Mountain Bike Tires Explained! A Complete Guide (With Pictures)

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Best mountain bike tyres, as rated by our expert testers

  • Maxxis Minion DHF Wide Trail 3C TR EXO
  • Maxxis Shorty 3C Max Terra EXO
  • Michelin Wild Enduro Front Gum-X / Magi-X
  • Schwalbe Hans Dampf SuperGravity ADDIX Soft
  • Schwalbe Magic Mary SuperGravity ADDIX Soft
  • Vee Tire Co SNAP WCE Top 40
  • Michelin Wild Enduro Rear Gum-X
  • Specialized Eliminator BLCK DMND
  • Specialized Hillbilly BLCK DMND
  • WTB Verdict 2.5 TCS Tough High Grip

Video

F.A.Q.s

Q1. What is the best psi for cross country MTB racing?

Ans.: For XC riding, a good place to start would be with 20 psi at the front and 23 psi at the back. Of course, there are a lot of factors you should take into account. Your weight, the kind of tires and rims you use, and your riding style all play a part in determining the perfect pressure for optimum performance. After trying the values we have mentioned, you can adjust the pressure a little bit at a time to fine-tune your setup. Just remember, whatever pressure you run for the front tire, simply add 3 for the rear tire.

Q2. What is the best tire width for XC?

Ans.: The ideal range for cross-country bike tires is around 2.1-2.4 inches. Although, back in the day people used to run tires as thin as 1.8 inches. Conventionally, riders thought that XC tires should be as narrow as possible, which makes sense since thinner tires are lighter and more aerodynamic. However, it has now been proven that wider tires actually have lower rolling resistance. This is because the contact area for a wide tire is wider but shorter. Also, since better traction is offered, most XC racers prefer to run 2.2” or 2.3” tires.

2 inch vs 2.35-inch tire

Q3. Which is the best mountain bike tire combination?

Ans.: The perfect tire combination on a mountain bike largely depends on personal preference. Nevertheless, there are a few features that make a tire either front- or rear-specific. Most mountain bikers prefer using wider tires with more aggressive shoulder tread lugs at the front. Front tires are also run at lower pressures to maximize grip and comfort. This is so that there is more control for steering. Rolling resistance is not much of a worry because the majority of the weight is supported by the rear tire.

In contrast, it is better to have smaller knobs and run higher pressures on rear tires to reduce some of the rolling resistance. Rear-specific tires emphasize more on climbing and pedaling traction, rather than cornering traction. They have horizontal knobs that keep the edges at right angles to the direction of motion.

Front vs rear tire

Q4. When should XC tires be replaced?

Ans.: Cross-country tires usually last anywhere between 3000 and 8000 miles depending on the terrain, intensity of use, and tire quality. Regardless, keep an eye out for some of the following to know when it’s time to get new tires.

  • The knobs have smooth edges and are not as tall as when they were new.
  • Threads from the casing fabric are visible in some places on the rubber.
  • Blisters and bulges develop in parts of the tire.
  • Multiple gashes or cracks on the tread.

Michelin Wild Enduro Rear Gum-X

4.0 out of 5 star rating

It’s on slippery, muddy and loose tracks where this tyre really excels.
William Poole

Best for… Downhill and enduro All terrain types from mud through to hardpack, rocks and roots Rear tyre

With good turning grip, especially when the conditions are loose – thanks to its bulky side knobs – the Wild Enduro also grips well on wet roots and rocks.

Because it’s a rear-specific tyre, the sidewall is fairly thick, so it offers resistance against punctures and tears.

It’s also got tightly-spaced centre tread blocks to help improve rolling resistance, making it less suited to trail riding.

More Tips for Making Your MTB Road Worthy

Something you may want to consider if you are going to be doing a substantial amount of road cycling on your mountain bike is to lower your handlebars. Lowering your handlebars helps keep the wind resistance more minimal, and as you are probably already aware, is a critical design feature of road bikes, in contrast to higher bar settings to aid in control and handling when off-road riding.

This change can be made in minutes, allowing you to adjust the bars lower or higher whenever you need to.

Your seat height will most likely need adjustment as well. In most cases, you will have to raise your seat for optimum comfort and performance. Do this by making short increments until you’re satisfied; just be sure not to go too high, or your hips will rock.

