The short answer is, yes, you can put road tires on a mountain bike, but it does come with a few complications. You need to know these before you start, to make sure it is safe to use.
As an experienced cyclist and someone who has done years of work in bike shops, this is a question I get asked regularly. It needs to be done correctly, and there's a lot to watch out for when putting a road bike tire on a mountain bike.
In this article, I'm going to explain why you would use road bike tires on a mountain bike, what you need to check before you make the conversion, whether road bike tires are better, and the advantages, and disadvantages.
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People often refer to putting a road tire on an MTB as a slick tire conversion. This is because you are going from a knobbly mountain bike tire to a smooth road tire tread.
A road tire is much faster on the road because of the lack of rolling resistance and smaller contact patch on the road. They are also much quicker because of their aerodynamics and the fact that the tire diameter is more suited to higher speed on smooth surfaces. They also tend to weigh a lot less than standard mountain bike tires. The difference isn't small, and you will notice a considerable amount of extra speed for a lot less work. Mountain bike tires have much slower average speeds because of the tire widths and the tire knobs.
MTB tires are commonly very noisy on the road, and changing to road tires can make it much quieter. I find it quite a nuisance when you can hear the humming of MTB tires on the road and prefer smooth road tires.
Road tires are unique because they are lighter and smaller than most tires, making turning the wheels much easier, and riding requires less effort. Many people change to road tires not only because they are quicker due to the lighter weight, but because they require less effort. This is great for steep climbs and to make your bike lighter. The lack of rolling resistance and thin tire width means when the tire size is small you will be using much less energy.
You will find that using road bike tires on an MTB typically requires less maintenance and lasts longer. They are made of a thicker compound as they are on a much harsher surface, and this seems to give them more miles. With more miles in the tires, the bike typically needs much less maintenance over the time you own it.
When it comes to buying road bikes tires, they often offer more variety at lower prices. You will have a lot to choose from. An MTB tire seems to be at a higher price point. Buying mountain bike tires will cost more. You will find some deals but may tend to spend less on budget road tires than budget mountain bike tires.
When it comes to mountain bikes, you mainly have three different sizes of a mountain bike tire, 26", 27.5", and 29". If you're fitting a road bike tire, you will have to make sure that they match. You need 26" slick tires for the 26" wheel. For the 27.5" wheel you will need 650c road tires. For the 29" mountain bike wheel, you will need 700c road tires. Double check this before you buy the tire, as they can be quite challenging to return once they have been removed from their packaging.
It's vital before you change your MTB tire to a road bike tire to check that your wheels are compatible with road bike tires. On old, low budget MTBs, you will find that they can do this easily as they are compatible most of the time. On newer, quite expensive mountain bikes, it can be a struggle. This is because of the rim width. Rim width is how wide the wheel is and how it seats the tire. If the rim is too wide, you won't be able to use a road bike's slick tires. It's important before you seal the tire to make sure it sits on the far edge of the rim on the bead. If it can sit on the bead, it will be secure. A good recommendation is to check online, before buying, by googling the rim and max tire size. Many mountain bikes can’t use a narrow bike tire because the tire sidewall doesn’t connect properly. If you struggle to put a road tire on, then seek expert advice.
It's also essential to ensure that you have the correct inner tubes. MTB's have large inner tubes to ensure that they can pump up to their total size capacity. A road bike's tires need much smaller inner tubes to make sure they blow up to the correct size, and when installing them, they don't pinch. You also have to think about the valve. If you have a Presta or a Schrader valve, make sure the new inner tube matches up to this.
When it comes to road bike tires and MTB tires, they are very different and made for specific purposes. In my opinion, it's difficult to say if one is better than another because of this.
Road bikes tires, you will find, are excellent for riding on roads, as they are designed for this. They are smooth and fast and have next to no rolling resistance compared to a mountain bike tire. It would be awful if you were to take them on a mountain bike trail or a bike park, and they wouldn't offer any advantage. They would give you little to no grip, they would have no flexibility to them, and because of this, you would feel every bump on the route and risk pinch flats.
MTB tires are made to go off road, and because of this, they offer better grip on loose terrain due to the extensive surface area of the tire. They also have loads of flexibility to bounce over the bumps and are not as vulnerable to pinch flats like road bike tires as they run at much lower tire pressures.
MTBs are typically made for off-road and rough terrain. When you put road bike tires on a mountain bike, you will find that they become useless off-road, and uncomfortable on rough terrain. You will feel every bump and rock you go over. For mountain biking you need bigger, wider tires to help with the control of the bike on a trail or even on potholes. It can save your wheel if you hit something at high speed. Do not expect any mountain biking to be done on a bike with narrow tires.
When you have a mountain bike, you will find that they have a tremendous amount of clearance for larger tires. Having narrow tires does look odd, and it will get some comments from other cyclists over time. Narrower tires look much better on a road riding bike.
Having a larger tire does not only give a bike off road ability, but it also provides the bike with more comfort. A larger tire generally runs at lower pressures. With lower pressures comes more bounce, giving the bike the ability to roll over bumps and not bounce off them. When you look at road bike tires, you lose this ability, and the ride becomes much harsher.
When you take out the larger tires, the wheels have to work harder. The smaller road tires are more solid, and this stress goes to the wheels instead. Over the years, you will find that you need to true the wheel or replace spokes more often.
You can use road tires on a mountain bike. Mountain bikes today are commonly seen in road riding, and even on road wheels with a rigid fork. You will need to make sure that your wheels are capable of this and that they are not too wide. Order the correct size before taking the old tires off, and you will also need to change the inner tubes that you are using. It will come with some excellent advantages but also some disadvantages.