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13 of the Best: Mud tyres for mountain biking

13 of the Best: Mud tyres for mountain biking

What tyres for deepest mud? Image: Jason Rogers via Flickr

We pick out 13 of the best mud tyres for mountain biking

Tyres make a huge difference to how a bike rides. At this time of year, when the trails are permanently covered in a thick layer of gloop, tyre choice becomes even more crucial. To help out, here’s our pick of a baker’s dozen of the best tyres for mud.

As the wet weather takes a firm grip of the country, now is the time to remove those fast summer tyres, pack them away in the back of the shed for the winter months and invest in a set of new winter-specific treads.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of choice with nearly every manufacturer offering at least one tyre designed for use in the mud. What we’re looking at here are tyres designed specially to excel in the most extreme of conditions, with the sole purpose of finding traction where regular tyres will struggle and fail.

Mud tyres typically have tall pointy spikes that push through the top soft layer of mud to find something harder beneath to bite into. Lots of space between the blocks ensures they clear easily and don’t clag up, turning your previously knobbly tyre into a slick.

They style of the knobs, their shape, size, layout and spacing on the tyre’s carcass varies from brand to brand. Not all mud tyres are created equal, but they are pretty similar.

The nature of your local trails has an influence on the type of tyre you choose. Wet, loose, sloppy conditions might suit a slightly wider tyre run at a lower pressure, while claggy clay trails will suit a narrower pointer tyre run at a higher pressure.

Most tyres are offered in 26in and 29in sizes so whatever side of the fence you sit on, you’re well catered for. And if you’re riding 650b, your choices are limited, you trend-setter, you. The only one we know of is the Pacenti Cycles Quasi-Moto 650B. There’s rumours of Michelin 650b mud tyres, and we’ve heard other tyre brands are quickly developing new moulds.

Schwalbe Dirty Dan

Shwalbe Dirty Dan is a classic deep-block mud tyre

The Dirty Dan has two weapons in its armoury to help it deal with the mud: tall blocks and a soft, tacky compound. Those angular knobs chew through the mud and the soft compound sticks to rocks and roots giving good grip. Generous spacing between the blocks ensures good clearance when it gets claggy. The only downside is the high 920g weight.

More information: Schwalbe Dirty Dan

Maxxis Beaver 2.0 x 29 £35.99

Maxxis Beaver. Titter ye not.

The Maxxis Beaver uses a tread pattern with well-spaced square knobs that has made it a hit with 29er riders seeking a good winter tyre. It’s one of the best 29er mud tyres out there at the moment, and their weight of around 470g each keeps the rolling weight to a minimum. A dual compound rubber improves grip and helps them deal with changeable terrain and conditions. Originally designed for 29ers, it’s no available in 26in size too.

More information: Maxxis Beaver

Bontrager XR Mud £32.99

Bontrager XR Mud

Available for both 26in and 29in wheels (as the 29-Mud TLR for £36.99), with the former coming in either 1.8in or 2in widths, the Mud uses a classic and simple square shaped knob tread pattern. Generous spacing between the knobs encourages mud to shed easily, while the central section gives reasonable rolling performance with little drag.

Bontrager use a proprietary tread compound that’s mud-specific, so it’s a little softer than usual. Downhill World Cup racers are fans of customising their mud tyres with a sharp knife, and Bontrager even go as far as saying “trimmable knobs for custom performance” so there’s scope for personalizing the tread pattern for your particular style of riding or terrain.

More information: Bontrager XR-Mud

Geax Gato 29 x 2.3 £30.99

Geax Gato 29er

The Gato has been updated this year with a new 29er carcass and huge 2.3in width – the choice of wide 29er tyres is currently limited and this is one of the few. It’s described as being suitable for wet and loose conditions and has tall wide siped knobs with a paddle orientation along the central section. They’re well spaced out to do that tricky job of finding grip and not clogging all at the same time. A folding bead gives an all-up weight of 690g. A heavier (850g) non-folding version costs £18.99.

More information: Geax Gato 29 x 2.3

Michelin Country Mud £13.99

Michelin Country Mud: a grippy mud bargain, but quite surface-specific

Michelin simplified its range last year and the Country Mud is its sole mud-specific tyre. It’s more of an all-rounder tyre than many of the others here, with wide paddle central knobs surrounded by smaller angled blocks.

It’s a 2in width tyre and weighs a reasonable 590g for this wire bead tyre, which does keep the price down if the weight is a little higher than Kevlar beaded tyres.

More information: Michelin Country Mud

Specialized Storm Control 2Bliss Ready £29.99

Specialized Storm Control

Specialized’s offering uses a soft rubber compound do that it doesn’t come unstuck on wet roots and rocks, terrain on which mud tyres can traditionally prove hazardous unless treated with absolute caution.

The square knobs are well spaced to ensure mud clears quickly with a tighter packed outer edge knob pattern. The centre compound is 65a rubber while the shoulder section uses 55a compound for better corning grip. Tubeless ready, the tyre can be used with or without an inner tube.

