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12 Best Cross-Country Mountain Bike Tires (Reviewed Jan, 2021)

Cross-country (XC) is a subdiscipline of mountain biking that involves riding on less aggressive terrain such as forest paths, fire roads, singletrack, etc. Therefore, XC bike tires should have good rolling properties while still maintaining an ample amount of traction. In this article, we will discuss everything there is to know about XC tires.

There are countless tire options to choose from. With so many choices, it can be extremely difficult to make a final decision on which tires to get. Fortunately for you, we have tested and reviewed the 12 of the finest cross-country mountain bike tires that are available today. For beginners, we have also included a buying guide to provide you with all the necessary information so that you may make an informed decision.

After rigorous testing, each tire has been assigned a score based on its overall performance and features. Everything has been taken into account, from the grip, speed, durability, and even price. Since the Maxxis Ardent has the highest score, we have selected it as the ‘Overall Best Choice’.

Maxxis Ardent

Durable, versatile, and fast-rolling tire for trail racing | Overall Best Choice

The Maxxis Ardent is our top pick for cross-country tires because it pretty much ticks all the right boxes. It rolls fast, corners with confidence has excellent braking and pedaling traction and is highly robust. Moreover, it has a reasonable weight and price, and multiple sizes are available. Whether you are racing or navigating more technical trails, the Ardent delivers top-notch performance.

  • Recommended Use: XC, racing, trail, all-mountain
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.25”, 2.4”
  • Size Tested: 26”×2.25” (ETRTO 56-559)
  • TPI: 60
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 725
  • Compound: Dual
  • Max PSI: 60
  • Tech: EXO layer
  • Color: Black

 

A quick view of our list of some of the best cross country bike tires chosen for your mountain bikes:

Cross-Country Mountain Bike TireWeight (grams)Our Ratings
Maxxis Ardent72592
Schwalbe Rocket Ron78591
Continental Cross King ProTection65590
Maxxis Ikon64090
Schwalbe Racing Ralph59089
WTB Trail Boss 2.2585687
Vittoria Mezcal73586
Maxxis Rekon84085
WTB Velociraptor82984
Maxxis Aspen64583
Vittoria Barzo68082
Continental Race King ShieldWall66079

12 best cross country mountain bike tires you can buy today

TirePreviewTypeUseDiameterWidthWeight
(grams)
BeadCompoundScore
Maxxis ArdentMaxxis Ardent DC Exo Tubeless Ready Folding Tire, 26-InchXC, racing, trail, all-mountainTubeless-ready26”, 27.5”, 29”2.25”, 2.4”725FoldingDual92
Schwalbe Rocket RonSchwalbe Rocket Ron Addix Folding Addix Speedgrip SnakeSkin 67TPI 20-45PSI 735g Tire, Black, 275' x 20/35'XC, all-mountain, marathon, e-bikeTubeless-ready20”, 24”, 26”, 27.5”, 29”2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”, 2.8”785FoldingAddix SpeedGrip91
Continental Cross King ProTectionContinental Mountain Bike ProTection Tire - Black Chili, Tubeless, Folding Handmade MTB Performance Tire (26', 27.5', 29'), 26 x 2.2, Cross KingXC, trail, all-mountain, e-bikeTubeless26”, 27.5”, 29”2.2”, 2.3”655FoldingBlackChili90
Maxxis IkonMaxxis Ikon 3C EXC EXO Folding TireXC, trail, all-mountain, racingTubeless-ready26”, 27.5”, 29”2.2”, 2.35”, 2.6”640Folding3C Maxx Speed90
Schwalbe Racing RalphSchwalbe Racing Ralph HS490 Addix Speed, Evo Folding, SS Tubeless MTN Bike Tire, 27.5 x 2.25 (57-584)XC, racing, touringTubeless-ready26”, 27.5”, 29”2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”590FoldingAddix Speed89
WTB Trail Boss 2.25WTB Trail Boss 2.25 26' Comp Tire, BlackXC, trailClincher26”, 27.5”, 29”2.25”856WireDNA87
Vittoria MezcalVittoria Mezcal G2.0 XC-Trail/TNT TireXC, trailTubeless-ready26”, 27.5”, 29”, 700c2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”, 35c735Folding4C Graphene 2.086
Maxxis RekonMaxxis Rekon + Mountain Bike Tyre Unisex Adults’, Black, 27.5 x 2.60 inches.XC, trail, all-mountainTubeless-ready24”, 27.5”, 29”2.2”, 2.25”, 2.4”, 2.6”840Folding3C Maxx Terra85
WTB VelociraptorWTB VelociRaptor 2.1 26 Rear Comp Tire, BlackXC, trail, all-mountainClincher26"2.1"829WireDNA84
Maxxis AspenMaxxis Aspen Folding Dual Compound Exo/tr Tyre - Black, 29 x 2.25-InchXC, racing, trailTubeless-ready27.5”, 29”2.25”, 2.4”645FoldingDual83
Vittoria BarzoBarzo G2.0XC, trail, all-mountainTubeless-ready26”, 27.5”, 29”2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”680Folding4C Graphene 2.082
Continental Race King ShieldWallRace King ShieldWall Mountain Bike Tire - 26 x 2.0 Folding MTB TireXC, racing, trail, e-bikeTubeless26”, 27.5”, 29”2”, 2.2”660FoldingPureGrip79