Add a rearview mirror to help see the oncoming rear traffic. This may seem cringy to off-road mountain bike people, but if your commuting with your bike daily, you should be considering safety and making it a top priority.

Mud flaps and fenders may be a great idea to combat adverse weather conditions, especially if you’re going somewhere and want to remain somewhat presentable. Otherwise, you might arrive at your destination with a strip of mud on your back. There are plenty of aftermarket mudflaps and fenders out there that you can easily add or remove when needed.

Read this article: 11 Ways to Make Your MTB More Road Friendly

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What are the main types of mountain bike chains?

The basic function of all kinds of mountain bike chains is to transfer energy from the paddles to the rear wheels to make the bike move. Almost all bike chains consist of steel plates that are connected with the help of rivets. But the major difference lies in what kind of transmission the chain is going to be used in. Two major types of chains are; one-speed chains and Derailleur chains. Both of them can only be used for the type of transmission they are designed for.

● One speed chains:

As the name suggests one-speed chains are designed to fit a bike with just one gear. One speed bikes contain only one big sprocket in the front that is attached to the paddle and a smaller one attached in the hub of the rear wheel. The length of a link in a one-speed chain is 9 millimeters from rivet to rivet and they are 3.3 millimeters in width. But some single-speed chains that have been designed to be used in more extreme conditions can be wider than 3.3 millimeters to reduce the friction that is produced between the chain and the sprockets during rough paddling.

● Derailleur Chains (Multi-gear chains):

Most modern bikes come with Derailleur transmission which allows the biker to shift from one gear to another according to the requirement of the ride. But the thing with derailleur chains is that since the chain has to shift from one gear to another there is very little spacing between the different gears and the chains for derailleur transmission are narrower compared to one-speed chains. Links of a derailleur chain are longer than the links of a single-speed chain and each link is half an inch or around 12.7 mm in length and this length is standard in all derailleur chains because a majority of manufacturers make their transmission to fit this standard chain size. With the increase in the number of gears, the width of the chain reduces significantly as you can see below:

  • 12 gears: A mountain bike with 12 gears will have the narrowest chain of all at 5.3 mm.
  • 11 gears: A mountain bike with 11 gears will have a chain width of 5.5 mm.
  • 10 gears: A mountain bike with 10 gears will have a chain width of 6 mm.
  • 9 gears: A mountain bike with 9 gears will have a chain width of around 7 mm.
  • Less than 8 gears: Any bike with less than 8 gears will usually have a 7mm wide chain since there is not a lot of spacing between the gears below the 9-speed transmission.

When choosing the correct width chain for your mountain, bike you should also pay attention to the front sprocket that is attached to the paddle along with the rear cassette. The chain will also shift from one sprocket to the other in the front crankset when the gears are shifted, so the chain’s width should be according to the spacing between the sprockets at the front crankset to prevent the chain from getting stuck in the space between the sprockets. Just like the spacing between the rear sprockets in a derailleur drivetrain reduces with the increase in gears, the same happens at the front crankset as well.  

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Ways to make your mountain bike’s chain last longer

● Keep the chain of your mountain bike clean

Keeping the chain clean is a great way to reduce wear and tear of the chain as well as your bike’s shifting mechanism.

● Keep the chain of your mountain bike well lubricated

A well-lubricated chain will keep your ride smooth not to mention it will reduce friction between the chain and the sprockets. So it is a good idea to use any good quality bike chain lube to keep your chain lubricated and make sure to wipe the excess lube off to avoid collecting dirt on the chain after you are done lubricating.

● Replacing the Cassette and the crankset of the drivetrain regularly

Just like a worn-out chain can damage the drive train components of your mountain bike, a worn-out shifting mechanism can also wear out your bike’s chain quickly. So if the teeth of your mountain bike’s front or rear sprocket have started to appear less pointy or they have started to look hook-shaped then it is a sign that you need to replace them.

Getting More Speed Out of Your MTB

Look at locking out your suspension to get more speed. Fully suspension is great for absorbing drops and rocks, but the same movement absorbs some of your pedal stroke power. Another trick is to infalte your tire pressure a bit higher. I can safely put 50 psi in my heavy tread mountain bike tires. This is going to reduce traction off road so be careful.

