Finding the best dirt bike tires for trail riding and different trail riding conditions can be overwhelming. It requires some time on the seat and testing the type of tire compounds that fit your riding style.
Luckily, choosing the optimal dirt bike tires for trail riding gets easier after focusing on the riding styles and conditions you ride in and using that information to narrow down the list of tires to choose from.
In this post, you will find out:
- How to choose the best dirt bike tires for trail riding
- Best dirt bike tires
- And lots more!
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How To Choose the Best Dirt Bike Tires for Trail Riding
With the available dirt bike tire selection as large as it is, choosing the best dirt bike tires for trail riding can be overwhelming.
In general, dirt bike trail riding tires differ by the rubber compounds used and sidewall strength as well as thread pattern and knob softness. Furthermore, softer tires typically work better for trails with rocks, roots, rubble, and logs. Additionally, intermediate dirt bike tires work great on sand and on faster single track or trails. Finally, hard tire compounds are usually chosen for soft sand, mud, and higher-speed trails.
Next, we will help you to navigate through the dirt bike tire selection process and explain in detail what to consider when choosing the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
If you wish to jump directly to our top choices for the best dirt bike tires for trail riding, click here.
1. Select Tires to Match Your Riding Style and Conditions
Tires can make a big difference when it comes to dirt bike riding. And believe it or not, choosing the right kind of dirt bike tires can help improve your skills make you a better rider.
In order to get the best results, you need to put the right kind of tires on your dirt bike. Again, it all comes to your riding style and the conditions you ride in.
Here are few questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you ride mostly on single tracks, single trails, or wooded trails?
- Is your riding pace fast or slow?
- Is the terrain mainly rocks, sand, or gravel?
- Are the conditions mainly dry or wet?
All this comes into play when choosing dirt bike tires for trail riding. The goal is to choose a tire that is designed for the type of riding you do.
The trail types and conditions can usually be divided into three types:
- Soft terrain – sand and mud
- Intermediate terrain – single trails with good traction and a mixture of soft and hard dirt
- Hard terrain – rock, ledges, and granite
The riding conditions should be the main selection criteria when choosing the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Different Dirt Bike Tire Rubber Compounds Explained
Sometimes people confuse the tire rubber compound softness with terrain softness. So, let’s take a closer look at both of the terms in order to avoid mixing them up.
Soft terrain tires usually contain hard rubber compounds, whereas hard terrain tires are usually soft, sticky, or gummy tires. When we talk about soft tires, we mean the soft rubber compounds that are great for hard terrain such as rocks, and vice versa.
Soft tires generally work best on hard terrain, at lower speeds, and in slippery and wet conditions. They offer great performance on rocks, roots, and ledges as well as in overall challenging mix of technical trails sections. Soft tires offer great traction but wear out quicker. Some of them may even chunk off easily losing knobs in higher speeds–they may even tear off.
Intermediate and hard compounds on the other hand are usually better at higher speeds, in deep sand, and in somewhat moist conditions. They are ideal for a mix of faster-speed trails with less rocks or slippery roots. In addition, they work great in dry conditions or muddy, sandy, or loamy conditions regardless of the speed. They usually last much longer but offer poor traction in wet and slippery, hard terrain conditions.
The tires are the only surface touching the ground in a dirt bike. For this reason, they must have enough friction to do what you’re asking the bike to do.
Dirt bike tires can be divided into three categories: soft tires, intermediate tires, and hard tires. Each one of them is designed for a different type of terrain.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories and what to look for when selecting the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Soft Dirt Bike Tires
Soft tires are also called hard terrain tires. They are designed for riding on trails that will take you on rocky terrain in deserts, hills, or mountains.
Soft tires provide a better grip and traction on hard surfaces. They are great for riding on rocks and ledges as well as trails with lots of roots, rubble, and logs. In addition, soft tires work great at lower speeds and in slippery and wet conditions.
The traction on soft tires is achieved by the closer spacing of the knobs. Thanks to the tight tread pattern (tightest of them all), soft tires are also capable of providing the necessary traction when the ground is loose. Since there is less natural grip on the harder terrain, the dirt bike tires are designed to make up the difference and provide as much gripping surface as is feasible.
Soft tires have a stiffer exterior and they are made out of compounds designed to be extremely durable and capable of dealing with tough surfaces. However, they will wear and chunk off easily in high speed and hard packed corners.
