Best Mountain Bike Tires of 2021
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|Pros||EXO sidewall protection, excellent cornering grip, good on front or rear, dual compound increases longevity||Great cornering and braking traction, fair price, long tread life, supportive sidewalls, work in a wide range of conditions||Great cornering grip, good braking traction, aggressive tread pattern, super damp ride quality, available in 2.6 and 2.3-inch widths||Great cornering traction, solid braking traction, good in mixed/loose conditions, long tread life||Excellent cornering, reasonable weight for size, good braking traction, durable|
|Cons||Not the best for hardpack, high rolling resistance, requires good technique||Tread may be too aggressive for some riders/locations, a little heavy||Moderate weight, not the fastest rolling||Moderately heavy, not the fastest rolling||Higher rolling resistance, expensive-ish|
|Bottom Line||One of the most popular tires ever, and for good reason||An aggressive tire with excellent cornering traction, braking bite, and above-average durability||Specialized's classic aggressive trail riding tire with a new rubber compound, enhanced grip, and same great value||A great front tire for aggressive all-mountain and trail riding in loose conditions||An aggressive rear trail tire that is worthy of its name|
|Rating Categories||Maxxis Minion DHF 3...||Vittoria Mazza||Specialized Butcher...||Michelin Wild AM2 2.4||Maxxis Minion DHR II|
|Pedaling Traction (20%)|
|Braking Traction (20%)|
|Rolling Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Maxxis Minion DHF 3...||Vittoria Mazza||Specialized Butcher...||Michelin Wild AM2 2.4||Maxxis Minion DHR II|
|Size tested||27.5" x 2.3"||29" x 2.4"||29" x 2.6"||29" x 2.4"||27.5" x 2.4"|
|Weight as tested||870g||1090g||1123g||1037g||917g|
|Front, Rear, or Both||Front, Both||Front, Both||Front, Both||Front, Both||Rear, Both|
|Casing Tested||EXO||Trail||GRID Trail||Gravity Shield||EXO|
|Compound Tested||3C Maxx Terra||4C Graphene 2.0||Gripton T9||Gum-X||3C Maxx Terra|
|Tread Count (TPI)||60||120||60||3 x 60||60|
Best Overall Front Tire
Maxxis Minion DHF 3C/EXO
The Maxxis Minion DHF is our top recommendation for a burly and aggressive front end. This beefy tire inspires high levels of confidence and is most at home when leaned into a turn aggressively with a substantial row of large side knobs that grip through corners. The feel of this tire may take a little getting used to for some, but once you experience the sensation of it locking into a turn, you'll have a hard time going back to anything else. Its sturdy EXO casing and mix of tread compounds provide ample sidewall support and exceptional grip, even at lower pressures. A relatively square profile, squared-off edges, side knobs, and sidewalls all contribute to the overall quality of this award winner. The DHF has also proven to be a long-lasting and reliable companion and is one of the most popular mountain tires ever for good reason.
We love the DHF up front, but it's also suitable for use as a rear tire. As a rear tire, it has excellent pedal and braking traction but has a relatively high level of rolling resistance. The aggressive tread of the Minion DHF might feel a bit overkill on super buff and hardpack dirt, but that's not the arena this beast was designed to fight in. The DHF is offered in all-wheel sizes and a huge variety of widths, casings, and rubber compounds to meet a broad range of user preferences.
Read review: Maxxis Minion DHF
Best Overall Rear Tire
Maxxis Aggressor 2.3 EXO
The Maxxis Aggressor is an excellent rear tire with a versatile tread pattern that spreads its appeal beyond enduro riding; it's very well suited to everyday trail riding, and we'd even put it on our XC bikes. The center tread has a well-designed pattern of medium height knobs with sharp, unramped front edges that meet the ground with authority, providing ample bite and traction, despite relatively low rolling resistance. A substantial row of side knobs handles well when tipped on edge through corners, with a supportive and durable EXO casing. Our test tire weighed in at 885g, and if you want even more peace of mind, it's available in Maxxis'sDouble Down casing option as well. We felt this tire was the best balance of rolling resistance, grip, and traction offered in the entire test, a true all-around performer.
