You’ve probably been riding for a while and have decided that it’s time to up your game. It could also be that you’ve just stumbled upon this post. Either way, if you have an MTB and you love riding, we’d recommend sticking on. When considering performance upgrades, a tire upgrade offers a lot of bang for the buck and is fairly economical. Read on to find out what you can do to improve your ride.


An MTB bike tire is more complex and intricate than most people would think. Tires consist of multiple different layers – each has its own function. The differences in how tires are constructed determine ride quality and the price range of the tire as the more features it has, the more complex it is to manufacture. Here are some features to look out for:

Road bike tire anatomy
Credits – Bike Exchange

BEADS – The beads are the parts of the tire that clinch (the reason why these tires are called clinchers) the rim when the tire is inflated to keep the tire in place. At lower price points, tires come with wire beads made of steel. As you spend more, tires feature flexible beads made of synthetic materials, such as Kevlar. Tires with flexible beads are called “folding tires” because the beads allow the tire to be folded. Besides saving weight, foldable beads usually make tires a bit easier to install and remove, too. 

If you want the best, get folding tires because they’re lighter, which makes your bike easier to ride. If you want a good tire at a sweet price, you can usually get top tire models for less by simply buying the version with wire beads.

CASING – The casing is the fabric that forms the basic structure of the tire. The material, the number of threads per inch (TPI), and the design affect how a tire feels and handles.

TPI (Threads Per Inch) defines the number of threads contained in one inch of the tire casing. The lower the number of TPI, the larger the gauge cords in the casing. Thus, the more durable the tire becomes. The higher the TPI, the more lightweight the tire becomes and the more supple the ride of the tire. Race MTB tires usually offer a higher TPI: 90-120.

As a general rule, the higher the thread count, the more flexible and supple a tire will feel, which improves ride quality, handling, traction, and control. It also increases manufacturing costs. If you’re looking for protection from flat tires, some tires have reinforced casing designed to help prevent punctures.

SUB-TREAD – Not all tires have sub-treads. They’re a common feature on tires designed with additional puncture protection. For example, an additional Kevlar or nylon layer will be placed in the tire beneath the tread to stop sharp objects from being able to puncture the tube.

Tires equipped with protective sub-treads will be labeled as such.
If you suffer lots of flats due to the roads or conditions you ride in, getting tires with protective sub treads makes a lot of sense. Ditto if you only puncture occasionally, but hate dealing with flats. The only drawback is a little additional weight, which XC racers and fast riders might not want.

SIDEWALL – Rubber is applied to the side of the casing between the tread and the bead to form the sidewall. Each tire will have different rubber compounds and thickness depending on its intended purpose. The sidewall provides the entire tire with rigidity and lateral support, especially during cornering. MTB tire sidewalls are usually their weakest points as there isn’t much chance of contact there – they’re thinner here in order to save weight.

TREAD – The tread is the rubber that meets the road or trail. On MTB tires, more tread usually means increased wear along with additional weight, so it’s a tradeoff whether you require top ride quality or durability. MTB tread varies in hardness, too, with harder rubbers wearing longer while softer compounds grip better in corners. These are fine distinctions widely debated among riders. You’ll even find tires with dual-compound tread designed for good wear and top traction. There are tread patterns specifically designed for wet conditions, as well.


MTB tires usually fall within these three sizes when it comes to diameter: 29”, 27.5” or 26”.

  • A cross-country bike: These usually will have tires in the 1.9″ to 2.25″ width range.
  • Trail bikes: Usually have tires in the 2.25″ to 2.4″ width range.
  • Downhill bikes: Downhill bikes are meant to withstand the abuse of drops and rock gardens are typically equipped with tires up to 2.5″ wide.

Consider wider tires: Though heavier, wider tires offer better traction (a plus for sand) for a more confident feel. They also accept more air volume to absorb bumps. You can go with a wider tire on a current rim or get wider rims to accommodate even wider tires.

Always verify clearances: With any new tire, especially a wider one, you need to be sure it has adequate clearance within your frame.

Read our BICYCLE TIRE BUYERS GUIDE to know more on how to choose the right tire for your bike


CROSS COUNTRY (XC) – Climbing efficiency is more important than traction or extra durability, so you want to look at tires that are lightweight and roll fast. (Small, closely spaced lugs for modest levels of grip with low rolling resistance (more speed).

TRAIL RIDING –  You want a moderate level of traction, durability, and speed. (Ramped lugs and side lugs – they lower rolling resistance to help you go faster and corner with more confidence).

DOWNHILL – You need tires that can handle some abuse, stick landings and claw their way around turns. (Big, widely spaced lugs bite into the soft, muddy ground easily; wide channels do a good job of releasing the muck).


  • Sizing
  • Riding conditions
  • Type of riding
  • Budget
  • Compounds
  • Puncture resistance
  • TPI
  • Tubeless or clincher

With MTB tires there’s a lot to choose from. You can opt for different sizes, widths, weights, types, compounds and you can even mix and match tires. There’s a lot to play around with – there’s no right or wrong with choosing the right tires for your MTB.

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About the Author

Shaun George

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING I'm an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often. Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time. DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking CURRENT BIKE: Merida One Twenty 9.600 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010

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