More information: Specialized Storm Control 2Bliss Ready

Continental Mud King 1.8 £48.95

King of Mud, they say.

The Mud King has a lot going for it. It was developed by the Athertons, so it’s available in a 2.3in 1100g downhill version or a lighter 570g 1.8in option. It’s the latter we’re more interested in, but both share the same spiky tread pattern.

The 1.8in ProTection version uses Continental’s Black Chilli tread compound, which helps it stick to slippery obstacles like a limpet. The layout of the angular knobs give good traction in all conditions. The shoulder blocks are siped to allow them to flex a little and find more traction when cornering over slippery rocks and roots.

More information: Continental Mud King

Geax Gato Mud £30.99

Geax Gato Mud

Geax’s Gato Mud uses a tread pattern that features L-shaped blocks interspersed with rectangular blocks across the tyre, producing a design that’s distinct from all the other mud tyres available. Reinforcements at the base of the central ridge reduce rolling resistance while similar reinforcements on the side knobs ensure stiffness when cornering.

It’s one of the narrowest here too at just 1.7in, so it’s best served for very extreme conditions or racing when absolute grip is right at the top of the list. The TNT casing means it can be used tubeless or with tubes, and weighs 490g.

More information: Geax Gato Mud

Panaracer Trail Raker £24.99-£34.99

Panaracer TrailRaker

It’s been around for a while but Panaracer’s TrailRaker is a solid performer when the conditions of your favourite trails dictate a change to an aggressive mud tyre.

Tall knobs dig through mud giving high levels of grip even in the wettest trail conditions. Angled shoulder knobs give good drive traction and cornering grip. A UST version is available, and in 1.95in or 2.1in widths.

More information: Panaracer TrailRaker

Maxxis Medusa £29.99

Maxxis Medusa

Using a very open profile tread pattern with sparsely placed knobs, the Medusa is a tyre for the mankiest of conditions when clogging is a real possibility. For trails formed of clay soil, the Medusa’s are a good option.

It’s available in loads of versions. The 2.1in Lust is our pick, weighing 675g. A lighter (640g) 1.8in Lust tyre is also available. We’d consider pairing the wider tyre on the front with a narrower rear for the best performance.

More information: Maxxis Medusa

Schwalbe Black Shark £33.94

Schwalbe Black Shark

It’s been around for a long time, and the Black Shark continues to prove it’s one of the best mud tyres. An aggressive tread pattern with extremely tall spiked knobs ensures that it finds traction in even the gloopiest and stickiest conditions.

It can be picked up in 2.1in or 2.25in widths and both feature Schwalbe’s own Puncture Protection design.

More information: Schwalbe Black Shark

Onza Greina £36.99

Onza Greina

Onza is a name from the past. The original Californian company made some lusted over tyres like Porcupine and the mythical Octopus, but folded back in the 90s when the founders fell out. But now the name is back, and the Swiss owners are turning out some good tyre designs once more.

The Greina is pinned as a freeride/downhill tyre but at 2.25in we feel its still worthy for inclusion for those who want a bit more meat on their wheels. It uses an aggressive block tread pattern, with four rows of blocks and the sizes varying across the carcass. The outer knobs are siped for flexibility when banked over. At 670g, the 120tpi folding version is a decent weight for a tyre this meaty.

More information: Onza Greina

WTB VelociRaptor front and rear specific mud tyres £17.99

WTB Velociraptors

WTB’s VelociRaptors are a legendary name from the early days of mountain biking, and this front and rear pairing are the only direction-specific tyres in this list.

That’s a good thing. The rear tyre features a generous paddle design for hoofing you up the slippery trails, while the fronts forward pointing long knobs can focus on steering duties.

Available in 2.1in with a DNA rubber compound, it’s a proprietary 60a durometer rubber, gives good grip on loose trails. Weight is between 700g and 760g.

More information: WTB VelociRaptor

  1. Henry

    Ref your comment on the Velociraptors – I think you will find that most [if not all] of the tyres are direction specific but only the Velociraptors are front and rear specific.

  2. Tom Robinson

    In my experience of riding in heavy clay soils around the Cambridge area. Small widely spaced blocks are best such as on the Maxxis Medusa. Conversely taller blocks on tyres such as the Trail Rakers are very hard work, as they have to be pulled out of the sticky soils. The Tall block tyres are best suited to very sloppy mud, organic and sandy soils.

  3. neil warner

    Big hand to whoever got the Geax write up past the sub editor to release my inner 12 year old. snert snert

  4. David Arthur

    Good observation there Henry, you’re quite right

    We wondered how long it would be before someone noticed that Neil! Now that you have, we felt compelled to remove that line 😉

  5. nick3216

    IRC Mud Mads FTW

  6. Kai Johnson

    You missed one of the best mud tyres of all: the Continental Cross Country. It seems wrong putting a 1.5″ wide tyre on a mountain bike, but these babies hook up in the worst sort of gloop. We’re talking thick chalky clay mixed with barley stalks — while it’s raining. Their thick paddle-shaped knobbies keep you moving, the big side blocks keep you upright, and their thin profile cuts through the mess to whatever they can grab underneath. Recommended.