Bike Grips

It is your hands that stabilize the bike on rough terrain.  So to keep control of the bike bike grips are an essential upgrade.

Every hand is different and thus bike grips are a very personal and customized choice. Check our most universal and best reviewed bike grips.

How Do You Prevent Your Mountain Bike Chain From Breaking

The first thing you can do is to change your riding style a bit. Be sure that you shift into the right gear before you get to the hill you are going to climb. Next if you are in the middle of climbing a tough hill and you want to shift, ease up on pedaling then shift.

Both of these tactics will prevent you from braking the chain because of shifting with a heavy load. Also, never stomp on the pedals when the chain is not fully in gear. This increases the risk of snapping the chain.

Use a chain wear indicator and check how much your chain has stretched on a consistent basis. Make sure you check different sections of the chain, not just one section and that’s it. Using a Rohloff gauge, if the curved tooth with the S goes completely into the chain, replace the chain.

There are 12 chain links of a chain which should measure 1 foot. If you measure it and it does not measure exactly 1 foot then it is better to replace the chain.

Whenever you replace a chain, make sure to use a new master link. If you don’t that defeats the purpose of getting a new chain because that old master link will be the weakest link. Also be sure you install the master link correctly.

When you want to clean your chain don’t disconnect and reconnect the chain. This continuous breaking and reconnecting your chain will make that link weaker. Use a chain scrubber and or wipe off the chain with a rag.

When shifting gears don’t use extreme gear combinations such as big front big back and little front little back. This causes the stress to be unevenly balanced out to those links at extreme bending angles.

When you are in one gear the few links curved around the sprocket are in a weaker position than the other links which are straight. Skipping over some gears when shifting adds extra stress to those links that are already bent.

When you replace your chain it is a good idea to replace the cassette. The chain and the cassette wear out at the same rate. If your chain is worn out then so is your cassette. If you replace your chain and not the cassette, this will cause your chain to wear out faster and possibly break faster.

Make sure your change is not loose. Especially when mountain biking you want to have a tight chain. A loose chain depending on how loose it is could hit the ground and hit rocks or roots. Plus you don’t want the chain whipping around or slapping into the frame.

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.

Rims and wheels

This section is retained for historical reasons – and before you go out and spend your money, let me say you DON’T normally need special rims for regular commuter icebiking or recreational winter riding.

However, for the recreational icebiker the wide rims described here open up significant new opportunities for exploration and fun in areas you have never ventured, perhaps not even in summer.

Why special rims?

Part of the problem is pounds per square inch (kg per square cm). Riding on semi-frozen snowmobile trails or single track, or crusted-over lakes, you will break through the softer portions, your front wheel will sink, and you may do an Endo. The surface simply can not support the amount of weight you and your bike apply.

At 40 PSI, 200 pounds of bike and rider will we carried on 5 square inches on the bottom of your bike tires. This will be split roughly evenly between the two tires. The trouble is, the snow can not bear 100 pounds on just 2.5 sq. inches. So you sink. You keep on sinking until the amount of tire in contact with the snow spreads the same amount of weight to more and more square inches of snow. Once you have enough inches of tire on (under) the snow, you stop sinking.

More square inches on the ground helps

The other part of the problem is the shape of the tire. In cross section, the mostly rounded shape of the typical bike tire causes it to slip sideways rather than just straight down. Down would be bad enough. Sideways requires steering input at the very least, may cause falls, and is ultimately unmanageable. Snow tends to “squirt” out towards the edges of the tire, rather then being packed down as the tire rolls over it.

A flatter tire cross section helps

Finally, when on really bumpy hardpack, or other uneven surfaces, high pressure tires can tend to follow ridges, (diverting you from your intended course), and bounce, breaking contact with the ground, reducing your traction, and allowing sideways momentum to be built up while the tire is in reduced contact with the ground. Softer tires tend to roll over small ridges and bumps, absorbing the bumps by deforming, while as the same time maintaining contact with the ground.

Lower tire pressure helps

Each of the above aids to off-road winter cycling has its own place. On rutted ice, lower pressure and a flat cross section are better. Glare ice calls for higher pressure. All three at once would be ideal for many off road situations in winter.

