Best Mountain Bike Tires for Intense Riders and Tire Sizes Explained

Last updated: November 25, 2021
Best Overall
Powerful, Ergonomic and Premium Build Quality
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Best Budget
Great Value, Easy to Install and Durable
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Best 29 Inch
High-Performance and Tubeless Ready
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Durable, Safe and Great Performance
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Rugged, Lightweight and Great Grip
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Your guide

Tires are one of the most important components of any mountain bike. They serve as the point of contact between you and the terrain and have the greatest effect on overall performance. As a point of reference, if you’re here to better understand the different bicycle tires, there’s an in-depth review and explanation at the end of this article.

Mountain biking is a general, catch-all term that encompasses several activities that can differ greatly. However, most of them have one thing in common – an environment that is challenging in some way, shape, or form.

To meet those challenges, you need to have the proper equipment. A high-quality tire is worth its weight in gold – taking the time to find one that meets your requirements is sure to pay off.

Top 5 Mountain Bike Tires

Cycling is a very healthy and beneficial pastime that is easy to get into. And out of all its variants, mountain biking is the most dynamic and multifaceted one. It also happens to be the most demanding, on average.

a man fixing his bike wheel

Devoting a bit of attention to the various components of your mountain bike is a great way to get more involved in this enjoyable, exciting activity, while also taking it to a higher level. And there’s no better way to achieve just that than by getting your hands on some serious, high-end mountain bike tires.

No other part of your bike can so drastically change and improve your overall biking experience. Whether you just want to kick things up a notch, or simply want to explore a new avenue of mountain biking, upgrading your tires is the way to go. But make sure you know how to change a MTB tire.

We’ve chosen five extremely durable, well-made tires that offer top of the line performance in their respective categories and niches – and do so at very reasonable price points, to boot. So put your mountain bike gloves on, and fasten your helmets – let’s see where this trail leads.

1. Best Overall - Maxxis Ardent EXO TR


  • Weight → 864 grams
  • Size → 29 x 2.4”
  • TPI → 60
  • Max PSI → 60

Key Features:

  • Tubeless-ready
  • High-volume casing
  • Dual-compound rubber 
  • EXO protection

Maxxis Ardent EXO TR Review

A high-quality mountain bike tire has a drastic, immediate effect on overall performance. Everyone, from the greenest novice to the most seasoned veteran can enjoy the wide range of benefits that such tires can provide.

For our pick in the best overall category, we looked for a product that has durability, versatility, high performance, and great value. We didn’t have to look far – the Maxxis Ardent’s reputation precedes it.

The Ardent combines high-quality materials, impressive features, and top of the line design into a single remarkable package. These aren’t your ordinary tires – and if you end up choosing them, there will be no going back from there.

Outstanding Durability, Remarkable Design

Maxxis’ tires are meticulously designed and made from premium modern materials.  The imposing 29 x 2.4” Ardent weighs just 864 grams. The combination of low weight and high tire volume might lead you to assume that it is fragile – but the Ardent is exceptionally rugged.

The dual-compound rubber provides fantastic performance. The aggressive tread pattern is relatively broad and flat, and both types of knobs will stay firm for a very long time.

The Ardent also incorporates several features that make it even sturdier and safer. The tubeless-ready system is much less susceptible to punctures and allows you to reduce tire pressure without any downsides. To further sweeten the deal, Maxxis’ design of the tubeless system makes for a quick, easy installation.

These tires also make use of EXO protection technology – an added layer of light, densely woven fabric that reinforces the sidewalls and does wonders against cuts and abrasions.

Well-made, robust, and sporting a long and impressive list of features and wise design choices, the Ardent can take a beating. It offers a remarkable amount of bang for your buck and does so in style.

Impressive, Versatile Performance

So, aside from being long-lasting, what do these tires offer in the way of performance? You’ll be happy to hear that this is the area in which the already impressive Ardent truly shines.

The dual-compound knobs offer a superb balance – the smaller, tightly packed center knobs mitigate rolling resistance, while the larger, blockier knobs on the sides guarantee an impressive amount of traction.

