Round Up: 25 Different XC World Cup Tire Combinations

Dec 27, 2020
by Ed Spratt  
Everyone has their preferred tire of choice, and with so many different tire choices and combinations, we decided to look through back through the archives to find some of the tire choices of the world's top riders. From the more conventional lightweight setups to some wild handmade custom options there are plenty of variation among the top XC riders.

Maxxis Rekon Race

Maxxis Rekon Race

The Rekon Race is one of the faster rolling XC tires from Maxxis and features a semi-slick tread pattern with a low profile tread pattern that still has some decent side knobs which will hook up with the dirt when leaned over. While working most effectively on the rear when paired with a more aggressive front tire, the dual pairing of the Rekon Race does offer an ultra-fast ride for racers that aren't as concerned about having the most amount of grip.

Mondraker s new full suspension XC rig the F-Podium RR

Michelin Jet XCR

Michelin Tire launch 2017

When Michelin launched the Jet XCR with a new lightweight casing they claimed it was their fastest mountain bike tire to date, and with its very low profile tread you can definitely see why that might be the case. Just like some of the other tires in this lineup the Jet XCR is purposely designed for racing and with the almost slick tread; it is recommended that it is only used for dry and hard pack terrain as there isn't a lot of bite to the tread which could make things quite wild in tougher conditions.

BMC Fourstroke.

Chaoyang Phantom Speed

Another super-fast semi-slick tire we spotted on the XC World Cup circuit is the Chaoyang Phantom Speed. This tire is the fastest XC option from Chaoyang and it uses small low profile center knobs for great rolling resistance but it has slightly larger side knobs to give the tire more grip when leaned over in the corners.

Prototype BH of Carlos Coloma

Pablo Rodriguez s BH NAME is a well kitted orange machine. Even the decals on the wheels were custom to match.

Schwalbe Racing Ray // Racing Ralph

La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks
La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks

A popular combination we spotted this year is the mix of Schwalbe's newer Racing Ray tire at the front and their classic XC tire the Racing Ralph out back. The Racing Ray is the German brand's newer more aggressive XC option with strong shoulder blocks for precise cornering and low rolling resistance. The rear tire option of the Racing Ralph has been recently revised as a specific rear tire option (although it can still be run front and rear). The new updates feature a changed center tread pattern which adds more braking traction and just like previous designs it keeps a low profile for great speed on the trails.

Conway RLC

Lukas Fl ckiger s new Th mus Lightrider. The updated frame has improved rigidity and sheds weight.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot

Mitas Scylla Textra

The Scylla Textra from Mitas uses a rounder tire profile to increase its predictability in corners and the larges side knobs should also help when the tires are searching for grip. The Textra sidewalls which seem to be more common among the riders adds some extra protection against sidewall damage which is a bonus when a flat tire can be race ending.

Cross Country Bike Checks from Albstadt World Cup

La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks

Continental Race King

The classic Continental Race King has been ridden on the World Cup circuit by the likes of Julien Absalon and Mathieu Van Der Poel, and with a rounded carcass and its very low profile tread pattern it provides high levels of speed through turns and down the straight where rolling speed matters the most.

Cross Country Bike Checks from Albstadt World Cup

Mathieu van der Poel s Stevens Senora SL.

The BMC Team Elite of Julien Absalon. This bike already has two victories to its name this season and it just got some upgrades.

Simon Gegenheimer s Rose Psycho Path. Whilst most racers choose to ride 29ers the explosive rider prefers his 27.5 bike for the course.

Kenda Honey Badger XC Pro

The Honey Badger XC is a redesigned version of their more trail orientated Honey Badger tire, with Kenda saying it is for "those who would rather wear spandex than baggies". The XC-specific version of the tire sees the triangular knobs resized and repositioned to offer more efficiency for climbing and descending with the spacing adjusted to clear mud faster for more grip.

