In this article I’m going to give you my top picks for the best 26 inch gumwall mountain bike tires.
Gumwall tires have made a huge comeback the last couple of years. With the growth of gravel bikes came a variety of designs sporting colored sidewalls, reminiscent of vintage road bikes. And with it came a demand that saw gumwall tires move into the mountain bike arena as well.
True gumwall or skinwall tires are lighter than standard tires, because they forgo added sidewall protection for a reduction in weight and an increase in suppleness. These tires did not use the black compound for the center tread on the side, hence the difference in color.
That being said, tire brands have of course jumped the gum wall bandwagon because there’s money to be made, and created a supply for an increasing demand for these tires. That means that sometimes tires that look like true gumwalls are simply tires with the black compound given a nice tan color. This means you adhere to the aesthetic aspect while maintaining the increase in sidewall protection.
The tires on this list that have painted sidewalls are the Schwalbe Nobby Nic and Billy Bonkers. All of the other tires are true tanwalls. So without further ado, here’s my list of 26 inch gumwall mountain bike tires.
The Maxxis DTH is by far the tire I most often see on (retro) MTB builds, and for good reason. It’s a gorgeous-looking semi-slick tire that’s exceptionally fast because it’s meant for BMX, dirt-jumping, and pump tracks.
That means the tire has a racing pedigree, which brings both fast-rolling characteristics, and grip with it. It’s wrapped in a very lightweight package. And because of its intended usage on the race track, it also means the tire is great for gaining momentum quickly.
Maxxis is known for providing a wide range of high-quality tires, and with the added benefit of providing both a standard black and tan version, it’s no wonder many older mountain bikes get outfitted with a pair of these.
Sizes range from 2.15 up to 2.3 inches, which will make for a great-looking setup with a very plush road feel.
The absolute cross-country king in Maxxis’ lineup. The Maxxis Ikon has near perfect all-round tire characteristics, which makes it an excellent option for diverse road and trail conditions. Though it’s categorized obviously as an XC tire, it’ll also perform superior for bikepackers and gravel riders.
That being said, this is a racing tire, which means it’s light. But the reliable EXO compound, also used for harsher enduro racing, also means you’ll enjoy this tire for many miles.
As with any tire with this type of tread, it’ll perform well in dry conditions. The 26 inch version has both a 2.35 and 2.2 inch width option. You can run this tire both front and back, and might opt for the wider version in the front for some added grip. Especially if you expect some portions of your ride to be particularly rough.
It’s undeniable that the top-of-the-line products of Maxxis are superior to many if not all of their competitors. And the Maxxis Ikon shows it, with a perfect blend of weight, speed, grip, and protection.
Jeff Barber | Editor in Chief – January 23, 2014
I think a better description for the Ikon (and one that Maxxis even uses themselves) is “all-rounder.” The knobs are long enough and spaced far enough apart to give good bite in the straights and the corners. I’ve experienced excellent results in both wet and dry conditions, and find myself able to push the envelope a bit more in the turns on these tires compared to others I’ve tested.
Schwalbe Billy Bonkers
The Billy Bonkers is Schwalbe’s answer to the popularity of the Maxxis DTH for pumptrack and slopestyle. They also come in an extremely light 490 grams 26 inch version, making it the perfect tire for fast city flying, gravel and cross country riding.
The Billy Bonkers also comes in a tan-wall version, but you’ll have to stick with a 2.1 inch width, because that’s the only one in Schwalbe’s lineup. The German brand has made a racing tire, which also proves to be very fast and grippy.
It’s a tough choice to make between the two. One isn’t necessarily better than the other
Michael Stenning | Site Owner – March 1, 2021
The Billy Bonkers aren’t just for jumping and similar duties. They’re surprisingly quick and super compliant, so a good choice for those seeking a budget tyre that will bowl along the tarmac quite nicely and allow exploration and spirited detours. There are better choices for laden, mixed terrain touring but if you’re looking to experiment without blowing heaps of cash, the Billy Bonkers could be a winner.
The Panaracer Smoke is a classic reissue of a very popular tire with the same name from the early nineties.
