Best Mountain Bike Tires

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

20 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
237 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best mountain bike tires

Last Updated October 2019

Mountain bikes are different from street bikes. Street bikes, or road bikes as they are sometimes called, are designed to be as lightweight as possible. They run fast and put the rider in a low position to reduce aerodynamic drag. The tires for road bikes need to be narrow and as smooth as possible.

Mountain bike tires are a different breed. They need to have plenty of traction, which means they need to be as wide as possible and have a lot of tread to dig deep in soft dirt, mud, or gravel. They also need to be able to absorb a lot of punishment jumping over rocks, limbs, and sharp edges.

Even within the category of mountain bike tires, there are many crucial ways in which one tire is distinct from another. Are you in the market for a new set of mountain bike tires? That’s why we’re here. We understand that choosing the right tire for a mountain bike can be confounding, and we’ve done the research to help you choose the right tires. Keep reading, and we’ll walk you through the information you need to know.

Low-pressure tires work in combination with suspension on the bike to absorb as much shock as possible for the rider.

Key considerations

Tire size

There was a time when 26-inch wheels were pretty much the only game in town. Although 26 inches is still the standard, mountain bikes now use 18-inch, 20-inch, 24-inch, 27.5-inch, and 29-inch tires. A bike designed for 29-inch tires can use the smaller tires, but not the other way around.

Tire width

As people began taking their bikes off the road, they discovered the need for wider tires in order to get better traction. Mountain bike tires can be anywhere from1.75 inches wide to 2.7 inches wide. Manufacturers will provide information about the various widths a bike can use when you buy it. The softer the terrain you’re riding across, the wider the tires you’ll need.

Front tire or back

Beginners may not realize it, but the tread on front and back tires can be radically different. One size doesn’t fit all. Be careful to get the correct tire for each position.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pinch flats occur when a tire doesn’t have enough air pressure in it and the inner tube is pinched between the ground and the rim of the tire.

Features

Knob size and depth

The rubber projections on the tire tread of mountain bike tires are called knobs. Their design affects how they work and which end of the bike you should put a particular tire on.

  • Knob size: Larger knobs aren’t always the best. They provide too much rolling resistance and slow down the bike. Large knobs are also heavy. Extra weight isn’t something you want on your tires.

  • Knob depth: Taller knobs provide deeper, and therefore better, traction. However, they also hamper your rolling speed. Shallow knobs improve your rolling speed but sacrifice traction to do it.
     

Knob size and depth are closely related. Striking the right balance between the two is a delicate balancing act.

Knob shape and design

  • Tapered knobs: Tapered knobs are used for mud or wet conditions. “Tapered” means they are bigger at the bottom (next to the tire) and smaller at the top. They don’t have sharp edges, so mud can’t stick them. This helps them clean themselves as the tire rotates, preventing the tire from becoming too heavy with mud.
     

  • Ramped knobs: These knobs are square with a ramped edge on one side. The ramped side decreases the rolling resistance of the tire, adding speed. The vertical edges provide superior stopping grip when you hit the brakes.
     

  • Micro knobs: These knobs are shallow and compact to reduce weight and increase rolling speed. Tires with micro knobs are popular for cross-country riding. The small knobs let the tread flex more uniformly on rough surfaces, but they do so at the expense of traction on loose ground.
     

  • Darts and chevrons: These are angled and/or pointed knobs used on the outside of the tires and along the edge. They promote cornering efficiency when they’re used on the front tire because they provide a grip on the edges of the tire when it leans over in the turns.
     

  • Knob siping: This is the name for tiny zig-zag cuts on the knobs of the tire. They open and close like tiny jaws when the tire flexes, improving the grip on rough surfaces. Depending on the angles of the siping, they will force the knobs to deform in specific ways when the knob hits the ground.

    Siping is also known as cuts or grooves. Larger ones are added to the knobs to deflect and channel water away from the tread. Their main function is to give extra edges to the knobs for better grip and increased flexibility.
     

