We are back for the second part of our tire series, which is to say that we’re going to over-analyze your rear tire choice. As we mentioned in the front tire review, there are a ton of options, and what might work for your buddy might not work for you. Tires are very terrain specific, as well as rider specific, and can make your bike ride totally different from one to another. For rear tires, the tire casing becomes much more important than front tires, since you have more weight and less control of where that tire is going. It's much like a red headed stepchild that kinda gets all the bad parts of the trail features, while the front gets put, hopefully, in the best part of the trail.
Casings are going to be your friend with any tire, but I’d say it's about twice as important to dial in which rear casing works best for you than it is for the front. Most tire companies have two or three casing options for a certain tire. For Maxxis, they have EXO, EXO+, DD and DH Casing, in order from least amount of protection, also lightest weight, to most protection and therefore normally the most weight. If you are a rider that is light on the bike, and you don't smash rocks or puncture your tires a lot, you could probably run EXO or EXO+ and be fine. Jeff at the shop always runs EXO as he is a light rider, and doesn't ride too many trails that need a lot of tire protection. I myself normally always run a DD in the rear because not only does it provide more flat protection but also has better feel and more consistent qualities when riding rough, rocky, and steep trails.
WTB and Schwalbe also have different casing options. WTB is easy to follow: Light and Tough. The Tough is very tough and offers equal or slightly more protection than Maxxis DD. The Light falls right in line with Maxxis EXO and EXO+, providing good protection but might not be enough for all types of riders and terrain. Schwalbe has their Snakeskin and Super Gravity casings, with Super Gravity being the more protective, similar to DD or Tough.
When we dive into tread patterns a bit, we discover that what might work great on the front might not work great in the rear, and vice versa. For the rear, it's always a balance between rolling speed, braking traction, and cornering grip, with braking traction being important in steep terrain. A tire like the Maxxis Minion SS will provide great rolling speed, and has the Minion cornering knobs once leaned over, but will suffer when braking in steep terrain, or if the dirt is a bit slippery. Other tires like the WTB Judge are going to have amazing braking and cornering traction, but will have higher amounts of rolling resistance.
Semi slick tires have been around for awhile, but are gaining traction as more companies offer a semi slick in their lineup. The Maxxis Minion SS, Schwalbe Rock Razor, and E13 Semi Slick are all examples of great trail or enduro rear tires. They have a solid casing and demonstrate what a semi slick should be, with a low tread in the center, normally tightly packed smaller knobs you would see on an XC tire, and the standard side knobs that a trail or enduro tire would have. This provides a very fast tire and decent cornering traction when leaned over but not the best when it comes to braking or climbing steep terrain. I find the best time to ride semi slicks is in the spring, when the trails are not going to be wet anymore, but are also not blown out moon dust like we get after just a month of dry, blue skies in So Cal summers. Depending on the dirt and season, I will often put on a Maxxis Minion SS in the rear for spring, or if I’m going to an event where speed matters and the dirt will be hard packed.
Getting this balance for you is key to having the best riding tire for the terrain. A tire like the Maxxis Aggressor, Schwalbe Hans Dampf, or WTB Trail Boss will provide a great combination of all these traits. Rolling speed is right in the middle, both climbing and braking traction are very good in most dirt types, and all have solid corning knobs to keep that line held in the fastest and loosest corners. The Maxxis Aggressor and Schwalbe Hans Dampf have very similar tread patterns, with mostly square tread on all sides, and knobs that cover from the center to the sides with no gaps, providing traction no matter the tire angle.
The Maxxis Aggressor is possibly the most popular tire in this category for good reason, it works well in ALMOST all conditions. If it's not super muddy or super dry and blown out, the Aggressor excels. It has all three traits a rear tire should have: good rolling speed, climbing and braking traction, and good cornering traction, with I would say the best transition from center to side knobs. It's also available in both EXO and DD casing, and 2.3 and 2.5 width options. It’s a solid rear tire to pair with any front tire you choose. I normally run the 2.3 DD, but might be moving up to the 2.5 DD this summer.
