Cross-country mountain bike racing requires that tires roll fast but grip well and have little resistance while climbing. They need to be lightweight and slender to help keep overall bicycle volume down, and they need to withstand the numerous rigors of harsh racing conditions. Cross country, or XC, demands compromised traction, coupled with the ability to roll efficiently over racing surfaces. According to REI.com, smaller knobs are faster and grip hard-packed trails. Many tires on the market produce XC race tires, but only a handful stand out as the best.
The Kenda Small Block 8
This aggressive-looking tire comes with a dual compound design. The rubber on the sides of the tread is different than the material in the center, creating a cornering grip that other tires lack. The numerous blocks, or knobs, prove to be fast on hard-pack trails, and their small size provides a tenacious bite to the riding surface.
Specialized Renegade S-Works
This world champion race-winning tire is lightweight and known for its stopping power. According to Specialized.com, it has little rolling resistance but strong traction for climbing. Specialized marketed one of the first off-road tires and still produces some of the most reputable tires in the industry. The Renegade is a low-volume XC race tire that is popular for its aggressive knob pattern and all-around performance. This tire is built with racing in mind.
Continental Race King
Continental is known for using high-grade rubber compounds in its tires, which gives them a reputation for quality. The Race King is a fast-rolling tire with small knobs for a variety of trail conditions. The "Black Chili" rubber compound exclusive to this tire offers a tacky grip.
Maxis Maxlite 310
Maxis tires have a strong following in the downhill racing circle, but the company has proved capable of producing a terrific XC race-ready tire that has special ramped knobs. This ultralight tire is designed to be ridden only at race time. It is made from a soft gripping compound best saved for the dirt.