Aaron Teasdale

Mountain Bike for Road Touring?

At least once a week, we receive an email or phone call from someone asking if it’s okay to ride a mountain bike for their tour, whether it be a weekend trip or a cross-country tour. The quick answer to the question is “Absolutely!” but here are some reasons behind the answer and ways you can go about making it happen.

First off, not all riders have the privilege of owning multiple bikes, so if a mountain bike is all you have, it may be the best and most realistic option. Fortunately, the geometry of a mountain bike is pretty good for long-distance touring, with a more upright riding position and clearance for fenders and wider tires. Older mountain bikes often have long chainstays, which is great for keeping your heels clear of your rear panniers. However, newer race-oriented mountain bikes are starting to shorten up the chainstays, which is claimed to improve traction when climbing. This may not create an issue, but it’s something to be aware of, especially with smaller frame sizes. Most mountain bikes also have a very durable construction to hold up against the rigors of off-road riding.

There are a few aspects of a mountain bike that often make people second-guess whether or not it can be suited for road riding. The first is that mountain bikes are usually set up with knobby tires. This is a quick and inexpensive fix, as there are a plethora of slick-tire options available that will give you a quiet ride on the road with low rolling resistance.

As for hauling your load along, disc brakes can sometimes cause headaches when installing racks. If you have disc brakes and want to use racks, make sure you search out a disc-specific touring rack for your wheel size (26in., 27.5in. (650b), or 29er). Some examples would be the Old Man Mountain Sherpa racks, as well as Topeak Super Tourist and Explorer racks. If you don’t want to go this route, you can use a trailer, but make sure that you choose a trailer with the proper wheel clearance. Alternatively, you can forgo racks and trailers entirely and instead go with bikepacking bags like those available from Revelate Designs

Another mountain bike component that can cause some second-guessing is the suspension fork. When riding on the road, front and/or rear suspension really isn’t going to help you much, but it probably won’t ruin your ride either. If you have a relatively newer suspension fork, you might be able to lock it out for a more rigid ride. Steel rigid forks are also fairly inexpensive and can be quickly swapped out by your local shop.

As far as handlebars are concerned, sticking with flat bars can give you a more stable riding position but can also limit the number of potential hand positions available when compared to dropbars. There’s no reason you can’t swap dropbars for your flat bars, but this often means that you will have to find a new set of shifters and brake levers. A third option is the Jones bar, which will accept the shifters and brake levers from your flat bar but offer more hand positions. 

If your mountain bike has 26in. wheels, don’t in any way feel inferior to 700c road wheels. Depending on how the wheel is laced up, 26in. wheels can offer great durability with their shorter spokes and wider rims. In fact, there is a fair amount of road touring bikes that have played around with smaller 26in. and 650b wheel sizes to take advantage of their benefits in strength.

In the end, we’re not trying to insinuate that you should go out and purchase a new mountain bike for your next road tour. This is aimed at riders who currently have a mountain bike and don’t want to invest in a second bike for their upcoming trip.

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This story has been updated and was originally published on October 23, 2010.

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Comments

Jeff July 31, 2019, 5:06 AM

I've gone up and down the US west coast (800 mi & 500 mi) and cross country from SF to NYC (4,000 mi) all on my 2006 trek 26" front suspension with slick tires, drop bars, and a rack.

It feels solid in the wind and worked out well, but one thing not mention here is the weight. Cross country I had 30lbs of gear (incl water) which when added to a 30lb bike frame... it's a lot to lug up across the Sierra Nevada and Rockies.

Bob January 9, 2019, 4:20 PM

Curious about what type of tires do you have on this MTB? I am riding in a 70-mile race and need to replace my MTB tires. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Adrian July 27, 2018, 11:00 PM

In general, I find dropend bikes better for traveling fast on flatter terrain, but flatbar for uphills.

It's not so easy to cycle quickly as a dropend , but , in my limited touring experience, unless you're on a single long road, I'm forever stopping and checking Google maps anyway, so I'm not going to be cycling that fast many times.

In mid 2018, bicycle gears from Shimano and SRAM have changed a lot since 2010. Low gears, great for hauling heavier weights, is purely on bikes with flatbar. While dropend bike gearing is getting very hard for the non athletic to use- gearing is high eg 34t front, 25-28t rear. It's like this so spacing between 11-12 speed cassettes gears is small, so can always find a gear regardless of speed.

So you might not have a choice but to get a MTB if you intend to lug full touring loads. ... Or splurge for a Surly who have mixed and matched gears for you.

Troy June 25, 2018, 3:23 PM

I've rode my MTB about 3500 miles on the road. I have the older style front suspension that didn't have lock outs, I cut a piece of PVC in half and snap it in-between the shock part as a stiffener add a few zip ties and it works great. I average 16-18 mph while riding and it has been a great workout. I plan on buying a rode bike in the future but for know this works. I ride on average around 50-80 miles a week weather dependent. My longest ride was a 65 mile loop.

