The age-old question of “what tyres should I run” transcends marathon mountain biking to just about any facet of bicycle riding and racing. And so often, when asked why people choose one model over another, it’s not always based on sound reasoning. If you look into tyre testing, while French and German magazines have often done lab tests, they aren’t updated as frequently as new treads or casings come onto the market. So we grouped together 7 sets of Maxxis tyres to try them out, in real world conditions.
Why we tested Maxxis mountain bike tyres
Australia’s Maxxis importer, Bikecorp, have helped our riders out with Maxxis tyres since the 2011 Crocodile Trophy. Earlier that year, enough time on the Maxxis Ikon, with EXO protection, had shown it rolled well, inflated tubeless easily (this was prior to the ‘TR’ tubeless ready models), and was strong. Amongst 3 riders at the then 1100km Crocodile Trophy we had no flat tyres – so there seemed little reason to change. Part of this testing was for our own riders knowledge and understanding. While it was only Imogen Smith and her coach who undertook the testing, it’s useful information for all our riders. And hopefully anyone reading this as well.
What Maxxis mountain bike tyres did we test?
We narrowed it down to tyres we use, and tyres we think we might – all within the scope of what is imported into Australia. We would have loved to test the new Maxxis Aspen in 29×2.25″ that Nino Schurter races on – but they aren’t imported, and the models with 170tpi (threads per inch) casing he races on are ‘pro only’. That’s not us.
So we settled on matching pairs of the following:
Maxxis Tread Lite 29×2.1″ EXO TR
Maxxis Ikon 29×2.2″ EXO 3C TR
Maxxis Forekaster 29×2.2″ EXO TR
Maxxis Ardent Race 29×2.2″ EXO 3C TR
Maxxis Crossmark II 29×2.25″ EXO TR
Maxxis Ardent 29×2.25″ EXO TR
Maxxis Maxxlite 310 29×2.0″, 170tpi
Those last two, or last three, are outliers from what we would normally consider racing on. But as the Ardent is so popular, the Crossmark was a classic, and the Maxxlite is so light, it seemed like the time to see how they acted on our local trails.
Our Maxxis tyre test protocols
I’m not a scientist or an engineer. But I’d like to think many of the people who have been on our team are incredibly intelligent (a quick count says we’ve had 6 PhD holders race in our colours in Australia and abroad) – but we did what we could to make sure the test procedure was repeatable. As much as you can in the outdoor #terrainlab. Bear in mind this was not a lab test, and the only true measuring equipment for performance was time and a power meter. Much of the outcomes are based on rider’s feedback.
We had 3 sets of wheels to use for the tests. Two sets of NoTubes Valors, and a set of Nextie 27mm rims on Novatec hubs. The Nextie wheels weigh 80g more than the Valors so they had an XTR cassette while the Valors had XT cassettes – to mitigate the overall weight difference. Both rims have a very similar internal width of about 22mm.
Tyres were set up with 100mL of Orange Seal sealant, and inflated to 35psi to bead, before being set at the individual pressure setting for the rider. Pressure was set with a digital gauge.
We set a loop at our local trails, Gap Creek, using a singletrack climb that merged into a firetrail as a timed section, before an untimed traverse, and a timed run down the trail ‘Dingo’.
We used two riders, Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team member Imogen Smith, and her coach Shaun Doyle. Imogen climbed at a target wattage of 150W, while Shaun aimed for 250W.
We weighed each tyre and recorded the average, plus we measured the width of the casing with a set of digital verniers, and the width from the outermost edge knobs.
The Maxxis tyre tests
We aimed to get two lots of numbers for each tyre, one from each rider. But with a broken rim on the first loop, it meant we were down to using the two sets of Valors, which made the day longer given riders had to wait for tyre changes. Times and normalised power are noted. In the end, some of the tyres only had one rider on them – given some time and trail traffic constraints.
Maxxis Maxxlite 29 x 2.0″
353g avg | 345g claimed | 53.16mm/53.6mm casing/tread
Climbing: 7:07 at 265W NP (Shaun)
Descending: 3:13 at 128 NP (Shaun)
This is a super quick tyre, and with the 170tpi casing is very supple. Not being a tubeless ready tyre it inflated on the Valor rim with a track pump but needed CO2 on the Nextie rim. Traction was best described as “loose AF”, with poor braking traction. But, it could be combined well with a grippier tyre on the front for a fast course. It was noted that the drop in rotating weight was immediately noticeable – but it wouldn’t be a choice for a race where there would be much loose terrain. Notably, Alban Lakata won the 2017 XCM World Championships on these tyres.
