Search
Close this search box.
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, when you buy through our links, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

The top 8 best 26 inch tan-wall MTB tires

As the industry moved away from 26 inch as the default for MTB tires into 27.5 and 29 inch, the selection of tan-wall tires dwindled as well.

Today there are hardly any options available if you want to outfit your retro MTB with a solid pair of tan-wall tires.

Note: from a technical perspective there’s a difference between tan-wall, gum-wall, and skin-wall. Skin-wall tires are tires with minimal rubber on the sides and visible treading, whereas tan-wall or gum-wall tires have painted sidewalls.

For this article I’m using the word “tan” liberally, meaning I also use them for tires which are actually skin-wall versions.

I also will not include tires with a tire width below 2 inches. Although skinny MTB tires were the standard for nineties cross-country and trail riding, riding bigger tires is simply better in terms of grip and handling.

Maxxis DTH

Maxxis DTH
Maxxis DTH

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.

Pros and Cons

Maxxis Ikon

Maxxis Ikon
Maxxis Ikon

Verdict
The Maxxis Ikon, especially in the 3C with EXO configuration, stands out as a versatile and high-performing tire. Its cornering prowess, pedal traction, and minimal rolling resistance make it an ideal choice for XC racers seeking a tire that excels in both climbs and descents. The ease of installation and competitive pricing add to its overall appeal. While not without limitations in extreme conditions, the Ikon proves to be a reliable and well-rounded option for riders who prioritize a blend of speed and control.

The trail I most often use is the Schoorlse duinen, a mixture of steep, technical climbs, flowy single-track, and sandy stretches. It’s the ideal place to test XC and trail tires. Normally Maxxis is not well-represented here (in the Netherlands), with Schwalbe Racing Ray and Racing Ralphs being the favorite tires.

Personally I’ve been running a Racing Ralph in the rear, and a tad wider Schwalbe Nobby Nic in the front as the go-to downcountry solution. But I wanted to have a taste of the American brand and mounted a dual Maxxis Ikon 29×2.35 setup, so I would be able to feel how the tires would respond both as a front and rear tire. Here’s what I found.

Cornering
The Ikon’s cornering ability is a standout feature, thanks to Maxxis’s 3C technology. The longer-lasting rubber in the center provides stability during straight rides, while grippier rubber on the cornering knobs enhances confidence in turns. The spaced-apart knobs offer good bite, allowing for an enjoyable and secure experience in both wet and dry conditions.

Pedal Traction
The pedal traction of the Ikon is commendable. The tire’s design, especially the well-placed knobs, ensures efficient power transfer during climbs. The high volume and width contribute to a comfortable ride, absorbing trail imperfections and maintaining traction on various terrains.

Braking Traction
The Ikon’s braking traction is reliable, thanks to its well-thought-out tread pattern. The spaced and strategically placed knobs contribute to effective braking, instilling confidence on descents. However, in muddy conditions, there might be a slight reduction in performance, but it remains competitive for a tire of this category.

Rolling Resistance
True to its description as a fast-roller, the Ikon impresses with minimal rolling resistance. The tread pattern and the 3C compound contribute to a smooth ride on both roads and trails. The tire’s ability to maintain high speeds on various surfaces is noteworthy, making it an excellent choice for those who value speed.

Ease of Installation
Installing the Ikon is a straightforward process. The foldable bead is easy to pop onto the wheels, and the directional tread provides clear guidance for proper alignment. Adding a bit more sealant than usual is recommended for optimal performance. Overall, a user-friendly installation process.

Price
The Ikon, particularly the 3C with EXO version, comes at a price that reflects its quality and performance. While it may not be the most budget-friendly option in its category, the tire justifies its cost through durability, versatility, and an excellent balance of features.

Expert Experience

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.

Pros and Cons

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)
Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)

Verdict
The Panaracer GravelKing SK TLC caters to a specific niche of riders seeking a fast-rolling tire for smooth gravel and well-maintained roads. Its recognizable tread pattern and tubeless compatibility add to its appeal. While excelling in certain conditions, its limitations in wet and muddy terrain might steer riders toward more versatile options. Considering its ease of installation, rolling efficiency, and competitive pricing, the GravelKing SK TLC remains a viable choice for those with a clear understanding of their preferred riding surfaces.

