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Tech Talk: Using Different Tires on Mountain Bikes

Q. I have a mountain bike, but I don't ride it on serious off-road trails. Can I swap the tires to something that's more suitable for streets and bike paths?

We frequently help people with this issue in our stores. The answer is yes, by all means, on almost any bike, you can choose tires that are best for the type of terrain that you ride.

Mountain bikes usually come with tires that have an aggressive "knobby" tread that's great for rough singletrack trails, where you need a tire that will provide the best grip on rocks, roots, loose dirt, and mud.

By switching to tires with a smoother tread, you'll enjoy a more quiet ride on pavement and smooth trails, plus you'll be able to keep up your momentum with less effort.

This is also the first step we usually recommend if you have an old mountain bike that you'd like to convert to use for commuting or touring.

There are several options available depending on your needs and your budget.

Related article: Tech Talk: Know Your Tire Size

Kenda Komfort

Kenda Komfort Tire

This is one of our most popular and inexpensive tires ($17.99). It's the same tire that comes on the Raleigh Venture series of hybrid bicycles, and on our rental bikes in Peninsula. It's 1.95 inches wide, just a little narrower than most mountain bike tires. The tread is great for unpaved bike paths like the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, with enough grip to handle with ease even if the you come across a little loose dirt or gravel. 65psi maximum.

Kenda Kross Plus

Kenda Kross Plus Tire

This $21.99 tire has the same width (1.95 inches) as the Komfort tire above. It's got a much smoother tread down the center, so you'll get even less rolling resistance. But, the large side knobs give you extra grip during sudden sharp turns. 65psi maximum.

Serfas Drifter

Serfas Drifter Tire

This is our favorite all-surface tire. At $31.99, it's a little more expensive than the choices above, but you get Serfas Flat Protection System (FPS), which is a Kevlar belt inside the tire tread for better resistance to glass, thorns, and other debris. The unique inverted tread gives you a smooth center section for rolling efficiency on the straight-aways, but grips on the curves when you need it. The tire comes in a 1.5-inch wide version for faster rolling and lighter weight, but it also comes in a 2-inch wide version for a little more cushy ride and better flotation and grip on loose dirt and gravel. 65psi maximum. It also comes in a 29er version (70psi maximum).

Geax Street Runner

Geax Street Runner Tire

This $28.99 tire is great if you're thinking about entering a duathlon or triathlon, and want to get your mountain bike as race-worthy as possible instead of investing in a new road bike. Available in either 1.25-inch or 1.6-inch width, it has lower weight and rolling resistance compared to all the tires listed above, and it's pretty durable, too. Best of all, you can pump it up to a maximum of 100psi.

Continental Gatorskin

Continental Gatorskin Tire

We carry the Continental Gatorskins in several popular sizes for road bikes, and they're our go-to choice for road cyclists who want a long-lasting tire. If you're looking for maximum protection and performance on the pavement for your mountain bike, then let us special order a pair of the 26-inch Gatorskins ($54.99 each) for you. 116psi maximum.

More Q&A

Q. Will I need new rims?

A. No, all of the tires above will work with your existing mountain bike rims. Even if you're switching to a narrower tire than your originals, rims are designed to be compatible with tires in a range of widths.

Q. Will I need new inner tubes?

A. Maybe. Inner tubes are designed to work with a range of tire widths, e.g. 1.9-2.125 inches. So, if you're switching from a 2.1-inch mountain bike tire to a 1.95-inch smooth tire, you won't need a different size tube. However, if you've going to a much narrower tire, you'll need narrower tubes to match.

Even if your tire choice doesn't require different size tubes, if you're going to the trouble of having your tires replaced, we usually recommend replacing your inner tubes as well. If you've had the original tires and tubes on the bike for quite some time, it's probably a good idea to replace them with fresh tubes just to avoid getting stuck with a flat tire because of an old worn-out tube.

Q. Can you change the tires for me?

A. Yes; our labor rate for tire changes is $8.00 each.

This article was published on June 15, 2012. Prices are current as of the publication date and are subject to change.

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