Best MTB tyres all round
When you’re searching for new tires for your mountain bike it’s easy to find yourself stuck between a hard thing and, um, another hard thing. If you’re currently in this predicament then I feel your pain.
On the one hand, you want a tire that is good for smooth surfaces. You probably do most of your cycling on roads or other non-bumpy hard surfaces. On those you need a tire that will allow you to cruise along at high (okay, high-ish) speeds but without the terrible vibration that you get if you try doing that with knobbly off-road MTB tires.
Sometimes though you take your mountain bike off-road. It might be to a gnarly downhill track or (if you’re anything like me!) to some gentler terrain with a mixture of gravel, loose dirt, and some muddy puddles. In the winter there might even be a bit of snow covering.
At times like that, a slick road bike style tire would be an absolute disaster. Without any rubber grips on the tires you’d have the bike slide out from underneath you on the first corner, then have to gingerly limp all the way home feeling the scabs on your bloody knees open up on every pedal revolution afterward. Ouch!
In many areas of life compromises aren’t good (single-ply toilet roll being one of the ickiest examples). Thankfully when it comes to MTB tires there are some great options that will give you plenty of speed potential on smooth surfaces and give you plenty of traction on the roughest of trails.
I’ve done some research to determine which are the best mountain bike tires for roads and trails. These are listed below under the most common size categories.
Make sure you read right through to the backend of my article because I’ve also included a handy guide for what makes a great road ‘n’ trail MTB tire combo, including some rather professional sketches (ahem) of the main features of tires suitable for:
- Roads and trails
Let’s dive straight in and take a look at the best mountain bike tyres for road and trail.
Best all-around mountain bike tires
When you start looking into bike tires it can be very confusing as there’s such a variety of options to pick from. Because you know the terrain you’ll be using your bike on will be a mix of smooth roads and rougher trails, you know that you need a tire that will deal with both. That helps cut out many tires that are either as smooth as my head is going, or as rough as my stubbly chin is.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the best bike tires available today for roads and trails.
26″ also known as ISO 559
This is one of the most common sizes of tire for today’s mountain bikes.
I’ve long been a fan of Continental tires and these are a great example. It’s a hard-wearing tire with good puncture resistance – so you can stand the repair kit down. The smooth center tread section gives fast rolling on flat surfaces such as roads or pavements.
Hit the trails and gravel paths and the gnarly knobbles on either side give you fantastic cornering ability allowing you to take twisty paths at speed with confidence that you’ll stay on the bike.
27.5 also known as 650B and ISO 584
Back in the day this was a popular size on MTBs and is now making a welcome return to the mountain biking scene.
The image of this tire gives a great close-up of the tread so you can really see what you’re getting with this product. It’s got a smooth central section that has a chevron pattern giving a little extra grip in the event of greasy conditions on the roads.
This pattern opens up towards the edges of the tire, terminating in what looks like a steak mallet (the designer obviously had food on their mind when they were creating this beauty!) That open grip and meat tenderizer patterning give excellent confident cornering no matter what the trails throw at you – mud, loose gravel, and everything else.
29″ also known as ISO 622
Another of the most frequent sizes used on mountain bikes.
So, which are the best road tires for 29er mountain bikes? Well, the Marathon tire from Schwalbe is certainly one of the top candidates.
The Marathon tire from Schwalbe is an excellent choice for your versatile two-wheeler. This is an interesting tire. Look closely at the tread pattern and you’ll see it starts off in the middle as a smooth fast-rolling strip of rubber, for speedy progress on asphalt surfaces.
As you move away from the center though you see that the tread opens up more and more, starting with small densely-packed knobbles and ending up as a very wide tread.
So, this is a tire that allows you to ride your bike with more and more confidence (and, dare I say, aggression?!) as the trails get gnarlier. A great choice for smooth roads and tough trails.
How to choose mountain bike tires
Let’s deal with the black rubber circle in the corner of the room first…
Can you ride a mountain bike on the road?
Short answer = Yes! Slightly longer answer is, of course you can. Basically, I haven’t found a bike yet that can’t be cycled on the road.
To a certain extent the same goes the other way as well. I’ve taken my road bike on a gravel fire track through a forest before and survived to tell the experience. I’d like to say that it was exactly what I meant to do… but the truth is that I didn’t look too closely at the map before setting off and then discovered that it was a choice between picking my way carefully along 2 miles of track and a 40-mile round trip by road. Laziness won out on that occasion.
That being said, you’ll have a more pleasurable experience cycling your MTB on the roads if you have tires that have less tread. Tread is great for keeping you on the bike on rough ground, but it will give a rather bone-shaking experience if you use those same tires on smooth surfaces.
Putting hybrid tires on mountain bike
The answer is to go with tires that are a combination of the best features of off-road tires and the best features of road tires. Let’s look at the differences between them and the make-up of a great tire for roads and trails.
1. Tires for roads
Tires that are designed purely for use on roads and other smooth hard surfaces look like this. They will tend to be very smooth with minimal (if any) grips on the rubber. The idea being that the less grip getting between your tires and the road surface, the faster your tires will roll you along.
2. Tires for trails
Tires for full-on aggressive downhill mountain biking will look more like this. Big, gnarly grips all over the top of the tire (where it meets the trail) and along the ‘corners’ of the tire where it meets the trail as you lean the bike hard into the corners.
Cycling with a tire like this on roads is certainly do-able, but it will feel a little bit like you’re cycling Fred Flintstones car along (you know, the one with the square tires). Tires will be heavier than pure road tires and you’ll feel vibrations up your arms and legs from those gnarly knobbles.
3. Tires for roads and trails
This is where the magic happens!
For riding on roads, where you’ll tend to be more upright, the smooth surface at the top of the tire will be in contact with the paved surface. This will make the tires roll along fast and give you a comfortable bike ride. Head onto the trails, maybe letting a touch of air out of the inner tubes as well, and you’ll find that those grips start to come into their own. Giving you traction on wet slippery rocks and tree roots, as well as gravel and mud. Fun!
Best mountain bike tyres for on and off road
Thanks for joining me today. I know that choosing MTB tires that are suitable for roads AND trails can be a confusing process. I hope that this article has been of use to you in choosing the right set for your bike and answering your questions about what exactly a good road/trail tire should look like.
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