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Mountain Bike Tires | Recommendations

mountain bike tires

Double Down, Super Gravity, 26, 27.5, 29 inches and then plus and fat bike tires? If you see some question marks here, you are certainly not alone. The topic of tires is hotly debated, not least because there are an incredible number of different components. Of course, not all models fit for every purpose. In this guide you can read which tire is best suited for your discipline and what else you need to know about MTB tires.

Our tire recommendations for the different MTB disciplines

It is difficult to make a specific recommendation for each discipline, since too many individual factors of the driver should influence the actual choice of tires. Do I always ride the direct line, regardless of how blocked it is, or do I ride around cleanly? Do I want to tickle every second or is it just for fun? Such questions can be asked for all disciplines, which means that the choice of tires between two bikers can vary significantly for the same discipline. Nevertheless, we have put together rough guidelines for the most common types of bikes to make orientation a little easier.

Which tires for XC Full Suspension and Hardtail MTBs?

Cross-country riders are all about best times. Minimum weight and low rolling resistance are top priority. Slightly profiled folding tires with race-specific rubber compound (e.g. Continental Race King) have therefore proven themselves in the World Cup for many years. Of course, all other common manufacturers also offer a suitable tire. The width should be between 2 and 2.2 inches, although you can grab the thicker tire at the front. Especially if you dive into tricky trails.

The air pressure must of course be adapted to the conditions, the route and the system used. For tires with a tube you can use 2.4 bar as a rough guideline, for tubeless tires about 2.2 bar.

The trend in XC Full Suspension and Hardtails is moving towards tubeless. Many drivers still rely on light tubes, but these are quite prone to breakdowns. You can see more and more tubeless systems in the professional circus. Weight can even be saved compared to light PU tubes. In addition, a tubeless tire simply rolls a bit better and offers more puncture protection.

Since the weight is more important than puncture protection, you should rely on a single-ply carcass that has a very high TPI number (e.g. 120). This not only ensures an extremely light tire, but also little rolling resistance.

Our recommendation:

  • A slightly profiled folding tire with race-specific rubber compound
    Tire width between 2 and 2.25 inches
  • Approx. 2.4 bar for a tube with a tire, 2.2 bar for a tubeless tire
  • Tubeless tires because they roll more easily, weigh less overall and offer better puncture protection
  • Single ply carcasses around 120 TPI

Which tires for Touring Full Suspension MTBs?

Do you love long alpine passes and extensive laps in the local forest? Then you are probably sitting on a touring full suspension. Since a wide variety of terrain awaits on such routes, a tire on a touring full suspension must above all offer all-round qualities.

The profile here can therefore be somewhat coarser than that of XC bikes, whereby a compromise between traction and rolling resistance must be found. A classic among touring tires is e.g. the swallow Nobby Nic. This tire has decent side lugs that provide grip in corners, but its tread is still trimmed for low rolling resistance. Alpine crossers in particular like to rely on the Schwalbe tire. The rubber compound on the front should not be as hard as possible, but should also find a compromise. For example, you could use the Speedgrip mix. Other manufacturers call their rubber compounds different (e.g. Maxxis MaxTerra), but there is a corresponding rubber from each manufacturer.

A good width for touring tires is around 2.2-2.4 inches. Again, you can experiment with different tires for the front and for the rear. Pumped up to approx. 2.3 bar for tires with a tube or 2.1 bar for tubeless tires, you can climb slopes efficiently, while there is enough grip on the descent.

A controversial issue is the choice of system. Tires with a tube are heavier, roll worse and are more prone to breakdowns, but it can be difficult to work with sealing milk and other things on the go, especially in the Alpine Cross. Pulling a tube into a flat tire full of milk can be a mess. In addition, some rims and tires have to be pumped up frequently, which should not cause a burst of joy in the evening after a long, exhausting tour.

On the other hand, supporters of tubeless systems say that there is usually no plating anyway and therefore the concerns are not justified. In their eyes, better rolling properties, higher grip and lower weight count significantly more. The breakdown milk can only close very small holes safely. For larger damages there are special breakdown sets like the Sahmurai Sword. Don’t worry, you don’t have to use a sword here. Instead, you insert a rubber plug into the hole with a needle, which then holds the air in place.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste. No matter which system you rely on – single-ply, stable carcasses with a value of around 60 TPI fit very well in the field of touring bikes.

