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The top 7 best 26 inch MTB trail tires for 2023

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-condtion 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.

Continental Mountain King ProTection

The Continental Mountain King ProTection is a very lightweight, vey 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.

Continental Mountain King ProTection Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Extremely lightweight, fast trail tire
Reasons to avoid
None

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.

Continental Trail King ProTection Apex Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Very fast allround trail tire, that's extremely puncture resistant.
Reasons to avoid
Not the trail tire with the most grip.

Maxxis Minion DHF

When you’re looking for a mountain bike tire it’s almost impossible not to have heard of the Maxxis Minion DHF. The reason being it’s like the ultimate fit-and-forget mountain bike tire on the market. That means that the tire is just about perfect for any local trail riding, to enduro and downhill races.

The tread pattern shows that this tire prefers to sit on your front wheel. You can opt to put another fan favorite, the Maxxis Minion DHR II, at the back. That tire has horizontally aligned knobbies for increased braking power.

Its popularity ensures there are many options to choose from, both with respect to size, as well as casing. And all of them offer either the EXO sidewall protection, or Double Down breaker. For those with a penchant for tan sidewalls, there are those as well.

On its own, or paired with the Minion DHR II, the Maxxis Minion DHF is such a no-brainer that it’s hard to not recommend it to anyone for allround trail-riding and downhill.

Maxxis Minion DHF Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Superb allrounder with loads of sizing / compound combinations possible. Combines with Maxxis Minion DHR II for an excellent allround trail setup.
Reasons to avoid
None

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 breaking but also gives more traction when going uphill. Both tires have the same side knobs to maximise 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 witth the Minion DHF, the Maxxis Minion DHR II is a fantastic and confidence inspring tire that will take your downhill rides to the next level.

Maxxis Minion DHR II Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
One of the best rear tires available, combines with Maxxis Minion DHF for an excellent allround trail setup
Reasons to avoid
None

WTB Trail Boss 2.25

The WTB Trail Boss 2.25 is a great, premium allround trail tire with fast-rolling XC characteristics. Its densily 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 condtions for aggressive XC and trail riding, or mounted in the rear for a faster-rolling, lightweight enduro option.

A great allround option for people who prefer fast and relatively straight.

WTB Trail Boss 2.25 Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Fast-rolling, grippy tire for aggresive XC and trail riding.
Reasons to avoid
Might be to light for some in rough conditons

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

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

Specifications 26 inch MTB trail 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
859
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO/Silkworm
wired
Maxxis DTH
26×2.30
55/58-559
773
Black
Tan
Dual
EXO/Silkworm
foldable
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
676
Black
Tan
DUAL
EXO
tlr
Panaracer Dart
26×2.10
54-559
620
Black
Tan
 
 
foldable
Panaracer Smoke
26×2.10
54-559
620
Black
Tan
 
 
foldable
Panaracer GravelKing SK
26×2.10
54-559
590
Black
Tan
ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) Natural
Advanced Extra Alpha Cord
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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