Tested: Four great trail bike treads

The not-so-minor details


Maxxis Ardent, Bontrager XR4, Continental Trail King and Schwalbe Hans Dampf












Looking for some rubber with bite? Feast your eyes on these four tyres – treads that roll fast but fill you with confidence in corners and when it gets rough.

Maxxis Ardent

Sizes available: 26, 27.5 and 29″ diameters in 2.25 and 2.4″ widths.

Ardent Masthead

The Ardent has been part of the Maxxis lineup for years. It’s a trail tyre, through and through, sitting somewhere between the Crossmark and legendary Minion in terms of rolling speed/grip stakes. As an all-weather, all-rounder, we rate the Ardents very highly.

In a 2.25″ size, the Ardent has a good, tall bag to it, offering plenty of cushion and encouraging lower pressures. It’s also available in a 2.4″ which we’d consider as a great front tyre option for looser or sandier conditions; 2.25″ out back, 2.4″ up front = aggressive trail riding perfection.

Ramped centre tread for speed. The intermediate 'shoulder' area is very open meaning it's quite a transition from centre tread to the side knobs.

The tread pattern is pretty unique. It’s a fast rolling pattern, thanks to the sloped centre tread, and the side knobs offer good support whilst still retaining enough sensitivity for grip on wet roots thanks to extensive siping. The intermediate zone, between upright and full leant over, is a little vague – the knobs in this space are sparse and fairly flexible. We noticed this most on hardpack or sand, while in loose conditions it didn’t seem to affect the tyre greatly. In a nut shell, this tyre works best if you’re fully committed to a corner and tip it in!

Strengths: Fastest rolling of this bunch. Lightweight. Durable compounds. Good range of sizes.

Weaknesses: A bit vague in intermediate corners.

Bontrager XR4

Sizes available: 26×2.2″, 26×2.35 and 29×2.3″

Web Test Bontrager XR4

Bontrager have really hit the mark with the XR4 tyres for all round aggressive trail use. The XR4s are quite voluminous for a 2.35″ tyre and exhibit a wide footprint. That, in combination with a round profile, make for a lot of traction and predictable cornering behaviour.

The blocky tread is somewhat of a wonderment, being very grippy on the loose stuff as well as equally adherent on bare rock – something we weren’t expecting. This property in a tyre can often result from a softer, faster wearing compound – not so with the XR4s. The XR4s actually surprised us with their durability and resilience considering the irreverent treatment we gave them.

The aggressive XR4 in 2.35" size

We only had one small gripe with the tyre in that we had to use a bit more sealant than we were used to prevent them losing air during the ride. Otherwised they ticked all the boxes. Overall a well mannered tyre and a better choice for those whose trail choice is more rocky road than caramel slice.

Strengths: Meaty, moto-style tread digs into loose surfaces. Great under brakes.

Weaknesses: Not the best for tubeless use.

Continental Trail King

Sizes Available: 26×2.2″

Continental Trail King

The most aggressive trail tyre in the Continental line-up is the Trail King (previously known, rather kinkily, as the Rubber Queen). It’s a blocky tread that reminds us vaguely of the pattern found on Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf – that can’t be a bad thing – and was developed with input from freeride guru Richie Schley.

There are UST or ‘Revo’ Tubeless Ready versions of this tyre – unless you’re very hard on tyres, we’d suggest the Revo version is fine. With the Protection reinforced sidewalls the casing is very tough and while the lovely  logos of our test tyres are pretty scuffed up, we haven’t experienced any sidewall cuts or tears.

Continental Trail King Protection

Conti’s Black Chili compound seems to improve with use. The grip afforded by the Trail Kings got better with a bit of trail time, the tyres losing their coating and the knobs becoming more pliable (but still supportive). Given their robust almost ‘paddle-style’ centre tread blocks, the Trail Kings aren’t sluggish at all, something we can only attribute to the Black Chili compound. Compared to some of the other tyres here, the Trail Kings are a little lean on air volume. They are available in a 2.4″ as well, but not in Australia at present.

Strengths: Resilient sidewall. Black Chili compound wears well.

Weaknesses: Not available in 27.5 or 29″ in Australia yet. Skatey at first.

Schwalbe Hans Dampf

Sizes available: 26×2.35″, 27.5×2.35″, 27.5×2.25″, 29×2.35″

Schwalbe Hans Dampf

Like crack cocaine, the Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres are expensive and addictive. Billed as a Jack of all trades tread, we’d have to agree that this is some of the best all rounder rubber available and we’ve used these tyres on multiple bikes now.

The sheer size of these tyres comes as bit of a shock. Marked as a 2.35″, they dwarf just about all other non-downhill specific tyres out there. But despite this, their weight is  reasonable and their rolling speed remarkable too.

At low pressures, the Hans Dampf has a large footprint that floats beautifully over sand and delivers mountains of climbing traction. All round grip is superb; from hardpack to rubble to mud, the Hans Dampf is versatile like few other treads we’ve ever used. They’re very tough too, particularly in the Snake Skin sidewall option.

Hans DampfThe harder-wearing PaceStar compound is recommended for the rear or you’ll be shelling out for new rubber very quickly. On the front, we’ve found the durability fantastic, even with the softer TrailStar compound. The tyres in the shot above were installed at the same time, and you can see how pronounced the rear wear is.

Strengths: Huge volume at a reasonable weight. Grippy compound. Stable sidewalls.

Weaknesses: Big dollars.

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