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The Best MTB Tires For XC

Whether you're racing, tackling an epic adventure, or just trying to go faster, your mountain bike needs good tires to perform at its best. These are the XC tires that provide the perfect balance of speed, weight, and grip.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

Lars Forster riding Maxxis Aspens, one of the most popular XC race tires. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Before you spend thousands on carbon wheels, suspension, and weight-weenie upgrades for your XC bike, take a look at your tires. The rubber connecting your bike to the trail is the key to maximizing your speed and performance. The right tires save grams and watts so you can climb and sprint faster but they also have the traction and durability you need to keep that speed going downhill. Even if you aren’t racing, good tires are often the best bang-for-your-buck upgrade you can make to any mountain bike. If you want to ride farther and faster than ever before, these are the XC mountain bike tires you should consider.

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What to look for in XC MTB tires

For me, the top XC MTB tire brands performance oriented riders should look at are made by Maxxis, Schwalbe, Specialized, Vittoria, and Continental. These are some of the biggest tire brands in cycling and their tires can easily be found in most bike shops and online retailers. Many of their XC tires are favored by the world's best racers. When comparing the various tire models that will be listed below, weight, width, and tread pattern will be the biggest considerations.


Most high-end XC tires weigh around 600-800 grams. Some featherweight race tires might be under 600 grams. While wider and knobbier tires might be above 800 grams. Weight largely comes down to a tire’s construction and width. It is a major consideration for XC riding because the tire makes up a large portion of the rotating weight of your bike. The heavier your tires are, the more energy it requires to get them moving. Lighter tires accelerate faster and can increase your climbing speed. There is a trade-off though. Lighter tires also provide less puncture protection on rough trails or for aggressive downhill riding. 


XC tires can be as narrow as 2.” or as wide as 2.6”, but most XC riders will choose tires between 2.2” and 2.4” wide. Most modern XC bikes are designed to fit tires in that range. Wider tires will give riders more traction, comfort, and confidence, especially on rugged and loose trails. But they will also weigh more than narrower tires. However, many top XC racers have been trending toward wider tires. 2.3-2.4” XC tires are quickly becoming the most popular option. More traditional 2.2-.25” tires are a great option for riders who prioritize low weight or who are riding bikes with limited tire clearance. 

Tread pattern

Best XC MTB tire treadMaxxis Aspen vs. Rekon. Low profile knobs = more speed. Bigger knobs = more traction. 

A tire’s tread pattern affects traction and rolling speed. The ideal tread pattern varies depending on your local terrain and riding preferences. Trail-oriented XC tires have more aggressive tread with bigger, taller, and more widely-spaced knobs that provide more traction in loose or wet terrain but roll slower. Race-focused XC tires will use smaller, shorter, closely-spaced knobs (or they may even be semi-slicks). Low profile treads will roll faster and feel more predictable on hardpacked surfaces, but might not have enough bite for loose or rugged trails. Many riders like to compromise by pairing a more aggressive tire on the front for cornering and braking with a faster rear tire for pedaling efficiency. 


Best XC MTB tire casing puncture protectionSchwalbe Super Race vs. Super Ground casing. Super Race is lighter and faster, Super Ground has more puncture protection (the yellow fabric). 

TPI (threads per inch) describes the fabric used in the tire casing. Most high-performance XC tires are between 60-120 TPI. Higher TPI casings use finer threads and have a higher ratio of fabric to rubber so they are lighter, more supple, and have lower rolling resistance but they are also more prone to tears and punctures. To combat this, many tires add puncture protection in the form of cut-resistant fabric strips placed under the tire tread or sidewalls (see the photo above). Tires seeking to maximize speed generally use superlight casings that have minimal or no extra puncture protection (e.g. Schwalbe Super Race, Specialized S-Works, Continental RaceSport) to keep weight and rolling resistance as low as possible. These are good for race day, but for everyday riding and rugged trails, most riders will want a more robust casing (e.g. Schwalbe Super Ground, Specialized Control, Continental ProTection, Maxxis Exo) that has more flat protection.   

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Best Maxxis XC tires

Best Maxxis XC mtb tiresLeft to right: Aspen, Rekon Race, Ikon Ardent Race, Rekon

Maxxis Aspen

Width: 2.25”, 2.4”
TPI: 120
Weight: 760g (29x2.4”)
Recommended install: Rear

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The Aspen is Maxxis’ premier XC race tire and the fastest rolling tire in its line-up. It has a very low center tread height paired with taller side knobs that provide cornering traction. It’s the preferred tire of Nino Schurter, 10-time XC world champion and the most successful XC racer of all time. 

Maxxis Rekon Race

Width: 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.4”
TPI: 60 or 120
Weight: 818g (29x2.4” 120 TPI)
Recommended install: Rear

The Rekon Race is a semi-slick XC race tire that features a low profile tread with just enough bite to handle looser terrain. It was developed with input from 10-time XC world champion Nino Schurter and is a great choice for dry and dusty XC trails and short track racing.

Maxxis Ikon

Width: 2.0”, 2.2”, 2.35”
TPI: 60 or 120
Weight: 830g (29x2.35” 120 TPI)
Recommended install: Front or rear

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The Ikon is one of the most popular and versatile tires in the Maxxis XC line-up. It’s designed to perform in a broad range of conditions from hardpack to loose and dusty to damp trails and it provides very predictable handling that will work for a wide range of terrain. 

Maxxis Ardent Race

Width: 2.25”, 2.35”
TPI: 120
Weight: 871g (2.35”x29”)
Recommended install: Front or rear

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The Ardent Race is a faster rolling version of Maxxis’ classic Ardent trail tire. It is intended to bridge the gap between XC and trail tires. It offers rolling resistance comparable to the Ikon with its small, ramped center tread, but it also offers improved cornering performance thanks to a row of more substantial side knobs. 

