Best XC Mountain Bike Tires to Buy

How do I select the correct mountain bicycle racing tire to buy?

When it comes to XC mountain biking, nothing improves a recreational cross country mountain bike ride, a day of XC training or your cross country mountain bike race results more than good mountain bicycle rubber.

On the contrary, old MTB tire rubber, cheap tires or just tires that simply deliver poor performance can ruin your ride, cause you to crash, sometimes flat and even lose your race.


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XC Mountain Bike Tire Tread Patterns

Each manufacturer offers a wide variety of XC mountain bike tire tread patterns. Some offer higher knobs for softer dirt and mud, while others are hard pack tires with lower knobs, and often fewer knobs as well for faster rolling and quicker response.

Obviously many trails offer a variety of terrain. While 80% of a trail could be hard pack, the other 20% might be a combination of loamy dirt and sand. Most cyclists will opt for the hard pack mountain bike tire on this type of terrain, and take the penalty and extra difficulty of riding through the softer terrain, which a hard pack tire is likely to hook up poorly in. This is the nature and challenge of XC mountain biking, and there is always a compromise to be made when it comes to tire rubber.

There are generally two accepted schools of thought on tread design. One common design is a symmetrical design where the knobs are consistent in direction and type / shape of knob used. The other style is a less uniform design that might have many different knobs of various shapes and directions in a less uniform pattern spread out across the tire.

As you become more experienced with XC mountain bike riding, you will start to develop your preference over these two types of knob designs. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages that can really only be best discovered once they are mounted on your trusty XC bike and you actually test them across different trails.

Remember to adjust your mountain bike tire pressure properly. Your suspension setting will also affect your tires’ performance, and it might need minor tweaking.

XC Mountain Bike Rubber / Material Tire Type

These days there are various types of rubber that range from hard compounds to soft compounds including tires that even now offer dual compounds. Dual compound mountain bike tires are generally designed so the higher edged knobs on the outside edge of the tire are usually a softer compound which is better for cornering, while the center rubber is usually a harder rubber to help the tire roll faster and last longer.

Usually the rubber density is denoted by a number which equates to how hard or soft the mountain bike tire’s compound is. The higher the number, the harder the rubber is. For example, 60 would be a harder rubber, and a softer rubber could be 42.

Remember, just because a rubber is softer, doesn’t mean it is better, and the opposite is true as well. While a softer rubber may hook up better over very rocky terrain, the tire will get chewed up really fast and may only last for one race or a few recreation rides over hard pack or ridden on the street.

XC Mountain Bike Tube & Tubeless Tires

Both combinations are still offered currently, a mountain bike tire requiring a tube, and those using a tubeless system. Generally a tubeless tire requires stronger sidewalls to make up for the lower pressure and increase abuse the tire will undergo without a tube to support it, thus they sidewalls are made stronger which add weight. In many cases a tubeless tire is not that far off the weight of a lightweight tire with a lightweight tube.

So if you asking yourself what is the difference then between a tubeless mountain bike tire vs. a standard tube tire, it is about performance. I think the performance difference is very noticeable and truly prefer the feel of a tubeless system. Keep in mind nobody carries an extra / spare tubeless tire when they ride, so if you get a puncture that is too much for your protective sealant, you can run a tube on the inside of tubeless tire to continue riding.

XC Mountain Bike Tire Added Protection

Many manufactures offer a protection system to the tire. Currently this is some type of reinforcement and / or Kevlar addition to help protect against thorns, rocks and other nasty trail debris. Protection generally comes with an additional weight penalty as a trade off.

Editors Tire Pick

I am currently very fond of the Continental Race King series. Continental is a German company with great experience in tire development and uses its own proprietary rubber blends. Also race results simply don’t lie and helping Irina Kalentieva to win two World Championships on these tires is no easy feat against some of the best cross country mountain bike riders in the world.

I enjoy the feel of the all over pattern as it seems to be consistent and hooks up every where very well on the trail, and even works well on the street, which is how I get to the trail. For this type of tire it holds up well, and the protection systems have worked impressively well on very thorny trails. I do run some sealant, and mine are tubeless.

Continental Race King Protection 29 2.2″

Sizing: (4 1/2 stars)
Design: (5 stars)
Performance: (5 stars)
Price Point: (5 stars)
Overall Rating: (5 stars)

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