The best mountain bike tires provide an optimum connection to the trail. Not only do they provide grip, but they also dampen vibrations and impacts.
Tire 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 tires.
No different from choosing the best mountain bike wheels, it's vital that your tire choice matches your riding style and what types of trails you find yourself on. Cross-country tires prioritize less rolling resistance, while downhill and enduro tires have bigger knobs and tougher casings. That's why we've split this best mountain bike tires guide into different sections for different riding disciplines.
Generally, more cross-country-focused tires will have smaller knobs with less rolling resistance. They're also lightweight, which comes at the expense of puncture and sidewall protection. Tires meant for more aggressive trail and enduro riding will have bigger knobs, with the biggest chunks of rubber being on the shoulder of the tire. This allows riders to dig into loose terrain and maintain the maximum amount of grip.
Each manufacturer has its own rubber formulations and technologies. The most popular brands will offer their models in a broad array of widths, wheel sizes, and even carcass or casing technologies. This is good news, as riders can choose what works best for them and their local trails.
Read on to see our top picks of the best mountain bike tires for cross-country, trail, enduro, and downhill riding. Or skip to the bottom to find Bike Perfect's guide on how to choose the best mountain bike tires.
Best mountain bike tires for XC and trail riding
Recently updated with skinwalls and the company’s new Graphene 2.0 compound, the Vittoria Mezcal is a truly beautiful tire. And if you want to truly customize your bike the tire is offered in tan sidewalls, too.
While you’ll find this particular tire 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 center-ridge tread pattern offers an impressive combination of rolling speed and grip, the latter of which can be tweaked even further by playing with tire pressures that can be run as low as 25psi (rider weight dependent).
Described by parent company Trek as an all-around, do-it-all trail tire, the Bontrager XR4 naturally features an aggressively designed tread pattern — in this case, evenly spaced knobbies 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.
Utilizing a lightweight, 120 TPI casing the XR4s are appreciably supple despite their hardy nature and deliver good feedback as a result. This tire is great for aggressive XC riders and fast trail riding, but may not be the best tire when the trails get muddy.
Available in two distinct tire widths - 2.25in and 2.40in - the Maxxis Ardent EXO/TR is a solid and reliable choice for those looking for a multi-discipline tire.
The dual-compound tread pattern is multi-directional in design and provides a good combination of grip and speed, with broadside knobs adding a dollop more assurance in high-speed cornering 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 tires for 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.
For this year, Schwalbe has introduced a new class of carcasses for its tires called Super Trail. Super Trail is basically intended for enduro use. Riders looking for a lighter tire for trail riding should look for a 2020 model Magic Mary.
This 2021 model gets increased protection, which means that the weight has increased by about 300g. This tire is a good option for aggressive enduro riders who don't mind carrying a little extra weight uphill.
Maxxis is the generally accepted performance benchmark for aggro and trail tires and the Dissector sits very neatly into that crossover point. It’s lighter than a DHF or DHR in a similar size and the ramped tread rolls faster too - especially compared to the DHR, so it adds immediate pep to pedaling. While there is a momentary breath catch as you cross the center to shoulder gap that High Roller users will definitely recognize. Make the leap of traction faith though and cornering grip is decent with a controllably lazy fade into drift rather than a dramatic snap out.
The tire can be used both front and rear. As a rear tire, it adds more grip and control than a semi-slick and still rolls nicely. As a front tire, it's great for downcountry or light trail riding.
Specialized has completely reworked its rubber compound on the Butcher for its latest release, and what they came up with is the T9 Grid Trail. Long story short, the T9 uses slow rebound damping compound to provide predictable grip and handling in an impressive range of conditions.
What does all of that mean on the trail? So far we've found that they are extremely grippy and handle damping really well. The heavily damped feel may dull the springy or poppy characteristics of a bike but start slamming through rocky or rooty sections and the high levels of grip and confidence become clear. They aren't too slow-rolling either and not overly heavy.
The Mazza is a chunky enduro tire from the Italian brand Vittoria. Its bigger knobs and the brand's rubber formulation strike a good balance between grip, rolling speed and lifespan. The tires are a bit drifty, but not too bad. So if you're a rider who likes to slide a little rather than being super locked into a corner, these tires are a good offering.
