The best mountain bike tyres are the critical connection between your bike and the trail and making sure you’ve got the best ones for the given conditions is vital for the best grip, speed and confidence. They need to be able to withstand an almost unimaginable amount of abuse from external influences like rocks and roots and also rider weight along with our inputs like skidding, sliding and casing jumps.
For the most part, they get a really tough time and if not selected correctly to match your discipline can be the deciding factor in your race result or equally make your weekly blast around the trails with your mates a disaster.
The differing constructions required to meet the demand of the multi-disciplines of mountain biking means that the choice and variation of the best mountain bike tyres are vast. Here at off.road.cc to help make sense of all of the options on offer in 2022 we have split the guide down into three separate disciplines covering cross country, trail and enduro tyres.
Not only does each discipline require a particular size, weight and construction, but there are also variations in the compound and tread pattern used to maximise grip and durability, and maintain sidewall strength and support. All this is to ensure you the rider get the best possible performance from your bike no matter what discipline, the trail or weather conditions you ride.
The tyres featured in this extensive guide have all been thoroughly put through their paces during our tests, all scoring four stars out of five or better when we reviewed them so we know they are great and are happy to recommend them. Scroll down to read the full list or hit the links listed below to jump straight to the tyre of your choice.
Best mountain bike tyres for Cross-Country riding
Michelin Jet XC2
For any mountain bikers that have been riding since the early noughties, the Michelin Jet tyre will be a familiar name and perhaps invoke some old memories. This new Michelin Jet XC2 tyre is designed for dry weather cross-country riding. It has the potential to deliver incredible levels of grip regardless of the conditions. As you might expect, it doesn't cope with mud well, and there are question marks about the casing protection, but it is incredible as a race-day summer tyre.
The Schwalbe Wicked Will is a new model that we have tested in the Super Race version. Comparing it to other models within the Schwalbe line-up, it is most similar to the Nobby Nic but with a slightly closer tread pattern. It has proven to be a tyre that combines an impressive mix of abilities, creating a versatile tyre that feels fast enough for long days in the saddle while still providing excellent grip. There is a lot to like about the Wicked Will, especially if your usual riding conditions suit the slightly more packed tread design. It rolls incredibly well for its size and weight.
Best mountain bike tyres for Trail riding
WTB has brought a handful of updates to the previously well-reviewed Verdict, including a new casing, updated puncture protection and revised siping. The Verdict 2.5 is a super-aggressive intermediate tyre that excels on loose surfaces whether it's wet or dry. The support and damping from the TCS Tough casing is up there with the best, and the High Grip compound is excellent. A tyre that grips like Velcro in a surprising range of conditions remain. It rolls impressively well, too, and its price isn’t shabby either.
The Maxxis Minion DHF is a household name in the world of mountain biking. It’s been seen on many a podium yet it’s brilliantly versatile for all kinds of trail and descending use. At its greatest in the dry, it's still excellent in the wet and a predictable, capable performer right up until you're axle-deep in mud. This 2.6in does blow up a little narrow, but that aside, there’s very little to grumble about with the Maxxis Minion DHF – it’s long been a popular tyre and for good reason. It’s tubeless ready, confident in a wide range of conditions and terrains, and top in its class in the dry. If you’re looking for an aggressive yet useable, fit-and-forget tyre that works well on either end of the bike, the Minion DHF should be your first port of call.
The Maxxis Minion SS TR/DD is a rear-specific, semi-slick tyre that’s ideal for dry trails, and the DoubleDown puncture protection adds some well-damped support for aggressive riding. You will notice the SS shares the same side knobs as found on its cousins the Minion DHF and DHR, lean the bike over, and these shoulder knobs engage with the ground pretty instantly, so there’s no vagueness as you’re entering a corner. They also hold surprisingly well over off-camber sections. Fitted to the rear end of your bike it’s grippy and brakes better than others, but this DoubleDown carcass is much heavier than the EXO or Silkworm versions, the tread is slightly draggy, and the 29er only comes in 2.3in width.
