Best mountain bike tires

by Kevin Stard

Riding the best mountain bike tire for your needs can make a world of difference and allow riders to challenge themselves and feel confident on various trails and in a wide array of conditions.

Tires are easy to overlook on a mountain bike. They aren’t flashy or exciting, but they are one of the most important components because they are the contact you have the dirt.

1. Maxxis Ardent Race – Best Cross Country All Terrain Tire

The Maxxis Ardent Race is designed specifically for cross country riders who are intending to race.

This tire is a lower profile of the Maxxis Ardent and is considered one of the best cross-country tires on the market for speed and traction while racing.

Maxxis offers an EXO version of the tire that comes with sidewall protection and weighs a few extra grams.

If you are planning on racing or focusing on quick rolling speed while still maintaining the ability to navigate technical or loose terrain, the Maxxis Ardent Race could be a great option.

2. Maxxis Forekaster – Best Cross-Country Mud Tire

Maxxis Forekaster EXO/TR Tire - 29in
3 Reviews
Maxxis Forekaster EXO/TR Tire - 29in
  • Compound: dual
  • Size: 29 x 2.35 in

If you’re hoping to ride or race when most people opt to stay inside, the Maxxis Forekaster is a great choice for you.

This tire features wide-spaced knobs which clear mud easily and offer superior grip in sloppy conditions.

This tire is optimized for wider rims and aggressive cross country riding, making it a perfect companion to take on racing or riding in adverse conditions.

If you are the rider who is rearing to ride when the rain hits, the Forekaster is a great choice to keep you out there enjoying the mud.

3. Bontrager XR1 Team Issue TLR – Best Cross-Country Tire for Dry and Dusty Conditions

This tire is built for cross country racing speed. The Bontrager XR1 Team Issue is ideal for racing or riding in dry and dusty conditions.

Bontrager chose tightly packed knobs in the center and spaced out bigger knobs on the sides to reduce rolling resistance and optimize grip while cornering.

This tire is tubeless ready and comes with Inner Strength casing which helps prevent punctures.

If you are looking for a lightweight tire that is fast rolling and ideal for dry and dusty conditions, the XR1 may be a great choice.

4. Bontrager XR4 Team Issue TLR – Best Trail/Enduro tire for Various Conditions

The Bontrager XR4 is a tire built for superior traction in various terrain. This tire is primarily designed for trail bikes or Enduro bikes.

Bontrager claims this tire performs well on rocky trails in wet or dry conditions.

The XR4 comes Tubeless Ready and is designed with an Inner Strength casing to prevent the sidewalls from punctures.

Many riders choose this tire as their front tire of choice on trail bikes due to its impressive amount of grip in rocky terrain.

5. Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR – Best Downhill Tire for Loose or Wet Terrain

Maxxis Minion DHR II Dual Compound EXO Tubeless Folding Tire
629 Reviews
Maxxis Minion DHR II Dual Compound EXO Tubeless Folding Tire
  • Excellent braking and cornering traction for rear tire use
  • Dual compound

The Maxxis Minion tire is built specifically for flying on downhill bikes. This tire design has two options, the DHF or the Downhill Front and the DHR or the Downhill Rear.

The slightly different treat patterns optimize the different needs of a front and rear tire.

While the tread patterns were originally designed for front and rear wheels, some riders prefer the DHR in both the front and the rear due to its impressive braking traction.

This tire is designed for downhill or Enduro capabilities and offers impressive grip in the roughest terrain. While the rolling resistance isn’t great, and this tire is relatively heavy, it packs a punch in terms of trail abilities.

The Minion DHR offers superb traction in loose and wet conditions and is a great compromise of durability, weight, and capabilities.

6. Maxxis High Roller II – Best Enduro/Downhill Tire for Technical Terrain 

Maxxis High Roller II 3C EXO Folding Tire
172 Reviews
Maxxis High Roller II 3C EXO Folding Tire
  • 3C Triple Compound Technology
  • Weight: 840g (26x2.3 3C), 855g (26x2.4 3C), 890g (27.5x2.4 3C), 875g (27.5x2.3 3C), 920g (29x2.3 3C)

The Maxxis High Roller II is designed to excel in technical terrain while maintain a faster rolling speed than some other Enduro or Downhill tires.

The High Roller is a popular option as a rear tire, often paired with a grippier front tire such as the Minion DHR or DHF.

The wideset knobs will readily clear debris in wet conditions and provide superior grip in technical terrain.

This tire is best suited for a wide rim such as 30-35mm inner width.

If you are planning on riding trail, Enduro, or Downhill, Maxxis has created optimized versions of the High Roller II in each of these categories.

For a slightly quicker roll while maintaining impressive grip, the High Roller may be a great option for you.

7. WTB Trail Boss Comp – Best Trail Rear Tire

WTB Trail Boss Comp Tire
501 Reviews
WTB Trail Boss Comp Tire
  • Tightly spaced, blocky tread minimizes rolling resistance until braking allows the knobs to truly dig in.
  • Supportive side knobs deliver traction when trying to keep the bike upright on off-camber surfaces.

