These precious square inches of rubber contacting the ground keep you frolicking down the trails, the MTB tyre is simply one of the most important gear choices to make on your bike. With you and many thousands of pounds of bike relying on two little rubbery patches it’s best to get it right.
I’m going to cover all parts of the MTB tyre in this series of posts about knobbly black hoops. The following should help when thinking about new tyres for your bike.
It’s worth remembering tyres aren’t just there to grip the ground, rail the corner, fling the mud etc, they’re also for braking. Stopping might not be the fun bit but being able to scrub off speed efficiently will ultimately mean you can go faster…honest.
Provider of mechanical grip, from cornering to braking MTB tyre tread is the first thing to consider when it comes to choosing your rubber. Made up of knobs, ramps and sipes all searching for dirt contact, to dig in, hook up and keep you flowing down to the trail, we’re at the lumpy end of the tyre spectrum.
Yes the miniature phallus’ protruding from your tyres serve more than comedic purpose, talk to any tyre designer and they will tell you how important their shape and placement is. In their most extreme form think of something like the older version of the Maxxis Wetscream tyre, super tall, spaced far apart and formed in a soft compound designed to dig through the slop and grip whatever lies beneath. Flip the weather and you’ll need the opposite, small, hard knobs packed super tight for a dry, beaten flat surface you might find in some bike parks.
Something in between these is likely where most of us will be looking, prevailing weather, variety of terrain and longevity will all be part of the selection process too. When it comes to the knobs on your tyres, taller ones dig deeper but roll slower and vice versa. The same can be said of their spacing, tightly packed will roll faster but offer less grip on loose terrain.
Then there’s the shapes or ramp of said knobs…
Ramping of knobs is done on the leading edge, offering an angled surface to the ground rather than a square one. Simply put, a ramped knob will roll faster, but grip a bit less than a square edged one.
Modern MTB tyres in the part of the spectrum we’re looking at tend to have a mixture of both and their arrangement gives different ride characteristics. The Schwalbe Magic Mary is a good example, two ramped knobs (or studs if you’re on the Schwalbe website!) are followed by two non ramped knobs, another two ramped knobs are then followed by three square ones.
Shoulder knobs aside, this slight bias towards grip over all out speed almost has a double meaning. The additional grip is designed into a tyre for downhill and enduro so that extra grip allows the rider to take a better line and ultimately go faster.
But there’s more…
Again named all sorts by different brands but essentially small grooves on the top surface of a knob that mean that surface can flex, stretch and generally deform to hold onto the ground more efficiently than it’s flat topped partner.
Sipes, V-Grooves whatever they’re named by a brand are essentially the same with different shapes, orientations, sizes and depths moulded into the upper most surface give slightly different characteristics to the rider. The combination of how they are arranged across the surface of a tyre will put the finishing touch to how a tyre feels.
Generally sipes that run either perpendicular or at an acute angle to the direction of travel are positioned in the central 3/5ths of a tyre. The closer the sipe is to following the direction of travel the further away from the mid section it is. Why? Well braking mainly, braking and grip but mainly braking. When slowing the bike down these central knobs are in contact with the ground more of the time and need to flex forward and back repeatedly. Sipes add to that flexibility and mean braking can be more efficient.
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU?
The main thing to consider when looking at MTB tyre tread is the layout:
- What’s the ratio of square to ramped knobs or studs?
- How much space is there between them?
- What are you looking for that your existing setup doesn’t quite do?
Densely packed patterns perform on whacker plate wonder sculptures but something with an open pattern is capable of grip at different angles so will munch through natural terrain with confidence.
Have a think about where you ride most often, are the trails smooth and graded with whacker plated wonderment? Or do you push your pedals over loamy loveliness punctuated by sniper roots and the occasional lump of sandstone?
Take what you ride the most and find an MTB tyre that works for you. Many of us will ride mixed trails so finding a compromise in a spectrum of tread pattern is key. There are of course more things to consider when it comes to tyres, profile, compound and width are some that I’ll be covering soon so keep a look out for more soon.
Plus 3 Coaching
Tyre choice is such an individual choice and it’s something we cover during our coaching days. If you’re running the tyres that came stock on your bike they might not be the best for you as they have been chosen to cover every possible kind of rider on your chosen steed. If you’d like advice based on your specific setup then get in touch and we’ll help you out.