compounds – 60a is harder and longer lasting than 50a rubber. The secret ingredients and density of the rubber formula tyre brands use are something of a mystery though, and, outside durometer figures, can make a huge difference to grip, rebound damping and rolling speed.
Mountain bike tyre tread pattern
Widely spaced treads bite into looser surfaces better and retain less mud, but can also increase rolling resistance. Sipes and cuts help braking purchase and the way tread knobs deform and splay over obstacles. A more pronounced channel between shoulder and centre blocks often delivers better off-camber bite and a sensation of ‘railing’ turns, but some prefer a more continuous, rounded tread than the on/off grip this gap in the tread brings.
Mountain bike tyre air pressure
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. Experiment with lower pressures if you often run over 30psi.
Mountain bike tyre casing
Casing thickness and ply lay up and orientation has a big impact on ride quality by controlling conformity, rolling speed and durability. Harder charging riders might have to accept the extra weight of meatier casings to prevent punctures and stop sidewalls folding under cornering forces. Heavier tyres accelerate slower, but feel more planted and stable once momentum takes hold. Tubeless is always the way to go – innertubes feel dead and lifeless and cause more issues.
Mountain bike tyre width
Using wider tyres up front for extra grip and comfort makes a lot of sense. Arms get more cushioning and comfort and slightly narrower rear tyres can also help initiate faster turning. Tyre width is relative to air volume, and larger volumes provide more isolation, damping and control, up to a point. Wider tyres add weight for climbing and acceleration, but rolling speed between different widths should be so close off road, it’s not such an issue. Too wide tyres ‘float’ in mud and wet and can lack bite.
Mountain bike tyre weight
Wider, more aggressive tyres need significant support to keep tread blocks stable and use more fabric and rubber, which adds weight. Bigger, heavier tyres can stabilise the bike by being harder to deflect at speed, and larger air volumes offer more isolation too – especially useful to smooth out rougher terrain.
Front specific mountain bike tyres
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.
Rear specific mountain bike tyres
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.
Best mountain bike tyres 2019
All of the following tyres are the best mountain bike tyres which scored at least 9/10 in our test. Here’s a complete list of all the tyres we’ve tested.
Bontrager’s SE5’s are exceptionally grippy, in all conditions – from the wettest of mud to the roughest of dusty terrain. It rolls well and we felt secure at all times. The only downside we found was the weight.
The designed-for-downhill Kenda Hellkat is now available with a more trail-friendly, dual-compound ‘ATC ‘casing that’s almost 250g lighter.
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.
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.
Maxxis Minion DHR II
Maxxis Minion DHR II WT arguably offers the most grip of all Maxxis models suitable for mixed conditions, and works fine year round. Test winner!
Designed as a front-specific tyre, the Mavic Charge has an excellent rubber compound and carcass that really hugs and tracks the terrain, making it confident and locked-on, in both wet and dry 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 drier trail conditions.
Bontrager SE4 Team Issue
The 2.6in SE4 impressed as a refined all-rounder and almost feels like a Plus tyre; perfect for trail riders looking for a comfy fast ride. For something like a hardtail or shorter travel rig (with sufficient clearance), the rapid SE4 would make a killer choice to add some cushioning and extend grip, without robbing trail speed.
Maxxis High Roller II
Light enough to pedal up, capable year round in most areas, and totally assured downhilling, the High Roller II is a pricey product that doesn’t last forever, but is hard to fault in terms of sheer performance. There’s just about a perfect blend of compliance and stability, the edge blocks really bite and the rubber compound grips like mad in plenty scenarios.
Vee Tyre Co Flow Snap Enduro Core
The diamond shaped shoulder knobs don’t quite dig in as well as the squarer knobs on something like a Minion DHF, so at heavier lean angles it can break away a touch easier. A dependable tyre with bags of grip and traction. The Vee Tyre Co Flow Snap is a legitimate challenger for aggressive riding.
The tall knobs handle mixed conditions really well and bite sharply in mud, but also get blocked in stickier soils quicker than a more open tyre. Double Down models with a thinner casing have been spotted in the wild already, and while we love the awesome grip here, we can’t wait to get my hands on some slightly lighter and easier to drag round versions of this tyre.
