Best mountain bike tyres in 2020 | The best trail and enduro tyres

Our pick of the best mountain bike tyres for trail, enduro and downhill riding

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Mountain bike tyres best list

Getting the best mountain bike tyres for the type of riding you do and the conditions you typically encounter can be a real headache. Get it right, however, and tyres can make a big difference to how your bike rides.

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Why is it so tough to find the right tyres? First, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge with MTB tyres.

You’re expected to know what a mud tyre should look like and where it will perform best. You need to know what type of tread pattern works well on smooth or bumpy terrain, and you need a decent knowledge about carcass thickness and rubber compound.

But, fear not, we’ve done the leg work for you.

For each tyre we’ve added what that model is good at, what it’s designed for, whether it’s available with different rubber compounds or carcass thicknesses, and which discipline it’s most suited to.

What to look for when buying mountain bike tyres

You can’t overstate the importance of a good set of tyres. They drastically affect how your bike rides, so skimping is a false economy. Finding the best tyres for your needs is far from straightforward though.

Width is crucial. Wider tyres roll faster over soft or bumpy terrain – in timed tests we’ve consistently ridden DH tracks faster on them – so many brands now offer 2.6in options. But a fatter tyre won’t suit everyone, because they can have a bouncy ride feel and won’t fit all frames.

Tread pattern is a key consideration too. Tall, widely-spaced knobs are ideal for muddy or loose terrain, while shorter tread blocks tend to be faster – rolling and more predictable on hard surfaces.

Most MTB tyres are available in several rubber compounds. Softer compounds grip better on roots and rocks, and have a more ‘planted ’ ride feel, because the rubber absorbs more energy from bumps. The downsides are that they wear faster and have more rolling resistance.

Many tyres come with a choice of casings too. Thicker carcasses are less likely to puncture and, due to stiffer sidewalls, can usually be run at lower tyre pressures without the sidewall collapsing when cornering. They also provide more damping, so are less bouncy over bumps.

Thinner casings roll faster, especially over bumpy ground, and transmit less feedback at a given pressure.

Tyres are becoming increasingly specialised for the front or rear wheel. Rolling resistance and puncture protection are more of an issue on the rear, as it supports most of the rider’s weight, whereas grip is more important up front, to stop your front wheel sliding out.

That’s the basics covered but we’ve also added an in-depth buyer’s guide and glossary at the end of the article, to help you find exactly what you need.

Many of the MTB tyres we’ve tested recently, and have been impressed by, have been orientated towards trail and enduro riding, and this is reflected in our current list. We have more tyre reviews in the pipeline, and will only recommend tyres we’ve tested and that are current models.

Best mountain bike tyres, as rated by our expert testers

  • Maxxis Minion DHF Wide Trail 3C TR EXO
  • Maxxis Shorty 3C Max Terra EXO
  • Michelin Wild Enduro Front Gum-X / Magi-X
  • Schwalbe Hans Dampf SuperGravity ADDIX Soft
  • Schwalbe Magic Mary SuperGravity ADDIX Soft
  • Vee Tire Co SNAP WCE Top 40
  • Michelin Wild Enduro Rear Gum-X
  • Specialized Eliminator BLCK DMND
  • Specialized Hillbilly BLCK DMND
  • WTB Verdict 2.5 TCS Tough High Grip

Maxxis Minion DHF Wide Trail 3C TR EXO

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Maxxis's Minion DHF Wide Trail 3C TR EXO 2.5in tyre
Maxxis’s Minion DHF Wide Trail 3C TR EXO 2.5in tyre.

Best for…

  • Downhill, enduro and trail riding depending on width, casing type and compound
  • Hardpack, dust, rocks and roots
  • Front tyre

Arguably the benchmark of performance, the Minion DHF is a favourite with gravity-fed DH and enduro riders and all-day trail-blazers alike.

Its time-proven tread pattern offers predictable grip on a wide range of trail surfaces and the large centre blocks means it rolls well to boot.

The Minion DHF’s lack of grip in properly sloppy and boggy conditions is its only pitfall.

We tested the triple-compound 3C version of the DHF, which offers the ultimate mix of grip, damping and suppleness, but there’s also the cheaper, dual-compound DC version, while the DD is reinforced for flat-out downhill riding.

Maxxis also offers the DHR II, with a more aggressive tread pattern for enhanced grip. It’s designed as a rear tyre but Maxxis says it’s suitable for use on the front as well.