However, this isn't the most aggressive tire on the market. You may prefer another option if you often find yourself riding in loose or wet conditions. While the medium-height tread is efficient for most situations, there are better options for braking traction when the terrain gets super loose. Having said all that, we still feel the Aggressor is the most versatile rear tire.
Read review: Maxxis Aggressor
Best Bang for the Buck Front Tire
Specialized Butcher GRID Trail T9
Specialized recently updated their ever-popular Butcher tire with an all-new T9 rubber compound. We tested the Butcher Grid Trail T9 in both 2.3" and 2.6" widths, and while the tread pattern hasn't really changed, this feels like an entirely new tire. The T9 rubber is the grippiest that Specialized uses, and while it isn't exactly super soft, it's been designed to rebound slowly to reduce deflection and enhance grip. The result is a well-damped ride quality that feels very well connected to the trail surface. The tall center tread lugs with open spacing provide excellent braking traction, while the substantial row of shoulder knobs grip very well through corners. Specialized'sGrid Trail casing feels supportive enough while remaining supple and surprisingly resistant to punctures or tears. It's also one of the least expensive tires we tested, and we feel it is an excellent value.
While we really loved most aspects of the performance of the Butcher Grid Trail T9, it isn't the fastest rolling tire. It's moderately heavy at 1,123-grams in the 29" x 2.6" we tested, and the aggressive tread, open spacing, and grippy rubber put up a bit of rolling resistance. That said, it's no worse than most similar tires, and a trade-off for its otherwise excellent traction and super smooth feel. Beyond that, this affordable tire is an excellent front tire, or both, for trail and all-mountain riders.
Read review: Specialized Butcher Grid Trail T9
Best Bang for the Buck Rear Tire
Specialized Eliminator GRID Trail T7
The Specialized Eliminator T7 is a semi-aggressive rear tire that we feel is a great, affordable option for trail riders. This tire uses Specialized's T7 rubber compound that prioritizes rolling speed over all-out grip, and the medium height center tread with moderate spacing helps further reduce rolling resistance. At the same time, the sharp edges of the tread knobs bite well into firm to moderately loose, dry conditions while pedaling and braking. A closely packed row of taller shoulder lugs provides good cornering traction and a predictable feel until things get super loose. We found the T7 rubber to be long-lasting with even wear, and the Grid Trail casing stood up to our abuse during testing.
While the Eliminator T7 is a well-rounded and versatile tire, it sacrifices a bit in the braking traction department in exchange for rolling speed. When conditions get really loose, it is easy to break this tire into a skid or drift through corners or spin out while climbing. We also found the Grid Trail casing to be a bit squirmy under hard cornering forces, and that we had to get the pressure exactly right to not burp it. This casing may not be supportive enough for super aggressive riders. That said, we feel this is a great rear tire option paired with something a little more aggressive in the front, and an affordable one at that.
Read review: Specialized Eliminator Grid Trail T7
Another Great Front Tire
The Vittoria Mazza is an excellent, aggressive tire that rivals the performance of the most popular models on the market. Vittoria may not have the same level of brand recognition as some other manufacturers, but we feel that it is liable to change if they keep making amazing tires like this. We loved the Mazza as a front tire where it excels in the corners with a stout row of well-supported side knobs that grip well in a huge range of conditions. The transition from the center tread to the side knobs is smooth, and once on edge, it bites and holds with confidence-inspiring and predictable manners. Braking traction is another highlight, and the large knobs with open spacing grab well on most surfaces when it comes time to slow things down. Lots of lengthwise siping on all of the knobs allow them to really conform to the trail surface, and it holds well on firm surfaces, off-camber terrain, and rock slabs. The Trail casing we tested offers a good blend of support and suppleness, and Vittoria's 4C Graphene rubber was surprisingly resilient with an above-average tread life.
Due to the Mazza's tread design, it has a bit more rolling resistance than tires with a less aggressive tread. We also found it to be a touch heavy when compared to similarly aggressive tires of the same size. Beyond those concerns, we feel the Mazza is an outstanding tire that rivals the best of the best. We'd highly recommend it as a front tire for aggressive trail riders who are looking to try something different.Read review: Vittoria Mazza
Best Rear Tire for Aggressive Riders
Maxxis Minion DHR II
The Maxxis Minion DHR II is an aggressive rear tire with terrific cornering grip and excellent braking traction. Aggressive riders who frequent loose, chunky, and rowdy terrain are the best candidates for this beefy and durable tire. It sacrifices some rolling speed in exchange for boatloads of braking traction and cornering prowess. This tire has a large and stout row of side knobs, like those found on the Minion DHF, to dive into corners and hold a line on off-camber sections. Braking bite is superb, thanks to the wide paddle-shaped knobs of the center tread. Many bike brands spec the DHR II as a front and rear tire on complete builds.
