Can You Use an XC Bike on the Road? (from Experience!)

Riding off-road is a ton of fun but road riding is also fun, so many mountain bikers, me included, want to get the best from both worlds. Yet having two bikes can be costly and can rise storing problems.

Short answer!

XC mountain bikes offer good performance on the road because they are designed with pedaling efficiency in mind and they are the lightest mountain bikes on the market (more efficient when climbing and sprinting). If you need a bike that performs well on trails as well as on the road, an XC MTB may be the perfect choice for you.

Moving forward we will analyze how efficient XC bikes are for road riding and we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of riding an XC mountain bike on the road.

Are Cross-Country Bikes Efficient on the Road?

XC Bikes
XC bikes

XC MTBs offer a more than decent road performance, you may be surprised how fast you can be on an XB bike because they are designed to be very efficient racing bikes.

In XC races the weight of the bike matters a lot because you are timed on the entire course (descents, climbs, flat sections).

The most important thing is that XC races are designed to be endurance events and not a showcase of technical skills, in this regard, they are similar to road races, so to achieve performance in XC races you need to have a bike that is designed for speed and maneuverability.

Maintaining an average speed of 10 – 12 mph is a very achievable goal for every average rider, keep in mind that these numbers aren’t the average of very fit riders, I have many friends that achieve an average of 14 -15 mph riding their XC bikes on the road.

Below I will give the stats of my daily rides, these aren’t training sessions, every day I take my bike on a very short ride to a water spring just to break the daily routine and to drink some fresh water. When I recorded the stats I wasn’t in great physical shape and the ride in 95 % on the road.

Bike ride summary
The 7-mile road ride on XC bike overview

As you can see my average speed is 10.7 mph which is not bad but still far less than what is achievable with a rod bike, the gap in the middle is the short water break I take when I arrive at the water spring.

Don’t expect your XC bike to perform as a road bike but keep in mind that you can achieve a more than decent speed, and on descents, you can even keep the pace with road bikers if you push yourself (but only on descents).

Speed chart
7-mile road ride on XC bike – speed
Elevation chart
7-mile road ride on XC bike – elevation

As you can see the ride is mostly uphill until I reach the water spring and mostly downhill the road back home, but still and an average of 10.7 mph on such an elevation profile is not that bad.

I think it is safe to say that XC MTBs are somewhat efficient when it comes to road riding, of course not even close to as efficient as a road bike but efficient enough to have a very fun ride.

XC MTBs Are the Best Performing MTBs on the Road

XC bike -road ride
MTB Road ride

Compared to the other types of MTBs on the market, XC MTBs are by far the most suited option for road riding. I easily outperform my friends that are riding trail or enduro bikes on the road portions of our rides and I must admit that they are in better shape than me.

In my area, we have a lot of short trails and many of my rides consist of riding more than one trail, and of course, getting to the next trail will require a portion of road riding, so even if I like riding trails much more I still need to ride on the road to get to them.

My XC MTB feels like a race machine compared to my friend’s trail or enduro bikes, and let’s not forget about climbing, I need to take it easy if the hill is too stiff otherwise I let them too far behind (and yes I am talking about riding on the road here).

Now let us examine what are the advantages of an XC mountain bike over other types of mountain bikes when it comes to road riding:

  • Designed for pedaling performance: XC bikes need to be very efficient in transferring your pedaling power to the back wheel otherwise you will have a big disadvantage on climbs in XC races, full suspension XC bikes have an anti-squad mechanism built into the rear suspension so it will absorb less of your pedaling power,
  • Lighter than other mountain bikes: XC races don’t require your bike to be able to handle the same level of abuse as enduro or downhill events, this allows manufacturers to produce lighter bikes (lighter frame, components), which makes XC bikes much more efficient on the road,
  • They have less aggressive tire tread patterns: XC bikes are built for speed and they aren’t designed to overcome the most technical terrain, this means that less rolling resistance is desired so their tires have less aggressive treads (for XC you don’t need as much traction compared to enduro and downhill), this is a big plus on the road when almost any tire has enough traction,
  • They roll fast in corners: XC bikes are designed to be very efficient at cornering, with a shorter wheelbase than a trail, enduro, or downhill bike, an XC bike will start to corner the moment you start turning the handlebars.

Which Is the Better Choice for Road Riding? (Hardtail or XC Full Suspension)

This is an easy answer, the instant power transmission from the pedal to the back wheel of a hardtail will make it the better performer on the road (and let’s not forget uphill) but still if the road is in rough shape a full suspension will be more comfortable but you will lose a bit in the speed department.

A full suspension will be slower than a hardtail on the road but don’t think it’s a very big difference, but in some cases, even a small difference will matter (in competitions). If you plan to ride with friends a full suspension will not make you fall behind but it will require a bit more effort from you compared to your friends riding hardtails.

I personally prefer the full suspension just because it is easier on your lower back and it doesn’t require you to get off the saddle as often, for this reason, I am willing to sacrifice a bit of my pedaling power.

Are There Disadvantages of Riding an XC Bike on the Road?

There aren’t many disadvantages when it comes to riding an XC bike on the road.

The most notable disadvantage is that you will be slower with an XC MTb than with a road bike and your tires will wear off much quicker because they are made from softer rubber than road tires, they need to be more efficient on dirt (for more traction) but the road is harder and it will tear down your tires quicker.

Conclusion

You can definitely combine a road riding with trail riding with an XC bike, this is the biggest advantage of an XC bike, its versatility.

You will not have too many drawbacks of riding an XB bike on pavement, more than this it will give you more than decent performance when it comes to speed.

I use my XC full suspension on the road all the time and I am enjoying it a lot, so just have fun!

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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.

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