Maxxis Shorty 3C Max Terra EXO

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
Maxxis Shorty 3C EXO TR – becoming a classic winter tyre in the UK.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media

Best for…

  • Downhill, enduro and trail riding depending on tyre casing, width and compound
  • Soft terrain such as deep, gloopy and wet mud, or dust and loam
  • Front or rear tyre

The Shorty is a mud-specific tyre that offers exceptional levels of grip thanks to its tall, aggressive blocks that bite through soft ground.

Despite its large blocky tread, the Shorty still grips fairly well once it dries out and we’ve seen downhill and enduro racers use the Shorty in completely dry conditions with deep dust.

Michelin Wild Enduro Front Gum-X / Magi-X

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
The Michelin Wild Enduro tyre offers plenty of traction, especially in sloppy conditions.
Dan Milner/MBUK

Best for…

  • Downhill and enduro
  • Soft terrain such as deep, gloopy and wet mud, or dust and loam
  • Exceptional grip on rocks, roots and hard surfaces, too
  • Front tyre

The Wild Enduro impressed us with its consistent grip thanks to its large blocks that dig into soft ground with ease.

Its shoulders – despite looking square – provide predictable traction near their limits thanks to the rubber flexing and not rebounding quickly.

All of this grip comes at a cost, though. They roll very slowly and if run at lower pressures the flexy sidewall can squirm when ridden on hardpack sections.

Schwalbe Hans Dampf SuperGravity ADDIX Soft

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
It’s brilliant through rocky descents, especially under braking.
William Poole

Best for…

  • Downhill, enduro and trail riding depending on carcass weight and rubber compound
  • Hardpack, rocks and roots
  • Rear tyre

Best-suited to rocky, hardpack terrain, the Hans Dampf has great straight-line grip with impressive rolling speed. It’s also predictable when leaned over for cornering thanks to its bulky side knobs and the ADDIX Soft rubber is well damped

It’s not quite as good on soft, boggy terrain, though.

Schwalbe Magic Mary SuperGravity ADDIX Soft

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
There’s plenty of sidewall support from the SuperGravity casing.
Andy Lloyd

Best for…

  • Downhill, enduro and trail riding
  • All terrain types from mud through to hardpack, rocks and roots
  • Lighter casing and different compounds are available depending on your preferred discipline
  • Front or rear tyre

Thankfully, this tyre from Schwalbe really lives up to the ‘magic’ part of its name because it offers exceptional grip in soft conditions while providing plenty of bite in turns and off-cambers.

Because it’s such a generalist, it’s as grippy on hardpack, rocky terrain as it is on softer ground thanks to its large blocky tread and soft rubber compound.

Impressively, it also rolls well considering its weight and tread compound.

Vee Tire Co SNAP WCE Top 40

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
Vee Tire Co is becoming more known on the MTB scene.
Bike Connection / Roo Fowler

Best for…

  • Downhill, enduro and heavy trail riding
  • Hardpack, rocks and roots
  • Front or rear tyre

Thanks to sticky rubber and a tread pattern that resembles Maxxis’ Minion DHF, it’s no surprise the SNAP WCE Top 40 tyre is a cracking performer.

The sticky rubber means it grips to wet rocks, roots and trails impressively – as long as they aren’t too boggy. While the predictable squish of the side knobs means that when leaned over in turns they’re really predictable.

The payoff for this grip is a high level of rolling resistance and the tread pattern isn’t best-suited to gloopy conditions.

Michelin Wild Enduro Rear Gum-X

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
It’s on slippery, muddy and loose tracks where this tyre really excels.
William Poole

Best for…

  • Downhill and enduro
  • All terrain types from mud through to hardpack, rocks and roots
  • Rear tyre

With good turning grip, especially when the conditions are loose – thanks to its bulky side knobs – the Wild Enduro also grips well on wet roots and rocks.

Because it’s a rear-specific tyre, the sidewall is fairly thick, so it offers resistance against punctures and tears.

It’s also got tightly-spaced centre tread blocks to help improve rolling resistance, making it less suited to trail riding.

Specialized Eliminator BLCK DMND

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
Braking grip is good on rocky ground where it stays settled over bumps.
Andy Lloyd

Best for…

  • Downhill, enduro, and trail in lighter GRID casing
  • Hardpack, rocks and roots
  • Rear tyre

The rear-specific Eliminator with BLCK DMND casing is well-suited to aggressive riders and hard surfaces.

