There’s an abundance of mountain bike tires on the market to choose from, so it can be tricky knowing how to choose the right mountain bike tires. Here’s where mtbtips comes to the rescue and makes it easy for you.
Follow these five systematic steps each time you need to buy new tires and you won’t go wrong.
Step 1 – Determine the size (diameter and width) that will fit on your bike
Take a look at the size of your current tires as indicated by the numbers on the sidewall of the tire. As an example we’ll use the common size of 26 x 2.1 (picture at left).
- The first number (26) indicates the tire diameter in inches when measured at the bead
- The second number (2.1) is the effective tire width in inches (measured differently by different tire manufacturers)
Any new tires you buy must be the same diameter as the old tires they’re replacing so that they fit on your rim. However, when it comes to tire width, you may be able to fit a different width tire.
Google the name and make of your rim to find the manufacturers specifications. You can’t put just any width tire on any rim, there are limits. So follow your rim manufacturers guidelines for the minimum and maximum tire widths for your rim and stick between those sizes. You don’t want your tire blowing off when you least expect it!
Once you’ve found the minimum and maximum tire widths that your rim can safely handle, lock that into your brain. We’ll need that information later.
Step 2 – Is your current rim and tire combination a Tubed or Tubeless set-up?
Identify which one of the two wheel systems your bike has
- Conventional rim designed for standard tire and tube, or
- Tubeless rim/wheelset designed for tubeless tires (no tube needed)
Tubeless tires are usually indicated as such on the sidewall, but not all tubeless rims indicate they are tubeless. Before choosing the right mountain bike tires it’s important to know if your rims are tubeless or not. If in doubt, Google the brand and make of the rim to find out.
If you have tubeless rims, stick with riding tubeless specific tires if you can. Tubeless tires are usually more expensive, but they have some good advantages like
- the ability to ride with lower air pressures to increase traction, without the risk of pinch flats, and as long as you use tire sealant
- the ability to seal small tire punctures as they happen so that you can keep riding
They’re two pretty good advantages!
However, let’s not forget the standard tubed tires. They still have their place in the mountain biking kingdom. And compared to tubeless tires, they are usually
- Cheaper – some popular designs can be bought for 10 bucks!
- available in a wider choice of tread designs and sizes
Step 3 – Style – What’s your style?
What will you do on the tires? Downhill, cross-country, urban, all-mountain or free-ride? Sunday race? Determine your style so that you know the basic tread type you should be looking for.
When searching for your new tire, compare tires that are designed for the style of riding you do. And if you’re a mix of styles on the one bike, choose your dominant style as a starting point.
Most tire manufacturers give good descriptions for each tire in their range. You can’t believe everything you read, but the tire suitability information they provide can certainly improve your knowledge of tires and help make your choice easier.
Other sources of information are mountain bike tire review websites, local mountain bike shop staff, fellow mountain bikers and mountain bike magazines.
Step 4 – Terrain
What type of terrain will the tires be ridden on? Have a basic idea of the ground you’ll mostly be riding. Is it loose and rocky, sandy, hard pack, muddy, urban…then add your type of terrain to your list of tire size, wheel system and style and you’re nearly done!
Step 5 – Advantages
Determine the two or three most important advantages you want from your new mountain bike tires. In other words, what do you want your new tires to do for you best?
Do you want them to roll easier and maximize your racing speed? Or do you want them to be super durable. Tough enough to handle the roughest and sharpest terrain that all-mountain or free-riding can offer? Maybe you want a folding tire to fit in your pack, or a cross country tire that offers high grip centre and shoulder sections for better climbing and faster cornering?
Once you’ve determined the features you want most in your new tires, make it a priority to stick to those choices when choosing mountain bike tires. The list below will help you determine what features you want most.
Below are three identical tires. They are the same brand, all three have the same tread pattern suited to your use, but each one in the list is a different width. Taking that into account, we could generally make the following comparisons when choosing mountain bike tires…
the narrow tire (1.8 – 2.1) would offer:
- lowest rolling resistance (good)
- easier acceleration and pedaling because of low spinning mass and small tread contact
- less rim protection against rocks and trail features
- less floatation over rough and sandy terrain
- harsher ride
the medium width tire (around 2.2 – 2.5) in the same tread would offer:
- increased grip
- increased rolling resistance
- average acceleration and pedaling because of increased spinning mass and increased tread contact
- increased rim protection against rocks and trail features because of larger air volume and shape
- increased floatation over rough and sandy terrain because of larger air volume and shape
the wider tire (2.5 or wider) in the same tread would offer:
- highest grip levels for their intended use
- highest rolling resistance, poor acceleration and high pedaling resistance for flat or uphill terrain because of high spinning mass and large tread contact area
- better downhill momentum because high tire mass works with gravity to create a flywheel effect
- highest rim protection and floatation
Remember to keep within the minimum and maximum tire width for your rims then…
Now you know:
- the tire diameter you need and the minimum and maximum tire width allowed
- which wheel system you ride, tubed or tubeless
- your mountain biking style
- the terrain you’ll be riding
- the advantages you want most
Now that you’re armed with these five answers you’ll know how to choose the right mountain bike tires with confidence.
Check here for Chris’ current favorite mountain bike tires.