The fact is, nothing makes your bike faster than putting faster rolling tires on it. Better still, because most of the rolling resistance comes from the rear tire you can stick quick rubber on and go faster for less effort without necessarily sacrificing the crucial corner and braking grip from the front.
Plenty of front end grip and less back end bite also adds a speedway 'safety fuse' aspect where you know the rear of the bike will always step and slide before the front. That’s not only the safer way to overstep the mark but definitely the most stylish and feelgood foot-out flair to add to your riding.
Having said that, you’ll be surprised just how much grip and control some seemingly treadless tires can give if they’re made of the right carcass and compound to suit your riding. There is a surprising amount of performance difference between superficially similar looking and sounding tires though, so we’ve used our massive rubber wrangling experience to choose from six speedy tires, ideal for dryer and more summery conditions – however you like to ride.
What to look for
- Compound: The harder the rubber, the faster the tire will roll and the longer it will last but the less it will grip. The hardness is expressed as a durometer figure, with a lower number meaning softer, gripper rubber. Compounds can be altered in two or more areas of the tire to balance these characteristics.
- Carcass: The body of the tire can make a big difference to the weight, toughness and feel. Supple lightweight tires accelerate easily and mold to the terrain for extra grip and smoothness but can be vulnerable to tears and punctures. Reinforced tires can feel really numb.
- Tubeless: Most tires and rims are now ‘tubeless ready’. That means they just need a rim strip, a sealable valve and some liquid sealant to make them airtight rather than a separate inner tube. They shrug off potential impact punctures much better as a result and can also ‘self heal’ small thorn punctures.
- Tread: Summer tires generally have a lower height or flatter tread which rolls faster and ‘quieter’ with less buzz. Decent edge knobs are useful for digging into corners without dragging in a straight line, or you can decide to go for a full drift experience.
- Size: All the tires here (save one - the Bontrager) were tested in 27.5in size for direct context comparison but most of them are available in 29er options and some in 26in too.
Schwalbe Rock Razor Evo Super Gravity Trailstar
- Price: US$97
- Weight: 950g
- Sizes: 26, 650b or 29x2.35in
Verdict: Surprisingly grippy speed booster for flat out riding, so well damped it feels like a rear suspension upgrade. At under a kilo it’s noticeably lighter and more agile in feel than most tires in its category, with multiple small split topped knobs are that are ramped for even easier rolling – adding instant and obvious pace. The transition onto the big softer compound side knobs is seamless too, so grip increases just when you need it for corner carving.
Bontrager XR2 Team Issue
- Price: US$75
- Weight: 610g
- Sizes: 26x2.0, 2.20, 29x2.0 (tested), 2.2in
Verdict: Fast rolling, smooth tracking, and simple regular small knob pattern and supple carcass can pull surprising traction out of dry to damp loose soil and gravel. These are definitely drifters not railers though.
Mavic Roam XL
- Price: US$75
- Weight: 890g
- Sizes: 26, 650b or 29x2.2in
Verdict: A real opinion divider, but a huge speed boost for aggressive and dynamic riders. If you can get it right over onto it’s distant CC compound ‘off the shoulder’ tread it rips corners really well.
Maxxis Ardent EXO TR
- Price: US$65
- Weight: 765g
- Sizes: 26x2.25, 2.4, 650bx2.25 (tested), 2.4, 29x2.25, 2.4in
Verdict: The EXO carcass version of the Ardent adds a bit more protection than standard without affecting the smooth rolling, rock shrugging ride. It’s a fast and very user friendly big-volume all rounder for a surprising amount of the year.
Michelin Wild Race’R Advanced Reinforced
- Price: US$75
- Weight: 1060g
- Sizes: 650b or 29x2.25in
Verdict: Expensive but easy, rockproof rear end speed for enduro race/bike park action, and has held up well in terms of general wear and tear.
WTB Trail Boss Light
- Price: US$79
- Weight: 790g
- Sizes: 650bx2.25 (tested), 2.4 29 x2.25, 2.4in
Verdict: Versatile grip/speed balance and smooth float but floppy when soft, and more of a middleweight tire than a true ‘Light’
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.