The light weight of the tire, combined with its large size and flat tread pattern offers a great mix of acceleration and top speed, but the Ardent doesn’t compromise when it comes to braking either.

These tires can easily shrug off the challenges that you will come across on trails or rocky terrain. Uneven terrain and small bumps won’t pose an issue. 

The Ardent is a very versatile all-rounder, providing above-average performance across the board, and even excelling in a couple of areas. It is particularly well-suited for long-distance riding. 

The only notable situation where it doesn’t stack up as well is in muddy conditions. Mud simply isn’t the Ardent’s forte, though it isn’t even lackluster in that regard – just simply unimpressive. In any case, looking at the bigger picture, that small caveat doesn’t detract too much from the overall package.

  • Covers a wide variety of bases
  • Fair price point
  • Lightweight
  • Good puncture-resistance
  • Average performance with mud
  • Tread could be more durable

2. Best Budget - Schwinn All-Terrain


  • Weight → 2. lbs
  • Size → 26 x 1.95”
  • TPI → 60
  • PSI → 45 – 65

Key Features:

  • Built-in flat resistant layer
  • Steel bead construction
  • Terry cloth thumb
  • Slip-proof

Schwinn All-Terrain Bicycle Tire Review

You don’t have to break the bank when it comes to mountain bike tires. Maybe your current tires just aren’t up to par, or you simply need a replacement after a puncture. Thankfully, the market is full of fantastic, entry-level products that are a perfect fit for those with simple needs or humble budgets.

We’ve selected Schwinn’s all-terrain tires as our pick in this category. Well-designed and durable, these tires offer good performance at a very modest price point.

Durable, Great Value Purchase

Schwinn’s all-terrain tires are an entry-level product, but don’t let that fool you. This does not mean that they are rudimentary or lacking in any respect.

The installation process is a breeze – it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. The tires are slightly stiff when taken out of the packaging, so make sure to first let them rest for approximately half an hour.

These tires are strikingly durable – a fact that adds even further to the great value that they offer for their price. The steel bead construction can handle rough terrain with ease, and the built-in flat resistant layer makes sure that the tires will last for a good long while. 

The side-walls of these tires are approximately twice as thick as those of regular, stock tires – this does come at a cost of rolling resistance, but it offers much in the way of protection. Small rocks, gravel, or debris won’t pose a challenge to Schwinn’s tires. 

On the whole, these tires are best suited to trail biking. They offer great performance on trails but are still decent on other terrain types. As long as you keep them properly inflated, they will get the job done reliably for years to come.

Surprisingly Good Performance

Looking at the price tag of these tires, you wouldn’t normally expect anything special performance-wise. Surprisingly, you’d be wrong. Schwinn has managed to provide unexpected levels of performance at a low price.

We’ve already gone into the durability of the tires and how they handle different types of terrain. Now, let’s take a closer, in-depth look at the performance they offer.

First and foremost, the 26-inch size of the tires naturally lends itself to a lighter, more agile riding experience. The rolling resistance isn’t stellar by any measure, but this is largely offset by the acceleration – an area in which smaller tires excel.

Smaller tires are also more responsive, making for easier, more natural maneuvering. When everything is taken into consideration, these tires are a great choice for trail biking, and perfectly decent for other needs. Rugged, durable, and well-made, Schwinn’s all-terrain tires are a great, affordable option.

  • Affordable
  • Versatile
  • Durable
  • Easy to Install
  • Heavy
  • Rudimentary

3. Best 29 Inch - Maxxis Ikon


  • Weight → 595 grams
  • Size → 29 x 2.2”
  • TPI → 120
  • Max PSI → 65

Key Features:

  • Triple compound technology
  • EXO sidewall
  • Tubeless-ready
  • High-volume casing

Maxxis Ikon Review

At first glance, tire size can seem relatively unimportant or inconsequential, outside of being able to fit your bike. After all, how big of a difference can there be between 26-inch tires and 29-inch tires? Quite a big difference, in fact.

We’ll cover the advantages of larger tires in greater detail when we look at the performance of our next pick – Maxxis’ Ikon 29 x 2.2-inch tires. Lightweight, durable, and made to meet the highest of standards, they are a perfect example of high-end 29-inch tires.