You’ve probably not heard the name before, but Teravail is a USA-based manufacturer with an extensive range of gravel, road and mountain bike tyres. The company has four MTB tyres with three at the monster truck end of the spectrum, including the Kennebec tested here. It has the most aggressive tread and as such is pitched at all-mountain riding. Wear has been really good on the knobs and there’s also very little marking on the sidewall, which suggests if you’re riding hard you may be able to get away with the lighter version and save yourself quite a bit of rotating weight. It also confirms my suspicion that the Kennebec 650b x 2.8in is best as a rear e-MTB tyre – the extra weight doesn’t matter and with more of a rear wheel weight bias where it can show off its braking prowess, too.
Vittoria has tagged the Mota as a downhill/all-mountain mud tyre and, while the reinforced 27.5in version does indeed have a 1,400g weight, the all-mountain option (in 27.5- and 29-inch) only weighs around 1,000g, making it worth a punt if you ride hard through the winter months. It was a little more difficult to get this tyre from Vittoria to seat on the rim but once on and inflated the Mota proved to be a very good tyre for when things get sloppy. I reckon with a slightly lighter and more compliant casing the Mota could be the rubber of choice for UK riding, especially since it’s a good £15 cheaper than the Maxxis Shorty.
WTB Vigilante 29 x 2.5 Light High Grip
The WTB Vigilante 29 x 2.5 Light / High Grip tyre is a great all-rounder, with a constant and reliable feel in a wide array of trail conditions, it's only compromised when things get really wet, steep and muddy. In all other instances, it remained a steady, balanced tyre, and in the 2.5in version, it adds more cushioning and grip whilst not being so bulky it feels slow. It's very much a front tyre, and squarely aimed as that, the wider open blocks at the centre and middle are supportive under heavy braking and harder cornering - there isn't a huge feeling of squirm. I ran them pretty low at times - around 20psi - but preferred them a little firmer as the sidewalls and shape worked better with a little more pressure.
Surprisingly after six years in service, the Maxxis Shorty (which is still available), was put under the scrutiny of pro EWS riders to develop a new, refreshed tyre. The original had firmly cemented itself as a go-to tyre for winter riding for tonnes of riders out there. So the changes that the Shorty Gen 2 has seen aren’t exactly subtle, and they mostly come in the form of wider spaced knobs. On the carcass, super short ridges have sprouted, intending to aid mud clearance. Shorty’s redesign means that its rolling resistance is noticeably better. It’s definitely a bit draggy compared to a DHF, but it’s a lot more tolerable now than it had been before. Usually, I might slap a more all-around tyre upfront to keep pedalling easy, but the Shorty’s improvement in this area makes it a much more viable option for all-winter riding, not just for when the slop is serious.
While grip is plentiful and consistent in the dry, the Trail Boss is no slouch when the trails get greasy. It stays true to its dry weather form and continues to stay grippy, so much so that I would be happy riding this tyre in the wettest of wet. Lean the tyre over and cornering grip is impressive and very secure. The angled shoulder knobs even give a sort of rear-steer feel, which adds a confidence boost when slithering through tight corners. Braking is excellent too, thanks to those tall knobs, helpful and appreciated on the steeps.
If you’re looking for a tyre that delivers a lot of grip in a range of conditions, the WTB Trail Boss is an all year, fit-and-forget belter. It's not the fastest-rolling thing on soft or loose surfaces, but it's not bad – and that predictable grip and reasonable price means you may not even care.
WTB Judge 2.4" TCS Tough/Fast Rolling
WTB says that the Judge is its rowdiest rear tyre that's designed for loose descents. That much is clear with its tall, monstrously grippy knobs that result in Velcro-like grip on wet, loose, natural trails. These make for a noticeably draggy bit of rubber but that is the price you pay for this much bite. Okay, it's no featherweight, making it best suited as a rear specific rubber for those uplifted, gravity-fed days or those who favour outright grip over an easy time on the pedals. The pricing is fair for the grip on offer and we've tested tyres not offering this level of performance yet cost considerably more.
