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My wheelset has sun rhyno lite rims, I'm thinking they are 27 mm wide, but I could easily be wrong. They are much wider than the stock rims I got with my trek 3700 ht anyway. The Sun website says they are xc rims, but I still think they are pretty wide. So my question is, how wide of a tire do you think I can get away with on these rims without worries (assuming my frame will fit the tire)? 2.35? 2.5? And why is it that lots of bikes come with narrower back tires? I was thinking about trading my 2.1 rear tire for a 2.35 for better traction and leaving my front at 2.1. Confused. Thanks in advance!
 

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I have used 2.4 mutano's on 20mm rims but you want to keep them pumped up pretty high. I checked them out sidehilling first, before I took them out on a tough ride. they gripped like glue. I doubt you'll have any probs with a 2.35 on a 27 mm rim
 

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2 reasons:

1 - often the bike has limited rear tire clearance, so you can only go so wide before it rubs or sticks when muddy.
2 - rolling resistance is more noticable on the rear, and 2.1 is often enough for more people's traction needs. Wider in the front can make a huge difference in cornering traction, ability to track through ruts and rocks, etc.

Since tires vary in actual size, find out your clearance, and go by actual sizes, say from here:

http://www.mtbtires.com/specs/
 
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