Winter mountain bike tyres - picks of the best

By BikeRadar | Tuesday, October 9, 2007 11.00pm

If mountain biking was Mastermind then there's no doubt that 'things that work in shit' would be Britain's specialist subject. Trails barely dry out in summer and just get wetter and wetter all winter. No snow, not even much frost any more, just deepquagmires churned ever deeper by walking boots, hooves and tyres, as winter allegedly turns into spring.

To show our encyclopaedic knowledge of muddy rubber we've got a complete range from the most mental heavyweight downhill spikes to the skinniest cut-through mud XC racer favourites.

If it's pure mire, grass and bottomless ponds you're riding through, then the skinniest (2.0in or less) toothiest tyre is your ideal choice. These can dig deep down to firmer ground for extra purchase and they feel light and fast. Just as importantly they keep going round through even the most mud-clogged frame, which makes them the chosen weapon of choice for wet weather racers.

The downside is that they skate around on hard surfaces like you're on ice and you risk pinch flatting them on any root edges that you slam into rather than skip over. Therefore, in mixed conditions a tyre with some more fat on gives a lot more protection. You're relying more on tread and rubber compound for surface grip and fast clearing though, so a tyre that works skinny won't always work chubby.

The good news is that you don't have to guess about stuff like that, because we've got all the dirty test data and comparative crap conditions test feedback you could want here. So you sit down in the warm with a nice cup of tea, while we get the jetwash out - again.

Specialized Bicycles Storm Pro 2.0in | £20

Specialized's wet weather tyres are very much a speed rather than spikey grip choice, but if you bear that in mind then they're really great. Using an arrow front and low block rear tread, with relatively low but well-buttressed side knobs.

 

Big spaces between them means they never ever clog though, and soft compound rubber sucks onto any rocks and roots poking through the puddles. Low tread and very low weight means phenomenal acceleration and agility so they pick up any speed you drop in the swamps which makes them ideal for race use.

They also flare the back end out very easily if you brake or put the power down too hard, so they're best suited to skilful not clumsy riders. Once you're expecting it though, it's a predictable and manageable speedway-style slide that's a lot of fun to work with.

They need a fair bit of pressure in them to survive rocky bits though, and they 'thorn puncture' pretty easily too, so they wouldn't be our first choice for general trail use, but very rapid tread wear is offset by the very low price.

Verdict:  

Maxxis High Roller single ply ST 2.35 | £23

The reigning king of grip whatever the weather is doing, Maxxis High Roller still rules if you're looking for a totally surefooted, sturdy and inexpensive tyre.

 

The steeply ramped centre tread means you're almost looking at two different tyres in one, as in-line grip and rolling speed are dramatically different depending which way round they are.

Have them running for maximum scoop effect though, and they'll power paddle through most mire, with the soft compound rubber gluing them to any rocks or roots.

There's a bit of a lurch over to the side knobs, but once you're there they're equally tenacious in nailing off-camber or cornering grip. They rarely clog too, and they shrug off damage even at low pressures making them an outstandingly grippy tyre
in mixed conditions.

They are very slow rolling in the Sticky Compound version though, so go for the only slightly less tenacious 60 duro Maxxpro versions if you value velocity. Low prices mean fast wear isn't an issue though.

Verdict:  

Bontrager Mud-X 26x2.0 Tyre | £24.99

Our reigning filthy weather favourite, Keith Bontrager's homage to our changeable climate is one of our favourite winter tyres.

 

The slightly rounded cross-hatched top tread block pattern never looks anything special when we're trying to explain its wonders to people but the proof always comes in the riding. It's low and light enough to feel fast and lively, and stay on well into a dry spring and it's an essential for 'summer' races.

The well-spaced studs with 'GumBi' 60 duro centre and 50 duro shoulders manages to dig or stick traction on everything from snow, to slurry or the most Gordian knotted root and rock complex in the woods. The tubeless-ready design also enables you to drop pressures for a smoother, very supple and contact-rich ride.

While it still needs some care in sharp rocky sections, the 2.0in carcass size is a good compromise for plenty of clearance on your frame and enough protection for normal trail use. Pricing is extremely good too as they wear pretty well. Weight 542g.

Verdict:  

Continental Slash Wire 2.3 | £13.95

An almost carbon copy of Panaracer's legendary Smoke tread, Conti's Slash is a good rear option for those who value high mileage over high traction.

 

The paddle tread certainly stirs impressive straight line traction out of most soft conditions. The long, stiff rubber edge treads and can be leant on pretty hard once you've banked the rounded carcass over too.

Its tendency to spit sideways suddenly when it does go makes it a gamble for heavy braking front use though. It also tends to clog on the shoulders in sticky conditions and the hard compound rubber is slipperier than soap on wet roots and rocks.It blows up smaller than most oversized 2.3s so it's XC rather than freeride tough.