The Minion DHR II was originally designed for use as a rear tire, and paired with a Minion DHF up front, we think it's the ultimate combo in loose conditions for aggressive trail riders. Other rear tire options will roll noticeably faster than the DHR II, but that's a trade-off you'll need to consider for a tire with the cornering grip and braking traction it provides.
Read Review: Maxxis Minion DHR II
Best for Gravity Riders
The Assegai is a gravity-oriented tire from Maxxis that was designed in collaboration with World Cup DH racing legend Greg Minaar. As a downhill tire, the Assegai has a super-strong DH casing, an ultra-aggressive tread, sticky MaxxGrip rubber, and the weight that comes along with it. It is one of the best cornering tires our testers have ever used. Despite its square profile, it rolls easily into corners and hooks up and grips in all conditions thanks to the tall row of burly side knobs. The DH casing is very supportive and durable, allowing for lower tire pressures with no tire roll and little fear of pinch flatting. We've tested this tire on both the front and rear of the bike, and it performs outrageously well in both locations. The Assegai is now offered in the EXO and EXO+ casings at a lower weight, expanding its range of use into the trail riding realm.
This type of traction, cornering performance, and durability come at a serious weight penalty, and the Assegai with the DH casing is the heaviest tire in our test at 1303g. The tacky rubber and tall tread knobs also result in some serious rolling resistance. That said, this tire is meant to be pointed down the hill, and riders who spend their days riding lifts or shuttling laps should seriously consider the Assegai. It also comes in lighter casing options to expand its appeal to aggressive trail and all-mountain riders.
Read review: Maxxis Assegai
Best for XC Trail Riding
Maxxis Ardent EXO
The Maxxis Ardent EXO is a popular tire that we found works very well for cross-country style trail riding. It can be used as either a front or rear tire, though our testers preferred it in the rear paired with something a little more aggressive up front. This tire is fast-rolling with lower profile ramped center tread knobs and a rounded side-to-side profile. Testers found that it has good pedaling traction, and it hooks up well while climbing in all but the loosest conditions. The side knobs are arranged in a staggered sawtooth pattern, and it has excellent, predictable cornering traction on hardpack and firm conditions. The EXO casing is relatively robust and stood up well under cornering forces and withstood serious abuse during testing. The Ardent is also relatively lightweight with the 29" x 2.4" EXO model we tested, weighing in at only 895-grams.
For aggressive riders or terrain, the Ardent wouldn't be our first choice. The lower-profile tread pattern doesn't offer the same degree of braking traction you get with more aggressive mountain bike tires. This is particularly applicable when you find yourself on loose terrain. The low tread and rounded profile feel somewhat vague and less than stellar when cornering in loose conditions. However, for those who value efficiency and mainly ride hardpack or hero dirt conditions, the Ardent is a viable contender.
Read review: Maxxis Ardent EXO
Best for Tread Life
Michelin Wild AM2 2.4
Michelin recently released two new models of all-mountain tires, including the Wild AM2, for use in mixed, soft, and loose conditions. Based on the popular DH34 and DH22 gravity tires, the Wild AM2 has an aggressive design with tall, widely spaced center tread lugs and a stout row of well-supported shoulder knobs. This tire really delivers in the cornering and braking traction department, as those knobs claw their way into hero-dirt and loose conditions alike. The Gum-X rubber compound features firmer rubber in the center tread and the base of the side knobs with softer rubber on top. While it isn't the tackiest rubber around, it still grips well and has proven to be incredibly long-lasting. The Gravity Shield casing is also quite robust, with a balanced feel that avoids being too stiff or too flimsy.
Due to the aggressive nature of the Wild AM2's tread design, it isn't the fastest rolling, and it feels like overkill on smooth, mellow trails. Riders who seek grip from soft, tacky rubber compounds may also find the Gum-X rubber to be a bit firm for their taste. Otherwise, we were very impressed by the performance and longevity of this great new tire.
