Can you ride mountain bikes on the road? The quick answer is a definite yes. I ride my full suspension mountain bike on paved roads on a regular basis.
You can ride any type of bike on the road. You don’t need a dedicated road bike. Mountain bikes have several advantages and disadvantages to road bikes when being used on paved roads.
Let’s look at what is good and bad about riding roads on a mountain bike. We will look at what could make your mountain bike better for road riding.
Can you ride mountain bikes on the road?
You can ride mountain bikes almost anywhere including paved roads. Just because they have big knobby tires doesn’t mean they won’t be rideable on the pavement. You see Jeep Wranglers, Ford Raptors, and other trucks with offroad tires on the highways all the time. Mountain bikes are no different. They won’t be as fast and they may not handle as good as a road bike but they will get the job done. You definitely can ride mountain bikes on the road. The below talks about riding mountain bikes on roads and commuting.
Advantages of using a mountain bike for road riding.
The biggest advantage mountain bikes have for road riding is that they are more comfortable to ride. Mountain bikes have a more upright geometry. You sit more upright. They aren’t designed to be ridden in a droop position. For casual bike riders, the seating position is much more tolerable.
Mountain bikes have wider handlebars that make the bike feel more stable. The shifters and brakes are a bit more intuitive to use than a road bike with drop bars.
The big fat tires on mountain bikes will absorb a lot more potholes, cracks, gaps, and things found on the road. You won’t feel every crack in the pavement rammed up your spine.
The combination of more upright seating position, wider handlebars and bigger softer tires also makes the bike easier to ride. For a novice bike rider, a mountain bike will give them more control and confidence. This will encourage them to ride more.
Mountain bikes are more versatile. If you run into a construction zone where the pavement is ripped up or a poorly maintained dirt road, a mountain bike will handle it. You can take advantage of any shortcut you see such as jumping curbs, riding across the grass, sneaking down little dirt paths, etc..
Disadvantages of using a mountain bike for road riding.
The big fat knobby tires that make them fun to ride offroad will make them noisy and slow on pavement. An offroad tire will have a lot more rolling resistance on pavement and it will have a lot more road noise. They will be slower to stop and won’t have the cornering ability of a road tire on dry pavement.
The upright riding position of a mountain bike will make it slower for road riding than a road bike with drop bars. You will have more wind resistance in an upright position.
If you have a full suspension mountain bike it will pedal with much less efficiency than a rigid road bike frame. You may not notice pedal bobbing on a rough offroad trail. The pogo stick nature of a full suspension bike becomes noticeable when you ride on pavement. Hill climbing will feel much slower on a full suspension mountain bike.
When you ride a paved path or road, you will get passed by every road biker you come across when riding a mountain bike. They will be faster doing the same amount of work.
Can you put road tires on a mountain bike?
You can buy road or pavement tires that work on mountain bike rims. These tires will be a very flat tread pattern without knobs. They will make your mountain bike much more efficient when riding on pavement. The road noise will go away and the rolling resistance will be much less.
The good news is that these tires will still be high volume compared to a dedicated road bike wheel and tire. They will still absorb a lot of the road surface compared to a skinny high pressure road bike wheel and tire.
How much difference do road tires make on a mountain bike?
They will be much less noisy and they will roll easier. If you plan on mostly riding your mountain bike on pavement or dirt roads. You will get a lot of benefit from switching to more pavement friendly tires. You will work less, go faster, and your bike will be quieter.
Road riding with a mountain bike FAQ
Is it bad to ride a mountain bike on the road?
No. There is no reason you can’t ride a mountain bike on the road. It is the same as someone driving a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the highway. It’s not the most efficient thing in the world but it gets the job done just fine.
Can you ride long distances on a mountain bike?
You can ride long distances on a mountain bike. There are 100 mile long mountain bike races such as the Leadville 100. There really is no limit for the distance you ran ride on a mountain bike. If your goal is riding centuries (100 mile rides) on paved roads, a road bike may suit you better. If you are going out to ride 10 to 20 miles away a mountain bike will work great.
Is road biking better than mountain biking?
This is a matter of personal preference. Mountain bikers all think trail riding is the greatest thing ever. Road bikers think riding on roads is the greatest thing ever. They both have their good and bad points. It depends on which one you enjoy more. They are very different activities.
Can I put road tires on my 29er mountain bike?
You can find slick road tires for 26inch, 27.5inch, and 29inch mountain bike wheels.
How can I make my mountain bike faster on the road?
The easiest thing you can do to make a mountain bike faster for road riding is to change the tires. Using tires designed for pavement instead of offroad will make your bike faster. Tires designed for pavement have lower rolling resistance. They will be lighter weight also without all the knobs.
If your mountain bike has suspension lockouts use them on pavement. This makes the bike pedal with much better efficiency. If you don’t have lockouts then stiffening up the springs (more air or preload) will help. You want to reduce the amount your suspension moves with each pedal stroke. It is wasted energy while riding on the road with no benefit.
If you have a 1x drivetrain on your mountain bike you may find yourself spinning out the crank on pavement. Your bike is going faster than you can physically pedal. Your freewheeling and not putting any power into the bike If this is the case, then installing a larger chainring can help. A bigger chainring means higher gearing so you can pedal to a higher speed.
The below video shows how to improve a mountain bike for road riding.
How much harder is it to ride a mountain bike than a road bike?
Mountain bikes are easier to ride than a high performance road bike. Mountain bikes have wider tires making them easier to balance. A 1/2inch wide road tire is much harder to balance than a 2 inch wide mountain bike tire. Mountain bikes have wider handlebars with a more intuitive handle position than the drop bar on a road bike. If you gave a very novice biker a mountain bike and a road bike, they would have a much easier time riding the mountain bike.
Can you put drop bars on a mountain bike?
You can get a drop bar handlebar for a mountain bike. Mountain bikes have a 31.8mm diameter bar at the stem. There are many drop bar options. Your brake levers and shifters are not made to work with drop bars so you will have to switch those out too. Another option is putting drop bar ends onto your existing handlebars. This will let you ride in a drop position. You won’t have brakes in the drop position.
Can a mountain bike be as fast as a road bike?
No matter what you do, your mountain bike is not going to become as fast as a dedicated high performance road bike. Changing the tires will go a long way towards making it less slow. If you went crazy with the mountain bike and got a rigid fork, replaced the wheels with skinny wheels, and put a drop bar on, you could get close. By that point, you have a road bike except for the mountain bike frame. You spent more in parts then what it would have cost you to buy a road bike.
Which is better for exercise? A road bike or mountain bike.
Both types of bikes are good for exercise. You can get similar exertion from riding either one. If you ride a mountain bike on pavement you will use put in more effort to go the same speed than a road bike. If you ride an hour on a road bike and an hour on a mountain bike you will get roughly the same benefit from both. You covered more distance on the road bike in that hour.
Mountain bikes are great for riding both offroad and on the pavement. Can you ride mountain bikes on the road? Absolutely! You can have a great time doing it too. The most important thing is to get out riding no matter what kind of bike you have.
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About the author
My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water. I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.