Premium Design and Materials

As soon as you see the Ikon, it’s clear that you’re dealing with a first-class product. The design is sleek, smooth and stylish. The Ikon immediately inspires confidence. But this first impression isn’t just skin-deep – there’s plenty of features that justify it.

The high-volume casing provides an impressive level of durability, which is further improved by the tubeless-ready system that the tires feature. These tires might look fragile, but they can take a lot of punishment. They are exceptionally puncture-resistant, and the rubber is quite resilient.

In fact, the tires are made from three different compounds. The cutting-edge 3C technology means that each section of the tire is tailor-made to fit its purpose – the middle is durable, while the cornering knobs offer much more grip. The low profile tread pattern makes for lightning-quick, smooth, and enjoyable riding.

Another useful feature is the EXO sidewall, made from abrasion-resistant material. This lining is a very useful feature for those that often cycle across dry, rocky terrain.

Outstanding Performance

The Ikon is featherlight, weighing in at just 1.41 pounds. The light weight of the tires works strikingly well with the fast-rolling tread layout. One of the benefits of larger tires is that they can reach a higher top speed – and maintaining that speed is much easier. 

This comes at the cost of acceleration, but the Ikon offsets this with a remarkable amount of grip, owing to its use of triple compound technology.

Larger tires make for smoother riding that is more stable at the same time. They offer a lot of stability, but the tradeoff is slightly subpar maneuverability. However, the light weight, good braking traction, grip, and tread layout of the Maxxis Ikon goes a long way in reducing this drawback.

These tires can handle all terrain conditions and variations. So, would it be fair to call this a jack of all trades, master of none situation? Not really – the Ikon tires actually handle a majority of environments easily. What it is is a solid all-rounder. But make sure you know how to clean your MTB properly.

They offer a superb blend of speed, stability, longevity, and versatility. If you’re looking for top-tier 29-inch tires, the Maxxis Ikon is just what you’re looking for.

  • Puncture-resistant
  • Light
  • Versatile
  • Durable
  • Slightly pricey
  • Struggles with wet environments

4. Best for Snow - SCHWALBE Marathon


  • Weight → 1025 grams
  • Size → 26 x 1.75”
  • TPI → 67
  • PSI → 30 – 70

Key Features:

  • Durable, high-performance studs
  • Smartguard padding
  • TwinSkin sidewalls
  • Good traction

SCHWALBE Marathon Winter Plus HS 396 Review

Cycling over snow and ice is still uncharted territory for most people. Take a moment to think about it – if you’re like most people, as soon as the first snowfall appears, you simply stop cycling. Doesn’t that seem like a waste of a perfectly good bike? 

There is an entire class of specially designed tires that provides the necessary grip and puncture-resistance to ensure safe riding in subzero conditions.

Schwalbe’s marathon winter tires have been the cream of the crop when it comes to studded tires for a while now. The new and improved marathon winter plus is an even more advanced iteration. If you’re ready to take the plunge, they will let you explore a new and exciting avenue of mountain biking.

Heavy-Duty Materials – The Best Bike Snow Tires Money Can Buy

Although it may seem intimidating, safely riding a mountain bike on snow and ice is very doable. The Marathon Winter Plus tires feature all the necessary safety precautions for wintertime cycling – and then some.

The tires feature 240 tungsten-carbide studs that provide an unimaginable amount of stability and control – not just over snow and ice, but especially over snow and ice. Durable and incredibly hard, the studs continue to serve their purpose even when they eventually deform – but that takes a lot of riding over surfaces other than ice and snow.

The Marathon Winter Plus has TwinSkin sidewalls – an additional thick rubber coating that is incredibly resilient. One of the most exciting improvements over the previous versions is the Smartguard – a highly elastic yet incredibly strong rubber layer which is 5mm thick.

The Marathon Winter Plus is built like a tank. It takes some getting used to, but the sturdy, durable materials are necessary to ensure a confident cycling experience. It’s impossible to puncture these tires – unless you do it yourself on purpose. You get the picture – there’s no need to mince words here.

