Can You Put Narrow Tires On A Mountain Bike?

Approx Reading Time: 8 minutes

People have been asking lots of questions about bike tires. For example, do narrow tires translate to a better cycling experience? Also, is there a correlation between tire width and surface grip? The truth is, unless you do a real road test with different tire sizes, finding befitting answers to these questions would remain elusive.

Can You Put Narrow Tires On A Mountain Bike?

Yes, you can put narrower tires on a mountain bike, but there is a minimum size for your rim. Also, remember that narrow tires have drawbacks, they are less shock-absorbing when you hit a rock or another obstacle.

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Whether you are a cycling enthusiast preparing for a triathlon or a bike enthusiast looking to acquire a new mountain bike, tire size impacts the experience you will have on the road or terrain. Everything else you have read or heard is theory. We did the testing to help you put all the confusion behind. 

With so many different tires sizes from which to choose, you may want to go for narrow or wide ones depending on the purpose for which you need a bike. Thus, your choice could be premised on these questions. Are you a racer, a recreational cyclist or you would like to hit the road one more time with friends? Well, read on to find out more.

Why Choose Narrow Tires?

While different tire sizes bring about a unique cycling experience such as comfort or balance, the circumference is often a major contributor. It has a definitive impact on the ultimate riding experience you will have on the road, more than tire width. If you are a beginner, take note that you can always choose from three main diameters namely 29 inches, 27.5 inches, and 26 inches. Tire width could range from 1.6 inches to 2.5 inches, but it could even be higher. For instance, some measure up to 3 inches, albeit, it will make you feel like riding two bikes.

Despite these variations, most cyclists prefer wider tires-maybe because they offer extra comfort, grip, and balance. However, with time and experienced, you will want to try narrow tires because of reasons such as:

  • When riding a mountain on a compact and rough terrain, narrow tires unleash your best cycling skills. They are often the best choice for exceptional performance on such surfaces. 
  • With narrow tires, comes reduced contact with the road but more acceleration. 
  • A reduced tire width presents cyclists with better riding experience on the hillside than larger. The latter will reduce speed significantly. 
  • When you ride on narrow bike tires, your weight reduces significantly, as a result of which you gain more control and balance.  

Choosing a Befitting Narrow Bike Tire: Understanding the Basics of Sizing

From the basics of tire width and circumference, you may want to go ahead and put money on a good tire. But like anything else you’ve ever bought, it is not always easy making a straightforward choice when shopping for a bike tire. You should choose the right size when shopping for narrow tires. Sometimes you will have to weigh into a few brands before making a choice and that’s okay. Other days, understanding standardization sizing means you have to seek expert opinion, which we give in the next section.

But first, let’s start by asking crucial questions. For example, what is a EURO or ISO Sized tire? Will a normal size do? What does 700A, 700C mean when it comes to comparing tire sizing? Do narrow bike tires fit within these descriptions?

ISO Tire Sizing

There are five common tire sizes about which you may be aware, but let’s explore them once more. You shouldn’t forget that ISO tire/rim sizing is a system by the International Standards Organization. It was developed by European Tire and Rim technical organization (ETRTOT).

Before we explore different sizes, also note that when you go shopping for a narrow bike tire, check tire sidewall or rubber for ISO sizing description. The first description is the tire width (in millimeters) and the second denotes the diameter (in millimeters). They include:

  • ISO size 622, also known as 700C. These are the most common tire size, fitting into most modern adult mountain bikes. They are also good for the road.
  • ISO size 571 is a conventionally ideal size for triathlon rides and small bikes for regular road use. A common measurement here in diametrical terms is 26-inches.
  • ISO size 584/650B is often an ideal size for specialized and a few randonneur bicycles. 
  • ISO size 622, which also denotes bicycle tires measuring 29-inches, has a rim diameter equal to 700C. It is a popular choice for mountain cyclists. However, a tire diameter of 29 inches is too wide to fit into rims of 700C.
  • 27.5 inches/ISO size 584 fit into rims of 650B. However, this rim/tire sizing is best for mountain bikes. 
  • 27-inches or ISO 559 is another tire sizing and is very popular with modern mountain bikes. A veteran cyclist must have also used them in hybrid bicycles. 
  • Then there is 26-inches tire, which fits perfectly into rims of both hybrid and most modern bikes for adults if not all.

