The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Mountain Bike Tires

The Maxxis Minion DHR 27.5 x 2.4" rear tire is a traction dream come true.
By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Saturday November 24, 2018
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Are you searching for the best mountain bike tires? We researched over 50 different models and selected 16 to test and compare. As the only place your bike makes contact with the trail, tires are an incredibly important component and one of the easiest, and often least expensive, ways to improve the performance of your mountain bike. Each tire was ridden for hundreds of miles on a variety of trails and conditions and rated on cornering, pedal and braking traction, rolling resistance, longevity, and installation. Tire choice depends on riding style, preferences, terrain, and conditions, so read on to find the mountain bike tires that best suit your needs and budget.


Top 16 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 16
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $64.98 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$44.29 at Amazon
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$72.00 at Competitive Cyclist
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$53.60 at Amazon
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$68.41 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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79
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Pros EXO sidewall protection, excellent cornering grip, good on front and rear, dual compound increases longevityVersatile, affordable, great all-around use, intermediate tread height, fast rollingExcellent cornering, unbeatable traction, durable supportive sidewallsExcellent cornering, reasonable weight for size, good braking traction, durableGreat cornering,excellent pedaling and braking traction, durable,
Cons Not awesome on hardpack, high rolling resistance, moderately expensive, requires good techniqueUmmmm? NadaVery heavy, expensiveHigher rolling resistance, expensive-ishHeavy, slower rolling
Bottom Line The Minion DHF is one of the most popular tires ever, and for good reason.The Aggressor is an excellent do-it-all rear tire for any kind of riding.Maxxis' new Assegai is a big and burly DH tire that inspires confidence with outstanding traction.The DHR II is an aggressive rear trail tire that is worthy of the Maxxis Minion name.The WTB Convict is a durable tire for aggressive downhill and enduro riding.
Rating Categories Maxxis Minion DHF 3C/EXO Maxxis Aggressor 2.3 EXO Maxxis Assegai Maxxis Minion DHR II WTB Convict
Cornering (30%)
10
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9
10
0
8
10
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9
10
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8
10
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9
Braking Traction (20%)
10
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8
10
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8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
Pedaling Traction (20%)
10
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8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
Longevity (15%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
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8
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8
10
0
8
Weight (10%)
10
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7
10
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9
10
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4
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7
10
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4
Installation (5%)
10
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8
10
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8
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8
Totals (%)
10
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10
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10
10
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10
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10
Specs Maxxis Minion DHF... Maxxis Aggressor... Maxxis Assegai Maxxis Minion DHR II WTB Convict
Front, Rear, or Both Front, Both Rear Both Rear Both
Weight (g) 870 885 1303 917 1269
Casing Options EXO EXO EXO EXO Tough
Compound Maxx Terra Dual 3C MaxxGrip 3C Maxx Terra Duel DNA
Bead Foldable Foldable Foldable Foldable TCS Tough
Tread Count (TPI) 60 60 60 60

November 2018 Update
We've updated our mountain bike tires review with several new competitors. We've reconfirmed many of our award winners and found some new favorites. The Maxxis Minion DHR II is a new Top Pick Award winner and an excellent rear tire for aggressive riders looking for great cornering grip and braking performance. We also tested a couple of gravity oriented tires in the WTB Convict and the Maxxis Assegai. It was a close battle for our Top Pick for Gravity Riders Award, and in the end the Assegai took the honors with outstanding cornering grip and braking traction in a very durable, albeit heavyweight, package. The Maxxis Minion DHF and Maxxis Aggressor remain as our Editor's Choice Award winners with the Specialized Butcher Grid and Specialized Slaughter Grid holding strong as our Best Buys.