The only way to get all three at the same time is to run wide tires with a flat cross section at low pressure.

The problem is this is virtually impossible with a narrow rim, because if you lower the pressure enough to get a flat cross section you run the risk of snake bite (pinch flats) as the rim will bottom out inside the tire.

Additionally, much of the tires potential width it “consumed” by having the tire form a circle (in cross section). If the tire only had to form half of a circle, it would be a much wider circle. If you have ever spread a bike tire flat (pulling the beads away from each other) you were probably amazed how wide it was.

The Wide Rim Solution

There are several other companies making wide rimsThese are exactly the conditions that Snow Cat rims were designed to meet. Designed by Simon Rakower of All Weather Sports in Fairbanks Alaska, the Snow Cat rim is 44mm wide, compared to 22mm or 32mm for normal mountain bike rims.

There are several other companies making wide rims for downhill races. Unlike Snow Cats, these were not designed with winter cycling in mind, and may be heavier. They are, however designed to take a beating and have similar width.

This extra width of wide rims provides for a flatter cross section to any tire mounted. This widens the contact patch, puts more square inches on the ground, meaning you can reduce pressure and still carry the same weight.

Further, with wide rims, the rim edges sits directly above the side wall, or, in some cases, outboard of the tire altogether. This reduces the risk that the your rim will bottom out inside the tire. Instead it will be riding above the sidewall of the tire. Hitting a bump with wide rims is far less likely to cause a pinch flat.

This means you can reduce air pressure even further. Reduced air pressure brings more tire in contact with the snow, as the contact patch is elongated (front to back).

Wide rim spreads tire, flattening it’s profile and positioning rims directly above side wall. Snake bite (pinch flat) is less likely.

With regular rim, tire bulges out from both sides

With regular rim, tire bulges out from both sides of rim. Hard bumps will drive rim down “inside” tire when run at low pressure. This can cause snake bite.

With more inches in contact with the snow, you are

With more inches in contact with the snow, you are able to spread that same 100 pounds per tire over a greater area. At 10 PSI, the contact patch would be almost 10 square inches per tire. This is well within the load bearing capabilities of some snow surfaces, such as snowmobile trails, and slightly packed areas. With lower pressure, down to 5 PSI you might come close to 20 square inches per tire. Although you can reduce air pressure to as little as 5 PSI with ride rims, most riders maintain closer to 12 PSI as their minimum.

A Brief History of the Snow Cat Rim

I designed the Snow Cat for snow riding but there had been hints of interest in them for downhill racing from the beginning, so I didn’t go ultra-light on the cross section.

That turned out to be a good idea. For a few years DH sales exceeded winter sales. I started doing serious promotion at major DH events about five years ago and spent the next few years watching over my shoulder for the big companies to pick up on the idea and crush me. It took a surprisingly long time.

The bike industry is cash starved and very conservative. DH rim widths crept upward for a few years with Sun, Mavic and a few others watching each other and giving out BS reasons why really wide was a mistake.

Yet, people from the big rim companies would tell me they were glad I was making such wide rims because it took pressure off them to do it. I got lucky when Sun’s first really wide rim (Fat Albert) flopped. It was fun being on the right side of the rumor machine.

My product worked, the big company’s knockoff didn’t, consumer accounts about why it was bad were wild and widespread.

Nokian tire designer Jorma Tikka got interested in DH and came up with the idea of a tire sized to really fit on the Snow Cat.

Nokian took a bigger chance than I’ve seen any other large company do in the bike industry. They made a three inch tire (the Gazzalodi) when there was only one rim and NO BIKES to fit it.

They introduced it at the ’98 Winter X-treme Games. Within a few weeks there were plenty of bikes to fit it. I was swamped with calls from small DH frame builders wanting to know dimensions. The standard changed overnight.

So the little kitty led the DH world onto big rims and big tires. Eventually they got it right and there are now wide rims more suitable for DH than the Snow Cat.

But the monster rolled right past me and I didn’t get crushed. DH rims are very heavy, so the Snow Cat is the lightest of the big rims. Disc brakes are the standard for DH so very few of the wide rims have brake surfaces.

The market isn’t big enough for even one winter rim. I could only get it in production by doing silly, egotistical things with larger lumps of money than I should have. God bless the oil economy.

