Best Summer MTB Tires
Choosing the Best Summer MTB Tires
Well it’s the end of July at we’re seeing triple digits in Southern California. Guess it’s summer. As the trails bake into hard pack or blow out into dust bowl corners or the favorite loose over hard combo it’s time to look at the best summer mtb tires.
Admittedly, some of BikeCo’s blog posts are quite biased on my personal experiences. Like this one.
On my last fast ride I noticed I was all over the place in the corners. I checked tire pressure, it was fine. Looked at tire wear, no problem there. Concentrated to make sure I was leaning in deep enough to engage cornering knobs. Still felt rear tracking issues.
Let’s take a quick step back.
Previous Setup: Aggressor 2.3
The last few months I have run a 2.3 Maxxis Aggressor EXO rear tire. It’s mounted to a 27mm internal width rim (on the narrow end of contemporary setups).
The Aggressor is a fast tire and I’ve really enjoyed it up to the real onset of summer conditions.
The combination of conditions that challenged the Aggressor are familiar to desert riders.
Hard pack gets harder.
Actually the Aggressor loves hard pack conditions. It’s a competent, fun tire on hard smooth dirt. However, the notable increase in summer brake bumps and the associated traction loss challenge it.
As a larger rider, 230lbs, with decent cornering speeds I felt that the Aggressor side knobs became overwhelmed blasting through chop. In fast flat or off camber turns with chop started to feel icy as the tire disengages and reset to the ground. Leaning back driving the rear wheel into the turn harder led to a squirmy feel.
At that point I checked air pressure. Tire squirm is often attributed to low pressure or inadequate sidewall. Neither was the case. I was simply overriding the tire for the combination of conditions.
In hard pack berm corners the tire worked fine. Fast. Predictable. It’s getting through the inevitable trail chop and the countless impacts through the lug that created the issue.
Blown Up, Blown Out
Desert riding creates another semi-unique condition: the deep sand pocket out of nowhere. Typically collected in acute angle, usually exposed corners (right?), as well as fast sweeping direction changes these can be intimidating. Personally I feel the trick is really hitting a good entry angle, knowing the bike is going to wander and then sighting the best possible line out.
As a huge believer in don’t go over the bars, ever, at all, if there is any way at all to avoid it philosophy I generally ride the rear tire harder in sandy corners. This minimizes the chance of burying the front tire and keeps me upright.
In deep enough sand few tires are going to provide you Glamis paddle confidence. So the Aggressor wasn’t necessarily under performing in this condition. That said, the entry and exit out of a blown up corner are important. They also don’t tend to be hard pack, then only sand, then only hard pack. It’s a combination.
Loose Over Hard
In loose over hard corners I felt like the Aggressor was giving up a bit of grip.
Having a bit more trail tracking confidence was going to make my rides more fun. It was also going to minimize the amount of branches I had to pick out of my bike / body from running wide off trail.
As traction deteriorates it makes sense to increase tire mechanical grip. Balancing rolling resistance with confidence is important choosing the best summer mtb tires.
Well, in racing mechanical grip is everything other than aerodynamic grip. I guess most of us aren’t running winglets, so it’s just all grip. We’ll call it grip from here on.
Grip is a working function of suspension, wheel and tire.
If your suspension is unnecessarily skipping across the trail it’s adding a lot of stress to your tire’s performance. BikeCo Pro Tunes as well as a professional setup from our expert staff maximize performance. The bikes offered by BikeCo: Ibis, Yeti, Alchemy & Evil have acknowledged industry leading suspension systems. There are a lot of imitators, not many innovators of high quality, functional, wide range tune-able suspension.
Balancing rim stiffness, spoke spec and build quality are important for overall bike grip. Too stiff tend to skip across the trail. Too soft wallow through high speed direction changes making it hard to predict corner exits.
Back to helping you choose the best tire. So lack of cornering grip was my complaint. Let’s take a look at factors.
First thing to check.
Running soft tires? Well you’re going to feel tire squirm or wiggle. You also risk a much higher chance of flatting.
Are you running over inflated tires? In this case you lose grip from lack of compliance as well as skipping across the trail.
Tubeless, rim protection and improved sidewalls were all designed to prioritize tire pressure for grip.
Sidewall support is important to eliminate tire squirm while balancing air pressures as well as overall protection. For most riding EXO or equivalent are acceptable. Pushing harder? Check out options like Double Down sidewalls designed for the most aggressive race conditions.
Some conditions benefit from softer compounds. Usually this is a solution for front end grip. There are few conditions that I would suggest a soft or grippy rear tire for pleasure riding.
Tire Lug Shape
Larger, deeper, stiffer lugs are typically designed for more grip.
The reason the Aggressor is such an attractive tire for so many riders are the small, tightly spaced lugs. As I said, this is a great tire in tackier conditions. Here and now? I’m looking for more.
My go to when the dirt goes away is the Minion DHR II, but there are great options available from Onza & WTB as well.
Let’s look at the details.
Compare the cornering lugs between the Aggressor and DHR II. Note the DHR II has larger lugs. DHR II also has a full sipe cut which adds to compliance and grip under load. Also notable is the deeper extrusion into the transition area on the corner lug. This provides improved lateral load bearing capability.
The DHR II has a decent transitional cornering feel, better than say the Highroller II with it’s distinct channel, but not as much as the WTB Breakout on the far right.
This is a time of year with compromised traction so picking a tire with more transition knob can make sense. Cornering knobs only do their job when you get to a lean angle that engages them. Newer riders, less confident riders, even experienced riders have days when getting a bike to full lean isn’t as easy as it seems!
Tire width is another way to increase cornering confidence. Larger contact patches with more volume, read wider range of PSI setup, mean more traction. More traction is more confidence.
For the summer it’s common to add cornering, transition and even width to your tires to improve confidence as well as traction.
Popular rear tires for aggressive summer riding include the Maxxis Minion DHR II, Onza Ibex & Canis, as well as the WTB Trail Boss & Vigilante. Balance weight, tread pattern and sidewall technology for the ultimate setup.
Need help? No problem. Chat with our expert staff for the best tire pairing options for your riding style and location.