Our recommendation:

  • The profile should find a compromise between traction and rolling resistance, such as at Schwalbe Nobby Nic
  • The middle rubber compound of most manufacturers is very well suited for the front wheel. The hardest compound can also be used on the rear wheel
  • 2.2-2.3 inch wide tires roll well and offer enough grip
  • The air pressure should be approx. 2.3 bar for systems with a tube and 2.1 bar for tubeless tires
  • Both systems with and without tubes are convincing. Our recommendation is a tubeless system, because the advantages simply outweigh them

Which tires for Enduro MTBs?

Enduro bikes have been on the rise lately. The focus here is on the descent, where the rolling resistance definitely plays a role, although it is not quite as important since no uphill records should be set. Instead, you want to let it crash downhill: enduro tires are all-rounders with a penchant for downhill.

Powerful grip and braking traction are therefore very high in the priorities. The profile is rough, but not quite as aggressive as with pure-bred downhill tires. A good example is the Maxxis Highroller II. Thanks to the powerful side lugs, the tire offers enormous cornering grip and the slotted center lugs grip aggressively during braking maneuvers. The studs are also flattened in the direction of travel, reducing the rolling resistance to a tolerable level.

The enduro has established a tire width of around 2.4 inches. Especially in the professional area, it usually does not get wider, since plus tires can become a bit spongy during the sometimes extreme driving maneuvers. Recreational athletes generally do not use their material as much, which is why plus tires are becoming more and more established as a fun-oriented alternative. Many new frames are therefore designed for a tire width of up to 3 inches. This brings more grip and cushioning, while the rolling resistance drops.

With air pressure, things get complicated: Up to 2.4 inches in width, you can recommend a pressure of around 2.0 bar with tubing, or 1.8 bar with tubeless systems. Plus tires can go down to 1.4 bar with a tube, while tubeless combinations only need about 1.2 bar.

As if that weren’t enough options, additional puncture protection makes it even more variable. When using a Procore system, you can lower the air pressure to 0.8 bar, which of course enables enormous grip. Even very thick carcasses, which are definitely used in Enduro (e.g. Schwalbe Super Gravity) allow lower pressure because they offer more inherent stability. It is important: All information is to be understood as a guideline, which is why you should definitely try out different settings to find the perfect setup.

So that you don’t drive a flat tire despite the low air pressure, depending on the hardness of the driving style, two-ply carcasses on the rear wheel are recommended, whereby each carcass should have about 60 TPI. At Maxxis, these versions are called Double Down, for example, but Schwalbe, Conti and Co. also have suitable models on offer. 

Our recommendation:

  • A coarse-tread tire à la Maxxis Highroller II that combines strong lateral support with decent braking traction and acceptable rolling characteristics
  • Tires around 2.4 inches wide for tough racing, for leisure sports up to 3 inches wide plus tires
  • At 2.4 inches, it can be 2.0 bar for tube systems and 1.8 bar for tubeless systems
  • In the case of plus tires with a tube of approximately 1.4 bar, without a tube even only 1.2 bar
  • Systems like Procore enable an even lower air pressure
  • Two-ply carcasses, each with approx. 60 TPI, offer good puncture protection and great damping

Which tires for Downhill and Freeride MTBs?

Downhill, as the name suggests, is all about the descent. Cushioning, puncture protection and traction are therefore crucial. The rolling resistance takes a back seat, especially for recreational athletes.

They rely on very coarse-grained, aggressive profiles (e.g. Schwalbe Magic Marry) with soft rubber compounds. Most downhill bikes will have tire widths around 2.5 inches. Plus formats are rarely used here because the voluminous tires are quite spongy in tough downhill use.