Maxxis Rekon

Width: 2.25”, 2.4”, 2.6”
TPI: 60 or 120
Weight: 891g (29x2.4” 60 TPI)
Recommended install: Front

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The Rekon is a light duty trail tire designed to go fast in technical terrain. It is a solid option for XC riders looking for an all-rounder tire that will provide more traction on rough trails.

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Best Schwalbe XC tires

Best Schwalbe XC MTB tiresLeft to right: Thunder Burt, Racing Ralph, Racing Ray, Nobby Nic

Schwalbe Thunder Burt

Width: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”
TPI: 67
Weight: 745g (2.9x2.35” Super Ground)
Recommended install: Rear

The semi-slick Thunder Burt is Schwalbe’s fastest MTB tire with the lowest weight and rolling resistance. It’s best used as a rear tire on dry and hard packed trails. 

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Width: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”
TPI: 67
Weight: 730g (2.35”x29” Super Ground)
Recommended install: Rear

The Racing Ralph is Schwalbe’s premier XC race tire. The tread pattern has been specially developed for the rear wheel to provide speed without sacrificing braking traction on tough and technical XC race courses. Though it’s rear-specific, some riders will run it front and rear for fast and dry courses. 

Schwalbe Racing Ray

Width: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”
TPI: 67
Weight: 730g (2.9x2.35” Super Ground)
Recommended install: Front

The Racing Ray is a more aggressive XC tire with a front-specific tread designed to pair with a Racing Ralph on the rear. Though it’s front-specific, some riders will run it front and rear for loose, technical, or damp courses. 

Schwalbe Nobby Nic

Width: 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.4”, 2.6”
TPI: 67
Weight: 810g (29x2.4” Super Ground)
Recommended install: Front or rear

The Nobby Nic combines tall, large knobs with a lightweight XC casing to create an all-rounder designed to work for looser and rougher trails. It’s ideal for riders who need more traction and confidence on difficult XC tracks.

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Best Specialized XC tires

Best Specialized XC MTB tiresLeft to right: Renegade, Fast Trak, Ground Control

Specialized Renegade

Width: 2.2”, 2.35”
TPI: 60
Weight: 645g (29x2.35” Control)
Recommended install: Rear

The Renegade is Specialized’s fastest-rolling cross-country tire with a tightly-packed tread designed for hard packed terrain. 

Specialized Fast Trak

Width: 2.2”, 2.35”
TPI: 60
Weight: 670g (29x2.35” Control)
Recommended install: Front or rear

The Fast Trak uses taller knobs that are ideal for technical courses and grueling conditions without sacrificing speed. 

Specialized Ground Control

Width: 2.2”, 2.35”
TPI: 60
Weight: 845g (2.35”x29”)
Recommended install: Front or rear

The Ground Control uses a beefier, more versatile tread pattern which provides confidence and grip on loose and rough trails. 

Best Vittoria XC tires

Best Vittoria XC MTB tiresLeft to right: Terreno, Mezcal III, Barzo

Vittoria Terreno

Width: 2.1”, 2.25”
TPI: 120
Weight: 650g (29x2.25”)
Recommended install: Rear

The Terreno is a file tread tire that uses a unique angled “fish scale” design. The center tread rolls extremely fast but still offers traction when loaded in cornering and braking. It’s best used as rear tire for gravel and hardpack surfaces.

Vittoria Mezcal III

Width: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”, 2.6”
TPI: 120
Weight: 735g (29x2.35”)
Recommended install: Front or rear

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The Mezcal is a fast and versatile all-rounder and the top choice of pro racers like four-time XC world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. The low-profile tread is tightly spaced in the center for low rolling resistance and durability.

Vittoria Barzo

Width: 2.1”, 2.25”, 2.35”
TPI: 120
Weight: 745g (29x2.35”)
Recommended install: Front or rear

The Barzo is Vittoria’s aggressive XC tire option. Moto-style block knobs are laid out in a proven V-formation to create a tire that corners as fast as it rolls, while still offering the protection of a full depth tread. 

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Best Continental XC tires

Best Continental XC MTB TiresLeft to right: Race King, Cross King

Continental Race King

Width: 2.2”
TPI: 180
Weight: 595g (29x2.2” Protection)
Recommended install: Front or rear

[product-block handle="continental-race-king-protection-tire-29x2-2-240-tpi-tubeless"/]

The Race King is Continental’s classic XC competition tire and it is one of the fastest rolling tires on the market. It was the tire used by Tom Pidcock to win mountain bike Gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. 

Continental Cross King

Width: 2.2”, 2.3”
TPI: 180
Weight: 755g (29x2.3” Protection)
Recommended install: Front or rear

[product-block handle="continental-cross-king-protection-tire-27-5x2-3-180-tpi-tubeless"/]

The Cross King is a more versatile and aggressive XC trail tire, with larger knobs than the Race King so it’s more sure footed in turns and on loose and rough terrain.


Just because a tire is recommended as a front or rear tire, it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with different tires on the front or rear to find your ideal ride characteristics. For example, it you’re racing on a dry and fast course with very few technical features, it might make sense to put fast, low-profile tires (e.g., Maxxis Aspen, Schwalbe Thunder Burt, Specialized Renegade) and the front and rear to minimize rolling resistance. Just make sure your handling skills are up to snuff! 

Also, there are plenty of other tire brands out there that haven’t been listed in this overview (Michelin, Bontrager, and Kenda are notable omissions). I chose the brands and models here because they are proven winners that are immensely popular and easy to find. Watch this space though, because new tires are constantly being developed, and we might see some contenders come up to challenge the established favorites. What are your favorite XC mountain bike tires? Let me know in the comments!

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