Cornering:
The GravelKing SK TLC, known for its distinctive square-dot tread pattern, offers a recognizable design. While it excels on smooth gravel roads and dry hardpack, it falters in wet conditions and muddy terrain. The non-directional, low-profile tread with a grid of square dots struggles for grip in slippery situations, affecting cornering confidence. For well-surfaced fire roads and tarmac, it remains a decent choice.

Pedal Traction:
With a tubeless setup, the 38mm GravelKing SK TLC tires provide a nippy sensation on the road, demonstrating little drag from the low-profile tread. The ZSG Natural Compound contributes to good grip on various surfaces, especially on smooth gravel roads. However, in challenging conditions like muddy clay puddles, there’s a risk of wheelspin on steep climbs, affecting overall pedal traction.

Braking Traction:
The tire’s tread pattern, comprising small square knobs and a wider-spaced arrangement on the shoulder, offers decent braking traction on dry and hard surfaces. However, it falls short in wet conditions, leading to less effective braking and increased susceptibility to sliding. The compromise between grip and rolling resistance leans more towards the latter.

Rolling Resistance:
The GravelKing SK TLC lives up to its reputation as a fast-rolling tire on smooth surfaces. The combination of a low-profile tread pattern and the ZSG Natural Compound ensures a zippy and quick feeling. On tarmac, the tire rolls well with minimal noise, making it suitable for riders prioritizing speed and efficiency on well-maintained roads.

Ease of Installation:
The tubeless setup of the GravelKing SK TLC proves hassle-free, inflating easily on 23mm internal rims. The installation process is straightforward, and the tire retains air pressure well, requiring minimal topping up. The tubeless compatibility enhances the overall riding experience, reducing the risk of flats and allowing for lower pressures on off-road terrain.

Price:
Positioned as a “road plus” or gravel tire, the GravelKing SK TLC offers a good balance of performance on well-surfaced fire roads and tarmac. However, its limitations in grip and puncture protection become apparent in more variable conditions. The pricing is relatively competitive, making it a reasonable option for riders with specific terrain preferences.

Expert Experience

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.

Pros and Cons

Panaracer Smoke

Panaracer Smoke
Panaracer Smoke

Verdict
The Panaracer Smoke Dart tire combination offer a nostalgic trip to the 90s with their classic design. They excel in dry conditions, providing reliable grip for both traction and braking. However, I advise you to consider alternatives for muddy or sandy terrains. The square profile may pose challenges in terms of sudden loss of traction during aggressive cornering. The price is reasonable for those seeking a blend of nostalgia and performance in trail tires.

Panaracer Smoke Dart tires, known for their reissue of classic 90s design, have garnered attention for their nostalgic appeal and potential performance. Here’s a comprehensive review based on my personal experience.

Cornering:
The Smoke and Dart combination is strategically designed for specific wheel placement. The Smoke, with its horizontal knobs, excels in the rear for traction and braking, while the Dart’s elongated knobbies are meant for the front, providing excellent grip during cornering. However, sometimes the front tire has a tendency for the square profile to break loose suddenly in corners.

Pedal Traction:
In dry and loose conditions, the aggressive tread pattern of these 26″ x 2.1″ tires ensures ample grip. The Smoke, as a rear tire, contributes to pedal traction, while the Dart’s lateral knobs enhance grip during pedaling, making them suitable for various terrains.

Braking Traction:
The Smoke, positioned at the rear for braking, delivers commendable braking traction. The tread pattern of both tires is designed to optimize braking forces, enhancing control during descents.

Rolling Resistance:
While the 2.1″ profiles may seem skinny by modern standards, both tires offer turf-ripping grip in diverse conditions. However, there’s a noticeable drag on hard surfaces, suggesting a compromise in rolling resistance.

