In the UK a winter tyre might just become your year-round tyre, so we brought together the best to see which is takes the crown.
A good winter tyre will be above all, grippy and good at shedding mud. Beyond that, they should be light, have a sturdy but not wooden sidewall, not wear out that quickly and roll pretty fast.
Pete and Ben have been hammering some winter treads to see which rules the roost when it comes to winter grip.
Testing for Ben was carried out on 3 bikes over a period of 3 months with a few trips to properly technical tracks at Triscombe and a lot of lock down riding on the more chilled trails around Bristol and the Mendips. Most of the mileage was racked up on the Specialized Levo SL. Local laps were done on the Orange Stage Evo RS, a short travel ripper of a bike with a hunger for speed, and the big, gnarly tracks were tackled on the more capable, Forbidden Druid.
Pete kept things simple and ran all the tyres on his Vitus Escarpe 29 VRS for three months in the woods of Aberfoyle.
It is also refreshing to note that all tyres fitted, seated and pumped up without any problems, swearing or tantrums, and there was not a single puncture during the whole test. Happy Days. All tyres tested were in 29″.
In this test are Continental Mud King, WTB Verdict, Schwalbe Magic Mary, Michelin DH22, Maxxis Assegai and Specialized Hillbilly.
It’s worth saying: This isn’t an exhaustive list of all tyres on the market right now, it’s just what we’ve been able to test. If brands want to send us their tyres, we’ll happily include them when we re-run this feature. Get in touch here.
Easily the spikiest of the tyres on test, the Continental Mud Kings require some actual mud, or just an entirely off-camber trail to really sing. At 1215g for the 2.3″ offering means they’re not the heaviest going, and at £64.95, they’re nothing too daft when it comes to price too.
The 6-ply casing and Apex insert mean this certainly isn’t a trail tyre, and you won’t want to do any massive amount of miles on them either, especially not with one fitted on the rear. All that support in the casing means you can tune your pressure to suit, and there’s few tyres that go up easier tubeless than a Continental, especially on the DT Swiss rims fitted to the Vitus.
With a pair of Mud Kings fitted, assuming you’ve the legs to haul them to the top of the climb, you will be rewarded with the luxury of picking a line and making it stick. Black Chili does a solid job of sticking to rock and root, leaving the tread to hook into off-camber and softer surfaces. The compound doesn’t show any rapid signs of wear despite the laps put into them either.
If your climbs are steep, and the descents similarly so, then a Mud King will serve you well. It’s very much at the extreme end of this test though, and might even be overkill for even just a front tyre unless you live somewhere with a lot of clay or simply want your tyres to grip regardless of the downsides.
When you first fit the Verdict Wet you can’t help but appreciate just how beefy and aggressive the side knobs are. Its profile is reminiscent of the late Keith Flint’s side Mohawks back in the Prodigy’s heyday and the photos here just don’t do them justice.
We only had a single Verdict Wet to test, so it was fitted to the front of all three bikes at some point. As expected, being basically a mud spike, when things are wet and deep, the cornering on the WTB is like you are on rails. Give it some soft material to bite into and it does exactly what it is designed to… grip.
Once you take it away from its natural habitat in the dark and loamy forest, the WTB does show that it is quite a specialist tyre, as on rock and root it can be quite a handful. The tall knobs don’t really feel like they fold over, despite being quite soft, but they also don’t seem to deform and allow the tyre to grip as well as the Hillbilly or Michelin, despite being run at similar pressures.
On the right day, the Verdict Wet is about as grippy as it gets, both on the brakes and in the turns, but it just does not feel as connected to the trail when things are firmer under tyre and we struggled to really love this tyre. If you live somewhere that is constantly wet, with minimal rock or hardpack then this is about as good as it gets in terms of grip, but for mixed terrain, we would look elsewhere. It wins for weight and price at 1190g and £49.99 RRP.
The Schwalbe Magic Mary seems to be everywhere these days with them being popular OE spec as well as with the aftermarket too. Sporting a more rounded profile than the others on test but plenty of grip thanks to both the well spaced-out knobs and the Soft compound as tested.
Weight-wise the Magic Mary is there or thereabouts (1244g, Super Trail casing, 29″), and the same goes for the price (£62.99). Performance is up there too. Of the tyres here it is arguably the best all-rounder but does start to run out of puff when you take it into the extremes. With the knobs neither as tall or as spaced out as the others here, you do get better rolling and a better baseline grip in more situations.
Push the Mary hard into a flat turn on a harder surface though and you can feel the knobs fold rather than deform, and when things start to dry from full monsoon, the Mary has trouble shedding the worst of the cack to allow it to bite.
The biggest downside of the Magic Mary is that the rubber seems to start to wear very quickly, even without going for the Super Soft option, which doesn’t feel as soft as other tyres. Even with the same amount of time on them, the Mary is showing the signs of the most use.
