Being the only direct point of contact between you and the trail, a tire can hugely influence the handling qualities of any mountain bike. No matter how good the frame is, a bike can’t possibly reach its full potential with a bad set of tires. The sort of performance we can expect from a tire really depends on the area of application, conditions and personal preferences. With this test we will help you to find your perfect rubber.

There really isn’t a more affordable way of tuning your bike than fitting a good set of tires. Although “cheap” is relative, with tire prices averaging around € 50 no one wants to be changing them constantly. So before you get your wallet out, make sure you spend your cash on the right set of tires.

Not a test like all others

To be honest with you, planning this test set us a huge task. Which tires should we test? How should we test them? And where? What is the main aim of this test and what are we focusing on? The problem: the huge selection of models available on the market makes it almost impossible to arrange a comprehensive testing field, which not only includes all relevant models, but also helps you to find a tire that suits your needs. That’s why we changed our approach this time.

The most comprehensive test of all time

On this occasion we didn’t just spend a few weeks testing tires, we actually took all our knowledge from tests we’ve carried out over the last few years. The reason? Not only did we compare a wide range of tires but also experienced their riding behavior over several months, putting all different models through a variety of terrains and weather conditions. On three different occasions we were also given the opportunity to access and use Continental’s testing facilities, and took home some very interesting test-results. Our recommendations are always a result of practical experience backed up by accurate test-lab results. This test gathers all of the experiences our team collected over the years and includes tires from different manufacturers, and it should help you find the tire that really suits you riding, whether you’re a regular on Utah’s rock-hard trails or a Scottish mud-veteran.

The agony of choice

Trying to keep an overview of the extensive portfolios of each tire-manufacturer can be as challenging as filing your yearly tax return. Most brands not only offer a wide selection of models (tread-patterns) for all sorts of different conditions, but also include different casing options, width and rubber compound. For example, the Maxxis Minion DHF 27,5” classic comes in a total of 11 variations – and then there are also the Minion DHR and High Roller II as alternatives with similar characteristics.

Tire Price Weight Dimensions Measured Width*
Bontrager SE5 Team Issue € 52.90 1,000 g 29 x 2.30 59 / 59.5 mm

Continental Der Baron Projekt € 70.90 1,029 g 29 x 2.40 58.5 / 57.8 mm
E13 TRS+ ab € 67.90 954 g 29 x 2.35 61 / 61 mm
Maxxis MINION DHR II € 69.50 957 g 29 x 2.40 WT 59 / 58 mm
Michelin Wild Grip’R ab € 45.00 1,057 g 29 x 2.35 58 / 60 mm
Schwalbe Magic Mary € 57.90 855 g 29 x 2.35 61 / 62 mm
Specialized Hillbilly € 39.90 965 g 29 x 2.30 62 / 62 mm
WTB Vigilante € 59.90 866 g 29 x 2.30 59 / 57 mm

*Tire mounted with 2.0 bar on a 30 mm rim (internal width). 1st value= outside knob; 2nd value= carcass

Crucial factors to consider when choosing a tire:

Tread pattern

The profile of a tire will hugely affect its riding behaviour. Factors like tread pattern, profile height, lug-distance and block-notches play a crucial role. A classic mud tire for example features tall knobs with generous gaps between them, allowing the tire to dig deep into the ground; however, this sort of lug tends to squirm on hard surfaces. Some tires are specifically designed to be used on the front wheel, others work better on the back.
We will explain the different types of profile from each manufacturer and their specific advantages.

The rubber compound

The softer the rubber compound, the better the grip. But this rule also bears some disadvantages like faster tire wear and higher rolling resistance. The best tires feature different compounds for central-lugs and shoulder-lugs, this allows for an optimal compromise between grip and rolling resistance.

Tire width

The market is now offering ridiculous amounts of tire models and each model comes in different widths. The ideal tire is a subjective matter and rim width plays a crucial role when choosing your perfect tire. Rims with around a 30 mm inner width are currently becoming standard as they’re compatible with all sorts of tire-widths ranging from 2.4”–2.8”, and 2.5–2.6” tires and are currently becoming a wide-spread trend. These last ones only make sense when paired with 30 mm rims (inner width). Those who are still riding on narrow rims (< 25 mm) should stick to a maximum tire width of 2.4”.

The casing

There are plenty of enduro-specific tires available these days, and they all come in a variety of casing options. The number of layers in the tire carcass is responsible for puncture resistance. More layers mean more protection, but also more weight. In order to keep the weight within reasonable limits, many manufacturers offer their tires with a thin tread and different levels of side-wall reinforcement (Schwalbe Super Gravity, Maxxis Double Down, Continental Protection APEX). These sort of tires are usually 150-300g heavier than those with normal casing, but still 150-300g lighter than pure downhill tires. The choice of the right carcass is strongly linked with the area of application and intended use. Touring riders should choose a lighter tire whilst enduro riders who spend more time on harder terrain and sometimes race, should invest their money on a heavier tire.

The weight

The weight of a tire can also massively influence the way it rides. Yet lighter doesn’t necessarily mean better. A lighter tire will give you quicker acceleration but also lower puncture resistance and less natural damping. The weight for a specific model can vary from tire to tire, with some manufactures we identified differences of over 130 g when compared to the claimed weight. In this test we will disclose the weights we determined.

Front wheel ≠ rear tire

Requirements for a front or rear tire can heavily differ depending on the type of application. Generally, powerful braking-traction and good cornering-qualities are the criteria defining a good front wheel. For back wheels a lower rolling resistance is preferable. Still the rear tire plays an important role in terms of cornering qualities and can heavily affect the stability and safety of a bike. For this reason semi-slick tires are only an option on very dry and hard terrain or for experienced riders.
If durability is a valued property, then it makes sense to use a harder compound for the rear wheel. Many of the tires in our test can be used both on the front and/or back.

A perfect tire is the smallest possible compromise

It is crucial to seek the right balance between a variety of characteristics when choosing the right tire. We already know that light-weight and high puncture resistance stand in the way of each other and the same rule applies for grip, rolling resistance and durability. Depending on the intended use and personal preferences, the specifications for a perfect tire can differ significantly. Those who love long rides with sweat-breaking climbs on their enduro bikes will need to choose a different type of tire from those who like being taken to the top by a lift or truck. The travel of a bike is not the decisive factor in this case, a good tire can enhance a bike’s poor reserves, and it also works the other way round.

An optimal enduro tire boasts a versatile tread pattern combined with good grip and an acceptable rolling resistance. It feels predictable on the trail and behaves equally well on both hard-packed and soft terrain. The casing needs to be able to take a good beating on harder downhills whilst remaining within an acceptable weight limit. And last but not least, it shouldn’t wear too quickly. The good news is we found this mighty all-rounder and will reveal its name on the next page. We’ll also introduce a few other exciting tires as an alternative.

All tires in test: Bontrager SE5 Team Issue | Continental Der Baron Projekt | E13 TRS+ | Maxxis MINION DHR II | Michelin Wild Grip’R | Schwalbe Magic Mary | Specialized Hillbilly | WTB Vigilante

About the author

Christoph Bayer

Christoph loves to be kept on his toes – both on the bike and in his role for ENDURO. He’s known as the guy in charge of the bi-monthly magazine and masquerades as both its editor and photographer. You’ll usually find him tearing up the mountains on his bike, soaking up the flow or tackling technical, narrow trails.