What are the BEST road tires for a mountain bike?

If you’re looking for the absolute best road tires for your mountain bike (in terms of both value and performance), this is the post for you. Unlike many other review-style posts which list out an extensive list of confusing options, I’m going to tell you all about the best mountain bike road tires I’ve ever used.

Long story short, the best road tires for a mountain bike are the Kenda City Slicks. I’ve had a set of these on my Specialized Rockhopper Comp for over two years now, and in over 4000 miles of street riding they still look and perform like new.

best road tires for mountain bike

My 2009 Specialized Rockhopper Comp all dressed up in Kenda City Slicks.

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Why is the Kenda City Slick such a good mountain bike road tire?

Hmm. The answer to that question is very complicated (with many facets to it), but I’ll try to break it down as simply as I can. For the most part, all you need to know is that these tires have outperformed my expectations in nearly every category:

  • Price
  • Performance
  • Durability
  • Looks

I’ve got quite a bit of good things to say about each of these categories, so let’s break them down one by one:

Price

As far as I’m concerned, the price of the Kenda City Slick road tires for mountain bikes is extremely competitive. Never mind the fact that I got my set for Christmas (for FREE!) two years ago, but I’ve shelled out some serious cash for mountain bike road tires in the past, and was never happy with what I got.

With more than 4000 miles on these tires so far and what looks to be more than half of the tread left, I’m going on record and calling these as the best mountain bike road tires out there. Period.

Performance

Just so you know, I ride my mountain bike on the street for about 50 to 60 miles each week. I used to ride a Specialized Allez Comp road bike, but once I put the Kenda’s on the mountain bike, that bike has sat untouched. Seriously – it hasn’t moved in over two years.

  • For the kind of riding that I do, these tires are perfect. Loaded up with air pressure, these tires are extremely fast and have very low rolling resistance. I can hang with the guys and girls on their fancy carbon road bikes no problem!
  • Lowering the air pressure a bit allows me to enjoy a comfortable ride on the potholed streets here in San Diego. For those of you not familiar with this area, the roads can be terrible in spots, and having a fat road tire for my mountain bike is an absolute blessing.
  • I also need to mention that pinch-flatting is not an issue with the Kenda City Slicks. Even when I’m running low air pressure, I can still hop over curves and descend stairs without the worry of pinching a tube between the tire and the rim. Again, in over 4000 miles of riding on these tires, I’ve never once had a pinch-flat.

As far as road holding goes, these tires are extremely sticky. One of the main criteria that I have for finding the best mountain bike road tire is that it must be grippy and confidence inspiring in fast corners. There are two particular downhill corners near my home that I always take at a very high speed (I swear I’m never going to grow up) and these tires make my old Rockhopper feel like a sports car.

street tires for mountain bike

As you can see, I’ve got a lot of hard miles on these tires. They have performed magnificently!

One more thing that I need to mention about the performance of these tires: they are extremely wide, and the contact patch is huge. These tires put a lot of rubber to the ground, which gives an incredible amount of confidence and stability at high speed.

Durability

I’ve mentioned it several times already about how I’ve put 4000 miles on these tires so far and that I couldn’t be happier with how they’ve held up. More specifically:

Tread wear has been fantastic

  • In over two years of aggressive street riding, I am extremely impressed by the fact that it appears that I’ve still got 50% of the tread left on both the front and rear. Keep in mind that I am a fairly aggressive rider and that my old Specialized Rockhopper weighs in at nearly 40 pounds. I am hard on these tires, and they’re taking everything that I can give them.

They still look brand new

  • One of the things that gives me a satisfying feeling as a cyclist is rubbing the molding / injection nibs off the sides of new tires. No, it’s not like I have anything against those mold injection nibs or anything, but it’s oh-so-satisfying to see them slowly disappear over time – as if it confirms somehow that I’m a badass rider who uses 100% of my gear in daily riding.

But you know what? The injection mold nibs on these Kendas are still there. After 4000 miles of hard riding. Despite feeling the disappointment of not being able to scrub ’em off within the first 100 miles, it does give me the confidence that these are extremely durable – and the best road tires for a mountain bike that I’ve ever used.

durable mountain bike road tires

Durable? Yes! This is how they look after roughly 4000 miles. And yes…I know I desperately need to wash my bike.

Looks

I’ll admit it. I’m a shallow guy. I like to have things in my life that look great, and these tires are no exception. As a matter fact, it was the primary reason why I added them to my Christmas list two years ago in the first place. I was still daily riding my road bike back then, and the idea of riding my heavy mountain bike on the street didn’t seem all that interesting in my mind at the time.

