Biking Tips

Can I Use Mountain Bike Tires on a Hybrid Bike?

There are many different types of bikes. Each bike category is made with a certain purpose. Some are exclusively for paved and hard surfaces which we call road bikes. Others are for extremely rough off-road terrains which we call mountain bikes. Then, there are hybrid bikes that combine the best of both, road and mountain bikes. But hybrid bikes offer mediocre performance in all aspects. You enjoy versatility along with some compromises in the performance. But at least you aren’t held back. Now, you may think that adding mountain bike tires would increase the versatility of an already versatile hybrid bike. While you may be right to some extent, there are some things you have to keep in mind.

This article discusses if you can use mountain bike tires on a hybrid bike and what are the pros and cons of doing so.

Types of Mountain Bike Tires

There are different types of tires used on mountain bikes. For example, cross-country bikes for light trails with fewer roots and small stones have small and shorter spikes. They have less rolling resistance and more efficiency on trails.

Tires for enduro offer good traction. These tires feature angled lugs in the center that are close together while the sides feature larger studs for a tight cornering grip. Enduro riders often have different tires on the front and rear of the bike. The most grippy tire is in the front for effective steering. At the rear is the tire with the lowest rolling resistance for efficient power transfer.

Downhill tires have the most traction with large lugs spaced apart to prevent dirt from accumulating in them. Overall, average mountain bike tires are 56 to 64mm wide. They offer good protection, grip, and higher dampening for durability, fast cornering, and comfort respectively.

But first thing’s first…

The most common reason for riders to ask if they can use mountain bike tires on hybrid bikes is economy. Mostly, casual riders ask this question because they most likely have a hybrid bike. It also makes sense. A hybrid bike has a more relaxed posture for the road but it can also handle some mud, gravel, and some wet conditions that are frequent in an urban environment.

Mountain bikes aren’t cheap and not all of us have extra money to spare, especially, while global economies are in recession at the time of this writing. So, riders who want to have fun off-road would naturally ask if putting mountain bike tires would make their hybrid bikes more versatile. Well, it depends…

The most important factor to consider when changing tires on your bike is the dimensions of the frame of your bike. Hybrid bike designs have a whole spectrum from being more road-focused to being more off-road-focused. Based on where your hybrid is on this spectrum you will know what you can do with your bike. Usually, hybrid bikes do have room to compensate for different tire widths.

If your hybrid bike is more road-focused, then the frame may not allow a wide mountain bike tire. You can go wide to some extent but not to a mountain-bike-wide extent. If, however, your hybrid bike is more off-road focused, then the frame may be wide enough to compensate for a mountain bike tire. Make sure the forks, fork arches, blades, chainstays, and brake bridges in the rear are wide enough for an MTB tire. Without proper fitting, there would be some serious rubbing against the frame. Plus, you will have problems with the brakes.

Then there are the wheels of your hybrid bike. If a wide mountain bike tire is compatible with the frame of the bike, you may have to get a wider set of wheels. Most hybrid bikes have 700C wheels. Most 29ers share the same bead diameter as a 700C wheel but the profile of the tire is too large. MTB tires provide optimal grip on wide rims. A wide rim doesn’t allow the large profile of the MTB tire to fold. A narrow rim provides little guidance to the tire. The tire can fold not only compromising the grip but in some cases – mostly hard cornering – can also jump out of the rim.

Mountain bike tires on a hybrid bike, now what?

Let’s say you have gotten over all the clearance issues with your bike’s frame and the wide mountain bike tires. Is your hybrid bike now ready for all the adventures you want to have? Not quite! There are limitations to what the tires and the frame of the bike can do.

Even with mountain bike tires, you can’t have serious off-road adventures on a hybrid bike. Hybrid bikes are not built that way. Most hybrid bikes are just a more relaxed version of a road bike. Even if hybrid bikes are off-road focused, they still aren’t capable of the kind of off-road riding that a mountain bike is. The suspension and the geometry of a hybrid bike are different than that of a dedicated mountain bike. You will see that when a hybrid bike starts falling apart with frequent off-road use.

On the other hand, MTB tires are not suitable for road riding. The knobby treads of an MTB tire are for providing grip on loose surfaces like dirt and gravel. But the treads cause more rolling resistance and make more noise on paved surfaces. The stiffer and more robust sidewalls of a mountain bike tire, for resisting damage from rocks and pointy branches or roots, are not supple. The result is more vibrations in the frame of the bike. The vibrations cause more energy losses and also fatigue.

On the road, tire grip comes from as much contact between the rubber and the road surface. The knobby tread of mountain bike tires reduces the contact area between the road and the tire which reduces tire grip. Furthermore, the tread is made of soft rubber that wears out faster on paved surfaces. The heavier mountain bike tires also reduce the maneuverability of the bike.

So, using mountain bike tires is not exactly a piece of cake. A tire that works well in one situation is worse in other situations. If you are doing frequent off-road adventures, then you should go for a dedicated mountain bike. If you ride more on paved roads, then what’s wrong with using hybrid tires?

Final Thoughts

You can use a mountain bike tire on a hybrid bike or vice versa as long as it is compatible with the frame of the bike. Front forks, fork arches, chainstays, and seat stays are some of the areas you should be mindful of. Keep in mind that hybrid bikes are not meant for frequent off-road adventures. They will start falling apart. In the end, if you wanted mountain bike tires, you should have bought a mountain bike.