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Is It Possible? Can You Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road?

Robbie Ferri
December 24, 2021

As a cyclist who has been riding bikes for many years, I often get asked, "Can I ride a mountain bike on the road? Of course, you can, but there's a lot to consider before you do.

Most cyclists use mountain bikes for their intended purpose, but some cyclists use them on the road for fitness, commuting, and even just fun rides. I am one of them. I have been doing this for years alongside riding semi-professionally, and have a wide range of experience cycling and using different types of bikes. A mountain bike isn't my first choice of bike to use on the road, but it does work.

Advantages Of Using A Mountain Bike On The Road

You will often see road bikes, hybrid bikes, shopper bikes, commuting bikes, and E-bikes on the road. Not often do you see mountain bikes, especially in cities? Using a mountain bike on the road comes with some significant advantages. Let's take a look at them in the next section.

Road Conditions Don't Matter As Much

Some roads can be bumpy and not well-maintained. Especially in cities, the maintenance of roads can cost local councils a fortune, and they may wait till things are bad to fix it. Having a mountain bike with large tires and suspension means that no matter how bad the state of the road is, you will be able to ride on it. Mountain bikers also see potholes as a challenge to jump over.

It's Comfortable To Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road

Riding suspension mountain bikes on the road is comfortable due to the larger tires and suspension forks. It's an extremely soft ride, not just on the bumps but also on the smooth sections.

Mountain Bikes Are Reasonably-Priced

Many cyclists use mountain bikes as they are affordable. It's common to find mountain bikes at a lower price point, making them appealing to use for any kind of riding. A lot of cyclists use a mountain bike as their first bike so you will find amazing deals when people are looking to upgrade.

They Have Off-Road Tires And Get Fewer Punctures

Using off-road tires on roads isn't ideal as they are pretty laggy when rolling. They do have a considerable advantage if the tires are knobby. With these, you will find that it brings the weaker part of the tire higher off the floor. This means it will have a lower chance to puncture. After years of riding bikes with off-road tires, I find that they puncture less on the road than bikes with road tires.

They Are Safer

Mountain bikes have the ability to stop faster than a rim brake bike. They are also slower, so you have more time to react. Something I found when I use my mountain bike on the road is that you don't have to swerve around potholes or rough sections. Having the ability to go over any uneven ground means that you can stay out of the way of vehicles effortlessly.

Three cyclists on a ride in a private silent road

Disadvantages Of Using A Mountain Bike On The Road

They offer fantastic advantages on the road, but there are also significant disadvantages. What are they?

They Are Slow

Mountain bikes with suspension and oversized tires often weigh more than road bikes, making them much slower on the road. You will find the ride laggy and struggle to keep up with other bikes such as hybrids or road bikes.

Wider Handlebars Are Harder To Use On The Road

Mountain bikes have wider handlebars, that are great for control off the road, but they don't offer much to the rider on the road. Firstly they are wide, and in traffic, you may struggle to fit between cars without scratching them. Secondly, they make the riderless aerodynamic, which will make a difference in how fast you go.

Roads Chew Through Mountain Bike Tire Tread

Although you will typically suffer fewer punctures, you can quickly get through the tread on mountain bike tires. Mountain bike tires are not designed for the toughness of the tarmac and are intended to be ridden on soft mud and loose terrain. You will often notice the rear tire wearing out quickly as it takes most of the mountain biker's weight.

Mountain Bikes Require More Maintenance

Mountain bikes allow you to ride anywhere, but they do require more maintenance than a road bike or commuter. This is because they have more components. You will get through tires faster and have to service the suspension often. A big concern I found is that you will need to spend a lot of time in higher gears as roads are typically flatter than trails. You will find yourself on the smaller cogs higher on the cassette with fewer teeth which can wear out quicker. With a worn cassette, you will wear out the chain faster too.

Things To Consider When Riding A Mountain Bike On The Road

If you have decided to use your mountain bike on the road, it's best to make a few changes to the bike to make sure it doesn't suffer too much wear and tear. Below are some recommendations that will benefit a mountain bike on the tarmac.

Smoother Harder Wearing Tires

The first thing I would take off my mountain bike is performance tires. Swapping knobbly tires out for smoother, hard-wearing tires will not only help you travel faster, but also make the bike much quieter, and give you more miles.

Lighting

It's vital that you stay safe and stay seen. I would highly recommend getting lighting for any bike on the road. Mountain bikes don't usually come with lighting, unlike some commuters or road bikes. This is a vital modification as you will be around other vehicles.

Suspension Lockout

Quite often, mountain bikes come with lockout suspension. This is a dial on your front forks or handlebars that can lock your suspension in place, so it doesn't work. If you have a mountain bike with fork lockout, use it. It will prolong the life of your suspension forks while you use them on smooth roads and help you go faster. You can also put the power through the bike to the road much more directly.

Decent Lock Which Goes Through The Wheels

It's common for commuters and road bikes to come with wheels that lock or need a spanner to remove. Mountain bikes, especially those between $500 to $1500, come with quick-release wheels. These are easy to remove, and mountain bikes do stand out from the crowd, making them a target for thieves. Get a good lock and one that can go through the wheels to make sure that it's safe.

Man cyclist riding road gravel bike

What Is A Mountain Bike?

Before we start, it's essential to understand what a mountain bike is. Mountain bikes are unique and typically made for off-roading and rough terrain. They are a fantastic tool to have and can take you anywhere. What are some of its features?

  • Low Slung Geometry
  • Suspension on the Front or the Front and Rear
  • Large grippy tires
  • Flat wide Handlebars
  • Powerful Disc Brakes
  • Trigger Shifters

In my opinion, these make a good mountain bike. You will find all these features on mountain bikes ranging from $500 all the way through to $10,000. They will be fun to ride and excel when it comes to bike handling and control.

Overview

The Good

  • They stop much faster
  • They are not expensive
  • They are comfortable to ride
  • You'll never have to worry about traveling on bad roads

The Bad

  • They are slow on the road
  • They require more maintenance
  • They are a target for thieves in cities
  • They are harder to fit through tight traffic

I highly recommend getting a mountain bike to use on the road. It's a great way to travel and will give you a smooth ride. It is also safe as the stopping power and control are incredible, and it will also be fun to ride.

Things to consider:

  • Be safe and attach lights to your bike
  • Change your tires for those more suited to the road
  • Use a fork lockout if you have one
  • Regularly maintain your bike

Many people choose mountain bikes because they are so versatile. They can go off-road, and on the road, and are not too expensive for an entry-level model. Plus, they look great and are easy and fun to ride. Many people prefer mountain bikes to road bikes.

Conclusion

Should mountain bikes be used on the road? Of course! You will see many mountain bikers riding one on the roads. It doesn't just have to be trail riding on local trails. It's not rare to see hardtail mountain bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, and trail bikes on smooth pavement.

Robbie Ferri
About the Author
I’m Robbie Ferri I’m a Cyclist from Norfolk UK. I have been cycling for many years and found myself in Time Trials, Ultra Cycling World Records, and Bikepacking Races. I have worked in a Bike shop and with some of the industry’s leading brands. I’m also an experienced Spinning Instructor and avid Indoor Cyclist. If I’m not cycling, I’m writing about it.
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