Specialized Butcher Grid Trail T9 Soil Searching 29 x 2.3
The Specialized Butcher Grid Trail 2.3 x 29 tyre claims to deliver dependable strength and grip. Championed as one of the best all-rounders, the Butcher Grid Trail impressed Jim with an outstanding balance of speed, strength and grip. There is a lot to like in the excellent all-arounder. Yes, they are a softer compound that will wear faster on hard trails but they are very competitively priced making the durability a little easier to swallow.
Best mountain bike tyres for Enduro riding
2021 Pirelli Scorpion Enduro S hero.jpg, by Liam Mercer
The Pirelli Scorpion Enduro S makes for a versatile tyre, a solid choice for mixed conditions. Boasting dependable performance with its SmartGRIP compound and HardWALL casing, balancing perfectly between wet and dry rather impressively, not excelling at either extreme but doing impressively well across a broad range in between. The rounded profile offers riders a quick turn-in that allows a snappy change of direction when the trail demands it.
Pirelli Scorpion Enduro R rear-specific
The Pirelli Scorpion Enduro R is a great rear specific tyre for mixed conditions. It’s mostly confident when there’s a bit of moisture in the ground, hooks up reasonably well in the dry and rolls quickly everywhere. The trade-off is the Scorpion enduro R can be a tad skid happy on harder trails. Its rounded shape offers a beautiful transition from the centre to the shoulder with no noticeable dead spot between. Despite its lower profile centre tread, it's well-protected and able to survive some proper abuse.
The Argotal takes the role of the loose conditions tyre in Continental’s new Gravity range, designed for loose, dusty and loamy conditions. When used for its intended application it excels while rolling reasonably quickly. The Endurance rubber compound is surprisingly good. The grip on offer inspires confidence. As its name suggests, it wears pretty slowly too, making it an ideal tyre if you primarily ride loose terrain year-round and want something that’ll pedal nicely when you’re cranking up to the next trail. At £50, it’s not bad value for money.
The Assegai was designed with input from the GOAT Greg Minnaar and sits at an interesting point in Maxxis' range. It fills a tiny gap between the Shorty and the Minion DHF. It has the grip the DHF lacks in the wet and the confidence the Shorty lacks on hardpack, but then the Assegai isn't quite the speedy roller the DHF is, and it's not the eager mud-shedder the Shorty is either. Those conditions aside, it's a true fit and forget front tyre that’ll confidently see you through most of the UK’s weather as a true all rounder. It gives a predictable behaviour in the corners, strong braking and all-out grip, a worthy consideration.
Maxxis Shorty 3C Maxx Terra EXO TR
The original Maxxis Shorty is still available despite the introduction of the Gen 2 version. It sits in the middle ground between a full-on mud spike and tyres best suited to dry trails. As such it features lower cut knobs that are widely spaced and are intended to cut into the soft ground while being usable in a wider range of conditions than a full-on wet tyre. Point it downhill and you’re graced with a shed load of predictable grip in the wet. Those shoulder knobs offer a ton of confidence in the corners, and their lower-than-a-spike heights mean they don’t roll in harder-packed or dry corners. The Maxxis Shorty's versatility makes this prime for the UK’s winter conditions, especially if your riding blends natural trails and trail centres this really is a fit and forget choice.
The Maxxis Dissector 3C Maxx Terra EXO+ is yet another signature tyre from the brand, this time, in collaboration with downhill pro Troy Brosnan. Being developed with an Australian it should come as no surprise that it is aimed primarily at dry conditions, but actually makes for a great all round tyre.
With its high levels of grip, impressive predictability and fast-rolling ramped centre knobs. These attributes allow the use of the Maxxis Dissector year-round if it's slotted into the rear of your bike.
Hutchinson may not be an obvious choice for many riders but they make some great tyres – and the Griffus 2.5 is one of them. It shares many similarities with the Maxxis Minion DHF but the Griffus’ compound, casing and shoulder tread may just trump the king of trail/enduro tyres. While it grips and rolls impressively, what makes the Griffus stand out is its excellent casing. It’s not overly stiff and it’s not too floppy either, instead hitting a lovely middle ground that's compliant yet supportive in the turns. This means that the Griffus is a great all-round tyre – it's a little nervous on seriously steep and sloppy trails, and obviously not light or fast enough for cross-country work, but for general trail and descending fun it excels.