Best Overall Front Tire


Maxxis Minion DHF 3C/EXO


Editors' Choice Award

$64.98
(17% off)
at Amazon
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 30% 9
  • Braking Traction - 20% 8
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Installation - 5% 8
Excellent cornering grip
Good on front or rear
Dual compound increases longevity
Durable, supportive EXO casing
Not awesome on hardpack
High rolling resistance
Moderately expensive
Requires good technique

Size Tested: 27.5" x 2.3" | Weight: 870g

The Maxxis Minion DHF is our recommendation for a burly and aggressive front end. The DHF is a workhorse of a tire that nearly everyone can appreciate. From enduro racers to weekend warriors, this beefy tire inspires high levels of confidence. We'd even go so far as saying that this tire has the potential to take an intermediate rider to the next level. This tire is most at home when leaned into a turn aggressively with a substantial row of large side knobs that grip through corners. This may take a little getting used to for some, but we guarantee once you experience the sensation of this tire locking into a turn you'll have a hard time going back. Its sturdy casing and mix of tread compounds provide great 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. After more than 120 miles on all sorts of terrain, the tread still looks fresh.

We love the DHF as a front tire, but it's suitable for use in the rear as well. As a rear tire, it has great pedal and braking traction but has a relatively high level of rolling resistance. 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.

Read review: Maxxis Minion DHF

Best Overall Rear Tire


Maxxis Aggressor 2.3 EXO


Editors' Choice Award

$44.29
(29% off)
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 30% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 8
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • Weight - 10% 9
  • Installation - 5% 8
Versatile
Affordable
Great all-around use
Intermediate tread height
Fast rolling
Outperformed in super loose conditions

Size Tested: 27.5" x 2.3" | Weight: 885g

We were introduced to the Maxxis Aggressor when it came spec'd on the Yeti SB5.5. This newer model has powered Richie Rude to Enduro World Series wins and boasts fast rolling speed while retaining solid cornering bite. If you've ever seen footage of Rude ride, he's built like a linebacker and rides with an especially aggressive style as if he's angry at the trail. The Aggressor has a versatile tread pattern which 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 unique pattern of medium height knobs with unramped sharp front edges that meet the ground with authority, providing plenty of bite and traction, despite being so slight. A stout row of side knobs handle the job 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's Double Down casing option as well. We felt this tire was the best balance of rolling resistance, grip, and traction offered in the entire test and we expect to see a lot more of these tires out on the trail very soon.

There are more aggressive rear tires on the market, and if you ride in especially loose or wet conditions primarily there may be better options for you. The Aggressor's medium height tread does well in most conditions, but there are better choices for braking traction when it gets super loose.

Read review: Maxxis Aggressor

Top Pick Rear Tire for Aggressive Riders


Maxxis Minion DHR II


Top Pick Award

$53.60
(35% off)
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 30% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 9
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Installation - 5% 8
Braking bite
Cornering abilities
Confidence inspiring
Rolling speed
Slightly heavier

Size Tested: 27.5" x 2.4" | Weight: 917g

The Maxxis Minion DHR II is an aggressive rear tire with mediocre rolling speed but terrific cornering grip and excellent braking traction. Riders in muddy or especially loose areas might be concerned that the award-winning Maxxis Aggressor might not be the best choice for a rear tire. The Maxxis Minion DHR II is the perfect solution. It sacrifices 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 siped paddle-shaped knobs of the center tread.

The Minion DHR II was designed for use as a rear tire, 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 Bang for the Buck Front Tire


Specialized Butcher Grid


Best Buy Award

$60 List
List Price
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 30% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 8
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 7
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Installation - 5% 9
Affordable
Good all-around performance
Good cornering traction
Side knobs may wear quickly
Moderately supportive sidewalls

Size Tested: 27.5" x 2.6" | Weight: 976g

We couldn't help but draw comparisons between the Specialized Butcher Grid and the Editors' Choice Maxxis Minion DHF. They both have a strikingly similar tread patterns and share comparable ride characteristics. While the cornering ability of the Minion DHF takes the cake, the Butcher is no slouch. All of the tread knobs are tall and stout and provide excellent bite into a variety of surfaces including loose conditions. It has an even feel as you transition from the center tread to the cornering knobs which grip and track predictably through turns. The large tread knobs have squared off edges and vertical braking surfaces for a controlled and consistent braking traction. The soft Gripton tread compound feels planted on loose ground and rock faces alike and simply doesn't slip.

During a previous complete bike review, we tested the Control casing version of the Butcher and were much less impressed. The Grid casing is more supportive and durable, and the overall performance of the tire is far better. Sixty dollars, you say? Please, just take our money. Selecting this mountain bike tire as our Best Buy was a no-brainer.