1. Maxxis Ardent: Durable, versatile, and fast-rolling tire for trail racing | Overall Best Choice

Maxxis Ardent

  • Recommended Use: XC, racing, trail, all-mountain
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.25”, 2.4”
  • Size Tested: 26”×2.25” (ETRTO 56-559)
  • TPI: 60
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 725
  • Compound: Dual
  • Max PSI: 60
  • Tech: EXO layer
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • High Volume Casing: This allows you to run the tire at lower pressures for enhanced grip and better comfort when passing over bumpy ground.
  • Large Side Knobs: This is great for racers as these knobs dig into the ground and provide perfect control during high-speed turns.
  • Ramped Center Knobs: This design minimizes the rolling resistance while still maintaining enough traction for braking and accelerating.
  • EXO Protection: The sidewalls are reinforced with a layer of a cut/abrasion-resistant material underneath which makes the tire more durable.
  • Foldable Bead: Aramid fibers make up the bead which makes the tire supple, lightweight, and easy to carry around.
  • Multiple Size Offerings: The Ardent meets the needs of pretty much all cross country riders thanks to the various size options.
  • Affordable: Despite being the top-performing tire, it is far from being the most expensive one on our list.

Some Weaknesses
  • Not the best in loose conditions.

The Maxxis Ardent is possibly the best choice for XC-style racing. It also performs excellently when used for trail or more aggressive mountain riding. This tire rolls fast and efficiently while also providing a good amount of grip. This balance is achieved by the tread pattern design and the dual compound. Our initial impression of the tire was that it is reasonably weighted and quite easy to install. After testing it out, we wouldn’t hesitate to mount this tire for both the front and the rear of our mountain bikes, especially for high-speed adventures.

The Ardent adds a lot of control, even on tight corners, thanks to the large shoulder lugs. You can also rely on it for hard braking and fast acceleration when needed. Another thing that impressed us was the tire’s durability. Despite having a relatively soft rubber on the top layer of the tread, it did not wear much after a few hundred miles. The sidewalls are quite sturdy as well and do not get damaged by sticks and stones. Best of all, it has an affordable price.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.25”56-559
26” × 2.4”61-559
27.5” × 2.25”56-584
27.5” × 2.25”61-584
29” × 2.25”56-622
29” × 2.4”61-622

Maxxis Ardent

Maxxis Ardent

2. Schwalbe Rocket Ron: Great combination of speed and cornering control

Schwalbe Rocket Ron

  • Recommended Use: XC, all-mountain, marathon, e-bike
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 20”, 24”, 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”, 2.8”
  • Size Tested: 27.5” × 2.6” (ETRTO 65-584)
  • TPI: 67
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 785
  • Compound: Addix SpeedGrip
  • Max PSI: 45
  • Protection: SnakeSkin
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • Addix SpeedGrip: This high-performance compound is durable, provides great traction and has a good damping ability for a smoother ride.
  • Balanced Tread Design: The siped tread pattern allows the tire to roll with low resistance while maintaining a strong grip on various terrain.
  • Widely Spaced Studs: The knobs have enough spacing between them to give this tire the ability to keep itself clean and performing optimally.
  • SnakeSkin: This monofilament fabric offers easy conversion to tubeless and protects the sidewalls from cuts and abrasions.
  • E-bike Ready: This tire is sturdy enough that it can be used on e-bikes or pedelecs that have a maximum speed of 25 km/h.
  • Wide Range of Sizes: Other than the three common mountain bike tire sizes, you can also get a 24” and even a 20” version of this tire.
  • Foldable Bead: The Kevlar bead makes the tire more supple and lightweight compared to a wire bead tire. It can also be carried easily.

Some Weaknesses
  • The price is quite high.
  • Mounting is not that easy.

The Schwalbe Rocket Ron is an excellent tire that was built for cross country and trail competitions. This tire is available in a wide range of sizes including a 20” version which can be mounted on BMX bikes if you have one. We tested out the 27.5” × 2.6” size. This is quite a wide tire with a lot of volume. So, we were able to run low pressures for maximum grip and comfort. However, there are thinner versions as well. One thing we noticed was that the tire does a good job of balancing high rolling efficiency with good traction.

The square-edged knobs have sipes and are spaced widely. This allows the tire to bite well and clear mud and grit. Hence, you can use the Rocket Ron on slightly muddy terrain as well. However, it performs best on typical XC paths. The compound has a premium feel to it. It has incredible durability, grip, and it can absorb shocks from small rocks quite well. Overall, this tire is one of the best out there for intermediate cross country trails.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
20” × 2.25”57-406
24” × 2.35”60-507
26” × 2.25”57-559
26” × 2.35”60-559
27.5” × 2.1”54-584
27.5” × 2.25”57-584
27.5” × 2.6”65-584
27.5” × 2.8”70-584
29” × 2.1”54-622
29” × 2.25”57-622

