How to Choose Dirt Bike Tires for Trail Riding

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A dirty dirt bike tire with a tight tread pattern

When the selection is as large as it is, choosing dirt bike tires for trail riding can be overwhelming.

When choosing dirt bike tires for trail riding, the most important thing to consider is your riding style and the conditions you ride in. Soft tires are perfect for rocks and trails with lots of roots, rubble, and logs. Intermediate tires work great on sand and on faster single tracks. Hard tires are usually chosen for soft sand and high speeds.

We will help you to navigate through the dirt bike tire selection process and explain in detail what to consider when choosing dirt bike tires for trail riding. So next time, it will be a breeze for you to select the dirt bike tires that match your riding style.

Riding Style and Riding 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 actually can 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 tracks or 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 the dirt bike tires for trail riding. The goal is to choose a tire that is designed for the type of riding you do.

The most important thing to identify is the type of terrain you are mostly going to be riding in. The terrain can be divided into three types:

  • Soft terrain – sand and mud
  • Intermediate terrain – tracks with good traction and a mixture of soft and hard dirt
  • Hard terrain – rock, ledges, and granite

When the tires on your dirt bike are designed for the terrain you ride on, riding becomes easier and more fun.

Read also: How To Set Up Dirt Bike Suspension For Trail Riding

A brand new dirt bike soft tire with a tight knob pattern

What to Consider When Choosing Dirt Bike Tires?

The type of riding and trail conditions define what tires you should choose for your dirt bike.

As you gain more experience in dirt bike riding and master the basic riding skills, you will notice the tires more and more. In other words, the dirt bike tires start to make even a bigger difference.

There are few different factors to consider when choosing the dirt bike tires. Each tire is naturally different but there are few high-level principles that will help you with choosing a tire category for your riding style.

Tire Rubber Compound

Sometimes people confuse the tire 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 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.

Tire Sidewall Strength

The tire sidewall effects the performance and feeling of the dirt bike in several ways.

Dirt bike tires with a soft sidewall tend to roll in high speeds and make the dirt bike feel unstable in cornering. Thus, they usually require a little bit more air pressure in higher speeds to compromise the rolling feel. The upside is that they provide an excellent traction when combined with soft rubber compound knobs.

A hard tire carcass and sidewall makes the tire maintain a great 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.

Tread Pattern or Knob Spacing

The tread pattern or knob spacing is an important factor when choosing dirt bike tires. 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.

Read also: Ultimate Guide To Dirt Bike Tire Pressure

Two dirt bikes with riders on a muddy trail with rear tires showing

Different Types of Dirt Bike Tires

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. They all are designed for different types of terrain.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.

Soft 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.

Soft tires are typically called gummy, sticky, or cheater tires.

Intermediate 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.

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.

Intermediate tires also perform well in somewhat moist and rainy conditions and on wet surfaces. They 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 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.

Read also: Setting Up Dirt Bike Handlebars For Trail Riding

A dirt bike spinning its rear wheel on a muddy trail

How Does a Correct Tire Pressure Increase Traction?

In addition to the tire rubber compound, dirt bike tire pressure greatly affects the overall traction available.

When the tire pressure is correctly set for the terrain, the tire conforms to the shape of the terrain which in turn improves traction.

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.

Start by setting your tire pressure to around 10–12 PSI for your front tire and to 9–11 PSI for your rear tire. 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. 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.

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.

Read also: Do I Need A Rekluse Clutch On My Dirt Bike?

Several dirt bikes on the start line of a race with front tires next to the orange gate

How To Prevent Flats?

Protecting the dirt bike tires from punctures, flats, and tear outs is an important aspect of the tire setup.

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 inflate tires to 10–15 PSI to avoid punctures. With Tubliss or Mousse, you can run pressures ranging from 0–10 PSI with much improved traction without any risk of damaging the tires or wheels.

When the stock tire setup with an inner tube doesn’t suffice anymore, you basically have two different popular protection options to choose from:

  • Tubliss, which is a high pressure inner tube system, and
  • Mousse, which is basically a foam inner tube.

Both technologies protect the wheels and the dirt bike tires from damage and offer great options to increase traction.

Tubliss

A Tubliss offers a great option for your dirt bike and setting it up for more technical trails out there. 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 is the capability to set your tire pressure the same way you would for a normal inner tube. The 100PSI 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 trail side or keep riding and fix the flat back at the camp.

We definitely recommend a Tubliss system such as the Nuetech Tubliss System (click to check the current price on MotoSport.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.

