While XC tires might not get much love from us, we do ride most of them and also sell lots of them. Maxxis might have some of the most iconic XC/Trail tires like the Ikon and Ardent. While there are a huge number of choices from Maxxis, we have picked out our favorite models and the combinations that we love to ride them in. While true cross country racers will be looking for the best weight and rolling speed they can get, our tire choices tend to also have a heavy emphasis on traction. Pairing a slightly meatier tire up front with a faster rolling tire out back is normally how we roll with our XC-ish, light-trail setups, which some might describe as "down-county" bikes.
I will start with the faster rolling, smaller tread tires and continue into the heavier, knobbier tires that tend to have more traction. As you would expect, with more tread comes more weight. While I wouldn't consider myself a weight weenie, I do look at the weight on tires and wheels. Wheels and tires are what make the most difference when it comes to weight and on a small travel bike, the best weight to traction ratio win the spots on my bikes.
Let's start with the Maxxis Aspen Tires. I think it's the fastest rolling tire and has recently been adopted by most of the XC World Cup Maxxis riders. With riders from Nino Schurter winning many races on this tire to the more adventure marathon riders like Geoff Kabush also riding this tire for a wide range of events, it shows its speed with results alone. The Aspen recently got a bit of a revamp with a wider casing option, 29 x 2.25.
The Aspen has some small race size ramped knobs in the center with larger more aggressive side knobs. This allows the center of the tire to roll fast providing just enough traction when climbing and braking but not comprising any speed. Once leaned over, the slightly offset two rows of side knobs grab and keep your tires planted on the dirt. The Aspen also clears mud very well and while it might not have the overall height of some mud tires, the spaced-out tread allows more clearing when the dirt gets thick.
The Maxxis Ikon tire might be the most classic XC tire in most recent years and is still winning WC XC races. With a tightly packed set of small ramped knobs, the Ikon tire almost feels a bit like velcro in the traction department while rolling fast with ease. The Ikon excels in dry conditions with its 3C compound options and the small siping on each knob across the tire.
I would say the Ikon lends itself to be the most predictable XC tire in this lineup if your goal is going fast. It also makes a great rear tire when looking for speed in the back and some more tread up front like what you would get with the Ardent, Ardent Race or Forekaster. The number of options is a bit crazy to list as well, from different compounds, casing options, and widths, as well as the option to go non-tubeless. As I said, this tire is a classic and finds itself in its fair share of combinations, so we'll list some of the more common tire combinations and sizes/casing options.
The Ardent Race is the faster, smaller knobbed brother of the classic Ardent tire. With more intermediate knobs than the Ardent tire, the Ardent Race looks more like an aggressive Ikon tire. Rolling fast while having some nice traction, I would say the Ardent Race is right in the middle of rolling speed, traction and weight, making it very versatile. With ramped center knobs and stepped alternating side knobs, the Ardent race has a great transition from the center to leaning the tire over.
To help with this tire’s versatility, Maxxis offers it in a 2.2 or 2.35 casing. It can find its spot on many bikes front or rear for whatever traction your bike needs. I personally really like to ride this tire out back, be it a 2.2 or 2.35. It strikes a balance between speed and traction for the rear when riding aggressively. It can also be used as a more aggressive front tire for XC racing when the terrain is technical or loose.
The Rekon Tire might be the most under the radar as it’s a new tire packed with some really awesome features. It might not be as classic as some of the other Maxxis XC tires, but it will surely create some great traction without the weight of some other tires. The Rekon is made to be a bit more aggressive than the Ikon but with some additional tire tech. When I first saw the Rekon, I thought it looked like an XC version of a Maxxis High Roller II and Maxxis Minion combined. The center tread looks like a slimmed-down version of the High Roller II and the side knobs mimic the Minion, creating a lot of control you wouldn't expect from an XC tire. Great control under braking with L shaped side knobs allow some confident riding for a tire that rolls this fast. The low profile tread also has ramped center knobs allowing the Rekon to roll similarly to other dry XC tires. Between the center knobs and the side knobs, there are small, square intermediate knobs with alternating slanted siping. I really dig tires with these intermediate transition knobs, and all of these small features is why the Rekon has become my favorite XC/Trail tire.
The Rekon comes in a few width options as well as two casing options, all with Maxxis 3C rubber to make sure you are getting the most traction from the rubber itself as possible. The 2.25 size is truly an XC tire with the low profile tread, while the 2.4 size lends itself to be more of a trail tire or a fast-rolling rear tire.
The Ardent marks yet another classic XC/Trail tire for Maxxis, bridging the gap between super fast rolling but sometimes not enough tread, and something more like a Minion DHR II that moves into large tread territory. The Ardent is also decently fast-rolling considering the tread height and does decently well with clearing mud as well. The center tread is ramped but tightly packed to roll fast with side knobs that have an alternating stepped pattern to them. There are intermediate knobs but spaced out quite a bit more than the other tread, leaving a gap where there isn't an intermediate knob.
As with the other classic Maxxis tires, the Ardent is available in a huge range of sizes, casings and rubber options, so I will list our more common combinations and sizes that we see. The 2.25 width option is a great aggressive XC tire, and like the Rekon, the Ardent in a 2.4 width fits right into that trail category.
The Maxxis Forekaster is a bit more of a rarity to see, being the go-to Maxxis XC tire for very loose soil or mud. While it doesn't get picked up as much as these other dry tires do, it holds its place in the Maxxis lineup for the XC/Trail mud tire. Having mid-height almost square knobs across the tire that is spaced out quite a bit, it's as close to an XC spike you can get. Along with a spike-like design, most of the knobs or spikes also have generous siping, making sure those tall knobs conform to anything they can grab onto when the dirt gets slippery.
Coming in a 2.2 or 2.35, it pairs nicely with the classic Ikon or Ardent Race tires as a front. I know Geoff Kabush will often run this tire up front for more alternative XC races where the soil might be loose and soft like in the Downieville Classic, or wet slippery and unpredictable like the BC Bike Race. It also happens to be pretty light for the amount of traction it provides, which I don't think anyone will complain about.
While the Maxxis DHRII might be considered to be an all-mountain/enduro/downhill tire, it provides a great grip to weight ratio when it's in the 2.3 widths and EXO protection. I would not consider this the typical XC tire unless your typical XC race is the Downieville Classic where 3k feet of climbing is followed by 30mph+ descents. The DHRII has large ramped knobs in the center that take up most of the tread, and then transition to classic Minion side knobs. With amazing braking traction and generous siping, the grip and control from a Maxxis DHRII are off the charts compared to any other Maxxis XC tire. The Maxxis DHRII is the most aggressive tire of this comparison and fits right into and at the top of the trail tire category, going slightly into the all-mountain/enduro tire realm.
While the Maxxis DHRII comes in a vast array of widths, casings and rubber options, the only ones to look at here are the 2.3 and 2.4 widths with EXO protection. Anything more and that goes into the next category of tires. While the knobs are quite big compared to other XC/Trail tires, the rolling speed is pretty good when looking at the corners you will be able to take with this tire.
Hopefully, you’re not more confused now than before you read this comparison. Maxxis offers probably the widest range of tire options for any given discipline and XC/Trail is no different. With seven core tires that we looked at and with all of the tires coming with different widths, casings and rubber options, the possibilities really are endless. You can choose how much grip you want, how fast the tire rolls, and what wheel you want to put it on with Maxxis. Run the same tire front and rear, run the same tread but large volume up front, or what most of us at Worldwide do: run a more aggressive front tire with a faster rolling rear tire so you can let it slide out back while being in control up front.