Choosing The Best Mountain Bike Tires - A Short Guide
New to biking? Trying to figure out what to replace your old, worn tires with when a well-loved set finally gives up the ghost? Finding a replacement set of tires for your mountain bike is a fairly straightforward process once you know what you need, but pinning down exactly what works for each type of rider may require soul-searching and know-how that isn't often considered when first purchasing a bike.
Thankfully, the core principles of proper tire choice are fairly simple: browse through a couple of mountain bike tires reviews, find something that fits your bike and holds air, then be on your way. Simple enough, but not comprehensive for riders with various sizes of bike, riding styles, comfort preferences or even intended riding terrain. For that you have to do some digging into how you ride and what your bike performs best while using.
Tire Size and Type
The first step to finding a new set of tires is knowing what size of tire your bike is designed to handle. This is often a simple proposition as many companies advertise their bike lines with the tire size printed directly in the frame's name, but in case of emergencies you can always check the tires currently fitted to your bike.
Most mountain bikes have 26-inch tires and that size can go all the way up to 29 inches. Tires measured in centimeters are often for road bikes and have more variances to consider.
From there you have to choose between tires with tubes and those that are tubeless. The benefits and drawbacks of tubeless tires often have to do with their installation: They are much more difficult to seat into place, require sealant to ensure proper air retention and often cannot be directly repaired on the road without the addition of an actual tube, which negates the tire's benefit entirely.
On the other hand, tubeless tires can often be ridden with less tire pressure to ensure a more stable and bounce-free ride. Pinch flats are impossible with a tubeless tire as there is no tube to pinch, making them less prone to leaks and small tears. The reduced pressure inside the tire also ensures a smoother ride as more of the tire is able to come in contact with the ground and roll over obstacles rather than deflecting away from the obstacle due to intense tire pressure.
For most mountain bike applications, the issue between a harder rubber and a softer rubber is fairly simple. Soft tires, which are tackier to the touch and offer additional grip by nature of being more pliable against hard surfaces, tend to wear out at accelerated rates compared to harder tires. On the other hand, harder tires offer less grip and stability yet are capable of lasting exponentially longer than softer tires.
As such it is rare to see mountain bikes with soft tires simply due to how beneficial they are to road cyclists yet an absolute nightmare for trail biking where durability is often key.
As a compromise, tire manufacturers have taken to a dual tire type that combines both harder and softer rubber into one tire with a harder middle for standard riding durability and pliable rubber on the outer edge for grip during intense turns and cornering. Dual-type tires still wear a little faster than standard hard tires, though, so you'll have to take that into account.
Tire Tread Vs. Terrain
Take a look at the outer rim of any tire and you'll see rubber nubs, also known as knobs or lugs, designed to offer different traction and mobility options across varying surfaces. If a tire has large, pronounced lugs with ample space between them you're probably looking at a tire designed to take on muddier or softer ground. The rubber on these tires bites into the earth and offers grip while sacrificing some ride stability.
On the other end of the spectrum are tires with small knobs that have very little space between them. While not suited to muddy terrain, these tires offer less resistance against the ground while still offering off-road maneuverability. You'll have a harder time in bogs but have a much smoother ride on paved surfaces.
Choosing a tire requires knowledge of your bike and how you like to ride. While there are additional considerations to take into account such as training tires for longevity or tires made for specific types of events, finding a solid all-rounder tire for your mountain bike that fits into your budget is more important than fretting over micro-improvements that can be gained from complicated tire specifications.
By Amanda Wilks