All of us bike aficionados love to ride our mountain bikes on mountain trails. Feeling the adrenaline of the track, swerving obstacles, making drastic stops and avoiding dangers is a unique feeling.
Now, what happens when we want to use the same bike on the road? I ́ve done it long enough to know what happens.
So, can you ride a mountain bike on the road?
The answer to that question is definitely yes. That being said, riding your mountain bike on the road or to go grocery shopping is like buying a Ferrari to drive to work. You won ́t damage anything, but you won ́t be as comfortable as you would on a regular bike. Still, the short answer is yes, you can ride a mountain bike on the road.
That is not the complete answer, though; there ́s a lot you can do to take better care of your investment while using it casually. Also there are many minor changes to do to it and make it more road-friendly. I ́ve done it before to many of my bikes and am ready to share those secrets learnt by trial and error with you. Are you ready? Strap on that helmet and let ́s do it!
Taking a mountain bike on the road, the reasons
Can you ride a mountain bike on the road? The question beyond that is why would you do it? Is it your only means of transport? Do you do it as a form of physical exercise? Perhaps you ́re just using it to cover a medium distance that is too long for walking and too short for the car. Well, those reasons are completely valid; just bear in mind the following things before taking it out for a spin:
· Mountain bikes are expensive – Taking out your ride for a casual spin and leave it at the storefront is, perhaps, not the best idea. Walking or taking the bus for occasional riding might be better.
· Wear and tear – Your mountain bike, if you are a serious rider, must have some high-end parts and accessories like for example tires. Those are made for a specific reason and cost more than the average replacement.
These are things to bear in mind for casual riding. Now, if you want to use your bike for mountain tracks as well as on the road for prolonged periods of time, please read on what comes up next.
Issue #1 – The weight
Mountain bike frames evolved a lot from their conception to now. In fact, it is possible to buy highly resistant carbon fiber ones that are really light-weight. All in all, in comparison, with all the extra gear that we put on our mountain bikes and the way they are usually set up give us the feeling of being heavier than regular bikes. If you are going to use it eventually this is not a problem, but if you plan to do it very often, it can be annoying.
First, remove all the extra gear from your bike: the water reservoir, the toolkit, the first aid kit and any other extras you don ́t need for a small distance. Try to use it in a light gear to make moving around effortless.
Finally, put more air to your tires, the more inflated they are, the easier it will be for you to move around on them.
Issue #2 – The Speed
Second in line is a big issue: speed. Mountain bikes are not as fast as road bikes or regular bikes. They are designed to withstand the obstacles of a track and keep going but not to get to the end super-fast. A big issue in this matter is aerodynamics and overall design. There ́s not much we can do about it. Now, according my own experience, the most dramatic change you can do is swapping the tires. They are made to have maximum grip but not at all to take curves well while developing speed on asphalt.
The solution to this issue is very simple; you need some new road-friendly tires. With these you ́ll reach two important objectives: take good care of your expensive, all terrain tires and gain more speed and maneuverability on asphalt. What I did with mine was to have an extra front wheel that I can exchange easily and only change the back tire when I know I’m (sadly) not hitting the track for some time.
Issue #3 – Riding position
Mountain bikes are made for action. When you are on the track you are way more worried about not hitting some boulder and fly out than you are about a comfortable riding position. This changes drastically when you are on the road for some time. Your back starts aching and you start feeling that tiny seat.
What I did to solve this was to have some spare parts. I started by changing the handlebar for a straight and shorter one. Second was the seat, I got one of those cruising ones that are wide and fat and super comfy. Finally I set all the heights perfectly so my riding position would be as comfortable as it gets. When I hit the mountain again, I ́ll just change them back to original and have my track fun as usual.
Issue #4 – Suspension
This is the final step. Whether you have a hard tail or a double-suspension bike, it is not the most comfortable thing to hit the pavement road. Mountain bike suspension is usually set quite loose so that it can absorb bumps. Although streets in most places are filled with bumps and holes, it is easier to avoid them as you go and have a better experience overall with a stiffer suspension.
On most if not all suspension kits in the world you can regulate the travel distance. For example, if your bike has FOX suspension you can set the CTD switch to Climb (C) which is the closest you ́ll be to a rigid suspension. Your bike will feel lighter and steadier especially when you set out to take curves.
Issue #5 – Pedals and footwear
If your bike, like mine, is equipped with some cool locking pedals for that special footwear to lock in, then it
might not be the most comfortable ride to go on a nice Sunday stroll with. Besides, having locking shoes to be in traffic can be quite a hazard in case of a potential accident. Being able to literally jump out of your bike might prove to be a life saver along with the mandatory helmet.
To increase the safety of your ride it is important that you change the pedals. It might be annoying but it is necessary. What I do is to simply change them every time I come back from the mountain and know I won ́t be going back there in some time. This way I assure myself I won ́t be lazy with them and use regular shoes that will then slip off and I’ll have an accident. Don ́t overlook your pedals, they are very important.
By now you might be thinking “why don ́t I just buy a bike that works for both?” Well, the answer to that question is a little more delicate than you might think. The reason why mountain bikes have so much specific gear on them is because they need to perform under extreme circumstances.
If you are an avid mountain biker and hit the track often, you are exposing yourself to some risky terrains and should have a ride that matches those requirements. It ́s like buying a dirt motorcycle; they are not made to commute to work or cover long distances but can take bumps and hits like no other and have a super-hot throttle with superb brakes and the perfect suspension. Same with race cars, they are the product of years of research and perfection.
If I was you and hit the track as often as I do, I would stay away from hybrid bikes and buy some parts to swap out on my main bike and make it road-friendly keeping the originals to be safe on dirt. Some of the things that in my opinion you can ́t compromise are:
The brakes on mountain bikes need to be more powerful than regular ones because they need to stop the bike to zero in a nanosecond to avoid a potential disaster. Mountain bikes come equipped with them but they are not present in hybrid bikes. To have more brake power than you need is good (mountain bike in the city), but having less could be an issue (hybrid bike on the track).
The suspension on a mountain bike is a state of the art machinery used to withstand the most difficult and extreme scenarios possible. You can make it stiffer to go around the city but can ́t make a hybrid bike take the beating of a track without translating into physical pain for you.
This being said, it always depends on the level of mountain bike difficulty you usually face and also how often you hit the track. In my experience (my knee and I learnt it the hard way) you can take a mountain bike to the asphalt but shouldn ́t take a hybrid bike to the track.
So, to the question can you ride a mountain bike on the road? The answer is a definite yes. Can you tune it up to have a better experience on asphalt? Of course, there are a million hacks beyond the ones I gave you above to do it.
Hope these tips are good for you and you take that amazing mountain ride for a city spin under the warm sun with a smile.