Many riders still use clincher tires today because weight is not as important as it is with CX bikes, for example. Thanks to the solid bead core made of wire, the tires sit bombproof. Even in fast-moving areas, you rarely pull the tire off the rim. In addition, the tires are usually a little cheaper. But even modern folding tires are becoming more and more popular because the aramid bead cores hold the tire almost as securely. It also saves weight, which also ensures better performance on downhill. Heavy wheels can be accelerated downhill or out of corners. 

The damping and puncture protection of the tire is very important, which is why multilayer carcasses are usually used on downhill bikes (e.g. Schwalbe Super Gravity, Maxxis Double Down), whereby each layer should have around 60 TPI. Similar to the Enduro, additional protective measures such as the Schwalbe Procore System or foam inserts such as the Huck Norris are used. Tubeless systems are not as common as enduro bikes, but the trend is towards tubeless wheels. If you want to use a tube, you should use thick downhill tubes. These are significantly stronger than standard tubes, which reduces the likelihood of snakebites and co.

With a tube, an air pressure of approx. 2.0 bar is recommended, without a tube around 1.8 bar. Of course, this depends in detail on your own driving style (clean line selection vs. direct line selection), the route conditions (dry, wet, muddy) , etc.) and the route itself.

Our recommendation:

  • Very rough, aggressive profile
  • Soft rubber compound (e.g. Schwalbe Addix Soft, Maxxis Supertacky)
  • Tire width around 2.5 inches. Plus tires are not used
  • Air pressure with tube approx. 2.0 bar, with tubeless approx. 1.8 bar.
  • Although clincher tires are still quite common, we recommend folding tires. These save weight and yet sit tight enough on the rim. On a tight wallet, it can also be clincher tires
  • Multi-ply carcasses (around 60 TPI) such as Schwalbe Super Gravity or Maxxis Double Down ensure proper cushioning and good puncture protection
  • Either you use very thick downhill tubes or you use a tubeless system directly
  • Additional puncture protection systems such as Procore or Huck Norris are useful for downhill

The basic structure of a tire

No matter which tire you choose – the basic structure is roughly the same for all tires. The basic structure is the carcass, which gives the tire the necessary stability. Since this is a textile fabric, a higher stability can be achieved with a denser fabric. This density is measured in TPI (threads per inch), with a higher TPI number representing a higher density. More threads means more puncture resistance because the fine-meshed fabric is more difficult to pierce.

The rolling resistance is also reduced thanks to a finely woven carcass. On the other hand, if the carcass becomes too fine because it consists of a large number of very thin threads, the puncture resistance decreases. 60 TPI are therefore usually a good compromise for a mountain bike tire. Only very lightly rolling competition tires offer even more (e.g. 120 TPI). Downhill-oriented tires are also often made from two or three layers of the carcass material to improve cushioning and puncture protection.

Speaking of puncture protection: there is usually another layer on the carcass, which is specifically designed to increase puncture resistance. An additional carcass layer is often used here, others e.g. take a kevlar insert for that. On the other hand, in city tires you will often find thick rubber bands that are difficult to pierce.

This layer is then followed by the tread, the rubber compound and profile of which are largely responsible for the traction and rolling properties. A mixture of natural and synthetic rubber, fillers, plasticizers, vulcanizing agents and dyes creates treads with different properties for the respective areas of application. Softer rubber compounds create more grip, harder ones roll easier. High-quality tires also offer different rubber compounds at different points on the tread. For example, the side studs can be made particularly easy to grip, while the center studs, on which you mostly roll, turn out a little harder. This reduces the rolling resistance.

So that the tire sits well in the rim, each tire is completed by a bead core. This sits on both inner edges and is designed differently depending on the type of tire. For clincher tires, as the name suggests, a wire bundle is used in the bead core. This ensures a tight fit, although it is usually a little more difficult to open. An aramid fiber (e.g. Kevlar) is usually used for folding tires. Tubeless tires are also sometimes equipped with carbon bead cores, which are encased by particularly thick rubber lips. This ensures an airtight fit.

