How long do you think sticky rubber tires would last in this razor sharp slate?
Tires are the only component contacting your bike and the ground. There are a boat load of other factors at play when we start talking about grip, but tires are one of the most important and particular pieces of the puzzle. They come in a variety of diameters, thicknesses, thread counts, compounds, and of course, tread patterns. All of those variables have to match your riding style, terrain, weight and price point. Picking a single tire for the job can be tricky and downright confusing with all of the marketing nomenclature. If you need a refresher course, take a look at our Explainer
series on Decoding Tire Hot Patches
The number of tire parameters is mesmerizing, but that probably means that the combo you're looking for does exist.
Tires like the Maxxis Aggressor feature a dual compound rubber and an all-terrain tread pattern. That makes it a great rear tire choice that rolls fairly quick and has a longer life span than a soft compound, aggressive tire. These characteristics give it great value, but it doesn't shine in wet conditions.
The tire with the best performance is often the softest compound combined with the most complex casing construction. It's also usually the one that wears the fastest and is the most expensive. For each discipline, performance can have different meanings though, keeping in mind that riders may also demand different traits from their front and rear tires.
Cross-country (XC) athletes might choose a lighter, more expensive tire casing that offers more grip and puncture resistance than a heavier, cheaper tire. Those focused on maximizing performance on the downhill sections of races, such as enduro or downhill racers, are seeking out traction for control during braking and cornering, while trying to manage the balance between rolling resistance and puncture protection.
And then you have the more common, casual rider who might still demand performance, but isn't racing the clock or other competitors. We've even seen some brands like Michelin and Schwalbe market to the weekend warrior crowd with tires given specific titles, such as "Bike Park" construction, for a lower wear rate and increased puncture resistance.
The Schwalbe Magic Mary in its Ultra Soft compound is a prime example of the trade-off of a fast wearing tire to gain ultimate traction, but at a high price.
So, the question then is, do you choose pure performance over a longer lasting, valued tire and what compound does that equate to for the type of riding you do?
Let's use a simple system to differentiate between brands' compound names, where the softest means the most grip, but is faster wearing and rolls slowly. The hardest is has very limited grip, but will last for ages and rolls faster.
And since we've touched on the topic of durability, let's include that as a talking point for value. A brand new tire isn't worth a penny if you puncture it on the first descent. The value comes from a tire that lasts through the sharpest of rock gardens, but may be on the heavier side - a con for some seeking the upmost performance out of their ride.
For the sake of this poll, let's use a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 would be lightest-duty casing offered from your preferred tire brand and 5 would be the most durable.