Read review: Specialized Butcher Grid

Best Bang for the Buck Rear Tire


Specialized Slaughter Grid


Best Buy Award

$60 List
List Price
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 30% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 7
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 7
  • Longevity - 15% 6
  • Weight - 10% 9
  • Installation - 5% 9
Affordable
Good cornering
Fast rolling
Lightweight
Low profile center tread doesn't provide the best traction
Fair braking performance
Side knobs wear quickly

Size Tested: 27.5" x 2.3" | Weight: 831g

One of the new breed of semi-slick tire designs, the Slaughter Grid was designed to have little rolling resistance while still maintaining a relatively high level of cornering grip. By using the same side knob profile as the Butcher Grid and paring down the center tread, the Slaughter Grid is a fast rolling tire that excels in turns. The tire's center tread is low profile and tightly packed, resulting in a tire that rolls quickly with great traction on harder surfaces. Cornering grip is excellent thanks to the beefy row of side knobs and rewards riders who lean their bikes into turns with an edgy and locked-in feel.

This tire's fast rolling center tread results in less pedal and braking traction in loose conditions when compared with more aggressive tread designs. Riders who approach corners timidly may also find this tire to feel a bit drifty during the transition to the side knobs. That said, this is a fast rolling tire with great cornering ability, and is the winner of our Best Buy Award for a rear tire.

Read review: Specialized Slaughter Grid

Top Pick for Gravity Riders


Maxxis Assegai


Top Pick Award

$72.00
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 30% 9
  • Braking Traction - 20% 9
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • Weight - 10% 4
  • Installation - 5% 8
Outstanding cornering
Tons of traction
Durable supportive sidewalls
Very heavy
Expensive

Size Tested: 27.5" x 2.5" | Weight: 1303g

The Assegai is a new 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 beefy DH casing, an ultra-aggressive tread, sticky Maxx Grip rubber, and the heavy weight that comes along with all of that. It is one of the best cornering tires our testers have ever used. Despite its square profile, the Assegai rolls easily into corners hooks up and grips in all conditions thanks to the tall row of burly side knobs. It shares some tread design with the Minion DHF, but it has more tread in the transitional zone which give it even more cornering grip on firm surfaces and at less aggressive lean angles. The DH casing is very supportive and durable allowing for lower tires pressures with no tire roll and little fear of pinch flatting. Traction is very impressive and braking is confident and predictable thanks to the tall and aggressive tread knobs, squared edges, generous siping, and grippy rubber.

This type of traction, cornering performance, and durability come at a serious weight penalty, and the Assegai 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.


Analysis and Test Results


When you buy a complete bike, tires are chosen for you and are spec'd from one manufacturer. Other than when your bike is brand new, you're free to choose any tires you want, even mix and match tires from different manufacturers. Tires are sold individually, so unless you've got some particular brand loyalty, there are a lot of options to choose from. There's quite a bit to consider when choosing new tires for your bike. Factors like your riding style, the trails you ride, conditions, weight, traction, cornering, and durability all should play a role in the tires you ultimately go with. Tires are often overlooked, but getting the right ones can improve your bike's handling, performance, and possibly take your riding to the next level. Some seasoned mountain bikers have a stack of tires to draw from depending on the terrain and trail conditions they plan to encounter on any given day. Lots of different tires can play well with one another, so don't limit yourself. Feel free to put a Schwalbe in front and a Specialized on the back, its your bike and you can do whatever you like.

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 with the intention of riding 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 conditions you ride in and hopefully enhance your riding experience.

Value


Before the rubber hits the dirt, you'll be putting down some coin for said rubber - make the most of it. We're dealing with a product category here prone to specialization, so if you're looking for something other than an all-arounder make sure to read up on our Top Picks for tires that do specific jobs really well.

A good budget front/rear combo is the Butcher Grid and Slaughter Grid from Specialized. If you can deal with paying a bit more, the Aggressor 2.3 EXO and Minion DHF 3C/EXO from Maxxis are exceptional.


