Downcountry is all the rage right now. Bike manufacturers are making cross-country bikes with more suspension, more progressive geometry, and more capable components. Aggressive XC bikes are here to stay.
But what kind of rubber do you put on those bikes? It’s not always easy to figure out.
Cross-country mountain bike tires are super fast, but they may have trouble holding onto the lines you can hit with a bike with 120mm of suspension. And the tires you see specced on trail bikes are huge and heavy.
There’s a middle ground: the aggressive XC tire. Here are 10 that should be on your list if you want to go fast without giving up the ability to shred corners.
Best MTB Tires 2020
While Maxxis advertises the Forekaster as a late-season and wet-condition tire, it’s actually perfectly set up for downcountry riding. The center blocks are closer-set than you’ll find on some trail tires, but not so close that you’re giving up traction. And they’re full of square back edges for extra braking power.
Where the Forekaster really shines, though, is with big, offset shoulder knobs. It’s still a round-profile tire, but you can lay this thing over on its side with a lot more confidence than you could a standard XC tire. You don’t see the Forekaster around a lot on the trails right now, but you can bet that it will gain in popularity.
The Forekaster is available in sizes up to 2.6″ wide. Run it front or rear.
Like the XR2, this tire has small, low center knobs for great rolling speed. But it takes the side knobs from the XR4 to provide even more cornering stability. Like many aggressive XC tires, it has a bit of a “semi-slick” look, but not quite as slick.
This tire is a little weird-looking at first; you won’t see many options with as much contrast between the center and shoulder knobs as this one (unless they’re fully semi-slick). But that’s why it’s such a perfect fit for the downcountry bike. Its primary focus is speed, but it doesn’t let up when the going gets rough.
The XR3 is available in sizes up to 2.8″ wide. Run it front or rear.
The Fast Trak has long been a favorite of riders looking for high rolling speed on hardpack conditions. The CONTROL version adds more consistent cornering ability with more aggressive shoulder knobs. They aren’t that much bigger than the Fast Trak side knobs, but it makes a difference.
Notably, though, you don’t lose the very closely spaced center knobs. There’s almost no gap, meaning you get fantastic rolling on hard surfaces. These might pack up with mud in the rainy season, but if you’re in the dry Mountain West area, that probably won’t be an issue.
The Fast Trak CONTROL is available in sizes up to 2.3″ wide. Run it front or rear.
Another tire that’s often picked for wet conditions, the Nobby Nic also has its place on technical cross-country rides. Those widely spaced blocks won’t be as fast on hardpack as some of the other tires on this list, but if you’re in softer conditions, they’ll bite.
Still, the knobs are pretty low compared to burly trail tires, so they won’t hold you back as much as some of the other options you might have at this level of grip. The wide variety of rubber compounds on offer from Schwalbe also means you can prioritize speed and rolling resistance or grip.
The Nobby Nic is available in sizes up to 3.0″ wide. Run it front or rear.
At first glance, the Barzo looks a lot like the Forekaster and the Nobby Nic — those blocks are moto-style with a lot of edges. But when you look closer, you’ll see that the blocks actually aren’t all that square; they have very interesting curved edges. This tire keeps the popular alternating center blocks and supplements with big shoulder knobs.
There’s a reason that this tire has been used to win the BC Bike Race and can be seen on World Championship cross-country bikes. It’s designed to be ridden fast, but won’t let you down when things get a little gnarly.
The Barzo is available in sizes up to 2.6″ wide. Run it front or rear.
The Rocket Ron looks like the Forekaster. Like, a lot like the Forekaster. But you’ll almost certainly pay quite a bit more for this one. Why would you do that? Because it’s insanely light. The 29″ x 2.25″ tire with SnakeSkin protection weighs a scant 570 grams. That’s 70 grams lighter per tire than the Forekaster in a 2.2″. And that’s without EVO tire protection from Maxxis.
And because you can choose from a wide range of sizes and compounds, you can customize the Rocket Ron to work best with your downcountry rig (with Schwalbe, it’s often a good idea to run the Speed compound in back and the Speedgrip compound up front).
The Rocket Ron is available in sizes up to 3.0″ wide. Run it front or rear.
The Rekon is an “aggressive trail tire inspired by the Ikon,” a classic cross-country tire. But where the Ikon will slide out in corners without much trouble, the Rekon provides quite a bit more grip. Ramped center knobs keep rolling resistance low, but more aggressive shaping means they’ll give you some braking power and cornering control.
The biggest difference you’ll notice if you’ve been riding an Ikon, though, is the shoulder knobs. They’re far and away more useful than those on the Ikon. Maxxis might call this a trail tire, but it’s a far cry from a Minion.
The Rekon is available in sizes up to 2.6″ wide. Run it front or rear.
If you liked the closely spaced center knobs of the Fast Trak Control, you’ll love the Cross King. At the very center of the tread, there’s almost no space between the knobs. They’re packed super close for extremely fast rolling on hard surfaces.
The corner knobs are pretty closely spaced, too, meaning you won’t get as much traction as you would with some of the other tires on this list, making this a better rear than a front tire. But if you usually ride on hard surfaces with good grip, you may be willing to make that sacrifice.
The Cross King is available in sizes up to 2.3″ wide. Run it front or rear, but consider something with a bit more bite up front.
This semi-slick is meant to be blazing fast as a rear tire. Small, closely packed center knobs keep you rolling at high speed, but the much larger side knobs will keep you planted in the corners. They also help with braking control, but don’t expect a huge performance boost there.
Like other Schwalbe options, you can choose from a wide variety of sizes and rubber compounds. Which makes this a good tire for many different conditions — though you probably won’t want to use it much outside of the dry hardpack of mid-summer.
The Rock Razor is available in sizes up to 2.6″ wide. Run it as a rear. There’s no case where this will perform as a front tire.
The Cumberland is a near-semi-slick with some serious corner knobs, similar to a Minion SS. The center knobs are closely spaced for minimal rolling resistance, but they’re also squared off for better braking performance. Where the Cumberland shines is in its massive shoulder knobs. If you’re used to XC tires, you’ll be amazed.
Unfortunately, the Cumberland only comes in plus sizes (27.5″ x 2.8″ and 29″ x 2.6″), but these sizes are becoming increasingly common on aggressive XC bikes.
The Cumberland is available in sizes up to 2.8″. Run it as a rear. There’s not enough tread for a front here.