Schwalbe Rocket Ron

Schwalbe Rocket Ron

3. Continental Cross King ProTection: Fast rolling, w/ BlackChili and ProTection technology

Continental Cross King ProTection

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail, all-mountain, e-bike
  • Tire Type: Tubeless
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.2”, 2.3”
  • Sizes Tested: 29”×2.2” (ETRTO 55-622)
  • TPI: 4/240
  • Bead: Foldable
  • Weight (g): 655
  • Compound: BlackChili
  • Max PSI: 58
  • Protection: ProTection Technology
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • BlackChili Compound: This is a proprietary compound made by Continental. It has the best combination of high rolling speed and powerful grip.
  • ProTection Technology: The casing is 4-ply under the tread and 3-ply at the sidewalls. This strengthens the tire and adds a lot of puncture resistance.
  • E-bike Ready: The tire is rated E-25 which means it is permissible for use on e-bikes at up to 25 km/h.
  • Offset Center Tread and Large Shoulder Knobs: This tread pattern combines low rolling resistance with excellent cornering grip.
  • Lightweight: The tire is lighter than other similar mountain bike tires which adds to the speed of your rides.
  • Foldable Bead: The bead is made of Kevlar instead of steel and makes the tire lighter, more flexible, and easy to transport.
  • Size Options: Multiple sizes are offered and hence, any rider can find the right fit for their bike.

Some Weaknesses
  • This is an expensive tire.
  • Not built for muddy terrain.

The Cross King ProTection is the most versatile mountain bike tire made by Continental. As the name suggests and according to the widths available, this tire is ideal for cross country riding. From the look of the tread, it is evident that you will get a lot of grip. Indeed our tester reported that the siped blocky knobs bite well on hardpack as well as loose dirt trails. Cornering ability is especially good with the larger shoulder lugs. Performance is not optimum in mud, but this tire wasn’t really designed for that anyway.

Despite the great traction, the Cross King does not compromise on speed. The rolling resistance is kept pretty low by the center tread design and the innovative BlackChili compound. Moreover, when riding on a pair of these tires, you’ll feel confident about not getting any flats. The tire is tubeless, so no pinching occurs, and the casing has 4 plies which can prevent most sharp objects from penetrating. If you want solid protection and versatility at a low weight, then this is the right tire for you.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.2”55-559
26” × 2.3”58-559
27.5” × 2.2”55-584
27.5” × 2.3”58-584
29” × 2.2”55-622
29” × 2.3”58-622

Continental Cross King ProTection

Continental Cross King ProTection

4. Maxxis Ikon: Lightweight, high-volume, and versatile tread for XC racing

Maxxis Ikon

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail, all-mountain, racing
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.2”, 2.35”, 2.6”
  • Size Tested: 29” × 2.2” (ETRTO 57-622)
  • TPI: 60, 120
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 640
  • Compound: 3C Maxx Speed
  • Max PSI: 60
  • Protection: EXO layer
  • Color: Black, Light Tan Wall

Features & Considerations
  • Fast Rolling Tread: The closely spaced ramped knobs in the center minimize rolling resistance and allow for high speeds.
  • High Volume Casing: More volume means lower pressures can be run which translates to better traction and shock absorption on rough surfaces.
  • 3C Maxx Speed: This is a triple compound that emphasizes speed. The hard base layer provides protection, the soft outer tread maximizes grip, and the medium hardness center tread optimizes rolling speed.
  • EXO Protection: Placed under the sidewalls, this is a layer of a densely woven but flexible fabric that resists cuts and abrasions.
  • Lightweight: This is one of the lightest mountain bike tires we have tested. The low weight further adds to the rolling speed.
  • Foldable Bead: A bead made of spun aramid fibers is flexible and contributes to making the tire lightweight and portable.
  • Multiple Size Offerings: The Ikon can cater to the requirements of just about all trail bikers due to the size options available.

Some Weaknesses
  • Some premature shoulder knob wear.
  • The width of the tire is narrower than what was specified.

The Maxxis Ikon is another highly versatile tire by Maxxis that excels on cross country race tracks. A lot of design features of this tire makes it very fast-rolling. These include the tread pattern, the choice of the compound, and the low weight. Moreover, the tire handled well over the wide range of terrain that we tested it on. From smooth fire roads to sketchy, loose trails, and even on softer ground, the Ikon fares superbly. The only situation it could not overcome were slippery, mud paths.

The Ikon can most closely be compared to the Ardent. It is lighter but has slightly less traction and a steeper price. One thing that disappointed us was that the actual width of the 29” × 2.2” version of the tire is 2.16”. So keep that in mind when picking out a width, and there are plenty of sizes to choose from. Other than that, this quite a durable tire as well. The sidewalls can take a lot of beating without damage, and the tread wear is reasonable.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.2”57-559
26” × 2.35”60-559
27.5” × 2.2”56-584
27.5” × 2.35”60-584
29” × 2”50-622
29” × 2.2”57-622
29” × 2.35”60-622
29” × 2.6”66-622

Maxxis Ikon

Maxxis Ikon

5. Schwalbe Racing Ralph: Fast and versatile, specially designed for the rear wheel

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

  • Recommended Use: XC, racing, touring
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”
  • Size Tested: 27.5” × 2.25” (ETRTO 57-584)
  • TPI: 67
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 590
  • Compound: Addix Speed
  • Max PSI: 54
  • Protection: SnakeSkin
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • Lightweight: Out of all the tires we have mentioned in this article, the Racing Ralph is the lightest one and possibly the fastest.
  • Addix Speed: This is one of the versions of the high-quality Addix compound. This version is designed to provide high rolling efficiency for racing.
  • SnakeSkin: This is a monofilament fabric that is wrapped around the sidewalls to make it more cut-resistant and also for easy conversion to tubeless.
  • Large Shoulder Studs: The taller and more widely spaced outer knobs offer precise handling while cornering at high speeds.
  • Rear-Specific Tread Design: The center tread has numerous edges that can grip well and provide traction for quick acceleration.
  • Size Options: Most mountain bikes have either 26”, 27.5”, or 29” wheels, and this tire comes in all three sizes.
  • Foldable Bead: The bead is made of Kevlar instead of steel and makes the tire lighter, more flexible, and easy to transport.

