Cross-country mountain bike tire shootout first look

Weights and widths for seven top race day rubber offerings

2018 Tire Buyer's Guide 2018 XC Tires Cross Country Tires

XC-Tire-Guide-All

Defining the modern cross-country mountain bike tire is not as easy as it once was. Today’s XC bikes are no longer limited to lightweight hardtail whippets designed to blaze uphill, then simply survive going down. Used to be, the best cross-country tires were three things: light, fast, and light. But with even those wispy hardtails getting longer, lower, and slacker, their tires must now be fast and light, but also durable and grippy. It’s a lot to ask for, but that’s exactly what Mtbr did, as we put seven top XC mountain bike tires to the test.

Selection criteria for this crop was fairly straight forward. All tires had to be 29er of course, and width was limited to 2.25 (except the Hutchinson Toro and Specialized Fast Trak, only because we were only sent wider models). We called in models from most (but certainly not all) of the major players. To kick things off, below you’ll find brief descriptions of each tire, along with basic beta such as weight (claimed and actual), width, TPI, compound, and price. Next week we’ll start posting individual mountain bike tire reviews.

Mtbr Tire Buying Guide: XC Tires

Our mule for this test was this 2017 Scott Spark 900 with 120mm travel front and rear. You can read the Mtbr review of the bike here.

How We Measured Mountain Bike Tires

Tire performance and profile can vary wildly depending upon rim width and shape. To ensure consistency of measurement and an equal playing field during testing, Mtbr partnered with Stan’s NoTubes, who provided us with test wheelsets for each tire category. This allowed us to match test tires to the appropriate rim width. For cross-country, Mtbr used Stan’s ZTR Crest S1 aluminum wheels, which have a 23mm internal rim width. We also partnered with Park Tool, and are using their DS-1 electronic scale DC-1 Digital Caliper to determine weight and width respectively.

Once unpacked, each tire was mounted tubeless, then inflated to 40 psi. The tire was then allowed to sit for 30 minutes to account for stretch, before being deflated to 30 psi to measure width. All widths were taken at the widest point of the tire. To learn more about how we chose our initial group of test tires check out the Mtbr Tire Buying Guide Introduction.

Now, without further ado, here are the seven combatants in round No. 1 of the XC tire shootout. Read the descriptions, then scroll through the image gallery to get an up close look at each tire.

Hutchinson Toro

Hutchinson-Weight

Among the French tire maker’s most versatile offerings, the Toro has tall evenly spaced knobs designed to deliver neutral handling. Up top the center knobs are slightly shorter for better mud clearing, while side knobs get a little more height to better hang on in drifty corners. Hutchinson’s Hardskin bead-to-bead reinforcement promises less chance of cuts as well as longer durability.

Hutchinson-Width

Weight: 750g (claimed) / 762g (actual)
Width: 2.35 (claimed) / 2.10 (actual)
Compound: Hardskin
TPI: 66
Price: $60
More info: hutchinsontires.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/hutchinson-toro-review

Kenda Saber Pro

Kenda-Weight

With its minimalist tread profile and 120 tpi casing, Kenda’s go-to XC race rubber is designed for fast, dry singletrack. All Saber Pro models are tubeless ready and come in two different casings, TR for race and the more endurance oriented KSCT. (We opted for the later since this is not just a race day test.) Compound is R3C, Kenda´s fastest rubber that’s used exclusively for its high-end tires. This compound is claimed to offer significantly lower rolling resistance and increased wet weather traction. The Saber Pro also has a high-volume to better absorb trail obstacles. The low uniform tread profile reduces rolling resistance, while slightly larger edge knobs are hooked to improve cornering traction.