Summary:

  • A tire consists of a carcass, a puncture protection layer, the tread and the bead core
  • The carcass is a textile fabric whose density is measured in TPI. A higher TPI number stands for a denser fabric
  • The higher the density, the higher the puncture resistance and the lower the rolling resistance. Above a certain density, the threads have to become very thin, which reduces the puncture protection again. MTB tires therefore find a compromise of around 60 TPI
  • There is a puncture protection layer on the carcass, which makes it difficult to puncture the tire, for example with Kevlar
  • The tread consists of a mixture of some ingredients, including above all Natural or synthetic rubber. The softer the mixture, the more grip the tire offers. The harder, the easier it rolls.
  • The tire is held in the rim by a bead core made of wire (for clincher tires) or of aramid fibers (for folding tires). Tubeless tires also use carbon fibers and particularly thick rubber sealing lips.

General Information about MTB Tires

Mountain bike sport is becoming more and more popular. Therefore, the focus is changing from puristic, ambitious lightweight construction to fun-oriented bicycles. This shows not only the e-bike boom, but also the discussion about plus tires. These are primarily aimed at people who just want to have a lot of fun and not at those who want to hunt every tenth of a second. Plus tires forgive more errors due to their width of approx. 3 inches, dampen better and provide more grip, which means more fun for recreational athletes.

Nevertheless, of course, there are still narrower tires and even wider models. The latter tires are used on fat bikes that are up to 5 inches wide. The “traditional” mountain bike tires, on the other hand, are between 2 and 2.5 inches.

Every tire width has its justification and its area of application, which depends not only on the tire width itself, but also on the tread, the carcass, the rubber compound and the puncture protection. In addition, you can change the area of application of individual tires with the help of air pressure and the choice of rims (in particular the inner width of the rim). If the focus is on low rolling resistance (e.g. marathon bikes), a higher air pressure should be selected. A value of around 2.5 bar offers a good starting point.

In addition, a lower air pressure can be driven at the front than at the rear. There are two reasons for this: firstly, you want a little more grip on the front wheel so that you never lose traction, and secondly, the rear wheel is exposed to a greater risk of flat tires. A higher air pressure can prevent breakdowns. The air pressure must be determined individually according to your own preferences, your own application and the choice of tires.

The air pressure determines how much area of the profile has contact with the ground. This is called the contact area. For example, only with the right pressure can a coarse mud profile claw into the wet floor. There is now a suitable profile for every surface, but you should always pay attention to the running direction: most profiles are optimized for running correctly. Anyone who has ever fitted a coarse-tread tire the wrong way round knows what is being said.

In general, the studs of tires for hard, rocky surfaces are less pronounced (e.g. Schwalbe Rock Razor), while tires for wet conditions have quite extreme studs (e.g. Schwalbe Dirty Dan). All-purpose tires (e.g. Schwalbe Nobby Nic) find a compromise between the two extremes.

Of course there are not only suitable tires from Schwalbe, but now from a variety of different brands. To a large extent, tire selection is also a matter of faith. In the range of the most popular manufacturers such as Continental, Maxxis, Vittoria, Onza and Kenda, every MTB disciple will definitely find the right tire.

Summary:

  • In addition to classic MTB tires, there are now Fatbike and Plus tires
  • Plus and Fatbike tires offer more cushioning and traction as well as a forgiving driving behavior
  • Classic MTB tires are between 2 and 2.5 inches wide, plus tires up to about 3 inches and fat bike tires up to 5 inches
  • The area of application of a tire depends on the width, the profile, the rubber compound and the puncture protection
  • Air pressure and rim width have a great influence on the driving characteristics
  • There are special tires with adapted treads for different surfaces and conditions

Tube / Tubeless Systems

A tube is not just a tube. As with the tires, there is a choice between different models. The classic among tubes is made of synthetic butyl rubber. This makes the tube elastic and airtight. A butyl tube can therefore be used for different wheel sizes (e.g. a 26 inch tube in a 27.5 inch jacket). However, the tubes are quite prone to breakdowns.

Latex tubes are even more elastic. As a result, they are significantly more puncture proof and roll more easily. However, they are more expensive, also because they should be exchanged with every tire change. The material of the tubes is very sensitive to heat, oil, light and uneven expansion. They also keep the air worse. It can therefore happen that you have to pump up before every trip. With butyl tubes, this is usually only the case every 2-4 weeks. The last alternative is the polyurethane tube. It is a plastic that makes the tube very puncture-proof and airtight. However, it is not elastic, which means that it can only be used for the specified tire diameter. They also roll a little worse, but they are very light.

