Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content
Dirt Bike

A Quick Guide to Hard, Medium and Soft Terrain Dirt Bike Tires


Want the best results when you’re out zipping along the trails and dirt bike tracks? Then it’s important to outfit your ride with the right tires for the job.

Of the various factors you need to consider in how you’ll customize your bike, terrain hardness and how it impacts tire selection is one of the most important. There are some important differences to be aware of between hard, medium and soft terrain tires. Not all tires are created equal!

Your choice will ultimately come down to the kind of tracks you ride the most, your own riding habits, and what you’re looking to get out of the experience (speed? handling? cornering? jumps? stability?).

But to make that choice, you need to have a thorough understanding of each category of tires. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at your options.

About hard terrain dirt bike tires

Hard terrain tracks aren’t particularly common, but they do appear here and there. You’re more likely to need hard terrain dirt bike tires if you do a lot of trail riding, or if the trails will take you on to dry, rocky terrain in deserts, hills or mountains.

Michelin Starcross 5 Hard Rear Tire

With tires geared toward hard terrain, you’ll find they have a stiffer exterior, and that they are made out of compounds designed to be extremely durable and capable of dealing with tough, jagged surfaces, roots, sticks and bounders. For bikers who do a lot of off-roading or endure, these tires will be your best friend.

These types of tires aren’t just designed to hold up to tough conditions—they’re also capable of providing the necessary traction when the ground is loose. This is thanks in large part to the closer-together tread on hard terrain tires. Because there’s less natural grip on the ground with harder terrain, it’s important for the tires to make up the difference and provide as much adhesion as is feasible.

About medium terrain dirt bike tires

Medium terrain dirt bike tires, also referred to as intermediate terrain tires, serve as the middle ground between hard and soft terrain tires and are generally the go-to option for people riding on unknown track conditions, or for beginners or amateurs who want a dirt bike tire that will work in a wide range of settings.

Michelin Starcross 5 Medium Rear Tire

The best conditions for these tires are frequently on fine-groomed Arenacross or Supercross tracks, which aren’t extremely packed down. On well-groomed, well-watered tracks with moderate temperatures, medium terrain dirt bike tires will be your best option and give you a well-balanced riding experience.

The tread on these tires is spread a bit farther apart than what you’d find on hard terrain tires, and will appear closer to that of a soft terrain tire. The idea behind this is that the track conditions in which the tires are most likely to be used will provide at least some natural stick, so you don’t need as heavy of tread to account for a lack of friction.

About soft terrain dirt bike tires

Dirt bike tires that are made for use on soft terrain need to be able to provide stability on surfaces like sand, loam and mud. Those soft terrains require a bit of bite with the tire treads—tread design generally is wider, with sticking out knobs that dig down into the soft terrain and help keep the biker moving forward.

These tires feature a harder compound built into them, designed to prevent those knobs in the tread from ripping off the tire.

Michelin Starcross 5 Soft Rear Tire

Consider the conditions of where you will be riding. If the track has softer surfaces or if you want to do some beach or muddy riding, soft terrain tires will likely be your best option.

It might take a bit of experimentation to find the exact right tire for your needs. If you know you’ll primarily be on trails, you should look for medium to hard terrain tires first. If you know you’ll be on a lot of tracks with soft terrain, then try softer tires and work your way up. You can also experiment with air pressure to give you the best results.

Whatever set of tires you go with, make sure you get out and make good use of them throughout this dirt biking season!

Here in Wisconsin, we love our soft and medium tires for the silt loam trails in the northen part of the state. What are your preferred tires? Tell us in the comments below.

More in Dirt Bike