The tire comes in both a black and light tan wall option, with the latter being much more popular for obvious reasons.
The Panaracer Smoke is meant to be ridden with the Panaracer Dart. With the Smoke going on the rear wheel and the Dart on the front. This classic combination will serve you best if you go cross-country and light trail riding.
The Panaracer Smoke has the classic tread pattern of a rear tire, with horizontal knobbies for increased braking and traction. But it’s not uncommon to use them both front and back.
Seb Rogers | Contributor – May 19, 2008
Mud clearance isn’t great, there’s noticeable drag on hard surfaces, and some riders find the square profile has a tendency to break loose suddenly in corners, but for the most part these revived classics give the current crop of tyres a run for their money.
Both the Dart and Smoke come in a 2.1 inch width version, and being true to their vintage nature, are only meant for 26 inch wheels. 2.1 inch was considered downhill territory in the nineties.
I recommend it as the best option for purist vintage mountain bike restorers. And it so happens I’ve put both the Dart and Smoke on a 1994 Cannondale Super V.
The Panaracer Dart is a true skinwall tire, which was all the rage in the eighties and nineties. It means that the sidewall is thinner, because of a lack of black rubber used for the center tread. It means skinwall tires are lighter and more supple than their non-skinwall counterparts, but also more prone to punctures. And skinwall tend to dry out when exposed to UV light.
The Dart has elongated knobbies that follow the rotation of the wheel. These knobbies are meant to dig deep into the soil, giving you that front-wheel grip necessary for trail riding. For such a slim tire they perform pretty good on the trail.
Johan van Seijen | Senior Review Editor – December 7, 2021
Panaracer always makes very nice tires. I’ve bought a bunch of them and these Smoke and Dart are a very obvious choice for any retro build. They are a solid ride in dry conditions and will get you across the average trail.
If you don’t mind the fact whether or not you ride skinwalls I would pick a wider tire if your frame and rims hold them. Though not a true skinwall tire, the 2.3″ Schwalbe Nobby Nic provides more grip while cornering.
Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)
The Panaracer Gravel King SK has become my favorite gravel tire on the market. In my mind there are two brands that stand out from the crowd, and those are american-made WTB and their Japanese counterpart Panaracer.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Panaracer. When the gravel-craze took hold of the bicycle industry, they created the tire that would serve as the de facto standard for gravel tires with the GravelKing SK. It has just the right weight, just the right tread pattern, just the right puncture protection, and all wrapped up in a beautiful package, both in black and tan-wall options.
Deservedly so, the Panaracer Gravel King SK is in my mind the true fit-and-forget, all-weather, all-season option for gravel aficionados. But will serve those bikepackers and hard-riding daily commuters just as well.
Katherine Moore | Contributor – November 17, 2021
As a ‘road plus’ or gravel tyre for riders who tend to stick to well-surfaced fire roads and tarmac, the GravelKing SK TLC could be a good-value option.
However, for those who like to stray further afield and come across more variable conditions, these are limited by both grip and puncture protection.
Panaracer Pasela ProTite
Panaracer makes very nice mid-level priced tires. And they also offer some of the best-looking ones for retro builds. I choose the Panaracer Pasela ProTite over the normal Pasela, because it’s lighter, comes in a folding version and has better puncture protection.
The ProTite bead-to-bead protection covers is a tightly woven fabric covering the entire width of the tire, and sits in a mid-tier casing, offering a great combination of puncture protection, and low weight.
In general the Pasela ProTite are lightweight and true skin walls, that’ll look great on your bike.
Shaun Audane | Technical writer – December 24, 2017
I still rate the Paselas and reckon they’re a good bet for training – especially on older bikes where preserving originality is welcome. The wide range of sizes also means they’re worth considering for cyclo-cross or gravel bikes that double as winter trainers. That said, I’d stick with the wire beads and save £30 a pair (at RRP); while likeable, the folding versions are outclassed on value by faster-rolling, higher-pressure contemporaries.
Specifications 26 inch gumwall mountain bike tires
Schwalbe Billy Bonkers
Panaracer Pasela ProTite
ProTite Shield / 400D Lite Extra Cord
Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website.