The most versatile type of bicycle is a mountain bike, no doubt about it, but is it a good option for road riding?
Mountain bikers are slower than road bikes on the road but will offer you a more comfortable ride. The main advantage of riding a mountain bike is its increased reliability due to its toughness but your tires will have a shorter lifespan because they are made from softer rubber for increased traction.
In this article, we will discuss the ins and out of riding a mountain bike on the road and we will try to answer the most common question about the topic.
Is It Bad To Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road?
Mountain bikes are designed to endure the road off-road conditions, they are well-equipped to handle all the challenges of riding on pavement. The only drawback with riding an MTB on road is that your tires will wear off more easily.
Riding your mountain bike on the road will not damage your bike, mountain bikes are made to withstand much harsher riding conditions. Just be aware that mountain bikes have wider handlebars and this is inconvenient when riding in traffic.
The main advantage of riding a mountain bike on the pavement is the level of comfort that it brings, you will not have to endure the pain which comes with riding a road bike with no suspension on bumpy roads. The mountain bike suspensions will increase the comfort levels of your rides, making them more fun.
If you want to read a more in-depth comparison of road bikes and mountain bikes in regard to comfort level, read this article!
Is It Harder To Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road?
In general, riding a mountain bike on the road will require more effort, the wide and knobby tires will give you great traction off-road but on pavement, you will have extra rolling resistance and this will make your MTB harder to ride than a bike with road tires.
When riding on the pavement you what as little contact surface with the road as possible, more contact surface between your tires and the road means that you have to pedal harder to maintain or increase your speed.
The pedaling efficiency is drastically affected by your bike suspensions, the more suspensions (and the more travel your suspensions have) the more of your pedaling power will be absorbed. For this reason, road bikes come without suspensions, the goal here is to achieve maximum speed.
Pros & Cons of Riding a Mountain Bike on the Road
You may be wondering why you see so many people riding mountain bikes on the road, this is because there are many advantages of using a mountain bike for road riding. Now let’s examine what are the most important Pros for riding an MTB on the road:
- Comfort: the more upright riding position combined with suspension will give you a more comfortable ride,
- Durability: designed for rough off-road riding, mountain bikes are equipped with tougher components that will last for a very long time and road riding will put little wear on them,
- Flexibility: mountain bikes can handle all types of terrains, so you can combine road and trail riding without the need for a second bike,
- Low price barrier: you can find decent MTBs as low as 500 -700$,
- Easier on your joints: suspension will allow the bike to absorb most of the shocks, which means less stress on your joints,
- Maneuverability: the wider handlebars make mountain bikes much more responsive in turns than road bikes,
- Better for climbing: MTBs are designed with better-optimized gear ratios for climbing (this isn’t applicable to downhill bikes),
- Confidence boost: with wide tires and a geometry designed to perform on the roughest of terrains mountain bikes can give a big confidence boost to less experienced cyclists.
Of course, there are some important disadvantages when it comes to using a mountain bike for road riding, let’s explore them:
- Wider handlebars: mountain bikes need to be maneuverable to handle the tight turns on trails but this is a disadvantage in traffic,
- Tire wear: MTB tires are made from softer rubber that gives you the maximum traction on dirt, but on the road, they will wear quicker than specially designed road tires,
- Less speed: The overall design of a mountain bike (geometry, wheels, bike weight) will make it less efficient for speed when you compare it to a road bike.
What Are the Best MTBs for Road Riding
When it comes to riding on the road not all MTBs perform the same, so you need to choose carefully!
First, let’s determine if a hardtail or a full suspension is better. Hardtails are lighter and will offer you a much better pedaling efficiency while full-suspension MTBs will give you a more comfortable ride if the roar is in rough condition.
Usually, a hardtail will perform much better on the road because you don’t have the rear suspension to absorb some of your pedaling power.
When it comes to the MTB type (XC/ trail/ enduro/ downhill), cross-country MTBs are the best performers on the road due to their aggressive geometry and lighter weight. If you want to know why XC MTBs are the best performers on the road, read this article!
As you can see an XC hardtail will be the best MTB choice if you want good road performance!
Can You Improve the Road Performance of an MTB?
The answer to this question is relatively simple, yes you definitely can but you need to make some upgrades like the tires, wheels, etc.
Changing the tires with road tires will be the most significant improvement but there are many changes that you can make to achieve this goal. If you want to know more I encourage you to read the article where I give you all the tips you need to increase the performance of your mountain bike on the road.
Which Is Better for Fitness, a Mountain Bike or a Road Bike?
Because mountain bikes are less optimized for speed and require more effort to maintain speed on the road, your heart rate will be more elevated (you will oftentimes reach zone 2 of intensity) and this means that your body is more likely to use the glycogen from your muscles as fuel and not your fat cells.
While this is good for muscle growth it isn’t the ideal situation for fat loss, the same can’t be said for road bikes.
Due to the fact that road bikes are more efficient at reaching and maintaining a high speed, you will be able to ride with a lower heart rate more often (we aren’t speaking of competitive riding here) and this will give your body the necessary time to break your fat cells into energy resulting in a more optimized ride for fat loss. If you want to know more check out the in-depth comparison of MTBs and road bikes from a fitness standpoint.
Can A Mountain Bike Be As Fast As A Road Bike?
In general, a road bike is between 10 and 30% faster than a mountain bike. Road bikes are lighter and have a narrow tier that has as little friction with the road as possible. The riding position on mountain bikes is not as aerodynamic as on road bikes.
You can make several modifications to your mountain bike to increase the maximum speed on the road, but you will never achieve the same speed with a mountain bike as with a road bike.
