Tyre choice plays a massive role in the way your mountain bike behaves and can be the difference between staying upright on the trail or bailing spectacularly. As a guide, tougher and more technical trails require chunkier tyres.
Scroll down to see BikePerfect's roundup of the best MTB tyres available to buy for 2020.
The best mountain bike tyres for XC (cross country) and trail riding
Recently updated with skinwalls and the company’s new Graphene 2.0 compound, the Vittoria Mezcal is a truly beautiful tyre.
While you’ll find this particular tyre more on cross-country-style mountain bikes, Vittoria has introduced a wider 2.6-inch version to cater for those of the trail riding persuasion.
Regardless of choice, the alternating centre-ridge tread pattern offers an impressive combination of rolling speed and grip, the latter of which can be tweaked even further by playing with tyre pressures that can be run as low as 25psi (rider weight dependent).
Described by parent company Trek as an all-round, do-it-all trail tyre, the Bontrager XR4 naturally features an aggressively designed tread pattern — in this case, evenly spaced knobblies that function best in dry and loose conditions.
Available in widths ranging from 2.4in to 3.0in (29er) and 2.4in to 2.8in (650B/27.5), they can also be used for XC racing owing to their impressive rolling speed and relatively low weight.
Utilising a lightweight, 120 TPI casing the XR4s are appreciably supple despite their hardy nature and deliver good feedback as a result.
Available in two distinct tyre widths - 2.25in and 2.40in - the Maxxis Ardent EXO/TR is a solid and reliable choice for those looking for a multi-discipline tyre.
The dual-compound tread pattern is multi-directional in design and provides a good combination of grip and speed, with broad side knobs adding a dollop more assurance in high-speed corning situations.
In terms of weight, the Ardents are a touch on the heavy side, which you can feel on the inclines, but the upshot is superlative grip, even on slippery and rooty singletracks.
The best mountain bike tyres for all-mountain and enduro riding
Schwalbe’s Magic Mary has changed very little since being introduced to the market five years ago. While the tread pattern remains the same, the compound received an update in 2018 in the form of Addix — a mixture Schwalbe claims has increased rolling speed and durability over its TrailStar predecessor.
There are four Addix compound ratings which differ by way of a colour-coded strip running through the middle section of the tyre: red (speed), blue (speed grip), orange (soft) and purple (ultra soft).
Magic Mary is available in the choice of orange and purple Addix compounds (best suited for enduro and downhill), both of which offer slightly different but equally as aggressive grip levels.
Like its road tyre range, Specialized has switched to a rubber compound called Gripton — a grippier, more pliant mix which has been refined for trail use on the Butcher specifically.
As an enduro/downhill-specific tyre, Specialized has reworked the tread pattern by introducing a collection of sawtooth faces on the tread blocks.
These seemingly insignificant additions have increased stability under load and provided another line of grip security — all the better for descending, yes, but at 890g a tyre (975g in 2.6in trim) the Butcher is a fairly heavy option if you enjoy the odd climb, too.
Versatile in application, the WTB Vigilante is a great choice for riders looking to graduate to more advanced, feature-laden trails. That’s not to say it isn’t any good in the hands of the highly skilled — in fact, the Vigilante is still one of the most popular tyre choices in the trail/enduro scene.
The tread pattern was recently updated to bring the tyre up to modern standards, with prominent lugs defining the outer edges for enhanced traction.
A newly developed rubber technology called TriTec, which uses a combination of multi-density rubber compounds on the tread pattern, is claimed to further bolster its grip proficiency and stability.
Continental made some amendments to its tyre line-up late last year, which involved improved tread patterns, a stronger and more resilient four-ply casing and redesigned sidewalls.
As a result, the Kevlar sidewall layer of the previous Trail King has been replaced and updated with a Cordura-based fabric and Apex sidewall reinforcement for improved traction, performance and durability.
For now, the 29-inch Trail King comes in the choice of 2.2 inch and 2.4 inch varieties — 2.6 inch is available in 650b specification only.
The best mountain bike tyres for gravity/downhill
With a bold and blocky tread pattern, the Vittoria Martello has made a name for itself in the enduro and downhill scenes as a confident and appreciably grippy performer
The square, moto-style knobbly arrangement features multi-directional siping patterns (cuts in the tyre to improve traction) which Vittoria claims helps the tyre conform to trail obstacles for better all-round performance.
While Vittoria’s improved Graphene 2.0 tyre compound has significantly bolstered overall performance, it’s in slippery and wet environments where the Martello’s unbridled levels of composure truly outshines its rivals.
The Kenda Hellkat makes no bones about what it's designed for — attacking downhill trails as quickly as possible.
As a bona fide gravity tyre, the tread pattern is aggressively arranged with an alternating two-two-three knob pattern down the centre and higher-profile blocks on the edges.
In terms of sidewall and casing protection the Hellkat is available in three levels: AGC, ATC or AEC, which differ depending on application. As a dedicated downhill option, the AGC version offers the most protection but also weighs a hefty 1180g in 650b trim.
When it comes to grip, there aren’t many enduro/downhill-specific tyres on the same level as the Continental Der Kaiser Projekts.
Available in both a six-ply casing with Apex sidewall protection (downhill) and a four-ply casing with ProTection Apex reinforcement (enduro), confidence is something it delivers in spades.
The BlackChili compound together with the aggressive wedge-shaped shoulder lugs, ensure grip is always in abundance no matter the situation and trail conditions — the wetter the better.
Available in 2.4-inch specification only.
Best mountain bike tyres: what you need to know
Not all mountain bike tyres are created equal and there are a number of different factors that will determine the way they perform. These include such specifics as rubber compound, durability, puncture protection, tread pattern, tyre width and tubeless compatibility. As such you’ll find that a cross-country-specific tyre is lighter, narrower and less aggressive than a trail or enduro equivalent, owing to differences in bike geometry, terrain and riding discipline.
A tyres performance is directly related to the tread pattern, the shape, spacing and size of the tread will determine the conditions and style of riding that it will excel at. Smoother low profile tread patterns will roll quickly in dry conditions whereas wider spaced spiked style tread will dig into muddy trails for wet weather grip. Some tyres will even come in front and rear-specific patterns with angled front knobs offering better cornering and block knobs for braking.
Ultimately the tyre tread that works best for you will be determined by the trail conditions when riding as well as personal preference.
While tread will dictate a tyres grip performance and intended riding conditions the sidewalls play a key roll in allowing the tread to perform well. When a tyre is described as supple this refers to the sidewalls ability to conform to the terrain as you ride a trail. A supple sidewall allows the tread to dig into the dirt as well as absorb vibrations and deflections from rough sections.
However, this comes at a trade-off against a tyres ability to withstand pinch flats and cuts caused by hard landings, rocks and roots. Most brands will offer a range of different sidewall options that are suited to general XC, trail, enduro or downhill riding.
There is also an invisible element that has a direct bearing on the way your tyres react to the terrain — tyre pressure. Depending on which type of riding you prefer, tinkering with your tyre pressure might yield greater traction gains on one hand but better rolling resistance and speed on the other, it all depends on how hard or how soft you’re willing to go.
However too high and the tyre won't conform to the ground losing grip and transferring more trail feedback through the handlebars. Drop pressures too low and the tyre will be more susceptible to punctures, rim damage and feel unsupported in corners giving a squirming feeling.
Generally riders will run the front tyre a few PSI softer than the rear for better front tyre grip and less puncture risk at the back. The right pressure for your riding and tyre setup can only be found through experimentation and we recommend sessioning a typical trail for your area to dial in the right pressure.