Some Weaknesses
  • Mounting and dismounting can be tricky.
  • Not great for muddy conditions.

The Schwalbe Racing Ralph is another excellent tire by the German manufacturer. But unlike the Rocket Ron which is a more versatile tire, the Racing Ralph is specifically built for speed. The tread knobs are spaced more closely for faster rolling. However, most of its speed comes from the Addix Speed compound which further optimizes rolling resistance. Cornering ability is also surprisingly good with the larger shoulder studs. Performance is not really great in mud, but this tire wasn’t designed for that anyway.

The tread is packed with a lot of grip edges that bite well when the bike is stationary or moving at low speeds. This lets you accelerate rapidly and get ahead of others at the starting line. Being one of the most lightweight MTB tires also helps. Due to its performance, the Racing Ralph works best when mounted on the rear wheel. Overall, the tire lives up to its name and is, therefore, one of the top racing tires out there.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.25”57-559
27.5” × 2.25”57-584
29” × 2.1”54-622
29” × 2.25”57-622
29” × 2.35”60-622

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

6. WTB Trail Boss 2.25: Rear-specific tread design, great off-camber grip

WTB Trail Boss 2.25

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail
  • Tire Type: Clincher
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.25”
  • Size Tested: 26” × 2.25” (ETRTO 54-559)
  • TPI: 60
  • Bead: Wire
  • Weight (g): 856
  • Compound: DNA
  • Max PSI: 45
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • DNA Compound: This is WTB’s patented compound made of a 60A durometer rubber which provides the ideal combination of grip and rolling speed for XC.
  • Good Off-Camber Traction: The oversized shoulder knobs do an excellent job of digging in and providing traction on corners and off-camber sections.
  • Tightly Spaced Center Knobs: The smaller blocky knobs in the middle keep rolling resistance to a minimum for high-speed races.
  • Rear-Specific Design: Under load, the tread bites into the ground and hence, provides good traction for rapid acceleration.
  • Tough Casing: The 60 TPI casing along with the wire bead makes it highly durable and reasonably resistant to punctures.
  • Affordable Price: Almost anyone can afford to buy this tire thanks to the highly affordable price.

Some Weaknesses
  • This is a pretty heavy tire.
  • Prone to pinch flats since it is a clincher type.

The WTB Trail Boss is an excellent tire that has a good blend of grip, rolling speed, and protection. It might be slightly heavier than a lot of other popular tires, but we found it to have good speed thanks to the center tread pattern. This is not the fastest tire in the world, but it does perform superbly on loose and fast trails. This tire also delivers powerful traction for quick acceleration and hard braking. This makes it suitable to be used as a rear-specific tire.

The Trail Boss was a solid performer in other categories as well. It has larger side knobs that can confidently handle corners and even most off-camber sections. Additionally, it is a highly robust tire. The tread does not wear quickly at all, and the casing is tough enough to protect against most punctures. The only downsides seem to be the weight and the possibility of pinch flats since it is a clincher and wire bead tire. However, the low cost makes this a viable option for riders looking for a durable rear tire at a bargain price.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.25”54-559
27.5” × 2.25”54-584
29” × 2.25”54-622

WTB Trail Boss 2.25

WTB Trail Boss 2.25

7. Vittoria Mezcal: 4C Graphene compound, center tread designed for fast rolling

Vittoria Mezcal

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”, 700c
  • Widths Available: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”, 35c
  • Size Tested: 29” × 2.35” (ETRTO 57-622)
  • TPI: 120
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 735
  • Compound: 4C Graphene 2.0
  • Casing: Nylon
  • Color: Black, anthracite

Features & Considerations
  • 4 Compound Tread: The tread is made up of 4 compounds, each is strategically placed to provide the best combination of grip, longevity, and rolling resistance.
  • Graphene 2.0 Technology: Each compound of the tread is infused with graphene differently, such that a specific performance metric can be enhanced according to what is needed in that part of the tire.
  • Reinforced Nylon Casing: The version we tested came with the XC-TRAIL casing which is Vittoria’s strongest XC tire casing with an additional layer in the sidewalls.
  • Alternating Center Tread: The center tread is low profile, densely packed, and has an alternating pattern that keeps rolling resistance to a minimum.
  • Numerous Grip Edges: Countless effective edges offer excellent traction for cornering and climbing.
  • Foldable Bead: The bead made of aramid fibers is flexible, lightweight, and allows you to carry this tire in your backpack.
  • Various Size Offerings: Multiple sizes are available that can cater to the requirements of almost every trail rider out there.

Some Weaknesses
  • Tread gets packed up in the mud.
  • Braking distance is slightly longer than expected.

The Vittoria Mezcal is a tire whose purpose can be easily guessed by looking at it. The low profile, closely packed knobs make it ideal for use as a cross country racing tire in dry conditions. Our testing only confirmed that assumption. The tire accelerates well and can maintain good traction while climbing or cornering. One complaint we had was that the braking traction is marginally lower than expected. However, anyone other than professional racers wouldn’t even notice this.

