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.
Reviews first. General buying advice is below the reviews.
Continental Trail King
The designed-for-downhill Kenda Hellkat is now available with a more trail-friendly, dual-compound ‘ATC ‘casing that’s almost 250g lighter.
Maxxis Aggressor is targeted as a bit of a do-it-all tyre, but has gained most popularity as a rear option, especially for hard-packed and dusty trails.
Vee Tyre Co Flow Snap Enduro Core
Predictable straight line grip. Excellent under braking. Tubeless setup is fuss free. Diamond shaped side knobs break traction a little less predictably. Rigid carcass.
Onza Aquila RC2
Allows hard and fast riding, offers tons of grip and has no weird traits. The Onza simply smashes down the hill and digs down for grip wherever you stick it. Really secure on wet rocks and roots too.
Michelin Wild Rock’R 2 Advanced
Aside from grip levels that invoke the old confidence-inspiring cliché, it has another trick up its sleeve — durability and wear life that far outshines most of its competitors. If you’re regularly ripping tyres to shreds, and are looking for a planted, sturdy Alpine-ready tyre that won’t fall to pieces after a week of chair lift riding, it’s a great option.
Bontrager SE5 Team Issue
The SE5 is Bontrager’s enduro tyre that uses the same tread pattern as the proven G5 downhill tyre, albeit with a lighter casing. At 950g, it’s no skinny, fragile XC-specialist though, and still plenty tough enough for all-mountain riding.
Maxxis Minion DHF WT
What do you get if you tweak the Maxxis Minion DHF to suit wide rims? This ‘Wide Trail’ version is designed to square off less with the beads stretched out. The classic ‘L’ shaped lugs and long rectangular, ramped centre knobs remain, but the tread pattern is pumped up to suit the bigger casing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Specialized Butcher 2.6
The Specialized Butcher 2.6 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.
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.
Mavic Charge XL
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tyres are arguably the most important component on your bike, simply because they’re the 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 are seeking to reduce the chance of punctures, and pay a weight penalty as a result, so there will always be a compromise.
The tyres here are capable of handling all kinds of terrain, and span a broad range of tread patterns, rubber compounds, weights and prices.
What are the best mountain bike tyres?
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. Continental has upped its game with new casings and treads, and the latest Continental Trail King is a predictable, hard wearing and versatile tyre that’s grippier than it looks. We’re looking forward to some of Conti’s beefier tyres with the new tech soon.
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. The Specialized Butcher works great in the bigger size, but the new Gripton rubber blend seems to roll a little slower, and also they aren’t as cheap as we’re used to seeing from Specialized.
We were a bit disappointed by the Goodyear Newton Premium entry to the MTB game, the Vittoria Morsa‘s tech-heavy Graphene rubber isn’t the one for us yet either, and both the Michelin Wild Enduro and Panaracer Pandura failed to fully convince with their latest enduro offers too.
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.
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.