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The top 12 best 26 inch XC tires

In this article I’m going to give you an overview of what I believe to be the top 10 best 26 inch XC tires. I did fit in a couple of options that move into trail riding territory, so you can make combos with a grippy tire up front as well.

After the rear freehub of my wheel started to develop issues I got so frustrated I did some research on some of the best vintage mountain bike wheels, with the intention of buying one of my list.

That just happened. I bought myself a gorgeous pair of Rolf Dolomite 26″ mountain bike wheels with blue rims to match the blue in the frame. The Dolomites are the strongest in the Rolf’s lineup of wheels with paired spokes.

After I had decided to spend a tidy sum of money on a new set of wheels the logical next step would be to replace the 20-year old tires as well.

Another splurge in what will be one of the last pièce de résistance for my Cannondale Super V. It’s time to start riding the thing.

Maxxis Ikon

Maxxis Ikon
Maxxis Ikon

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.

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

Maxxis Ardent Race

Maxxis Ardent Race
Maxxis Ardent Race

The Maxxis Ardent Race is a great option to mount as a very grippy dual XC setup, an aggressive XC front tire, or a lightweight, fast-rolling trail tire.

The triple compound provides a fast-rolling center with softer and grippier side knobs for added traction and cornering confidence.

In dry conditions the traction will prove to be outstanding. In wet conditions the small close-knit knobs can get packed with mud. So you’ll need to resort to a different tire if you want to ride year round without swapping tires.

Expert Experience

David Rome | Contributor – November 19, 2013

At 696g (26 x 2.2), the Ardent Race is no loop circuit race day tyre, but its weight is extremely competitive for a trail worthy tyre. It’s perfect for use front and rear on a summer trail bike, or the front tyre of a cross-country speedster to give greater cornering control, or as a rear tyre on a burlier enduro race bike.

Pros and Cons

Maxxis Ardent

Maxxis Ardent
Maxxis Ardent

If you want more grip than the Ardent Race might offer, you’ll be looking for the Maxxis Ardent. It’s a crossover tire sitting somewhere in between a trail and a cross country one.

When you resize the knobs on the Ardent Race and make them bigger, you’ll trade in a bit of speed for more grip. And that’s what they did with the Maxxis Ardent.

And trading in speed has to be taken with a grain of salt, for this is still a very fast tire, which excels on dry, hardpack trails.

Expert Experience

Jeremy Benson | Product reviewer – September 18, 2019

Depending on where and how you ride, the Ardent could be the ideal tire for you. If your trails are buff, your dirt is always good, and you aren’t attacking the gnarliest terrain super aggressively, then I think you should give the Ardent a look. If your trail riding is more XC than enduro, or maybe you’re even entering a local XC race, this fast-rolling, lightweight, and versatile tire is a great option to consider.

Pros and Cons

Continental Cross King ProTection

Continental Cross King ProTection
Continental Cross King ProTection

The Continental Cross King ProTection is the newer version of a magnificent, lightweight cross-country racer.

ProTection replaces the RaceSport moniker. It’s a three- and four ply system underneath respectively the tread and sidewall, ensuring maximum puncture protection and shieldwall tearing.

This doesn’t take away from the fact that this tire is still one of the lightest in its category. A true racer.

Expert Experience

David Arthur | Contributor – November 5, 2020

The low weight combined with the shallow tread design ensures this is a supremely rapid tyre right off the bat. Its tread pattern and rubber compound mean it works well when mounted on the front or rear, with reassuring levels of traction even when tackling technical trails.

Pros and Cons

Continental Race King ProTection

Continental Race King ProTection
Continental Race King ProTection

The Continental Race King ProTection is an extremely light tire. In the weight department it means it outshines every comparable tire from every other brand by far. And it’s also the best XC tire in the rolling-resistance department.

I cannot stress enough that with respect to speed and acceleration, a light tire makes all the difference. And tires are also the most cost-effective way to reduce the overall weight of the bike.

Try reducing a couple of hundred grams of any other bike component and be ready to spend in the hundreds of dollars. Not so the case with tires. And on top of that the tire has the advanced ProTection puncture protection, with a composite breaker and a bead to bead sidewall protection polyamide fabric.

All that speed comes at a price, because traction is not this tire’s strength when compared to other mountain bike tires. And it’s the reason this tire performs best in dry conditions.

But when riding in those conditions getting up to speed and keeping it is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It rightly deserves its name.

