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How to choose mountain bike tires

Choosing the right tyres for your mountain bike is crucial to riding your best out on the trails. But, with so many options out there, choosing the right pair can seem overwhelming.
But worry not! Bontrager has a tyre offering that’s perfect for your riding style and the trail conditions in your area. Watch the video below, follow this simple guide, and you’ll be riding more confidently in no time!

Tread: Where do you ride?

The first step in finding the right set of tyres is deciding how much tread you need. Tread determines how much traction a tyre provides, but there are trade-offs to picking a meatier option. The key is finding the pattern that provides sufficient grip for your local trails while also considering rolling resistance and weight.

Bontrager offers 6 different mountain bike tread options, which follow a simple naming structure of 0-5. Lower numbers indicate lighter, fast-rolling treads best suited for hard-pack courses. As the number increases, the tyre will have progressively larger knobs to hook up in loose terrain and provide more traction, but rolling resistance and weight both go up as a trade-off.

Everything you need to keep your aero components in top working order or fine tune your aero position.

Bontrager’s lightest tread option with the lowest rolling resistance. This is a dedicated cross-country race tread.


Ultra-fast rolling cross country tread ready to dominate the race course or crush the driest, dustiest trails.


Strikes a balance for versatility. Fast enough for dedicated cross-country riders but with enough tread to take on more trails. Excels in loose over hard-pack.


All-around option for any trail. If you plan on riding a variety of conditions and need a tyre that can handle both dusty days and light mud, this is the tread for you.


An aggressive tread that provides incredible traction and cornering performance on loose, rocky trails whether they’re wet or dry.


Deep tread designed specifically for aggressive traction in wet, rugged trail conditions.

Tread? Check.

Once you’ve selected the tread that’s most appropriate for the trails you like to ride and the weather that shapes them, it’s time to consider how aggressively you’ll be pushing your tires.

Durability vs weight: How do you ride?

Bontrager offers two lines of tyre for cross country, trail and enduro riders: XR and SE. While tread choice is primarily driven by the conditions you’ll be riding in, considering the way you ride will allow you to choose between Bontrager’s XR or SE line-up.

The main differences between XR and SE come down to durability and weight. SE tyres are beefier, with added puncture protection as well as more robust side walls, but they are slightly heavier as a result. Here’s a breakdown of the strengths and limitations of each.

XR with Inner Strength Casing

XR tyres are designed for cross country and general trail riding. This line covers the widest range of riding styles and terrain profiles, so if you’re looking for ultimate versatility, XR is the best option. XR Team Issue tyres are Tubeless Ready, with an Inner Strength Casing that features woven nylon side wall inserts mated to a single-ply construction to maximise durability for most riders while still providing a supple, lightweight tyre with great ride feel.

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SE with Core Strength Casing

SE tyres feature Core Strength Casing, which offers additional puncture protection via a nylon sub-tread insert and more robust side wall inserts. This makes SE a solid choice for aggressive riders who tend to ride rocky trails or appreciate the support of a more robust side wall while cornering at speed. They are perfect for enduro racing and the aggressive rider looking for a tyre that can stand up to the most rugged trail conditions.

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Width: Traction and compliance versus weight and precision

Now that you’ve selected the ideal tread and construction for the way you ride, the next consideration is width. Bontrager offers XR and SE mountain bike tyres ranging from 2.0 - 3.0˝ wide, with a wide range of choices in between.

As with tread, the question comes down to traction versus weight. Wider tyres grip better, and let you run lower tyre pressures for a smoother ride over rough terrain, but they weigh a little more and can feel less precise in rough terrain. The best way to find the width that works best for you is to try a variety of options, but these profiles are a good place to start.

Cross country racing on rims up to 30 mm inner width: 2.0-2.4˝

Cross country racing on rims up to 30mm inner width

General trail riding on rims up to 30 mm inner width: 2.20-2.6˝

General trail riding on rims up to 30mm inner width

All varieties of trail riding on mid-fat rims around 40 mm rims: 2.8-3.0˝

All varieties of trail riding on midfat rims around 40mm rims

Wider tires, less pressure

Remember to adjust tire pressure as you adjust tire width. Personal preference plays a large role here, but wider tires tend to have more overall volume and perform better at slightly lower pressures.

Be confident in your decision

There are a lot of options out there, but by taking it one step at a time, starting with tread, then considering construction and finishing at tyre size, you will find the right tyre for you. Luckily, you don’t need to worry much about making the wrong decision, thanks to our Unconditional Bontrager Guarantee. You have 30 days to ride your new tyres and decide if they’re right for you. If it turns out that you made the wrong choice, simply exchange them for another pair! It’s that simple!

Our tires build strong kids

$1 from the sale of every Bontrager mountain bike tire supports the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. NICA is one of the fastest-growing high school sports in the country, and Trek is proud to support their efforts to provide opportunities for all American youth to build stong body, mind, and character through mountain biking.

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