When I first started racing bikes, I rarely thought to consider tire choice. In fact, I was skeptical as to whether or not all of those fancy tread patterns and tire selections really made a difference at all. It wasn’t until I raced a mud race with a non-mud specific tire that I truly understood just how big of a difference the right, or wrong, tire can make. From that day onward I never underestimated the power of a good tire again.
With winter, and muddy trails just around the corner, it got me thinking,
“What is the Best All-Around Tire for Muddy Terrain?”
The Best All-Around Tire for Muddy Terrain is the Maxxis Shorty. Even though we think that this is the best all-around tire for mud, there is a reason that tire companies make so many different options to choose from. Each and every tire serves its own purpose and depending on your goals and exact trail conditions one might match your needs more than another.
Here is a list of factors that can help you find your most perfect mud tire:
MTB Tire that Sheds Mud:
Arguably the most important factor when selecting a mud tire is finding a tire that quickly and efficiently sheds mud. This is critical because if a tire packs up with mud, not only will it become heavier, thus slowing you down, the mud can also pack up to the point that it inhibits tire rotation and puts a halt to your ride all together.
Additionally, a tire that holds mud will become very slippery over time. As the mud packs up it will cover the knobs and will create the sensation of riding on a completely bald tire.
The best way to ensure that your tire will shed mud is to find a tire with knobs or lugs spaced far apart. If the lugs are too close together the mud can get stuck in between, however, if the lugs are spaced far apart, the mud will have nowhere to sit and will fall away from the tire.
Finally, while siping (or cutting small slits in the tire) is a common practice for wet conditions, it is often less practical for extremely muddy conditions because the mud can get stuck in the slits and eliminate their original purpose all together.
Everyone has a favorite tire pressure. Trial and error plus years of riding gives you a “sense” of how your tires work at different pressures. If your guessing what pressure you should be running I quizzed hundreds of mountain bikers to get opinions, Read about the DATA in this article: What Should My Tire Pressure be?
You Need a Tire that is Puncture Resistance:
Tire Casing: Look for a tire with double or triple compound. That tire has a thicker tire casing and will be more resistant to tears, punctures, and slices. If you are looking for a lighter tire then you can find a tire that is EXO+. That means that the tire has a lighter casing with an added layer of protection.
Sidewall Protection: In addition to a strong tire, you should look for a tire with extra sidewall protection. Maxxis designates their extra sidewall protection as EXO. That means that there is an extra layer of protection just on the sidewall. EXO+ means that there is an extra layer of protection over the sidewalls and tread. Remember that extra protection is heavier and therefore slower, but changing a flat is often the slowest option of all.
Tread Pattern is Essential for MUD Tires :
Tread patterns are a critical factor in determining the most ideal mud tire. Look for a tire with tall, square, and spaced out knobs. The tall knobs reach down to stick deep into the dirt and ground the tire. The squared off knobs create edges that can cut through the mud in order to hold onto the ground.
The space between the knobs allow the mud to shed from the tire instead of sticking in between the knobs. The further spaced out the knobs, the slower the tire will be. Therefore, it is important to find a happy medium and test out tires in the anticipated conditions prior to your event.
Additionally, look for a tire with big side knobs that come around the side of the tire in order to provide maximum traction through corners.
The type of mud that you are riding in will also help to influence which of the above features are most critical.
Thick Mud: When riding in thick mud, you will want the least amount of contact with the ground while still providing traction. Less contact means less surface area for the mud to stick to. Look for a tire with the least number of lugs that are bigger and more spread out.
Slippery Mud: If the mud is slippery instead of sticky, you will want to make sure that you have optimal traction. Look for square lugs with firm edges that can dig into the ground.
Tire Width for MUDDY Mountain Bike Conditions:
A narrower tire will allow your tire to grip and cut into the slippery mud, but a wider or high-volume tire will keep you grounded and provide more knobs to slice into the ground. For these reasons, your best mud tire will be in the 2.3-2.5-inch range.
Tire Pressure: In muddy conditions, the lower the tire pressure the better. A lower tire pressure will allow for better traction and will allow the tire to form around various obstacles. Be careful though, don’t go too low or you will find yourself facing pinch flats and changing a flat is made even more challenging when you have mud all over your hands.
Get a good tire pressure gauge – I’ve fallen in love with my Topeak D2 SmartGauge. (Link to Amazon) Accurate, flexible and it allows you to adjust the pressure while still connected.
Tubeless: Since lower tire pressure is better in the mud, tubeless tires are a must. When you run a tubeless set up you are able to run lower tire pressures and therefore have better traction.
Tire Inserts: Another way to run yet an even lower tire pressure is to have a tire insert. A tire insert allows for a lower pressure because it protects your rim from small dings and helps to mitigate pinch flats.
Front and Rear MTB Tire Combinations for Mud :
The front tire is most utilized for cornering so make sure to put your most aggressive tire in front. The rear tire is for braking and so usually a less aggressive tire is needed in the rear. In extremely muddy and slippery conditions, however, you will want the most traction possible. That means that in exceptionally muddy conditions you will run the most aggressive tire option in both the front and the rear.
An example of a front and rear tire combination for muddy terrain would be a Maxxix Shorty in the front and a Maxxis Assegai in the rear. For a faster, more cross country approach you might run a Maxxis Forekaster in the front and an Ardent in the rear.
Does TPI Matter for a MTB Tire?
TPI stands for threads per inch. If the tire has a lot of threads per inch that means that it is a lighter and more supple tire. A high TPI is often desirable for fast cross-country conditions.
A tire with a lower TPI will be a better choice for muddy conditions. A lower TPI will create a more durable and heavier tire which allows you better protection in harsh conditions.
What Do The Experts Recommend?
With so many different tires to choose from, sometimes the perfect tire comes down to personal preference. While keeping all of the above guidelines in mind, still, many tires fit the bill. We asked the experts, “What is the best Maxxis tire for muddy conditions?” Here is what they had to say:
Expert #1: A professional enduro racer stated that he most prefers the Maxxis Shorty because the tall and staggered knobs provide him with optimal traction and the high-volume casing helps to eliminate the concern of getting a flat.
Expert #2: A professional mechanic stated that he most prefers the Maxxis DHF 2.5 in the front and Maxxis DHR 2.5 in the Rear. The wider tire and large side knobs make this an excellent combination for wet and muddy cornering. An added bonus is that this tire runs well in a variety of conditions so if you don’t have a mechanic to constantly swap tires for you, you will be able to run this when the trails dry up as well.
Expert #3: A professional cross-country racer identified the Maxxis Forekaster as her favorite mud tire. The tire does a good job of combining aggressive specs while still keeping speed and weight as a priority.
Now that you have all of the information, it’s your turn to go test out a variety of mud tires and see which one best speaks to you. Keep in mind what you are looking for and you are more likely to notice the difference between one tire and the next. Take your time and don’t be afraid to try something new. I can’t think of a better excuse to play in the mud.