It has a rounded shape which means it carves turns well and stands up to being pushed hard through corners even at low pressures.

It rolls well, even specced with this thick casing, but isn’t great in the mud or when the ground is really loose.

Specialized Hillbilly BLCK DMND

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
The large casing of this 2.6in version seems to offer meaningful floatation over really soft loamy sections.
Andy Lloyd

Best for…

  • Downhill and enduro
  • Soft terrain such as deep, gloopy and wet mud, or dust and loam
  • Front or rear tyre

The Hillbilly’s aggressive tread pattern helps to make it one of the best tyres we’ve ridden in soft conditions, whether that’s wet, gloopy mud or hero dirt such as soft loam.

The BLCK DMND casing has thicker sidewalls with less material under the tyre’s tread. This gives it a damped feel on rough ground.

It’s doesn’t always offer the best grip on wet rocks, but the grip available is predictable most of the time. The square profile means that low cornering angles can make it give way quickly.

WTB Verdict 2.5 TCS Tough High Grip

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike tyres
On the trail it has a comfortable, well-damped feel over rocky terrain.
Immediate Media

Best for…

  • Downhill and enduro
  • Soft terrain like deep, gloopy and wet mud or dust and loam
  • Front tyre but can be used on the rear in very wet or soft conditions

The Verdict offers fantastic wet-weather grip especially if the trails are sloppy and soft.

WTB even makes a Wet version of the Verdict with even bigger knobs, but we never felt like the standard one needed more. Its compound makes it stick to wet rocks and roots, too.

It doesn’t roll very fast and isn’t very grippy or predictable on hardpack trails, or when you’re leaning the bike over in turns.

Mountain bike tyres buyer’s guide

Your tyres make a massive difference to the character and ride of your bike. We bring you the lowdown on what to look for when buying new mountain bike tyres.

Should I use tubeless tyres?

Best mountain bike tyres
Most bikes come specced with tubeless-ready rims and tyres.
Alex Evans

Traditional tyres use an inner tube to keep them inflated, but how do ‘tubeless’ tyres work?

Tubeless tyres ditch the inner tube in favour of a tyre that’s specifically designed to be airtight, either through the use of an additional layer of rubber or the use of a latex-based sealant.

Mavic’s UST (Universal System Tubeless) system uses a thick side-walled tyre that locks into a specific sealed-bed UST rim. The advantage is an airtight seal with or without a sealant liquid inside, and very stable, pinch puncture-resistant, low pressure performance.

The downsides are that these tyres are more expensive and also heavier.

Most mountain bike tyres on the market today use some sort of ‘tubeless compatible’ system. These tyres use a tubeless bead but require sealant in order to make them airtight. They also require rim tape to seal the spoke holes off.

The benefit of this system is that it is lighter than a full UST system and offers the user a wide variety of tyre choices.

The downside is that there is not an established standard between the various tyre and rim manufacturers, so some rim and tyre combinations work better than others. Even so, this is the most common tubeless option you’ll encounter.

What is better, light or heavy mountain bike tyres?

Best mountain bike tyres
The DHF has great turning performance and is suited to most conditions until it gets really muddy and boggy.
Andy Lloyd

Weight has a big effect on the agility and acceleration of your bike. Light tyres are much easier to spin up to speed, change direction with and even stop, so make sense for cross-country use.

Heavier tyres are generally thicker, which means they resist punctures and pinch flats better and are less likely to flop and roll off at low pressures. Heavier tyres also increase the gyroscopic effect of the wheel, making the bike more stable on the ground or in the air.

At the really heavy end, reinforced-carcass downhill tyres are designed to be run at low pressures without popping or tearing off the rim, and rely on the help of gravity to get their 1kg-plus weight moving.

What width mountain bike tyre should I use?

Best mountain bike tyres
Maxxis Assegai tyres were designed with input from Greg Minnaar.
Steve Behr

There’s a massive range of tyre widths available from 1.5in to 5in fat bike tyres. The majority of mountain bikers run tyres in the 2.2in to 2.5in range, and more recently up to 2.6in has become commonplace.

Tyres in this range offer good protection and grip for more aggressive riding. Narrower tyres offer less cushioning and have less ‘footprint’ to grip with.

Pinch flat resistance is lower, too, unless narrower tyres are running higher pressures. They are lighter and roll faster though, and often cut through sticky mud and gloop better.