Types of Mountain Bike Tires


Front 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 with the rolling surface and you can run lower tire pressures to enhance this even further.
Some of our favorite front tires; top to bottom - Specialized Butcher (Best Buy)  Maxxis Minion DHF (Editors' Choice)  Schwalbe Hans Dampf (Top Pick).
Some of our favorite front tires; top to bottom - Specialized Butcher (Best Buy), Maxxis Minion DHF (Editors' Choice), Schwalbe Hans Dampf (Top Pick).

Rear Tires

Many tires can be used as either a front or rear tire, while some have been 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 less emphasis typically placed on the rear tire's ability to corner.

Three of the fastest rolling tires in our test. From left to right  the Schwalbe Rock Razor  Maxxis Aggressor  and Specialized Slaughter. Note the differences in tread design. While they each roll fast  the Aggressor has far superior braking capabilities due to its taller center tread and more open spacing.
Three of the fastest rolling tires in our test. From left to right, the Schwalbe Rock Razor, Maxxis Aggressor, and Specialized Slaughter. Note the differences in tread design. While they each roll fast, the Aggressor has far superior braking capabilities due to its taller center tread and more open spacing.

Semi-slicks
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 been seen 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


Tire Size
Pretty much everything you need to know is printed right there on the sidewall.  Look here first when buying a tire.
Pretty much everything you need to know is printed right there on the sidewall. Look here first when buying a tire.

All the tires in our test are 27.5 inch tires. We chose this size for consistency and the fact that it is the most popular wheel size at the moment. Most of the tires in this test are also available in 29-inch and 26-inch versions and will likely provide a very similar performance regardless of the difference in wheel size.

Tire Width
The casing on the Trail King had a bit of a beer belly.  This tire is a 2.2 according to the sidewall measurement but measured much larger as the casing is wider than the tread.
The casing on the Trail King had a bit of a beer belly. This tire is a 2.2 according to the sidewall measurement but measured much larger as the casing is wider than the tread.
We selected tires in the 2.25 inch 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 30-mm internal diameter DT Swixx E1900 Spline wheelset. We feel 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 their own technology and name for how they choose to protect a tire with its casing. Whether it be EXO (Maxxis) 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.

Continental's Protection is one example of a sidewall casing design intended to enhance the abrasion and cut resistance of a tire.
Continental's Protection is one example of a sidewall casing design intended to enhance the abrasion and cut resistance of a tire.

Cornering


Front Tire

our Editors' Choice Maxxis Minion DHF features a pronounced transitional zone and scored highest for cornering. Going from the center tread onto the side knobs, the rider may notice a "dead" zone about halfway through the lean. The feeling results from passing over the channel between the tread knobs on the crown of the tire on the way to the big side knobs. More aggressive riders will likely be less affected by this than novices who often corner with less commitment and lean the bike over less. An aggressive rider will pass through the transitional zone very quickly when cornering, angling and leaning the bike hard into the corner. This aggressive riding style allows the large side knobs to dig into the dirt and hold a hard line through corners.



Sandy corners are often armored with pavers  presenting an interesting challenge. Riders might opt for a big knobby tire to optimize performance in loose ground; in turn  it may feel a bit tipsy on the hard pavers.
Sandy corners are often armored with pavers, presenting an interesting challenge. Riders might opt for a big knobby tire to optimize performance in loose ground; in turn, it may feel a bit tipsy on the hard pavers.

For those embracing the drift, another selection could include the Continental Trail King. We liked the performance of this tire but had issues with its casing, having it warp out of shape on more than one occasion. We suspect lighter, less aggressive riders would be less likely to push this tire hard enough to deform it. We also felt the balloonish casing didn't allow us to achieve the lean angles of the Schwalbe tire as the sidewall width exceeded the width of the tread. This also made the tire more subject to damage when pushed through tight spaces.

Those preferring a more "locked in" feel might also be well suited grabbing a Specialized Butcher Grid off the shelf. At a significantly lower price, this tire performed remarkably similar to the Minion DHF. The WTB Vigilante is also a good choice but we found its large side knobs a bit squirmy on firmer ground. If looser, soft terrain is where you spend your time, it may be worth a look.