Clearly, this tire was built for speed, even when the track is trying to slow you down. But the innovative quadruple compound combined with graphene helps to maintain a good amount of durability and grip as well. The Mezcal is also pretty durable as the tread wear was minimal. Also, the tire can take a lot of hits from rocks and sticks without tearing. We would not recommend this tire for soft or muddy terrain, but it is an excellent option for XC racing.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.1”52-559
27.5” × 2.1”52-584
27.5” × 2.25”55-584
27.5” × 2.35”57-584
27.5” × 2.6”65-584
29” × 2.1”52-622
29” × 2.25”55-622
29” × 2.35”57-622
29” × 2.6”65-622
700c × 35c35-622

Vittoria Mezcal

Vittoria Mezcal

8. Maxxis Rekon: Reinforced construction, wide trail casing, aggressive tread

Sale
Maxxis Rekon

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail, all-mountain
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 24”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.2”, 2.25”, 2.4”, 2.6”
  • Size Tested: 29” × 2.4” (ETRTO 61-622)
  • TPI: 60, 120
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 840
  • Compound: Dual, 3C Maxx Terra
  • Max PSI: 50
  • Protection: EXO/EXO+ layer
  • Color: Black, Dark Tan Wall

Features & Considerations
  • Wide Trail (WT) Casing: The wide casing provides a large contact area for good grip, and it is optimized for rims having a width of 30-35 mm.
  • EXO+ Protection Available: You can get this tire with EXO+ protection which combines a SilkShield and an EXO layer for solid protection from punctures, cuts, and abrasions. Otherwise, you can get just the EXO protection at a lower price.
  • 3C Maxx Terra: This triple compound incorporates hard rubber into the base of the tread, while the top layer of the center and shoulder have medium and soft rubber respectively.
  • L-Shaped Outer Knobs: You can expect a lot of support and traction from the L-shaped shoulder lugs even on loose ground.
  • Foldable Bead: In place of steel, the bead is made of aramid fiber which allows the tire to be folded and carried as it is both supple and lightweight.
  • Size Options: This tire is available in many sizes. There is no 26” version, but most MTB tires these days use 29ers anyway.

Some Weaknesses
  • The tire is on the heavier side.
  • Not enough rolling efficiency for racing.

The Maxxis Rekon is a more aggressive trail tire than most of the other products on this list. It has been modeled after the Ikon. But while the Ikon is great for high speeds, the Rekon is more suited to intermediate terrain. You can run this tire on loose dirt and mountain trails, as long as it is not too wet or muddy. Even on slight mud, it handles decently well. The knobs offer great traction for braking, cornering, and climbing. In our opinion, this tire is perfect for XC and all-mountain riding that isn’t necessarily racing.

The tire is available in a few different specifications. You could get different sizes, a 60 TPI or a 120TPI casing, different compounds, and even different protection technologies. We recommend the 3C Maxx Terra compound over the dual compound and the EXO+ protection. It might cost more but you get a lot more in terms of durability, puncture resistance, and traction. Additionally, you can pair this tire up with something like the Maxxis DHR II in the front for extreme conditions.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
24” × 2.2”56-507
27.5” × 2.4”61-584
27.5” × 2.6”66-584
29” × 2.25”57-622
29” × 2.4”61-622
29” × 2.6”66-622

Maxxis Rekon

Maxxis Rekon

9. WTB Velociraptor: Available in front and rear-specific designs, proven track record

WTB Velociraptor

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail, all-mountain
  • Tire Type: Clincher
  • Size: 26” × 2.1” (ETRTO 47-559)
  • TPI: 60
  • Bead: Wire
  • Weight (g): 829
  • Compound: DNA
  • Max PSI: 60
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • Front and Rear Combo: This tire comes in two designs – one for the front and one for the rear. Getting both will give your bike the perfect front/rear combo.
  • Steering Control by Front: The front-specific tire is designed to be faster rolling and provide great cornering traction for precise control.
  • Braking Power by Rear: The rear-specific design features tall, wide center knobs that can bite into the ground for excellent grip during braking or climbing.
  • DNA Compound: This compound by WTB is made of a 60A durometer rubber that delivers the right amount of grip and speed for XC riding.
  • High Durability: These tires have a proven track record for being long-lasting. The rate of tread wear is very low and resistance to damage is very high.
  • Great Value for Money: You can get both the rear and front tires at the same price as many single tires with similar quality and performance.

Some Weaknesses
  • Only one size is available.
  • Both tires are pretty heavy.
  • Rolling resistance is noticeably high.

The WTB Velociraptor is one of the most legendary tires in the world of mountain biking. This tire is a pretty old model but it remains popular to this day, and we have enjoyed testing it too. The reason for this is that it just works well. The best thing about the Velociraptor is the fact that two versions are sold. One version is optimized for rear-specific use and the other for use as a front tire. We have ridden both of them as a pair and we can say for sure that this combination is quite difficult to beat.

These are not the best tires for off-road racing due to their weight and slightly low rolling speed. However, they can handle anything else, from loam to grass and even mud. Loose corners are easily taken care of by the large, widely spaced shoulder lugs of the front tire. Meanwhile, the wide lugs of the rear tire offer solid traction at all times. Even after hundreds of miles of testing, the tread did not wear much at all. Also, the only flat we experienced was a pinch flat which was expected given that it is not tubeless.

