Trying to choose between 26 inch and 29 inch mountain bike tyres? Want to know why some MTB tyres have huge lugs while others have none? Is a Michelin Wild Enduro better than the latest Maxxis tyre? We have all the answers in this guide.
Mountain bike tyres explained
There's much more to buying a mountain bike tyre than you may think. If you've ever graced* an MTB forum or spoke to riders about tyre choice on the trail, you may have noticed it's a subject hat excites a certain level of... let's say, passion.
Unfortunately, there's no simple solution to which tyre is right for you. Tyre width, circumference, compound choice, rolling resistance versus grip, TPI, and other choices make every tyre as individual the rider upon it.
Your task, while daunting, is not insurmountable; some choices will depend on your preferences, some will be decided by your terrain, and others will be dictated by your wheels.
So let's start at the easiest place to start...
Which MTB tyres for which wheels?
So, you have a mountain bike and want to replace the tyres. Where do you start? The first thing to look at is your wheel size. If you're not sure of your wheel size, then check the tyre wall of your existing tyre or your rims.
Alternatively, you might find the wheel size embossed in the tyre's sidewall.
What you're looking for is one of three numbers which relate to the current MTB wheel sizes currently in use: 26 inch, 27.5 inch, and 29 inch.
Once you find that number, the tyre circumference aspect is sorted.
Or is it?
650b+ or not to 650b...
While your 27.5 inch tyre will always fit your 27.5 inch wheel (or your 26 or 29 inch respectively) you might come across options that say 650b or 650b+.
In the picture of the Aquila tyre above, you'll notice the markings note 27.5 x 2.40. The 2.40 is the thickness of the tyre, from the rim to the edge.
Failing that, you can get out your trusty measuring tape. But beware - the measurements
MTB wheels come in three main sizes: 26 inch, 27.5 inch, and 29 inch. We're not going to get into the still raving debate about which is better (the correct answer is 'depends', by the way...), so all you have to do is check your wheel size.
A good mountain bike tyre will provide low rolling resistance, ample grip, and provide a degree of cushioning that will enhance the quality of your ride.
Wiggle stocks a wide range of mountain bike tyres across the most popular wheel sizes, including 26 inch tyres, 27.5 inch (650b) tyres or even 29 inch tyres.
Key factors to consider when buying a mountain bike tyre
Wheel size: Tyres, like wheels, come in three different sizes for mountain bikes: from 29 inch, right down to 24", so make sure you get the right size of tyre for your wheelset. The manufacturer's label on your wheelset should detail the size of tyre they need.
Tyre width: Tyre width is a key factor in the feel and performance of your bike. A wider tyre provides greater stability when cornering and moving fast, with wider surface areas improving grip and traction. However, wider tyres reduce mud clearance between the tyre and the frame, and the higher friction also affects speed. This means a compromise has to be met: cross country mountain bikers tend to use tyres with a width of 1.8-2.2 inches, while more aggressive 'All-Mountain' riders and downhill racers use tyres up to 2.1 and 2.4 inches wide.
Front and rear specific tyres
Many manufacturers have front and rear specific tyres. This doesn't mean that you can't use a front tyre on the rear, or vice-versa, it is just that the tread and design of the tyre has been optimised to provide the best performance if you do use them on the intended wheel.
Front tyre features
Typically, a front tyre will have a slightly wider profile than a rear tyre. They also tend to have higher side lugs but lower central lugs to provide cornering confidence while retaining a low rolling resistance.
Tyres like the Maxxis High Roller II Tyres are particularly popular as front tyres.
Rear tyre features
A rear tyre tends to feature more horizontal spanning knobs. These help improve traction stopping the rear wheel from spinning in wet or muddy conditions. A rear tyre can also be narrower, improving mud clearance when the tyre begins to carry a lot of debris.
The Continental X King Folding MTB Tyre - ProTection is a fantastic rear tyre.
What tyres should I get for my riding style?
Cross Country (XC) riding
Cross country riders tend to look for fast rolling tyres, with smoother/smaller knobs and a narrower tyre width. These tyres maximise performance in conditions that are not overly demanding, such as normal trails and grass.
In wet conditions, XC riders may look at changing their tyres to narrower profiles, allowing them to increase mud clearance. They may also move to larger profile knobs to increase traction.
Mountain bike tyres like the Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evo Super Ground MTB Tyre are made for the XC racer.
Trail and Enduro riding
Trail and 'Enduro' riding requires tyres with more grip and more durability than cross country tyres.
These tyres tend to use softer compounds that 'stick' to rocky surfaces better, while the wider profile better handles more extreme cornering.
The Michelin Force AM Competition MTB Tyre is tailor-made for Enduro racing, providing a superb balance between grip, rolling speed, durability and performance.
What is the recommended off-road tyre pressure?
Off-road tyres are usually marked with a pressure range: from the minimum that will support a rider of average weight, to the absolute maximum the tyre can hold. Do not exceed the maximum when tyres are marked with a range.
If your tyre does not have sidewall markings, consult a tyre pressure chart from the bike tyre manufacturer, then make your own calculated decision based upon the tyre selection and rider weight.
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