Read review: Michelin Wild AM2 2.4
Best for Flow Trails
Vittoria Martello 2.6
The Vittoria Martello slays fast and flowy trails. This tire rolls quite fast and delivers excellent cornering abilities for such a fast-rolling tire. It's less of a weight-weenie XC tire and more of a scaled-down enduro tire; it's confident at speed and delivers impressive braking and cornering traction. Trail riders looking for a fast and efficient setup would do well running the Martello in the front with something even faster rolling in the rear, though we wouldn't hesitate to ride this as a rear tire as well with something even beefier up front.
The Martello isn't perfect. If you ride super loose and chunky terrain, these tires may not have the bite you are looking for. For the true XC crowd, there are definitely lighter and faster rolling options. That said, we feel the Martello is a great all-arounder that is a solid option for mid-duty trail riding with the chops to crush flowy and fast trails.
Read review: Vittoria Martello
Best for Lettin' 'er Drift
Schwalbe Hans Dampf HS491 Addix
The Hans Dampf has been a mainstay in Schwalbe's line of mountain bike tires, and the HS491 is an updated version of this popular model. The primary changes made to the Hans Dampf include increased widths (like the 2.6" version we tested), a slightly more aggressive tread pattern, and beefier knobs. This tire still maintains the predictable drifty feel that it was always known for, but now it provides even better pedaling and braking traction. This tire can be used either front or rear, and it has an impressive condition bandwidth from hard pack to blown out and dusty. Its durability has also been taken up a notch, and these tires proved to stand the test of time during our testing.
One of our biggest gripes with Schwalbe tires is their price. At retail, they are consistently some of the most expensive tires on the market. Also, while many riders like the drifty feel of the Hans Dampf, it certainly won't be for everyone. That said, we feel this is an excellent all-around tire for those who like to let 'er drift.
Read review: Schwalbe Hans Dampf HS491 Addix
Another Great Value Rear Tire
Michelin Force AM2 2.4
Michelin recently introduced the new Force AM2 all-mountain tire. This model effectively blends low rolling resistance with solid cornering abilities and durable construction, all at a reasonable price. This tire rolls quickly with a center tread reminiscent of a Maxxis Ardent, yet it has more substantial shoulder lugs, the robust Gravity Shield casing, and a long-lasting Gum-X rubber compound. This tire thrives in firm to moderately loose dry conditions, and we found it to be a great rear tire combined with a more aggressive tread in the front. It's also among the least expensive tires we tested, and we feel it's a great value for the rider looking for a fast-rolling yet durable rear tire.
Like most tires with a low profile center tread, the Force AM2 gives up a bit of braking traction in exchange for its low rolling resistance. This is particularly noticeable in loose conditions where it is easier to break into a skid than more aggressive treads. It's also a bit heavy compared to similarly fast-rolling tires, a trade-off for its beefier casing and taller cornering lugs. Beyond that, we were thoroughly impressed by this excellent new model from Michelin.
Read review: Michelin Force AM2 2.4
Why You Should Trust Us
Our mountain bike tire review is led by our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson. Benson is a competitive gravel and mountain bike racer, highly experienced tester/reviewer, and published author. Benson's mountain bike roots trace back to New England in the early 1990s, and he has seen and experienced the evolution of mountain bike tires. An avid racer, Benson competes in endurance gravel and XC races throughout northern California.
Pat Donahue also contributed to this review. This native New Englander is particularly obsessed with tire choice and is constantly on the hunt for the elusive perfect tire. Pat owns a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe and is passionate about rough and rocky trails.
We researched nearly every tire on the market before purchasing the 29 models in this review. Next, we identified the main areas of concern when evaluating a mountain bike tire. We chose metrics like cornering abilities, braking traction, pedal traction, rolling resistance, and ease of installation. We tested each tire as much as humanly possible and ranked them based on these metrics. We did our best to use consistent testing trails that offered a variety of features and soil types.
Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Tires
Analysis and Test Results
When buying a complete bike, it comes with whatever tires the manufacturer chooses. This may not always be the ideal tire for your riding style, your trails, or the conditions you encounter most frequently. Additionally, it is safe to assume that they might sometimes take a cost-effective approach to stock specifications. Whether you have roasted the original set of rubber or need to purchase the right tires for your local trails, this comparative analysis should help you make a decision.