Bob January 9, 2019, 1:01 PM

Curious about what type of tires do you have on this MTB? I am riding in a 70-mile race and need to replace my MTB tires. Any suggestions? Thanks!

vivek January 28, 2018, 9:47 AM

I am planning 2000 miles in Indian, Nepal and Bhutan, I am confused between MTB and Hybrid. If I will go for MTB will it hinder my speed compared to hybrid? Speed is my only concern here.

JEFF RAGUSA July 31, 2019, 5:10 AM

Did you do this? Did you write up details of it anywhere?

Stephane December 19, 2017, 4:36 PM

I have done 2 trips of 1400km with my e-mtb which allowed me to do more km per day. I don't regret to do it with a mtb, and I even would say that is better as a lot of cycle path, canal, are not like roads. I cycle tour to avoid main roads.

Ankit Chopra October 23, 2016, 4:37 AM

Hey man thanks for sharing your experience. Ihave a dual suspension "BSA Hercules top gear tz110" I ride 20 to 30km every day so I thought I should try something bigger so I went for a 125 km ride day before yesterday it was a nasty experience. Seriously it felt like going threw hell so I am planing to go for a new bike can you please suggest some thing good for such road rides in feature.

Andy March 4, 2017, 9:23 AM

Check out aliexpress "mtb carbon frames". You can get mtb frame fork seatpost and handlebars for 400USD. Thats gonna be my next ultralightweight (9kg) touring rig.

Sankalp November 23, 2015, 12:42 AM

Hey man , thanks for sharing your experience . This might sound crazy ( well that's pretty much what others say ) bu is it a good idea to attach an aero bar ( I call it the arm rest ) on an MTB . The terrain , where I live is not really good for a road bike, so settled for an MTB . Would it be a good idea if one is planing a long ride ?

Skip October 24, 2018, 9:07 PM

I have areo bars and bar ends on my mtb for touring. Best way to go in my opinion and we all have one. I also carry folding 2.8" mtb tires and 1.5" street tires. This lets me tailor the tire to the terrain. If I'm going off road for a few day on my trip I can change to the mtb tires easy enough. Like I said this works great for me.

Thato Moupo December 24, 2014, 8:51 PM

Thanks Will, I am planning to do the Trans AM next year and to be honest the 800+ dollars I would she'll out for an entry level touring bike are making it harder to do it financially. I am also not a fan of that kinda bike and would have no use for it after the tour but I don't wanna go the reselling route too as I would never wanna part with a bike that took me across the country.

william buttry December 9, 2014, 7:12 PM

thato Yes just put on smooth 1.75 or 1.50's and your rack panniers or trailer and go. mtn bike are made like a brick sht house little heavy but worth going to get non suspenion frame less to brake make sure you can change out your gearing on the front if you want different gears but yes it can

Thato Moupo December 9, 2014, 11:49 AM

So all in all would you say that the Trans Amerucan Trail can be done on an MTB? I am looking to cover about 65 miles per day. I'm asking because I could really benefit from the extra cash I would have from not having to buy a touring bike.

Kristine July 30, 2014, 3:22 PM

Thank you all for your comments and to you who wrote the article. Very helpful!!

Robert May 19, 2014, 10:55 AM

It's been a long time since I used my mountain bike for mountain biking, or any other bike but it for touring. I found it decidedly better in every way to my old Trek 520. Starts with the fact that they are more sturdy and breakdowns are less likely. I have to say I also abandoned paniers years ago - once you try a trailer there is no going back

Rideon May 7, 2014, 12:39 AM

Recently built a mountain bike that provides solid handling with a load as well as providing a superb way to commute around town on multiple surfaces, gravel, grass, pavement,etc. Thanks for sharing this article as it seems to be a growing trend. Was just looking at some photos of a guy touring for two years on a fat tire bike.

william May 15, 2013, 12:56 PM

I have been using mtn bikes for years I would rather have that than a lht or big dummy I use a next mtn bike and have over 3000 mile on stock equipment only had to replace front derailer bike fell on something and bent the derailler other wise would still be stock oh yeah took off stock bars put on trekking bars here is a vid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNt6KPpCtJQ&list=UUdfsaFCOQJ5v6WMJdIElPdA&index=6

Mike Dowsing October 3, 2011, 9:49 PM

I use a road commute frame, with front suspension, strong road wheels, discs, triple road geared chainring and road drop bars. This will eat any mountainbike. It's touring in comfort and I go on sealed and unsealed road with ease.

See my article:

http://www.streetarticles.com/cycling/road-cycle-touring

Tim Little September 7, 2011, 12:38 AM

The full suspension bikes (http://tour-de-bike.com) and disc brakes are in demand features that only the more popular models have today.

Dave The Wave October 30, 2010, 1:14 PM

way cool,its nice to know what i already know,i tour with a mountain bike and love it.it seems to me that you missed a very good point,and that is the gearing,most mountain bikes are already geared low which means you might go a little slower,BUT climbing will be a lot easier with the lower gearing.as for going a little slower ? i dont mind it a bit,i can still cover 50-60 miles a day and for me that is plenty good. remember it aint about the destanation IT'S ABOUT THE JOURNEY. happy trails.

Dylster October 24, 2010, 3:10 PM

Good thoughts, Josh. Thanks for sharing this! Get my head (and my wallet) closer to my One Bike To Rule Them All idea...

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