Tires have the unique distinction of being the direct contact point between you and the ground. As such, they are directly responsible for a bulk of the feedback a rider receives from the trail. They play a paramount role in variables such as rolling speed, vibration damping, and, most importantly, traction. Tires have vastly differing ride characteristics depending on their tread pattern and construction, and the “best” tire combinations come down to terrain and rider preference. To help point riders in the right direction, we have gathered a selection of our staff’s favorites.
Tim - Service Manager
Tire Selection: Maxxis
Front: Assegai 3C MT EXO+ 29 x 2.5
Rear: Aggressor 3C MT DD 29 x 2.3
Maxxis was long considered the gold standard for mountain bike tires, offering high-quality construction with various tread patterns and rubber compounds. Our service manager, Tim, has gone for a unique Maxxis combination, pairing a Maxxis Assegai up front with an Aggressor on the rear.
Since its release in 2018, the Assegai seems to have dethroned the Minion DHF as the go-to front tire from Maxxis. It provides consistent traction throughout its lean-angle and grips across almost every riding surface, even when moisture is involved. It doesn't roll the fastest due to its plethora of knobs, but its predictable handling characteristics and forgiving nature make it a great option for beginner riders and professional racers alike.
The Aggressor is recommended by Maxxis as a rear-specific tire, and provides fast-rolling speed that performs exceptionally well on hard-pack trails, while still maintaining sufficient bite in looser conditions. Tim has opted for Maxxis’s Double Down casing for additional protection against flats. Paired together, the Assegai and Aggressor make for a tire combo that provides a predictably reassuring grip across a wide range of terrain but excels on dry, hard-packed terrain.
“The Maxxis Assegai grips like crazy up front, while the Aggressor can be pushed to break free when I want it too. I run the Aggressor in Maxxis’s Double Down casing for added flat protection in the rear'' - Tim, Service Manager.
I had the pleasure of following Tim at Whistler Bike Park, watching him lay waste to the sea of defenseless berms. The sound of strained side knobs and Tim’s laughter echoed off the face of each berm as he pushed the limits of this tire combination. Having seen and heard firsthand how much Tim trusts this tire combo, I am intrigued to try this same Maxxis combination myself.
Rich - Marketing Manager
Tire Selection: Schwalbe
Front: Tacky Chan Super Trail x Addix Ultra Soft 29 x 2.4
Rear: Tacky Chan Super Gravity x Addix Soft 29 x 2.4
The rivalry between Maxxis and Schwalbe is comparable to that of SRAM and Shimano in the drivetrain realm. In recent years, Schwalbe has made great strides to diversify and bolster their tire lineup to compete with Maxxis. Schwalbe’s latest addition has been their Tacky Chan, a gravity-focused tire designed to perform when the clock is ticking. The Tacky Chan was developed to meet the requirements of the fastest downhill racers in the world, released after three years of pro rider feedback. While Schwalbe’s Magic Mary and Big Betty have delivered numerous World Cup wins, their riders wanted a tread pattern that combined the best of these two models' characteristics. Schwalbe delivered on their goals, with the Tacky Chan’s prototype securing 24 medals across two World Cup Downhill seasons before its official release in 2023.
The Tacky Chan looks like a heavily altered version of the Big Betty influenced by the taller, well-spaced knobs on the Magic Mary. Ramped center knobs provide improved rolling speed, while reinforced side knobs offer more cornering support than those found on either the Magic Mary or Big Betty. The Tacky Chan also has more aggressive braking edges than that of the Betty, providing increased control and better braking power.
“I recently got a set of the new Schwalbe Tacky Chan’s and mounted them up, front and rear, and have been loving them. I’ve typically run a Magic Mary in the front and Big Betty in the rear, and I feel like the Tacky Chan has taken the best of both of those tires and made it one. It’s got predictable braking traction like the Betty and grip like the Mary. So far, so good on the Tacky Chans. I’m waiting for Schwalbe to introduce the Chris Hucker tire so I can call it the Rush Hour tire combo” - Rich.
While the Tacky Chan was created to secure World Cup podiums, it also turned out to be a fantastic option for anyone who wants a faster rolling tire without sacrificing traction and braking capabilities. The Tacky Chan is available in Addix Soft and Addix Super Soft rubber compounds with casing options ranging from trail to downhill casings, providing World Cup performance regardless of the riding scenario.
Ian - Graphic Designer
Tire Selection: Maxxis
Front: Assegai 3C MT EXO+ 29 x 2.5
Rear: DHR II 3C MT DD 29 x 2.5
Our Graphic Designer, Ian, has opted for a tire combination that has become very popular amongst trail and downhill riders. The tall knobs of the Assegai penetrate deeply through both dust and loam while still offering confidence over wet roots and rocks. While some tires are condition-specific, the Assegai is highly versatile and can be used year round.