Price:
Pricing for the Panaracer Smoke Dart combination is around 70 euros for the pair. This places them in the average range for premium tires. The cost is considered reasonable for the performance and the nostalgic value they bring.

Expert Experience

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.

Pros and Cons

Panaracer Dart

Panaracer Dart
Panaracer Dart

Verdict
The Panaracer Smoke Dart tire combination offer a nostalgic trip to the 90s with their classic design. They excel in dry conditions, providing reliable grip for both traction and braking. However, I advise you to consider alternatives for muddy or sandy terrains. The square profile may pose challenges in terms of sudden loss of traction during aggressive cornering. The price is reasonable for those seeking a blend of nostalgia and performance in trail tires.

Panaracer Smoke Dart tires, known for their reissue of classic 90s design, have garnered attention for their nostalgic appeal and potential performance. Here’s a comprehensive review based on my personal experience.

Cornering:
The Smoke and Dart combination is strategically designed for specific wheel placement. The Smoke, with its horizontal knobs, excels in the rear for traction and braking, while the Dart’s elongated knobbies are meant for the front, providing excellent grip during cornering. However, sometimes the front tire has a tendency for the square profile to break loose suddenly in corners.

Pedal Traction:
In dry and loose conditions, the aggressive tread pattern of these 26″ x 2.1″ tires ensures ample grip. The Smoke, as a rear tire, contributes to pedal traction, while the Dart’s lateral knobs enhance grip during pedaling, making them suitable for various terrains.

Braking Traction:
The Smoke, positioned at the rear for braking, delivers commendable braking traction. The tread pattern of both tires is designed to optimize braking forces, enhancing control during descents.

Rolling Resistance:
While the 2.1″ profiles may seem skinny by modern standards, both tires offer turf-ripping grip in diverse conditions. However, there’s a noticeable drag on hard surfaces, suggesting a compromise in rolling resistance.

Price:
Pricing for the Panaracer Smoke Dart combination is around 70 euros for the pair. This places them in the average range for premium tires. The cost is considered reasonable for the performance and the nostalgic value they bring.

Expert Experience

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.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Billy Bonkers

Schwalbe Billy Bonkers
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

Expert Experience

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.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Fat Frank

Schwalbe Fat Frank
Schwalbe Fat Frank

The biggest appeal of the Schwalbe Fat Frank is that they come in a variety of great colors. Besides your standard black, you have beige, creme and tan options for both tread and sidewall. So if you’re looking to add some design flair to your ride you can get the Fat Frank with a brown tread pattern and creme sidewalls, or entirely creme.

This is not a racing tire as some of others, that are meant for slopestyle and pump track. That means it won’t be faster or lighter than those tires.

They come in a 2.35 inch width version besides the standard 2 inch. So if you can get over the weight of 975 grams per tire you’re in for both a colorful and plush ride.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Nobby Nic

Schwalbe Nobby Nic
Schwalbe Nobby Nic

Verdict
The Schwalbe Nobby Nic EVO Super Trail Addix Soft is a versatile and capable trail tire. Its strengths lie in pedal traction and overall performance in various terrains. While not the best for aggressive cornering, it excels in providing a steady and confident ride. The tire’s well-balanced attributes, combined with a reasonable price, make it a suitable choice for riders covering diverse trails and seeking a lightweight yet durable option.

Cornering:
The Nobby Nic’s updated tread pattern, with a mix of narrow and wide lugs, provides decent cornering performance. The blocks deform well over terrain, enhancing grip. However, due to its rounded shape, it’s less planted on the crown, making it better for continuous steady grip rather than aggressive cornering.

Pedal Traction:
Impressively versatile, the Nobby Nic offers excellent pedal traction. The Addix Soft compound grips well on various surfaces, ensuring a confident and steady ride even in challenging terrains.

Braking Traction:
The tire performs well in braking, thanks to its well-designed tread. The blocks and sipes contribute to effective braking traction, providing control on descents and technical sections.