The Maxxis Minion SS is Maxxis’ semi slick option, providing great speed with its low center tread design. As mentioned above, this is a great tire for fast hard packed trails that do not require a ton of braking power. Utilizing the classic Minion side knobs, once leaned over they grab and hold traction. The Minion SS is available in 3 casing options: EXO, SilkWork/EXO, and DD, all in a 2.3 width option.
The Maxxis DHRII might not be as good of an all arounder as the Aggressor, but it's a close race between the two. The DHRII will roll a bit slower, but really shine when the terrain gets steep and you really need to slow down fast. With huge square braking edges, the DHRII is the choice for steep terrain. Utilizing the same Minion side knobs as the SS and DHF, the DHRII will not be phased by corners either. It’s also great at clearing mud, so if there is some wet weather in the forecast, the DHRII would be a great tire to get on. It comes in a huge variety of options (enough that I might miss a few): 2.3 width in EXO, DD and DH casing, 2.4 width in EXO, EXO+ and DH. There are also some 2.6 width options, which are less popular for the rear, but also in EXO and EXO+. The DHRII might be the most used tire for enduro or downhill riders.
E13 is newer to the tire game, but coming in fast and grippy with its two tread options. Here the E13 Semi Slick will be very similar to other SS tires out there. With 3 casing options from TRS (trail) to LG1 (enduro) and LG1 DH (downhill), there are options for all riders, and all in the generous 2.35 width, which actually runs a bit large. The E13 Semi Slick has one of the grippiest side knobs available. With competitive weights, the E13 SS is a great option to run out back if the dirt justifies a fast tire.
The WTB Judge is the rowdiest, chunkiest rear tire from WTB with massive knobs, from center to sides. It provides insane traction in corners and braking, but it is one of the slower tires. However, if you’re running a tire like this, rolling speed probably isn’t high on your list of priorities. When the terrain gets steep, being confident braking and leaning the bike over is number one (rolling speed might not even make the list). As it’s made for chunky terrain, the Judge is only available in a Tough casing, in either high grip rubber or fast rolling, and 2.4 width. It’s not light, but again it’s made for the chunky, steep, loose terrain, and making protection your friend.
The WTB Vigilante is the classic tire from WTB, and while it’s a great front tire, it’s not too bad on the rear either. With 2.3, 2.5, and 2.6 width options and Light or Tough casing versions in each size, WTB give a ton of options for what fits your bike best. I often run the 2.3 Tough, High Grip in the rear, and it has a good balance of rear tire traits. It rolls decently fast, has good square braking edges, with ample traction while climbing, and a great knob pattern with great transitions from center to cornering knobs. The Vigilante is also great for shedding mud as the knobs are spaced enough to allow loose dirt or mud to fall right out.
The WTB Trail Boss is going to be a bit faster rolling of a tire than some of these other options, making it a great rear tire on an enduro or trail bike. With a tighter spaced tread pattern than the Vigilante, it makes for a great intermediate option. Available in 2.25, 2.4 and 2.6 width options and all in Light and Tough casings, there is a Trail Boss for your bike. The Trail Boss will have great rolling speed for the amount of traction it provides. I would say it’s similar to an SS tire, but has better braking and climbing traction than any SS options. A great tire for spring and summer when the trails are fast and dry.
Well, as you can see there are way too many tires to choose from for the back wheel of your bike. It really comes down to the 3 tire traits: rolling speed, climbing/braking traction, and cornering traction, and those are influenced by rider and terrain personalities. Are you a smooth rider with flowy trails? Then a faster tread and lighter casing option would work great for you, or maybe even a semi slick. Are you always searching for the steepest, loosest trails you can find? Then something with good braking and cornering traction would be needed with a tougher casing like a DD or Tough casing, as rolling speed and weight are a low priority. Tires are personally my favorite part about bikes, as a tire swap can really change how a bike rides and what you are capable of riding. While tire testing may be hard and expensive, I would suggest you take into account your riding style and terrain and try the best options out there for you!