Excellent, Dependable Performance for Bike Snow Tire

Riding your mountain bike during the winter might not seem appealing at first glance. Being left without a great hobby for an extended period is bad enough on its own – but many people also rely on mountain bikes for commuting.

So, apart from being nigh-indestructible and reliable, how do the tires perform? Simply put, once you try them, the thought of cycling in winter will indeed be appealing.

The bike tires cut through snow like a hot knife through butter, and it’s very easy to cycle over decently thick ice without even noticing. They offer a huge degree of control – allowing for stable maneuvering and predictable braking.

All of this naturally begs the question – what about surfaces other than snow or ice? At this point, it should come as no surprise that the Marathon Winter Plus tires can handle dry surfaces free of snow and ice.

At low pressures, the bike tires are perfectly adapted to snow and ice – conversely, at maximum pressure, they provide excellent traction on dry surfaces, with minimal noise. All things considered, the tires also allow for a surprising amount of speed.

Dry surfaces will wear out the studs quicker – but replacements are readily available and affordable. To make sure that the spikes are properly and permanently fixed, the tires should be run in for approximately 25 miles on asphalt while avoiding fast acceleration and heavy braking.

At this point, we’re basically out of words. These are, unquestionably, the best mountain bike tires for snow and ice that money can buy.

  • Unmatched puncture resistance
  • Fantastic performance on ice and snow
  • Usable on dry surfaces
  • Considerable degree of control
  • Heavy 
  • Studs require getting used to

5. Best for Road and Trail - Continental


  • Weight → 670 grams
  • Size → 26 x 2.3”
  • TPI → 240
  • Max PSI → 54

Key Features:

  • Black Chili compound
  • Tubeless-ready system
  • High-grip lugs
  • ProTection system

Continental Mountain King Review

Mountain bikes are versatile by nature. There are plenty of ways to approach mountain biking. One of the more interesting options is trail biking. A good pair of trail tires can make this method much safer and more accessible to you.

But no matter what woodland trails you might be cruising to, chances are that you’re going to have to cycle across a road or two. Luckily, there’s a plethora of high-quality tires that can handle the road just as well as they handle the great outdoors.

We’ve chosen Continental’s Mountain King tires because of the great grip, puncture resistance, and durability that they offer. These versatile, high-performance tires will make quick work of anything that comes their way.

Rugged, Long-Lasting Materials

The Mountain King, like all tires made by Continental, is made from a special, proprietary material. The unique Black Chili compound provides noticeable improvements in rolling resistance and grip when compared to industry-standard activated silica compounds.

Under the tread, four 240 TPI plies help protect the tires from puncturing. That would be a solid level of durability on its own – but the Mountain King also features the innovative ProTection system – another 3 plies form an added level of protection from punctures.

The new Cordura reinforced casing allows you to safely enjoy trail biking even at lower inflation pressures.

To top it all off, the tubeless-ready bead feature makes the tires easy to seal, as well as more puncture-resistant. The newest version of the Continental Mountain King tires is 25% lighter than its predecessor – weighing in at 635 grams, or just under 1.4 pounds. Achieving this was an impressive feat, seeing as how no amount of durability was sacrificed.

Robust Performance, Premium Design

The hard central tread features a chevron and block design. This, combined with the high-grip outer lugs, provides a lot of reliable traction. The effect of the Black Chili Compound is plain as day – the performance that the tires offer allows you to enjoy cycling through rough terrain with minimal effort.

The impressive amount of grip, light weight, and tread pattern of the tires allow them to offer maximum performance both on roads as well as trails. Compared to the previous versions, maneuverability has been significantly improved – sharp turns, even at the highest speeds, won’t pose an issue.

The tires handle bumps and uneven terrain effortlessly and perform just as well in muddy or wet conditions. The design of the sidewalls does a great job of protecting the tires from small rocks or gravel.

The Mountain King lives up to its name. It offers versatile high-end performance that holds up equally well in all road and trail conditions while retaining low weight and plenty of durability. If you want a set of tires that can take you from your doorstep to faraway woodland trails and back, Continental’s Mountain King tires are, fittingly enough, fit for a king.