With regard to the valve, two variants have become established on mountain bikes: the Sclaverand (also Presta or French) and the car valve. The Dunlop or Regina valve, however, is not found. One advantage of the car valve is that it can be connected to the petrol station compressor. The Sclaverand valve is a bit lighter. It is important not to over tighten the rim nut on the Sclaverand valve. This increases the likelihood of valve breaks.

If you want to use tubeless systems, on the other hand, you need a special valve. This is inserted through the rim, the rim hole being sealed by a rubber lip on the valve. All other rim holes are closed with a special tubeless adhesive tape. In combination with the sealing milk and the special tire bead, you get a relatively airtight system. Due to decomposition processes, however, you have to refill sealing milk from time to time. It is also important that the sealing milk fits the tire, as some liquids can damage the tire. This usually leads to leaky systems. Tire manufacturers therefore state which sealing milk may be used or which components may not be included.

The advantage of tubeless is the lower weight, the increased puncture resistance, the lower rolling resistance and the lower air pressure that can be driven. This increases traction in downhill-oriented disciplines. Sometimes the first assembly is a bit tedious, but once assembled, there are usually few problems. That is why the tubeless systems are becoming more and more popular in the mountain bike sector.

Summary:

  • Butyl tubes are elastic, inexpensive and airtight, but offer poorer puncture protection
  • Latex tubes are very elastic and therefore roll easily and offer good puncture protection. But they are expensive and not very airtight
  • PU tubes are inelastic but very light and puncture-proof
  • Sclaverand and auto valves have prevailed on mountain bikes
  • Tubeless systems require a special tubeless valve and rim tape. Sealed milk must also be used.
  • Tubeless is lighter, rolls better and is more puncture proof. You can also drive a lower air pressure. However, the initial assembly can sometimes be a bit tricky

Clincher, Folding, Tubeless and UST tires

In the first place, a distinction can be made between two different types of MTB tires: clincher and folding tires. The former are characterized by a wire bead core that holds the tire securely in the rim. Even on downhill bikes, clincher tires can still be found today. The assembly is sometimes a struggle and the weight cannot keep up with folding tires, but the tight fit gives a little extra control in extreme situations.

But even on the downhill, modern folding tires are used more and more. Advanced rim flanges and tightly fitting aramid bead cores hold almost as well. On the XC, marathon and trail bikes, on the other hand, there are almost only folding tires. Depending on the model and size, the aramid core can save up to 100g in weight.

To save even more weight, tubeless tires are increasingly used today. The tire is installed without a tube, which is not only lighter, but also more puncture-proof. Tubeless tires have a special bead core (sometimes made of carbon), which is airtight thanks to thick rubber lips. In addition, the tires are particularly thick-walled so that tubeless milk cannot squeeze through the tire. That would happen with a classic tire. The sealing milk seals on the rim flange, but also on holes that remain after punctures. It also seals the tire itself, which would slowly lose air without milk. Since no sensitive tubes has to be installed, you can also drive a lower air pressure. This ensures even more grip.

The UST system is similar to the tubeless system, but here the tire does not require sealing milk. You also need a special UST rim: This has no spoke holes, but a rim flange that is perfectly matched to the tires. This makes the system tight. The tubeless system has become much more popular in recent years, which is why UST tires are rarely found.

Summary:

  • There are clincher and folding tires. The former have a wire bead core, folding tires an aramid bead core. This makes folding tires about 100g lighter depending on the model and size.
  • Tubeless tires are on the rise. Weight is saved due to the tubeless installation. In addition, rolling resistance and susceptibility to breakdown are reduced. Sealing milk is required for assembly and function.
  • UST tires can be installed tubeless and without sealing milk. A special rim is required for this. UST has been largely replaced by tubeless systems in recent years.