Kenda-Width

Weight: 611g (claimed) / 624g (actual)
Width: 2.20 (claimed) / 2.24 (actual)
Compound: R3C and KSCT
TPI: 120
Price: $70
More info: bicycle.kendatire.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/kenda-saber-pro-review

Maxxis Ikon

Maxxis-Weight

Billed as Maxxis’ most versatile cross-country tread pattern, the Ikon is designed to work on just about any trail condition outside apocalyptic mud. This race ready tire has a high-volume casing and fast rolling tread layout where a well-defined and closely spaced center helps keep speed high, while taller, more widely spaced side knobs dig in during hard cornering. Construction is triple compound with EXO protection.

Maxxis-Width

Weight: 640g (claimed) / 640g (actual)
Width: 2.20 (claimed) / 2.16 (actual)
Compound: Triple compound, EXO protection
TPI: 120
Price: $77
More info: www.maxxis.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/maxxis-ikon-review

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Schwalbe-Weight

As its name clearly implies, this is a racing tire through and through. The tread pattern is familiar in this class of rubber – more tightly spaced center knobs to increase speed, but taller, wider spaced side lugs to offer more bite when cornering. New in 2017 was Schwalbe’s Addix compound, which is actually a series of four compounds specifically developed for the various riding disciplines: Speed = XC race; Speedgrip = XC/AM/trail; Soft = enduro/downhill; Ultra Soft = gravity. Of the four, Speed is the only one that’s completely new, while the other three are replacements for existing compounds. Schwalbe expects the Speedgrip to be the most popular, which is in part why we choose it for this test. It’s aimed at general riding in mixed terrain and conditions, and offers similar rolling resistance to its predecessor (aka PaceStar), but with a claimed 62% increase in durability and 35% bump in grip. To quickly identify the compounds, Schwalbe is using a colored stripe on the tread, which wears off in a few rides. (Note the blue line on these test tires). It matches the sidewall markings that denote which compound is used.

Schwalbe-Width

Weight: 630g (claimed) / 670g (actual)
Width: 2.25 (claimed) / 2.11 (actual)
Compound: Addix Speedgrip
TPI: 67
Price: $92
More info: www.schwalbetires.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/schwalbe-racing-ralph-addix-review

Specialized Fast Trak

Specialized-Weight

Using finite element analysis, Specialized claims its Fast Trak XC tire’s consistent shoulder block layout improves cornering traction while overall block spacing is on the wider side, which aims to improve mud/debris clearing. Specialized’s Gripton compound is said to give the tire a livelier feel, while also enhancing grip in wet and dry conditions. The comparatively low 60 tpi makes for a tougher, more cut resistant casing at the expense of weight and suppleness.

Specialized-Width

Weight: 700g (claimed) / 679g (actual)
Width: 2.30 (claimed) / 2.16 (actual)
Compound: Gripton
TPI: 60
Price: $60
More info: www.specialized.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/specialized-fast-trak-review

Vittoria Mezcal

Vittoria-Weight

This fast, dry conditions XC tire has a low profile, densely spaced knob configuration with a defined center ridge tread for low rolling resistance, plus multiple braking and climbing edges and capable side knobs. The sidewall is measurably softer than the rest of the tire, which is designed to enhance grip and cornering traction. Mtbr tested the TNT version, which features four compounds (4C) layered together in way that’s intended to increase overall tire versatility. This includes G+Isotech, Vittoria’s unique Graphene compound that’s claimed to increase speed, and improve grip, durability, and wear resistance.

Vittoria-Width

Weight: 710g (claimed) / 744g (actual)
Width: 2.25 (claimed) / 2.22 (actual)
Compound: TNT, 4C, G+Isotech
TPI: 120
Price: $65
More info: www.vittoria.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/vittoria-mezcal-review

Vee Crown Gem

Vee-Weight

Designed with input from former gravity pro Mike King, the Crown Gem is billed as an all-purpose tire that’s at home racing XC or rallying rowdy singletrack. Taller side knobs improve cornering control, while an aggressive and fast center knob pattern help maintain speed and traction. The Crown Gem also boasts what Vee calls it Synthesis sidewall, where a specially woven lightweight layer gives additional puncture and cut protection. It’s a design adapted from Vee’s road line, and is lighter than their standard MTB casing. The tires also employ dual compound construction where harder 56 A rubber is used on the center tread to increase durability, but softer 48 A mix is applied on the sides for more cornering grip.