Mountain bikes are not designed to achieve maximum speed on pavement, their purpose is to have maximum efficiency riding off-road.
If you have a mountain bike and don’t ride it off-road and you what to achieve more speed on pavement, you will be better off if you sell it and invest in a road bike. The investment in the modifications you need to bring to your mountain bike to rise its efficiency on road will not be worth it.
Now let’s compare mountain bikes and road bikes (this comparison is made for road riding):
|Avg. Weight||Tires width||Suspension||Riding position||Transmission system|
|Entry-level MTB||14 kg / 30 lbs (or more)||55-60 mm||Front Suspension||Optimized for maneuverability||Optimized for grip and climbing|
|Entry-level road bike||9 kg / 19.84 lbs||28 mm||No suspension||Optimized for best aerodynamics (speed)||Optimized for speed|
|Winner||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike|
|Mid-level MTB||14 kg / 30 lbs||55-60 mm||Front (and back) suspension||Optimized for maneuverability||Optimized for grip and climbing|
|Mid-level road bike||9 kg / 19.84 lbs||28 mm||No suspension||Optimized for best aerodynamics (speed)||Optimized for speed|
|Winner||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike|
|High-end MTB||11-13 kg / 24-30 lbs||55-60 mm||Front and back suspension||Optimized for maneuverability||Optimized for grip and climbing|
|High-end road bike||6.72 kg / 14.82 lbs||28 mm||No suspension||Optimized for best aerodynamics (speed)||Optimized for speed|
|Winner||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike||Road bike|
Now we can say that when it comes to road riding, road bikes are better optimized for speed and pedaling efficiency.
In one of my weekend MTB rides, I needed to ride 5 or 6 miles on the road so I can reach my next trail. On this portion, I encountered two road bike riders and I really wanted to test my pedaling capability, so I tried to ride faster than them.
The first portion of the road was ruff (the pavement was in bad shape) and it was downhill, this was perfect for my mountain bike and I left the road bikers behind me with ease (I was really proud of myself). I said to myself: Take this road bike, my MTB can reach a similar speed level as you!
But after the rough portion of the road was over the road bikers easily picked up speed. Within a short portion of time, I was left behind. It seemed like this was not a fair fight because I raced a mountain bike with road bikes on the road. Lesson learned!
Why Are Mountain Bikes Slower on the Road?
In general, the wider tires and suspension will make a mountain bike slower on the road, while wider tires will give you better traction on off-road terrain, this becomes a big disadvantage when it comes to road riding. Mountain bikes are designed for great stability and maneuverability on the worst terrain possible, the tougher components will have a big impact on the overall weight of the bike (will make the bike heavier).
The main factors that make mountain bikes slower on the road are:
- Bike weight: mountain bikes need to be reliable on the worst terrain condition and this makes them heavier (a very important factor that impacts the overall speed, it makes them slower)
- Wheels and tires: mountain bikes have wider tires with a pronounced profile designed to offer the maximum grip, but this will sacrifice a lot of speed
- Bike suspension: the less suspension you have, the more speed you get, mountain bikes need suspension to overcome rough terrain
- Riding position: mountain bikes are oftentimes used on technical trails that need a bike with high levels of maneuverability, for this reason, they are not designed to offer the best aerodynamic position
- Transmission system: road bikes have a transmission system designed to give the best speed possible, and mountain bikes have transmissions designed for climbing stiff hills
If you what to know the 10 reasons why mountain bikes are slow on-road, read this article!
Can You Ride Long Distances on a Mountain Bike?
Mountain bikes are good for long rides in off-road areas, you can reach great distances without worrying about durability and function. However, on pavement, mountain bikes will be less effective than road bikes or touring bikes.
If you what to know the pros and cons of riding a mountain bike long distances, I recommend you read this article.
Why Are Mountain Bikes Cheaper Than Road Bikes?
In general, road bikes are more expensive due to the premium materials used to reduce the weight of the bike and the complexity of drop-bar shifters and groupsets. Often a road bike is 8-10 kg lighter than a mountain bike.
Road bike shifters for drop bars are complex. Not only do the shifters need to change gears, but they also actuate the brakes. Road bike shifters can also be shifted while the cyclist is applying the brakes. The overall weight of a bike is influenced by the weight of the wheels. Road bike wheels are lighter than the average mountain bike wheels, this comes with a higher cost.
An average entry-level mountain bike wheel will cost around 250$, on the other side, an average entry-level road bike wheel will cost around 600$. Road bike wheels will cost 600-1300 $ more than mountain bike wheels.
Mountain bike parts need to be able to take a solid bashing and don’t need to be not excruciating precise A road bike doesn’t need that have components as durable as a mountain bike, the focus is shifted to much lighter components.
Because of this, the design of components is taking two different directions, extremely light for road bikes and durable for mountain bikes. The research that goes into making lighter and more durable components is a big part of the price of a road bike.
If you compare road bikes and mountain bikes on the same brackets of prices you will see that the difference is not so big. A good quality entry-level mountain bike is less expensive than a good quality entry-level drop-bar road bike, but the price difference is not so big, and if you compare the more expensive full-suspension mountain bikes with high-end road bikes you will get a similar result.
Should I Buy A Mountain Bike Or A Road Bike?
Mountain bikes and road bikes are totally different types of bikes. Road bikes are designed to be light and precise, they excel at achieving high speed on pavement. Mountain bikes are designed to be reliable in off-road conditions and can tackle any terrain.
If you plan to ride mountain trails, unpaved forest roads, or take off-road shortcuts in the cities then mountain bikes are the right choice for you. But if you plan to ride only on paved roads and speed is the main concern for you then the only choice is a road bike.
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.