When looking for suitable tyres to use on your mountain bike or road bike the amount of variety on the market can sometimes appear a little overwhelming.
With so many options to choose from how on earth are you supposed to figure out how to spend your money wisely?
In this article we're going to look at tyre options for both mountain biking and road cycling, so let’s get started with the former and see if we can make some sense of what’s on offer!
Mountain Bike Tyres Demystified
First things first – we need to look at tyres for the individual features that they provide in order to gain a clearer understanding of what benefits (or deficits) they offer.
There can be a lot of variance in size from one manufacturer to the other, for example Schwalbe 2.1” casing can be more or less equivalent to Maxxis 2.35” casing.
If casing size is a mystery to you then fear not because the concept is quite simple to understand.
Larger casings of around 2.5” are generally more suitable for racing and downhill riding while long-distance endurance or trail riding can benefit from a casing around 2” or slightly higher.
The other factors that we are about to explore will also affect the application of your tyres to any given context, so although size is an important, albeit quite convoluted factor to consider you would do well not to neglect other aspects.
Maxxis and Schwalbe both manufacture tyres of varying hardness based on the rubber compounds used in production.
The hardness or softness (sometimes referred to as ‘stickiness’) of your tyres can affect total speed, rolling speed, durability, and of course all-round handling.
Examples of harder tyres include the Maxxis 60A Maxxpro and the Schwalbe Pacestar, both of which are well suited to endurance riding where we are looking for hardiness and faster rolling speeds.
Conversely, the 42A Super Tacky from Maxxis and Vertstar from Schwalbe are both excellent options for downhill riders who are looking for better grip.
Of course if you’re looking for peak performance then you could always complicate matters slightly by combining soft and hard tyres. An example of this would be in downhill racing where some riders will go soft at the front and slightly harder at the back for enhanced durability.
The Maxxis Ardent and Schwalbe Hans Dampf are both solid options as far as trail bike treads go but the latter does tend to be a little expensive for the marginal benefits offered.
The grip and durability of the Hans Dampf treads are excellent but the Ardent rolls like lightning and offers a solid balance of strength and light weight in a range of sizes to suit your personal riding style.
Bigger, harder tyres such as this used in downhill riding are often more suitable for tubeless setups due to their overall hardy nature, but that isn’t to say that any tyre can’t be used in this manner providing you have it set up in an appropriate fashion.
Whether you choose to go tubeless or not is really going to be a case of how important the factor of weight is.
It is worth determining how much weight you might be able to save on your individual setup before deciding if tubeless is the best route for you to take.
Before we touch on the subject of sidewalls below it is worth first pointing out that tubeless tyres will usually come with more robust sidewalls to make up for their tubeless design, so bear this in mind before reading on.
By now you’re probably not surprised to find out that the matter of sidewalls can be a somewhat complicated one.
Freeride from Schwalbe and the Maxxis Exo sidewalls offer a reasonable degree of protection verging on dual ply but the actual performance of these products can vary greatly depending on how aggressively you ride and the trail conditions from one day to the next.
Lighter single-ply sidewalls are generally quite popular amongst trail riders as they tend to save on weight, but it is important to understand the limitations that this will offer in terms of durability.
If you’re unsure about what kind of sidewalls to go for then it usually worth sucking it up and accepting a little extra weight to get a heavier sidewall that will offer you protection. As with most things it is often best to err on the side of caution rather than come unstuck half way through a ride.
Still Confused? We Don’t Blame You!
After all these considerations you might be feeling even more mystified than before you started; perfectly understandable!
We recommend reading through each section again so that you can match the criteria of your riding style to the products available from Maxxis and Schwalbe and get a better idea of the direction you want to head in.
Remember that while the variances in things like tyre size and hardness between each brand can appear to confuse matters, it does mean that you’ll have a lot of options, and this will give you a far better chance of finding mountain bike tyres that are perfect for you.
Road Bike Tyres Re-examined
At first glance, choosing a road bike tyre is just as arduous a task as with mountain bike tyres. This is especially true considering the varying quality of roads you might encounter on your routes, and seasonal weather changes that can turn otherwise perfect traction into something more closely resembling an ice rink.
Road Quality and Terrain
If you use your bike to commute in a large town or city then there is no doubt that you’re going to need tyres that can stand up to the kind of debris that most streets are littered with these days.
From small stones to broken glass and slabs of uneven surface material, your tyres will need to handle a fair amount of punishment over the weeks and months, so you should be willing to compromise a little on speed if it means you’ll be able to get yourself a set of hardy wheels.
A good example of this is the Schwalbe Marathon which comes in at around 1 3/8” and is well known for its durability.
Of course if you go high enough in terms of price point then you’ll probably find something that offers a finer balance of overall speed and durability, speaking of which...
Opting for a hardier tyre will usually afford you a great degree of longevity but you can greatly extend the lifespan of your wheels by keeping a close eye on them.
Watch out for the aforementioned stones and shards of glass as these can become wedged or embedded in the tread before slowly edging their way into the rubber itself.
You’ll also notice that most tyres are made with small rubber dots of flaps that act as markers; once these become noticeably worn or have disappeared altogether then it is probably time to buy a new set.
In fact, this can be a great way of determining the longevity of your tyres, and can help you to more accurately assess the durability of different brands in the specific context of your riding style.
We covered general cleaning and maintenance tasks in our recent article 6 Essential Maintenance Items to Check Before You Ride so be sure to check this out as this applies to every component of your bicycle, with a dedicated section for tyre care.
If you’re purely concerned with safety while not having a particular interest in getting the most speed from your ride then there should be no problems with using a heavier tyre throughout the year.
This will enable you to enjoy full protection against punctures during the warmer summer months while also having greater peace of mind when the weather takes a turn for the worse in the winter and you have rain, ice, or worse to contend with.
A good example of something balanced in this manner would be the Vittoria Rubino Pro, but be mindful if the need for mudguards as this could be a year-round necessity depending on what kind of climate you live in and a larger tyre may limit your options.
Another good thing about bigger tyres with a deep tread is that they are great at holding glass, stones, and the kind of grit that is often laid on roads during winter, so you can more easily avoid punctures providing you are maintaining your bike on a frequent enough basis.
Now as for all you speed freaks out there, if you live in a region that suffers from harsh winters then your best bet will likely be to invest in two sets of tyres.
This way you’ll have a lesser degree of puncture protection to ensure a lighter, zippier ride in the summer.
Of course if you live in a particularly built-up urban area with lots of stopping and starting in rush hour traffic then all this talk of speed might end up being less relevant than you think!
Taking a Well Rounded Approach
Regardless of whether you’re looking for mountain bike tyres or road tyres we believe it is often worth looking at the options and different features of both types.
Having a more rounded and thorough understanding of how bicycle tyres as a whole work will help you to make a far more informed decision in the end.
For example, you might live in a smaller town or city with sections of both road and park to navigate through, and this might end up altering your options slightly.
Whatever you decide, ensure you have a well-formed understanding of exactly what it is you’re paying for and what you’re hoping to get out of your purchase.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your experience with trying different sorts of tyres on your bike and what your go to tyre is! Leave a comment below...
If you need to get some new tyres for your bike, you can check the full range here.