Too many great choices?

Knobby tires are the reason a mountain bike is able to handle riding in the mountains. Those engineered little spikes of rubber lend grip over undulating and unpredictable terrain where it shouldn’t exist. When it comes to designing those knobbies into a tread pattern that can extract more performance, there’s no company more up to the task than Maxxis. Their race pedigree is second to none, and their tires have been used to win more championships under more athletes over the years than any other brand. Oftentimes, it’s nothing more than the Maxxis logo that riders look for when shopping for a new tire because their riding buddies have told them, “Just get Maxxis and you’ll be fine.” That’s halfway true.

Maxxis makes many different tires for a multitude of different trails, but knowing how to pick the one that will perfectly match your bike can feel a bit like trying to pick the winning Powerball numbers if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Even small differences in tread pattern, size and construction can make a big difference in how the tires ride. Since those knobbies are the only thing connecting your bike to the trail when you are full tilt in a corner, we think it best to know which tire will give you grip when you need it.


Experienced riders often have seriously strong opinions on tire setup, and there’s absolutely no shortage of good advice out there. When it comes to similar tires, though, feel is subjective and dependent on variables like bike setup and trail conditions, so there are plenty of conflicting ideas out there, too. This is not a comprehensive list of the Maxxis lineup, and we don’t claim that any one of these tires is “the best.” The nuanced differences between Maxxis tires are what make these tires handle so well, and knowing how they’re designed to work will help you decide which will fit your bike and riding style best.


With closely spaced knobs, a fairly square profile and aggressive side knobs, the Assegai lends itself to cornering. Usually spec’d as a front tire, the Assegai is not the lightest in the group but has a slightly lower knob profile than the Minion, with center knobs that are heavily ramped on the leading edge to make them feel quicker. The Assegai offers predictable traction, even on slippery rocks and roots, but it doesn’t shed mud all that well, which makes it less attractive as a rear in muddy conditions.


The Minion DHF is the most classic tread pattern we see still spec’d—and for good reason. The “F” in the name may stand for “front,” but this tire has been used to win championships as both a front and rear tire. With tall, directionally ramped center knobs paired to the signature side knobs, the DHF is built for cornering. Many riders claim this tire rolls well, but really the standout features are the control and grip with the DHF.


The Rekon is a deceptively capable tire for trail riding on technical terrain. The ramped center knobs are closely spaced and fast rolling, but the L-shaped side lugs are built to carve turns with confidence, whether the trail is hard-packed or loose and technical. While the Race version of the tire is one we would only consider for XC riding or racing, the standard version has impressed us with its prowess on tough trails and on bikes with more travel. The Rekon works great as a rear in most dry conditions and works reasonably well as a front for most riders. A popular spec on “down country” bikes is a standard Rekon in front and a Rekon Race in the rear, taking advantage of the quick yet grippy attributes of this versatile tread.


With a center tread to carry speed and an open channel to clear mud and debris, the Dissector sports smoothly ramped knobs to minimize drag going forward and sharp-edged backsides to dig in and provide braking traction. Small sipes in the knobs further increase the surface area when flexed, especially during braking and cornering when you need the grip. The Dissector is meant to be a “unicorn” tire, according to Maxxis. It handles well in most conditions, but is most frequently preferred as a rear due to the paddle-shaped center knobs. The knobbies are well-engineered and deliver on their promise of predictable grip, but also tend to wear quickly, particularly on hard surfaces.


A true all-conditions tire, the Aggressor is robust enough for aggressive all-mountain riding but feels more efficient than the others, thanks to the pronounced center knob profile. Grippier side knobs provide cornering bite and are predictable in hardpack and loose-over-hardpack conditions. Riders may opt for this as a rear tire to take advantage of the efficiency, pairing it with a different front with more cornering grip.


The DHR II was originally a rear tread pattern design. When Maxxis redesigned it about a decade ago, Greg Minnaar noticed it was lighter and had a more predictable transition when cornering on the hardpack of his home course in South Africa. He used it as a front and rear to win the World Championships on that track in 2013. Obviously, this tire is versatile. It shares the same signature channel-cut side knobs as the Minion DHF but with more paddle-shaped center knobs. These provide excellent traction for climbing and straight-line braking. While the paddle-shaped center knobs give up some cornering grip when used as a front, others claim that the more predictable transition when cornering makes it the best front tire Maxxis offers.


Yes and no. Trail bike tires are most commonly 27.5 or 29 inches in diameter and typically 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5 inches wide. Smaller tires have smaller air volumes and don’t absorb bumps as well. They also have smaller contact patches and less grip but are lighter. Larger tires have larger air volumes and allow for more absorption before you bottom out on the rim. These can also be aired-down more easily for improved traction. Larger tires are also typically heavier. The maximum width your bike can handle is usually determined by the frame clearance. If you have a shorter-travel bike, unfortunately, you can’t just slap a set of big-volume tires on and reap all the benefits. Most modern trail bikes will clear up to a 2.5-inch-wide tire with no problem. The diameter you need is determined by the rims your bike has and should be the same unless you’re running a “mullet.”

