In this post, we will dive into the tread designs on a number of different tire options from a number of different brands. We hope to give a bit more information on the correct tread pattern for the terrain readers are commonly riding in, as well as the thought behind knob placement and depth.
This is not an all inclusive post on tires, but rather focuses predominantly on the tread patterns. There are a number of other factors that go into tires to make them feel a certain way including the casing, bead and rubber compounds. We look to dig into this more in the future.
Ultra Short Tread Profiles: Mainly used by XC riders and racers looking to get the fastest rolling tire with enough grip to hold on dirt. The lowest amount of energy will go into turning over each minimal knob. The tread pattern will not see a lot of time on the edge knobs because XC terrain usually keeps the riders upright on flat sections and climbs.
Tires in this category: Maxxis Ikon, Schwalbe Racing Ralph, and Specialized Renegade.
Short Tread Profiles: These tread patterns provide enough knob height to provide traction when cornering, however, they are low enough to still provide a fast rolling tire. They often have a very fast rolling center tread, with center knobs being close together and of the same height. These tread patterns seem to work superbly in both hardpack terrain, as well as terrain with loose over hardpack, found predominantly in places such as the American Southwest.
Tires in this category: Maxxis Ardent, Schwalbe Rocket Ron, and Specialized Purgatory
All Around Tread Profiles: These are pretty much the best of both worlds. They provide a fast rolling center profile for when your straight-lining, in conjunction with sizeable side knobs that offer grip when the rider leans the bike over into a corner. These do not roll as fast as the previous tires, but do give the user confidence in a number of different environments including hardpack, loam, and wet terrains. They will also use ramping in the center knobs to help with the rollover resistance on those higher knobs.
Tires in this category: Maxxis DHF/DHR and Maxxis High Roller, Schwalbe Nobby Nic and Magic Mary, Specialized Butcher
Tall Tread Profiles: These tread patterns are specifically designed to give riders grip in wet and loose conditions, specifically wet and loose conditions that will have rocks and roots intermittently mixed in. The knobs are tall and square in order to penetrate into the loose material on top and grab something firm further down. This tread pattern also has splits or cuts in the knobs, referred to as siping, allowing them to open up when they roll over harder objects, such as rocks and roots. When this happens, it increases the amount of rubber contacting the object, giving you more grip. Because of these square edges, the tire will not roll very efficiently on flat ground, as more energy is required to turnover the square edge knobs.
Tires in this category: Maxxis Shorty, Specialized Hillbilly, and Schwalbe Muddy Mary
Ultra Tall Tread Profiles: Designed to be optimal in highly saturated mud, with little to no rocks or roots. On this tread pattern, you will find the tallest and sharpest knobs made for getting as deep as possible to firm terrain. Made for only the worst and most unpredictable conditions, you will not see a ton of these out on the trail, but they do provide the most amount of confidence possible when the weather conditions are less than desirable.
Tires in this category: Maxxis Wet Scream, Continental Mud King, and Specialized Storm
Semi-Slicks: Very low profile center knobs with the same sizeable side knobs found on your normal all around tire. Often ran as a rear tire in conjunction with an All Around tread pattern up front. The low center profile allows the tire to roll extremely fast, while still providing cornering grip with the larger side knobs, and front tread. Braking power can be reduced on these rear tires as the low profile center does not provide a lot of grip when the tire is slowed or locked under braking. If it comes down to milliseconds, this tire can provide you with a slight advantage while still providing great traction when the trail changes direction.
Tires in this category: Maxxis Minion SS, Specialized Slaughter, and Schwalbe Rock Razor
Hopefully, this will give you some insightful information regarding the tread pattern for you and your riding terrain. Tread design has evolved tremendously over the past decade, truly providing a tire for almost every situation. The information is in no way a solid rulebook, but more a set of guidelines and recommendations.