The science of mountain bike mud tyres

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A close up view of  mud caked tyres (Photo: John Gibson/Red Bull Content Pool)
A close up view of mud caked tyres (Photo: John Gibson/Red Bull Content Pool)
  • If you want to keep riding technical descents in winter, should you change tyres?
  • Specialist mud tyres aren’t that popular in South Africa, but they have features that work a treat, when it is slippery
  • Finding grip in muddy conditions, isn’t only about bigger tread blocks

When the snow dividend of a cold front melts, it means mud on the trails. Lots of mud.

For South Africans, mud riding is a rarity, limited to a few weekends a year, unlike Canada or the UK, where muddy mountain biking is a given.

We’ve covered the gear ideas that you should embrace, to make muddy rides more tolerable and prevent damage to your bike. But what about mud tyres?

Is it worthwhile to invest in a mud-specific tyre?

mud tyres
The Maxxis Shorty trades rolling speed, for ultimate mud-terrain grip. Especially when it gets steep (Photo: Maxxis)

Mud riding challenges

You would assume that most mountain bike tyres cope admirably with mud. Most have distinct tread blocks, which should dig into muddy trails and give riders accurate steering feedback and braking confidence when descending trails, instead of that anxious sliding sensation.

As with all things in mountain biking, the issue of mud tyres is one of compromise. You must choose to optimize either grip or rolling speed, but unlike dry conditions, the issue of tread congestion comes into play with muddy trails.

The bigger a tyre’s tread blocks are, the most likely it is to dig into terrain and steer accurately.

Safer braking is the other benefit, when using a proper mud tyre. If your mountain bike tyre has a tread pattern that is too shallow, and closely spaced, it will rapidly clog in muddy conditions and effectively become an off-road ‘slick’ tyre, with much reduced steering and braking abilities.

mud tyre
With a tread pattern that has big gaps, there is plenty of space of mud to clear (Photo: Maxxis)

Cleaning itself, whilst you ride

What makes a mud tyre work? Big tread blocks and a lot of space between them.

Mud tyre theory is quite simple: you need large tread blocks to dig deep into the slippery trail surface and find that grip, that is beneath the surface layer of mud.

The other crucial aspect of a mud tyre is its self-cleaning properties. Any mountain bike tyre that has a tread pattern which does not allow it to shed mud, when rotating, will clog. If you observe the tread pattern of popular mud tyres, you’ll notice large spaces between the tread blocks, which help the tread to clean itself, when rolling along.

By far the most popular mud tyre is produced by Maxxis. Its Shorty model is a proven heavy weather and mud-terrain riding tyre, providing secure grip, when descending steep and technical trails, that are muddy.

Debits? In anything other than muddy conditions, the Shorty has a very low-rolling speed, due to its large tread blocks, making it a slow tyre, when pedalling along.

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