Mountain bike tyres explained
A mountain bike tyre is specifically designed for off-road riding and features raised knobs or 'lugs' designed to dig into loose material and provide grip on all terrain. 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.
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 Protection 29er Folding MTB Tyre 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 Hans Dampf Addix SnakeSkin Folding MTB SpeedGrip (Blue) 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 Wild Race'r Enduro Rear Gum-X 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.