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The top 8 best 26 inch XC tires for 2023

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 developing issues I got so frustrated I did some research in 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

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

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.

Maxxis Ardent Race Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
A highly versatile grippy XC, or aggressive, lightweight trail tire.
Reasons to avoid
None

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.

Maxxis Ardent Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
More grip than the Ardent Race. Makes for a grippy combination with the Maxis Ikon.
Reasons to avoid
None

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.

Continental Cross King ProTection Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Maximum puncture protection in a lightweight cross-country racing tire.
Reasons to avoid
None

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.

Continental Race King ProTection Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
One of the lightest mountain bike tire on the market, with excellent puncture protection. Geared towards speed in every way.
Reasons to avoid
None

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 surefooted 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.

Kenda Regolith Pro Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Durable allround tire
Reasons to avoid
None

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 loose it’s 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.

Kenda Booster Pro Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Durable and lightweight XC and dirt jumping tire
Reasons to avoid
None

Kenda Small Block Eight

The Kenda Small Block Eight is a long-running allround mountain bike tire. Considering the sizes smaller than 26 inch, you can find this tire in the bikepark as well as on the trail.

With a very densely spaced tread pattern in a lightweight package, this is a fast-rolling tire with great momentum. The 26 inch version comes in a 2.35 and 2.1 inch width.

It has a very round profile and the lack of protruding side-knobbies makes this tire more suitable for gravel riding than for pure trail riding. It’s a solid option for a MTB build used for commuting, bikepacking, and urban riding as well.

Kenda Small Block Eight Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Classic mountain bike tire, great allround characteristics, suitable for any type of riding. Fast-rolling and low weight
Reasons to avoid
None

Specifications 26 inch XC tires

Name
Size
ETRTO
Weight (gr)
Tread color
Sidewall color
Compound
Puncture protection
Tire bead
Buy at Amazon
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
676
Black
Tan
DUAL
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.35
60-559
742
Black
Black
3C MAXX SPEED
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
592
Black
Black
DUAL
 
tlr
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
657
Black
Black
3C MAXX SPEED
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ardent
26×2.25
57-559
714
Black
Black
DUAL
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ardent
26×2.40
61-559
861
Black
Black
DUAL
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ardent Race
26×2.20
55-559
686
Black
Black
3C MAXX SPEED
EXO
tlr
Continental Cross King ProTection
26×2.30
58-559
675
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection
tlr
Continental Cross King ProTection
26×2.20
55-559
565
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection
tlr
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
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
Continental Race King ProTection
26×2.20
55×559
535
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection
tlr

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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