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The top 7 best 26 inch MTB trail tires

In this article I’m going to give you what I feel to be the best 26 inch MTB trail tires money can buy.

I’ve written a lot of articles about bicycle tires and this was one of the first. This version includes a number of important updates. One of them is that I’ve made the selection more true to trail riding. This meant I’ve removed the Maxxis Ikon, which is a fantastic tire, but too XC for my taste.

New additions are the Continental’s Trail- and Mountain King. The German brand has proven itself and these two tires are worthy additions to the list. And I’ve chosen to let the Schwalbe Nobby Nic be accompanied by the Hans Dampf, to create an extremely grippy all-condition setup

The fantastic Maxxis DHR and DHF still wear the crown as probably the most dependable trail setup. And of course, as a bike restorer, I’ve added the Panaracer Smoke and Dart combination as well.

The tires with the exception of the Smoke and Dart, range from a 2.3 inch to a 2.5 inch width. So depending on your riding style, and the type of trails you ride in terms of complexity, you can vary in tire widths.

Maxxis Minion DHF

Maxxis Minion DHF
Maxxis Minion DHF

The Maxxis Minion DHF is a versatile and high-performing mountain bike tire, earning it the Editor’s Choice Award. Its exceptional cornering grip, pedal and braking traction, and durability make it a top choice for riders across different terrains. While personal preferences and specific conditions may influence the choice between the Minion DHF and DHR II, the DHF’s consistent and reliable performance on the front makes it a standout option for aggressive trail riding. Riders seeking confidence-inspiring handling and a tire that excels in various conditions should consider the Maxxis Minion DHF for an elevated riding experience.

Cornering:
The Maxxis Minion DHF shines in cornering, offering a consistent and familiar feel on the trail. The tread pattern, with squared and siped cornering knobs, provides firm reinforcement on the edge, allowing for smooth transitions into corners. The tire’s performance in cornering is intuitive and reliable, making it an excellent choice for front tire use.

Pedal Traction:
The pedal traction of the Maxxis Minion DHF is commendable, especially in steep and challenging conditions. The Maxx Terra compound strikes a balance between grip, wear, and rolling speed. The siped center tread effectively adapts to rocks, roots, and various trail mediums, providing increased traction. The tire’s support allows for lower tire pressure, enhancing the contact area with the ground and boosting overall traction.

Braking Traction:
Braking traction is a standout feature of the Minion DHF, excelling in situations that demand quick and effective stopping power. The deep and wide sipes on the center tread, along with flared leading edges, contribute to the tire’s ability to grip and control the terrain during braking. The tire is designed for loose and muddy conditions, but it performs impressively on various surfaces, including loose over hard surfaces.

Rolling Resistance:
Despite its aggressive appearance, the Maxxis Minion DHF manages to keep rolling resistance in check. The ramped knobs contribute to maintaining momentum, and the 3C Maxx Terra compound offers a good balance of soft and firm rubber for different sections of the tire. While it may not be the fastest-rolling tire, it strikes a middle ground among the tested tires in terms of rolling resistance.

Ease of Installation:
The tire’s thick-feeling sidewalls make installation manageable. The tire holds its shape, making it easy to mount on the rim without excessive flopping or folding. The grippy rubber facilitates the installation process, and seating the bead is straightforward with the use of a Booster pump.

Price:
The Maxxis Minion DHF comes in various versions, and choosing the right one may be confusing due to the plethora of options. While not the cheapest option, the tire’s price is justified by its outstanding on-trail performance, durability, and versatility. Additionally, it’s often possible to find the tire on sale.

Pros and Cons

Maxxis Minion DHR II

Maxxis Minion DHR II
Maxxis Minion DHR II

The “DH” in DHF and DHR stands for “downhill”. The “F” and “R” for “front” and “rear” respectively. The “downhill” in the name is a bit misleading, because the horizontal tread pattern of the DHR not only aids braking but also gives more traction when going uphill. Both tires have the same side knobs to maximize grip while cornering.

Maxxis intended these two tires to be used together as their go-to allround solution for trail riding. And these tires are in some many lists that it’s probably the best allround no-worries solution money can buy.

Together with the Minion DHF, the Maxxis Minion DHR II is a fantastic and confidence inspiring tire that will take your downhill rides to the next level.

Expert Experience

Jeremy Benson | Product reviewer – November 22, 2018

I’m a pretty big fan of this tire. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option for a rear tire for aggressive everyday trail riding. The combination of cornering confidence and pedaling and braking traction is hard to beat. There are faster rolling tires out there, but few that can dominate the trail like the DHR II. Mount this up as a rear tire with a Minion DHF up front and you’ve got our winning combination for aggressive trail riding.

