Editor’s Note: An overview of the best Maxxis tires is available HERE.
Let’s start with what we know about Maxxis. Within mountain bike circles the Taiwanese tire maker has a rock solid reputation, especially among the trail, all-mountain, and downhill crowds where models such as the Minion, High Roller, and Shorty have cult-like followings. The number of pro riders who’ve run non-sponsor-correct Maxxis tires with the hot patch obscured by Sharpie ink is substantial.
What you might not know is that within the larger realm of tire making (think everything from passenger cars to giant earth movers) Maxxis ranks No. 9 in global tire production and has a huge presence in the Chinese automotive market. And while you don’t see a lot of Maxxis tires spec’d on your average U.S.-sold Honda Civic, they are one of this country’s leading suppliers of spare tires. Pop open the trunk of a Buick or Subaru and you’re likely to see the Maxxis label on the donut hiding beneath the mat. Maxxis is also popular with the aftermarket crowd. Head out to a Sunday morning autocross and you’re bound to see a bunch of their tires spinning around the course.
Mtbr learned all this and more during the annual Maxxis Appalachian Summit headquartered at the fantastic Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way near Ellijay in northern Georgia. Before delving deeper into our immersive Culture or Maxxis experience, it must be noted that the area riding was superb. With the IMBA Epic-designated Pinhoti Trail as its centerpiece, the Mulberry Gap area offers a ton of great aggressive XC-style riding, much of it accessible right out the driveway of this mountain biker-catering establishment that has various lodging options (cabins, bunkrooms, camping), and serves superb family-style home cooked meals. No wonder Maxxis has hosted the national cycling media here two years running.
Of course Maxxis also used this opportunity to show off a host of new tires across the various cycling disciplines. We’ll skip the complete catalog regurgitation, and focus on the highlights, which included new DH casing, tubeless ready versions of the ever-popular Shorty and Minion DHF/DHR II tires. All three come in the increasingly coveted 27.5×2.5 size. And all three fall into what Maxxis dubs Wide Trail, which means their designed to work best with rims that measure 30mm-35mm internal. They also have new 27.5×2.6 DHF/DHR II offerings. Personally, we see these widths as the sweet spot for aggressive trail bike tires, wide enough to deliver gobs of traction, but not so wide that you have to accept a massive weight penalty, suspect puncture protection, or squirm. Maxxis PR man Bobby Brown, who’s based at their U.S. offices near Atlanta, is essentially on the same page.
“We’re finally seeing a converging of the rim-tire relationships that have been established for a long time in the motorcycle world,” explained Brown, a self-professed tire nerd. “The idea is that the tire should be 1.5 to 2 times wider than your rim. These are relationships that have been around for forever in the moto world. But in the bike world we’ve always been a lot more weight conscious because we’re moving under our own power. But with the onset of carbon manufacturing that’s allowed us to get wider and wider wheels without the huge weight penalty, we can finally get the right tire profile that we should have had a long time ago.”
This means sidewalls that are optimal height for the tire and proper knob spacing because you no longer have to worry about the tire rolling back and forth on the rim thanks to the more supportive sidewalls and a rim that is wide enough to support that tire.
“You really need to look at the usable range of widths,” added Brown. “We are seeing wider rims as a trend across the board, road, XC, trail, you name it. But if you take a tire that is designed around narrow rim and put it on wider rim than what it is designed around then you spread sidewalls out, which turns side knobs more vertical and ends up squaring the tire off. So in a straight line all of the knobs could be contacting ground at the same time. That’s added rolling resistance. Then when cornering there isn’t anything to lean on because the knobs are digging in like they should be. If you go the opposite direction, wide tire, narrow rim, you’ll get squirm.”
Props then to Maxxis for pushing the right tire for the right rim rationale, and for splitting the difference between plus and traditional 2.3” to 2.4” tires. Like a lot of more discerning riders, Brown doesn’t see plus sizing as the Holy Grail that some have made it out to be.
“My personal take is that I think plus is a lot of fun and that it’s for people who want to have a good time and do it comfortably and safely,” said Brown. “But it’s maybe not for the rider who is trying to set records. Plus gives you that added margin of error when you are going into a corner, and they float over a lot of stuff that would kick you around on a smaller tire. At the same time if you’re an expert rider there are things you may not like, like hitting something on the trail and getting bounced offline because of the undamped forces you can get from a plus tire.”
If you opt for plus, Maxxis is pushing the idea that 2.8 is the way to go as opposed to 3.0, which initially dominated the market.
“We feel like you get the benefits without the downsides of a larger tire,” explained Brown. “You still get huge rollover, but with less of the undamped rebound characteristics. That said, some people still want 3.0 because they ride primarily on super loose terrain where the extra traction is needed, or maybe they are doing a lot of bike packing and are looking for some extra comfort.”
Perhaps the more important question is whether any of these plus tires can hold up to the beating you can dish out on an aggressive trail or enduro bike. Heretofore the answer has often been no, as plus set-ups were plagued by a lack of reliability and durability (and yes, we managed to flat a plus tire during the camp, and had to throw a tube because it wouldn’t seal).
“Everything about these tires is a compromise,” admitted Brown. “Basically it’s been an arms race between us and the bike companies. We come out with a tire and then they come out with a bigger more capable bike. Then we come out with a tire to support that, and who knows what comes next. When plus tires first came out they weighed less than a 2.3 or 2.4 tires would. And when people were putting them on 140mm bike they were fine. But then they started putting them on 160mm bikes and it’s not enough tire. Our feeling is that if you are on a bike that has 150mm or more travel, you need to be looking at DD tires, but that’s not something we’ve brought to our plus line yet.”
For the uninitiated, DD is short for Double Down, which is Maxxis’ much loved dual-ply tire casing that’s aimed at the enduro racing crowd. It uses two 120tpi casing layers reinforced with a butyl insert, meaning it essentially delivers downhill-level protection but in a slightly lighter package. You can get DD in most of Maxxis’ more aggressive tires (think Minion, High Roller, Griffin, Aggressor) and we expect to see it soon of some of their faster rolling treads soon as well. All the Minion tires come in the Wide Trail widths as well.
Speaking of width, Brown provided interesting insight into measuring tires, explaining that Maxxis calculates all tire measurements at max pressure that’s listed on the sidewall, which can be as high as 60psi. “So if you want to get the max width,” he said, “inflate your tire to the max, and then let them sit for a few days. When you air them down to where you’ll be riding them they will be a little bigger than if you just started with riding pressure from the start.”
Just remember to not exceed the max pressure of your rim when completing this exercise.
So what does Brown run? Turns out he’s about to take delivery of a new bike (Guerrilla Gravity Trail Pistol 29er) and has been giving that exact question a lot of thought.
“I’m going to start out with a 29×2.4 Minion DHR II on the front and 29×2.35 Ikon on the back,” he revealed. “The Ikon is not Wide Trail rated, but it still sets up really nice on a 36mm inner rim, which is what I’m running. That Ikon is a killer rear tire for an aggressive travel bike like what I’ll be getting. It has tall knobs that are fast rolling, and I like to have the back tire lose traction before front so you can get a little drifty with things. But I like to change tires a lot so that will just be the starting point.”
With as good an array of options as Maxxis has right now, we’d do the exact same thing.