Can You Ride Mountain Bikes On The Road: Differences and Effort Required

Can you ride a mountain bike on the road, and how does it compare for fitness and effort to do it? What options are there?

Why do people prefer mountain bikes on the road?  Todays road are far from perfect with potholes and obstacles everywhere.  Mountain bikes are better prepared to deal with the imperfections of todays roads.  Factor in being able to use a mountain bike on dirt roads and pavement alternatives and running a mountain bike on the road is a no-brainer.

Most questions about using a mountain bike on the road are around using an existing mountain bike as a dual-purpose bike or intending to buy a bike and being able to use it both on trails and the road.

How is a mountain bike different than a road bike?

Mountain bikes are designed to work both on-road and off-road.  Most times, it’s what type of trails can it handle.  For instance, cross country bikes are for mild trails, dirt roads, and paved roads in normal use.  Trail bikes tend to be trails from mild to wild.

Mountain bike tires tend to be made for traction in less than ideal situations, but at a price of creating rolling resistance.  For off-road use this is not an issue at all and actually highly desired.

Road bikes are designed on be on-road only, and usually very smooth roads at that.  They are designed to be used on pavement and you can see this in the tires that it uses.  Road bike tires are thin, smooth, and have low rolling resistance.  Consequently, road bike tires lack the traction to be used on trails.

While there are many smooth roads, a vast majority of roads have potholes, rough sections, and broken pavement.  So on the question “Can you ride mountain bikes on the road?”, it becomes obvious that a mountain bike is desirable to use on the road. Actually when you consider it, if you are riding alongside cars and you hit a pothole, would you rather bounce of it and possibly lose control in the road or have your bike’s suspension absorb it?  I know I’d rather be riding a mountain bike and have it absorb it to have my muscles ache and also not put me into the line or danger as I can keep control with a mountain bike.

There are many different types of mountain bikes and choosing the right one can give you a great balance of utility and abilities to the bike.  I’ll address this more a couple of sections down in what mountain bike options are there for road riding.

For more information, see my article on Mountain Bikes vs Road Bikes.

Is it hard to ride a mountain bike on the road?

We’ve talked about the advantages of riding a mountain bike on the road, but are there any disadvantages?  These are the common disadvantages of using a mountain bike on the road:

  • Mountain bike tires are wider and have greater rolling resistance.  So it takes a little bit more energy to push the tires.  Remember that you can have 2 sets of wheels and tires and actually switch them should you desire.
  • All mountain bikes (hybrid, xc, and trail) are heavier to deal with the stresses of jumps and bumps.  Because mountain bikes have to deal with more stress on the frame, the frames are made heavier and more sturdy but added weight makes climbing hills a little bit harder.
  • Mountain bikes have more robust features that road bikes do not like suspension and beefier brakes.  The added weight makes hill climbing a little harder.

So as you can see, having a sturdier bike ends up adding weight so it makes biking a little harder.  However, the added suspension makes riding over rough pavement a whole lot nicer and you can handle any terrain at a moment’s notice.

What mountain bike options are there for riding on the road?

While you can ride any mountain bike on the road, there are some changes or equipment you can switch out to make the ride more pleasant.

The first obvious thing is tires which I address in the next section.  The tires make a big difference.  Road tires frequently are for low-resistance racing but offer no off-road traction.  However, if you going out for the day for all-pavement racing, then pop on the road tires.

The next thing you an dial in is the suspension.  Road bikes have almost zero suspension travel because vertical movement on shocks takes away from forward momentum.  If you get a mountain bike that has a suspension lockout, you can actually lock out suspension travel so it acts like a bike with no suspension (as in road bike).  What I would do is lockout the rear suspension entirely like a hard tail bike and leave 3-4 inches of suspension travel in the front-end so it will absorb surface irregularity like potholes.

What tires are best for a mountain bike to ride on pavement?

While the knobby tires that come on your mountain bike are excellent for trail riding, on the road they provide a lot more rolling resistance and they can wear down rather fast.

The best option is to get an extra set of wheels and mountain road tires or closer to road tires on them and you can switch them as needed.  If you’re hitting the trails, throw on the trail tires for traction.  If you’re road riding, switch your tires for an easier ride on smooth pavement.

Mountain bikes have a lot of options available and there is usually a way to solve a multi-purpose issue like this fairly easily.  If you’re wondering the differences, read my article on cross country bikes vs trail bikes to see which one is closer to your needs.

What mountain bike I pick for road use

My answer for an all-around mountain bike that can do decent trails, normal jumps, dirt roads, and pavement is simple.  Get a XC mountain bike with a rear suspension lockout, and follow it up with an extra set of wheels with road tires.

If you are trail riding, leave it as-is.  If you are going on dirt roads and such, hit the rear suspension lockout to make it like a hardtail bike.  If you riding on the road, leave the lockout set but optionally put on road tires.

Just remember be careful near the roads.  Trails are one thing and in your control, but on the roads you have danger from cars under normal circumstances, and when you texting drivers it gets especially dangerous.  Take all precautions and wear all safety gear if you’re anywhere near the roads.

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