Marco Fontana Bike Check from Albstadt World Cup

Bontrager XR1 Team Issue

Designed for fast, dry and dusty surfaces the Bontrager XR1 Team Issue is mostly used by the Trek Factory Racing team. The tread pattern uses tightly spaced central knobs with a more open outer tread for faster rolling and grip on dry and loose terrain.

Cross Country Bike Checks from Albstadt World Cup

Michelin Force XC // Andre Dugast Rhino XL

Michelin Tire launch 2017
La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks

One of the more unique setups on the XC World Cup circuit is the Michelin Force XC and Andre Dugast seen at La Bresse 2018. The Michelin Force XC tire used up front features a more aggressive pattern than the brands Jet XC tire which helps when the weather is wetter and the trails are slippery. The Force using a softer compound, staggered edging blocks and a harder center tread to help with durability and increase grip in difficult conditions. On the rear of the bike is the handmade Andra Dugast Rhino XL tire from the USA. The tire was originally developed by A. Dugast BV & Thomas Frischknecht to take on the muddiest course on the World Cup circuit. The tread uses wide spacing of higher-profile studs to give a bit of extra grip in the slop.

La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks

Specialized Renegade

The Specialized S-Works Renegade tire is often spotted onboard the Specialized's team bikes and is designed to be effective across wet and dry conditions. Using a fast-rolling tread and shaped outer blocks it maintains a low rolling resistance while still having decent levels of cornering and braking traction.

Kulhavy s S-Works Epic. This bike is set-up pretty close to stock. Note the mega steep seat angle and low front end.

Andre Dugast Nino

Nino and Dugast have created these tires from the ground up. They started with the carbon 650b DT Swiss wheels and then specially molded these tires. Nino has three tread patterns to choose from including a snake skin with ultra low profile side knobs for hard pack.

Probably one of the rarest tires is the custom made Andre Dugast Nino tires. Designed by Andre Dugast and Nino Schurter the Swiss riders worked on three different handmade options which were specifically molded to his 650b DT Swiss wheels.

Nino Schurter is back for race three and looking for a win. This is the steed he aims to take it on. He is the only elite to run 650b in a sea of 29 inch wheels which makes his Spark rather interesting.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks

The new Racing Ralph may be specifically designed as a rear tire but it still works great front and rear and this combination has been an XC classic for many years. The latest updates feature a changed center tread pattern which adds more braking traction and just like previous designs it keeps a low profile for great speed on the trails.

Manuel Fumic s new Cannondale F-Si. Combined with a Lefty 2.0 a SRAM XX1 setup on a SI crank and Enve M50 wheels matched to Schwalbe s Racing Ralphs.

Lisi Osl s Ghost painted in the Austrian Champs colors. The Ghost is clad with SRAM s XX1 and some pretty exclusive ultra-light ax-liteness components.

Annie Last s Silverback Storm.

The Ghost Lector teambike is one of the most tricked-out bikes in the World Cup circuit.


Schwalbe Rocket Ron // Racing Ralph

La Bresse XC World Cup bike checks

Although before the new Racing Ray the Rocket Ron was a more popular choice at World Cup XC races it still is an excellent all-rounder for most conditions. Using a low rolling resistant tread and wide gaps between knobs for better mud clearing. The rear tire option of the Racing Ralph has been recently revised as a specific rear tire option (although it can still be run front and rear). The new updates feature a changed center tread pattern which adds more braking traction and just like previous designs it keeps a low profile for great speed on the trails.

Fabian Giger will be one of very few men opting to ride a 2x chainring setup. Giger is convinced the system will be beneficial. He chooses to use Shimano s new Synchro shift which results in automatic shifts on the front ring using a single shifter.

Vittoria Mezcal

The Mezcal tire from Vittoria is designed for XC riding in dry conditions and features a focus on fast rolling with a low profile tread pattern but directional shaping on the knobs help to find grip when you need it.