WTB Velociraptor

WTB Velociraptor

10. Maxxis Aspen: Lightweight, racing inspired design, w/ large side knobs

Sale
Maxxis Aspen

  • Recommended Use: XC, racing, trail
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.25”, 2.4”
  • Size Tested: 29” × 2.25” (ETRTO 57-622)
  • TPI: 120
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 645
  • Compound: Dual
  • Max PSI: 60
  • Protection: EXO layer
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • High Volume Casing: This lets you run the tire at lower pressures and thereby, improve grip and shock absorption while rolling over roots and rocks.
  • Low Profile Tread: The low-profile of the center tread is designed to minimize rolling resistance making this a race-winning tire.
  • Aggressive Shoulder Knobs: The outer lugs are more pronounced so that they can provide ample grip while cornering.
  • Lightweight: The tire pushes the limits of how lightweight mountain bike tires can be. This further helps to improve speed.
  • EXO Protection: The sidewalls are reinforced with a layer of a cut/abrasion-resistant material underneath which makes the tire more durable.
  • Foldable Bead: A bead made of spun aramid fibers is flexible and contributes to making the tire lightweight and portable.

Some Weaknesses
  • Not enough grip for slippery trails.
  • We think that it is a bit overpriced.

The Maxxis Aspen is another tire in this list that is designed for cross country or light trail races. It has a low-profile tread that maximizes rolling efficiency and performs exceedingly well in dry conditions. We also really appreciate the larger shoulder knobs. They provide more than enough cornering traction so that you don’t slide off the trail. The Aspen is also very lightweight and is quick to accelerate off the start. The tread uses a dual compound with a harder base for durability and a softer top layer for grip.

Installation of the tire was an easy enough process. Since it is a tubeless-ready tire, it fits snug enough on the rim that it can be aired up with a floor pump without much trouble. The casing has a lot of volume too, so you can run a low pressure. This gives the tire the ability to absorb bumps and make your ride more comfortable. Although the design of this tire is not meant for mud and the price is a bit steep, we think it is worth purchasing if you like to race on dry, hardpack trails.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
27.5” × 2.25”57-584
29” × 2.25”57-622
29” × 2.4”61-622

Maxxis Aspen

Maxxis Aspen

11. Vittoria Barzo: 4C Graphene compound, built for technical terrain

Sale
Vittoria Barzo

  • Recommended Use: XC, trail, all-mountain
  • Tire Type: Tubeless-ready
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”
  • Size Tested: 29” × 2.25” (ETRTO 55-622)
  • TPI: 120
  • Bead: Folding
  • Weight (g): 680
  • Compound: 4C Graphene 2.0
  • Casing: Nylon
  • Color: Black, anthracite

Features & Considerations
  • 4 Compound Tread: The tread is made up of 4 compounds, each is strategically placed to provide the best combination of grip, longevity, and rolling resistance.
  • Graphene 2.0 Technology: Each compound of the tread is infused with graphene differently, such that a specific performance metric can be enhanced according to what is needed in that part of the tire.
  • Widely Spaced Knobs: The siped knobs are angles and spaced wide apart, providing excellent traction and mud-shedding ability.
  • Reinforced Nylon Casing: The version we tested came with the XC-TRAIL casing which is Vittoria’s strongest XC tire casing with an additional layer in the sidewalls.
  • Lightweight: The bead made of aramid fibers is flexible and makes the tire lightweight which improves its speed.
  • Multiple Size Options: Multiple sizes are available that can cater to the requirements of almost every trail rider out there.
  • Affordable: This tire delivers a lot of bang for the buck, considering the low price and the high level of quality and performance.

Some Weaknesses
  • Not ideal for super dry conditions.
  • Rolling resistance could be lower.

The Vittoria Barzo is an excellent tire for more demanding cross country riding and technical trails. It has a more aggressive tread pattern than a typical XC tire. The tall, siped knobs can really dig into the dirt and deliver solid grip during braking, cornering, and climbing. Additionally, they are spaced far enough apart that the tire cleans itself. Therefore, the Barzo can hold its own in wet and muddy conditions as well. The one area where this tire has average performance is in dry, sandy terrain.

Just like the Mezcal, the Barzo is also equipped with the graphene integrated 4C compound. This gives the tire a good mix of speed, grip, and durability. We felt that the rolling efficiency is not as high as some of the other tires on the list. However, the lightweight construction almost makes up for it. Another plus point is the price. It would be difficult to find such a versatile tire at this low cost. You can choose from multiple sizes as well. Our test model was the one with the 29” × 2.25” dimensions.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2.1”52-559
26” × 2.25”55-584
27.5” × 2.1”52-584
27.5” × 2.25”55-584
27.5” × 2.35”57-584
27.5” × 2.6”65-584
29” × 2.1”52-622
29” × 2.25”55-622
29” × 2.35”57-622
29” × 2.6”65-622