Vee-Width

Weight: 730g (claimed) / 726g (actual)
Width: 2.20 (claimed) / 2.28 (actual)
Compound: Dual Control, Synthesis Sidewall
TPI: 185
Price: $55
More info: www.veetireco.com
Mtbr review: reviews.mtbr.com/vee-crown-gem-review


About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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  • David says:

    I give the schwalbes 2 rides before they rip a knob and go in the bin.

    • Rob says:

      2? That’s optimistic

    • JC says:

      I’ve raced a full season (13 races) on Schwalbe Rock Razor mounted rear and Nobby Nic mounted up front on i9 hubs laced to Stans Arch Mk3… getting rowdy with a Yeti BigTop HT. Just last week I raced the USA MTB National Championships in Snowshoe, WV and placed 9th in single speed on that very combo… The Snakeskin protection with Addix Speedgrip and Orange Seal inside never failed me once.

      • professed says:

        This is good to hear, perhaps Schwalbe’s new compounds are indeed more durable as its definitely not my experience with them. In respect of weighing each tyre in the shop that’s also my experience with Schwalbe. One tyre might be exceptional, last forever and set up perfectly while the next blows beads, looses knobs etc. I think they have a real quality control issue with their Indonesian factory that they still have not sorted out.

  • adaycj says:

    I’m interested in the reviews too. In the meantime can we donate towards a gift to Schwalbe? They need a new gram scale again. Hutchinson looks like they could use a new ruler too.

  • Dan says:

    mezcal FTW

  • dony says:

    Holy crow 29″ tires weighting a little more and in some cases less than my 26ers.
    No thanks !

    • Mike says:

      Riding hard XC on Rocket Rons 29×2,25 SS – 605-609g each and never failed me even once, whether on roots/rocks, hardpack or mud/sand.

  • bobsyouruncle says:

    looking forward to seeing results on this one.. thanks for the effort mtbr…

  • aa says:

    can you add the maxxis aspen? been curious about this one because it looks so sketchy

  • Midgemagnet says:

    And the winner is… Continental Race King ProTection! Or it would be if it was actually listed. For comparison, the RK ProTection is a bit like a Racing Ralph Addix Speed but with lower rolling resistance and slightly harder, tougher rubber.

    It would be interesting to see what the various widths are after the tyres have been ridden for a bit – it takes a bit more than sitting at 40psi for half an hour before they’re fully stretched out.

    • Jason says:

      I’ve given up on the Continental Race King. Too much sealant seepage on the sidewalls and I’ve had multiple casings wear through where the tire bead makes contact with the side wall.

      • Midgemagnet says:

        ProTection or RaceSport flavour carcass? The latter isn’t specified for tubeless.

        I’ve heard complaints from others in the States about the bead interface wearing out, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue here in Europe. Maybe this is something to do with regional tyre pressure preferences as it seems US riders tend to run them much softer – not something you can get away with for long on a lightweight race tyre.

        • professed says:

          Adding my experience with the Race Kings and yes, definitely has very low rolling resistance – similar to a Racing Ralf – possibly even lower. Speed King are truly and amazingly fast if you dont need any grip ! Using the protection casing seepage in my experience is not an issue but the tyres can be a bastard to set up tubeless. I too have had beads fail on a mountain king and race king so don’t use Continental any more. Just use the speed king on the gravel bike – perfect tyre for that application !

  • eb1888@yahoo.com says:

    30mm inner rims and Bontrager Frank Stacy designed XR2 Team 2.2 or 2.35 are more rounded and higher volume for more cushion, bigger footprint and good traction at lower pressure. Not so retro as these on 23mm rims.

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