Square-profile tyres have more edging grip but are harder to lurch into corners. Rounder tyres roll more easily into corners and slide more predictably. Edge grip isn’t as aggressive, though.

There’s a massive range of tyre widths available, from 1.5in to 5in fat bike tyres. The majority of mountain bikers run tyres in the 2.2in to 2.5in range, and more recently up to 2.6in has become commonplace.

Cross-country tyres are likely to be at the narrower end of the scale, while trail/enduro tyres tend to be a little wider. Tyres in this range offer good protection and grip for more aggressive riding.

Narrower tyres, on the other hand, offer less cushioning and have less ‘footprint’ to grip with. Pinch flat resistance is lower on narrower tyres, too, unless they are being ran at higher pressures, which in turn could negatively affect grip.

Narrower tyres often cut through sticky mud and gloop better, though.

Ultimately, the ideal tyre width depends on what you’re riding, where you’re riding and how you’re riding. Weighing up all three aspects will help you find the right tyre.

For a more in-depth explainer on the subject, head to our ultimate test on mountain bike tyre size to determine the fastest width for trail and enduro riding.

How grippy are mountain bike tyres?

Best mountain bike tyres
Addix Ultra Soft is the enduro and downhill compound found in the Magic Mary and Dirty Dan.
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

This depends on the profile of the tyre, tread pattern, its durometer rating (how soft the rubber the tyre is made from is) and the overall build of the tyre.

Bigger gaps between tread blocks help a tyre shed mud, while taller spikes grip better in soft conditions. This type of tread has more rolling resistance than a lower-profile, more tightly-spaced design though, and can squirm on harder surfaces.

A tyre with a square-profile will have more edging grip but is harder to lurch into corners. Rounder tyres roll more easily into corners and slide in loose terrain more predictably. Edge grip isn’t as aggressive, though.

It’s a slightly simplistic summary, but a tyre that grips well because of a sticky/softer rubber compound and tall square-edged knobs will have more drag than those that don’t. But within this generalisation there are some notable tyres that reduce drag with a slight sloping of tread patterns, multiple tread compounds or the use of a ‘fast’ carcass.

Conversely, some tyres that have barely any tread actually bite as well as some mid-knob rubber.

Some tyres use different compounds for the centre and edge tread blocks, to balance rolling resistance, grip and durability.

All of this depends on your local terrain as well – a super chunky aggressive tyre won’t be as useful on the slick rock of Moab as a lower profile tyre.

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Glossary

  • Shoulder: The edge tread that provides off-camber and cornering grip
  • Sidewall: The bare side of the tyre, between the tyre tread and rim bread. Double or ‘two ply’ on DH tyres for extra stability and pinch flat resistance; airtight on UST tyres for tubeless running
  • Damping: Ability of a tyre to absorb energy as it rolls over a bump. More damping means the tyre rebounds slower, giving a less bouncy ride with better grip and control but more rolling resistance
  • Bead: The steel wire or Kevlar cord at the base of the sidewall that locks into the rim lip to keep the tyre in place. Kevlar or Aramid fibre beads are lighter and let the tyre fold, but are more expensive and the tyre is more likely to detach from the rim if flatted
  • Carcass: The fabric body of the tyre made from overlapping nylon threads encased in rubber. A more supple carcass enables the tyre to deform around lumps for extra grip but is less stable at low pressures. A reinforced carcass is more protective and less wobbly at low pressures but heavier and less comfortable. Lighter carcasses are more likely to get punctures too
  • TPI: The number of threads per inch in the carcass. Tyres with more threads are generally higher quality with a more subtle feel, but companies such as Tioga use a smaller quantity of fatter threads
  • Multi-compound: Tyres that use different rubber compounds; dual compounds are normally harder in the centre or underneath for fast rolling and long life, but soft on the shoulders for cornering grip. Schwalbe and Maxxis now do triple-compound tyres too
  • Durometer: The softness rating of the rubber; 70 and above is hard, 60 medium and anything below 50 is soft. The softer the tyre, the stickier it is on rocks and so on, but the faster it will wear out
  • Ramps: Ramped tread blocks have a leading edge which is angled like a wedge to decrease rolling resistance
  • Sipes: Small grooves cut into tread blocks to allow them to splay out like a goat’s hoof. Siped tyres offer increased grip, especially on wet surfaces
  • Squirm: Lateral movement of a tyre as the sidewall or tread folds during hard cornering