Tread pattern, sidewall, compounds, durometer, size, bead technology. 45 variants just for the Minion DHF. Holy crap it's confusing! You better choose a good tire as it's the single most important gear decision you'll make - by a long shot.
He're the fool proof guide to picking the right tires for trail riders in the Pacific Northwest. From Ashland, through Portland, Seattle and the North Shore of Vancouver, up through Whistler and Pemberton, the answers are clear as a face full of November loam. If you're clad in spandex, rockin' team kit, and only care about how fast you climb, then move along, this isn't for you. This is for riders doing big climbs for rowdy descents. Endu Mountain biking!
Most of us aggressive riders run "normal" width tires. The wider plus tires that are becoming popular tend to explode when pushed hard, and are better for mellow riders or as your third bike. Keep it between 2.3" and 2.6", and you'll be all good.
What are the best mountain bike front tires?
The big two are the Maxxis Minion DHF and the Magic Mary. The DHF has an edge as the best all-rounder, especially if you gravitate (see what I did there?) toward flow trails or summer conditions. The Mary is the better choice if loamers or mud are your thing. They're both amazing tires, so just pick one and go for it.
Maxxis Minion DHF
Width: Get the 2.5 WT. Maxxis claims they are for 30-35mm inner width rims, though I have friends who like them on the older Stan's Flow EX at 25.5mm. A Maxxis 2.5 is about the same as a Schwalbe 2.35, so keep that in mind.
Rubber Compound: This is critical! I recommend the 3C MaxxTerra compound. You can run this as either a front or rear tire, and many of us start with it in the front, and then rotate it to the rear when it's partially worn, putting a freshy on the front. It's a great tire in the dry, in the wet, riding pretty much anything, anywhere.
Stepping it up a notch, I sometimes run the softer 3C MaxxGrip. You'll get better wet grip, it won't last quite as long, and you'll find it slow rolling if rotated to the rear. This is splitting hairs, so if you're not sure, get the MaxxTerra.
Sidewall: Run the EXO. It's a fairly light, single-ply sidewall. If you're blasting hard enough to need the heavier DoubleDown sidewall or an insert like the Huck Norris, you probably already know everything about tires and aren't reading this anyway. EXO weights: 27.5" - 945 g, 29" - 1005 g.
Here's your front tire: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5WT EXO 3C MaxxTerra
Schwalbe Magic Mary
Width: Get the 2.35, as these run fairly large. These work great on rims from 25-32mm inner width.
Rubber Compound: Get the Addix Soft compound, the one with the orange line down the tire. Unlike the DHF, these don't make a good rear tire, they roll too slow. Rolling resistance does not matter on the front.
Sidewall: Run the SnakeSkin, which is on the lighter side. Again, if you're killing sidewalls, you probably know what you need, and can look at the heavier SuperGravity. SnakeSkin weights: 27.5" - 835 g, 29" - 885 g.
Here's your front tire: Schwalbe Magic Mary 2.35 SnakeSkin Addix Soft
I had previously recommended the TRS Race. The updated version of the tire is even more square than the already-square original version, and is now firmly into weird tire territory. It has fantastic cornering grip on anything soft, but it feels odd cornering on firm surfaces and lacks predictability rolling off-camber rock faces. No longer recommended.
What are the best mountain bike rear tires?
In the world of rear tires you need to consider rolling resistance as well as all-out grip.
A lot of riders will run a partially worn DHF MaxxTerra in the rear. It doesn't brake as well as a DHRii or roll as fast an as Aggressor, but it's a good rear tire, and I've got no complaints when I run them, winter or summer.
Don't be tempted by an ultra fast rolling, long-lasting (hard rubber) rear tire for wet weather riding. It'll suck, and you'll hate winter riding. Get the sticky rubber or don't bother venturing out.
Maxxis Minion DHRii
The DHRii is an amazing tire for wet weather riding. It rolls admirably fast, brakes and corners well, and has great traction on wet roots and rocks. There's some BS out on the web that the DHF rolls faster, but these pundits haven't actually tried them back-to-back. The DHRii has shorter center knobs and rolls faster than a DHF.
Width: Get the 2.4 WT. On narrower rims, 28mm or less, the 2.35 is a good option, but the side knobs aren't as robust.
Rubber Compound: You want the MaxxTerra. It's got great grip in the wet, and lasts reasonably long. If you're tempted by the faster rolling Dual compound for dry riding, you should probably get an Aggressor.
Sidewall: As as with the DHF, get the EXO unless you know what you're doing and need the heavier Double Down casing. EXO weights: 27.5" - 900 g, 29" - 955 g.
Here's your rear tire: Maxxis Minion DHRii 2.4WT EXO 3C MaxxTerra
The Agressor has tighter knob spacing and a harder rubber than the DHRii. It rolls faster, lasts longer, and is a great tire in the drier months. In the summer I find it gives up little to the DHRii. In the winter, it's not near as grippy. I'll happily run the DHRii year round, but not the Aggressor.
Width: Get the 2.5 WT. If you're on a rim less than 28mm inner width, then the 2.35 is the better option.
Rubber Compound: It only comes in the hard Dual Compound, which is why it's a dry season tire. This is a long-lasting tire.
Sidewall: As as with the other Maxxis tires, get the EXO, unless you know you need the Double Down. EXO weights: 27.5" - 915 g, 29" - 980 g.
Here's your rear tire: Maxxis Aggressor 2.5WT EXO
You want enough pressure that you don't immediately flat spot (aluminum) or crack (carbon) your rear rim, but as low as you can go without the tires getting squirmy.
For front, start in the 21 - 25 psi range, depending on rider weight and terrain. At 195 lbs I run 22-24 psi on my 31.6mm rims, but I have to go a couple psi higher on my old backup rims that are only 23mm wide. I run higher pressures in the summer than I do in winter. Schwalbe Snakeskin casings are fairly light, so I run an extra psi or 2 in them for support.
In the rear start in the 25 - 30 psi range. I run 25 - 28 psi, but on certain gnarly, rocky trails there's no way I'm in the low end of that or I'll crack (another) carbon rim.
There are a lot of variables here. Rocky terrain? Go higher pressure. Heavier rider? Go higher pressure. Narrower rims? Go higher pressure. Wet roots? Go lower pressure. Smashing berms? Go higher pressure. Sandy trails? Go lower pressure.