A Complete Guide on How to Choose MTB Tires

Mountain bike tires come in all sizes, disciplines and capabilities, and having the right tires, or not, can make or break your performance on the bike. Not only are there different types of mountain bike tires that are specific to the type of bike that you have, but there are different sizes and widths, tread patterns, rubber compounds, casing options and more that you will need to take into consideration. This article will teach you about what makes up a mountain bike tire, the common tire sizes in each category, different tire treads and rubber compounds, and some frequently asked question regarding new mountain bike tires.

Once you have a better understanding of all the different types of mountain bike tires and the type of tires that are best for you, head back into our website and checkout the huge selection of mountain bike tires JensonUSA offers.

In this article, we’ll teach you about:

Anatomy of a Mountain Bike Tire

Tire construction

  • Bead: The edge of the tire that fits into the rim. Wire beads are heavier and generally found on less expensive tires. Folding beads, which are often made from aramid fibers, are lightweight and often found on performance tires
  • Casing: The internal part of the tire underneath the tread. A casing is made up of threads that are tightly woven together. A casings strength is charterized by TPI or threads per inch. A lower TPI number will have thicker threads and be heavier than a higher TPI number, but will offer more punture protection. Higher TPI numbers will have more threads per inch of casing but the threads are smaller, are not as protective, yet offer a more supple and smooth ride feel. 
  • Tread: The part of the tire that contacts the ground. Tires meant for different types of riding dicsaplines and terrains will have different treads. for example cross-country tires have smaller tread blocks that are ramped for lower rolling resisance, as compared to an enduro or downhill tire, which will have larger tread blocks that will be designed for braking and traction chartcteristics
  • Puncture Protection: Some performance tires have additional punture protcetion underneath the tread. Tires with a higher TPI count and usually road tires have some form of punture protection due to their lighter weight casings. These are often nylon "breaker belts" that offer additional punture protection and are placed between the carcass layers of the casing.
  • Sidewall: The side of the tire between the tire bead and the tread. Performance mountain tires will often use a butyl insert in the sidewall of the tire to help protect the tire from cuts and slashes caused by contacting rocks on the trail. 

Mountain Bike Tire Size & Width

The size and width of your mountain bike tires will play a huge role in your capabilities and ride feel when on the bike. Generally, mountain bikes will have 26", 27.5" or 29" diameter tires that are from 2.0"-wide all the way up to 3.8"-wide for some plus-sized tires.

MTB Tire Diameter

Mountain bikes come with three different diamerer wheel sizes, 26", 27.5" or 29". There are advantages and disadvantages to each size of wheel so we will break it down for you:

  • 26" wheels It may be hard to find a modern new bike with 26" wheels these days, but they were all the rage back in the day. More aggressive and technical riding styles, like downhill riding, used to use 26" wheels due to their smaller diameter, which meant they were easier to maneuver and flick around. 26" wheels have, for the most part, been replaced by 27.5" wheels due to their ability to better rollover rocks and roots while still maintaining a relatively small size that is agile and maneuverable.
  • 27.5" wheels The sweet spot in MTB wheels. small enough to be agile and big enough to still rollover rock gardens and obstacles without getting too hung-up. 27.5" wheels can be found on all disciplines of mountain bikes but are more commonly found on bikes that are meant for aggressive riding such as downhill and freeride mountain biking. In some of the tamer disciplines, such as trail and cross-country riding, it is more of a personal preference as to what wheel size feels better and what your style of riding is. 27.5" wheels are known for being more agile and accelerate faster than 29" wheels but are not as good at carrying speed and rolling over objects.
  • 29" wheels 29" wheels seem to be everywhere these days. 29” tires are found on bikes across all the mountain riding disciplines, and because of their larger diameter, are renowned for their rolling efficiency, speed, and control. 29” mountain bikes have more roll-over capability and traction than 27.5" mountain bikes, yet sacrifice agility and turning radius.

MTB Tire Width

Mountain bike tires come in all different widths. Each mountain riding discipline has a general range of widths that correlate with the style of tire it is, but there are exceptions and personal preferences. Wider tires will be heavier than skinnier tires, but they will provide more traction with the dirt. 

MTB Tire Size Chart

Size Discipline
 2.0” – 2.3” Cross Country
2.3” – 2.5” Trail/All-Mountain
2.4” – 2.6” Enduro and Downhill
2.8 – 3.8" Plus

Cross-Country Tire Width

Cross-country tires are generally between 2.0"-2.3" wide, have a lightweight casing and a fast-rolling tread. Cross-country tires put speed and finesse at the top of their priority list and will not have the same type of protection you will find on enduro or downhill tires. The tread is usually ramped for lower rolling resistance and the tread height is small to medium in height for efficient rolling on hardpack to loose over hard dirt.