The Pinner Pro ATC is a fast-rolling tyre for dry, hardpack and rocky terrain, with reassuring steering and a sturdy carcass. It has been designed for dry and rocky use and you will quickly meet its limitations in anything other than those conditions, as it lacks bite in pretty much any sort of wet or loose conditions. This ATC is a more enduro/trail bike orientated sidewall, but it's still tough – it happily shrugged off regular rocky terrain attempted damage, you just might want to run it slightly firmer, as with really low pressures it develops a squirm to it. The Pinner Pro is more of a rear tyre – using it as a front, you find odd moments when a little more bite would be handy. On the back, the rolling speed is good, and it gives reliable traction for braking or climbing. Thanks to its wear rate, it is priced reasonably well, though its use is fairly niche, at least in the UK.
Versatility is the name of the game with the Schwalbe Magic Mary. It’s a top performer for aggressive riding in almost all conditions, but it can feel a little nervous at the extremes of wet or dry. Thanks to its tall centre knobs braking performance is impressive, and the angled shoulder knobs mean cornering is confident. The Super Gravity casing is supportive, even with pressures down around the 20 psi mark aiding the cause of cornering. If you’re looking for a tyre that’ll keep you covered year-round, the Schwalbe Magic Mary is an excellent choice – especially in the changeable conditions the UK throws at us all.
Michelin has had some ups and downs since its mountain bike glory days in the late 1990s when its rubber was some of the best money couldn't buy. The new Wild Enduro range is designed for exactly what the name suggests, with a range that covers a number of different compounds and tread patterns that vary from front to rear. Michelin's Wild Enduro Front is a seriously capable and grippy tyre for hard-charging trail and enduro riders. It's got big, spiky square blocks and a well-supported shoulder. It's available in a harder Gum-X and softer Magi-X compound.
We've tested both, using the Gum-X on the rear through and the softer tyre up front through the sloppy season and into summer. It's great in most conditions but this Magi-X model excels in loose and/or wet loam with prodigious and predictable traction; it's one of the best aggressive front tyres on the market if you don't mind a bit of drag and it is reasonably priced, too.
How to choose the best mountain bike tyres
As a general rule, cross-country tyres are typically designed with a narrow width, ramped tread pattern, a harder compound that is combined with a thinner side wall and construction with reduced weight over its trail tyre cousin. On the contrary, a tyre made to tackle gravity racing or enduro stages is constructed with softer compound knobs for the ultimate grip on steep and loose natural trails combined with reinforced sidewalls to offer the rider support and puncture protection. The best mountain bike tyres for trail riding have the difficult task of being somewhere between the two extremes with a reliable construction, a predictable round profile and a versatile tread pattern design made from a durable compound.
The best mountain bike tyres need to last longer than a single lap of the regular evening ride but not such a hard compound that they offer no grip at all. They transfer your power down on the trail surface whilst you pound down on the pedals on your way to the top of a climb resisting temptation to break traction. They deliver grip to slow you down when you apply the brakes and the side tread blocks bite into the ground when you throw the bike into a turn.
Should I get tubeless tubeless mountain bike tyres?
With all tyres installed on every type of mountain bike apart from the bikes at the entry-level price point all featuring tubeless-ready or compatible tyres. The advances in tubeless technology over the recent years combined with the number of advantages over a conventional tubed setup means this is widely regarded as one of the most cost-effective and performance-enhancing upgrades you can make to your bike. Once the initial setup has been carried out, you should have a more reliable, lighter wheel and tyre that allows you to run lower pressures if the conditions dictate.
What are the benefits of wider mountain bike tyres?
Wider tyres benefit a rider with a larger contact patch with the trail. As the contact patch with the trail increases in size, the level of grip increases. Less popular now, but this concept was what led to the plus-size tyre development a few years ago. A plus-size tyre saw the average tyre width balloon from 2.2 - 2.35 to 2.6in or wider.