With that in mind, we set out to review the best tires for all-mountain and trail riding; you can even call it enduro if you like. The truth of the matter is, trail riding is the most common style of riding that most people participate in. We pedal up the hill to ride back down it. More often than not, the emphasis of trail riding is on the downhill, and the uphill is a necessary, and often just as enjoyable, part of the total experience. Again, the tires you choose should complement how and where you ride and the terrain and conditions you typically encounter to enhance your riding experience.
Before the rubber hits the dirt, you'll be laying out some coin for said rubber — make the most of it. We're dealing with a product category here that is prone to specialization, so if you're looking for something other than an all-arounder, make sure to read up on our award winners for tires that do specific jobs well.
Mountain bike tires are expensive. Some are much more expensive than others, so we do our best to identify which models represent the best value. Despite costing less than the competition, the Specialized Butcher Grid Trail T9 and the Specialized Eliminator Grid Trail T7 are highly rated and are our picks for an affordable front and rear trail riding combo.
Types of Mountain Bike Tires
The front tire is primarily responsible for cornering and needs to respond appropriately to your input in order to remain on your intended line. For this reason, many front tires feature tread designs with large side knobs that aid in maintaining cornering grip. Front tires often feature directional tread patterns to improve rolling resistance, although a front tire does not support as much weight as a rear tire and consequently doesn't suffer as much drag. Therefore, it is quite common to see riders opt for more aggressive tread designs for the front where their cornering grip and braking traction is a benefit, with less detriment to rolling resistance. Tires are currently trending wider, and a wider front tire can help maintain traction as they have a larger contact patch on the rolling surface, and you can run lower tire pressures to enhance this even further.
Many tires can be used as either a front or rear tire, while some are designed with rear use in mind. In general, a rear tire has more of a focus on pedaling and braking traction, and tread designs often reflect that. Horizontal knobs with edges that run perpendicular to the direction of travel are often employed to enhance braking traction. Squared-off edges and siping on tread knobs also help to grip and bite under pedaling forces. Rolling resistance is often more of a concern for a rear tire, and some tires feature low to medium height center tread knobs that roll faster than more aggressive designs. Side knob designs vary, with slightly less emphasis typically placed on the rear tire's ability to corner.
The emergence of enduro racing has helped drive innovation in all aspects of bike manufacturing. This includes tires, and a resurgence in semi-slick tire designs has occurred in recent years. Semi-slick tires have a pared-down center tread to reduce their rolling resistance, framed in by larger side knobs to maintain strong cornering performance.
Criteria for Evaluation
Modern trends have dictated that all of the tires in our test are either 27.5 or 29-inch. Our selection of test tires is split between the two wheel sizes, and in many cases, our testers have experience riding them in both sizes. Based on that experience, we feel that the performance of a tire between different wheel sizes will be roughly the same.
We selected tires in the 2.3 to 2.6-inch width range. As tires continue to trend wider, so too are the tires in our test. We now have several models in the 2.5" and 2.6" widths that are becoming much more common in the current mountain bike tire market. We mounted tires to 30mm internal diameter wheels. We feel this rim size to be very representative of current wheel selection without falling into the narrow or overly wide end of the spectrum.Sidewall Protection
Each manufacturer has its own technology and name for how they choose to protect a tire with its casing. Whether it be EXO (Maxxis), Tough (WTB), or ProTection (Continental), a robust casing helps to add abrasion and puncture resistance, as well as support to the sidewalls of a tire. Often, the more durable and supportive a casing is, the heavier the tire becomes. Lighter-weight tires often have less protective and resilient sidewalls, while those that weigh more can usually withstand a bit more abuse. Many tires come in more than one casing option, so you can make that decision for yourself based on how you ride, your trail conditions, and terrain.
The Maxxis Minion DHF features a pronounced transitional zone and scored among the highest for cornering. It has a distinctive locked-in feel, though it may take a little getting used to for some riders. Going from the center tread onto the side knobs, the rider may notice a "dead" zone about halfway through the lean while passing over the channel between the tread knobs on the crown of the tire on the way to the big side knobs. This tire rewards good technique with predictable and confidence-inspiring cornering traction. The DHF's more aggressive sibling, the Assegai has even more grip in the corners. This DH tire has more tread in the transitional zone, softer rubber, and an even more robust casing that makes it unflappable. The Assegai is the best cornering tire we've ever tested.
