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The top 6 best 26 inch tan-wall MTB tires for 2023

In this article I’m going to give an overview of the 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 different 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 inch. 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

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.

Maxxis DTH Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Exceptionally fast racing tire. Tan options available. Fantastic tire for MTB builds, with excellent puncture protection.
Reasons to avoid
None

Maxxis Ikon

The absolute cross-country king in Maxxis’ lineup. The Maxxis Ikon has near perfect allround 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.

Maxxis Ikon Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
The cross-country king. Highly versatile tire which excels in XC, bikepacking, and gravel, lightweight. Can be used front and rear. Pair with Ardent Race in the front for ultra-fast yet grippy XC setup. Tan options available
Reasons to avoid
None

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 afficionados. But will serve those bikepackers and hard-riding daily commuters just as well.

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC) Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Superb allround gravel tire, very lightweight, with excellent puncture protection, ride characteristics, and with japanese build quality.
Reasons to avoid
None

Panaracer Smoke

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.

Panaracer Smoke Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
The ultimate retro trail tire. Can be used both front and back.
Reasons to avoid
Single 2.1 inch size

Panaracer Dart

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 were all the rage in the eighties and nineties. It means that the sidewall are 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.

Panaracer Dart Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
The ultimate retro trail tire. Best used with the Panaracer Smoke, with this one in the front.
Reasons to avoid
Single 2.1 inch size

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

Schwalbe Billy Bonkers Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Very lightweight tire, with tan option available. Great grip, and rolling-resistance characteristics. Fantastic option for MTB builds.
Reasons to avoid
None

Specifications 26 inch tan-wall MTB tires

Name
Size
ETRTO
Weight (gr)
Tread color
Sidewall color
Compound
Puncture protection
Tire bead
Buy at Amazon
Maxxis DTH
26×2.30
55/58-559
773
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO/Silkworm
foldable
Maxxis DTH
26×2.30
55/58-559
859
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO/Silkworm
wired
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
676
Black
Tan
DUAL
EXO
tlr
Panaracer GravelKing SK
26×2.10
54-559
590
Black
Tan
ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) Natural
 
tlr
Panaracer Dart
26×2.10
54-559
620
Black
Tan
 
 
foldable
Panaracer Smoke
26×2.10
54-559
620
Black
Tan
 
 
foldable
Schwalbe Billy Bonkers
26×2.10
54-559
490
Black
Tan
ADDIX
 
foldable

Bicycle tire puncture resistance

EXO, GreenGuard, AGC, AEC, ATC, do you ever get confused with all the jargon related to puncture protection. I know I did? That’s why I’ve written a separate article about puncture resistance technologies. That way, you’ll be able to better understand what’s out there and if it’s worth your money.

Johan van Seijen

FoundeR Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His passion for cycling in general, and restoring older bikes turned into a website to share his knowledge with a broader audience. Starting out on his father’s road bike and riding classics as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege he has shifted his attention to trail, XC, and gravel riding since. No matter how much he loves writing about everything related to cycling, nothing beats actually using his ever-expanding bicycle collection.

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