Vittoria Barzo

Vittoria Barzo

12. Continental Race King ShieldWall: High-speed racing tire, budget option

Continental Race King ShieldWall

  • Recommended Use: XC, racing, trail, e-bike
  • Tire Type: Tubeless
  • Diameters Available: 26”, 27.5”, 29”
  • Widths Available: 2”, 2.2”
  • Sizes Tested: 26”×2.2” (ETRTO 55-559)
  • TPI: 3/180
  • Bead: Foldable
  • Weight (g): 660
  • Compound: PureGrip
  • Max PSI: 58
  • Tech: Shieldwall System
  • Color: Black

Features & Considerations
  • Low-Profile Tread: The tread pattern has short knobs giving it a low-profile and minimizing rolling resistance.
  • ShieldWall System: This technology features a 3-ply casing from bead to bead that increases puncture resistance and provides secure sealing for a tubeless setup.
  • PureGrip Compound: Based on activated silica, this compound is one of Continental’s top compounds. It provides good traction and is highly durable.
  • E-Bike Ready: The tire can be used at speeds of up to 25 km/h, meaning it can be mounted on e-bikes or pedelecs.
  • Highly Affordable: This is the least expensive tire we have mentioned, making it an ideal choice for those who are not looking to spend much.
  • Lightweight: The foldable bead made of Kevlar keeps the weight of this tire low and further adds to the rolling speed.
  • Size Options: Most mountain bikes have either 26”, 27.5”, or 29” wheels, and this tire is available in all three sizes.

Some Weaknesses
  • It has the least grip out of all the tires on this list.
  • It is also the least durable.

The Continental Race King ShieldWall may not be the actual king of racing tires, but it definitely comes close. If you need a fast-rolling tire at a remarkably low price, then this is the right tire for you. There are multiple sizes available, and we tested out the 26”×2.2” size. The low profile of the center tread, the PureGrip compound, and the low weight all contribute to making this tire suitable for high speeds. Meanwhile, the shoulder lugs are slightly taller and offer better traction for turning corners.

Rated as E-25, you can use the Race King for e-bikes and pedelecs. Fortunately, one of our testers had an e-bike and we were able to determine that the tire works great. There’s nothing really bad to say about the Race King. The reason why it has the lowest score is just that the other tires had a better overall performance. Moreover, this tire is still one of the best out there for cross country riding. And considering the price, this tire offers a deal that is really hard to turn down.

Available Sizes (diameter × width)ETRTO
26” × 2”50-559
26” × 2.2”55-559
27.5” × 2”50-584
27.5” × 2.2”55-584
29” × 2”50-622
29” × 2.2”55-622

Continental Race King ShieldWall

Continental Race King ShieldWall


A comprehensive buying guide for Cross Country Bike Tires

XC riding

XC riding

1. Tube vs Tubeless

Tubed tires, or clinchers, have traditionally been the dominant type of tire. These tires have an inner tube that is pressurized with air. But now tubeless/tubeless-ready tires have become the norm for mountain biking. Tubeless tires do not have a tube and the air is filled into the space between the tire and the rim. These tires have a specially designed casing that can form an airtight seal with the rim. A liquid sealant is also used that can close up small punctures very quickly. Both tire types have pros and cons but generally, tubeless tires have properties that make them more suitable for all sorts of MTB riding, including cross-country. The table below illustrates their differences.

Tube/Clincher TiresTubeless/Tubeless-ready Tires
Pinch flats can occur when the tire passes over sharp edge that makes the tube blow outNo possibility of pinch flats since there is no tube
Punctures can be caused by a sharp object penetrating the treadMost punctures are taken care of by a liquid sealant poured into the tire
Have to be run at a relatively high pressure to reduce the chances of pinchingCan be run at lower pressures for better traction and comfort
Tube adds a little extra weightLighter due to lack of tube
Cost effectiveMore expensive
Installation and removal is quite easyDifficult to mount and dismount

2. Tire Size

Cross-country tires follow the same size convention as any other MTB tire. They are given on the sidewall in the format 27.5” × 2.3”. The first number denotes the diameter and the second one is the width, both are in inches. Almost all MTB tires come in three diameters – 26”, 27.5” (650b), or 29” (29ers). The width can range from 1.9” all the way up to 4”. However, if we’re talking about XC bikes, most tires are at the low end. The widest tire you will see being used for XC riding is 2.6”. Basically, thinner tires are more aerodynamic but have less traction.

Counterintuitively though, wider tires have a wide but short contact area with the ground which actually reduces rolling resistance. Hence, having tires too thin is not the best for racing. We would recommend anywhere between 2.1” and 2.4” for the best performance on XC rides. Remember that the tire size must be compatible with the rim size. The following table will give you a good idea about the tire-rim width pairing.

Intended UseTire Width (in)Rim Width (mm)
XC Racing1.90 - 2.2020 - 25
Light Trail2.20 - 2.4025 - 30
AM/Enduro/Downhill2.30 - 2.5028 - 35
2.635 - 40
Plus2.80 - 3.0040 - 45
Fat3.80 - 4.0070 - 80
4.890 - 100

3. Tread Pattern

The tread pattern has a major effect on the tire’s performance. Tall, blocky knobs deliver maximum grip but at the cost of rolling speed. The knobs in the center provide the bulk of the traction during braking, pedaling, or climbing. Meanwhile, the shoulder lugs are crucial for control while cornering. Wide-spacing between the knobs allows mud and grit to be shed and maintain traction. On the other hand, tightly-packed studs minimize rolling resistance. For XC racing and light trails, small knobs with close spacing are suitable. The knob size and spacing generally increases as conditions get tougher. Other designs you might encounter are siped knobs that have improved grip and ramped knobs that roll better.

