If you’re looking for the best mountain bike tire for intermediate conditions and all-round aggressive riding, Schwalbe’s Magic Mary, Continental’s Der Baron and Maxxis Shorty are probably on your short list. After testing all of them, does one outshine the others?
If you want a definite answer, you could stop reading right here, because all of them are great. None of them has significant shortcomings that would steer you to the other under all circumstances. I’d say there are subtle, and even less-than-subtle differences, but it is more situational than saying “this tire is better than the other – always.“ If you’re not really tire-sensitive and are mainly looking for a lot of grip in a variety of conditions, you could blind-pick one of them and probably won’t regret your choice. But if you want to fine-tune your tire choice to your preferences, then this may actually be a worthwhile read. It has been said a thousand times, but I think it is worth repeating until tires get the attention they deserve: The rubber that connects you and your bike to the trail is the most important aspect of your riding experience. It is the one aspect in which a quick, relatively low-budget change will have the greatest effect.
In this shootout, I’m looking at each tire’s strengths – both in terms of performance, and terrain and conditions, i.e. where each of the tires has its situational advantages. Again, all of three of them are really close, so sometimes, these are just nuances. For more detail, see the more comprehensive individual reviews: Schwalbe Magic Mary | Conti Der Baron | Maxxis Shorty
Ladies first: The Schwalbe Magic Mary is one of the most successful tires in the Schwalbe lineup, and it pleases both the trail and the gravity crowd as an excellent all-round tire. Its overall capabilities and its good-natured cornering are bewitching. If there was one aspect that I feel stands out, it is that the Magic Mary’s limits are gentle and wide. If you’re used to more digital cornering, this may need some adjustment. In addition, Mary is comforting, and compared to some other tires, it seems a bit like a magic carpet ride, smoothing the trail. The only downside to the sticky compound is occasional knob-tear under aggressive cornering.
Continental’s Der Baron has been a favorite for a long time, but recently got revamped designated „2.4 Projekt“. Continental calls it „the enduro baron“, and it is both an aptly named moniker, as well as a hint to its range of use. A sturdy tire with a firm casing, the Baron is a bit rougher and provides less comfort, but a lot of stability and precision. This, together with its directional stability, means it is a great choice in wet and muddy conditions. In addition, Conti’s BlackChilli compound performs well in rooty sections and does not firm up as much when it gets cold. Tubeless set-up can be a bit finicky compared to other tires, but I managed to get the Baron airtight.
Last, but not least, the Maxxis Shorty is the go-to tire for many WC downhill riders, and that alone means it deserves not to be overlooked. It sits in between the Mary and the Baron in volume and casing strength. It performs flawlessly on soft ground and provides great overall grip. The Shorty corners with confidence and precision, which means a smaller limit compared to the Mary, but a more defined point of engagement. Most notably, the Shorty offers excellent braking for its intermediate tire profile, because every third row consists of a horizontal knob.
Tubeless: All of these can easily be set up tubeless. Setup was fastest and most consistent on the Maxxis, followed by the Magic Mary. After the initial setup, the Baron needed a second filling of tubeless fluid.
Der Baron Projekt
If my wet season was long and cold, I’d probably choose the Baron over the others. Its compound works very well in the winter, its smaller width is beneficial in the mud and its directional stability is amazing. For a dedicated wet season tire, I’d go Baron first, then Shorty and Magic Mary.
For an all-round intermediate, I find the Shorty to be a little stronger on soft ground, and the Mary to be a little better on hardpack. Whereas the Shorty’s cornering is a little more precise and on/off, the Magic Mary shares the good-natured, wide limits many Schwalbe tires are known for. I found the Mary’s knobs to suffer a bit more on hardpack and loose over hardpack, and the Shorty’s edge seems to be a little longer-lasting.
Tim’s Take: All of these are terrific tires. Whether you are enchanted by Mary’s magic, side with the noble Baron or fall for the Shorty’s moto-appeal, you really can’t go wrong here. In dry conditions, I’d take Mary out for a dance. I’d trust the Baron’s noble manners in the winter and the wet. In between, the Shorty would get my nod.