Trail/All-Mountain Tire Width

Trail and all-mountain tires are generally 2.3" to 2.5"-wide and have moderate-sized tread blocks. These tires come with the most variety and can be found with fast rolling or grippy rubber compounds, lightweight or durable casing options and tread patterns that specialize in low rolling resistance or maximum traction.

Enduro/Downhill Tire Width

The most aggressive tires in mountain biking. These tires are generally 2.4" to 2.6"-wide and have durable casings that are stiffer and more protective. Enduro and downhill tires have tread compounds that specialize in grip and tread patterns with large blocky tread for maximum traction.

Plus Tire Width

Plus-sized tires are generally 2.8"-3.8" and have tread patterns and rubber compounds designed for trail riding. Moderate-sized tread blocks, combined with the increased surface area of the extra width, provides maximum traction that will enhance the capabilities of your bike.

Mountain Bike Tire Tread

The tread you have on your tires is one of the biggest factors in how your tires will perform on the trails you ride. Different tread patterns, as well as the size of the lugs, are usually specific to the style of riding you do and the terrain you ride in. For example, you would not want large, spaced-out lugs if you are riding cross country on a hardpacked trail and you wouldn’t want small, fast-rolling tread when you are riding downhill on loose technical terrain.

  • Cross-Country Smaller tread blocks with a tighter spaced pattern and a faster rolling center. Usually harder rubber compounds.
  • Trail/All-Mountain Intermediate sized tread. There are many variations depending on the terrain you ride in. Soft, medium, or hard rubber compounds
  • Enduro Tread lugs are larger and blocky for riding in steeper and more technical terrain. Larger shoulder lugs for cornering and soft or medium durometer rubber compounds. You may find tires dedicated to riding in wet and muddy terrains in this category, characterized by larger blocked tread that is widely spaced for mud clearance.
  • Downhill Aggressive tread patterns usually in the softest rubber for maximum grip.

Mountain Bike Tire Compounds

The rubber compounds a mountain bike tire is equipped with has a direct correlation to the rolling speed, grip and longevity of the tire. Tires can have single, double, or multiple rubber compounds to maximize durability or for a balance of grip and rolling resistance. Different durometer rubber is used based on the designated use of the given tire and plays a part in how much traction, how quickly they wear, and how much rolling speed a tire has.

  • Number of compounds A single rubber compound tire will last the longest as it is made of one compound of rubber all the way through. Dual and multiple rubber compound tires use two or more rubber durometers for a balance of grip and low rolling resistance. (ex. hard rubber in the center tread, soft rubber on the shoulder lugs.)
  • Softness of rubber How soft the rubber is on your tire translates to how much grip your tires will have and how fast they will wear out. Softer rubber compounds maximize grip in the dirt but will also make the tire roll slower and wear out quicker. Harder rubber compounds roll faster on the dirt and will be more durable, but don’t have the grip needed for technical riding.

JensonUSA carries a plethora of all types of mountain tires. From fast rolling cross-country tires, to downhill and enduro tires that specialize in grip, we got what you need.

Mountain Bike Tire FAQs

What are the best mountain bike tire brands?

Maxxis, Schwalbe, Continental, Vittoria and Specialized all make top-quaility mountain bike tires.

How much do new tires for a mountain bike cost?

Mountain bike tires vary greatly in price, and like most things, you get what you pay for. More advanced rubber compounds and more protective casing options will cost more than a standard tire. Mountain bike tires range from $50 to $100.

Are wider mountain bike tires better

Wider mountain bike tires will contact more of the dirt and provide a more stable platform when riding and have more traction. On the other hand, wider tires will also be heavier. 

What do numbers on mountain bike tires mean?

There are three numbers on a bike tire that you should pay attention to. The first number is the ETRTO, which is the European tire and rim technical organization, and is another measurement of circumference. 26" tires have an ETRTO of 559, 27.5" tires are 584, and 29" tires are 622. Next, is the size and width of your tires. 26, 27.5, or 29 is the diameter of your wheel in inches and is followed by the width in inches, usually 2.0"-3.8". A 27.5" wheel that is 2.5" wide will look like this, 27.5" x 2.5".

Can I use mountain bike tires on the street?

Mountain tires are not meant to be used on asphalt because the rubber compound they are made with are too soft and the road is too hard. riding your mountain bike on the street for short distances will not hurt your tires, although, excessive riding on the street or skidding your tires when on asphalt will wear your tires much faster than if they were on dirt.

Can I put thin tires on a mountain bike?

Putting thin tires on a mountain bike will not be beneficial for riding in dirt. If you want to ride on thin tires and don’t ride technical terrain, consider riding a gravel bike. The thinnest tires we recommend riding in dirt is 2.0" wide.

Follow Jensonusa