How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike Tyre Size

If you remember the fat bike craze, you immediately think of the extremely wide and abstract tyre sizes. Some even as wide the average car tyre! Fat bikes are still around and they are great fun for riding over loose and sandy terrain. However, what some do not realize is that for bicycle manufactures, the craze over fat bikes demonstrated the public’s immense interest in running wider wheels or tyres on their standard bicycles.

After a few design sessions, bike companies easily added provision for wider tyres on their race bikes and standard models. Mountain biking was one of the first industries to quickly pick up this trend of wider tyres. We saw manufacturers first introduce the idea of a 650b+ bike, which is basically a 27.5-inch wheel bike, running any tyre wider than 2.8 inches. However, this hype has since died down, due to the weight implications.

More recently riders and manufacturers have adopted a hybrid tyre width, model. Bridging the gap between narrower MTB tires and extremely, over-the-top wide tyres. That is where 2.3-inch MTB tyres are dominating. Riders are now able to take advantage of a wider wheel, without downgrading weight or handling. In fact now more than ever brands like Specialized are even including them in some of their more budget friendly bikes – straight off the shelf.

Are 2.3-inch MTB tyres the new norm?

The advantages that 2.3-inch tyres have over the standard 2.2-inch tyres, is slightly better balance on descents, and through loose sections you obtain more traction – especially downhill. Wider tyres also tend to perform better over longer distances or stage races. In fact Nino Schurter prefers 2.4-inch tyres for stage races such as the Cape Epic.

In terms of the extra grams, wider tyres are heavier. However with manufacturers are constantly creating lighter and improved rubber compounds, which off-set the extra weight. Meaning you can run wider tyres at less of a weight expense.

Your tyre choice in terms of width, should very much be influenced by the style of riding you’re doing or the terrain. For example, Downhill or Enduro riders, might opt for an even wider tyre, such as a 2.8-inch or even a 3.0-inch. Whereas an XCO racers might run tyres between 2.2 inches and 2.4 inches.

The cons of wider tyres:

Its no secrete that thinner tyres roll faster. So on sections where you have to pedal a lot, you may expend more energy running a wider tyre. Often the sidewall too of a wider tyre can feel like it wants to falter on tight corners. So it may be more prone to tyre pinches.

Choosing the right tyre size

It doesn’t matter what type of MTB discipline you do, XCO, trail, Enduro or Downhill, here is a few tips to choosing the right tyre size:

Condtions/TerrainDryLooseMuddy
Lots of Climbing?2.2-inch2.3-inch2.25-inch
Longer Distance?2.3-inch2.4-inch2.2-inch
Fast or Flowy? 2.3-inch2.4-inch or higher2.3-inch
Steep and Technical?2.25-inch2.3-inch2.4-inch
Pure Downhill?2.3-inch2.4-inch or higher2.2-inch

The first thing to look at is the conditions you’re going to be riding. Is it dry, loose, or muddy? Then look at the terrain.

Quick Tip

When purchasing a 2.3-inch MTB tyre, its always good to measure the inner width of your frame’s rear triangle, and fork width to see if your bike can accommodate it. Most modern mountain bikes will. Then try choosing one with a firm yet low resistant rubber compound, to reduce the chance of punctures.

2.4 inches. The Future?

Are we going even bigger? Growing in almost in parallel to the 2.3-inch trye trend, are 2.4-inch tyres. Which are obviously even more stable through loose sections, and on downhills. However, marginally slower on climbs. The key here is proportion. Your tyre size must be in-proportion to your bike, handling, and weight, in order to achieve the best performance. For now, I think 2.3-inch tyre fit more proportionally with the mountain bike frames currently being brought to market and enable a happy-medium between stability on descends, and speed on ascends. Perhaps in a few months we will see bike frames adapt for proportionality to 2.4-inch tyres.

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