Can You Put Road Tires on a Mountain Bike?

By Rachel Lee
Published on
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Mountain bikes (MTBs) are a lot of fun to ride and in fact, if you’re looking for an off-road vehicle that can handle even tough terrain, this is the kind you want. If you’ve had your bike for a while, you might be wondering, can I put regular road tires on my mountain bike? It’s something many MTB owners ask themselves at some point, and with good reason.

There are numerous reasons you might want to swap out your mountain bike’s tires for standard road tires, and if you’re curious about whether you can do this, the answer is a resounding “yes.” You can indeed replace the tires on your mountain bike with regular road tires; however, there are a few things you need to keep in mind first because you can’t just rush right out to the bicycle store, buy a set of tires, and put them on your mountain bike.

First off, it’s good to realize that the tires on a mountain bike are not only made differently than the tires on a standard bicycle, but they are a different size as well. You also have to take into consideration not just the tires, but the rims and all of the other components that you’ll need when finding replacement tires; but before we get to that, let’s start at the very beginning.

Why Do People Choose Mountain Bikes?

People choose mountain bikes over regular bikes for a variety of reasons. If you love the great outdoors and wish to bike away from the traffic, these bikes are just perfect. They allow you to enjoy some very challenging bike rides without having to worry about getting hit by a car or staying away from the vehicles on the road.

Mountain bikes offer many other advantages as well. For instance, MTBs:

  • Are a lot of fun
  • Allow you to get very intense with each ride
  • Let you explore a variety of terrains and landscapes
  • Allow you to ride at night
  • Come with a lot of fun accessories that you can add to make riding even more fun

When people want a challenging ride that is off-road because they love hiking trails or mountainous terrain, a mountain bike is just right. This type of terrain can be bumpy and rough, but if you’re an adrenaline junkie, this is likely exactly what you’re likely looking for anyway!

What Are Mountain Bike Tires Like?

As you can imagine, the tires on a mountain bike are different from the tires on a standard road bike. Bicycle tires are usually thin and inflated to around 100 PSI (pounds per square inch) – sometimes 120 PSI. On the other hand, mountain bike tires are usually fatter and wider, and this allows them to flatten out more while you’re biking. Considering the terrain you’re utilizing with a mountain bike, it is easy to understand why a wider, fatter tire is more beneficial than a smaller, thinner one.

The treads on the two tires are also different. Mountain bikes have “knobby” treads because that is what’s required to provide the grip you need when you’re on dirt or bumpy roads. The thinner, smoother treads on a road bike, on the other hand, are just right when you’ll be riding on surface roads and sidewalks all day.

Other differences also give the two types of bikes their character. Mountain bikes are generally heavier and have lower gearing than road bikes, which are lighter because they do not have the need to drive over rough, bumpy terrain. Remember, MTBs often have to ride over roots and rocks, while road bikes do not, hence the different ways they are put together.

What does all this mean for you? It means that if you’re going to consider replacing the tires on your mountain bike with standard road tires, you’ll have to keep all of this in mind so you end up with the right tires.

What to Do to Get Started

If you want to replace your MTB tires with standard road bike tires, you can’t just run out and buy a pair of tires and hope they work. Most mountain bikes have tires that are 26” in size, although some of them have different sized tires. But you can’t just consider the size of the tires; you also have to consider the size of the rims, the cluster that goes with your drive train, and so on.

In other words, you may have to replace the entire wheel structure, not just the tire itself, if you wish to put regular road tires on a mountain bike. How difficult is this? The answer depends on which results you were looking for in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the things you’ll need to consider when making this swap.

  • Sometimes, simply pumping up your MTB tires to 40 to 50 PSI makes them like the tires on a road bike. Typically, mountain bike tires require 25 to 35 PSI, but pumping them up a little fuller sometimes works. Of course, you won’t want to go above or below the number required by the manufacturer, which is why this option doesn’t always work.
  • Consider that you may also have to get a different cassette, which is the rear “gear” on the bike. Since a lot of mountain bikes now have a single chain-ring, replacing the gearing system is a little easier. If you are unsure what you need or if this is even possible on your current bike, you can check with a mechanic and you should get the information you need to proceed.
  • Find slick tires, the type usually used on road bikes, that fit your mountain bike. They should be at least 1.5” wide to be effective, preferably up to 2.5”. Slick tires are made for road bikes, but you can place them on your mountain bike if you get tires that have some of the same characteristics as your mountain bike tires do.
  • Finally, research bike tire manufacturers because some of them make regular road tires that do very well when placed on mountain bikes. Some of these tires include the Michelin Wild Run’R 26-inch tire, the Continental Grand Prix 26-inch tire, the Michelin Country Rock 26-inch tire, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus (HS 440) 26-inch tire, and the Kenda K847 Kross Plus 26-inch tire, to name a few.

Of course, one of the easiest things to do when you’re trying to put road tires on your mountain bike is to head out to your local bike store. Their experts can help you choose the right tires based on your current bike’s specifications so that in the end, you get a bike that accommodates your riding needs and is safe to ride.

When Deciding on Tires, Keep the Tire Size in Mind

Switching from mountain bike tires to road tires is easier if you keep in mind the size of your current MTB. Mountain bike tires range from 1.8 to 2.2 inches for cross-country bikes to fat bikes that can have tires in the 3.7- to 5-inch range. Tire sizes are also different depending on if your MTB is a trail bike or a downhill bike.

MTB tires are wider, front/rear-specific, have different tread designs, and are made out of many different materials. What this means is, you have to match up most or all of these numbers to make sure the road tires you choose will accommodate your mountain bike.

Sound complicated? Oftentimes, it is. In the end, though, you might still be successful at the endeavor if you enlist the help of an expert and do your own due diligence before you make any final decisions.

It’s not impossible to switch your mountain bike tires with regular road tires, but you have to know what you’re looking for before you get started.

FAQs About MTB Tires and Road Tires

Q: What Is TPI and Why Is it Important?

A: TPI stands for “threads per inch” and it describes the fiber that gives MTB tires their oomph. Typically, tires with a TPI number of 60 or below offer a heavier tire, but one that usually experiences fewer punctures, while those with a TPI number of 120 to 320 are lighter and faster, but may experience more punctures. It’s really up to you which one you’ll need.

Q: How Important Is the Tire’s Tread Pattern?

A: Very important! MTB tires need to have a certain firmness level and should have knobby patterns to accommodate rough terrain. That being said, if you’re going to convert your mountain bike into a road bike by changing the tires, the tread patterns – as well as everything else – become less important.

Related Article: Can You Ride a Mountain Bike on the Road?