Updated December 1st, 2023
How do you know when to change mountain bike tires? MTB tires are expensive, costing $50 to $90 a tire these days for good tires. You want to get the most life out of them as you can. At the same time, you don’t want to go too far and end up walking miles home due to a tire blowout. Even worse you could hurt yourself due to a tire blowout or lost traction while riding.
By giving your tires a little bit of attention regularly you can tell when it’s time to replace them. You can save money by not replacing them too soon and not risk a walkout or injury.
Here are 5 easy ways to tell you need new mountain bike tires and some other helpful MTB tire information.
How do you know when to change mountain bike tires? 5 Easy Ways To Tell
By paying attention to your tires you can easily tell when to change them. Give them a look every few rides and pay attention to how they feel when riding them.
1 – Knobs worn flat
If the knobs on the tires are worn down it is time for new tires. You need to pay attention to both the center knobs and the edge knobs. The center knobs give you climbing and braking traction. The edge knobs give you cornering traction. You need both to safely ride your mountain bike.
Look at the knobs. If they are worn down to where there is only 1-2mm left then it is time to change them. You can get a tire tread measuring gage if you want a more defined measurement then just appearance.
Look for torn off knobs. If more than a few knobs are torn off or cut, it is time to replace the tire.
2 – Losing traction
Pay attention to how your bike feels. Is it getting a little loose in corners? Is it not gripping like it used to? If you feel like your slipping and sliding where you used to feel locked in, it’s probably time for new rubber. Some mountain bike tires start losing traction at 10-15% treadwear.
3 – Holes or gashes in the tire
Tubeless tire sealant can do a good job of keeping the air in the tire with small holes in it. If you get a big hole or get a gash in the sidewall it may be time for a new tire. There are repair kits for repairing holes and gashes. Some people use crazy glue to hold the tire back together. Band aids can only go so far. If your tire has a lot of damage in the sidewalls or holes in it, you should consider replacing it.
4 – Bumps or blisters in the tire
Mountain bike tires have several layers of rubber. There is a casing underneath the tread surface. There can be several layers of sidewall protection as well. If your tire develops a bump or blister, the rubber layers are delaminating. When this happens your tire has lost its integrity and should be replaced. See the below photo for an example of a bulge.
5 – Cracking in the rubber
As a tire ages, exposure to UV rays from the sun, and exposure to chemicals in the air will cause the tire rubber to dry out and crack. Once the tire rubber starts cracking it should be replaced. You may find the cracks at the edges of knobs or along the sidewalls. You can see in the photo below where this tire has rubber cracking on the edge of all the knobs.
The below video gives good information on checking tires for wear.
I’m getting constant flat tires. Do I need to change the tire?
If you are getting flat tires on a regular basis and your using tubes it does not mean that you need tires. The most likely cause is something sharp trapped in your wheel. It is very easy to get thorns, pine needles or small rocks trapped between your inner tube and tire or wheel. If there is you may get flat inner tubes as fast as you can replace them.
When to change Mountain Bike Tires FAQ
Q: How long do mountain bike tires last?
Mountain bike tires can last from 500 miles to 2000 miles depending on the tire and how hard you ride it. Back tires tend to wear out center knobs faster. Front tires tend to wear out edge knobs faster.
Rear tires tend to wear out twice as fast as front tires.
Q: How long do mountain bike tires last on pavement?
A mountain bike tire will last longer on a paved or smooth surface then it will being ridden over rough technical terrain. When your climbing a very steep trail with lots of roots and rocks you put a lot of force into the tire.
A mountain bike tire can last a very long time being ridden gently on pavement. 1000 to 2000 miles.
Q: How often do bike tires need to be replaced? Do they go bad sitting around?
Mountain bike tires need to be replaced when the tread is worn out or the rubber has aged and deteriorated. Bike tires will last around 5 years sitting around before the rubber gets too old and dry rots and cracks.
Q: Should I replace both bike tires?
No. You do not need to replace both bike tires at the same time. Most people wear out their rear tire twice as fast as their front tire. Many people will replace their back tire with their front tire and put a new front tire on.
Q: Do mountain bike tires have a wear indicator?
Mountain bike tires do not have a molded in wear indicator feature like some road tires do. When the knobs wear down, it’s time for new tires.
Q: Where can I get replacement mountain bike tires?
Q: How do I change a mountain bike tire?
The below video shows how to change a mountain bike tire.
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Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.