With somewhere north of one million tread patterns, casings, rubber compounds and sizes, picking the right set of tires for your mountain bike can be a little daunting. It boils down to where you ride, how you ride and what you enjoy.
First, let’s take a look at where. Here in the Truckee-Tahoe area, we predominantly have loose soil, decomposed granite, sand and dust (and more rocks) to make traction challenging, with the occasional after-thunderstorm hero dirt and granite slabs thrown in. Generally, that makes more aggressive tires the choice for our region.
How you ride boils down to technique and speed – some tires work better under an aggressive, more advanced rider that commits to a turn, while others give a little more wiggle room for those still figuring things out.
What you enjoy is personal preference, something you’ll work out over time. Do you like a fast-rolling rear tire to make climbing easier? Or do you want locked-in traction for railing corners?
Let’s take a look at some of our top picks for the region.
Maxxis Minion DHF
The Name DHF came from the tire’s origin, downhill tire, front. Now considered a gold standard for aggressive all-around tires, many Tahoe riders have used it both front and rear.
Large, blocky cornering knobs down each side separated from ramped center knobs offer some of the best cornering traction around – but the gap between the shoulder knobs and center require that the bike be leaned over to get ahold of that traction. Don’t commit to a corner and the tire can get drifty.
Rolling resistance is about average for an aggressive tire, and the 2.3 feels narrow on a modern trail bike. This makes the 2.5 a great option for those who have room. As with all Maxxis tires, the DHF’s rubber balances grip and durability, and tough “Double Down” sidewalls are available for those who are prone to slashing tires on sharp rocks, while EXO saves some weight.
The DHF is still the go-to front tire for many Tahoe-area riders, and is available in widths from 2.3 to 2.8 to cover all bike types from standard to “plus.”
Maxxis Minion DHR II
Building off of the DHF, the DHR II was meant as a rear tire with broader, paddle-shaped center knobs that give better pedaling traction uphill and braking traction downhill. Many have adopted the DHR II as a front tire where it doesn’t require quite the same lean-angle to get good cornering traction, but it gives up some of the ultimate bite of the DHF. (Don’t even think about the first generation DHR. Just put it out of your mind).
The DHR II offers better braking but also sacrifices some cornering grip when you’re at the limit. Available up to a 2.8 inch width for ultimate plus-bike traction, this is a great aggressive rear tire when traction is a top priority.
Maxxis High Roller II
An old-school classic with more widely-spaced tread than either Minion, the High Roller can dig into loose, soft trail surfaces in the right hands, or get a little loose in others. The wide spacing makes these tires shed mud well, so if you’re making trips down the hill in the winter, this can be a great choice.
Available in 2.3 and 2.4 inch widths.
Like the Minion, the Vigilante is an aggressive tire with widely spaced blocky knobs designed to dig into the soil for tons of traction. But where the Minion leaves a gap between cornering knobs and the center, the Vigilante has “transition knobs” in that space. In practice, that means more consistent traction at a variety of lean angles, but it gives up top-end traction at the tire’s limits while cornering.
Great in really soft soil and with tons of braking power, the Vigilante comes in a fast rolling or high grip compound (go high grip or fast if running in the front, fast rolling in the rear), and a tough casing (that’s really, really tough) or light casing (that’s more prone to cuts in rough conditions).
With a round profile and aggressive knobs more closely spaced together, the Breakout has become something of a cult favorite as a rear tire. Without the square edge of a Minion or Magic Mary, it doesn’t have quite the full-tilt cornering bite of the most aggressive tires, but has gobs of traction in dry and loose conditions at lesser angles. Despite its grippyness, it rolls quickly, and its heavy-duty casing and higher volume make it a great choice for a burly rear tire that won’t slow you down on the climbs.
WTB Trail Boss
Lots of smaller knobs stacked closer together make this one of the smoother, faster rolling tires in the bunch. Great for those who don’t need as much high-speed traction and want low resistance rolling down the trail – it pairs well as a rear tire with a more aggressive front tire.
Available in a 3.0 width, the Trail Boss is also a great plus tire both front and rear.
So which tire is for you? Part-time downhillers with a season pass at Northstar are best served by the tougher endure oriented casing- otherwise our true DH bikes are going to be wire bead and 2-ply sidewalls.
Aggressive trail riders will love the reliable Minions, both DHF and DHR II. The can get a little more speed on climbs with a Nobby Nic or Trail Boss in the back, or really reduce rolling resistance with the Rock Razor.
More tentative riders venturing into challenging terrain will get consistent, dependable traction from the Vigilante, Breakout or the Hans Dampf, and more XC-oriented riders who still want to get around in Tahoe’s unique soil will want to look at the Trail Boss or Noby Nic front and rear.
So what do we ride on our trail bikes? We’ll go with the DHF 2.5 EXO and the WTB Vigilante tough (speaking of which, don’t be afraid to mix brands when the combo is right). Come by Start Haus and talk to one of our experts – we’ll find the right tires for you.