The WTB Trail Boss is one step up from a standard cross-country tire. It has bigger knobs that are tightly spaced allowing it to roll quickly while providing significant braking traction.

The side knobs are big enough to provide surprisingly solid traction in corners while still small enough to allow you to roll efficiently.

The various widths allow riders to feel confident and stable on whichever width is most suited to their riding style and bike choice.

WTB notes that this tire is often used as a rear tire and paired with the WTB Vigilante on the front.

If you are hoping to fly downhill and climb aggressively without worrying about racing a cross country tire, this could be a great option for you.

8. WTB Vigilante – Best Trail Front Tire

WTB Vigilante 2.3 Comp Tire
84 Reviews
WTB Vigilante 2.3 Comp Tire
  • Prominent lugs dig into any terrain, wet or dry, while providing stability at any speed.
  • Ample spacing between knobs ensures it flings mud while biting into loose, chunky trails.

If you are looking to take to the trails with speed and grip, pairing the WTB Vigilante with the WTB Trail Boss is a brilliant combination.

The Vigilante has large knobs that are set far enough apart to provide significant grip in technical terrain, wet conditions or loose conditions.

WTB has chosen their TriTec Compound which combines three rubber compounds, each providing a specific traction or durability.

These tires are durable; WTB has integrated their Slash Guard technology which uses a nylon insert on the sidewall to provide puncture protection from sharp rocks.

If you are looking for the perfect tire for your trail bike, particularly a front tire, the WTB Vigilant may be a great option.

9. Bontrager LT3 Hybrid – Best Hybrid Tire

WTB Vigilante 2.3 Comp Tire
84 Reviews
WTB Vigilante 2.3 Comp Tire
  • Prominent lugs dig into any terrain, wet or dry, while providing stability at any speed.
  • Ample spacing between knobs ensures it flings mud while biting into loose, chunky trails.

If your mountain bike needs include urban excitement, paths, or smooth trails, the Bontrager LT3 is an ideal choice.

This tire will roll quickly on dirt or pavement and offers protection from punctures due to the extra grip.

The side knobs on this tire will provide significantly more grip than a slick tire on dirt surfaces. The combination of speed and stability will hopefully encourage riding confidence in urban or casual dirt terrain.

If you spend part of your time on roads and the other part on dirt, this could be a great hybrid tire for you.

10. Continental Cross King – Best Budget Mountain Bike Tire

Continental is known for making high quality tires at lower prices than many of their competitors.

The Cross King is designed to roll quickly and is optimized for various conditions with a tendency to perform better in dry conditions.

This tire is available in a variety of widths which can offer significant traction despite the smaller knobs.

Continental also offers this tire with two different compound options.

The first is the PureGrip compound which is denser and will last longer. The second is the BlackChili compound which is softer and will therefore feel faster and grippier but will wear out more quickly.

If you are looking to roll quickly and feel fast but confident in technical terrain, this could be a great tire.

 


There are a few features of mountain bike tires that are important to note

Diameter: Mountain bike tires typically come in one of three diameters that match the diameter of the wheel.

26” tires are used on old-school mountain bikes or some mountain bikes built for smaller riders.

27.5” tires are used on some cross-county bikes and most Enduro/downhill bikes.

29” tires are popular amongst cross country riders, and some Enduro riders.

This review will focus on 27.5” and 29” tires. However, many of the tires reviewed here do have a 26” tire option as well.

Width: Mountain bike tire width can run from 2” – 4”. Regardless of the diameter of the tire, there are numerous different options for tire widths.

Wider tires tend to roll more slowly than narrow tires but do have more grip on technical or steep terrain. In general, bikes targeted for gravity events will have wider tires and bike targeted for cross county will have narrower tires.

Recently, there has been a push to wider tires across all disciplines. Many riders find they are actually able to rider faster on slightly wider tires, despite previous agreement that narrower was faster in technical terrain as well as smooth terrain.

Most cross county mountain bike tires are around 2.2” wide. There is a trend towards wider tires, with racers at the highest level starting to ride 2.3” tires.

The world of Enduro and downhill racing typically sees tire widths around 2.3”, sometimes stretching to up to 2.6” wide.

Fat bikes of plus-sized bikes see tires between 2.6” and 4”.

Tread: As defining as the width of the tire is the tire tread. A 2.3” cross country tire will have vastly different tread than a 2.3” downhill tire.

Cross country tires will have low-profile knobs which provide enough grip to climb and descend without adding unnecessary weight to the bike.

A downhill rider wants tire tread that is deep, grippy, and therefore heavier than a cross country tire.

Often, tire treads are described by their center knobs and their side knobs. The center knobs primarily affect rolling resistance and grip while riding straight, whereas the side knobs will affect traction while turning.

Compound: Tires can have a range of compounds from single, double, to triple compound.

A single compound tire uses the same type and density of rubber throughout the tire. This design is found on less-expensive tires or tires that use a soft compound throughout the whole tire for the softest and grippiest feel.

