Well before my time as your Gnarologist, I got to know Chief Enginerd Matt by geeking out about everything related to tire design and development (along with the occasional chat about fitting tall guys to fast bikes). We’re both those bike nerds who keep a stack of old tires around, ready to swap on at a moment’s notice if the trail conditions change or we just want to try something new and different. In this Dispatch, we’re going to go over some of the most popular tires on the market and explain why some work for some riders and not others, and how to pick the best tire for your riding style and trail.
In the past we’ve gone over the ingredients that cook up a great tire, but we haven’t touched on the most important one, the tread pattern. The casings and protection layers can keep you rolling in the rough, and the best compounds will keep you in the clear even when it’s so sloppy you can’t see the trail, but the tread pattern dictates how you’ll climb, corner, and come to a stop.
Tire design normally falls into four distinct categories, and you’ll see variations on these styles all the way from XC racing tires up to DH and freeride tires.
- Slick tires - Think MotoGP or Tour de France. Slick for speed, noticeable lack of cornering knobs in order to preserve as much speed as possible on a bermed out trail. We don’t recommend these outside of dual slalom racing or dirt jumping.
- Semi-slick tires - The opposite of a mohawk. Slick down the middle for minimal rolling resistance with taller cornering knobs for carving in looser terrain.
- Intermediate tires - Tires with a nice array of knobs across the center, transition, and shoulders. These typically offer predictable response over a wide range of lean angles, so they’re great for lower speeds and tighter corners where you can’t get a full lean on.
- Channeled tires - Tires with a row of center knobs and a row of cornering knobs with a big gap between the center and shoulder knobs. The lack of intermediate knobs allows these tires to hook up even better when leaned over but can get drifty if you’re slow to throw the bike over onto the side knobs.
When looking at a tire, you’ll also see a few different knob features that can change how the knob interacts with the ground.
- Ramping - angled knobs with a defined ramp from the top of the knob to the casing which helps improve rolling resistance. Ramps keep you rolling smoothly, and smooth is fast (and fast is smooth).
- Siping - little cuts in the shape of each knob which can add certain flex characteristics to the knob or offer an additional biting edge. Minion cornering knobs have a sipe to offer an extra cornering edge. Aggressor center knobs have a sipe to offer another climbing/braking edge.
- Buttressing - additional support for taller knobs to control the flex and keep the knob attached to your tire under hard cornering. Just like the buttresses you’ll see on vintage cathedrals supporting the towering spires. Most of the time you’ll see buttressing on the outside of your cornering knobs to reinforce them for cornering on hardpack.
In our lineup you’ll see a mix of intermediate and channeled tires, often mixing up different tires for front and rear use.
- Intermediate tires:
- Rekon - Heavily ramped center knobs down the center with predictable intermediate and side knobs provide versatility and speed.
- Shorter, ramped knobs mean that this tire will be overwhelmed in really loose conditions.
- If you want a fast rolling setup on hardpack or loose-over-hard trails, run them on both ends. Typically with a 2.6” front and 2.4” rear in order to gain a little more grip up front.
- If you want to pick up some speed on a long-travel bike, throw a Rekon on the back but know that the heavy ramping will affect climbing traction and short knob heights limit braking traction. Treat it like a semi-slick and you’ll save yourself a lot of energy on the climbs.
- Aggressor - Typically used as a rear tire paired with something more aggressive up front.
- The Aggressor’s tight tread pattern can clog in thick mud.
- Square-edged knobs hook up when climbing and braking.
- Our favorite rear tire due to its balance of rolling resistance and versatile performance over a wide range of terrain.
- Assegai - The newcomer with all the grip due to its taller knob heights and intermediate pattern layout.
- No drift zone at all, just velcro-like grip in normal and off-camber corners
- Slower rolling and heavier due to the taller knob height.
- Limited availability in lighter casings.
- Channeled tires:
- Minion DHF -The gold standard of trail bike and DH tires. Often imitated but rarely improved.
- Chunky knobs give you a lot of grip in intermediate to loose trail conditions without flexing on hardpack.
- Great for cornering but not so great for braking.
- Mind the gap, that channel between the center and shoulder knobs can take some getting used to. Lean it like you mean it and you’ll be ripping corners in no time.
- Minion DHRII - The improved, rear-specific tire that occasionally finds its way onto the front wheel.
- Paddle center knobs improve braking and climbing traction over the DHF.
- We really don’t have anything better to say about the cornering knobs, that alternating L knob and straight just work.
- While it does not have true intermediate knobs, the wider center knobs make it easier for less-confident riders to corner harder since the channel is smaller than on the DHF.
Mixing up tire combinations can be a lot of fun if you know what you’re trying to achieve with realistic expectations about the combo. Below are a few of our favorites:
- Minion DHF (F) / Aggressor (R) - This is probably the most versatile tire combination we’ve ever ridden. It’ll work just fine, just about everywhere.
- Minion DHF (F) / Minion DHRII (R) - Classic combination for DH-oriented riding. The rear Minion is going to roll slower than the Aggressor but give you better braking control.
- Minion DHF (F) / Rekon (R) - One of our new favorites for Front Range riding. The rear Rekon is noticeably faster than an Aggressor without giving up much performance on the downs. Be easy on your rear brake and conscious of your rear weight climbing to keep it hooked up.
- Aggressor (F) / Rekon (R) - Chief Enginerd Matt is the first person brave enough to try this but is loving it on his Trail Pistol. This is the fastest tire combination Matt trusts for all-over riding.
If you have any questions about the best tires for your trails, just give Shredquarters a call (303-955-4163) or email Bikes@RideGG.com. Start customizing your build here.