Get a Grip! Five Mud Tires in Comparison
As we slide into the wet season, the trails that we have been enjoying all summer begin to take on an entirely new character. The dust that we have been shredding washes away; replaced with a thick slippery gloop, this is the season of mud, the age of sludge, and it’s the time to get sideways.
Fast rolling tires have no place here, as their closely packed knobs rapidly clog with muck and provide as much grip as a wet bar of soap. If we want to shred the winter, it is time to pop on some proper rubber, a tire designed for the job. There are now a number of tires designed specifically for riding on mud, but how much difference do they make for real riders? It was time to find out.
The Mud Laboratory
To find out if mud tires really work, we needed a location where it rains a lot, guaranteeing deep, sodden mud! In the end the choice was easy–it was time to head to Scotland! A few weeks later we were bouncing up an old fire road, climbing above a sea of inversion that lay thick over the Tweed Valley below us. The ground was sodden; larch branches hung heavily laden with moisture and the team were super excited.
In order to observe the benefits of a dedicated mud tire we set up a unique muddy laboratory, an approximate two minute secret trail on a hill above Innerleithen. This trail had a mixture of everything: steep muddy chutes, off camber corners, rocks, roots, and (of course) plenty of mud. The UK test team were all here, experienced test riders with numerous podiums among them, and we had some cutting edge mud tires to test. Freelap timing would allow us to measure performance to the millisecond, and we had a private shuttle to ensure we could put in many runs for accurate back-to-back analysis; concentrating on the feel of the tires through repetitive runs, it was going to be a day of slip-sliding and fun. One Trail, four riders, and four different opinions.
A mud tire needs to make very few compromises; designed purely for traction in the worst conditions, a mud tire can be overtly aggressive, giving little concession to rolling speed. A mud tire’s function is to cut through soft gloop while clearing quickly enough to avoid becoming clogged. Using open and aggressive tread patterns, mud can be shed easily while the tall spikes cut into the firmer dirt below. We are now asking more from our tires than ever before and we demand traction on roots and rocks, so the rubber compound needs to be just right too.
Schwalbe Magic Mary
- 2.35 Super-Gravity Trail-Star Compound
- 1,100 g
To measure the performance of the dedicated mud tires, we needed to compare them against a control tire. So first, the team got up to speed on the excellent Schwalbe Magic Mary tires–a well-respected all-condition tread pattern. We never expected the Magic Marys to excel in the deep mud, but as proven performers in most conditions they would provide a benchmark against which the specialist mud tires could be tested.
“The Magic Marys cope well in mud but you still have to be careful loading up the front as it can wash away completely”
Michelin Wild Mud Advanced
- 2.25 Magi-X Series
- 990 g
Looking at the tread pattern on the Michelin Wild Mud, its intent is clear: this is a tire designed for maximum penetration and mud-shedding ability. The tall, soft knobs use a twisted tread block design, twisting deep into the mud and springing back to promote clearing. With a narrow carcass the tire can cut deep into soft ground, but how would they handle on the rocks?
“The front felt planted and inspired complete confidence as it cut through the grime”
Continental Mud King
- 2.3 Black Chilli
- 980 g
The Continental Mud King features a slightly rounder profile than the Wild Mud, with slightly shorter knobs which should be more predictable on roots and rock. It is still a super- aggressive tire with wide open spacing for easy clearing, and the carcass features an ‘Apex’ layer of soft elastomer between the casing plies.
“Changing to Continental Mud King, the difference in grip was unbelievable”
Schwalbe Dirty Dan
- 2.35 Supergravity Vertstar
- 1,290 g
The Dirty Dan features a high-volume reinforced carcass and a big, burly tread pattern. The reinforced side walls are tubeless ready, and the Supergravity casing allows you to throw them into the rocks with confidence. The soft, slow-motion rebound Vertstar triple compound rubber provides massive grip, but weighing in at 1290g, how would they accelerate?