Puncture protection

Puncture protection is of course one of the main tasks of a tire. Mountain biking is hardly fun without air. There are two main characteristics in the tire itself that influence puncture protection. Firstly, the thickness of the carcass or the number of carcass layers and the puncture protection layer. While the TPI number has already been described above, you should take a look at the difference between single and multi-ply tires. Single-ply carcasses are sufficient for most mountain bikers and applications.

But if you really want to let it run downhill, you’d better use double-ply tires. Although these are significantly heavier, they dampen better and are safer against punctures. Snakebites (punctures that leave two holes on the tube) are also much less common with a two-layer tire with a tube. If you place a thick cloth over a knife, you can touch the blade unharmed. The same principle applies to tires: the thick carcass means that sharp-edged stones do not bulge the inside of the tire with sharp edges. This means that a tube is punctured less frequently.

These advantages, especially in combination with tubeless systems, have ensured that you can ride an ever lower air pressure on an MTB. However, this creates a new problem: punctures can damage the rim flange. To prevent this from happening, there are now a large number of systems that can be used to increase puncture protection away from the tire.

A prominent representative is the Procore system from Schwalbe. Here a rigid tube is installed in the tire, which serves as a second air chamber, which is inflated with very high pressure (approx. 6 bar). In the air chamber between the tire and Procore you drive the normal or slightly reduced air pressure. A special valve enables both chambers to be filled independently of one another. So you have maximum grip, but the rim remains undamaged during punctures. The inner tube also presses the tire against the rim flange. This means that the tire stays on the rim even in extremely fast-moving trailers. If, despite all the measures, the air in the tire chamber escapes, you can at least roll home on the inner tube. However, the disadvantages of this system are obvious: it has a lot of weight (approx. 400g) and is quite expensive. It also only works with tubeless systems.

Simpler systems try to create the same effect by inserting a foam ring into the rim well. Although this does not press the tire into the rim flange or provide any emergency running properties, the rim should also be protected from punctures. 

Summary:

  • Multi-ply carcasses offer more puncture protection and better damping, and you can also drive less air pressure
  • Puncture protection systems such as Procore or Huck Norris increase puncture protection and prevent damage to the rim flange. You can also drive an even lower air pressure

Tread and tire width

The running properties of a tire depend heavily on the air pressure, but of course the tread and tire width also play a major role.

Coarse-tread tires naturally roll worse than finely profiled tires. How high the rolling resistance actually is depends on the height of the studs, the space between the studs, the shape of the studs and the rubber compound. A Schwalbe Magic Marry will roll much worse than a Schwalbe Racing Ralph at the same air pressure. That’s why you rarely see Nino Schurter dominating the XC World Cup on thick downhill slippers.

Most tires not only rely on cube-shaped studs, but on very different shapes that are slotted and phased. Cleats slit in the direction of travel, for example, during braking, which increases their area and thus the traction. In contrast, chamfered studs roll better because there is no need to negotiate a sharp edge. Since the studs are always designed with the direction of travel in mind, tires can be produced that roll well and offer good grip. A good example is the Maxxis Highroller II.

The distance between the studs also plays a role in this calculation, since a few coarse studs with a large distance require a lot of deformation energy, which is noticeable as rolling resistance. As a rough rule of thumb, it can be said that open, coarse-tread profiles generally roll much worse, but offer much more traction.

While the “physics” behind the tread is quite intuitive, the tire width is a bit strange. The fact is that wide tires roll more easily than narrow tires at the same air pressure. Although the contact area (the contact area between the tire and the ground) is the same in both cases, the shape of the area is more favorable for a wide tire. It is shorter here, which reduces the braking leverage. In addition, a narrow tire deflects more, which is why more material has to be deformed here.

This process naturally requires energy. So why are narrow tires still used on XC and marathon bikes? The answer can be found in weight. Take the Schwalbe Nobby Nic as an example: In the 3 inch plus version, a Nobby Nic weighs a good 900 grams, while the 2.25 inch version does weigh 700 grams. This saves almost half a kilo of weight on a set of tires. Of course, XC and marathon riders can’t take that.

Summary:

  • Coarse-tread tires roll worse than slightly treaded tires
  • The shape and design of the studs also play a role
  • Wider tires roll easier than narrower ones. The increased weight partially relativizes this effect