Maxxis Minion DHF
It’s taken a while for Plus tyres to fulfil their potential, mostly because there was nothing with an aggressive enough tread pattern to dig in when the going was soft and conditions were damp. But when Maxxis released its evergreen Minion tread in a puffed up 2.8in width all that changed. Tall edge blocks extend a full 6mm from the carcass to really penetrate the dirt for secure hold, while the chamfered, lower-profile crown knobs help you keep the pace high when you’re bowling along and covering ground. The Max Terra 3C rubber is a great all-round blend, and it’s also available in 2.6in and 2.5in Wide Trail flavours if you like a less buoyant ride.
The best rear-specific mountain bike tyres
The Specialized Slaughter is almost as good overall as far more expensive rear-specific premium tyres but sells for considerably less cash, lasts longer than most of the competition and is essentially a bargain for the performance offered.
Schwalbe Rock Razor
The Rock Razor’s calling card, on top of being rapid, is how the surprisingly grippy, knobbly centre interacts with the fangy edge blocks for really aggressive, leant over cornering.
And here’s one for the Plus bike riders…
Schwalbe Nobby Nic Plus
The Nobby Nic Plus isn’t cheap, but we’ve yet to puncture it on the front, and we’re becoming addicted to the extra traction, to the point where we’re thinking of using it in the Alps this summer. To anyone curious about Plus rubber, or already on Plus and looking for new tyres, we’d definitely recommend the Nobby Nic 2.8in.
The best mountain bike tyres: the verdict
Compared to a couple of years ago, there are way more quality aggressive tyre options, with the new breed of wider tyres better suited to the (30mm or so internal) rims modern wheels and bikes use. More brands are trying to get a slice of the pie in the tyre market, which you’d ultimately hope should benefit the consumer in terms of choice and price. What’s strange in the MTB tyre game though is, rather than being able to scoop up decent bargain tyres at marked-down prices, it seems to be getting harder to even find tyres riders want – maybe more competition will help on this front too?
Outside the hardtail market, proper ‘Plus’ tyres appear to be a bit of a dirty word in 2018; likely due to them getting real heavy if made tough enough and can also be temperamental in the wet; something the 2.5”-ish, in-between models we rate aren’t, since they increase grip massively, don’t do anything weird and only typically add a 50g or so weight increase.
Maxxis’ Wide Trail models are its best yet and tick the boxes for the kind of varied riding we get up to all year long. The bigger volume and width spreads out classic tread patterns and delivers even more predictable cornering and braking. With the WT Minions, tons of grip and friction from the rubber compound is bolstered by a casing that balances suppleness and feel against stability and muscle under hard stopping and turning forces at strong lean angles. The Maxxis Minion DHR II offers ultimate grip for most conditions at both ends, and feels super stable at the front, but is slower rolling than the Maxxis Minion DHF. The WTs are much better in damper conditions than the skinnier Minions that preceded them, and share the EXO casing that’s best for trail riding with the (still-excellent) Maxxis High Roller II that delivers even more bite in moist dirt.
Schwalbe’s latest Addix compounds have nailed the durability and killed the ‘knobs ripping off’ issue the German’s tyres previously suffered from, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary (and Rock Razor) are top performers. In the 2.6in Addix Ultra soft version, the MM is pretty outrageous in terms of pure grip, useful if you love steep, dirty riding and can handle the slow rolling speed. The 2.6in wide, orange-striped Addix Soft tyre in the (e-bike) Apex casing is the best halfway house model for the front of an aggressive trail bike though.
Bontrager, Continental, Kenda and Specialized, all make sorted tyres too. The Bontrager XR4 is a refined, locked-on all-rounder and perfect for trail riders looking for a comfy fast ride.
The Kenda Hellkat is a bit of a surprise coming from a brand we’ve not rated for years, and really impressed with a great hold and a slurpy, damped feel that takes the sting out of choppy trails.
If Maxxis tyres are hard to find, out of budget or you value extra wear life, Schwalbe’s Addix range, Kenda’s excellent new Hellkat and Bontrager’s latest tyres are solid choices, and well worth searching out if you’re shopping around.