The Butcher Grid was the biggest surprise of the test. We approached the tire with skepticism but became instant fans. A great tire at an even better price.
The Butcher Grid was the biggest surprise of the test. We approached the tire with skepticism but became instant fans. A great tire at an even better price.

For the gravity riding crowd, both the WTB Convict and Maxxis Assegai were outstanding in the corners. Tall and aggressive side knobs supported by extra beefy sidewalls helped both of these tires get the highest of marks in our cornering rating. When it came down to it, the Assegai just barely took the lead for its outrageous grip in all conditions.

Rear Tire

If we were forced to pick one 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 Editor's Choice Maxxis Aggressor hands down. We feel this tire provides the best combination of traction and rolling speed an has a huge bandwidth in terms of conditions. While other tires may handle specific conditions better, say the Michelin Wild Grip'r, in extremely sandy and loose terrain, the Aggressor rarely leaves us wanting. The medium profile center tread allows for exceptional pedaling efficiency and low rolling resistance, all the 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.

This ride featured sandy turns down low  fresh snow up high  and tacky hero-dirt in the middle. The Aggressor is an all-conditions tire.
This ride featured sandy turns down low, fresh snow up high, and tacky hero-dirt in the middle. The Aggressor is an all-conditions tire.

For riders with deep pockets who are only concerned with speed and carving up berms, look no further than the Schwalbe Rock Razor. The low-profile crown tread is reminiscent of a Kenda Small Block 8 with consistently spaced small knobs. Sharp, deep side knobs frame the center tread and once the tire is leaned into a turn, it locks in like a ski carving a turni.

A good combo  the Schwalbe Rock Razor in the rear with a drifty Hans Dampf in the front.
A good combo, the Schwalbe Rock Razor in the rear with a drifty Hans Dampf in the front.

Pedal Traction


Front Tire

Pedaling forces are applied through the rear tire while the front tire is pushed along, guiding the bike along its journey. In essence, what we describe here are the behaviors of the various front tires as they navigate terrain. Our Editors' Choice Maxxis Minion DHF is our favorite tire for all-conditions riding. The majority of our testing took place over a very dry California summer. Trails were mostly 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.


Other aggressively knobbed tires like the Michelin Wild Grip'r and the WTB Vigilante are great performers as well in loose terrain but are a bit more unnerving when things firm up. The tall and soft side knobs of the Wild Grip'r offer little support on rock and our confidence decreased with their lack of traction through technical rock gardens. It was, however, a fan favorite in extremely sandy corners that we found in abundance at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park.

The Specialized Butcher is a high performance tire at a low cost.
The Specialized Butcher is a high performance tire at a low cost.

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 Hans Dampf and Trail King perform better in these cases with smaller knobs that don't give the rider a feeling of riding high of 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 you ride and tire you choose. 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 Michelin Wild Grip'r will "get 'er done." The semi-slick designs of the Schwalbe Rock Razor and Specialized Slaughter simply don't have the aggressive knobs to dig for traction where there is none.

Fast  punchy climbing out of the saddle can make the rear wheel spin  especially with tires like the Specialized Slaughter (that have a smaller center tread).
Fast, punchy climbing out of the saddle can make the rear wheel spin, especially with tires like the Specialized Slaughter (that have a smaller center tread).

Again, the moderate height center tread, squared off edges, and siped knobs of the Maxxis Aggressor provided us with great pedaling traction on a huge range of surfaces and conditions. From hardpack to loam, this tire hooked when climbing in all but the loosest of conditions. The WTB Trail Boss has a similar level of traction. When things get super loose we're likely to reach for a Maxxis Minion DHR II with a more aggressive center tread design that bites into the soft stuff with even more authority.

The Best Buy Award winning combination went to the Specialized Slaughter Grid (top) and Butcher Grid (bottom).
The Best Buy Award winning combination went to the Specialized Slaughter Grid (top) and Butcher Grid (bottom).

Braking Traction


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 plays the biggest role in how well a tire slows and stops your forward momentum.


Front Tire

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 Maxxis Assegai, the 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 uses deeper, wider slits on the center that could hardly be classified as sipes. Whatever you choose to call them, they do a good job at slowing the tire down in a controlled manner without skipping or glancing off objects.

