So you just bought yourself a new mountain bike because you want to enjoy the freedom to ride comfortably on any type of terrain but you find yourself riding on the road much more often than off-road.
As you can probably know by now your mountain bike will not perform as well on the road as a dedicated road bike and you may want to go faster but you can’t, I know the feeling.
To make your mountain bike go faster on the road you must choose the correct tires, increase your tire pressure, mitigate the impact of the bike suspension and reduce the bike weight as much as possible. These are the most impactful changes you can make to increase your MTB’s performance on the road.
I know, it seems simple but it is not, don’t worry in this article I will break down all the changes you can make to your mountain bike so that it will become faster on the road and you will still have the option to enjoy occasional off-road rides.
1. Get Tires Designed to Perform on the Road
The most impactful change you can make to your mountain bike to make it faster on the road is changing the stock tires with tires designed for the road. Believe me, getting tires that are optimized for pavement will make you a lot faster and is the biggest improvement you can make to your MTB road worthy.
The standard tires that come with your mountain bike are designed to offer good off-road performance but fail to deliver on pavement, they are too wide and have big knobs designed for better traction on dirt, the good news is that you can replace them with tires with a smoother profile (without or with less pronounced knobs).
If you want the best tires that will give you incredible performance on the road you can buy Schwalbe Marathon Tyre (this is an affiliate link), these are the best tires you can put on a mountain bike to make it road worthy because they are very light and they have a profile designed to obtain maximum speed (on smooth surfaces), the only drawback is that you will sacrifice your bikes trail capabilities.
If you are like me and still want to ride the trails near you on weekends but still ride a lot on the road, I recommend you get XC MTB tires, the best option here will be Schwalbe Marathon Plus (this is an affiliate link), this is my personal choice because it performs well on the road but still allows me to ride on trails with my friends, unfortunately, on more muddy trails, they don’t perform as well.
2. Switch to Clipless Pedals
Switching to clipless pedals from flat pedals will have a positive impact on your pedaling power, when you use flat pedals you will use only the positive movement (the pushing movement) of your feet to transfer power to the drivetrain and the negative movement (when you pull up your feet from the down position of your pedal) of your feet has no effect on your pedaling power.
Practically you only transfer power to the back wheel trow the drivetrain when you push but if you switch to clipless pedals you will be transferring power to the drivetrain on both movements, positive and negative (push and pull), because your feet are locked to the pedal.
If you want to know if MTB clipless pedals are better than flat ones, I have written an entire article on the matter, check it out!
It is easier to get used to them than you think, just practice clipping in and out on a less busy road for a week or two and you will be fine
If you want a good pair of clipless pedals (lightweight and great value for the money), I highly recommend SHIMANO SPD Pedal Clipless Pedals (this is an affiliate link), and for a good pair of clipless MTB shoes at a reasonable price (with a modern and elegant designed that goes well with your everyday outfit) I recommend Giro Rumble VR Men’s Mountain Cycling Shoes (this is an affiliate link).
3. Increase Tire Pressure
Mountain bikes are designed to run lower tire pressure than road bikes, this is because riding in off-road conditions requires greater traction, but this will have a negative impact on your speed when you ride on the road.
I recommend you increase your tire’s pressure close to the tire’s declared maximum pressure minus 10 to 15%, keep in mind that an online tire pressure calculator will recommend lower tire pressures because they are optimized for trail riding.
If you use a calculator designed for road riding you will get much higher numbers than the maximum pressure of your tires because road bikes run much higher pressures than MTBs and they have tires designed for this.
Keep it simple, run a pressure of 10 to 15% less than your tires maximum and you will be fine!
4. Adjust Your Saddle Height (To Have the Maximum Pedaling Power)
You may think, what does the saddle height have to do with how fast I ride, well quite a lot! If you aren’t in the correct position and your knees are bent too much you will lose much of your pedaling power.
You have the correct saddle height when: if you put your heel on the pedal while standing on the saddle your foot is completely straight when the pedal is in the bottom position.
Practically when your shows are on the pedal on the bottom position and you are standing on the saddle your knees need to be just slightly bent, if it’s bent more than a 15% angle you will lose pedaling power.
It is very hard to explain in words how to adjust your saddle height but if you still have questions about it I recommend you watch the short and informative video below (all the adjustments detailed in the video are very applicable when you ride your MTB on the road)!
5. Properly Clean and Lubricate Your Chain / Cassette
Having a dirty chain and cassette will slow you down no matter if you ride on the road or off-road!
You need to lube and clean your chain at least once a week and if your rides are long (more than 20 miles) it is better to do it once a couple of days.
You can give your cassette a good clean once in 2 or three months (or when it is obvious that it is dirty) and you are good to go.
6. Lower the Impact of Your Suspensions
Having suspension when riding off-road is a big plus but on the road, it will work against you because it will absorb a lot of your pedaling power.
If your mountain bike is full suspension lock out the rear shock if you have the possibility, you can do the same with the fork suspension.
If you ride a hardtail and you don’t have the possibility to lock your fork suspension makes it as hard as possible, even the cheapest coil suspension forks have the option to adjust how soft is the suspension, try to make it as hard as possible.
Yes, you will lose on the comfort side and will highly reduce the bike’s off-road capabilities but it is a compromise you need to make if you want to make your MTB faster on the pavement.
7. Lower Your Handlebars
Road bikes allow you to ride in a very aerodynamic position, mountain bikes are designed so that you ride in a more upright position and this will make you slower.
You can make a small adjustment to this position by lowering your handlebars, by doing this you will ride in a lower position and will gain in the aerodynamic department.
The drawback to this is that you will lose on the comfort side of things, but you can’t have it all.
Yes, this will not be a big improvement but trust me every little bit counts.
If you want a short tutorial on how to adjust the height of your handlebars, watch the video below:
8. Reduce the Weight of the Bike as Much as Possible
The weight of your bike will make a big difference when you sprint or when you ride uphill, the lighter your bike is the faster your sprints and climbs will be.
The most important weight cuts you can make are:
- Change your suspension fork with a simple fork without suspension (for example BUCKLOS 26/27.5/29” Mountain Bike Rigid Forks – this is an affiliate link)
- Get lighter wheels – this can be very expensive but will have a massive impact on your speed
- Get lighter inner tubes for your tires or make the conversion to tubless, I recommend getting lighter inner tubes because the conversion to tubeless will not make a big difference for road riding, but it will require more maintenance.
- Ge carbon handlebars, seat tube, and saddle. A carbon saddle is much more uncomfortable but it will save you a lot of weight.
- Remove unnecessary bike accessories.
Keep in mind that you will never make a mountain bike as efficient on the road as a road bike so don’t overspend on cutting the weight, if the upgrade becomes too expensive make the switch to a road bike.
9. Clean Your Bike and Make Sure All the Components Are Working Properly
If your mountain bike is brand new you won’t have this problem but on older bikes, you sometimes ride with a wear-off-chain or shifter that isn’t efficient or need some tunning.
A good way to maintain your bike is to wash it regularly and this is a great opportunity to check the wear of its components.
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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.