We have been getting a ton of requests lately to dive a bit deeper into the XC/light casing MTB tire category. With brands like Maxxis, Schwalbe, WTB, and Teravail all making excellent tire options, it really isn't about which is best, more so about which fits your bike, riding style, and choice of terrain. And while most of us here at the shop are more all-mountain/enduro riders, we cannot forget about the huge number of cross country and light trail riders out there. Tires like the Maxxis Rekon, WTB Nano, and Schwalbe Racing Ralph are just a few of the many options on the market these days. Because we took an in-depth look at the Maxxis XC tire lineup a few weeks ago, in this episode we are going to be heavily focused on the remaining 3 mountain bike tire brands.
We 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. That is what makes the most difference when it comes to weight and on a small travel bike, the best weight to traction ratio usually wins the spot 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. Most notably, Nino Schurter has won many races on this tire. On the more adventure marathon side of things, guys like Geoff Kabush have run this tire for a wide range of events, showing its speed just from 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 are 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.
Maxxis Ardent Race
The Maxxis 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 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 Maxxis 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 Maxxis 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. 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 are 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.
Maxxis Minion DHRII
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 width 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 is 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.
The WTB Nano is a classic tread design that has been used for XC racing of all sorts for years. With an almost smooth centerline tread and a consistent set of knobs out to the edge of the tire, the Nano is fast yet predictable. From endurance races like the Tour Divide to hardcore racing like Downieville, the Nano is a proven design picked by many riders. This was also one of the first 29er tires ever made, and also coming in 27.5 in a 2.1 width, fits right into that XC design. Lastly, this tire is available in a 700c gravel version, with the same benefits from XC racing, gravel riders can have the fast rolling, predictable cornering that you experience on a mountain bike.
The WTB Ranger is a great all around tire that can be found in XC races or trail riding scenarios. With three widths to choose from, you can have your cake and eat it too, at 2.0, 2.25, and 2.4. Tightly spaced center tread, an intermediate transition knob and perfectly sized cornering knobs, the Ranger provides predictability along with the ability to shed mud and debris easily. The Ranger tire could be the last tire you put on for this type of riding.
The Riddler is WTB version of a semi slick tire, with low height, tightly spaced center tread, the Riddler will roll fast when going straight. Once leaned over the large side knobs will provide the traction needed to keep the rubber side up. Named after Nathan Riddle, Nate is known for his multi discipline style of riding, from DH bikes to XC, riding the Riddler tire is a bit like that as well. It can go fast on an XC bike or big travel bike, the Riddler has even gotten some solid results under Nate at the Downieville classic. An amazing tire when the terrain is fast and hard packed, you will have no regrets mounting this tire on.
WTB Trail Boss
If you have the balls to name a tire the Trail Boss, it better be good at exactly that. The Trail Boss is a true all-rounder tire and will perform great on bikes from XC to trail and even on the rear of your enduro rig. Featuring a mid height center knob, which is also about in the middle of the pack for tightly spaced, I wouldn't say it's super tight like some other tires in this review, but it also isn't gaped out like an aggressive tire. The Trail Boss strikes the balance between it all, and has the large classic WTB side knobs to keep you from sliding when looking for corning speed. While there are now two versions of the Trail Boss, the first version leans itself a bit more towards the XC/Light Trail side as it's available in a 2.25 and 2.4 width for all wheel sizes.
The Racing Ralph has been in the Schwalbe line up for years, but recently got a redesign. It has tightly packed tread in the center and a plethora of sipes to conform to the terrain. With an insane amount of results under it, the Racing Ralph will continue to be found on XC bikes and light trail bikes.
The Schwalbe Racing Ray is a slight variation of the classic Racing Ralph, designed to be a bit more aggressive, with a slightly more spread out tread pattern. With a bit more room to clear debris in the tire, and large enough side knobs to hold traction when leaning deep into a corner, the Racing Ray lends itself to be a more all around XC style tire.
The Nobby Nic is also a classic tire in the Schwalbe lineup, with a few updates in past years, the new Schwalbe Nobby Nic truly is an all around tire. You will find this tire on XC bike to full enduro bikes, with large square blocks of tread, the Nobby Nic might not be the fastest rolling but the goal here is predictability. I'm not sure about you but I'll give up rolling speed for a consistent, predictable tire anyday. With a huge range of sizes, the Nobby Nic is available in sizes from 2.1 to 3.0 with the most popular sizes of 2.25 and 2.35.
The Teravail Sparwood is a very fast rolling tire. It's a top pick for bike packers and endurance racers alike. With a tightly spaced, almost file-like tread in the center, the Sparwood will excel on hard packed fire roads and singletrack. Coming in a 29 x 2.2 width, you will be set for any adventure.
Next up is the Honcho tire, Teravail’s new aggressive trail tire. It was designed and inspired for attacking rocky, rooty terrain. The Teravail Honcho is the latest high-performance trail tire developed with angular lugs that are tall and aggressive, creating a fast-rolling tread pattern that still provides ample traction and bite through loose, uneven terrain. The Honcho tire is going to be offered in two casing sizes as well as wheel sizes. Both 27.5 & 29 come in 2.4 and 2.6 options, creating lots of great combinations for any bike. Want some volume to float over rocks and roots? The 2.6 front and rear will be your choice! The 2.4 version feels more like a traditional trail tire, and feels great up front or in the rear. All sizes are also offered in two casing options as well: Light & Supple, and Durable. Along with that, the Light & Supple tires are also offered in a tan wall option, and that could be what we are most stoked on with these new tires.
The next new mountain tire from Teravail is the Ehline. This is going to be a faster tread pattern than the Honcho, and makes a great rear when paired with the Honcho up front, or run it front and rear for a fast rolling combination. The Ehline will follow suit after the Honcho, available in 27.5 & 29 inch options and 2.3 or 2.5 widths. It has more narrow options than the Honcho, making the Ehline the faster option of the two. It has the same casing options as well with Light & Supple in both black and tan wall colors, and the Durable in just black. Designed in response to modern flowy trails, the Ehline is fast-rolling with uncompromising cornering performance – developed to provide more traction and durability than traditional XC tires for those who demand the most in a tire when riding fast, flowing terrain with technical sections mixed in.