Pros and Cons

Continental Mountain King ProTection

Continental Mountain King ProTection
Continental Mountain King ProTection

The Continental Mountain King ProTection is a very lightweight, very fast, and very grippy tire.

Just as the Trail King it comes with the BlackChili compound and ProTection multi-ply casings. That means the tires are a bit harder than their competitors, fast-rolling on dry trails, and very durable in general, with superb puncture protection and durability characteristics.

The Mountain King has better mud and dirt shedding features in the tread pattern than the Trail King. It means you can either choose for a dual setup for aggressive riding, or put the Mountain King in the front with the Trail King in the back.

Expert Experience

Pat Donahue | Senior Review Editor – September 18, 2019

The Continental Mountain King ProTection is a reliable cross country/light trail tire best suited for the rear wheel. Don’t be fooled by the Mountain King name, this tire received major updates in 2018, and this isn’t the same old Mountain King. We tested the 2.6-inch version and found it posted decent scores in most performance metrics. While this tire didn’t stand out as fantastic in any one area, it is a serviceable rear tire that offers great protection, rolls fast, and installs incredibly easy. At $70, it is a little difficult to recommend the Mountain King over some tried and true classics, but it could still be a great option for the light to mid-duty trail rider in dry climates.

Pros and Cons

Continental Trail King ProTection

Continental Trail King ProTection Apex
Continental Trail King ProTection Apex

The aptly named Continental Trail King ProTection Apex is the German brand’s allround trail-tackling solution.

It performs exceptionally well in all sorts of conditions, and might only wafer a bit on the steepest of technical downhill sections. That means this tire is a very good and lightweight all mountain solution indeed.

It’s one of the faster tires on this list, well-suited for those among you who don’t shy away from a steep climb. The tread pattern provides high levels of traction and with even the 2.8 width version sitting at just over a kilo, which is about 20 percent lighter than its competitors.

The knobs are rather spaced-out from each other, which means this might not be the grippiest tire in the front. On the flip side, riding in wet conditions is marginally improved because it’ll shed mud better and won’t clog up that easily.

Expert Experience

Pat Donahue | Senior Review Editor – September 18, 2019

The Continental Trail King ProTection Apex is a serviceable, easy-riding, tire that works best on hardpack or loam. This tire can play as a front or a rear tire, although we recommend running it in the rear if you encounter loose conditions frequently. The Trail King works well but can’t hold up against the top contenders in any of the performance metrics. This is not to say it is a bad tire. In fact, we think it fared surprisingly well on the trail, and it could be a viable option for the right rider in the right conditions.

Pros and Cons

WTB Trail Boss 2.25

WTB Trail Boss 2.25
WTB Trail Boss 2.25

The WTB Trail Boss 2.25 is a great, premium allround trail tire with fast-rolling XC characteristics. Its densely packed knobs are a good option for fast riding in dry conditions.

As it should be, the tread pattern offers enough grip in normal conditions, and is on the faster side of the mountain bike spectrum. So it’s either a solid dual setup in dry conditions for aggressive XC and trail riding, or mounted in the rear for a faster-rolling, lightweight enduro option.

A great all-round option for people who prefer fast and relatively straight.

Expert Experience

Sean Cronin | Technical Writer – November 22, 2018

I felt this tire was an excellent all-around, versatile tire well suited to racing or everyday riding. Its square, siped, simple knobs provide adequate traction on both the up and down. The slightly offset side knobs allowed this tire to maintain a consistent grip in corners over a wider degree of lean angles which increased its appeal among less aggressive riders. I questioned the tire’s durability after my initial test ride beat up the sidewalls pretty good but they hung in there like a boss.

Pros and Cons

Panaracer Dart

Panaracer Dart
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 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.

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

Panaracer Smoke

Panaracer Smoke
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.

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

Sources

Jeff Barber, The Maxxis Minion DHF Tire is Still the One to Beat, Singletracks, August 24, 2023
Jeremy Benson, Maxxis Minion DHR II Review, Outdoorgearlab, November 22, 2018
Pat Donahue, Continental Mountain King ProTection 2.6 Review, Outdoorgearlab, September 18, 2019
Pat Donahue, Continental Trail King ProTection APEX 2.6 Review, Outdoorgearlab, September 18, 2019
Sean Cronin, WTB Trail Boss TCS Tough/Fast Rolling 2.25 Review, Outdoorgearlab, November 22, 2018
Johan van Seijen, Panaracer Smoke Dart Review, Restoration.bike, December 7, 2021
Seb Rogers, Panaracer Smoke and Dart Tyres review, Bikeradar, May 19, 2008
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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