If you were to go into a bike shop that specialises in mountain bikes, the first thing you’ll notice is all of the different types and sizes of mountain bike tyres. It can be quite intimidating seeing all of these tyre choices and wondering which one would best suit your needs. You’ll hear people recommend different types of tyres and speak about how good they are – but who do you believe? Here I will give some advice on how to make an informed choice about buying your next set of tyres for your favourite trails.
I’d like to start by pointing out this article is written mainly with technical cross-country (XC) riding in mind; however many things discussed here could still be applied equally well to less aggressive riders or those who ride more technically demanding terrains.
So let’s jump right in! The first thing you must ask yourself is, “Am I riding on dirt trails, loose over hardpack or rock-strewn single track?” The answer to this question will play a big part in determining the tyre that best suits your needs.
If you are riding on well-travelled dirt trails (lots of people, horse riders etc) with only the occasional loose section – choose tyres with lots of small knobs; these will provide great grip and make cycling much easier. If the trail is particularly rocky or rooty, increase your tyre size by 1-2 mm to compensate for all those hidden obstacles. A full-width tread pattern will also be beneficial for this kind of riding as you will need all the grip and security that a full tyre can offer to prevent those nasty surprises from ruining your ride.
If you are riding on an XC race course (you will know better than I what sort of tyres to choose if that is the case) or rocky technical terrain, go with tyres that have tall square knobs; these square edges bite much better into the ground and provide greater control over bumps and roots. The larger volume offered by a 2-3 mm increase in tyre size will help keep you upright when encountering large bumps at speed and make descending faster and smoother. However, stick with 1-2 mm increases if your trails aren’t very rocky or technically demanding as too large a tyre can make cornering tricky.
All the tyre sizes mentioned here are for 26″ wheels; if you’re on a 29er, go up one size to account for your larger wheel diameter – e.g. 2-3 mm increase in tyre size for a 29er that would be the equivalent of 1-2 mm increase on a 26″. This can seem confusing at first but trust me, after doing it once you’ll be used to it!
If you ride your bike outside often and expect to encounter all types of terrain – I recommend tyres with lots of small knobs surrounded by areas with tall knobs so you can have an aggressive tread pattern for hardpack dirt trails or bumpy terrain (for increased grip) combined with taller knobs for fast cornering (for stability). This is often referred to as a semi-slick pattern.
If you are riding on rock-strewn singletrack or steep loamy terrain, consider getting tyres that have tall square knobs running along the centre of the tyre tread; these square knobs provide grip in loose dirt and mud while still having small square edges for a better bite into hard surfaces like rocks and roots. These tyres will be quite versatile but won’t offer either the grip or low rolling resistance of more aggressive tyres – so they are best suited for riders who rarely ride at high speeds or encounter rocky trails frequently.
If you cycle less than 10 hours per week I recommend choosing any one type of tyre above to suit your typical riding conditions. However, if you cycle more than this I suggest a tyre with tall knobs near the centre and aggressive side knobs for fast cornering (for stability) – as these tyres will be very versatile.
I hope that by reading this article you have been able to choose the best tyres for your next ride! In my opinion, it’s worth spending a little extra time choosing the right tyre as it will make riding much more enjoyable!