How to choose the right mountain bike tire

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Many of the MTB riders, whether beginners or advanced, often asked themselves the question: What tires should I use?

If for the experienced riders the question is more a rhetorical one, for beginners it is a little bit harder because of the great variety of models existing on the market.

Big, thick and with knobs seem to be the ideal recipe for MTB tires. But things are not so simple: sometimes we need a good traction and all we want is to get safely downhill, other times we want to get home faster and the knobs are only making it harder. But, it is necessary to make a compromise so we are here to help you take the best decisions.

Depending on what type of terrain you will be going there are slick tires some even without knobs and mud tires that are large, slightly pointed and with well spaced knobs. Most of the times the best choice is somewhere in between so, let’s see the main types of tires and what they are good for:

Slick tires

For those that want to use their MTB exclusively on the road, there are tires that look like road bike tires, without knobs and sometimes with small water evacuation canals. Those with 29s can use road tires, if the rims are not to wide. This type of tires can also be used on rocky roads but only if there is no mud or damp. Example: any road tire that matches your wheel.

slick-mtb-tireSemi- slick tires

Here we have tires with very small knobs on the rolling profile. These are ok if besides the city roads you also go on forest trails that are fairly flat. For those that want to have a lighter bike these tires can also be used in dry land competitions. Example: Continental Speed King, Schwalbe Furious Fred.

smi-slick-mtb-tiresRace tires

This tires have pretty small knobs in the middle of rolling profile and larger knobs on the side. They offer a great speed and on muddy trails when changing direction the side knobs are of great help. These tires are best used especially in competitions. To be noted that beginners should not use them on technical terrains. The tires are ok for city road but wear off really quickly. Example: Schwalbe Racing Ralph, Continental Race King, Maxxis Ikon, Michelin Wild Racer.

mtb-race-tiresPolyvalent tires

These tires have pretty serious knobs on the rolling profile, that are placed for better rolling resistance. They represent a great compromise between traction and speed. If you like technical terrains but also need an efficient bike, this model should be your first choice. Example: Continental X-King, Schwalbe Rocket Ron.

multi-use-mtb-tiresXC knobby tires

This type of tires have good traction in almost any condition, because of the big knobs. The drag is pretty great, but you can still use them in an XC competition. They are great ties for those that want to feel safe and are not in a big hurry to finish the race. Example: Continental Mountain King, Schwalbe Nobby Nic, Michelin Wild Gripr.

xc-large-knobs-mtb-marathon-tiresFreeride and DH tires

The freeride and DH tires are much like the previous ones, but have bigger knobs and better grip. These tires should be used only for downhills on technical terrains. Example: Continental Der Baron şi Der Kaiser, Schwalbe Dirty Dan şi Muddy Marry, Michelin Wild Rockr.

freeride-and-downhill-tiresMud tires

Here we have two types of tires: slim for XC and wide tires for DH or trail. Their main characteristic is big and spaced knobs in order to release the mud. Usually they are slimmer than the usual tires with a 2 inch width. Example: Schwalbe Dirty Dan, Continental Mud King, Maxxis Beaver, Michelin Wild Mud.

mud-tiresThe width of the tire

The new tendency is to install a wide tire with low air pressure in order to have minimum resistance when moving forward and maximum grip off road. Also, riders often like to install a wider tire on the front wheel. For XC bikes tires usually are 2.1, 2.2 or 2.25, maybe even 2.4 on front wheel. Over 2.4 we talk about tires designed for downhill and extreme trails. A new category is the one with 2.8 or even 3.0 width. These tires have fantastic grip but are not the most efficient ones when it comes to peddling as the XC models. The last category is represented by tires over 3 (for FatBike), ideally for snow and sand. An interesting thing is that generally tires over 27.5 can be replaced with  29×2.1, having the same external diameter.

Internal structure and type of tire used

The most important types of tires are: the rigid and the folding ones. The rigid tires have a metallic structure, are cheap but offer very bad rolling resistance. The foldable tires are definitely superior. Tires with a higher TPI construction are of higher quality and provide a more supple feel because they conform to the terrain better, low TPI can feel less flexible.

Regarding the rubber they are made of, tires differ in price. The expensive tires use superior materials such as Black Chilli Compound from Continental or GumX from Michelin.

A good choice for amateurs are the basica foldable models. I never understood the wired tires, they are rigid, you get a flat tire really quickly, so I don’t recommend them.

Protection and flat tire

Producers offer different types of protections. These protections usually make the tire more expensive, so a balance should be made between budget and necessities. A lighter tire and with good protection is very expensive and not always worth it.

Tubeless ready/tubeless/normale

The most used ones are tubeless ready because they have a sealed structure that does not allow the air to get out. The tubeless UST models are very expensive and heavy and almost endangered. For MTB I always recommend the tubeless tires because of the numerous advantages: great rolling over rough terrain, increased comfort, flat tire protection, small weight.

As you can see, choosing the tire is not an easy job, but I hope the tips I gave you might help, especially if you’re new at this.

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