The toughened 'ProTection' carcass shrugs off thorn punctures well though. The tread will still be looking brand new when most of the soft compound tyres here are down to bald carcass, which makes them good value in terms of mileage at least.

Verdict:

Panaracer Fire Mud Pro 1.8 Kevlar Tyre | £27.99

The skinniest version of Panaracer's well-loved all rounder is a great example of how good a sludge-cutter can be for racing.

 

Small, sharp edged, square centre blocks bite impressively well once the skinny carcass has sunk into soft ground. They clear super-quick too, so you'll be one of the last to clog, however bad the course gets.

You could say that about most skinny tyres though, so the Fire XC has a few more tricks up its sleeve which make it worth special mention. Firstly, full-size 'ZSG' softer compound side wings give the Fire much more leaning/off-camber clamber grip than most miniature rubber too.

The ASB reinforced sidewall really does shrug off pinch flats better than normal tyres too so you'll survive clattering through sharp stuff better. In other words while skinnies always take some getting used to, you can ride this a lot less nervously than most.

Panaracer do an even more toothier 'Fire Mud' 1.8in tyre, which is even better in runny mess but for mixed speed we would still stick with this one.

Verdict:  

Continental Speed King Supersonic 2.3 | £31.95

We know this tyre was in our summer speed tyres issue but it went so well in the mire of Mountain Mayhem 24 hr race that we had to include it here too.

 

Continental haven't designed it as a wet weather mud tyre but the wide-spaced triangular stud and 'M' block design bites into soft stuff really well. It's stable enough to push hard under braking and cornering when you'd be backing off on most tyres.

At Mountain Mayhem - a real Somme of sludge, wet rock and roots, off-camber grass and general slippery evil - we rode it harder every lap, despite deteriorating conditions and it never let go unless we were being really stupid.

Fast clearing and ridiculously low weight mean instant acceleration on firmer bits too, and it runs well all summer. The new Black Chilli compound is really impressive in mixed conditions without feeling slow on the firm stuff or ripping apart quickly.

Unfortunately it only comes on the featherweight 'Supersonic' carcass version, which needs more TLC than most tyres and plenty of pressure to keep it stable. The similar but burlier Mountain King mixes Black Chilli with reinforced ProTection sidewall though.

Verdict:  

 

Geax Barro

 

They might be part of a premier road brand, but Geax aren't afraid of a bit of muck. Big open tread on a super skinny carcass means the Barro winter racer sinks its teeth right down to where it counts. Sealant assisted TNT versions add low pressure tubeless advantages without stiffness or increased weight.

Verdict:

WTB Raijin

 

Another new face from the WTB dynasty, the Raijin eye is named after the Japanese Gods of thunder and rain. Wide spaced tread slices through sticky stuff like a samurai sword while reasonable rolling resistance means this Ronin isn't adverse to a bit of general roaming either.

Verdict:

Michelin DH Mud 3

 

This the serious wet weather weapon in the quiver of Michelin's DH specific tyres. A shock of centre spikes, plus a serious set of fangs on the shoulders means this nails traction in the deepest mire. Plus, unlike most spikes, super soft compound rubber sticks it to anything hard in muddy mixtures. But, possibly the slowest rolling tyre ever made, and not cheap.

Verdict:

Maxxis Medusa

 

Maxxis might have their most loyal fans among the lairy and loony, but they've got a big selection of excellent XC tyres for Brit bogs. The wide spaced square studs of the Medusa really come into their own when the rain comes down on the race track with impressive grip and speed however gloopy it gets.

Verdict:

Continental Cross Country

 

Want to know what the old school racers swear by for winter grip and off-season speed? Continental's super skinny Cross Country 1.5in might be ancient but it's still the choice of many racers for cutting right through the crap. You can forget about any mud clearance issues too, although you'll have to watch its sketchy handling on hardpack very carefully.

Verdict:

Panaracer Trailraker

 

Designed in Yorkshire and made by the Japanese, the Trailraker is a truly global gloop beater. Deep centre spikes and tall, aggressive shoulder tread in Panaracer's patented ZSG rubber help it claw its way up or through pretty much anything however filthy and evil the recent weather. Probably the ultimate winter grip trail tyre.

Verdict:

Maxxis Swamp Thing 2

 

The Maxxis Swamp Thing 2is the resident rubber on the front of our freeride/hardcore bikes whenever the days get short and the skies get dark. It's no fast roller, but it's perfect for nailing the sketchiest winter lines that'll leave other tyres sliding and the Swamp Thing's tough as teak too. For real monsoon conditions try the Wet Scream though.

Verdict:

Need even more detail on some of the rubber featured above?

Check out the Related Articles links, top right, for additional info.

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