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.
What is a mountain bike tyre?
In a word, knobbles. Unlike road or BMX tyres, mountain bike tyres are typically covered in knobbles. They are also often made of tougher carcass and of softer compound rubber than other bicycle tyres. The combination of knobble tread pattern, carcass construction and rubber compound means there are lots of variables and hundreds of differing mountain bike tyre types.
Best mountain bike tyres in 2019
Here our are current favourite best mountain bike tyres. See the links to full reviews down the page.
- Maxxis Minion DHR II, £64.99
- Maxxis Minion DHF, £64.99
- Bontrager SE5, £59.99
- Kenda Hellkat, £49.99
- Bontrager XR4 Team Issue, £49.99
- Schwalbe Magic Mary, £58.99
- Mavic Charge, £50.00
- Continental Der Kaiser, £59.95
- Bontrager SE4 Team Issue, £59.99
- Maxxis High Roller II, £64.99
- Vee Tyre Co Flow Snap Enduro Core, £54,99
- Maxxis Assegai, £64.99
- MSC Gripper Pro, £37.99
- Schwalbe Hans Dampf II, £58.99
Tyres are one of, if not the, vital mountain bike component. No other part affects ride quality so profoundly, and choosing the right tyre for your needs not only delivers a better ride, it improves security to help prevent crashes and potential injuries.
Here at MBR, we’ve tested almost every mountain bike model over the last couple of decades and are happy to report (just like modern bikes) tyres are way better today than ever before, so, if you’ve not upgraded in years, maybe it’s time to freshen things up.
Set up tubeless, the right tyre can deliver huge traction and significantly reduce the chance of punctures. Rubber compounds, tread patterns, tubeless and construction technology are so improved, you can now ride harder and faster than ever.
There are still inherent compromises with tyres though; not least how extra toughness and grip for the hardest riding comes with a weight and conformity penalty. Higher friction, more damped rubber compounds and thicker casings make tyres slower and less ideal for everyday trail riding. The flipside to being harder to drag uphill for the fun bits is heavier tyres increase confidence by being more stable and able to resist deflections at speed.
We’ve chosen ten of the latest models here that are either brand new (to us) or have new casing or compound technology. We’re deliberately choosing tyres tough enough to handle the fact modern trails and bikes are becoming ever more aggressive; we reckon it makes little sense to recommend the lightest, fastest rolling tyres that you might spend more time fixing punctures on than actually riding on.
Mountain bike tyre rubber compound
Rubber hardness is measured by durometer on the shore scale. Higher numbers signify firmer compounds: 60a is harder and longer lasting than 50a rubber. The secret ingredients and rubber chemistry tyre brands use are something of a mystery and can also make a huge difference to grip, rebound damping and rolling speed.
Mountain bike tyre tread pattern
Widely spaced treads bite better in looser surfaces and hold onto less mud, but can also increase rolling resistance. Sipes and cuts help braking and the way the tyre deforms to obstacles. A more pronounced channel between shoulder and centre knobs can deliver better off-camber bite and a sensation of ‘railing’ turns, but some riders prefer a more continuous, rounded feel than the on/off grip generated by such a tread gap.
Mountain bike tyre air pressure
Different tyres require specific 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 precise ply lay up has a big impact on ride quality and affects 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 good sense. Arms get more cushioning and comfort, and, like skis, narrower rears can help initiate faster turning. Tyre width is directly 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.
Mountain bike tyre weight
Wider, more aggressive tyres need lots of support to keep tread blocks stable and use more casing material and rubber, which all adds weight. Bigger, heavier tyres can stabilise the bike by being harder to deflect at speed and larger air volumes offer more isolation from the ground too – especially useful to smooth out rougher terrain on shorter travel rigs.
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.
MSC Gripper Pro
MSC is a less well-known Spanish tyre (and bike) brand run by ex-World Cup downhill racers.On baked dry, rock-hard trails the Gripper is seriously impressive with smoothness and composure and very good friction on dirt and rocks.
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.
Schwalbe Hans Dampf II
A huge benefit of Schwalbe’s revitalised rubber science is its blue ADDIX Speedgrip formula is seriously fast, without being sketchy like plenty other tyres with such rolling pace.
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.
|Bontrager SE5||£59.99||1,066g||29 x 2.6in||9/10|
|Kenda Hellkat||£49.99||851g||27.5 x 2.4in||9/10|
|Bontrager XR4||£49.99||940g||29 x 2.6in||9/10|
|Schwalbe Magic Mary||£58.99||928g||29 x 2.35in||9/10|
|Maxxis Minion DHR II||£64.99||926g||29 x 2.4in||10/10|
|Mavic Charge||£50.00||1,010g||27.5 x 2.4in||9/10|
|Coninental Der Kaiser||£59.95||1,015g||27.5 x 2.4in||9/10|
|Bontrager SE4||£59.99||942g||27.5 x 2.6in||9/10|
|Maxxis High Roller II||£64.99||870g||27.5 x 2.4in||9/10|
|Vee Tyre Co Flow Snap||£54.99||930g||27.5 x 2.5in||9/10|
|Maxxis Assegai||£64.99||1,330g||29 x 2.5in||9/10|
|Maxxis Minion DHF||£64.99||840g||27.5 x 2.5in||10/10|
|MSC Gripper Pro||£37.99||1,000g||27.5 x 2.6in||9/10|
|Schwalbe Hans Dampf II||£58.99||920g||29 x 2.3in||9/10|
The best mountain bike tyres: the verdict
The perfect mountain bike tyre might weigh around 850g. This would balance being light enough for efficient climbing, but also provide enough stability to resist deflections and remain confident and composed at speed on a modern full suspension bike.
This dream product would also have the high friction and grip level of the toothiest, softest, slowest rebounding rubber treads, without ever feeling squirmy and pingy on hardpack, and would last ages and roll as fast as a slick road tyre.
The final attribute might be a supple, conforming carcass that is super-comfortable and tracks the terrain perfectly, while also being supportive and stiff under extreme rider loads and weight shifts.
Obviously, this dream tyre doesn’t exist, so any tyre choice is always going to be a compromise between these factors. In recent years, we reckon Maxxis strikes a really good balance in this regard. Its faster rolling, lower-profile tyres still offer good friction and hold in damp conditions, and classic tyres like the Minion DHR II here ramp up the grip levels to maximum without being unbearably slow rolling.
With the addition of the new EXO+ casing the brand has a better offer for the most aggressive trail riders who regularly damage or cut regular EXOs and need a bit more protection without DH or Double Down weights. We’d still recommend the latter for full-on Enduro riding and racing though, and there’s a marginal trade off in terms of conformity and off-camber tracking with the new casing too. (The extra layer adds stiffness, so much like adding a few psi of pressure, it ‘chatters’ a bit more as traction breaks away at hard lean angles, since the tyre can twist and distort less under rider loads.
Schwalbe’s latest ADDIX compounds and tyres also offer great performance, and the new Hans Dampf is night and day better than the old one. Some riders will always prefer the brand’s more aggressive Magic Mary to the Minion DHR II too, although it can be slightly less precise and stable in hardpack (especially in bigger sizes where the massive edge knobs wobble a little leant hard).
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.