It turns out that once I had these tires in my hands, I realized that they are a pretty sweet looking set of road tires for a mountain bike. of course I didn’t realize at the time that they were the best mountain bike road tires out there (for me anyway), but I knew I was in the presence of some thing good.

  • Coming in at nearly 2 inches wide, these tires are extremely beefy. One of the things that always bugs me about putting road tires and a mountain bike is the fact that it made the bike suddenly look weak and anemic.
  • From a distance, the Kenda City Slicks look just as thick and aggressive as the bulky knobbies that came with the bike.

I should also mention that the tread pattern is exactly how I like it as well. I’m a car guy, and I love an aggressive-looking set of tires on a sports car. Simple tread patterns with big blocks of tread looks fantastic in my opinion, and these tires have those same attributes.

Kenda road tires for mountain bikes

These tires look great IMHO.

Pros and cons of the Kenda City Slick mountain bike tires

I know. So far this article has been nothing but me telling you how I think that these tires are the best road tires for a mountain bike. You’ve heard nothing but good stuff so far, but in order to be as transparent as possible, I do need to say that there are some bad things about them (which wouldn’t be fair for me to keep from you). The best way to do that? A good old fashioned pros and cons list:

Pros

  • The bang for the buck is unmatched with any other mountain bike road tires that I’ve ever tried
  • These are extremely well-built tires. They are obnoxiously thick (in a good way), making punctures and pinch flats non-issues.
  • They are extremely quiet! Nothing satisfies me more than a silent bike at high-speed, and road noise is nonexistent from these tires. It’s just like a high-end road bike experience!
  • They hold air quite well. I normally have to top-off the air on my bike tires once every month or so, but I’ve been going three or four months without touching the air pump with these tires on my bike. They’re solid.
  • Durability has been spectacular. So far, these tires have been the most durable that I have ever put on a bike in all my life. And that says a lot considering how old I am.

Cons

  • They’re slightly dangerous in the rain. Due to the aggressive tread pattern, these tires are essentially slicks and will not perform well in the wet. Be extremely careful going around wet corners on these tires! I learned the hard way on a rainy winters morning six months ago, and it was very painful lesson indeed.
  • Those dang nibs! as I mentioned earlier, nothing satisfies me more than rubbing injection molded nibs off new tires. I just can’t seem to do that with these…
  • They’re not exactly lightweight. However, you do need to sacrifice weight if you want the best mountain bike road tires (which these most certainly are).

Other mountain bike road tires worth mentioning

I’ve been riding mountain bikes on the road for nearly 20 years now, and I’d like to think that I know what to look for when it comes to finding the perfect set of road tires for a mountain bike.

So – the question is: if they stopped making these tires all of a sudden, and I had to choose something else for my next set, what would I do? Well, I just had a look over at Amazon, and after about 10 minutes of poking around looking at all the different options, I’ve come up with a list of a few that caught my attention. Every single tire on this list is one that I’d consider for my own bike:

Important factors to consider when purchasing road tires for your mountain bike

Hopefully by now I have given you some decent guidance. Finding the best road tires for a mountain bike is a lot more complicated than it sounds, but let me just summarize this entire post by listing out a few of the key factors you need to keep in mind we’re trying to find the perfect set for you and your bike:

1. Understand what kind of riding that you do

I cannot stress this enough. If you spend a lot of time on your bike, you’re going to be miserable if you don’t get a set of tires which matches your riding habits as closely as possible. For example, 100% of the riding that I do is on the street.

I may occasionally cut across an open field of grass every now and then, but that’s extremely rare. Therefore, if I would’ve purchased a tire with a hybrid knobby / slick tread pattern (thinking that the knobs would come in handy whenever I do cut across grass), my daily road riding with suffer. The ride would be uncomfortable, the noise would drive me nuts, and the added friction would slow me down.

2. Don’t be cheap

Just like anything in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to road tires for a mountain bike. If you skimp out and buy the cheapest set of tires you can find, you’re likely going to be replacing them within a year. And if you’re anything like me, the thought of spending an afternoon changing a set of tires on a mountain bike doesn’t sound all that pleasant. I usually end up with bloody knuckles after such an experience, and quite frankly: screw that.

3. Don’t be afraid to try lesser-known brands

Did you know that many of the tires made by companies you’ve never heard of are actually made by companies that you have? It’s true. Smaller tire companies contract out to the major tire companies to make their tires for them, so chances are pretty good that you’ll be getting a quality tire from a brand you’ve never heard of before. Be careful though! Make sure you read the reviews, because nothing will speak the truth more than satisfied (and angry) customers.

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