Maxxis Tread Lite 29 x 2.1 EXO TR
627g avg | 630g claimed | 50.97mm/51.99mm casing/tread
Climbing: 7:17 at 266W NP (Shaun) | 9:04 at 153W (Imogen)
Descending: 3:07 at 132W NP (Shaun) | 3:27 at 75W NP (Imogen)
The Maxxis Tread Lite is a race-ready semi-slick, designed to be fast in dry conditions. And it was. The rolling resistance on grass was incredibly low (by rider feedback), prompting one tester to say it felt like they were rolling along on a road bike. Cornering was ok but in general traction wasn’t great when compared to a Maxxis Ikon, and the Tread Lite suffered at higher speeds on the looser trail conditions, plus the smaller bag of the 2.1″ tyre meant there was more feedback and deflection with higher pressures required. Braking traction wasn’t great, especially on the rear.
Maxxis Ikon 29 x 2.2″ EXO TR 3C
650g avg | 640g claimed | 54.59mm/51/13mm casing/tread
Climbing: 7:19 at 265W NP (Shaun) | 9:15 at 151W (Imogen)
Descending: 3:04 at 127W NP (Shaun) | Imogen’s descent was inhibited
Maxxis claim the Ikon is their most versatile XC tread and we can’t argue. Of note it’s the only tyre to have the casing extend wider than the tread, and Valor rims aren’t that wide. The testers noted that the Ikon rolls fast and speed is easy to maintain, most notable on the climb. Traction is great, especially climbing and even on wet roots given the 3C compound mix. Front wheel traction does diminish at speed or under heavy braking. It is predictable when it lets go, but does get some minor skidding in the rear under heavy braking. Still a very versatile XC tyre.
Maxxis Forekaster 29 x 2.2″ EXO TR
724g avg | 690g claimed | 58.00mm/58.14mm casing/tread
Climbing: 7:07 at 283W NP (Shaun)
Descent: 2:57 at 126W NP (Shaun)
The Maxxis Forekaster is said to be for mud and wet conditions, but is also great for loose over hardpack. And that’s where the tyre shone, especially given this 2.2″ tyre had the largest bag size of any tyre we tested. Climbing resistance was increased ‘but tolerable’, and overall traction was very good. Cornering was akin to an Ardent Race, and the Forekaster on the rear gave especially good braking traction. Shaun commented that it made the hardtail ‘feel like a dually’. This is an aggressive XC tyre and proved itself to be fantastic in rougher and loose conditions. It is also available in 2.35″. While many consider the Forekaster is a wet conditions tyre, in pretty much perfect trail conditions we found it fantastic in loose over hardpack and rougher, rockier terrain.
Maxxis Ardent Race 29 x 2.2″ 3C EXO TR
746g avg | 720g claimed | 52.36mm/53.56mm casing/tread
Climbing: 7:17 at 275W NP (Shaun) | 9:16 at 152W (Imogen)
Descending: 2:58 at 136W NP (Shaun) | 3:25 at 65W NP (Imogen)
The Ardent Race was designed to fill the gap between the Ikon and the Ardent. And it does so admirably. It does feel slower than an Ikon when climbing, and doesn’t quite have the same traction on loose terrain when climbing out of the seat. Cornering compared to an Ikon is much better, with a better feeling of support when tipping the bike over. More pronounced side knobs would be the prime reason for this. Shuan said there was “good cornering confidence, although it got sketchy at speed.” Imogen stated the braking traction was “very good”, and Shaun couldn’t get it to break traction under load when descending.
Maxxis Crossmark II 29.2.25″ EXO TR
791g avg | 780g claimed | 58.09mm/59.93mm casing/tread
Climbing: 9:28 at 152W (Imogen)
Descending: 3:25 at 81W NP (Imogen)
The Maxxis Crossmark was an XC classic, and the Crossmark II has been redesigned to roll a little faster and have more control. The centre knobs are almost completely connected, and the side knobs have been changed for greater cornering grip. Despite a large increase in weight, rolling resistance was deemed very good, with a feel similar to an Ikon. Cornering traction was good, but it did lock up in the back, or push in the front more easily than a tyre like the Ardent Race when braking or cornering on descents respectively. In those same conditions the tyres did slide quite easily, but predictably, when pushed hard. This is a 60tpi casing tyre, whereas every other model (save for the Maxxlite) are 120tpi. The more threads per inch, the more supple the tyre as the threads of the casing are smaller and more tightly packed together. With this in mind, the Crossmark II would be a great XC/trail tyre, especially if you rode on a mix of firetrail and singletrack with some fast surfaces between. The 60tpi casing does tend to be very robust as well.