“The Dirty Dan had massive amounts of grip but had a slower rolling speed”
- 2.3 MaxTerra 3C
- 830 g
The new Maxxis Shorty is a mid-spike tire, mixing muddy condition performance with a fast rolling speed. We tested the lighter weight, single-walled MaxTerra version aimed at the aggressive trail rider. If you ride over mixed terrain, the Shorty may be a more versatile option than a dedicated mud spike. The tire features staggered side knobs to penetrate loose ground, and the widely-spaced knobs should help mud clearance.
“The Maxxis Shorty offered similar grip to the Magic Mary but cleared faster and would make an excellent all-round tire as they rolled really quickly”
Coop: “The trail we chose to ride was steep, tight, and muddy. The first few runs were grippy, but as the trail started to deteriorate the Magic Marys were getting more and more clogged with mud. I could still put in a run at good pace but it was loose and sketchy, getting closer to the limit of grip. Changing to the Dirty Dan was a revelation, offering massive amounts of traction and mud-clearing ability. Next I swapped to the continental Mud King; first run down and all I could think was how much better they were gripping, but more importantly how much more control I had. Each run my confidence grew with the tire while my times tumbled.”
Favourite tire = Continental Mud King
Rachael: “After swapping out from the Schwalbe Magic Mary the difference in the look and feel of the Michelin Wild Mud R was huge. I was now looking down on a much narrower tyre with less volume that looked like it could cut through mud and boy, it did! Pointing and shooting at the first corner, I held my breath; I entered the corner at the same speed and instead of coming out cursing, I came out whooping in delight! The offset or ‘twisted’ tread pattern gave me confidence to go faster and take risks where I would normally slow down! The Mud King has a larger volume and width compared with the Wild Mud R; this looks aggressive but unfortunately did not translate so well on the trail. I found this tire to have slightly less grip, feeling like it did not slice through the mud quite as efficiently as the Wild Mud R. This wider tire basically equated to less confidence and less speed.”
Favourite tire = Michelin Wild Mud
Jim: “The test track was techy tight singletrack–muddy, steep, and strewn with rocks and roots. The first run down using the Magic Mary was OK, but as the track got sloppier the non-specific tyre was clogging and losing traction under braking and turning, making for some interesting moments! Changing to Continental Mud King, the difference in grip was unbelievable, offering tight specific turns in the steepest parts of the track. The difference with the Michelin Wild Mud was not so noticeable, but still offered massive grip. The narrower profile meant rolling was a bit faster, but the tire was a tad sketchier through the rockier sections. The Maxxis Shorty offered similar grip to the Magic Mary but cleared faster and would make an excellent all-round tire as they rolled really quickly. My preference goes towards the Mud King for pure mud.”
Favourite tire = Continental Mud King
Knowli: “The main difference between an excellent all-round winter tire like the Magic Mary and a mud tire is absolute grip. The Magic Marys cope well in mud, but you still have to be careful loading up the front as it can wash away completely. With all the mud tires you have more confidence that they will bite, and thus you can load them into the turns. Obviously the mud tires grip less well on harder surfaces, but the confidence in mud is inspiring. I think the Wild Mud highlighted this the most and although my times were a tiny bit quicker on the Mud King, the narrower Wild Mud was biting all of the time, the front felt planted, and it inspired complete confidence as it cut through the grime. The Dirty Dan had massive amounts of grip but had a slower rolling speed. It would be a good tire for steep downhill trails.”
Favourite tire = Michelin Wild Mud
After over fifty runs down the steep muddy trail, the team were divided by brand, but united in the benefits of a dedicated mud tire in the gloop. Average stage times for all riders were 5-8% faster and all testers reported massive improvements in confidence through the steep turns. Of course, mud tires are designed for a very specific use, and do not make a great all-round tire. If your riding mixes mud with hard-pack, the Maxxis Shorty was our testers favourite ‘all-round’ winter tire. However, if you ride a lot in deep mud and are looking for the best traction and clearing speed, the aggressive Michelin Wild Mud is our test winner.
If you live in a place where the trails turn to slop in the cold months, where traction is a myth and brakes are ineffectual, a good mud tire may well blow your mind.
Words & Photos: Trev Worsey