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Best WTB Tire
WTB Vigilante 2.5 & 2.6
Size tested: 29″ x 2.5″ | Weight: 1,152-grams
If you ride aggressive terrain and loose conditions, the WTB Vigilante is another great option to consider. We tested the TCS Light SG2 casing with High Grip rubber, and while it isn’t the lightest tire in the world, it weighs a lot less than the Tough casing we’ve tried in the past. Despite the reduced weight, we found the tire to provide adequate sidewall support, and the Slash Guard (SG2) insert stood up to all the abuse we could dish out. With a relatively squared-off profile, an aggressive open tread design, and the tacky High Grip rubber, the Vigilante eats up the corners and excels in loose conditions from dust to loam. Likewise, braking is controlled and confidence-inspiring, and should you choose to run it on the rear, it hooks up very while climbing. We preferred it in the front, paired with something a little faster rolling in the back.
The Vigilante‘s aggressive tread design comes with a slight penalty in the rolling resistance department. This tire isn’t the fastest-rolling, but that’s a tradeoff that we expect most aggressive trail riders are willing to accept. It’s also still moderately heavy, but that’s the price you pay for the performance it offers. If you’re an aggressive trail rider looking for a tough and grippy tire, we think the Vigilante is an excellent option to consider.
Read more: WTB Vigilante review
Another Great Rear Tire
WTB Trail Boss 2.4 & 2.6
Size tested: 29″ x 2.4″ | Weight: 996-grams
We’ve tested the WTB Trail Boss before, but were always a little turned off by its heavy weight. This time around, we tested the TCS Light SG2 casing, dramatically reducing its weight while still providing a robust feel thanks to the Slash Guard (SG2) insert. We feel the Trail Boss is best suited to duties as a rear tire when paired with something a little more aggressive in the front, although it is also an effective front tire in the right conditions. A relatively squared-off profile and a stout row of shoulder knobs give it excellent cornering manners, while the moderately spaced center and intermediate tread do a fine job of providing traction when braking and climbing in most conditions. Despite its cornering and braking chops, the tread design still rolls fairly quickly and efficiently.
The tread design of the Trail Boss seems optimized to work in dry conditions, and the tighter spacing of the knobs seems a bit more prone to packing up with sticky mud. While it provides good braking traction in most situations, the knob spacing also doesn’t bite quite as well as more open tread designs in super loose conditions. Those concerns aside, we feel this is a great, well-rounded rear tire for aggressive trail riding.
Read more: WTB Trail Boss review
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Why You Should Trust Us
Our mountain bike tire review is led by our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson. Benson is a competitive gravel and mountain bike racer, highly experienced tester/reviewer, and published author. Benson’s mountain bike roots trace back to New England in the early 1990s, and he has seen and experienced the evolution of mountain bike tires. An avid racer, Benson competes in endurance gravel and XC races throughout northern California.
Pat Donahue also contributed to this review. This native New Englander is particularly obsessed with tire choice and is constantly on the hunt for the elusive perfect tire. Pat owns a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe and is passionate about rough and rocky trails.
Ian Stowe recently joined our tire test team and brings a wealth of experience from working in the cycling industry and as a lifelong rider. Ian is able to ride year-round from his home in Santa Cruz, California with a wide range of trail options to keep him busy. From laps on the steeps to sessions at the pump track, Ian knows a thing or two about riding mountain bikes and knows the importance of having the right tires for the job.
We researched nearly every tire on the market before purchasing the 28 models in this review. Next, we identified the main areas of concern when evaluating a mountain bike tire. We chose metrics like cornering abilities, braking traction, pedal traction, rolling resistance, and ease of installation. We tested each tire as much as humanly possible and ranked them based on these metrics. We did our best to use consistent testing trails that offered a variety of features and soil types.
Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Tires
Analysis and Test Results
When buying a complete bike, it comes with whatever tires the manufacturer chooses. This may not always be the ideal tire for your riding style, your trails, or the conditions you encounter most frequently. Additionally, it is safe to assume that they might sometimes take a cost-effective approach to stock specifications. Whether you have roasted the original set of rubber or need to purchase the right tires for your local trails, this comparative analysis should help you make a decision.
Related: How to Choose Mountain Bike Tires
With that in mind, we set out to review the best tires for all-mountain and trail riding; you can even call it enduro if you like. The truth of the matter is, trail riding is the most common style of riding that most people participate in. We pedal up the hill to ride back down it. More often than not, the emphasis of trail riding is on the downhill, and the uphill is a necessary, and often just as enjoyable, part of the total experience. Again, the tires you choose should complement how and where you ride and the terrain and conditions you typically encounter to enhance your riding experience.
Before the rubber hits the dirt, you’ll be laying out some coin for said rubber — make the most of it. We’re dealing with a product category here that is prone to specialization, so if you’re looking for something other than an all-arounder, make sure to read up on our award winners for tires that do specific jobs well.
Mountain bike tires are expensive. Some are much more expensive than others, so we do our best to identify which models represent the best value. Despite costing less than most of the competition, the Specialized Butcher Grid Trail T9 and the Specialized Eliminator Grid Trail T7 are highly rated and are our picks for an affordable front and rear trail riding combo.
Types of Mountain Bike Tires
The front tire is primarily responsible for cornering and needs to respond appropriately to your input in order to remain on your intended line. For this reason, many front tires feature tread designs with large side knobs that aid in maintaining cornering grip. Front tires often feature directional tread patterns to improve rolling resistance, although a front tire does not support as much weight as a rear tire and consequently doesn’t suffer as much drag. Therefore, it is quite common to see riders opt for more aggressive tread designs for the front where their cornering grip and braking traction is a benefit, with less detriment to rolling resistance. Tires are currently trending wider, and a wider front tire can help maintain traction as they have a larger contact patch on the rolling surface, and you can run lower tire pressures to enhance this even further.
Many tires can be used as either a front or rear tire, while some are designed with rear use in mind. In general, a rear tire has more of a focus on pedaling and braking traction, and tread designs often reflect that. Horizontal knobs with edges that run perpendicular to the direction of travel are often employed to enhance braking traction. Squared-off edges and siping on tread knobs also help to grip and bite under pedaling forces. Rolling resistance is often more of a concern for a rear tire, and some tires feature low to medium height center tread knobs that roll faster than more aggressive designs. Side knob designs vary, with slightly less emphasis typically placed on the rear tire’s ability to corner.
The emergence of enduro racing has helped drive innovation in all aspects of bike manufacturing. This includes tires, and a resurgence in semi-slick tire designs has occurred in recent years. Semi-slick tires have a pared-down center tread to reduce their rolling resistance, framed in by larger side knobs to maintain strong cornering performance.
Criteria for Evaluation
Modern trends have dictated that all of the tires in our test are either 27.5 or 29-inch. Our selection of test tires is split between the two wheel sizes, and in many cases, our testers have experience riding them in both sizes. Based on that experience, we feel that the performance of a tire between different wheel sizes will be roughly the same.
We selected tires in the 2.3 to 2.6-inch width range. As tires continue to trend wider, so too are the tires in our test. We now have several models in the 2.5″ and 2.6″ widths that are becoming much more common in the current mountain bike tire market. We mounted tires to 30mm internal diameter wheels. We feel this rim size to be very representative of current wheel selection without falling into the narrow or overly wide end of the spectrum.
Each manufacturer has its own technology and name for how they choose to protect a tire with its casing. Whether it be EXO (Maxxis), Tough (WTB), or ProTection (Continental), a robust casing helps to add abrasion and puncture resistance, as well as support to the sidewalls of a tire. Often, the more durable and supportive a casing is, the heavier the tire becomes. Lighter-weight tires often have less protective and resilient sidewalls, while those that weigh more can usually withstand a bit more abuse. Many tires come in more than one casing option, so you can make that decision for yourself based on how you ride, your trail conditions, and terrain.