Maxxis Ardent 29 x 2.25 EXO TR
862g avg | 800g claimed | 54.24mm/54.61mm casing/tread
Climbing: 9:36 at 152W (Imogen)
Descending: 3:19 at 76W NP (Imogen)
The Maxxis Ardent is said to be a do-it-all trail tyre, and coming in so many options (including skin wall, and 29×2.40″, and UST 120tpi) this 60tpi tyre is weighty but super solid. In fact we know of a manufacturer testing running tubeless with no sealant on a similar model, as the sidewalls are so thick and strong, they don’t need sealing. Climbing was great for traction, and rolling resistance was ok but noticeable – as shown in the time. Traction was described as ‘very good’ as the tyre continued to hook up well even when sliding a little. The traction for cornering was described as “excellent”, as was the braking traction, increasing descending confidence. But in terms of a race tyre, it was “not hugely better than the Ardent Race – I’d go for the Ardent Race”, given the 100g+ weight difference between the tyres, clearly.
The wash up
Well it’s clear that limitations of the test make a conclusive answer difficult. The super light tyres climb really well, but didn’t tend to have the confidence required on descents. Not being a lab test, we did have setbacks with a broken rim, some rider fatigue (of note Dominos don’t deliver pizza to Gap Creek picnic area) and a little bit of trail traffic. Bearing in mind Imogen Smith doesn’t have full use of her left arm due to an accident, she couldn’t push her bike as hard on the descents.
Perhaps the biggest outcome is the need to test some combinations. Since the testing, Imogen is now running a Forekaster on the front and an Ardent Race on the rear, to get the benefits in the loose and dry conditions currently in South East Queensland. Both Shaun and Imogen explained the process was a great reminder of how versatile the Ikon is, but also how much faster a semi-slick can roll. Both would consider a Tread Lite for events without too much rocky terrain, and a lot of hardpack. Shaun’s time descending on the Tread Lite showed it was not much slower than an Ikon.
As a team, our Subaru-MarathonMTB.com riders often run an Ikon/Ikon combination, or an Ardent Race front, Ikon rear combination. The outcomes above show that this is still a very versatile setup. And although we didn’t test against the 2.0″ Ikon, this could be a great front tyre to match a Tread Lite rear for a race like the Highland Fling.
I don’t believe any of us would reach for the Crossmark II or Ardent for racing – unless there was a lot of fast and loose descending where the Ardent could make a great front tyre, unless it was wet and the Forekaster might prove better. It is so much lighter, that from a racing perspective it’s a great choice.
Imogen’s thoughts on the Maxxis testing
I was quite surprised at how little penalty rolling resistance dished out. During the climb only the heaviest tyre – the Ardent – made a big difference to the time it took to get to the top at the same wattage, and I suspect this was more to do with weight than tread pattern. It’s changed my view on tyres, so that I’ll be more likely to change to bigger tread patterns on tracks where I feel I need a bit more confidence: say, wet hardpack, or mud. Likewise, I was surprised that a tyre like the Tread Lite didn’t feel quite as sketchy as I had anticipated, so I’d be open to running something like a Tread Lite on a fast, tech-less course (although these are pretty rare nowadays!).
At the same time, the Ardent Race/Ikon combination that I usually run has turned up a bit of a winner. Ikons showed up as one of the best all-round tyre for XC and XCM-style trail riding, but with a little sideways slide. The Ardent Race was barely any slower in our testing, so for me it makes sense to run one on the front to make up for this weakness in the Ikon pattern.
I was also really impressed by the Forekaster on loose over hardpack and loose terrain, not least because even though it’s a 2.20″, its casing width left more rubber on the ground. Whatever the reason, I found it incredibly comfortable on rough and rocky terrain – something I barely ever think about when I choose tyres. I’ve been trying the Forekaster out on the front with an Ardent Race on the rear recently, a combination that’s saved my ass a few times in recent weeks, not to mention my hands and arms during a couple of rough endurance events.
My takeaway: Don’t be afraid to mix it up: bigger treads can be faster in the long run. And it isn’t just about grip and weight – comfort plays a huge role in how fast you go, too.