Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road | Everything you need to know

The biking industry is growing at an alarming pace and now we have bikes designed for very specific uses case, this can let us wonder if we can use a type of bike for most types of rides or if we need a specific type of bike for every type of riding. On this topic, a very popular question is: Can I ride my mountain bike on the pavement (road)?

Mountain bikers are designed to be ridden on rough off-road terrain and mountain trails, this makes them resistant and reliable bikes that can easily tackle all the challenges that riding on the pavement brings, but they are slower than road bikes.

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, is it efficient, and how dangerous is riding on the road? At the end of this article, you will know which bike is for you, a mountain bike or a road bike. So keep riding!

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 more harsh conditions than riding on pavement. 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.

Is It Harder To Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road?

In general, it is harder to ride a mountain bike on the road due to the wider tires with deep profile rubber that are very efficient when riding off-road but will heavily impact your speed when riding on pavement.

Bike performance is heavily impacted by the profile and type of tires with which it is equipped. Mountain bikes come with tires designed to offer you the best grip on ruff terrain but this is a big disadvantage when riding on the road.

When riding on the pavement you what as little as possible contact with the road, the more contact with the road you have the harder you need to pedal 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 the maximum speed when pedaling.

If you what to know more about riding a mountain bike in the cities we recommend you read our in-depth article on the topic.

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. WeightTires widthSuspensionRiding positionTransmission system
Entry-level MTB14 kg / 30 lbs (or more)55-60 mmFront SuspensionOptimized for maneuverabilityOptimized for grip and climbing
Entry-level road bike9 kg / 19.84 lbs28 mmNo suspensionOptimized for best aerodynamics (speed)Optimized for speed
WinnerRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bike
Mid-level MTB14 kg / 30 lbs55-60 mmFront (and back) suspension Optimized for maneuverabilityOptimized for grip and climbing
Mid-level road bike9 kg / 19.84 lbs28 mmNo suspensionOptimized for best aerodynamics (speed)Optimized for speed
WinnerRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bike
High-end MTB11-13 kg / 24-30 lbs55-60 mmFront and back suspensionOptimized for maneuverabilityOptimized for grip and climbing
High-end road bike6.72 kg / 14.82 lbs28 mmNo suspensionOptimized for best aerodynamics (speed)Optimized for speed
WinnerRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bikeRoad bike

Now we can say that when it comes to road riding, road bikes are the best option. As shown in the table above mountain bikes aren’t so optimized for speed on the pavement as road bikes.

My experience:

On one of my weekend rides, I needed to ride 5 or 6 miles on the road to reach my next forest trail. On this portion, I encountered two road bike riders and I really wanted to test my pedaling capability, so I tried to pass them.

The first portion of the road was ruff (the pavement was in bad shape), this was perfect for my mountain bike and I pass them with ease (I was really proud of myself). I said to myself: Take that road bike, mountain bikes are the king even on the road!

But after the rough portion on the road was over they start to go faster and I was in for a big surprise. Within a short portion of time, I was left behind. It seemed like this was not a fair fight, and it wasn’t because I raced a mountain bike with road bikes on the road. Lesson learned!

Why Are Mountain Bikes So Slow on the Road?

In general, a mountain bike will be slower due to its suspensions and wide tires with big profiles made to give the best grip on off-road terrain. Mountain bikes are designed for great stability and maneuverability on the worst terrain from mountain trails and this heavily impacts the overall weight of the bike.

A mountain bike is slow because it is designed to overcome the roughest of terrain and speed falls in the secondary plain.

The main factors that impact bike speed 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.

Which Is More Dangerous Road Or Mountain Biking?

In general, mountain biking is safer than road biking because you don’t have to deal with traffic and are not exposed to the dangers that come with that. Usually, if you don’t push yourself too hard, you won’t suffer big injuries mountain biking.

The most common mountain biking injuries are:

  • Impact injuries
  • Skin Abrasions: cuts and grazes
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Sprain (shoulder separation): damage of the AC joint ligament situated at the outer side of the collar bone
  • Knee/Lower Back Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: pressure on the median nerve in the wrist which provides feeling to your thumb, index, and middle fingers
  • Broken Collarbone

A study made by PubMed shows that mountain biking has an incidence of injuries comparable to that in other outdoor sports, the majority being minor.

A total of 8133 single lesions were reported by 3474 athletes, 36% of whom regularly participated in competitions. The incidence of injuries in mountain biking is comparable to that in other outdoor sports, the majority of injuries being minor. Mountain biking athletes were found to have an overall injury risk rate of 0.6% per year and 1 injury per 1000 h of biking.

Gaulrapp H, Weber A, Rosemeyer B. Injuries in mountain biking. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2001;9(1):48-53. DOI: 10.1007/s001670000145. PMID: 11269584.

The most common road biking injuries are:

  • Impact injuries
  • Knee/Lower Back Pain
  • Wrist, arm, head, and neck pain
  • Saddle sores

According to ec.europa.eu in 2016, about 25.600 people were killed in road accidents throughout the EU. Bicycle fatalities make up 8% of the total number of road accident fatalities in 2016 in the EU countries. In these countries, 2.015 people riding bicycles were killed in road accidents in 2016 (excluding Lithuania and Slovakia).

Taking into consideration the number of people suffering fatal accidents riding their bikes in traffic, we can easily say that road biking is more dangerous than mountain biking.

If you what to know how dangerous mountain biking is compared to other outdoor activities, I have written an article that compares the injury rate of mountain biking with other popular outdoor sports. Check it out!

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.

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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.