Different disciplines place different requirements on tires, demanding specific features tailored to each use. Trail/all-mountain tires show a combination of reduced weight for climbing and acceleration, along with traction and protection against pinch flats. When choosing, err on the side of protection, width, and increased knob height/volume. Look for Reinforced sidewalls, but stop short of full DH casings. Schwalbe’s Snake Skin casing is a good example.
Cross-Country tires must be lightweight and have low rolling resistance above all. Go with single-ply sidewalls if rocks and technical terrain are not issues. Very low profile knobs cut down weight and increase rolling speed.
When choosing downhill tires, flat protection and cornering speed are your main concerns. DH tires have beefy casings for pinch flat protection and structure to run low pressure. Large volume, aggressive knobs dig in and grab through turns and provide confident bike handling and effective braking.
Nothing will change the ride on your existing bike quite like a fresh set of rubber. The correct choice for you is going to depend on your local trail conditions, your riding style, and your skill level. It’s okay to mix and match brands for front and rear tires to get the perfect combination. When asking for opinions on tires, keep in mind everyone’s preferences on what factors are most important will be a little different. But with this primer on tire performance, you should be able to decode the complexities of all the tire options available and get the set that is going to work best for you. Use the chart below as a starting point when looking for an effective front/rear tire combination.