Trail Bike Tire Setups: A Question of Balance

in Cycling by Carl H. Martens

Choosing tires for your trail bike comes down to a question of balance. Ideally, you want a setup that gives you the solid grip of a downhill mountain bike tire with the low rolling resistance of a cross-country…the stability you need for downhill riding and the lightweight efficiency for uphill climbing. You get the picture. Now, to get the setup, remember that: 

Your front tire is all about grip and braking. It’s what keeps you upright, brings you to a stop, and helps you avoid trips to the ER. The trick is finding a reliable tire with good grip and large volume that won’t weigh you down. Look for a width in the 2.3 to 2.4 range and you can enjoy the performance of a DH bike without the weight of the DH tire. Some suggestions:

  • Maxxis Ardent 2.4
  • Specialized Purgatory 2.4
  • Continental Mountain King 2.4

Your rear tire pounds the power to the ground. Again, balance is key. You want tread, but not too much. You want to rely more on your rear suspension to pull you out of tricky moments. That said, you can optimize efficiency by going lighter and narrower, with a faster rolling setup. Take trail conditions into consideration, too. For hardpack, a light, mid-volume tire with a low tread pattern will maximize the power from your legs to the ground. For rocky terrain, increased sidewall protection will help prevent flats. Rear tire widths typically range from 2.1 to 2.25. Try these:

  • Maxxis Aspen 2.25
  • Continental X-King
  • Specialized The Captain

Follow these guidelines and you’ll increase efficiency without sacrificing grip, while keeping overall weight to a minimum – and that makes for the best, safest ride.

* note – plus size tires and fat tires are not discussed here