Utilizing side knobs inspired by the renowned Minion DHF and expanded for enhanced stability, the DHR II tire delivers impressive grip during braking and cornering. The central tread incorporates angled knobs for improved acceleration and grooves to seamlessly transition when leaning the bike over. Meanwhile, the paddle-shaped knobs on the central tread bite into the surface during intense braking, aiding in maintaining control over the bike.
“I love how this tire combination performs predictably regardless of terrain and can handle anything from hardpack bike park berms to loose loamy dirt,” - Ian.
The Maxis Assegai provides its astounding grip levels up front, while a Maxxis DHR II keeps things fast rolling but under control on the rear. This tire pairing is used widely due to its predictable nature and combines to make for a tire setup that riders confidently push without worrying about an unexpected loss of traction. Ian has opted to run both front and rear with a Double Down casing to provide as much impact and flat resistance possible for all of his tire burping shenanigans.
BK - Marketing
Tire Selection: Schwalbe
Front: Magic Mary Super Trail Addix Soft 29 x 2.4
Rear: Magic Mary Super Trail Addix Soft 29 x 2.4
I’ve experimented with various tire combinations, but I always return to Schwalbe’s Magic Mary for its consistent grip in the loose, saturated dirt commonly found during Bellingham winters.
The Magic Mary is an ideal example of a “mid” spike tire, as its center knobs have little to no ramping on their sharp, square edges, making for a knob that digs deep into the dirt. However, the Magic Mary isn’t as extreme as the squared-off knobs of a dedicated spike such as the Maxxis Shorty or Specialized Hillbilly, making it a viable option for a wider range of conditions. While the Magic Mary performs exceptionally well in the winter months, its profile isn’t so extreme that it can’t be run throughout drier summer months.
“The combination of immense traction and mud shedding capabilities make the Magic Mary the ideal tire for the conditions around Bellingham,” - BK.
The only downside of the Magic Mary is its propensity to roll or squirm on hard-packed surfaces such as rocks or sun-baked bike park berms. For such conditions, I typically reach for a tire like the Maxxis Assegai up front. No matter how long I spend away trying different tire combinations, I always find myself returning to the same one for its unparalleled traction and predictability in Bellingham’s loose terrain.
I’ve opted for Schwalbe’s lighter-weight Super Trail casing, which is still extremely durable without tipping the scale. The Magic Mary is available in the Addix Soft and Addix Super Soft compounds. I typically run the Addix Soft for its balance of grip and tread life. Still, as the temperatures drop in the winter, I may switch to the Addix Super Soft for a slightly more malleable rubber in colder temperatures.
Max - Shipping Manager
Tire Selection: Specialized
Front: Hillbilly T9 29 x 2.3
Rear: Butcher T9 29 x 2.3
Since revamping their lineup a few years ago, Specialized tires have become a viable option alongside the juggernauts of Maxxis and Schwalbe. Less used but undoubtedly more affordable, Specialized provides the best cost-to-performance ratio currently on the market.
Fanatik’s shipping manager, Max, has opted for Specialized’s Hillbilly tire out front, paired with a Specialized Butcher in the rear. Similar to the Schwalbe Magic Mary, the Hillbilly features well-spaced, aggressive center spikes that deliver traction in mixed/wet conditions. The Hillbilly’s larger shoulder knobs bite in sloppy conditions making it a fantastic option for wet, muddy conditions. The Butcher Max opted for in the rear is a highly versatile tire commonly spec’d as a front tire across many of Specialized’s trail bike completes. As a rear tire, the Butcher utilizes a tread pattern similar to the Massix DHR, albeit slightly more spaced out and squared off, providing more grip while having a somewhat more sluggish rolling speed.
“The Butcher/Hillbilly tire combo from Specialized has been on my bike for the last six months and has performed amazingly. The Butcher in the rear provides plenty of bite in corners while still being faster rolling. The bigger, wider set knobs on the Hillbilly have given me loads of grip and stability in the muck, which makes it an excellent choice for anybody finding themselves frequenting steeper/muddier terrain like what we have around the Bellingham area,” - Max.
Max is running both the Hillbilly and Butcher in Specialized T9 Gripton compound, an ultra-soft rubber that easily conforms to terrain, even on the coldest days. Max has been running this combination on his Transition Sentinel and has been loving the performance and durability they have provided over a six-month period.
The quest for the ideal tire isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor; instead, it’s a deeply personalized pursuit dependent on a rider’s preferences and the terrain they intend to ride. Through the tire selection process, riders should consider the balance between aspects such as grip, rolling resistance, and durability as they form the handling characteristics out on trail. Ultimately, it is a blend of personal preference and terrain demands that will culminate in your perfect tire selection, providing an on-trail feel that a rider can put their trust and cornering confidence into.
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