When the conditions turn wet and muddy the larger tyre can cause it to squirm about on the surface of the ground, breaking traction and causing a vague feeling and loss of confidence. That is why tyres designed to excel in the worst conditions are usually slightly narrower than their dry counterparts. The idea is that the narrow width of the wet weather specialists will cut through the top surface of the trail for better purchase and traction in the firmer ground beneath the slop.
Like most components on your bike, there is an inevitable trade-off, with extra width comes increased grip in dry conditions but that often results in an increase in rolling resistance. If you are looking to tackle longer distances or race cross-country events on firmer ground, you might look to a more efficient, lighter and narrower tyre compared to a downhill racer looking for maximum grip in loose and steep natural terrain. The additional width will inevitably result in an increase in weight so to combat this manufacturers often opt to reduce the thickness of the sidewall construction which results in a reduction of support when cornering hard.
What tyre tread pattern is best for mountain biking?
Ultimately the tyre tread pattern that is best suited to you comes down to personal preference will be determined by the trail conditions and the time of year and the discipline of mountain biking that is the closest to describing your riding.
The best mountain bike tyre tread pattern varies greatly, from fast rolling smoother profile for hard-packed conditions to tyres that feature a wider spacing between each knob to dig into wet and muddy trails and prevent any mud from clogging up the tread. The performance of the tyre is directly related to the tread pattern and denotes not only the discipline but also the conditions it favours.
Some tires will even come in front and rear-specific patterns with ramped and angled knobs offering better cornering grip and block knobs for braking or climbing. Semi-slick tyres like the Maxxis Minion SS and the Schwalbe Rock Razor are actually not that slick at all. They are widely used for rear tyre duties and feature a lot of smaller knobs in the centre of the tread pattern with a regular-sized shoulder tread, designed to roll faster in dry and hard trails but still offer plenty of bite in the corners when you lean the bike. These semi-slick tread patterns are not recommended for wet rocky or muddy trails so you might want to look elsewhere if you are looking for a versatile tread pattern to fit and forget.
Is sidewall strength important?
Alongside the tread pattern, sidewall strength and construction play a pivotal role in the grip and performance of your mountain bike tyre. A supple tyre or sidewall will conform to the terrain and absorb vibrations and hits as you ride.
A lighter, supple sidewall construction might be perfect for cross-country and trail riding. Once you start getting into the rough and rocky terrain associated with the gravity-biased genres of mountain biking, you will want to rely on a stiffer sidewall to be able to withstand harsh landings, pinch flats and fend off slashes caused by rock gardens. The majority of tyre manufacturers offer a range of sidewall constructions with differing strengths to suit whichever discipline of mountain biking you enjoy.
What tyre pressure should I use?
Tyre pressure is arguably the most personal setting on your bike and one that has a direct effect on how your tyre performs. No matter what type of riding you do there are gains to both grip level and rolling resistance in finding the perfect pressure.
With a tyre that is too hard or in other words, the pressure is too high it might be faster along the ground but the compromise is that you can expect more trail vibrations or feedback through the bike and a loss of traction and grip. If the pressure is too low and the tyre is soft the tyre might offer an increase in grip but will feel vague and unsupportive in the corners and you run the risk of damaging the wheel rims and spoiling your ride with punctures.
All tyres have the manufacturer-recommended minimum and maximum pressure printed on the sidewall, whilst this is a good place to start, nothing beats experimenting whilst sessioning a familiar trail. You are looking for the sweet spot of your weight and riding style and trail conditions. Failing that the majority of brands now have a tyre pressure calculator or chart on their website that will help you.
As a rule of thumb, you would expect to run the front tyre two or three PSI softer than the rear. This will help reduce rear punctures and offer more front-end grip to lean on in the turns. If you are unsure of the trail and terrain or the weather is looking changeable I would recommend going just slightly higher than your normal established pressures and looking to gradually let some air out as you go. Be warned, you don't want to go dumping too much out at once, or your riding buddies might start to get impatient if they are waiting for you to reinflate air back into your valves again.