The Maxxis Minion DHF features a pronounced transitional zone and scored among the highest for cornering. It has a distinctive locked-in feel, though it may take a little getting used to for some riders. Going from the center tread onto the side knobs, the rider may notice a “dead” zone about halfway through the lean while passing over the channel between the tread knobs on the crown of the tire on the way to the big side knobs. This tire rewards good technique with predictable and confidence-inspiring cornering traction. The DHF’s more aggressive sibling, the Assegai has even more grip in the corners. This DH tire has more tread in the transitional zone, softer rubber, and an even more robust casing that makes it unflappable. The Assegai is the best cornering tire we’ve ever tested.
With a tread design that looks strikingly similar to the Minion DHF, the Vittoria Mazza also boasts impressive cornering traction. This aggressive tire has a row of well-supported side knobs and a predictable locked-in feel when on edge. Vittoria’s 4C Graphene rubber provides a tacky feel, and longitudinal siping on all the tread knobs further enhance their grip and traction in all conditions we encountered while testing. Specialized’s Butcher T9 is at the top of the heap in the corners as well. The aggressive open tread is great in a range of conditions, but it’s the new T9 rubber compound that’s most impressive. While the rubber doesn’t have the tackiest feel, its dampening properties give it an especially smooth, glued-to-the-ground ride quality.
Likewise, the Michelin Wild Enduro Front is a top performer in the corners. One look at the Wild Enduro Front, and you can see why. This tire has super tall and aggressive shoulder lugs that bite into nearly any trail surface. Wet, loose, loam, this tire rips into the soil. You can lean as hard as you want into this tire, and the casing is supportive. Similarly, we found the new Michelin Wild AM2 to rip through the bends. This tire relies on its aggressive tread pattern to do most of the work, with well-supported shoulder lugs and a supportive yet supple Gravity Shield casing.
Continental’s latest tires deserve praise in the metric, and the Kryptotoal Fr represents a new era for the brand. This tire performs as well as the best cornering tires we’ve tested. The WTB Vigilante also earns an honorable mention in the cornering metric. We found performance to be right there with the Minion DHF and the Wild Enduro Front. This burly and mean front tire can stand up to aggressive movements, committed riding, and all types of terrain.
If we were forced to pick one rear tire to ride for an entire year, knowing we’d be experiencing a huge range of conditions, trail types, and weather, we’d choose the Maxxis Aggressor. We feel this tire provides a great combination of traction and rolling speed and has a huge bandwidth in terms of conditions. While other tires may handle specific conditions better, the Aggressor rarely leaves us wanting more. The medium profile center tread allows for exceptional pedaling efficiency and low rolling resistance, all while offering adequate bite for climbing and braking traction. The side knobs are stout enough to rail corners but not so burly that they resist flicking the bike’s rear end into corners and breaking traction when the mood hits.
The Maxxis Dissector is another of our favorite rear tires. Its moderate height center tread is fast-rolling, yet it has a substantial row of side knobs that provide excellent grip in the corners. This versatile model performs well in all but the loosest of conditions. Similarly, the WTB Trail Boss rolls relatively quickly, but its stout row of shoulder knobs hook up and rails through the bends.
Those who want a relatively fast-rolling rear tire that maintains good cornering abilities might consider the Specialized Eliminator T7. The Eliminator has a semi-aggressive center rolling for speed, but it still has good braking bite and cornering traction. Likewise, the Michelin Force AM2 is a fast-rolling tire, but it has aggressive shoulder lugs that help it corner better than other fast-rollers.
For the more aggressive rider, the Maxxis Minion DHR II is our favorite option. The Michelin Wild Enduro Rear is right there with the DHR II when weight is less of a priority and cornering abilities and traction are emphasized. While neither of these tires is light, they’re both impressive when the going gets radical.