Mousse

A Mousse is basically a foam tube that replaces the inner tube. And with a Mousse, you don’t need to worry about punctures or flats of any kind.

The downside is the fact that you cannot control the tire pressure. In order to change the desired 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 expensive.

This setup is the most reliable for most conditions except in very high speeds as a Mousse might deteriorate very quickly. 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.

If you prefer a Mousse, we recommend to get the Nuetech Nitro Mousse (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com).

Read also: How To Change Dirt Bike Tire With Tubliss

A rider riding a dirt bike on a trail surrounded by grassy fields

Best Dirt Bike Tires for Trail Riding

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.

What you should be looking for in a tire is the sidewall stiffness, the high and low speed performance, and the rubber compound softness. An ideal all-around enduro tire 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 well 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.

Here are the top 3 dirt bike tires we recommend for all around enduro and trail riding. We evaluated the overall traction, the sidewall stability in higher speeds and how quickly the tire wears out.

Top 3 Rear Tires for Trail Riding
Michelin Starcross 5 Soft Rear Tire
$122.99 (19% off)
Shinko 525 Series Rear Tire
$122.99 (5% off)
Kenda Ibex K774 Rear Tire
$109.99 (6% off)
Top 3 Front Tires for Trail Riding
Michelin Starcross 5 Soft Front Tire
$121.99 (15% off)
Shinko 216 Series Front Tire
$93.99 (6% off)
Kenda Ibex K774 Front Tire
$78.99 (13% off)

Read also: Where To Ride My Dirt Bike Near Me

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.

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.

Shinko and Tusk offer affordable choices for beginners. Their dirt bike tires are comparable in performance with many high-priced options so they are a great choice for beginners.

Best Dirt Bike Tires for Beginners
Shinko 525 Series Rear Tire
$122.99 (5% off)
Shinko 216 Series Front Tire
$93.99 (6% off)

Read also: The Best Dirt Bike Setup For Beginners

Best Dirt Bike Tires for Hard Enduro

Hard enduro riders usually favor softer tire compounds in technical, hard enduro riding conditions.

Soft tires with a knobby tread pattern work in a wider variety of soil conditions and find traction in the most extreme conditions.

These single track trail tires perform well in all conditions and excel in very hard and technical conditions when combined with the Tubliss or Nitro Mousse setup. We recommend a 5 PSI inflation or a soft Mousse for the rear tire and a 9 PSI or a soft Mousse for the front tire.

Best Dirt Bike Tires for Hard Enduro
Shinko R505 Cheater Rear Tire
$124.99 (9% off)
Shinko 216 Series Front Tire
$93.99 (6% off)

Read also: The Best Dirt Bike Setup For Advanced Riders

Best Dirt Bike Tires for Hard Enduro Races

In dirt bike races, the correct tire setup is essential. The conditions change throughout the race as the track wears out and even the weather conditions can change quickly.

Since you are usually not able to ride the actual race track before the race, you should choose the tires based on similar tracks and how well the tires perform on them. Usually, softer rubber compounds work well for hard enduro’s rocky tracks.

In rainy or very slippery conditions, it’s easy to notice how much better a fresh tire will work than a tire that has already started rounding the edges on the knobs. So we definitely recommend getting a fresh pair of tires for races.

The tire pressure or Mousse softness also affects the available traction and it’s important to find a good compromise. Basically, the slower, more technical, and rocky the track is, the softer your tire setup should be. If the track is faster, enduro style or has lots of 4th and 5th gear sections, you need to find a compromise that also works for the faster sections.

We recommend a good all-around race tire setup for technical, hard enduro race styles on a slippery rocky terrain. They work well both in dry and rainy conditions when combined with the Tubliss or soft Mousse.

Best Dirt Bike Tires for Hard Enduro Races
Michelin Starcross 5 Soft Rear Tire
$122.99 (19% off)
Michelin Starcross 5 Soft Front Tire
$121.99 (15% off)

Read also: The Best Dirt Bike Setup For Racers

Conclusions

The type of riding you do and the conditions you ride in define what kind of dirt bike tires you should choose. When the tires on your dirt bike are designed for the terrain you ride on, you get the best traction and riding becomes easier and more fun.

Soft or gummy tires are popular among enduro and trail riders as they work the best in technical, hard enduro riding conditions. If you don’t know what the conditions are going to be like, you can always just go with intermediate tires to give you enough acceleration, traction, and stability.

No matter what kind of dirt bike tires you choose, you are still going to have fun out there.

See you on the trails!

Last updated: May 17, 2022