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The Best Mountain Bike Tires

The Maxxis Minion DHR 27.5 x 2.4" rear tire is a traction dream come true.
Wednesday September 18, 2019
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Are you trying to find the best mountain bike tires? We researched the top models and rode the tread off 17 different tires to compile this comparative analysis. One can never overstate the importance of a solid set of mountain bike tires. These are a relatively inexpensive component on your bicycle that has an enormous effect on ride quality. Tires are the only part of your bike that makes contact with the trail and can make or break an otherwise amazing bike. We rode each set of tires as much as possible and rated them on performance metrics like cornering, pedal and braking traction, longevity, and ease of installation. Carry on to find the best model for you, your budget, and riding style/conditions.


Top 18 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 18
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  
Price $63.19 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$71.49 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$53.60 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$44.29 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$69.50 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros EXO sidewall protection, excellent cornering grip, good on front and rear, dual compound increases longevityExcellent cornering, unbeatable traction, durable supportive sidewallsExcellent cornering, reasonable weight for size, good braking traction, durableVersatile, affordable, great all-around use, intermediate tread height, fast rollingGreat cornering,excellent pedaling and braking traction, durable,
Cons Not awesome on hardpack, high rolling resistance, moderately expensive, requires good techniqueVery heavy, expensiveHigher rolling resistance, expensive-ishNot the best braking tractionHeavy, slower rolling
Bottom Line The Minion DHF is one of the most popular tires ever, and for good reason.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 Aggressor is an excellent do-it-all rear tire for any kind of riding.The WTB Convict is a durable tire for aggressive downhill and enduro riding.
Rating Categories Maxxis Minion DHF 3C/EXO Maxxis Assegai Maxxis Minion DHR II Maxxis Aggressor 2.3 EXO WTB Convict
Cornering (25%)
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9
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10
10
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8
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8
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9
Pedaling Traction (20%)
10
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8
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7
10
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8
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8
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7
Braking Traction (20%)
10
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8
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9
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9
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7
10
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9
Rolling Resistance (15%)
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5
Longevity (15%)
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8
Installation (5%)
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8
Specs Maxxis Minion DHF... Maxxis Assegai Maxxis Minion DHR II Maxxis Aggressor... WTB Convict
Size tested 27.5" x 2.3" 27.5" x 2.5" 27.5" x 2.4" 27.5" x 2.3" 27.5" x 2.5"
Weight as tested 870g 1303g 917g 885g 1269g
Front, Rear, or Both Front, Both Both Rear Rear Both
Casing Tested EXO EXO EXO EXO Tough
Compound Tested Maxx Terra 3C MaxxGrip 3C Maxx Terra Dual Duel DNA
Bead Foldable Foldable Foldable Foldable TCS Aramid
Tread Count (TPI) 60 60 60 60 2 ply/60

Best Overall Front Tire


Maxxis Minion DHF 3C/EXO


Editors' Choice Award

$63.19
(19% off)
at Amazon
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 9
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 8
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 7
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • 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. This beefy tire inspires high levels of confidence. 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 to anything else. 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. 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


Editors' Choice Award

$44.29
(29% off)
at Amazon
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 8
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 7
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 8
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • 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

The Maxxis 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 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'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.

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

79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 8
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 8
  • Braking Traction - 20% 9
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 6
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • 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 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.

The Minion DHR II was 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 Bang for the Buck Front Tire


Specialized Butcher Grid


Best Buy Award

$60 List
List Price
See It

77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 8
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 7
  • Braking Traction - 20% 8
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 7
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • 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 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. These tires are also an impressive value, selecting it as our Best Buy was a no-brainer.

Read review: Specialized Butcher Grid

Best Bang for the Buck Rear Tire


Specialized Purgatory GRID


Best Buy Award

$60 List
List Price
See It

71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 7
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 7
  • Braking Traction - 20% 6
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 8
  • Longevity - 15% 8
  • Installation - 5% 7
Affordable
Good cornering
Reasonably fast-rolling
Lightweight
The casing may be too weak for some
Not as fast-rolling as some tires

Size Tested: 29" x 2.6" | Weight: 964g

The Specialized Purgatory GRID is a great rear tire at an impressive price. This tire blends some of the attributes of the fast-rolling rear tires with the bite and aggressive attitude of the more burly rear tires. In essence, the Purgatory rolls fast but also has great breaking bite and more confidence with things get slippery or loose. It is also reasonably lightweight, tipping the scales at 964 grams in the 29" x 2.6" size we tested. We feel this tire ticks most of the boxes and has a tasty recipe of value and on-trail performance.