With a tread design that looks strikingly similar to the Minion DHF, the Vittoria Mazza also boasts impressive cornering traction. This aggressive tire has a row of well-supported side knobs and a predictable locked-in feel when on edge. Vittoria's 4C Graphene rubber provides a tacky feel, and longitudinal siping on all the tread knobs further enhance their grip and traction in all conditions we encountered while testing. Specialized's Butcher T9 is at the top of the heap in the corners as well. The aggressive open tread is great in a range of conditions, but it's the new T9 rubber compound that's most impressive. While the rubber doesn't have the tackiest feel, its dampening properties give it an especially smooth, glued-to-the-ground ride quality.
Likewise, the Michelin Wild Enduro Front is a top performer in the corners. One look at the Wild Enduro Front, and you can see why. This tire has super tall and aggressive shoulder lugs that bite into nearly any trail surface. Wet, loose, loam, this tire rips into the soil. You can lean as hard as you want into this tire, and the casing is supportive. Similarly, we found the new Michelin Wild AM2 to rip through the bends. This tire relies on its aggressive tread pattern to do most of the work, with well-supported shoulder lugs and a supportive yet supple Gravity Shield casing.
The WTB Vigilante earns an honorable mention in the cornering metric. We found performance to be right there with the Minion DHF and the Wild Enduro Front. This burly and mean front tire can stand up to aggressive movements, committed riding, and all types of terrain. Unfortunately for the Vigilante, it is much, much heavier than the competition.
For those who prefer a slightly faster-rolling front tire, the Vittoria Martello and E-thirteen All Terrain are both great options. These tires offer nice amounts of cornering bite, but they aren't as aggressive as the Maxxis Minion DHF, Michelin Wild Enduro Front, or WTB Vigilante. Still, these tires offer killer cornering abilities and less rolling resistance.Rear Tire
If we were forced to pick one rear tire to ride for an entire year, knowing we'd be experiencing a huge range of conditions, trail types, and weather, we'd choose the Maxxis Aggressor. We feel this tire provides a great combination of traction and rolling speed and has a huge bandwidth in terms of conditions. While other tires may handle specific conditions better, the Aggressor rarely leaves us wanting more. The medium profile center tread allows for exceptional pedaling efficiency and low rolling resistance, all while offering adequate bite for climbing and braking traction. The side knobs are stout enough to rail corners but not so burly that they resist flicking the bike's rear end into corners and breaking traction when the mood hits.
The Maxxis Dissector is another of our favorite rear tires. Its moderate height center tread is fast-rolling, yet it has a substantial row of side knobs that provide excellent grip in the corners. This versatile model performs well in all but the loosest of conditions. The eThirteen TRS Semi-Slick is a fast-rolling rear tire with excellent cornering bite. This tire is best suited for riders in dry climates with hardpack conditions due to the short and tightly spaced center tread. That said, when you lean this tire over, the taller side lugs lock-in and offer ample cornering bite for how fast this tire rolls.
Those who want a relatively fast-rolling rear tire that maintains good cornering abilities might consider the Specialized Eliminator T7. The Eliminator has a semi-aggressive center rolling for speed, but it still has good braking bite and cornering traction. Likewise, the Michelin Force AM2 is a fast-rolling tire, but it has aggressive shoulder lugs that help it corner better than other fast-rollers. The WTB Trail Boss is a great choice for the gravity crowd. This is a heavy tire that the weight weenies may take issue with. If you simply don't care about weight, this is a ripping rear tire that rolls relatively fast and delivers lots of bite in the corners.
For the more aggressive rider, the Maxxis Minion DHR II is our favorite option. The Michelin Wild Enduro Rear is right there with the DHR II when weight is less of a priority and cornering abilities and traction are emphasized. While neither of these tires is light, they're both impressive when the going gets radical.