One criticism is that they do have an inconsistent feel when riding at lower pressures. So long as you keep your tires pumped up this won't be a problem. The tire is offered in both 2.4in and 2.6in widths. The 2.6 version is heavier and in practice isn't much wider than the 2.4, so we'd recommend going with the smaller of the two.
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 tire choices in the trail/enduro scene.
The tread pattern was recently updated to bring the tire 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.
The Force AM2 is Michelin's latest offering. AM stands for All-Mountain, as opposed to the brand's enduro category, so that means it's meant for trail riding rather than super aggressive enduro riding.
The plus side of this tire is that it's durable, long-lasting, and can be found for a great price. The grip is on-par for trail riding, so it's not a bad tire by any means. The downside is it is heavier than some and a bit heavier than what the brand claims. It's also on the slimmer side as a 2.4in blows up to a width that's more in line with 2.3in in our experience.
While they’re no featherweight and don’t compete with a lighter weight trail tire when it comes to rolling speed and acceleration, the ‘faster than your average DH tire’ rolling claims do feel apparent when carrying out back-to-back runs with competitors, and the Pinner does hold an impressive on-trail pace. The additional weight is noticeable when climbing but it also doesn’t feel as much as a chore as some other tough DH-focused options.
If you’re regularly finding the limits of your current tire’s tread pattern or carcass, the Pinner tire from Kenda is a fantastic, solid, durable and grippy hard-charging option. The Pinner offers predictable levels of grip and a sublime trail feel without the sacrifices of a slow-rolling full-blown DH tire.
Best mountain bike tires 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 tire to improve traction) which Vittoria claims helps the tire conform to trail obstacles for better all-round performance.
While Vittoria’s improved Graphene 2.0 tire compound has significantly bolstered overall performance, it’s in slippery and wet environments where the Martello’s unbridled levels of composure truly outshine its rivals.
The Assegai is named after an iron-tipped spear used by the Zulu people of South Africa. As the racer's signature tire, it was developed and is raced by Greg Minnaar. Naturally, it's a DH tire so it's only available in 2.5in and 2.6in widths in either 29er or 27.5 variations.
The tire was designed as a DH race tire, so it's meant to go fast across all conditions. It can handle dry and loose conditions all the way up to wet rocks and roots. Another plus is that as usual, Maxxis offers the Assegai in a broad range of casing and compound options, so you can find the one that works best for your local tracks.
When it comes to grip, there aren’t many enduro/downhill-specific tires 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.
How to choose the best mountain bike tires
Not all mountain bike tires 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, tire width and tubeless compatibility. As such you’ll find that a cross-country-specific tire is lighter, narrower and less aggressive than a trail or enduro equivalent, owing to differences in bike geometry, terrain and riding discipline.
What tire tread should I choose?
A tire's performance is directly related to the tread pattern, the shape, spacing and size of the tread, which will all 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 tires will even come in front and rear-specific patterns with angled front knobs offering better cornering and block knobs for braking.
Ultimately the tire tread that works best for you will be determined by the trail conditions when riding as well as personal preference.
How does sidewall strength effect a tire?
While tread will dictate a tire's grip performance and intended riding conditions, the sidewalls play a key role in allowing the tread to perform well. When a tire is described as supple this refers to the sidewall's 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 tire's 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 cross-country, trail, enduro or downhill riding.
Does tire pressure matter?
There is also an invisible element that has a direct bearing on the way your tires react to the terrain — tire pressure. Depending on which type of riding you prefer, tinkering with your tire 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 tire won't conform to the ground, losing grip and transferring more trail feedback through the handlebars. Drop pressures too low and the tire will be more susceptible to punctures, rim damage and will feel unsupported in corners giving a squirming feeling.
Generally, riders will run the front tire a few PSI softer than the rear for better front tire grip and less puncture risk at the back. The right pressure for your riding and tire setup can only be found through experimentation and we recommend sessioning a typical trail for your area to dial in the right pressure.