Condensed Answer: Slick tires can be installed on an MTB, although the number of available models is lower in comparison to knobby tires.
Once an MTB is equipped with slick tires, it’s no longer suitable for riding on extreme off-road terrain due to the lack of traction.
That said, a conversion to slick tires results in lower rolling resistance on paved roads and thus helps commuting.
The Main Difference Between Knobby and Slick Tires
The key differences between knobby and slick tires are found in their traction and rolling resistance properties.
- Slick tires = lower rolling resistance + better traction on paved roads + worse traction on off-road
- Knobby tires = higher rolling resistance + better traction on off-road terrain + worse traction on paved roads
It may seem surprising, but slick tires offer better traction on paved roads. This happens because slick tires have a greater contact surface area with the road than knobby tires. The greater the contact surface, the greater the traction.
When a knobby tire is on a paved road only the upper layer of its knobs are in contact with the ground hence the smaller contact patch.
When the knobby tire is operating on softer terrain (e.g., gravel, mud…etc.), its knobs provide greater traction because they can dig into the ground. In different, slick tires underperform on off-road terrain (especially in wet conditions) and often slide unpleasantly. When that happens to the front wheel, a fall is close to guaranteed.
It’s also worth mentioning that slick tires can operate at significantly higher pressure (e.g. 5-6 bars). When pumped to the higher values, slick tires roll even faster because there’s less wheel deformation. (The rounder the wheel, the easier it spins.)
The Advantages of Installing Slick Tires On an MTB
- Speed on paved roads
Slick tires are faster on paved roads. They are also easier to spin thanks to the lower rolling resistance. Consequently, it takes less effort to maintain a higher average speed. This is highly beneficial when using an MTB for commuting and hybrid riding.
- Less noise on paved roads
Knobby tires create a distinct buzzing sound when pedaling aggressively on asphalt. Some people find that annoying. Slick tires fix this issue.
The Disadvantages of Installing Slick Tires On an MTB
- No longer an MTB
An MTB with slick tires loses its off-road grip and cannot offer the same performance when used on the trail. In fact, it’s not even safe to ride an MTB with slick tires in such conditions.
Consequently, this conversion is not good for people who plan on continuing to use their MTB as a pure off-road machine.
That said, slick tires can still handle some off-road.
- Limited commuting
Even if the bike is used primarily for commuting, the reduced off-road traction could be harmful to people who would like to take shortcuts through unpaved roads.
- Limited Tire Choice
Even though there are many wide slick tires out there, the choice is fairly limited.
- More expensive
Since slick MTB tires are slightly “exotic”, some models tend to cost more than one might expect.
The table below contains 29″, 27.5″ and 28″ slick tires and their weight:
|Schwalbe Marathon Plus MTB||29″||2.1″||1275g|
|Schwalbe Big Apple||29″||2″||740g|
|Schwalbe Big Apple||29″||2.1″||810g|
|Schwalbe Big Apple||29″||2.35″||890g|
|Schwalbe Big Ben Plus||29″||2.15″||1050g|
|Schwalbe Big Apple||28″||2″||740g|
|Schwalbe Big Apple||28″||2.15″||810g|
|Panaracer Gravelking Slick||28″||1.57″||330g|
|Schwalbe Big Ben Plus||27.5″||2.15||985g|
|Panaracer Gravelking Slick TLC||27.5″||1.57″||360g|
I installed Schwalbe Big Ben on my mountain bike because I was using it as a commuter and wanted to increase my average speed on paved roads. The conversion worked just fine and added 4-5km/h to my average speed. The bike became easier to pedal on asphalt and I was still able to cover the sections of gravel that I would occasionally use as a shortcut.
Another bonus was that the slimmer profile made it easier to install full fenders thanks to the extra fork and frame clearance.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- Slick tires can be easily installed on an MTB. Make sure that new tires are designed for the wheel size that you have. Pay attention to the width too. Slimmer tires are lighter but offer a harsher ride.
- The advantages of slick tires are low rolling resistance, low noise, extra grip on paved roads and potentially a slimmer profile making the installation of full fenders easier.
- The downside is the poor traction on off-road terrain.
- If you intend to turn your MTB into a commuter/road machine, slick tires will offer a noticeable boost.