Vittoria XC mountain bike tire lineup

Vittoria XC mountain bike tire lineup | Credit: https://bikerumor.com/2018/08/07/tire-tech-designing-an-xc-tire-from-the-ground-up/

4. Rubber Compound

This is the substance that makes up the tread. Finding the right balance between speed, grip, and durability is something that manufacturers have always tried to achieve with their rubber compounds. Soft rubber sticks better to the ground but wears easily. Whereas, hard rubber is more durable and rolls with better efficiency but does not have much grip. A compromise has to be struck between the two. Most high-end tires do this by using dual or triple compounds which combines the benefits from rubbers of varying hardness. Vittoria even makes a quadruple compound, also known as 4C. Regardless, the recipe for these compounds varies from one brand to another. Therefore, the performance and quality also vary.

Quadruple compound

Quadruple compound

5. Casing, TPI, and Bead

Also known as the carcass, the casing is the foundation of a tire. It is a densely-woven synthetic fabric such as nylon to which all other parts of a tire are attached. TPI stands for threads per inch and it indicates the thickness of the fibers used in the casing. A lower TPI means finer threads that make the tire more supple, comfortable, and lightweight. However, the thicker threads of a high TPI casing adds durability and puncture protection.

A tire has two beads that run along the internal circumference on both sides. The beads hook onto the inside of a rim and hold the tire in place. There are two main types – wire and folding. Wire beads are made of steel wire which is cheaper and stronger. Meanwhile, folding beads are made of flexible and lightweight Kevlar fibers. Folding beads are more common nowadays due to their low weight and since extra tires can be carried.

Tire anatomy

Tire anatomy | Credit: maxxis.com

6. Protection

Considering the constant beating that mountain bike tires have to take, it is very important to incorporate proper protection from cuts, abrasions, and most of all, punctures. There are multiple ways in which tire makers do this. Tires can have multiple casing layers, thicker treads, or even layers of special material under the tread. For even more foolproof protection, look for tires that also safeguard the sidewalls. However, these come with a catch. Too much protection can make the tires heavy and slow rolling. Since XC trails are less rugged, tires have slightly less protection.

F.A.Q.s

Q1. What is the best psi for cross country MTB racing?

Ans.: For XC riding, a good place to start would be with 20 psi at the front and 23 psi at the back. Of course, there are a lot of factors you should take into account. Your weight, the kind of tires and rims you use, and your riding style all play a part in determining the perfect pressure for optimum performance. After trying the values we have mentioned, you can adjust the pressure a little bit at a time to fine-tune your setup. Just remember, whatever pressure you run for the front tire, simply add 3 for the rear tire.

Q2. What is the best tire width for XC?

Ans.: The ideal range for cross-country bike tires is around 2.1-2.4 inches. Although, back in the day people used to run tires as thin as 1.8 inches. Conventionally, riders thought that XC tires should be as narrow as possible, which makes sense since thinner tires are lighter and more aerodynamic. However, it has now been proven that wider tires actually have lower rolling resistance. This is because the contact area for a wide tire is wider but shorter. Also, since better traction is offered, most XC racers prefer to run 2.2” or 2.3” tires.

2 inch vs 2.35 inch tire

2 inch vs 2.35-inch tire

Q3. Which is the best mountain bike tire combination?

Ans.: The perfect tire combination on a mountain bike largely depends on personal preference. Nevertheless, there are a few features that make a tire either front- or rear-specific. Most mountain bikers prefer using wider tires with more aggressive shoulder tread lugs at the front. Front tires are also run at lower pressures to maximize grip and comfort. This is so that there is more control for steering. Rolling resistance is not much of a worry because the majority of the weight is supported by the rear tire.

In contrast, it is better to have smaller knobs and run higher pressures on rear tires to reduce some of the rolling resistance. Rear-specific tires emphasize more on climbing and pedaling traction, rather than cornering traction. They have horizontal knobs that keep the edges at right angles to the direction of motion.

Front vs rear tire

Front vs rear tire

Q4. When should XC tires be replaced?

Ans.: Cross-country tires usually last anywhere between 3000 and 8000 miles depending on the terrain, intensity of use, and tire quality. Regardless, keep an eye out for some of the following to know when it’s time to get new tires.

  • The knobs have smooth edges and are not as tall as when they were new.
  • Threads from the casing fabric are visible in some places on the rubber.
  • Blisters and bulges develop in parts of the tire.
  • Multiple gashes or cracks on the tread.

Conclusion

After going through the entire article, you should have a good idea about what to look for in a cross-country tire. Hours of hard work has gone into this article and we have tried to be as comprehensive as possible. We can assure you that you will not be disappointed by any of the products in our selection. Whether you want low rolling resistance, good grip, or solid puncture protection, you are sure to find the perfect one.


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Last update on 2021-01-12 at 01:30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Dion Lewis
My name is Dion Lewis.

I’ve been cycling from my childhood. When I was in high school, I started racing in our local competitions.

At my college life, I took a part time job in a bicycle shop and I learned how to repair and maintain bicycles professionally.

Though I love racing, mountain biking is another thing I do frequently. My friends, neighbors, and colleagues treat me as an avid rider and take my suggestions while they plan for a new bike or a bike gear.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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