A two-compound tire uses two different rubber compounds to maximize the performance of the tire. For example, a two-compound tire may have a harder center knobs and softer side knobs.

Finally, a triple compound tire will utilize three different densities of rubber. This system may have a hard base layer, squishier knobs in the center and the softest knobs on the sides.

In general, adding compounds makes the tires more expensive to produce and therefore more expensive to purchase.

Softer knobs, while they may feel amazing to ride, do wear down more quickly than harder knobs, meaning the tire will be worn out more quickly.

Weight: Tire weights are largely dependent on the thickness of the tire and the knob size. Some downhill tires can weigh as much as 1400 grams each, whereas most cross-country tires weigh closer to 700 grams.

The significant difference in speed and ability is reflected in the weight. Heavy downhill tires will have thicker sidewalls and bigger knobs, making them more durable and grippy.

Cross country tires toe the line between being easily punctured/ripped and providing enough traction for the trails. When the overall weight of the bike, as well as rolling resistance, is critical, keeping tires low profile is highly advantageous for cross country riding.

Sidewalls: There are numerous notations to describe the sidewall of a tire. Some sidewalls are a thinner while others are thicker.

Thinner sidewalls are lighter but more easily punctured.

Thicker sidewalls are heavier and less likely to puncture through the sidewall.

The lightest cross-country tires feature the thinnest sidewalls. However, many cross-country tires, and most tires for Enduro or downhill are thicker to prevent punctures.

Some tires use a double layer sidewall or a strip of nylon underneath the tire to help with sidewall protection in heavier duty tires.

Tubeless Compatibility: In the last few years, tubeless tire technology has grown rapidly.

Historically, tires were filled with a tube that was airtight.

In a tubeless setup, there is no tube and the tire is seated directly on the rim, which is taped with rim tape to keep it airtight. The tire is filled with a few ounces of tire sealant which works similarly to a blood clot when you puncture a tire.

When the tire is punctured, the sealant leaks out of the hole and begins to coagulate, stopping air from continuing to leak.

Some tires are designed for tubeless compatibility while others are not.

FAQ

How do I know which tire I need? 

In order to discern which of these tire options is best for you, start thinking about where you will spend the majority of your time riding. If you live somewhere dry where the trails are often dusty, perhaps a tire built for loose conditions is ideal.

If you are less concerned about weight and want an Enduro tire that is optimized for the muddy conditions you often find on the trail, steer in that direction.

While it is nearly impossible to have a tire that is only ridden on terrain it is built for, by prioritizing the majority of your riding time, you’ll be able to feel confident in your tire decision.
Do I need a different front and rear tire? 

Some tires, such as the Minion DHF and DHR are specifically designed as either a front tire or a rear tire. Some riders also like riding a beefier tire in the front for added traction and a lower profile tire in back to minimize rolling resistance.

While it is ultimately your decision, finding a combination that suits your specific needs can be advantageous.

Perhaps you are inclined to buy a low-profile cross country tire but are worried about a few more technical descents in your area. If this is the case, you could start with a low-profile cross-country tire in the back and a slightly bigger and grippier tire in the front.

Some riders choose to ride the same tire in the front and in the rear. This option is also valid. Similar to all questions regarding tires, there’s no right answer and you can pick and choose what sounds optimal for you.
How important is a tubeless setup? 

A tubeless tire setup allows you to run lower tire pressure and alleviates some of your worry about flats or punctures.

Tubeless setups do require a time and money commitment to setup and maintain, but the advantages while riding are unmatched. The ability to avoid pinch flats is an incredible innovation in cycling technology.

If you only plan to ride every few weeks, it may be easier to use a tire system with tubes. Often leaving a tubeless tire setup for weeks or months on end without being re-inflated can cause issues such as dried up tire sealant or the tire becoming unseated from the rim and requiring an air compressor to set back up.
How do I know which tire width I need? 

The first question to ask is what tire clearance does your bike have? Clearance refers to the largest tire size that will fit in on your bike.

You can see how much clearance you have by looking at your fork and your rear triangle to see how much space there is between your tire and your frame.

Some bikes have huge clearance while others do not have room for larger tires.

Once you know which size tire your bike can accommodate, think about the advantages of using that size tire.

A general rule of thumb is to use a tire that is close to maxing out the clearance you have on your bike. Typically bikes with more clearance have the suspension and geometry to match a tire that uses most of the clearance you have.

Conclusion

While tires are highly specific to the terrain, my favorite tire amongst this list is the WTB Trail Boss. This tire takes my cross-country bike and makes it feel capable of Enduro style riding. I love the traction, control, and speed of this tire.

In terms of mud, I think the Maxxis Forekaster is an incredible tire. While mud conditions are highly specific, riding the proper tire in the mud feels like you’re cheating the system – particularly if your fellow riders are not on a mud specific tire.

Picking the best mountain bike tire for you can seem daunting, but the industry is chalk full of incredible options. Start slow with what sort of terrain you typically ride, then let this list help you make a final decision and get out there to enjoy the trails!

Kevin Stard - professional sportsman in category MTB. Participant of the Downhill World Cup #1