Rolling Resistance:
Known for its rapid rolling speed, the Nobby Nic lives up to its reputation. The Super Trail casing, while slightly springier than some, doesn’t compromise much on rolling speed. The Addix Soft compound ensures lively and fast-rolling performance.

Ease of Installation:
Available in both Super Ground and Super Trail casings, the Super Trail version, incorporating Snakeskin and Apex sidewall reinforcement, ensures easy installation. The tire’s rounded shape and supportive sidewalls make it manageable during setup.

Price:
The Nobby Nic comes at a competitive price, offering a lightweight option without sacrificing performance. The Super Trail casing, while adding a bit to the cost, provides additional protection for aggressive riding.

Expert Experience

Drew Rohde | Editor in Chief – December 1, 2020

The Nobby Nic Super Ground tires opened my eyes in many ways as to what a lighter weight trail tire is capable of and what sort of ride advantages a lighter casing trail offers. We also saw the limitations of the SpeedGrip tread compound on certain types of terrain and obstacles. If you ride harder pack terrain, want a fast rolling tire that has a solid tread pattern, can climb, corner and brake well, these are certainly worth considering. The downside to this long lasting compound is that they won’t offer the confidence and traction on wet roots, loose terrain or angled and steep rock faces.

Pros and Cons

Specifications 26 inch tan-wall MTB tires

Name
Size
ETRTO
Weight (gr)
Tread color
Sidewall color
Compound
Puncture protection
Tire bead
TPI
Maxxis DTH
26×2.15
52/54-559
620
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO
foldable
60
Maxxis DTH
26×2.30
55/58-559
773
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO
foldable
60
Maxxis DTH
26×2.30
55/58-559
859
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO
wired
60
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
676
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO
tlr
60
Panaracer Dart
26×2.10
54-559
620
Black
Tan
ASB
foldable
Panaracer Smoke
26×2.10
54-559
620
Black
Tan
ASB
foldable
Panaracer GravelKing SK Plus (TLC)
26×2.10
54-559
610
Black
Black
ZSG Natural
AX-Alpha / ProTite Shield Plus
tlr
Panaracer GravelKing SK Plus (TLC)
26×2.10
54-559
610
Black
Tan
ZSG Natural
AX-Alpha / ProTite Shield Plus
tlr

Sources

Jeff Barber, Review: Maxxis Ikon: A Racing Tire With Bite, Singletracks, January 23, 2014
Katherine Moore, Panaracer GravelKing SK TLC tyre review, Bikeradar, November 17, 2021
Seb Rogers, Panaracer Smoke and Dart Tyres review, Bikeradar, May 19, 2008
Johan van Seijen, Panaracer Smoke Dart Review, Restoration.bike, December 7, 2021
Michael Stenning, Schwalbe Billy Bonkers Tyres, Seven Day Cyclist, March 1, 2021
Drew Rohde, Schwalbe Nobby Nic Super Ground Review, The Loam Wolf, December 1, 2020
bio vanseijen

Johan van Seijen

Founder Restoration.bike

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. 

You might also like

26 inch touring tires
26 inch tires

The top 7 best 26 inch touring tires

With this blog I’ll share my top picks for the very best 26 inch touring tires. I use several of my older-style mountain bikes for something else than trail riding and there are a couple of solid opti

Read More »
26 inch e-bike tires
26 inch tires

The top 12 best 26 inch e-bike tires

In this article I’m going to give you an overview of the best 26 inch e-bike tires.

With the explosion in popularity of e-bikes it was inevitable that tire manufacturers would come up with e-bike spe

Read More »
26 inch dirt jumper tires
26 inch tires

The top 9 best 26 inch dirt jumper tires

In this article I’m going to focus on the best 26 inch dirt jumper tires.

26 inch might seem obsolute to many mountain bikers, with everyone basically running either 27.5 or 29 inch tires. The same

Read More »
26 inch enduro tires
26 inch tires

The top 5 best 26 inch enduro tires

It’s becoming harder and harder to find a solid pair of 26 inch enduro tires. But many mountain bikers, myself included, feel there’s nothing wrong with their older-style mountain bikes. So if you enj

Read More »