Reto Indergands BMC Teamelite 01 is equipped with Shimano s XTR Di2 with a 11-40 cassette. The frame provides the option to mount different elastomers to provide harder or softer compliance on its rear end. The Fox 32 Stepcast can be locked out on the handlebar via electronic lockout which draws its power from the Di2 battery.

Continental Cross King

Continental's Cross King tire is aimed to be used as an all-round tire for a wide variety of conditions. With slightly larger side knobs it can provide some extra levels of grip through the corners but it will still roll fast.

Maxxis Aspen

Used by Kate Courtney and Nino Schurter this year the Maxxis Aspen offers minimal rolling resistance with a high volume casing to smooth out the trail. But the tire also features more aggressive side knobs and the dual compound provides some extra traction in the corners.

Maxxis Ikon

The Ikon tire from Maxxis is designed for all-out speed when racing with low profile tread allow for faster rolling. The Ikon combines these features with a high volume designed to allow the tires to work effectively across a range of different conditions and surface types.

Chloe Woodruff

Bontrager XR2 Team Issue

Jolanda Neff

Specialized Fast Trak

Sam Gaze

Schwalbe Racing Ray


The Racing Ray is the German brands newer more aggressive XC option with strong shoulder blocks for precise cornering and low rolling resistance. This year we spotted the dual Racing Ray combination on the bikes of Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini.


Vittoria Barzo

Vittoria's Barzo tire is designed for technical and wet XC racing and short sharp lugs offer a more rounded tread to dig into for ground for excellent grip. The tire profile also offers good predictability on the trail so you are more aware of how it will react in tricky conditions.

Jordan Sarrou s winning BMC Fourstroke bike in Leogang Saalfelden.

Kenda Booster

Offering an aggressive tread the Booster tire from Kenda is a great XC race weapon for when you need some extra grip. The tubeless version is also the lightest tire Kenda offers without the need for tubes and the tread is designed purely for fast rolling and reliable cornering.

Norco Factory Racing s Revolver FS. It features all the new Sram goodies with DT wheels rolling on Kenda s and carbon stem and bar.

Haley Smith

Hutchinson Skeleton

The Skeleton is a pure XC race tire that is designed for optimal rolling performance but with aggressive side knobs, it aims to still provide plenty of bite on the more technical and tougher XC race courses.

Specialized Fast Trak // Renegade

Another combo spotted on the Specialized team's bike is the pairing of the Fast Trak and Renegade tires. The Fast Trak tire is designed for speed with a new redesign focusing on less rolling resistance, more traction and a stronger casing for the more rugged race courses. The Renegade is designed to be effective across wet and dry conditions. Using a fast-rolling tread and shaped outer blocks it maintains a low rolling resistance while still having decent levels of cornering and braking traction.

Annika Langvad s S-worrks Epic. The entire specialized team has gone red this year and red is fast.

MSC Roller

Vlad Descalu Junior WC racer

Offering a different look to many of the other XC race tires the MSC Roller uses a small block pattern for great performance on drier trails. Using ramped central knobs paired with a low profile and tight spacing this will be a very fast rolling option for those looking for some extra speed in the dry.

Vlad Descalu Junior WC racer


  • 90 0
 That's a lot of photos of small knobs.
  • 2 1
 Ok. You win.
  • 13 0
 @Ed Spratt - you mention a redesign of the Racing Ralph, but every single one of your pictures are of the OLD version of the tire. Curious: was this because all of the Schwalbe riders were still running the old Racing Ralph this year, or because PB only had shots of the old tire in their photo archive?
  • 5 1
 Yes, they rounded off all the knobs on the new Racing Ralph, which does not inspire confidence in a tire that did not have much bite to begin with.
  • 2 1
 @DustOnCrust: word, old RaRa were good stuff, the new rounded knob patterns are trash.
  • 3 0
 @DustOnCrust: they’re using the new racing Ralph. Pinkbike just has no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to xc. New Ralph front and rear for faster tracks. Ray for mud.
  • 1 0
 they have the old renegade too
  • 14 0
 That 'rare' tire is simply Dugast' standard Fast Bird MTB tubular tire. The only thing custom about it is the added rainbow stripes and Nino's name.
  • 20 2
 And that's precisely what makes it rare
  • 6 0
 Been running Race Kings V2 2.2 on my HT for 1700 miles and have really enjoyed them in all conditions. Super fast, sticky, holds air well, predictable, good casing/feel, and durable. I even ran them in the muddy 2019 Iceman Cometh. They might seem odd to those who are used to big side knobs as these are more pointy in the middle, but they work really well.