  • Stepped edges: Knobs with stepped edges on the front are similar to ramped edges in that they reduce rolling resistance. The steps act like little teeth and can provide good traction on tall knobs. Stepped knobs are somewhat more expensive to manufacture than ramped knobs, so be aware of that.

Knob arrangement

Mountain bike tires have knobs arranged in longitudinal rows that leave long gaps or voids all the way around the tires. These voids act to isolate the outer knobs from the inner ones and create a cornering edge on the tire.

Thread density

The thread density of a tire is known as TPI, or threads per inch. These are nylon threads coated in rubber. They run across the tire at a 45-degree angle from one side to the other. The higher the thread density, the more supple the tire will be. This gives it a lower rolling resistance, but it does so at the cost of being less puncture resistant.

Thread counts from 67 to 127 are considered high counts and are typically used for cross-country riding.

Tubeless tires

Car tires don’t have tubes in them, and manufacturers have taken that same technology to some bicycle tires. Tubeless tires have some advantages.

  • Lower tire pressure for better traction

  • More shock absorption for a smoother ride

  • Reduced weight
     

Tubeless tires are more expensive than tube tires, and they require a sealant and the correct type of rim in order to use them. They can be punctured or go flat just like regular tires can, so you’ll have to take a spare inner tube and pump with you the same as you would otherwise. Sometimes, a patch kit can fix a leak, but you still need a pump when you’re done fixing it.

EXPERT TIP

Kevlar beads are more expensive and flexible than steel beads.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Tubeless tires can be used with an inner tube if the tire gets a flat.


Staff  | BestReviews

Mountain bike tire prices

Low-priced tires start around $12 or $13 up to about $20 per tire. These are tires that don’t have much design in the knobs and their arrangement, or they are using designs that were created 20 years ago and haven’t been updated since then. These tires will probably last for a couple of years.

Medium-priced tires run $30 or $40 apiece for smaller tires with more thoughtful knob design. Higher threads counts for good cross-country riding are found in this price range. Unless you’re a pro, this is probably where you’ll find most of the tires you need. These tires should be good for three to four years, depending on how often you ride.

If you’re a professional or a perfectionist, the high-priced tires from $75 up to $140 will be your cup of tea. High thread counts and excellent knob design and arrangement are found in this category, as are tubeless tires. These are tires that will last four to five years.

Tips

  • Initially put 40 to 50 PSI of air pressure in your tires. Do some riding on them to test the feel. If they’re not getting enough bite, reduce the pressure by 5 PSI and test them again. Repeat this procedure until you find the pressure where you’re getting the best grip.

  • Tubeless tires can run with lower tire pressure than tube tires can because they don’t have to worry about what are called “pinch flats.”

  • Lower air pressure in the tires increases traction and sacrifices speed. Higher pressure increases speed but sacrifices traction.

Another product we considered

We also like the Maxxis Ardent TR EXO Tire, which adapts well to all environments. It has an excellent grip at low pressures without sacrificing rolling speed. It grips and holds equally well in mud, hard pack, and soft material. It has good siping for water displacement in the rain. It works better on the front than on the rear, though.

The angle of cuts and grooves force knobs to flex in a particular direction to improve speed or traction.

FAQ

Q. What is a bead on a tire?

A. The bead is the inner edge of the tire. Air pressure is required to keep the bead properly seated on the rim. The bead provides the anchor point for the threads that cross the tire.

Q. What is the difference between folding tires and non-folding tires?

A. Folding tires have beads made from aramid (a heat-resistant fiber widely used in military applications) or Kevlar. Non-folding beads are made from steel, which also makes them heavier than folding beads.

Q. What hardness of rubber is best for mountain bike tires?

A. Hard rubber compounds roll faster and last longer, whereas softer rubber compounds provide more flexibility and grip. They also wear down faster. Mountain bike tires are made with a combination of rubber types, but the exact types and ratios are well-kept company secrets.

The team that worked on this review
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Michael
    Michael
    Writer

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