Expert Experience

James | Site owner – May 30, 2023

The Race King ProTection is absolutely blisteringly fast! Doing some airstrip rides alongside my friend on his fixie with road tires really showed that even ‘large’ tires can be fast now! Heck, the amount of roadies I’ve passed while coasting downhill is downright satisfying. Seriously, it felt like a whole new bike in the speed department – at least concerning regular daily riding conditions (pavement, gravel, tarmac, cobble, etc).

Pros and Cons

Kenda Regolith Pro

Kenda Regolith Pro
Kenda Regolith Pro

The Kenda Regolith Pro is similar to Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic, and as such can be used in combination with the Booster Pro as a front tire.

It’s a very solid allround option, if you want to move your bike into the direction of becoming more sure footed on the trail.

Also coming in a 2.40 inch version it means you can have a low tire pressure, grippy combo to get you through the corners. And you have to worry less when the conditions become more wet and muddy.

Expert Experience

Matt Miller | Managing editor – October 4, 2019

I didn’t suffer any punctures or tears of any kind with the Regolith, and the wear life looks great. The photos of the front tire in this article were taken after BCBR, with probably close to 300 miles of riding, if not more. I didn’t run the rear for as long, but the wear life seems similar.

Although the Regolith is billed as a quiver-killing tire that can handle multiple disciplines, I wouldn’t use it for everything. It feels like an aggressive trail tire, and one that can be run as a front in an aggressive-XC race, or as a rear in an enduro. It is however durable, capable, and a great all-around trail tire.

Pros and Cons

Kenda Booster Pro

Kenda Booster Pro
Kenda Booster Pro

The Kenda Booster Pro is the only 26 inch XC tire on this list that comes in a 2.4 inch width.

It’s unfortunate I don’t have the weight and rolling resistance numbers for that version of the tire.

The knobs are extremely densely packed with 6 in a row, so you know the tire is meant for speed and will lose its grip very fast in wet conditions.

It looks very similar to the Continental Race King RaceSport with its arrowhead like tread pattern, making it ideal for cross country and dirt jumping.

Expert Experience

Joe Mackey | Contributor – August 2, 2021

The Boosters are one of the faster tires I’ve used on a gravel bike. While these are some of the best all-around gravel tires I’ve ridden, they did show some feathering on the knobs pretty early on. A large part of this is due to the softer compound, which I would take over less traction any day. All that to say, if you’re shopping for the highest mileage tire possible, this probably won’t be the best option. Overall the Booster Pro is a solid all-rounder with confident traction and support that I would run on just about any style of gravel.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Nobby Nic

Schwalbe Nobby Nic
Schwalbe Nobby Nic

The Schwalbe Nobby Nic is the best all-round trail tire from the German manufacturer. If there’s a tire that could rival the dominance of the Maxxis DHR and DHF and its omnipresence on the trail, it’s this one.

It’s tread pattern provides loads of grip and traction. Its allround nature means it’s just as good in the front as it is in the back. And it’s also often seen as a grippy front tire for aggressive XC riding, with a faster and lighter tire in the back.

You can go up to a size 2.35 if you want to and it’s also the only tire that comes in a 26 inch tan version. So if you’re looking for a solid all-round setup, meant for every conceivable condition, dry and wet, hardpack and forest trail, and you want to ride a tan version, this is the tire for you.

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

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Schwalbe Racing Ralph
Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Schwalbe’s lineup consists of a number of highly specialized cross-country tires. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph being one of them.

As stated on the website, the Racing Ralph was designed for the rear. That’s because it has the shallowest center tread pattern, making it perfect for riding as fast as possible in dry conditions.

Although it’s meant for a combo setup with a grippier tire in the front, you could actually use it as a dual setup when bikepacking or gravel riding instead of pure XC racing.

If you want to ride as fast as possible, and maintain that speed when cornering, I suggest pairing it with a grippier front tire. You can opt for the Racing Ray, Rocket Ron, or Nobby Nic. With the Racing Ray offering the least amount of grip and the Nobby Nic the most. The Rocket Ron sits in between the three.

Expert Experience

Jeff Barber | Editor in Chief – April 28, 2023

What really convinced me this is a very fast roller is how it translates into increased momentum on the descents. I noticed myself cruising past heavier riders who usually have the freewheel advantage over me on the downs, and I could coast farther than usual on familiar sections, delaying the need to spin the pedals again. I don’t know if it’s the tread pattern, or the tire carcass, or the compound — or all three — that make this a fast rolling tire, however I am confident that it is well above average in that department.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Racing Ray

Schwalbe Racing Ray
Schwalbe Racing Ray

Where the Schwalbe Racing Ralph was designed as a rear tire, the Schwalbe Racing Ray is meant for the front. It also means that one of the most obvious choices for a Schwalbe cross country setup would be the combination of the two.