A time comes for most of us to buy new bikes. The fact is, mountain bikes keep getting better, and newer ones perform better than the old ones in every possible way, save for keeping your credit card balance in check. But new bikes also keep getting more complicated, with genres and subgenres and wheel sizes and single-ring drivetrains and all the rest. We could go down a very, very deep rabbit hole trying to suss out all that stuff, so let’s stick, for the most part, to wheel size and tire width.

Mountain Bike Tire Sizes Explained

As a whole, when it comes to wheels and tires, the bike industry has been historically slow to move. Over a decade ago the resistance to 29-inch wheels took on almost religious fervor, with some companies going as far as declaring “no 29ers, ever.” Obviously, we all know who lost in the great 29 vs. 26 conflict.

Companies that held out against 29ers (and to a lesser extent, fat bikes) soon realized this was a strategic mistake, and the pain could be felt via lost sales and leftover inventory. It now seems we’ve swung the other way, with new wheel size ideas being adopted much more quickly.

Some riders grumble that this is all just a money grab on the part of bike makers, forcing obsolescence on older models and equipment as new wheel sizes (and hub spacing, and bottom bracket standards, etc.) take over large parts of the market. But this is nothing new. Technology marches forward, and strangely enough, it doesn’t physically change the bike you are riding, just the perception of its flaws.

My first bike was a Giant Iguana, equipped with Suntour’s last-gasping-breath of a drivetrain, marginally effective Dia-Compe cantilever brakes, and tires with a durometer of weathered oak. If it hadn’t been stolen off a porch years ago, I could still walk into any bike shop and get parts to keep that thing running. Makes it hard to complain about obsolescence when you can easily keep decades-old machinery running with a minimum of fuss.

And let’s not forget, riders always vote for new technology with their wallets. And right now, we all seem to be voting for more options.

Here’s where we stand with tire sizes these days
While there are only three main shared rim diameters (ISO size) among adult bikes, the vast differences in rim and tire widths are what really set all these apart.

The three ISO diameters are:

  • 559 ISO – the original 26-inch wheel size
  • 584 ISO – 27.5 or 650b
  • 622 ISO – 29 or 700c

For simplicity, when referring to “wheel size” it will be one of these below:

Wheel Size Explainer

  • Standard Tires (about 1.95-2.5 inch width)
  • 26 inch (559 ISO) – the original knobby tire, now mostly relegated to kids’ bikes and dirt jumpers
  • 27.5 inch (584 ISO) – also known as 650B, the “slightly bigger than 26 inch” wheel size
  • 29 inch (622 ISO) – same rim size as most modern road bikes

Pluses: shorter sidewalls squirm less under hard cornering; rolls quickly; huge selection of bikes and components

Minuses: unpredictable traction in soft conditions; less ability to absorb trail chatter; same old-same old

Fat Bike Tires (3.8-5 inch width)
26 x 4 (559 ISO) – the first fat bikes
26 x 5 (559 ISO) – wider fat bike tires
27.5 x 4 (584 ISO) – new fat size, currently Trek-only
Pluses: traction for days; flotation for days; squishy tires absorb trail irregularities

Minuses: all that rubber is heavy; self-steer issues on off-camber trails; hard to balance tire pressure to prevent both squirm and bounce; wide pedal stance can bother some riders; squirmy in high-load situations; limited to mostly rigid bikes or hardtails; the faster you go, the weirder it gets

Plus Tires (2.8-3 inch width)
26plus (559 ISO) – quite rare, but rumored to become more prevalent
27plus (584 ISO) – most common plus size
29plus (622 ISO) – the biggest of the big
Pluses: not much heavier than sturdy 2.3 inch wide tires; traction in unpredictable terrain; less squirm and bounce than fat bike tires; can fit in some frames and forks not specifically designed for plus tires

Minuses: hard cornering loads can still cause squirm unless heavy tires and wide rims are used; can be unpredictable on off-camber and high traction terrain; slim (but expanding) selection of tires and rims; sidewalls can be susceptible to cuts

There are lots of other things besides tire size that should be considered (geometry, suspension travel, etc.); but it is tires, and tire pressure, that transfer all our braking, steering and acceleration to the trail. So, let’s break mountain biking down into a few categories and make some recommendations:


For long rides on unknown terrain, it is hard to go wrong with bigger tires. While fat bike tires might be too much for areas without large amounts of sand or snow, a lot of exploratory types would rather have more than enough tire than too little. The plus tires are a good all-around choice that should balance grip, fl oat and weight quite well. For covering large amounts of unpredictable terrain quickly, there is really nothing like a 29plus bike.