Some of the soft tires models are typically called gummy, sticky, or cheater tires. In this category, hybrid tires are becoming more and more popular. They use several different rubber compounds in the tire structure to combine the good features into a single tire. In general, these hybrid gummy tires are very top on the list for the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Intermediate Dirt Bike Tires
Intermediate tires, also called as intermediate terrain tires, fall between soft and hard tires. They are made to handle all types of terrain to some degree. For this reason, riders usually choose intermediate tires when riding on unknown terrain or on trails with changing terrains. They can work well in conditions that promote high wear and usually can provide better resistance against chunking.
Intermediate tires are usually better at higher speeds. They work great on sand and on well-groomed, faster single tracks with less rocks and slippery roots. If your riding style is mostly fast paced and maybe involving dirt roads, you may find your favorite tires in this category for the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Intermediate tires also perform well in somewhat moist and rainy conditions and on wet surfaces. They usually offer a longer wear compared to soft tires.
The tread pattern on intermediate tires features more space between the knobs compared to soft tires but less space than in the tread pattern of hard tires. Since the terrain you will be riding on will provide at least some natural grip, you don’t need a heavy tread. The tire tread is still tight enough and the knobs are positioned close to each other, so there will be plenty of room to scoop soil on soft terrain.
Hard Dirt Bike Tires
Hard tires are also called soft terrain tires and they are generally preferred for riding on soft surfaces. They provide stability on surfaces like sand, loam, and mud regardless of the speed.
Hard tires are an ideal choice for soft and deep sand as well as for a mix of faster speed trails.
Hard tires usually last much longer but offer poor traction in wet and slippery hard terrain conditions as well as on rocks and logs.
The tread pattern in hard tires is generally wider. There is more space between the knobs and they stick out and dig down into the soft terrain and help keep the dirt bike moving forward. This design allows hard tires to have maximum traction when riding on soft soil.
2. Choose the Correct Tire Sidewall Strength
The tire sidewall strength and design affects the performance, rider feedback, and feeling of the dirt bike in several ways.
Dirt bike tires with a soft sidewall tend to roll more in high speeds and can make the dirt bike feel unstable in cornering. Additionally they usually require a little bit more air pressure in higher speeds to counter the rolling feeling. The upside is that they provide an excellent traction when combined with soft rubber compound knobs and lower air pressure.
A harder tire carcass and sidewall compounds help the tire maintain greater stability in higher speeds. However, it may cause a lack of traction in some conditions, such as hard enduro, trials style, or very technical sections when the tire needs to grab well. The hybrid rubber compounds can help achieve better results in both of these areas.
On soft terrain, such as muddy or sandy trails, stiffer sidewall tires usually perform better. For roots, rocks, ledges, and other hard terrain conditions, choose a softer sidewall tires that can grab obstacles better for an increased traction.
When the conditions call for traction in deep sand, mud, or otherwise loamy trails without rocks roots and slimy flat surfaces, hard tires are your best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
3. Select the Tread Pattern or Knob Spacing
The tread pattern or knob spacing is an important factor when choosing best dirt bike tires for trail riding. The treading optimizes a tire for a particular type of terrain so you should choose the tread pattern based on where you ride.
If you plan to ride in mud, the wider spacing between knobs or lugs will help clearing the mud out and make the tire grab better.
Especially if the track has a mix of mud and some hard terrain, selecting a hard sidewall tire with soft lugs and an open tread pattern works well. This way, the tire will clear itself out quickly after a muddy section and it will be ready for the hard-packed section. In addition, the soft rubber compound will stick to the rocks well.
Have you noticed that trials tires are usually super soft and have knobs spaced out very closely? This provides great traction in obstacles. However, the tires are not good in muddy conditions as they permanently fill out with mud. The spacing and pattern of the knobs affect how well the tire grabs in different conditions.
4. Set the Correct Tire Pressure To Increase Traction
In addition to the tire rubber compounds used, the tire pressure greatly affects the overall traction available and the tire performance.
When the tire pressure is correctly set for the terrain, the tire conforms to the shape of the terrain, which in turn greatly improves traction.
The best dirt bike tires for trail riding need to perform well in a wide range of air pressure used, however, the rider needs to manage and understand how much air pressure is needed.
Neglecting to check and adjust the tire pressure before riding in different conditions can lead to several different issues, such as flats, harsh or hard feedback through handlebars, unstable feeling on different surfaces, and much more.
Begin by setting your tire pressure to around 10–12 PSI for your front tire and to 9–11 PSI for your rear tire if you are using stock inner tubes. This works great with most intermediate tires and in most conditions.
If you plan to ride on rocks, roots, and sharp ledges, set a slightly higher pressure to avoid punctures and snake eyes when using stock inner tubes. What you want is a soft enough tire pressure to maximize the tire surface area to the ground without resulting in flats.