Pedaling forces are applied through the rear tire while the front tire is pushed along, guiding the bike along its journey. In essence, we describe the behaviors of the various front tires as they navigate the terrain. The Maxxis Minion DHF is our favorite tire for all-conditions riding. The majority of our testing took place in dryer California conditions. Trails were often loose, blown out, and rocky. The Maxx Terra compound on the Minion DHF is an excellent balance of grip, rolling resistance, and longevity. The side knobs molded to rock faces just as well as they clawed for traction in the rubble.
There are better choices than the Minion DHF if you ride firm ground almost exclusively due to the fact that the knobs are on the aggressive side with a fair amount of spacing between them. The Maxxis Ardent, Michelin Force AM2, and Vittoria Martello perform better in these cases with smaller knobs that don't give the rider a feeling of riding high off the ground. The even tread pattern of those tires also feels more predictable on firm ground as the transition across the tread is smooth the whole way through.Rear Tire
With rear tires, you'll find huge variances in traction, depending on the type of terrain and the surface conditions. If the mission of the day is to climb up a ridiculously loose fire road with golf ball-sized rocks loosely embedded in the surface and soil that is so loose you're leaving a wake in the sand behind you, something knobby like the Minion DHR II will "get 'er done." The semi-slick design of the eThirteen Semi-Slick simply doesn't have the aggressive knobs to dig for traction where there is none. In general, the fastest rolling tires tend to have the least pedaling traction in loose conditions.
The Maxxis Aggressor provided us with excellent pedaling traction on a huge range of surfaces and conditions. We found the Aggressor works best on hardpack, rock, and loam. When things get loose and steep, the Aggressor can't match the DHR II's more aggressive tread. When things really get loose and steep, we found that the aggressive tread design of the Michelin Wild Enduro Rear offered heaps of pedaling traction. The taller and widely spaced tread lugs claw into loose conditions with the best of them.
When conditions are firm, some of our fastest rolling tires perform exceptionally well. Lower profile tread designs like those of the Maxxis Ardent, Vittoria Agarro, and Michelin Force AM2 grip very well on hardpack and slabby rock, though they tend to falter when the surface conditions are super loose.
Braking traction is a crucial element of any mountain bike tire and one that varies dramatically between the different models and tread designs. In general, the size, shape, and orientation of the center tread play the biggest role in how well a tire slows and stops your forward momentum.
It varies with the conditions, but more often than not, a tire with a more aggressive tread design is going to brake better. The height, shape, and orientation of the knobs all play a role in how they bite into the trail surface as you apply the brakes. In terms of front tire braking traction, the more aggressive, the better, and tires like the Michelin Wild Enduro, Maxxis Assegai, WTB Convict, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary have got your back when you want to shut it down. We also particularly like the 2-knob, alternating paddle tread running down the center of the WTB Vigilante. The simple, no-nonsense tread design uses square, horizontally siped knobs that splay to increase friction and surface area. When things get a little damp, the somewhat open tread design sheds mud quite well to ensure a clean braking surface. The Maxxis Minion DHF and Vittoria Mazza use deep, open tread designs with tall knobs that dig well into just bout any soil type. While testing, we always felt confident that they would hook and grab hold when it came time to slow things down.
As with front tire braking traction, rear tire braking traction is also dependent on the size, shape, and orientation of the tread knobs. As a general rule, the more aggressive the tread design, the better the tire will perform in loose conditions. Taller knobs with wide spacing can penetrate deeper into loose surfaces, and braking edges that face perpendicular to the direction of travel will most help slow your roll when it's super loose. The Maxxis Minion DHR II has an aggressive tread pattern with wide paddle-shaped lugs that offer great braking traction on most surfaces, including soft and blown-out corners.
Fast-rolling and semi-slick tires get their speed from small, low-profile tread blocks. Unfortunately, this has an adverse effect on braking traction on anything but firm conditions. There is less to bite into the soil, and on loose, dusty, or wet trails, these tires tend to slide under braking forces. That said, the Maxxis Aggressor, Maxxis Dissector, and Specialized Eliminator T7 offer decent braking bite given their rolling speed.
If braking power is high on your list of priorities, running some of the tires we primarily tested as front tires on the rear wheel is a great option as well. Running a Maxxis Minion DHF, Vittoria Mazza, or WTB Vigilante front and rear might not be the fastest rolling choice, but it would definitely stop you in a hurry.