And it seems that the combination works for a lot of people better than ever. with great braking power and traction in the back and great traction and grip in the front, even for wet conditions.

Expert Experience

David Arthur | Contributor – October 23, 2020

The forward-pointing arrow-shaped and closely packed centre blocks ensure the Racing Ray is an extremely rapid tyre. It feels blistering quick compared to tyres with blockier tread patterns and when paired with a powerful driving rear tyre is a good setup for ultimate speed on a variety of courses.

It works well in most conditions with the Addix Speed compound delivering ample traction in the wet and dry, and a good predictably on slippery roots and rocks.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Rocket Ron

Schwalbe Rocket Ron
Schwalbe Rocket Ron

Both the weight and tread pattern puts the Schwalbe Rocket Ron squarely into XC territory. The evenly spaced knobs mean you always hold contact with the ground ensuring a low rolling resistance.

They are small as well, which means you need to look for the Nobby Nic if you want a more allround and grippy trail tire. But if you want a bit more speed the 640 gr. for a 2.35 inch version you can run two of these.

You should be able to confidently do light trail riding in loose and wet conditions with these tires, and the XC-oriented tread pattern combined with either the Super Ground or Super Race compound will provide you with the speed you need.

It’s worthy to note that the Schwalbe Rocket Ron performs really well in the rolling resistance department, as do all Schwalbe tires. So it’s both light and fast.

Expert Experience

Rachel Sokal | Technical writer – May 2, 2018

As well as a general improvement in durability, rolling resistance and grip, the new Addix compound from Schwalbe offers a much greater choice of characteristics to suit different riders and riding. The Speed compound is definitely that and gives the Rocket Ron vastly improved durability over the previous version. I did find front grip from the Speed a little lacking so would choose to run a grippier compound on the front and keep the faster rolling on the rear. While these tyres still aren’t cheap – sadly not many high end tyres are – the lower wear rate means that at least they won’t cost you as much in the long run to replace.

Pros and Cons

Specifications 26 inch XC tires

Name
Size
ETRTO
Weight (gr)
Tread color
Sidewall color
Compound
Puncture protection
Tire bead
TPI
Kenda Booster Pro
26×2.40
61-559
618
Black
Black
Single
tlr
Kenda Regolith Pro
26×2.40
61-559
692
Black
Black
TR
SCT
tlr
Maxxis Ardent Race
26×2.20
55-559
686
Black
Black
3C MaxxSpeed
tlr
120
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
676
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO
tlr
60
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.35
60-559
742
Black
Black
3C MaxxSpeed
EXO
tlr
120
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
592
Black
Black
Dual
tlr
60
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
657
Black
Black
3C MaxxSpeed
EXO
tlr
120
Kenda Small Block Eight
26×2.10
54-559
592
Black
Black
DTC
KSCT
foldable
Kenda Small Block Eight
26×2.35
60-559
681
Black
Black
DTC
foldable
Maxxis Ardent
26×2.25
57-559
714
Black
Black
Dual
tlr
120
Maxxis Ardent
26×2.40
61-559
861
Black
Black
Dual
tlr
120
Continental Cross King ProTection
26×2.30
58-559
675
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection casing
tlr
Continental Cross King ProTection
26×2.20
55-559
565
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection casing
tlr
Continental Race King ProTection
26×2.20
55×559
535
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection casing
tlr

Sources

Jeff Barber, Review: Maxxis Ikon: A Racing Tire With Bite, Singletracks, January 23, 2014
Jeremy Benson, Maxxis Ardent EXO Review, Outdoorgearlab, September 18, 2019
David Arthur, Continental Race King BlackChili Protection tyre review, Bikeradar, November 5, 2020
James, Race King ProTection – Best MTB bikepacking tire, Canadianomad, May 30, 2023
Joe Mackey, Kenda Booster Pro Gravel Tire Review, Gravelstroke, August 2, 2021
Drew Rohde, Schwalbe Nobby Nic Super Ground Review, The Loam Wolf, December 1, 2020
Jeff Barber, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tire Review, Singletracks, April 28, 2023
David Arthur, Schwalbe Racing Ray Addix Speed tyre review, Bikeradar, October 23, 2020
Rachel Sokal, Review: Schwalbe Rocket Ron Addix Speed. Fast XC tyres that last., Singletrack World, May 2, 2018
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. 

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