Rear Tire

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 its 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.

The same low profile tread designs that make semi-slick tires roll so quickly has the unfortunate side effect of making them brake poorly. In dry and loose conditions, aside form beefier side knobs, there's not much tread to grab dirt and slow the descent of these tires as they blaze down a mountainside. The focus instead is to enhance forward progress, not impede it. So naturally, the pared-down center treads of the WTB Trail Boss, Specialized Slaughter, and Schwalbe Rock Razor are about as effective as the emergency brake on your car. Granted, the stopping power of these tires is greatly enhanced on firm ground where the low tread height allows a large contact patch with the ground.

It didn't take much to lock up the rear wheel when things got wet and snowy.
It didn't take much to lock up the rear wheel when things got wet and snowy.

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. A matched pair of the Specialized Butchers or either of the Continentals are combinations we see out on the trails all the time. If you have gotten this far in the review and haven't run out to buy one yet, you could always meet braking power and fast-rolling in the middle and slap a Maxxis Aggressor on your whip and be done with it.

Rolling Resistance


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, 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. Our favorite among the bunch was the Rock Razor with it's alternating 4,3 low-profile center tread framed by large aggressive side knobs. This tire scoots along at a furious pace and rails corners like a carving knife.

As center tread height increases, so too does the rolling resistance. Tires with medium height center tread profiles strike a good balance between their traction properties and rolling resistance. The WTB Trail Boss and Maxxis Aggressor are good examples of this. Both are versatile tires that have better traction than full-on semi-slicks, yet roll nearly as fast.

Who can focus on rolling resistance with a view like that?
Who can focus on rolling resistance with a view like that?

More aggressive treads and softer rubber compounds have a tendency to roll more slowly. Tires like the Schwalbe Magic Mary, WTB Convict, and Maxxis Assegai eat corners alive, but they also roll much slower than most of the competition.

Longevity


Let's face it, mountain bike tires are expensive. Even our Best Buy Award winning tires are not cheap and they only go up from there. We want our tires to last, and we imagine you probably do too. After heavy use, we rated each of our test tires on their durability based on the visible wear of their tread and casing. Manufacturers use different rubber compounds and casing constructions in their tires, and some are clearly more durable than others. Softer rubber compounds tend to wear more quickly, and thinner sidewalls and casings tend to be easier to flat. How quickly a tire wears out is somewhat subjective and a function of how much, how hard, where, and what conditions you ride in.


Overall, we found Maxxis tires to be a little more durable than the competition across the board. Their EXO casing is beefy and supportive enough for most riders, and their rubber compounds tend to wear evenly and rarely prematurely. From a casing standpoint, the most durable tires in our test are those designed for gravity riding. The Maxxis Assagai, and WTB Convict both have super thick sidewalls and more puncture resistant casings, but also weigh more than any other tires in our test. Schwalbe tires often impress us with their cornering performance and traction, but rarely with their longevity. The Hans Dampf, for example, has a great predictable drift cornering feel, but the side knobs to tend a wear a bit more quickly than the competition and the Snakeskin sidewalls are susceptible to abrasion and puncture.

Installation


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.

Swapping out tires in the parking lot at Mammoth.  Compare  contrast  repeat.
Swapping out tires in the parking lot at Mammoth. Compare, contrast, repeat.

In some cases we found it to be beneficial to warm the tires in the sun before attempting installation. Continental tires, for example, have an odd, plastic feel to them that's especially evident when cold and the bead doesn't quite take its round shape until warmed.


With the exception of the Schwalbes and the Continentals, most of the other tires were easy to get on the rim and seat without the use of a compressor. WTB tires, Specialized tires, and Maxxis tires all score highly in terms of installation. We feel that they can be installed at home, and even in a parking lot in a pinch so long as you've got a floor pump.

Some of the many tires in our mountain bike tire test. We could use some more wheels!
Some of the many tires in our mountain bike tire test. We could use some more wheels!

Conclusion


There's a lot to consider when choosing new mountain bike tires. We hope our detailed comparative review helps you in your quest to find the right tires for your trail bike that best suit your riding style, needs, and budget.


Jeremy Benson