More often than not, the more aggressive a tread design is, the more rolling resistance it has, and vice-versa. For this reason, the tires with the lowest profile center treads and the semi-slicks garnered top honors in rolling resistance or lack thereof. For highly skilled riders that can push the pace while maintaining some semblance of control, these tires are a fast option.
One of the fastest-rolling tires in the test was the eThirteen Semi-Slick. This is a true semi-slick with very, very minimal amounts of tread on the rolling surface. It carries speed exceptionally well and performs precisely as intended. It should also be noted that this tire also delivers pretty solid cornering abilities, thanks to its pronounced shoulder knobs.
The Maxxis Ardent is another fast and efficient tire that will appeal most to the XC crowd. The Ardent has a low-profile tread design that prioritizes rolling speed. The Vittoria Agarro and Michelin Force AM2 have a similar tread design to the Ardent, and it is another great option for those looking to minimize rolling resistance. The Maxxis Aggressor and the Dissector offer more traction while still maintaining impressive rolling speed.
More aggressive treads and softer rubber compounds have a tendency to roll more slowly. Tires like the Schwalbe Magic Mary, Michelin Wild Enduro Rear, WTB Vigilante, and Maxxis Assegai slay corners, but they also roll much slower than most of the competition.
There's no way around it; mountain bike tires are pricey. We want our tires to last, and we get the feeling you do too. That's why we put each tire through rigorous testing of heavy use before examining the wear on the tread and casing to assess durability. Manufacturers use different rubber compounds and casing constructions, so some tires are more durable than others. Softer rubber compounds tend to wear quicker, while thinner sidewalls and casings are easier to flat. How fast a tire wears out can be subjective and a function of how much, how hard, where, and what conditions you ride in.
We were thoroughly impressed by the tread life of the Vittoria Mazza. Vittoria uses a 4C (4 compounds) rubber that is infused with Graphene. We can't speak for the science behind it, but we found the Mazza's cornering knobs to have above-average durability. The Michelin Wild AM2 and Force AM2 feature Gum-X rubber compounds and the Gravity Shield casing. Both of these tires really impressed us with their long-lasting tread and resilient sidewalls. Likewise, the Continental Der Kaiser proved to be a long-lasting tire. The Black Chili rubber compound didn't feel the tackiest, but it took a lot of riding to wear it out. From a casing standpoint, the most durable tires in our test are those designed for gravity riding. The Maxxis Assagai with the DH casing, and WTB models with Tough casings have super thick sidewalls and more puncture resistance, but also weigh more than any other tires in our test.
The WTB Trail Boss and Vigilante fared very well on the trail. However, we noticed a significant amount of sealant seeping through the sidewalls during testing. This was relatively immediate in terms of the life of a bike tire. We didn't find this affected performance, but it is strange on a new set of tires. The sidewalls appeared wet at all times.
For the majority of these tires, we were able to install and seat the bead on our rims without the use of a high-powered compressor. We used our beloved Joe Blow Booster floor pump to successfully set the bead on many, while a standard floor pump proved to be powerful enough for several of them. A select few of the tires, mostly the Schwalbes, required the use of a powerful compressor to finally seat the bead on the rim's flanges.
A multitude of mountain bike tires can easily be mounted onto a rim with just your bare hands. For other models, you may find it necessary to use a tire lever or two. Heavier tires with thicker sidewalls can be a little tougher with less pliable casings, while lighter and more flexible tires are slightly easier to handle.
The Continental Trail King and Mountain King were disconcertingly easy to install. With our Joe Blow Booster Pump, these tires both snapped on in one attempt with no supplemental pumping required. We are talking about a full seat of the bead… perfect. The Vittoria Martello and Vittoria Agarro also had more flexible sidewalls that snapped onto the rim exceptionally easily.
Some of the more burly casings are more difficult to work with. The stiff carcass on the Michelin Wild Enduro Front and Wild Enduro Rear were both tough to pull onto the rim. They inflated and seated easily, but it required two tire levers just to pull the tire into position.
There is a lot to consider when researching tires. With plenty of jargon and technical terms, things can get confusing awfully quickly. One thing is for sure: tires are a relatively cost-effective way to improve your bike's handling and all-around performance. We hope our detailed comparative analysis helps you find the right tires to meet your needs, budget, and riding style.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue
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