The best bet for deep sand and snow is floatation, and the widest tires are the way to go here.

Wheel Size Explainer bikes-1

Cross-Country Racing/Fitness Riding

When it comes down to who has the strongest legs and biggest lungs, fast is the way to go. And unlike gravity racing, cross country is won on the climbs, and that calls for fast-rolling, lightweight tires.

Gravity Riding/Enduro Racing

It is relatively easy to go fast in a straight line, but cornering speed is what separates the truly fast guys from everyone else. Cornering hard means extreme loads on tires, and those loads can cause all kinds of flex in the tall sidewalls of fat and plus tires. But even as I type this, we are seeing more and more fast riders loving on the plus tires in certain situations.

Marin Attack Trail-2

Trail Riding

There are really no right answers about what bike to ride on dirt for fun. While some areas can be quite homogeneous, on any given day in most locations you can find people riding dirt on just about anything with knobby (and sometimes not-so-knobby) tires.

Experiment, test ride some bikes, swap bikes with your buddies, enjoy yourself, and don’t get too hung up on what you “should” be riding. That said, if you are looking for a do-it-all trail hardtail, there are a lot of compelling reasons to look at the new crop of 27plus bikes.

The upside to all these choices?
They can break down into similar wheel diameters, making it easier to fit multiple wheel sizes into the same frame. With bikes like Salsa’s Pony Rustler/Horsethief, Advocate’s Hayduke (read our Hayduke review) and the new Santa Cruz Hightower being designed to utilize 29 inch and 27plus tires, we expect this idea to spread to the rest of the industry.

With 2021 product [already being] released, expect to see this dual-wheel-size-compatible idea to spread to 27.5 inch/26plus bikes as well. This should simplify things for manufacturers, shops and consumers. There are going to be some growing pains here, and we’ll probably need to wade through some foolishness to get to the wheel size wisdom we are all seeking.

We’ve been through similar things before, and we’ll go through this again.

  • Adjustable
  • Comfortable
  • Convenient
  • Safe
  • Rudimentary workout plans
  • Limited feedback and metrics

Mountain Bike Tires: Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should Mountain Bike Tires Be Inflated?

The answer depends on where you ride your bike and on the level of intensity. However, on average, a good rule of thumb is to check and adjust the tire pressure once every two weeks.

Pumping your tires once every two weeks, with a pump that has a gauge is a surefire way to ensure consistent, high-end performance.

Are Tubeless Tires Better?

Yes - on the whole, tubeless tires provide a lot of benefits, with very few drawbacks. A tubeless tire uses a liquid sealant to automatically seal small cuts and allows you to safely run your tires at lower pressures.

Tubeless tires are much more resistant to puncturing and provide better rolling resistance when compared to traditional tires. The only drawback of tubeless tires is weight - they are heavier than regular tires, often featuring thick, heavy-duty sidewalls.

What Does TPI Mean?

TPI stands for threads per inch. Looking at the TPI count can immediately give you an idea of the performance of the tire in question. A low TPI count suggests that the tire is heavier, but also more durable, while high TPI tires have lower rolling resistance, and thinner, more flexible materials.

TPI is an important metric, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It can give you a general idea - but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Factor the TPI count into your decision when purchasing - but don’t disregard other factors.

When Should I Replace My Tires?

If your tires have sustained fabric damage, you should think about getting a replacement. Old, discolored tires that have small cracks are still usable.

Another good way to tell if you should get new tires is the tread. If your tread wears out so much that you notice reduced performance, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of suffering a flat. If you are still having second thoughts, the staff at the nearest bike service will happily assist you.

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Best Mountain Bike Tires for Intense Riders and Tire Sizes Explained — Bike Hacks