In this article we’re going to cover one of my favorite subjects: speed. More specifically, I’m going to give you my top picks for the fastest 29 inch MTB tires.
I started out my cycling career on a road bike. And with road bikes tire speed is pretty simple, or so I thought. My general thought strategy was that a 21 mm tire inflated to the point of bursting would do the trick.
That’s not true, and not even close when considering mountain bike tires. A high tire pressure would catapult you off the bike when hitting the first bump, and mountain biking is much more dynamic than road cycling.
The fastest MTB tires are found in the XC discipline, categorized by low weight for acceleration, smaller knobbies for lower rolling-resistance, and smaller widths so as not to have a large footprint to hold you back. These tires also offer harder compounds to decrease rolling resistance.
So that’s the category I’m going to be focusing my attention on. With that out of the way, here’s my overview of the fastest 29 inch MTB tires.
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 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.
Maxxis Ardent Race
The Maxxis Ardent Race is a great option to mount as both front and rear 26 inch XC tires. But paired with the Maxxis Ikon in the back you have a very speedy setup with EXO casing protection, that adds more grip to the front where it matters most.
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.
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.
The Maxxis Pace is a cross country tire with the most minimal tread pattern in Maxxis’ XC lineup.
It’s an excellent tire if you want to keep the MTB nature of your bike, being able to ride comfortably and confidently on other surfaces than flat tarmac. The tire has excellent rolling-resistance characteristics which makes it perfectly suitable for urban riding, while the minimalistic knobbies still provide enough bite for hardpack and gravel riding in dry conditions.
And with a 2.1 inch width the tires don’t feel out of place on your 29er. Furthermore it displays other features of a fullblown mountain bike tire, with it being tubeless compatible and having Maxxis EXO puncture resistance in a relatively lightweight package of 650 grams.
Maxxis Rekon Race
The Maxxis Rekon Race is a perfect allround option to use as a 29 inch gravel tire.
Multiple widths are available from 2.25 up to 2.40 inches. In general the entire premium lineup of Maxxis are great tires, and I particularly like the Rekon Race.
The reason is that the tire provides lots of grip for true gravel riding in dry conditions. And if there’s one thing I love to do is moving through a forest at lightning speed.
Maxxis often makes heavier tires than the counterparts of either Continental or Schwalbe, but their EXO casing has proven over the years to be extremely reliable. And speed is great, but reliability is more important if you ask me.
And in the end weight isn’t the only factor that makes up a high-quality tire. And I firmly believe the 120 TPI versions are fantastic tires for your gravel setup.
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.
Specifications fastest 29 inch MTB tires
Johan van Seijen
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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