XC racing: Should I use race tires or trail tires?

Lee, my frugal ass bought Mastering Mountain Bike Skills 3rd Edition instead of waiting for it at the library. I ride a Pivot Mach 429 Trail and it’s versatile enough for general trail riding and XC racing. I live in New England. I have a set of 2.35 Vittoria Barzos on now for some upcoming races, both are which have a lot of climbing. However, on the front they’re sketchy for me especially compared to my Schwalbe Hans Dampf I use for trail riding. Do I just go with what I’m more comfortable with or any specific tips on riding with a front race tire. Thanks.

John K.


Thanks for buying the book. I like to think it contains a lot of great info for $25, and that’s it’s a fantastic deal. Anyone who rides a bike like a 429 Trail can certainly afford a book! Keep in mind that equipment is temporary. Kung fu skills are permanent.

The Victoria Barzo is their “aggressive XC tread for the most technical terrain.” To me it looks like a capable tire for all-around XC racing: pretty fast, pretty capable.

Victoria Barzo

The Schwalbe Hans Dampf is way more tire. Knobbier, burlier, I’m guessing heavier and probably slower rolling. It’s designed not for XC racing but for shredding.

Schwalbe Hans Dampf

If your riding skills and confidence are very high, you can use less tire for XC racing. This gives you the lightest/fastest rubber, and you you use your kung fu to handle your bike.

If you’re skills and confidence are not high, I highly suggest using tires that increase your confidence, at least in the front. I personally like a tire of impunity like the Specialized Butcher. Another great option is the Maxxis DHF. I know and trust these tires. The Hans Dampf seems like a similar hunk of rubber.

Many XC racers make a mistake by using light/fast tires that they’re not skilled enough to ride. Don’t be silly. Every time you touch your brakes out of fear or anxiety, you lose time. Every bit of mental bandwidth that worries about your tires costs you time. Every time you crash you lose even more time. Equip yourself for confidence, then go out there and execute.

A long time ago I wrote a story for VeloNews that made the case that heavier/stickier tires might not be as slow as XC nerds think. They didn’t run the story, but here it is right here: Are Freeride tires faster than XC race tires?

Some of my coaching clients just returned from the Singletrack 6: six days of burly XC racing in BC. I strongly advised the least confident rider use burly trail tires. He decided to use XC race tires, and he was bummed about the choice.

Have fun out there.

Learn. To. Corner. Mastering Mountain Bike Skills 3rd Edition will help.


Know more. Have more fun!

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4 replies
  1. Dan L says:

    Word to meatier tread. Pirelli once had an ad “Power is nothing without control”. Not only is it how well can you handle a lower tread tire but how well you can pilot your rig when you are red lined and have been flogging yourself. I’ll take a couple hundred grams and a few watt penelty for staying upright for the last 10 miles in rocky rooty single track.

  2. Bas R says:

    I think John could do really well with something in the middle (there is plenty of room between what a Hans Dampf and what a Barzo is). I have been lucky enough to try out tons of different tires and set-ups, and when I read this I think: mix it up! Over the last few years I have been loving a slightly grippier and burlier tire up front for control with a loose (and fast) tire in the back.

    Something like a 2.2 Conti Mountainking (or a 2.25 Schwalbe Nobby Nic) on the front wheel only, might improve his handling immensely without only a small penalty to his speed potential (and it helps your frugality). You’re likely to use most of the control on the front wheel anyway, and the both tires have a nice cornering knob to give you that control when railing into a corner. The rest of your bike will simply follow the front wheel.


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