Also Have a X-King 2.4 as a front on my other bike, that's been a great tire as well. I got that to replace a Racing Ralph (pictured) that I was fed up with up front where the X-King was much better in comfort, grip, stability and predictability.

My recent N+1 bike has a pair of Maxxis Rekon Race 2.25 120tpi that I've gotten on well with. The difference between it and the Race Kings is the strong side knob support and feel to them while cornering. The RKs don't have this feel but they seem corner as fast. Other things to note is the Rekon Race may tend to float around more when upright in some situations whereas the RKs will stab in more. They are also slightly heavier and don't seem to roll as fast (though close). Excellent tire.

The Racing Ralph is the one I've struggled and not gotten along well with. It was a tyer that was constantly on my mind (front) when riding and that's something you never want. A lot of this is due to the casing which was super thin (I've only had Snakeskin version) and had a very tiny psi window to feel proper. It was easily too squirmy if the psi wasn't high enough and too high psi it just didn't feel planted or stable. It was very rare that it ever felt good or grippy enough for me to forget about. Oddly one area it did totally shine in was snowy trails that didn't require studs. Replacing the front RR with an X-King was a huge relief.

Just wanted share some of my experience with these tires which may not apply to your local trail's style of dirt.
  • 2 0
 I ran Ikons for a 2:15 at last years Iceman, slid around a bit but I don’t think any tire would’ve helped in that mud. After 5000 people stomp the course the pro class gets the worst of it. On the open sections it really helps to have a fast roller, the speeds get ridiculous in pacelines.
  • 1 0
 what about kenda booster?
  • 2 0
 @ilyamaksimov: The side knobs look nice. I'd like to try it on one of the slacker xc bikes, where you need to lean the bike more for cornering.
  • 9 0
 The Andre Dugast Rhino XL is from the USA? When did Holland become the 51st state?
  • 11 1
 Overnight news claims a large oil reserve has been found just underneath The Hague
  • 5 0
 Due to COVID, my favourite XC front tyre, the Maxxis Ardent Race, is not available here until May 2021. I tried a Pirelli Scorpion XC M. It's pretty good.

I'll also add that at the same pressure as I'd run my Ardent Race, I've never not flatted with a Racing Ralph (which often come OEM, and I didn't get to change them before a few races).
  • 3 0
 Ardent Race is a really well done tire. All out fast but with good side knobs hookup. Thankfully it has nothing to do with a regular Ardent. Rekon Race was another tire I was impressed with for the same reasons. 60tpi is significantly more durable than 120tpi.
  • 1 0
 I’ve had good luck with that tire too. A few years ago I was racing in California and got tired of washing out my front tire on all of the loose marbles-and-moondust. I put on a 2.35” Ardent Race front (crazy wide for XC at the time), and a 2.2” Ikon in back.

The whole season, my front tire never let go once. Eventually I got self-conscious about having a 750 g front tire and went back to an all-Ikon and Aspen setup. But the confidence was worth the grams.
  • 8 0
 Which one makes the best high speed buzz sound on tarmac?
  • 1 0
 WTB Vigilante 29x2.8 tough casing high grip
  • 3 0
 X kings are a pretty good tire, but the sidewalls are kinda thin. Talking about the Protection with Black Chilli. If you keep your tires for several seasons they will start to fray/leak and you may need to run tubes to finish the tread. Knobs have been holding up well enough on my local trails. Had a similar issue with the Rapid Robs that were on the bike previously as well, but the knobs weren't as durable.

