DHF, EXO, WTF? How to choose the right MTB tire

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Tires are important, arguably the most important component on your bike aside from the frame because of how much they impact traction, control, and reliability out on the trail. While the common advice of “just run a DHF” still rings true, that pattern alone is found in almost 90 variants, and that’s not even including the countless lookalikes offered by every other manufacturer in the tire game. Tires, and the engineering that make some better than others, are a really complicated topic, so for now we’ll focus on the high-level specifications to look for in quality rubber. In a future dispatch we’ll write up about how to choose the best tread pattern along with some of the distinctions we’ve observed and tested between different tire widths and wheel sizes.

  • Rubber Compound - The compound is the specific chemical makeup of rubber in the tire.
    • Many manufacturers will publish the SHORE durometer of their rubber and lower numbers mean softer rubber, which is typically stickier and slower rebounding than harder rubber with a higher durometer.
    • Dual Compound tires use different compounds for the center tread and side knobs. These will compromise some wet-weather grip but last much longer in dry conditions.
    • Triple Compound tires, like the Maxxis 3C line, balance easy straight-line rolling efficiency with cornering grip by using a harder base layer of rubber under the knobs paired with soft center rubber for climbing traction and even softer rubber under the cornering knobs for control.
      • 3C MaxxSpeed is optimized for XC and trail use and is found in the Rekon that we use as a lightweight, speedy tire option on the Trail Pistol.
      • 3C MaxxTerra is designed for enduro use and uses softer rubber all over compared to MaxxSpeed, including DH-rated rubber on the side knobs for hard cornering.
      • 3C MaxxGrip is designed for gravity use only and is noticeably slower-rolling under pedaling. It’s slow-rebound properties shine at high speeds when no-compromise grip and control are required.
  • Protection - Most tires will offer some level of tire protection whether tubeless compatibility, a puncture breaker under the tread, or abrasion protection on the sidewalls.
    • EXO sidewall protection adds an additional layer of abrasion-resistant fabric to the sidewalls of the tire to protect against tears. It’s mandatory in rocky terrain but an easy place to shave weight if your trails are groomed.
    • Puncture breakers like Maxxis’ Silkworm are used to prevent punctures through the tread.
    • EXO+ is a new protection offered by Maxxis that combines a bead-to-bead puncture breaker with the EXO sidewall protection to offer a more reliable construction than standard single-ply EXO while eliminating the excess weight of the dual-ply DoubleDown construction. We have some EXO+ tires in for longterm testing and are pretty stoked on how they ride!
    • Tubeless-Ready construction means that the casing and compound of the tire are designed to work with liquid sealant. This also means that the tire uses a tubeless bead to hook onto the rim for an airtight seal. Tubeless on a mountain bike is a no-brainer these days, and we make sure to set up every bike tubeless before it leaves our hands.
  • Casing - The fabric that makes up the tire is referred to as its casing and like your bedsheets, there are different thread counts that make a noticeable difference in feel.
    • Most MTB tires use a 60 thread-per-inch (TPI) nylon casing which offers a great balance between ride quality, weight, and durability.
    • Some XC-racing tires will use 120 TPI or 170 TPI casing in order to reduce weight and offer a supple feel over increasingly technical race courses. The higher TPI tires do compromise durability compared to a 60 TPI tire but will save over 40 grams per tire.
    • Like your toilet paper, the casing is available in single or dual ply construction. Most tires are single-ply but dual-ply casings can double the protection (and weight) when additional support and protection is needed.
      • Dual-ply tires have much stiffer casings which add much-needed sidewall stability during hard cornering on technical terrain. These stiffer casings also offer better support during hard landings.
      • Most riders will opt to run a heavier rear tire since most of your riding weight is going to be on the rear tire when charging hard into rough terrain.
      • DoubleDown (DD) uses a dual-ply 120 TPI casing with a butyl insert meaning it uses a finer casing fabric but two layers of it. DD tires typically weigh in around 200 grams heavier than a single-ply tire with EXO protection.
      • DH-Casing tires use a dual-ply 60 TPI with a butyl insert. This means that the tire will be even heavier than a DD tire while offering increased reliability and support at speed.

Putting it all together, this should help paint a better picture for choosing the right DHF (or any other tire) for your bike. We’re bike nerds and love Maxxis’ a la carte approach to choosing your own compound, casing, and protection, but we’re also here to help you choose the right tire for your terrain. Below are a few staff picks on tire choice:

  • Matt:
    • Front: 29x2.50 Minion DHF in 3C MaxxTerra/EXO/TR
    • Rear: 29x2.40 Rekon in 3C MaxxSpeed/EXO/TR
    • Matt is using Cushcore front and rear
  • Jubal:
    • Front: 29x2.50 Assegai in 3C MaxxGrip/TR/DH-Casing
    • Rear: 29x2.40 Minion DHRII in 3C MaxxGrip/TR/DH-Casing
    • No tire inserts.
  • Jimmy:
    • Front: 27.5x2.30 Griffin 3C MaxxTerra/EXO/TR
    • Rear: 27.5x2.30 Minion SS in EXO/Silkworm/TR
    • Jimmy likes goin’ fast.
  • Bobby:
    • Front: 29x2.50 Minion DHF in 3C MaxxTerra/EXO/TR
    • Rear: 29x2.50 Aggressor in TR/DD
    • No inserts, just a ton of air pressure.
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