Rim manufacturers are smarter than I am and don’t seem to want to waste capital on a product with such limited appeal. So they try to do double duty with a DH rim. We’ll see where it all goes but I’m not afraid of competition. I took last winter off; went away and did no marketing and had no product. It would be amazing if no one tried to move into the (small) void.

One more thing I like about Snow Cats: I can drill them in any crazy way anyone wants even, (gasp), dishless rears. I mean really dishless, with identical spoke angles and tensions on both sides.

This is how Charlie Beristain just got his (you can see the offset spoke holes in the side-by-side pictures above). Ritchey may have “invented” OCR but I’d been making 0-dish Snow Cats for years before he did. Standard width rims can correct for dish by a few mm. Only a big flat rim lets you shift the (w)hole pattern the 10 mm needed to completely compensate for eight or nine gears.

Simon Rakower, All Weather Sports

The Disadvantages

Some riders report less control on glare ice surfaces when riding with real low pressure. This is not a problem caused by wide rims, just one you are not likely to run into until you have wide rims.

When you lower tire pressure, you also lower the amount of pressure on the studs. This is offset by bringing more studs into contact with the ice. However, at some point (around 5 or 7 pounds from all reports) you get so little weight on the studs that they do not dig into the ice at all. They simply skate on top of the ice, providing less traction than rubber tires.

On bare ice, it has been found that studded tires should be run at near their sidewall pressure, but you want to still show some sidewall flex while riding to reduce tire-bounce. Tire bounce can happen by hitting even small bumps with tires inflated quite hard. Normally not a problem in summer, but in winter when the wheel loses contact with the ground it may come down with a slight sideways momentum and slip out from under you.

Fit In addition, it is hard to build a wheel with a wiAdditionally, there can be problems getting wide rims to fit on your bike. The front is seldom a problem, but the rear can be too narrow where the chain stays join the bottom bracket, or near the bridge on the seat stays.

In addition, it is hard to build a wheel with a wide rim and not end up with an excessive amount of “dish” in the rear wheel while trying to fit the gear cluster and the wheel inside the chainstays. Many Snow Cat rims are drilled for off center spoke holes for the back wheel. This allows construction of a wheel with less “dish” than would otherwise be necessary, and provides the needed clearance and centering of the rear wheel.

Note that since these rims are usually used with quite low preasure, the plastic liner is all that is needed to keep the tube from protruding through the holes shown in this shot of the Snow Cal “SL” model These holes save over 600 grams per set of wheels.

Brakes There are also problems with getting brakes to work correctly. The rim is so wide that modification of the brake arm mounting and or the brake pads may be necessary. Some brake arms can actually give greater clearance when mounted backwards, as carefull study of the picture below shows. Those brake arms are designed to have that curved portion of the lever faceing the tire. By reversing each lever, more clearance is provided.

For this reason Disk Brakes and wide rims are ofte

For this reason Disk Brakes and wide rims are often found on the same icebike.

Weight
 Finally, wide rims and studded tired can

Weight Finally, wide rims and studded tired can add as much as 4 pounds to your bike over the weight of your regular rims and tires, especially if you end up using down-hill rims. Much of this weight is attributed to the studded tires. If riding of packed snow, you may not need them.

Conclusion

Conclusion

Wide rims provide all three of the desirable attributes needed for winter snow travel. They still do not provide adequate “flotation” to allow you to ride on top of powder snow or even heavy wet snow. However, snow that has thawed and refrozen, or been rained on is often firm enough to ride with wide rims and the proper tires. Winter snowmobile trails often prove quite navigable with wide rims.

Additionally, in loose snow, wide rims provide a greater measure of control, as the tires tend to wallow less with a flatter profile, and the reduced pressure keeps more tire in contact with the ground, (and more studs in contact with the ice). Handling is greatly improved, as is your speed over the ground. Some snow terrain is simply impossible without wide rims.

If you spend much time off road in winter you will likely sooner or later find your self on wide rims. They are virtually required equipment in some off-road races such as the Alaskan Iditasport, and add greatly to the capabilities of your bike on winter trails.

Photo Credits: Charlie Beristain, John Andersen, and Simon Rakower.

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