Super aggressive riders in rocky locations may find the GRID casing to be a little too flimsy. We have had experience puncturing this casing on more than one occasion. In addition, those obsessed with rolling speed may find this tire isn't fast enough. It holds up well in all settings, but if you're worried about the quickest rear tire, this may not be the best option.

Read review: Specialized Purgatory GRID

Top Pick for Gravity Riders


Maxxis Assegai


Top Pick Award

$71.49
at Amazon
See It

79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 10
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 7
  • Braking Traction - 20% 9
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 5
  • Longevity - 15% 7
  • 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 weight that comes along with it. 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.

Read review: Maxxis Assegai

Top Pick for XC Trail Riding


Maxxis Ardent EXO


Top Pick Award

$52.80
(23% off)
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Cornering - 25% 6
  • Pedaling Traction - 20% 7
  • Braking Traction - 20% 6
  • Rolling Resistance - 15% 9
  • Longevity - 15% 7
  • Installation - 5% 9
Fast-rolling
Relatively lightweight
Excels on hardpack
EXO sidewall protection
Outperformed in loose conditions
Not the best for super aggressive riders or terrain

Size Tested: 29" x 2.4" | Weight: 895g

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 as a rear tire 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 also has good pedaling traction and it hooks up well while climbing in all but the loosest of conditions. The side knobs are arranged in a staggered almost sawtooth pattern, and this tire has excellent predictable cornering traction on hardpack and firm conditions. The EXO casing is 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.

The Ardent isn't the best choice for super aggressive riders or terrain, and our testers found that the lower profile tread pattern doesn't provide nearly as much braking traction as other more aggressive options. The low profile tread and rounded profile can also feel quite vague and doesn't hook up great in loose conditions, especially when cornering. That said, if you value efficiency and ride primarily hardpack or hero dirt conditions we feel the Ardent is worthy of consideration.

Read review:Maxxis Ardent EXO


Testing mountain bike tires takes time and lots of miles.
Testing mountain bike tires takes time and lots of miles.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our mountain bike tire review is led by our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor,Jeremy Benson. This man is a competitive athlete, highly-experienced tester/reviewer, and published author. Benson's mountain bike roots trace back to New England in the early 1990's, 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. He's also authored two books--Mountain Bike Tahoe, and Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes: California.

Pat Donahue also contributed to this review. Pat is a native New Englander who is particularly intrigued by tire choice. This bike shop owner can be found on all sorts of trails at obscure hours of the day but has a strong preference for super rocky ones. If you want to know about puncture and cut resistance in a tire casing, he might be the guy to ask.

Yes, there are hundreds of mountain bike tires on the market. We carefully examined well over 60 tires prior to purchasing our selection. After that, we identified the main areas of interest when rating a mountain bike. This includes cornering prowess, pedaling and braking traction, rolling resistance, and ease and/or difficulty of installation. With these important performance metrics in mind, we rode the tread off of these tires. We paid great attention to how well, or poorly, each tire performed in each metric. We used standard test loops to ensure each tire was ridden on the same soil, rock, and condition. When the dust settled, some models stood out and others faded into the undesirable realm of mediocrity. We hope our findings can be helpful in finding the right mountain bike tire for you.

Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Tires


Analysis and Test Results


When you purchase a bicycle, tire selection is made for you by the manufacturer. When you start burning through sets of rubber, you are free to make the ever-important tire choice on your own. It is critical to consider key factors like your riding style, trails and conditions, and your preference on weight and cornering style. In other words, there are many factors to consider. We hope this comparative analysis helps make sense of it all.

Related: Buying Advice for Mountain Bike Tires

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 to 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 that is 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 Purgatory 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 on the rolling surface and you can run lower tire pressures to enhance this even further.

Front tires are responsible for more of the steering and cornering duties  and they do a fair amount of the braking work as well.
Front tires are responsible for more of the steering and cornering duties, and they do a fair amount of the braking work as well.

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.

The rear tire is responsible for the brunt of pedaling and braking traction.
The rear tire is responsible for the brunt of pedaling and braking traction.

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.

Semi-slick tires have lower profile treads in the center to decrease rolling resistance with sturdy side knobs for confident cornering.
Semi-slick tires have lower profile treads in the center to decrease rolling resistance with sturdy side knobs for confident cornering.

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.

