Condensed Answer: Mountain bike tires can be installed on a cruiser bike if they match the size of the original cruiser tires and are compatible with the existing rims.
Requirements To Install Cruiser Tires On an MTB
- Proper Tire Size
The vast majority of cruiser bikes are equipped with 26″ tires whereas modern MTBs rely on 27″ and 29″ tires.
However, in the past, 26″ tires were the norm for MTBs too and continue to be used on older MTBs to this day. Consequently, there are still many 26″ models to choose from.
- Rim and Tire Compatibility
The existing rims should be wide enough to accommodate the new MTB tires. In most cases, this won’t be a problem because beach cruisers use fairly big tires (e.g., 1.95″) by default and thus come with wider rims that can support balloon MTB tires too.
That said, some beach cruisers are closer to a hybrid bike and rely on narrower wheels.
To be sure whether the rims and tires are compatible, check the rim for indications of the minimum tire width that it supports. If there’s nothing on the rim, search for its model online or ask in a bike shop.
- Frame and Fork Clearance
The frame and fork should provide enough clearance for the new tires.
Since most cruisers use fairly beefy tires, they offer decent clearance by default and support MTB tires over 2″ wide.
To be absolutely certain, however, you can do the following:
a. Pump the existing tires and measure how wide they are with a caliper (recommended) or a ruler. This number will serve as a reference point when purchasing the new MTB tires.
b. Examine the fork and frame clearance. If there’s lots of clearance, you can go a size up. If the clearance is already limited, keep the size the same or even go down, especially if you plan on using full fenders.
The Advantages of Installing MTB Tires On a Cruiser
- Off-Road Grip
MTB tires provide more grip when riding on off-road terrain thanks to the knobbies that dig into the ground.
- Alternative Look
Some people find the look of alternatively equipped cruiser bikes aesthetically pleasing.
The Disadvantages of Installing MTB Tires On a Cruiser
- Reduced grip on asphalt
Contrary to popular belief, the knobbies found on MTB tires do not increase the bike’s grip when riding on paved roads. In order for the knobbies to be effective, they have to dig into the surface which happens only when riding off-road.
In reality, knobbies decrease tire grip on asphalt because the contact area is smaller. (Only the knobbies touch the ground.)
For that reason, road bikes and commuting models use slick tires. Slick tires maximize the contact patch and thus increase traction.
- Less Clearance
MTB tires are bulky and require a lot of frame and fork clearance. In some cases, the extra width may complicate or prevent the installation of fenders.
FAQ: Can I ride a cruiser off-road?
Cruisers are made for paved roads. Even if you equip one with MTB tires, you won’t turn it into an MTB for the following reasons:
a. Upright “comfort” geometry – cruisers are designed for upright riding and come with relaxed angles and a long wheelbase. Subsequently, the rider does not have the technical control that an MTB offers on off-road terrain.
b. Subpar braking – MTBs have the most powerful brakes of all bikes whereas cruisers often have a single coaster brake. This is a strong reason to avoid riding a cruiser on rough terrain. That said, it’s possible to add powerful handbrakes to a cruiser too.
In most cases, you will have to use rim brakes. A quality set of rim brakes offers very decent stopping power but can’t match the hydraulic disc brakes on an MTB.
c. Weak frames – cruisers are not designed for off-road and thus do not come with extra strong forks and frames. Abusing a cruiser on off-road terrain could result in a fork and/or frame failure.
d. No suspension – The lack of suspension on cruiser bikes hurts the rider’s comfort and reduces grip. On a regular MTB, the suspension system compresses when the tire meets an obstacle. As a result, the tire remains on the ground and the traction of the bike is preserved.
When there’s no suspension, the tire bounces off of the obstacle and loses grip.
Ultimately, the technical characteristics of cruisers make them inferior off-road machines. If you’re serious about riding on off-road terrain, you will need a dedicated mountain bike.
Nonetheless, a cruiser equipped with decent brakes and tires can handle gravel just fine.
Did You Know That…
People used to add MTB tires to cruisers and compete on off-road terrain. The phenomenon is known as “klunking”.
The video below presents what klunking is all about.
Summary: What You Need To Know
MTB tires can be installed on a cruiser when the following criteria are met:
- The new tires should be the same size as the old ones. Most cruisers have 26″ tires. You won’t be able to use new MTB tires available only in 27″ and 29″ sizes.
- The rim should be wide enough to support the new set of tires.
- The frame and fork should offer sufficient clearance for the new tires. If you want to use fenders, you may have to go a size down.
In most cases, this conversion won’t be beneficial because cruisers are used primarily on paved roads and come with slick tires for that reason.
Putting a set of MTB tires on a cruiser will not produce an off-road machine due to the relaxed geometry, the lack of suspension, and the subpar braking system.