Make sure to check out our ultimate guide to dirt bike tire pressure for more tips for tire pressure settings and maximizing traction.
Remember to check the tire pressure often. This is important because each trail and riding day is different. Dirt bike tires also lose or increase pressure over time and with temperature changes.
If you make a habit of setting the correct dirt bike tire pressure each time before the first ride, you will start noticing how even small changes to the tire pressure affect the riding performance and rider feedback.
5. Choose How To Prevent Flats and Punctures
Protecting the dirt bike tires from punctures, flats, and tear outs is an important aspect of the tire setup.
Once you have found the best dirt bike tires for trail riding that work for you, choose how to prevent tire punctures and flats. When you start practicing more technical riding and your riding speeds increase, you will start to suffer from frequent flats. At that point, a normal inner tube style stock tire setup may not be the best solution anymore.
Another issue with the stock tire setup is the tire pressure, which will have a big impact on traction. With inner tubes, you will typically need to inflate tires anywhere from 8 to 15 PSI to effectively avoid punctures.
When the stock tire setup with an inner tube doesn’t suffice anymore, you basically have few different popular protection options to choose from:
- Tubliss tire protection system, which is a high pressure inner tube system
- Nitro Mousse, which is basically a foam inner tube
- Heavy duty inner tubes, which are thicker than stock inner tubes
These technologies can help protect the wheels and the dirt bike tires from damage and offer great options to increase traction.
A Tubliss tubeless tire system offers a great flat protection system for trail riding.
The system is easy to install and practically maintenance free between tire changes. In addition, it offers easier tire changes compared to a Mousse.
The biggest advantage it offers is the capability to set your tire pressure the same way you would for a normal inner tube. The 100 PSI inner tube is covered with a thick rubber bladder that also works as a rim lock.
The setup is slightly lighter than in a Mousse but it can still suffer from punctures in the tire itself. Even if this were the case, you can continue riding as the inner tube still maintains the pressure and protects the tube and wheel from damage. You can plug the tire trailside or keep riding and fix the flat back at the camp.
We highly recommend the Tubliss system for all trail riders, such as the Nuetech Tubliss System (click to check the current price on Amazon.com) over a Mousse. It has only few drawbacks and it is affordable, long-lasting, and most importantly a great option to eliminate flats and punctures as well as to increase traction.
A Mousse is basically a foam tube that replaces the inner tube. With a Mousse setup, you don’t need to worry about punctures or flats of any kind as there is no air inside the tire.
Furthermore, the Nitro Mousse foam tubes are considered one of the most reliable solutions on the market for flat and puncture protection. However, the downside is the fact that you cannot control the tire pressure.
In order to change the desired tire softness, you need to change the Mousse inside the tire. In addition, a Mousse wears out much quicker than a Tubliss requiring frequent changes with new tires. Most people run one to two tires per Mousse, which can quickly become very expensive.
Also, tire changes are much more difficult with a Mousse. They require some practice and usually more robust tools to change the tire quickly or back at the camp, such as a good ///tire changing stand.
If you prefer a Mousse, we recommend to get the Nuetech Nitro Mousse (click to check the current price on Amazon.com).
Best Dirt Bike Tires
In general, you should select soft rubber compound tires for enduro and trail riding. The soft tires will grip better to the typically harder surface and thus work best with rocks, roots, and obstacles.
An ideal all-around dirt bike tire for trail riding comes with a medium sidewall, a soft rubber compound, and excellent wear and tear characteristics.
Over time, you will get better at choosing the correct tire setup that works best for you. You will be surprised how big a difference there is in how different dirt bike tires perform in different conditions. Read reviews and test them out—that’s the only way you will find your favorite tires for different riding spots.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to pick the same brand or model tires for both the front and rear tire. Many riders choose to run different brands for front and rear tires and mix them based on trail conditions.
Next, let’s review our choices for the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Best Front Tires for Trail Riding
Our choice for the best front tire for trail riding is the Shinko MX216. With an average price of around $75 makes this tire a great choice for most trail riders with its excellent all pace traction and stability.
This tire is a must to try for all dirt bike riders looking to find the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Our top 3 choices for the best front tire for trail riding are:
Michelin Starcross 5
Kenda Ibex K774
The Shinko MX216 front tire has excellent traction, roll resistance and wear characteristics. It works well in many conditions and provides great slow and fast-speed performance without noticeable chunking. The reinforced side lugs last much longer than other tires in this price range and the tall knob profile offers great traction even in softer terrain.
