Choosing the Right Rubber for the Trail

Not getting the grip out of the tread that you need? Looking for something faster?  Maybe you’re a novice that needs some advice on tire choice?  Or an enthusiast riding on the trails with balding tires, putting off the change?

Here are some of our suggestions.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and in no particular order – just a couple ideas to help you along your way.

1. Panaracer Fire XC Pro

PROS: The ultimate high traction tire.  This tire works best in mud, sand, loose terrain, and the corners.  Lean deep into burms and steep downhills without fear of slippage.  The firm rubber compound provides a sturdy tread that will last far longer than most other tires.

CONS: The Fire XC Pro is arguably one of the slowest tires on the market due to its super tall knobs and firm compound.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Super beefy and lots of traction – but at a cost.  This is one of the best for bombing through all terrain, but not good for fast and nimble riders.

2. Kenda Nevegal

PROS: The number one go-to tire for all mountain bike applications.  The Nevegal safely can be said to work optimally for nearly all types of riding, whether you’re doing cross-country, all mountain, street, downhill, or dirt-jump.  High knobs on the side provide traction in the corners, hold sturdy through sand and mud, and can take a beating.  The mid-size knobs through the center keep stability through loose downhills and grip in during those treacherous climbs.   Run the wide Nevegal 26×2.35 on the front with a low PSI for additional traction and cushion.

CONS: This should probably not be your cross-country race tire.  Though not as slow as the Fire XC Pro, the Nevegal’s rolling resistance will be felt during flowing trail and long descents.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you want grip, stability, cushioning, and something that will get you through all terrain, this is the tire for you.   If you need the fastest tire on the race day, look else-where.

3. Kenda Small Block 8

PROS: The “mini-me” version of the Nevegal. Look closely – the tread pattern used on the Small Block 8 is almost identical to the Nevegal, just cuter.  The Small Block is a great tire for cross country applications because it is fast, rolls smoothly, and grips firmly in the corners, downhills, and climbs.  If you’re primary riding is in flowing hard pack single-track, the Small Block is for you.

CONS: This tire is weak in sandy or wet terrain.  The small, close knobs can easily pack with sand or mud, causing minimized traction.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Perfect for fast, technical riders trying to optimize their speed while still needing some traction.

To get the speed of the Small Block 8 while still having the stability of the Nevegal, run the Small Block 26 x 1.95 in the rear for speed and the Nevegal 26 x 2.10 up front for traction.

4. Continental Moutain King Super Sonic

PROS: Lightweight, wide, and knobby. At 471 grams, this all-mountain tire is a great choice for the weight weenie who does not want to sacrifice traction.  It’s 26 x 2.2, a wide tire that can be run at low pressure.  The mid-sized knobs have good grip in soft dirt, moist trails, and even mud.  And the tire works best when run at slightly lower pressures.

CONS: As any lightweight tire with soft compound, it wears quickly, especially when run with high PSI on hard pack trails and roads.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Great for riders who want a lightweight race ready tire without compromising traction.

5. Maxxis Crossmark

Pros: A quick tire with good cornering. The Crossmark is a super fast rolling tire that corners well on hard, dry surfaces.  For those who run tubeless, this tire makes an excellent lightweight UST option for the right conditions.

Cons: Sidewall durability and life span are shorter than some competitors, and it doesn’t take well to mud or loose trail surfaces.

The Bottom Line: In the right conditions these tires excel and provide excellent traction. They are a solid, lightweight tire with plenty of tread life. However, if you ride varying conditions which include moister and sharp rock, the low profile and thin sidewalls may leave a little to be desired.

6.  Schwalbe Rocket Ron

PROS: A lightweight tire you can count on. Usually the grippy tires are often the heavier ones – not so with the Rocket Ron.  Featuring high side knobs and a weight of 520 grams, it’s a great cornering tire that won’t weigh you down.  Works well in sand, mud, and hard-pack, has good tread life, and is easy to mount.

CONS: It has pretty flexible sidewalls, so riders who run lower PSI might experience a higher amount of pinch flats.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A Tree Fort Favorite – great for rolling single-track whether wet, dry, sandy, or rocky.  Due to the flexible sidewalls, the most aggressive riders should steer clear

7. Schwalbe Racing Ralph

PROS: A faster, more durable Rocket Ron. The Racing Ralph is very similar to the Rocket Ron, just lower shoulder tread and a stiffer sidewall.  Because of these attributes, it is more durable, less prone to flats, and faster.  This tire works best in hard pack and loose over hard pack.

CONS: The lower treads provides minimized cornering ability, and though it is still a light tire, it is slightly heavier than its brother Ron.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A good choice for cross country racers who want a fast, durable, and fairly light weight tire.

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