Pedaling forces are applied through the rear tire while the front tire is pushed along, guiding the bike along its journey. In essence, we describe the behaviors of the various front tires as they navigate the terrain. The Maxxis Minion DHF is our favorite tire for all-conditions riding. The majority of our testing took place in dryer California conditions. Trails were often loose, blown out, and rocky. The Maxx Terra compound on the Minion DHF is an excellent balance of grip, rolling resistance, and longevity. The side knobs molded to rock faces just as well as they clawed for traction in the rubble.
There are better choices than the Minion DHF if you ride firm ground almost exclusively due to the fact that the knobs are on the aggressive side with a fair amount of spacing between them. The Maxxis Ardent, Michelin Force AM2, Specialized Ground Control, and Vittoria Martello perform better in these cases with smaller knobs that don’t give the rider a feeling of riding high off the ground. The even tread pattern of those tires also feels more predictable on firm ground as the transition across the tread is smooth the whole way through.
With rear tires, you’ll find huge variances in traction, depending on the type of terrain and the surface conditions. If the mission of the day is to climb up a ridiculously loose fire road with golf ball-sized rocks loosely embedded in the surface and soil that is so loose you’re leaving a wake in the sand behind you, something knobby like the Minion DHR II will “get ‘er done.”
The Maxxis Aggressor provided us with excellent pedaling traction on a huge range of surfaces and conditions. We found the Aggressor works best on hardpack, rock, and loam. When things get loose and steep, the Aggressor can’t match the DHR II‘s more aggressive tread. Similarly, the Specialized Eliminator and WTB Trail Boss provide balanced traction across a wide range of surfaces and conditions.
When conditions are firm, some of our fastest rolling tires perform exceptionally well. Lower profile tread designs like those of the Maxxis Ardent, Vittoria Agarro, and Michelin Force AM2 grip very well on hardpack and slabby rock, though they tend to falter when the surface conditions are super loose.
Braking traction is a crucial element of any mountain bike tire and one that varies dramatically between the different models and tread designs. In general, the size, shape, and orientation of the center tread play the biggest role in how well a tire slows and stops your forward momentum.
It varies with the conditions, but more often than not, a tire with a more aggressive tread design is going to brake better. The height, shape, and orientation of the knobs all play a role in how they bite into the trail surface as you apply the brakes. In terms of front tire braking traction, the more aggressive, the better, and tires like the Michelin Wild Enduro, Maxxis Assegai, WTB Convict, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary have got your back when you want to shut it down. We also particularly like the 2-knob, alternating paddle tread running down the center of the WTB Vigilante. The simple, no-nonsense tread design uses square, horizontally siped knobs that splay to increase friction and surface area. When things get a little damp, the somewhat open tread design sheds mud quite well to ensure a clean braking surface. The Maxxis Minion DHF, Vittoria Mazza, and Continental Kryptotal Fr use deep, open tread designs with tall knobs that dig well into just about any soil type. While testing, we always felt confident that they would hook and grab hold when it came time to slow things down.
As with front tire braking traction, rear tire braking traction is also dependent on the size, shape, and orientation of the tread knobs. As a general rule, the more aggressive the tread design, the better the tire will perform in loose conditions. Taller knobs with wide spacing can penetrate deeper into loose surfaces, and braking edges that face perpendicular to the direction of travel will most help slow your roll when it’s super loose. The Maxxis Minion DHR II has an aggressive tread pattern with wide paddle-shaped lugs that offer great braking traction on most surfaces, including soft and blown-out corners.
Fast-rolling and semi-slick tires get their speed from small, low-profile tread blocks. Unfortunately, this has an adverse effect on braking traction on anything but firm conditions. There is less to bite into the soil, and on loose, dusty, or wet trails, these tires tend to slide under braking forces. That said, the Maxxis Aggressor, Maxxis Dissector, WTB Trail Boss, and Specialized Eliminator T7 offer decent braking bite given their rolling speed.