We recommend the standard 90/90-21 tire size as it offers a great cornering capability without compromises while maintaining excellent traction. In our tests, the narrow 90-wide tire works the best in most conditions. Shinko also offers the 90/100-21 size “fat tire”, which works well in certain trail conditions, mainly in rocks and cliffs as well as flat stone or hard packed trails.
Our third choice, Kenda Ibex has an excellent traction especially for hard enduro and extreme conditions. However, it has a poor thread wear compared to the other two on this list.
Best Rear Tires for Trail Riding
The title of the best rear tire for trail riding goes to Michelin StarCross 5 medium. While it only comes in 110/100-18 size, it is a great tire for most trail bikes out there with no fitment issues. We like it because of the hybrid rubber compound that makes it stable at higher speeds while proving excellent traction with gummy-like knobs.
However, our favorite rear tire for trail riding is by far the Shinko 525 cheater. The tire performs very well in all technical trail conditions and offers reasonable wear and chunking resistance at a great price point! It’s definitely a rear tire to consider when finding the best dirt bike tires for trail riding.
Our top 3 choices for the best rear tire for trail riding are:
Michelin StarCross 5
Shinko R525 Hybrid
IRC VE-33 Gekkota
The maximum traction in these rear tires depends heavily on the flat and puncture protection used. We picked here tires that perform well when combined with Tubliss Tire Protection System or the Nitro Mousses that allow running very soft and plush tires.
For other tips on how to maximize traction, check our post on how to set the ideal dirt bike tire pressure.
Best Dirt Bike Tires for Beginners
Intermediate tires are a great choice for beginners as all-around tires because they work in a wide range of settings.
Great beginner intermediate front tires run anywhere between $60 and $85, whereas rear tires go between $85 to $100—and there are plenty to choose from. So just pick the ones that fit your budget range. You can also start with the cheapest dirt bike tires listed below and learn how they work for your riding style and terrain.
If you plan to ride in deep sand or in muddy conditions, choose a tire pattern that is more open because it clears out mud and grabs better. Whereas the normal spaced knobs are great for rocks, roots, or similar.
Cheapest Dirt Bike Tires
Below, you can find one of the cheapest dirt bike tires available on the market. We selected these tires because of their relatively good traction for most conditions and because they offer reasonable mileage or lifespan. With some testing, you can find great tire options for the best dirt bike tires for trail riding within your budget range.
We have personally tested the Artrax SE3 and the Tusk Recon rear tires. They are very similar when it comes to traction and stability. We mostly disliked the fairly stiff carcass and the fact that both tires were not flexing well even with around 4 PSI inner tube air pressure in the Tubliss setup. They also wear out and start chunking (losing knobs) fairly quickly, around 10 hours on hard enduro riding.
In general, we can recommend these cheapest dirt bike tires if you are a beginner rider and mostly ride in medium terrain conditions. While they may not be candidates for the best dirt bike tires for trail riding, they are still great contenders and offer great opportunities to get better at dirt bike riding and to appreciate the higher price point tires.
Best Hard Enduro Tires
The best hard enduro tires are usually made of softer, gummy style tire compounds.
The newer hybrid tires often use several rubber compounds to form a tire that is stable at higher speeds but also flexible to increase traction. These tires use sticky, gummy knobs made of softer rubber.
Our top 3 choices for the best hard enduro tires are:
IRC VE-33 Gekkota
Michelin StarCross 5
Shinko R525 Hybrid
These best hard enduro tires perform best in all conditions and excel in very hard and technical hard enduro and enduro riding conditions when combined with the Tubliss or Nitro Mousse setup.
With a Tubliss tire system, we recommend using 5 PSI tire pressure on the rear and 11.5 PSI on the front. Whereas with a Nitro Mousse, use a plushie Mousse foam tube for the rear tire and a soft Mousse foam tube for the front tire with plenty of grease when installing.
We all have our own preference when it comes to best dirt bike tires for trail riding. Finding your favorite tires requires seat time on the dirt bike and testing different tires on the trails.
We recommend testing new tires out boldly and keeping notes on the tires tested to find a good combination that works for your riding style and trail conditions you ride in.
Keep in mind that no matter what kind of dirt bike tires you end up choosing, the goal is to have fun, be safe, and get better at dirt bike riding.
Keep the rubber side down!
- Ultimate guide to dirt bike tire pressure
- How to change dirt bike tire with Tubliss
- How to set up dirt bike suspension for trail riding
- 5 tips to improve dirt bike clutch control
- Single track riding tips for beginners
Last updated: November 29, 2022