I wonder how a modern Ritchey Z max preforms?
  • 2 0
 I used some aqua seal on the sidewalls of my Conti’s when they start to fray with good results, old trick from CX racing.
  • 9 3
 "several seasons"....I don't think you are riding enough if your tires (esp rear) can last for 2+ years.
  • 3 0
 @Snowytrail: if you have race wheels and a set of wheels for training, it’s not unheard of for the tires on your race wheels to last awhile.
  • 2 0
 @whambat: Thanks for the tip!
  • 1 0
 @Snowytrail: Oh, yeah? Tell me more. LoL
  • 1 0
 @whambat: I don't race, and I don't train. I do, however, have multiple wheel/tire sets that I run on my XC HT. I also have multiple bikes that I ride so my mileage is spread around. Plus my local trails aren't very rocky. Mostly hard packed.

I ride my XC HT on average 5 - 8 hours per week during the season - about April/May to Nov.
  • 1 0
 @Snowytrail: Tires can last 2+ years. I have just under 1700 miles and 2 years 3 months on a pair of Race Kings that are still in great shape. Rear shows a some wear but not a lot.
  • 8 1
 What are these ? Knobs for ants ?
  • 2 1
 They need to be at least...three times bigger than this!
  • 5 0
 what is going on with the saddle setup of the bike pictured at "Specialized S-Works Renegade tires" ?
  • 7 1
 It’s Jaroslav Kulhavy’s bike. He likes it that way. Looks weird, but he’s pretty fast with it.
  • 5 0
 His setup has been making people who see it uncomfortable for years.

"What's wrong with his bike?" is probably not the reaction his sponsors would prefer. Big Grin
  • 3 12
flag opignonlibre (Dec 27, 2020 at 10:53) (Below Threshold)
 @DirkMcClerkin: Well it can only comforts me in my decision to boycott specialized products. How can they know what I want and need if they can't even provide components that fit well one of their top sponsored racer from whom they can get direct feedback and input ? I would be Mike Sinyard I would have called my ergo engineers ( if they even exist ) to work on his case and provide him a saddle that fits him while setup in an angle it was build for.
  • 4 0
 @opignonlibre: Specialized make great 'touch' products - gloves, chamois, grips, saddles, shoes and it is based on research (I can't find it at the moment, but when BG started it was a university in Colorado). Myself and my wife have used Specialized Body Geometry products for a decade to fix the odd problem, like sore ulna nerve.
  • 4 1
 The non pro version of the Ikon has a lot of rolling resistance. My current go to is the Raceking protection in 2.2 front and rear
  • 4 0
 Maxxis and Michelin are bottom of the barrel for rolling resistance. Not sure about some of the no-names; they probably are slow too.
  • 3 0
 Black Chili all the way for Continental Tires. RaceSport or Protection. I don't bother with the other compounds.
  • 4 0
 The Booster tire is awesome. They have plenty of grip and rolls fast! I would love to try the 2.6 out
  • 8 6
 I think tire selection is more of an exercise in aesthetics than performance . we pick the ones that have the most pleasing arrangement of the little black knobs first and hope that we like the way they grip the trail.
  • 3 0
 So true. The way that tire looks down there largely decides my confidence level. Learned the hard way I can't corner with tires that have tightly spaced even knobs all over, a tire has to have some sort of open channel before the side knobs or I just can't trust it to hook up. Rocket Ron vs Racing Ralph pattern for example. Ron was always suspect leaned over, Ralph however was sketchy but predicable at the edge.
  • 2 0
 @mobiller: +1, you've got to start somewhere, and patterns that look like what have worked are logical place to start. For tires I buy for rolling speed, I do rolldown testing. Rolldowns have never gone against my perception of pedaling efficiency, but have the added advantage of letting you quantify just how much rolling speed you gain between tread patterns or compounds vs. how traction you typically lose as a tradeoff.
  • 1 1
 I couldn’t disagree more. Tire selection is course and condition dependent. You wouldn’t race the Jet XCR on a muddy day; you’d go for the Force XC - regardless of which you feel best suits the aesthetics of your bike.
  • 1 0
 As an XC junkie who loves messing around with tires, I’ve used:

Conti X-King 2.2”
Fast Traks (2.3” and 2.1”)
Aspen 2.25”
Ikon 2.2”

Not on this list:

Ardent Race 2.35” (front tire, paired with Aspen)
Kenda Saber Pro 2.4”

This is a boring answer, but I’d have to say that the Fast Traks are probably my favorites (2.3” front and rear these days). They’re fast rolling, and I like that they have connected center tread. But they also don’t feel as slippery in non-hardpack conditions as some of the super-low center treads, like the Aspens or Saber Pros.
  • 1 0
 The key being fast in the straights is to minimize rolling resistance. The key to being fast through corners is maximizing traction. Every XC race tire on the planet needs stiffer, taller side knobs. Schwalbe Rock Razor front and rear for the win!
  • 1 0
 it would interesting to know the combinations of tire width and rim widths that are used, as recently we start to see more 30mm rims and 2.4 tires being used. With the added weight, it appears that it still worth it.
  • 1 0
 I wonder what pressures WC XC racers run? The WC round i was at a few years ago, it looked to be a very under inflated 15psi.
  • 4 0
 They could run a lot lower psi than my fat ass can.
  • 1 0
 In a recent Bike vs Bike check, Nino runs 16.6-17.4 PSI front and 18.1-18.9 PSI back on his Aspen WT 2.4. I have the same tires on my XC rig and I run 20-25 PSI at start of rides and usually let out some air for descents. I've had as little as 15 PSI in front and 17 PSI in back after I get home and measure them. I am no lightweight, and the tires have significant support at low pressure. They roll super fast and have impressive grip. I run the DHF, DHR combo on my trail bike, very impressed with the new Aspens
  • 3 1
 what can you say about kenda booster vs rekon race?
  • 3 1
 Does your race have turns? Then Rekon Race.
  • 2 0
 @DirkMcClerkin: thanks, understood
  • 2 0
 With a bit of getting used to, small knobs acgually ride pretty nicely..
  • 1 0
 Is that just me having backpain just looking at the cocpit setups? These bikes looks awfully painful.
  • 1 0
 if maxxis were labeled appropriately as cheng shins, would people still run them?
  • 1 0
 Between the weird pics and captions and funny comments, I'm here to say thanks. Carry on.
  • 4 3
 They all look like Minions.
  • 2 1
 Is this written in December 2010?! What a joke!
  • 1 0
 There are lots of old photos (up top mostly) mixed in with newer photos down below.
  • 1 0
 Xc where weight is so very important. No weights at all. Kinda strange.
  • 1 0
 Honey Badgers. Lolololol.
  • 1 0
 rekon race rear + ardent race front has been a winning combo for me
  • 1 0
 Stoked to see Nino rocking a 650b hardtail
  • 1 2
 Where did some of these bikes come from? A few of them I have never heard of in my life.
  • 1 2
 Thats not a racing ralph.
  • 3 0
 That was the Racing Ralph for longest time, I've had several of them. The on in the shot (right) was V2 version as they went with paired intermediate knobs vs single on the original.
  • 2 0
 The photo of knob pattern for Racing Ralph in this article is of the old design. Current design looks a lot different.
  • 1 2
 No WTB Nano? TF?
  • 5 0
 Nano is single worst tire I've ever ridden. Slow casing, crummy rubber for grip and wear, and long, thin knobs shred after 2 rides. Literally anything else is better at everything.
  • 2 4
 Cool gravel tires
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