It’s not hard to see why the Magic Mary is so popular, it does stand up well in most conditions, but at over £60 a corner, I’d like to see a tyre that lasted a little longer.
Despite being a DH tyre, rather than a trail tyre, we wanted to see how the DH22 faired on muddy UK trails. The Michelins spent a lot of time on the Levo SL E-Bike, which made the 1500g weight more bearable and enabled us to get plenty of test laps in. There is no denying that these are seriously grippy tyres, with the Magi-X compound being tacky to the touch and making a loud tearing noise if you dare take them on tarmac.
The amount of support, even at sub 20 psi pressures, was unreal and you never felt like the tyre was going to roll or fold. At these low pressures, the reinforced casing and supple knobs give you endless traction, albeit at the expense of rolling speed.
Running a pair of these Michelins requires one of three things:
A DH bike and gondola
Serious fitness and determination
We also spent quite a bit of time with the Michelin fitted to the front of the Forbidden Druid, with a lighter, faster rolling Maxxis DHRII EXO+ out back and although it was noticeable on the climbs, the improved grip was a trade off worth taking. When tackling mixed terrain, many tyres feel like a compromise in some areas, with a tyre that is great in soft loam, often skitting about on root and rock. This is not the case with the Michelin and it does a top job of sticking basically anywhere you point it.
When things get steep, tech, off camber and gnarly, you always know where you are with the DH22. They are predictable, stable and they inspire tonnes of confidence, just don’t expect to enjoy riding round a trail centre with them on. At £59.99 they’re by no means the most expensive either.
The Hillbilly features a simple, spaced out and blocky tread pattern and comes in two widths. The 2.6” is designed for front use with the 2.4” designated as more of a rear tyre. As riders who hate punctures we opted for the heavier BLCK DMND casing rather than the lighter, trail oriented Grid casing and this meant the 2.6” tyre weighed in at a stout 1230g, coming in at £58 a piece.
Unfortunately for us, we just missed out on the newer, sticky compound for 2021, and these featured the older GRIPTON compound, so bear that in mind when you read this review.
In soft and muddy conditions the Hillbilly really excels, clearing well and offering a good balance of rolling speed and predictable grip. The tough sidewalls offer enough protection for sub-20psi on the trail bike and low 20s psi on the E-Bike without any punctures or issues. The round carcass and profile of the knobs means that leaning into turns is a doddle and when there is some soil to dig into, the side knobs grab at it tenaciously.
The actual compound does not seem to have as much grip to it as the Michelin or WTB, but it is saved by the protective and supple casing as well as the low pressure capability, so whilst it is no rock and root grabber, it is in no way sketchy. At about 1200g per tyre we found it fine to pedal all day as a pair of tyres on both the Orange and Forbidden, although we can see some riders opting for the Grid version at just under 1kg in weight.
Despite being sold as a winter tyre, it is actually a fair bit more versatile and makes a good 3-season tyre for aggressive riders who value grip and predictability on natural terrain.
Put an Assegai on the front of your bike and then ride all year, in any conditions, on any trails and it will grip for miles and give you maximum confidence. The end. They really are that good. However, if you want a bit more detail, then read on…
In pretty much every circumstance they have been predictable, confidence inspiring and dependable. The Assegai would be my tyre of choice if I was building a bike and wanted a tyre to run all year in the UK.
Back in February I reviewed the new EXO+ casing from Maxxis and found it to be a great all-round option for UK trail and enduro riding, especially when using an insert like Rimpact. It was these EXO+ casings that I spent most time on with the Assegai and I found them to be pretty unflappable in most conditions. They have a nice rounded profile that takes you seamlessly from the top tread over on to the shoulders as you lean into a turn.
Although I mostly consider the Assegai to be a front tyre, I did spend time running them as a pair. With a rear Assegai fitted, you do notice the increased rolling resistance and there is certainly some drag, but when you point it down hill, the outright grip is unreal, especially if you are running the soft, Maxx Grip rubber compound that sticks to the trail like poo on a shoe.
The bottom line is that the Assegai is a true fit and forget tyre for the UK. Whether it is baked hard or soaking wet, you know that you will have plenty of predictable grip. If you are riding uplifts or DH then consider running a pair of Assegai for maximum grip and confidence.
If you want a winter tyre that will cut the mustard everywhere, then the Specialized Hillbilly is certainly more useable in more places than the rest of the competition. Not the heaviest or the most expensive, and comes in a variety of casings and compounds to suit, you’d be hard pushed to go wrong with a Hillbilly when things get wet and wild.
It’s worth mentioning that it was hard to pick a winner as they are just different. For eBike, it is the Michelin all day. For the very wettest and deepest it is the WTB Verdict or the Continental Mud King.
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Read all our other reviews and grouptests on our Gear page here.