If braking power is high on your list of priorities, running some of the tires we primarily tested as front tires on the rear wheel is a great option as well. Running a Maxxis Minion DHF or Asegai, Vittoria Mazza, or WTB Vigilante front and rear might not be the fastest rolling choice, but it would definitely stop you in a hurry.
More often than not, the more aggressive a tread design is, the more rolling resistance it has, and vice-versa. For this reason, the tires with the lowest profile center treads and the semi-slicks garnered top honors in rolling resistance or lack thereof. For highly skilled riders that can push the pace while maintaining some semblance of control, these tires are a fast option.
One of the fastest-rolling tires in the test was the Specialized Ground Control. This isn’t much of a surprise given its cross-country pedigree. It carries speed exceptionally well and performs precisely as intended. It should also be noted that this tire also delivers pretty solid cornering abilities given its impressive rolling speed.
The Maxxis Ardent is another fast and efficient tire that will appeal most to the XC crowd. The Ardent has a low-profile tread design that prioritizes rolling speed. The Vittoria Agarro and Michelin Force AM2 have a similar tread design to the Ardent and are great options for those looking to minimize rolling resistance. The Maxxis Aggressor, Dissector, and WTB Trail Boss offer more traction while still maintaining impressive rolling speed.
More aggressive treads and softer rubber compounds have a tendency to roll more slowly. Tires like the Schwalbe Magic Mary, Michelin Wild Enduro Rear, WTB Vigilante, and Maxxis Assegai slay corners, but they also roll much slower than most of the competition.
There’s no way around it; mountain bike tires are pricey. We want our tires to last, and we get the feeling you do too. That’s why we put each tire through rigorous testing of heavy use before examining the wear on the tread and casing to assess durability. Manufacturers use different rubber compounds and casing constructions, so some tires are more durable than others. Softer rubber compounds tend to wear quicker, while thinner sidewalls and casings are easier to flat. How fast a tire wears out can be subjective and a function of how much, how hard, where, and what conditions you ride in.
We were thoroughly impressed by the tread life of the Vittoria Mazza. Vittoria uses a 4C (4 compounds) rubber that is infused with Graphene. We can’t speak for the science behind it, but we found the Mazza’s cornering knobs to have above-average durability. The Michelin Wild AM2 and Force AM2 feature Gum-X rubber compounds and the Gravity Shield casing. Both of these tires really impressed us with their long-lasting tread and resilient sidewalls. From a casing standpoint, we were impressed by the TCS Light SG2 casings on the WTB Vigilante and Trail Boss. Despite their Light designation, these tires proved to be tough with a Slash Guard (SG2) insert that stood up to our abuse.
For the majority of these tires, we were able to install and seat the bead on our rims without the use of a high-powered compressor. We used our beloved Joe Blow Booster floor pump to successfully set the bead on many, while a standard floor pump proved to be powerful enough for several of them. A select few of the tires, mostly the Schwalbes and the Continentals, required the use of a powerful compressor to finally seat the bead on the rim’s flanges.
A multitude of mountain bike tires can easily be mounted onto a rim with just your bare hands. For other models, you may find it necessary to use a tire lever or two. Heavier tires with thicker sidewalls can be a little tougher with less pliable casings, while lighter and more flexible tires are slightly easier to handle.
Some of the more burly casings are more difficult to work with. The stiff carcass on the Michelin Wild Enduro Front and Wild Enduro Rear were both tough to pull onto the rim. They inflated and seated easily, but it required two tire levers just to pull the tire into position. A couple of the toughest tires we’ve ever installed are the Continental Kryptotal models. These tires put a fight to get seated, but once mounted we never had further issues.
There is a lot to consider when researching tires. With plenty of jargon and technical terms, things can get confusing awfully quickly. One thing is for sure: tires are a relatively cost-effective way to improve your bike’s handling and all-around performance. We hope our detailed comparative analysis helps you find the right tires to meet your needs, budget, and riding style.