Some riders prefer to run a slightly larger tire in the front for improved traction, and some bikes even come spec’d this way. When choosing to run mismatched tires, it’s important to keep balance in mind, both for weight and for overall ride height. Running larger tires directly affects ride height, bottom bracket height and center of gravity. Running mismatched tires technically has an effect on things like head and seat angle, too. If you think that sounds like splitting hairs, it is; however, our old friend Greg Minnaar also noted that part of the reason for his preference for the DHR II over the Assegai—a tire he had a hand in designing—is that the DHR II is available in a slightly smaller 2.4 size and the Assegai is not, which gives him a preferred ride height.

Maxxis also builds some of its tires with wide rims in mind, because wider is always better, right? Their Wide Trail (WT) versions of all tires are optimized for 30mm-and-larger rims to spread the tire casing out and increase the surface area of rubber on terra firma. The bead casings are farther apart and are meant to give the proper shape when inflated. It’s important to note that while mounting a WT tire on a narrow rim will give you more air volume, the shape of the tire will be more rounded than it was designed to be, which will decrease traction and control. If you want to experience the benefits of the WT tires—and there are plenty—the prerequisite is a set of wide rims to fit them to.


Tire construction has a huge impact on your bike’s ride quality, even though it’s not something you can easily see. First, it should be noted that the jump to tubeless-ready tires is one of the greatest tech improvements to the modern mountain bike, and every Maxxis tire here should be set up tubeless with a sealant to reap the full benefits of the tire. Maxxis builds each one of these tires with several different casing types to suit the needs of different riding styles. Those are EXO, EXO+, DD and DH.


This sidewall has a single layer of abrasion-resistant protection added to it. It’s a cut-resistant fabric that helps to prevent some punctures, but it is the lightest of all Maxxis trail-tire construction setups. These tires feel lightweight on the trail and are less expensive. The thinner sidewalls are not only more vulnerable to punctures and tears, but feel slightly less stable when cornered hard and can feel “squirmy” to the most aggressive riders.


Plus tires utilize the same EXO protection mentioned earlier and add a layer of SilkShield, which runs from bead to bead to improve tread puncture resistance and overall tire stability. The upgrade from EXO to EXO+ is noticeable in ride quality. EXO+ is one of the most versatile choices for most riders.


Tires with DoubleDown (DD) casings are lighter than a full-blown downhill tire but still have a very durable and heavier construction than EXO or EXO+ tires. This casing is designed for the rigors of enduro and downhill racing, with two 120-tpi layers and a butyl insert for protection and support.


Tires with Downhill (DH) construction use a two-layer, 60-tpi casing for maximum sidewall stiffness and support for the most demanding enduro and downhill riders.

Racers competing on muddy downhill courses are probably the toughest tire critics in the mountain bike world.
Photo by Boris Beyer



The other variable that will affect how a tire rides is which rubber compound, or compounds, is used and where. In general, harder rubbers roll faster and wear longer, so they tend to be used in the middle of the tire tread. Softer rubbers are better for grip but have more rolling resistance and wear out more quickly. Tires that use a single rubber compound are the simplest and most affordable and can ride quite nicely in the right application. Downhill tires often use super-tacky rubber throughout to maximize grip, while commuter tires use harder rubbers for increased wear life. Multi-compound tires are the best option for versatility and take advantage of different rubber properties where advantageous. Maxxis has several options here.

Dual compound: These tires use a harder durometer rubber in the center and softer rubber on the cornering knobs for increased traction.

MaxxTerra 3C: This is a triple-compound tire that uses a firm base layer for added efficiency and then combines the wear resistance of a firmer center tread with the grip of a soft-compound side-knob construction.

MaxxGrip 3C: This is also a triple-compound tire with a firm base layer for added efficiency but uses very soft and slow-rebound rubber outer layers to maximize traction.

Super Tacky: This is the softest rubber compound Maxxis uses and is typically reserved for downhill tires.


No matter which tire you run, setting up the tire properly and maintaining proper pressure is crucial to the performance of your tires. Every one of these tires is designed to be run tubeless with sealant and at a pressure that will allow it to both hold its shape and conform to the ground to grip it. Most tires will function best with between 20 and 30 psi, but your ideal pressure will depend on many factors. Finding your ideal pressure may take some experimenting and will be well worth your time. For best results, make it a point to pump your tires to your desired pressure on every ride, even if they feel like they have plenty of air from the last time you rode it. Those fancy rubber balloons are the only things connecting you to the ground. Taking care that they’re inflated properly will make them last longer and handle better and allow the knobbies to grip the trail the way the engineers designed them to. 

You might also like