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I'm searching for new tires for my MTB, but I'm lost with the many options available, even within a single brand (like Maxxis). Under "Mountain" category alone, Maxxis lists 22 diferent tires, every one with many variants by size, compound and bead, while the only visible difference for me is the tread pattern.

I understand that big knobs are better for mud, and small/none ones are better for hard surfaces, but how you translate the tread pattern (beside knob size) into handling characteristics? Can you look at a tread and says what it's good for? Is "climbs and brakes with authority thanks to the opposing parallelogram center tread design" (Maxxis Advantage) just marketing speak or it's for real?

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Great question, one that I am interested in myself. Here is a start: MTB tires: why the extended thread on the edges? You might also consider reading the "tire" tag questions on the site. This question would make for an excellent summary + an index of the related threads. – Vorac Aug 29 '13 at 14:58
Here's one reference for you: – Daniel R Hicks Aug 29 '13 at 15:34

There's not really a science to tread pattern the way you're hoping for. Sure, there are some basics that you've already caught on to. But there are many, perhaps infinitely many, variables involved in how a tire will handle once you get it into the real world.

Yes, most of the wording on a brand's web site is just marketing speak. Even so, you're better off just trusting what the manufacturer recommends the tire be used for ( downhill cx/ wet/mud/gravel etc ) rather than spending so much time picking apart the details.

To make things easier on yourself, find someone you know that's done this before or ask this site for a recommended and reliable brand. Once you've got a brand you can trust, use their web site to narrow down your selection and just give some tires a try. You've got to start somewhere.

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Ask the guys you ride with and also complete strangers you meet on the trail, what they use and why. My guess is 9/10 times it was on the bike already, or it was on special.

I have ridden for years, have a range of tires I have tried. Some I have liked better than others, mostly its a trade between speed, traction for braking and acceleration (not my strongest point anyway) and cornering.

A tire is a compromise of the following

  • weight
  • cost
  • Straight line performance (one and/or both directions)
  • Cornering (Predictability and maximums)
  • Puncture resistance

Add to this the types of terrain being ridden (the list gets bigger)

  • Rock
  • Dirt
  • Sand (soft)
  • Hard pack
  • Pavement

Then add

  • Wet
  • Dry

If you are a casual weekend warrior like me, you got to the LBS, ask them for a tire for the trails you regularly ride (which they should know) and hope they gave you something half decent.

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In "straight-line peformance" you might want to split that into traction and rolling resistance categories. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 31 '13 at 12:14
I agree with most people just using whatever came on the bike originally. However, once you own a bike long enough that the tires wear out, it's pretty likely that you're not just a casual cyclist, and will probably choose a tire on some actual merits, like puncture resistance or weight. Although I guess many people don't look at actual tread pattern. Although I'm a road cyclist so most people I bike with have little-to-no tread on their tires. – Kibbee Aug 31 '13 at 16:30

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