When it comes to all-out downhill racing, there are relatively few tire brands that are seen on the bikes of the world’s top athletes. The good news is that it makes choosing your tires a simpler affair if you just want what the top riders use. The other news is that there are still many choices to be made when selecting downhill tires.
Most brands make a different tire for each condition: hard; dry ground; soft ground; extreme wet conditions; fast-rolling. These usually come in different rubber compound options, and some manufacturers offer tires with several compounds on the same tire (firmest base, firm in the centre of the tread, softer on the side knobs for cornering traction).
Rubber compounds are measured using a durometer grading scale of 1 to 100, with 1 the softest and 100 the hardest. Most downhill tires range from about 40 to 60 on this scale; a top-tier World Cup racer will normally be on the softest compound or a mixed compound for race runs, unless the track demands a faster-rolling harder compound.
Tire width comes down to rider preference and track conditions, but most brands offer two downhill widths, with a lot of racers now opting for a wider tire.
Maxxis and Schwalbe are truly dominant in the downhill racing world. The reason? They are tried and trusted and put a lot of effort into tire development for downhill riding. Also, quite simply they sponsor more major teams and riders than anyone else and are readily available in a lot of shops for those without tire sponsors. There are more than two options though – other manufacturers make great quality tires that have achieved success at the highest level, they just aren’t quite as prolific right now.
Maxxis has a classic range of downhill tires that has developed over time. It is one of the big two in downhill terms. You’ll find the likes of Greg Minnaar and the Santa Cruz Syndicate team rolling on Maxxis.
Maxxis offers lots of different tire compounds for different uses, but you’ll find most downhill racers on 3C MaxxGrip and Super Tacky options.
3C MaxxGrip: Triple-compound tire with hardest base layer, softer centre knobs and softest side knobs.
Dual: Two compounds throughout.
Single: One compound used throughout the tire. ‘Super Tacky’ is the softest and grippiest.
Maxxis downhill tires
Minion DHF (front), DHRII: All-round DH use in drier conditions. Excels in corners.
Minion SS: Semi-slick for fast-rolling.
High RollerII: All-round DH use in drier conditions. Excels in technical terrain and greasy hard ground.
Wet Scream: Mud tire for the wettest conditions.
Shorty: Soft conditions tire for loamy forest dirt and damp conditions.
Assegai: Greg Minnaar’s signature tire. Like Minnaar, a true workhorse that is comfortable in pretty much any situation.
German company Schwalbe pays a lot of attention to its teams and has caught up with Maxxis at the front of downhill racing. Their Magic Mary tire is a staple of the scene. The likes of Amaury Pierron, Myriam Nicole and their Commencal-Vallnord team roll on Schwalbe.
Schwalbe’s compounds used to be a total minefield for consumers and racers alike, but they have now simplified their classification and it is probably the easiest to understand of any manufacturer.
Ultra Soft: This is what most racers use.
Soft: Firmer compound, mostly used as rear tire.
Performance Bikepark: Harder-wearing tire for lots of park laps.
Schwalbe downhill tires
Magic Mary: This is the queen of Schwalbe’s downhill range. Widely spaced knobs shed mud easily and it has almost unparalleled grip.
Dirty Dan: Huge rubber spikes make this a tire suited best to extreme mud conditions.
While the two above dominate the market, there are many other manufacturers that make great tires yet have a lesser presence on the World Cup scene. Most have tires for every downhill condition and similar compounds to Maxxis and Schwalbe, albeit usually covered by their own naming system.
Specialized make some top-notch downhill tires – good enough for Loïc Bruni to win several Downhill World Championships. The Butcher, Hillbilly and Storm downhill tires cover all bases.
Trek’s in-house brand Bontrager puts serious investment into tire development, and it shows. Team riders have countless podium results with G4 and G5 Team Issue tires.
Kenda has been quiet for some time, but with the likes of Aaron Gwin and Tracey Hannah on-board the Hellkat downhill tires the brand is right back at the sharp end of downhill racing.
Hutchinson currently has no big-name riders, but in 2018 Amaury Pierron won the men’s Downhill World Cup overall title on their tires.
Once a mega-force in downhill, the French brand is making a comeback. Brook Macdonald and the Mondraker team are racing Michelin rubber in 2019, with tires expected to be on the market in 2020.
Watch Rob Warner get to know Brook Macdonald in the player below
Rob Meets Brook Macdonald
Rob Warner travels to New Zealand to meet with Brook Macdonald.
A newcomer to the mountain bike world, Vee is making an impact and already has top results from 2018 thanks to their rider at the time, Phil Atwill (who is no longer on Vee).