Guide to the best and popular mountain bike tyres

We help you find, choose and buy MTB Tyres for XC, all mountain, downhill and leisure use.

To a lot of cyclists, mountain bike tyres are those that have nobbly bits on to help you get along forest tracks or through mud. However you only have to read the bit about serious MTB racing to find that it's not anywhere near as simple as that.

In fact, there is a large range of mountain bike tyre designs to choose from to suit cross country (XC), downhill (DH), race, trail and leisure riding.

This site covers some of the technicalities, designs and factors to take into account when choosing tyres. We also cover the main mountain bike tyre brands, the most popular products and where to find stockists.

Below we have explained some of the tyre design elements; inevitably they are all interlinked making tyre design quite a complex process.

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The MTB tyre tread pattern

This has a critical effect on how a mountain bike tyre will perform under acceleration, braking, sliding, jumping and cornering in different trail conditions.

So depending on your activities the choice of tread pattern can make a huge difference to performance, speed and safety.

The MTB tread area

First of all there is simply the overall tread area. If there is plenty of space in the tyre should be good at shedding mud, as it falls easily out of the gaps. In contrast this type of tyre would not be so effective under acceleration on a dry trail, as is less contact with the ground and the individual tyre knobs will flex a lot under load.

Next, there is the actual tread pattern itself. No doubt most cyclists will have noticed that many mountain bike tyres have knobs that stick out at the very edge of the tyre; these help cornering by digging into the surface, but obviously there will be different requirements for hardpacked trails compared to slippery tree roots or mode.

In the centre of the tyre is the tread that gives the MTB tyre its ability to transmit power and acceleration and also to keep you in a straight line. In general, the more the tread runs across the tyre the better power transmission, while tread that runs along the tyre stops you moving from side to side.

Basic types of tyre

You can get clincher MTB tyres and tubeless versions, which are used with puncture sealing compounds installed. There is also the option of folding tyres which become very important if you are on long treks where a tyre could shred.

In addition, some tubeless set ups are quite easy, while others require a fair bit of time fitting the tyre. Its worth checking reviews to see peoples' experiences of setting up a tyre that you're considering.

Materials used in mountain bike tyres

Tyres are generally made with a base carcass of nylon or other polymer thread layers for the shape, with the tread rubber-based. Kevlar is now commonly used as a puncture resistant layer, or as the bead instead of wire therefore making the tyre foldable without damage.

Tread compound

Although you might not see this highlighted on the mountain bike tyres themselves, it's an integral part of the MTB tyre construction. Softer compounds give better grip in slippery conditions that wear out and lose their edge is more quickly than harder compounds, particularly on the rear wheel when the power goes on.

There are also dual compound tyres where the centre is a hard compound to cope with wear, while the outer tread knobs are softer for grip.

Tyre volume and width

You'll sometimes see volume of the tyre mentioned and this is generally in connection with the shock absorbency properties that result from extra volume. This helps the tyre to absorb rough terrain without the risk of the bead jumping off the rim temporarily and causing pinch flats. Obviously the volume depends on tyre width and height.

Higher volume tyres also make for easier riding on rocky bumpy terrain as they don't bounce on the trail as much as narrower, lower volumes.

Rolling resistance

This depends on the frictional forces resulting from the tyre spread as it meets the road or track surface. With a thin, high-pressure tyre you get low rolling resistance but grip is compromised.

In contrast, with most mountain bike tyres you need a wider tyre with a larger contact area and this comes at a price of a higher rolling resistance. Deep, spread out tread knobs flex more than compact knobs.

Tread knob shapes

The shape of the tread knobs can also be varied and an MTB tyre usually uses a variety of shapes.

Rectangular knobs running across the tread are generally designed for acceleration and braking, whereas the same shape running along the tread helps to stabilise the bike laterally.

You'll also see triangular knobs, which are sometimes used for easy mud shedding and knobs with cuts in the middle, which are designed to give extra grip on account of their additional flexing.

If you see ramped treads that refers to the tread surface being sloped, rather than flat, as you look at a tyre from the side. It's used to change breaking, acceleration and rolling resistance characteristics. Typically the ramping is used in opposite directions on front and rear tyres.

MTB Tyre Guide

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