Mountain bike tires have a tough job. In fact, it’s arguable that they have a tougher job than any other component on a mountain bike. They should offer traction in the model’s intended terrain, but still roll fast and not take too much energy to pedal. Tires should be tougher than square or knife-like rocks and resist punctures, but again, not be too heavy. They should offer a worry-free transition from center to corner knobs, offer a reasonable amount of damping, and also help us stop faster.
Summed up, they should help us accelerate, stay on the trail, hold up to abuse, slow down, and help soften the ride. Or, they should enhance the pedaling, suspension, and braking of the bike, all in one piece of rubber that is typically priced from $50-$100. That is a tall set of orders.
At Singletracks, we’re lucky to test a lot of different tires so we can inform readers about how they perform. We understand that sometimes tire choice comes down to being a Chevy or a Ford person, but there’s a heck of a lot of choices out there. In this article we’ve gathered some of the favorites that we’ve been able to try over the past year or so.
For each tire below, we include a heading to specify our ideal use case for the tire.
Maxxis Minion DHF/DHRII
Best tire for enduro
Whether it’s the downhill rear or downhill front, the Minion is a versatile and tough tire, and more often than not, the choice for aggressive trail and enduro riders who want a balance of rolling speed from the DHRII and a tough and sticky front tire like the DHF.
For example, the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt comes with DHRIIs front and rear, for a fast rolling, but aggressive handling and tough spec, while a rear Minion SS with a DHRII in the front could be an even faster setup for XC.
The options for all Minions range from double compound tread, with EXO single-ply, to triple-compound, sticky tread with dual-ply sidewalls.
Best tire for loose descents
When WTB redesigned the Vigilante last year, they went all out on a modern front tire for aggressive mountain biking. Previously the tire was only available in a 2.3-inch width, and the brand released the new version in June 2018 in 2.5- and 2.6-inch widths.
I tested the tire out during the launch at Silver Mountain Bike Park in Kellogg, Idaho and it quickly became a new favorite front tire. The Vigilantes are meaty, tough, roll well, and the transitional knobs make it easy to lean low, while keeping enough spacing to shed mud.
Later on in 2018, WTB released a 2.8-inch Vigilante, which should only increase directional confidence. The new TriTec triple compound comes with some sticky cornering knobs, and the Vigilante are offered in 27.5- and 29-inch wheel sizes, with fast rolling, high traction, and tough or light casing options.
Best all-around trail and XC tire
It’s hard to argue with the Ardent’s worth as a cross-country and trail bike tire. It’s fast, it works as a front and rear tire, and it corners well.
The Ardent has also been a Singletracks reader favorite for a long time. While it may not be the best tire for the most technically aggressive rides, it remains a standard for everyday rides and many, many OEM-specced trail bikes.
The Race version also cuts some height off the knobs for an even faster tire.
The Ardent is siped sparingly to balance speed and traction and has blocky side knobs for cornering confidence and grip. There are a ton of options for the Ardent, also. It comes in a single or a double-compound tread, with or without EXO sidewalls, tubeless ready (or not), and with foldable or wire beads. Go with the skinwall version for a classic look.
Best tire for gravity riding
With a tread pattern like this, it’s easy to tell what the Martello is meant for. The big, blocky tread started life as a pattern for Vittoria DH tires. Each knob has two or three sipes, and they’re soft up top with a very firm base. The tread pattern on the Martello closely resembles a square and blocky dirt bike tire.
Jeff got to try the Martello tires on his home trails, and the tire ended up as a new favorite, especially up front.
Running the tire in the rear ended up being a little too soft and heavy for everyday trail riding, but a Martello on the front and rear should be a winning combination for bike park riding.
The Martellos first came in 27.5- and 29-inch diameters with a 2.35-inch width, but Vittoria now offers a plus size, 2.8-inch option, which might be an even better choice for punching through loose dirt or steering over scattered roots.
Best tire for riding fast in tough conditions
Semi-slick tires are an interesting breed that combines a fast-rolling center with downhill cornering knobs. The result is a tire that keeps its speed on straight-a-ways and through loose corners. Intended use can range from trail riding to downhill on buff courses.
Gerow tested this tire shortly after its release. The LG1 semi-slick “is fantastic for most conditions, it’s reasonably priced compared to other sturdy gravity treads, and it is built to last. If you are looking for a faster-rolling option that won’t compromise braking and cornering traction, the e*thirteen LG1 EN Semi-Slick is definitely worth its weight.”
The center knobs on the e*thirteen LG1 semi-slick tires are short and packed. They also keep a slight ramp for better rolling speed. There are small sipes on every center knob for better traction, and diagonal siping on the tall cornering knobs.
The tires come in a range of options from a lighter single-ply casing to a heftier double-ply, and there are dual compound options. The LG1 semi-slicks are also optimal for a wide range of rim widths, from 24mm to 31mm, depending on your riding style.