    1. david

      If only they made a 1.5 Continental Cross Country tubeless or tubeless ready…………anybody tried running a normal cross country 1.5 with no tubes liquid or similar?

    2. Shelley Childs

      Unfortunately the XC 1.5 has long been discontinued with the UK its only real volume market. Demand does seem to still be apparent, and a modern ProTection casing with a tubeless ready bead would be good, but would be £44.95, alot of cash for a specialist tyre. A non Black Chili model would be around 29.95 in folding bead…thoughts?

  7. James

    I bought some Schwalbe Dirty Dans this year after concluding the Trailrakers are just too much hard work. The difference is incredible. So much lighter and faster. I suspect the downside will be the side walls being prone to rips. The Dirty Dans grip and clear well in all sorts of conditions although they are slightly more skitish over roots and rocks than the Panaracers. All in all, a brillliant tyre.

  8. Matt

    Just starting MTBing after 10 plus years out of the sport. Can’t believe ‘raptors are still going. I have a pair of Panaracer Smoke Lites still doing the business if anyone wants to make me an offer…

  9. chris-m

    I can’t recommend the Bontrager Mud’s enough. Reasonable price (better for two) and they roll well and last pretty good too – as long as your rides don’t include too much tarmac between trails.
    They also do two options, the Mud XR with a slightly softer rubber and the longer lasting Mud X. Recommended!

  10. Dick Barton

    Raptors and early days of MTBing don’t go together unless you are fairly ‘new’ to the sport i.e. in the last 14 years…they are certainly long running but they aren’t that old…I remember running the Smoke/Dart (SC) and the Tioga Trail and Mud Dawg tyres…Farmer Johns before them…at the time, these were all amazingly good tyres, but things develop and progress (and also tend to cost far more money than back then!).

    They are long running tyres but they aren’t that old, although they certainly appear to be one of the longest running tyres still available.

    1. Kevin Rico

      The specialized tyres cant hold under hard mud riding you slip and slide all over, I used to use velo/raptors back in the 90’s with great results, onza’s used to fall apart after a couple of rides,

      I would recommend maxxis high roller or minion DH tyres for mud and slippery surface, they don’t have a great rolling resistance on the flat

  11. MarkB

    Just done the muddiest Mountain Mayhem on record, with a 1.8″ Maxxis Medusa out back and a 2″ Bontrager Mud X up front. Would say that on my hardtail (fitted with rigid fork for the event) it was about the ideal setup. The Medusa isn’t the grippiest of mud tyres, but it’s probably the best clearing. Whilst other people running Trailrakers (and even a pair of Mud X’s) were having problems with clogging, I had no such issues. The 2″ Mud X up front provided a bit more grip, and clogging wasn’t an issue anyway with enormous amounts of clearance in a rigid fork.

    Medusa’s are also pretty fast rolling, certainly a lot quicker than a Mud X is on the back.

  12. ZillaOfManilla

    Any advice for a good setup Tyre wise for riding round Ashton Court (Bristol) in the winter?

    1. Antony

      The trails in Ashton Court are fully armoured, so unless you’re planning to venture further afield then run what you brung.

  13. MuddyDave

    Here in the Surrey Hills the Bontrager Mud-XR has been my tyre of choice for the last few years, partly because it’s been available in 29er. Wet roots are an issue for so much exposed carcas. Although I’m waiting for the Storm to arrive in 29er (yes, I know Evans have them but Spesh UK don’t) I don’t expect it to be any different and hoping to make it through the Winter on something more 3 season.

    Another aspect that strikes me here, especially as someone mention Mountain MudHell (Mayhem) 2012 is that it does depend on frame clearance as well. Ok for the tyre to clear if the frame doesn’t catch the mud as well. Niner riders take note! It did make me wonder as lightweight 29er carbon hardtails flew past with skinny tyres on…..the difference between that and a CX bike is what?

    Anyway, nice article.

  14. Martin

    Hi Dave, is there a reason you missed KENDA KOT or Nexcavator from your test?

  15. killbill

    They did not get a mention but the Panaracer Mud tyres have worked very well for the last couple of years winter riding i North West Kent.1.8inch front & back cut right through the muck ,with friends riding bikes with various other nobblies just getting clogged up.I have had problems with split side walls due to sharp flints when using panaracer summer tyres on the South Downs,though that could just have been bad luck!

  16. paul

    Is. This last years tyre test re uped

  17. Matt

    Don’t forget the classic Panaracer Smoke and Dart. A good tyre is always a good tyre

  18. TIMG

    I bought a pair of Dirty Dans last winter,mainly because I love there tyres ( esp Furious Freds) but also because of all the hype Danny Hart was using them.
    Performance was very very average, but the side walls of one of them lasted 3 weeks
    BAD for a £45 tyre (old Black Shark Mud 1.5″ was the daddy)
    I now run Kenda 1.8 K.O.T on the rear which is probably the best mud tyre I have used (thanks MR Tomac).

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