Does Width Matter?

The width shouldn’t always play a lot of significance when you go buying mountain bike tires. Diameter is the most crucial consideration to make. While you can have narrow tires on a big rim, replacements do not have to be the same as the original fittings. The only disadvantage that comes with choosing narrow tires is that they are less weighty. They also tend to lower aerodynamic drag. 

Moreover, while old bikes had narrow rims, things have changed. You will notice that most modern rims are wide, and the aim is to raise aerodynamics. You should, therefore, choose a befitting tire size depending on your need for a bike. A few instances worth noting are:

  • Modern bikes work well with a tire sizing of 25mm, which is an improvement over conventional bikes that performed well on 23mm. Does it, therefore, mean that in the future, cyclists should expect bigger rims and wider tires? Well, while it’s evident that smaller is the new trend in product design because the modern man likes it minimalist, that’s a topic for another day.
  • Ideal size for a tour and city bike ranges from 32mm to 38mm, which is very wide. It gets even bigger with hillside bikes. 
  • Typical tire size for mountain bikes ranges from 2.0 and 2.4. You should note the measurement in inches, especially if you a cross-country or trail cyclist.
  • For a recreational ride, 23mm to 25mm is a perfect choice. The higher measurement doubles as the ideal choice for long-distance biking. 
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Mountain bike tire

Why Do Racers Like Narrow Tires?

You wouldn’t be wrong to assume that racing bikes should be fast, even when taking sharp corners. They should be. But here is the catch. Should you go for comfort at the expense of speed? Well, for most bikers, narrow is better if you are looking to reduce weight and realize a higher aerodynamic riding experience. Racers often avoid wide tires because, while they offer more stability given their large surface patch, more weight is often a cause for aerodynamic drag.

Mountain Biking: It Is Not Always About Wide Tires

When it comes to mountain riding, most cyclists prefer narrow tires to wide ones. But that’s not always the case. Many things play significance here. For instance, with wider tires comes an increased air volume, which is good for loose terrain. Moreover, mountain bikers realize great comfort with this option. That is not to mention that wider tires reduce chances of pinch flats. 

On the flipside, narrow tires will give you a better cycling feel and experience on hard surfaces. For example, a tire circumference ranging between 1.5 inches and 2.2 inches brings about more balance, better performance and lowers weight. Choosing a perfect one for a mountain ride, therefore, depends on the terrain.

Another notable merit that comes with narrow tires is that they offer more flexibility. Wider ones are prone to rolling resistance- a phenomenon that contributes to low speed. It is, however, important to factor in tire tread if you are a mountain biker. Nothing will make your riding experience better than having a firmer surface grip, which doesn’t entirely come with larger surface contact. 

If you want quick steering and manoeuvrability, narrow is better. There is often higher friction with wide tires, but it reduces significantly with narrower options. You shouldn’t forget to consider tire treading/threading.

Final Thoughts

In concluding, it is noteworthy that tire size will always have an immense impact on mountain biking experience. The type of terrain on which you will ride should also help you settle on the best fit for your bike. Moreover, before settling on a befitting size, weigh into how tire diameter and width contribute to the whole understanding of better cycling experience. Other factors such as tire knobs, tread, air pressure, rim size, and mounting are also worth noting. 

Because everything plays a part in one or the other, also think about varying tire pressure. For example, should you have a higher pressure on the back or front tire? Does it correlate with narrow or wide tires? Well, these questions could go and on, but we will reserve them for another day.