The majority of 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. We've sprinkled in a couple of 29-inch tires recently out of convenience, and we feel that the performance of a tire between different wheel sizes will be roughly the same.

Tire Width
Tires are trending wider and so are our test models. Wider tires have more air volume and provide more damping and traction.
Tires are trending wider and so are our test models. Wider tires have more air volume and provide more damping and traction.
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), 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 and your trail conditions and terrain.

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. The WTB Vigilante earns an honorable mention in the cornering metric. We found performance to be right there with the Minion DHF. 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 Minion DHF making it more difficult to recommend over the tried-and-true Maxxis.



For those who prefer a fast-rolling front tire, the Continental Trail King is an okay option. The Trail King doesn't look like a big, aggressive, front tire. If you place it next to the Maxxis Minion DHF or WTB Vigilante, it doesn't have the same big, burly shoulder knobs. Well, they say to never judge a book by its cover and this tire is a great example of this. The Trail King cornered surprisingly well in many settings. This is not the tire to mount up on the front of an enduro bike to go ride some proper gnar. That said, it could work well on a light-mid duty trail bike on buff trails. You can lean this tire over surprisingly far before it stutters. We don't recommend it for wet rocks and roots.

The Minion DHF is our favorite front tire for its predictable and locked-in cornering feel.
The Minion DHF is our favorite front tire for its predictable and locked-in cornering feel.

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 and WTB Vigilante at a reasonable weight and significantly lower price tag.

The Butcher hooks up well in corners and handles loose conditions quite well.
The Butcher hooks up well in corners and handles loose conditions quite well.

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 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 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, 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.

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.

Those who want a relatively fast-rolling rear tire, but aren't ready to go to an almost semi-slick like the Aggressor, might consider the Specialized Purgatory GRID. The Purgatory has compacted knobs on the tread for rolling speed, but it still has great braking bite and traction. This is a nice middle-ground for a rider in damp conditions who may find the Aggressor a little squirrely. 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 nice bite in the corners.

The Maxxis Minion DHR II is our top pick for a rear tire for aggressive riders. This tire has large paddle-shaped center tread lugs that provide outstanding braking traction with a row of stout side knobs that hook up and track very well through corners. Pair this tire with a Minion DHF up front for the ultimate trail riding combo.

Those wide paddle-shaped lugs in the center tread dig in effectively  especially in loose conditions.
Those wide paddle-shaped lugs in the center tread dig in effectively, especially in loose conditions.

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.


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 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 Minion DHR II 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.

The Aggressor rolls fast and hooks up when climbing in virtually all conditions.
The Aggressor rolls fast and hooks up when climbing in virtually all conditions.

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. We found the Aggressor works best on hardpack, rock, and loam. When things really get loose and steep, the less-aggressive center tread can break free. The WTB Trail Boss has a touch more traction and might be a better choice when things get loose or damp. 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 DHR II just works, plain and simple

Braking traction is hugely important in a tire. Your needs will vary based on where and how you ride.
Braking traction is hugely important in a tire. Your needs will vary based on where and how you ride.

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 from 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.

We like to be in control and we assume you do too. We suggest getting a tire that matches your terrain and riding style.
We like to be in control and we assume you do too. We suggest getting a tire that matches your terrain and riding style.

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 Minion DHFs 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.


The Maxxis Aggressor offers a bit more traction while still maintaining impressive rolling speed. The WTB Trail Boss and Specialized Purgatory are more aggressive rear tires that still deliver decent rolling speed but are not a semi-slick like the Rock Razor or Aggressor. The Maxxis Ardent is another fast and efficient tire, we gave it our Top Pick for XC Style Trail Riding award.

The Ardent is a fast-rolling tire.
The Ardent is a fast-rolling tire.

More aggressive treads and softer rubber compounds have a tendency to roll more slowly. Tires like the Schwalbe Magic Mary, WTB Vigilante, and Maxxis Assegai slay corners, 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 the prices only rise 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 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.

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.


In some cases we found it to be beneficial to warm the tires in the sun before attempting installation. In addition, some of our more stubborn tires called for a little bit of soapy water to coerce the bead to snap on to the rim.

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

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.

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 are plenty of factors to consider when making a purchase decision for a new set of mountain bike tires. Price, longevity, braking bite, rolling-speed, cornering abilities, it can get overwhelming in a hurry. It is important to consider where and how you ride as well as what performance attributes you consider to be the most important when you ride. We hope this review helped simplify the process and you found the tires of your dreams.


Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue