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Mountain bikes are much more comfortable to ride than road bikes in the sense that they’re better adapted to absorb impacts but they generally aren’t as pedal-efficient or stroke-efficient. So pedalling, especially on plane surfaces, is generally harder on a mountain bike. Yet, it’s not the mountain bike that is hard to ride, but pretty often the terrain it’s meant to be used on.
Mountain bikes are designed to handle the stress and pressure of uneven terrain. They are designed to provide you with the utmost comfort and safety, and that’s where some of the efficiency is lost when the surface below the tires is just flat.
Are Mountain Bikes Harder To Ride?
Let’s go down to details and specifics to establish a clear understanding of what and why, and a comparison between the popular bike types to understand what is better suited in which use case.
Body Posture on the Bike
One of the most noticeable differences between road bikes and mountain bikes is the difference in the posture that they require. It’s not antagonistic, but it’s a pretty obvious difference.
Road Bikes and Body Posture
Road bikes (or road-oriented-hybrids) are designed to provide a bowed-down posture to the rider. This has its benefits and these benefits aren’t limited to biking, it’s a principle that carries across most of the sports that involve aero-dynamics like racing and swimming, etc. You want to decrease air-resistance as much as you possibly can to enhance the efficiency of the ride. So to follow that rule, road bikes feature drop-handlebars with the saddle almost on the same level or slightly above the level of the handlebars. That makes you lean on the bars with most of your upper body almost horizontal to the ground. And though it’s based on sound principles, it’s definitely not the best approach for people with sensitive backs or previous back issues including people on the senior sections of the age spectrum. Even in healthy people, it can aggravate back issues especially if the posture isn’t being executed properly (like craning your neck and adding too much curvature to your back while you’re riding).
Mountain Bikes and Body Posture
Mountain bikes are based on different principles. They’re not supposed to be built primarily for demonic speeds and efficiencies that parallel road bikes. They’re built for comfort and endurance during rough beatings and they’ve become quite good and doing both of those things simultaneously with the credits going to suspension and better design technology. Even without the technical advancements, people may generally prefer upright postures maybe because they’re much more natural and our bodies are generally better adjusted to and more tolerant towards having our backs vertically straight (as in upright) rather than horizontally straight (as in bowed down). This kind of posture goes easy on the medically impeded, not to mention it doesn’t seem to tend to aggravate back pains or cause general discomfort in average adults as much as the bowed down posture you see on road bikes.
The Suspension on the Bike
A bike’s suspension keeps the harmful forces of the track/trail at bay It deals with them in a way that doesn’t let all of the impact travel to the rider or the rest of the bike. But where suspension definitely has plus points, it also has some drawbacks. The biggest positive being that it works. It takes oncoming forces and steers them through mechanisms that you may not even notice during riding. All the energy that could’ve been used by the ground against you gets processed into thin air by converting it into heat. Suspension improves traction a lot since it doesn’t let the bike bob or let the ride become raspy. And when that comfort factor becomes too much of a hindrance in feeling what’s beneath you, you can harden-up the suspension so that it lets some of the impacts get to you. You can see how well suspension does its job when you literally have to dial it down to make the ride a little raw again as compared to just gliding through. The suspension is probably the most significant factor that could be added to a bike in order to deliver comfort and enhance endurance.
If you think about the basic objectives of a road bike and the purpose of suspension, it may not be that hard to figure out as to why the two can’t go together. Road bikes are meant for paved, plain roads so what’re they going to need suspension for? There’s virtually no major obstruction offering any great impacts to be handled by the bike. So the thing that is built for speed does not have suspension.
That checks-out when you consider pedal-bobbing. It’s when your pedal stroke’s energy gets drained by the suspension and results in inefficiencies.
That’s one of the reasons why mountain bikes are great for comfort on rough terrain but inefficient on paved roads. It’s also one of the reasons why taking road bikes on an uneven track is likely to be a bad idea (one of the somewhat exceptions being XC biking, which you can look up separately).
Tire pressure and why it’s important
Mountain bikes are built to navigate tough terrains. On terrains like rock gardens, rooted pathways, thick grass, or heavy snow, the tire pressure of the bike plays a great part in how easily you’ll be able to navigate through the path. It also contributes to the suspension mechanism by allowing expansion on big landings, making the landing softer and more comfortable for the rider and easier on the bike’s frame.
Mountain bikes have a typical estimated tire pressure ranging between 15-35 psi compared to hybrid bike’s 40-70 psi and road bike’s 70-120 typical tire pressure. The difference isn’t vague. And where the higher tire pressure does boost efficiency, it shouldn’t help the comfort element on the bike. Compared to the higher pressures on other bikes, a mountain bike uses lower pressure to help navigate the terrain better. Tires can gain better traction when they can squish upon impact. This prevents bobbing and gives the rider much better grip which may not seem important to a novice but on speedy trails and in close corners, it’s the little things that can generate a disastrous snowball effect.
Saddles on the Bikes and the difference it makes
Road bikes that are close to the racing-bike end of the bike design spectrum can be notorious for how roughly their saddles interact with the body. These saddles can be extremely hard and combined with the raw-input nature of impacts on road-bikes, that can prove to be a brutal onslaught on you especially if you’re planning on riding for relatively long periods of time or thinking of covering some raspy terrain (like thick grass-covered grounds). Road bikes are best suited for paved roads with little to no bumps and straight stretches to cover.
What makes Mountain bikes better for seating comfort
Mountain bikes on the other hand are built for the onslaught. They’re designed for descents on rocky paths, or gravel or thick-tree-rooted paths. One of the consequences of having been designed for that kind of terrain is relatively thicker, more comfortable saddles. Mountain bikes these days also feature dropper seat posts that let you switch swiftly between upright and bowed postures while you’re riding and if you’ve been on a steep climb on a mountain bike, you may be familiar with the comfort that an upright posture can provide when it’s needed.
Now that we have seen the main reasons that separate the mountain bikes from your average road bike when it comes to ease of riding on different terrains. Let’s look at how you can improve your riding comfort on your bike.
How to make your ride more comfortable
The spectrum between road bikes and mountain bikes has become increasingly elaborate and blurry along the boundaries. There’s a range of different bikes you can buy and most consumers probably pick from the middle of the spectrum like city bikes, touring bikes, or utility bikes. Most mountain bikes (hardtails included) are quite flexible with their application if you’ve got the right kind of set up.
Some Easy Mountain Bike Comfort Hacks for Ease of Riding
To make your mountain bike more comfortable there are a few simple things you can do.
Start with adjusting the suspension
Having tweakable suspension is one of the best things that can happen to your riding experience whether you’re riding on trails or roads. If allowing just the tiniest bit of travel on the suspension suits you, go for it! Get the most out of your ride. Having the suspension completely locked out does sound efficient but what’s the point of having those stanchions around if the impacts from the road start killing your wrists. Having the right amount of suspension allowance can make your life easier.
Pay attention to tire pressure
There’s also a balance to be reached between comfort and speed. If you’re on plane surfaces like paved roads you’d be right to prefer higher tire pressure since it lets the bike use your pedal-stroke energy more efficiently. But if you’re on a trail, the balance becomes more intricate and in the end, it may just come down to your taste. Generally, higher tire pressures correspond to more bumpy rides but with higher pedal-efficiency and lower tires pressures correspond with better navigation on uneven terrain but lower efficiencies on paved roads.
Invest in a better saddle for your bike
There’s nothing that intricate to understand about buying a better saddle. The better your seat, the more comfortable you are. You can think about a good saddle as a secondary suspension, only this one isn’t between the ground and you but between the bike and you so it absorbs the forces that get through the suspension by being squished every time it has to convey a harsher impact coming from the ground to the rider.
Whether a bike is hard or easier to ride is solely dependent on how you are trying to use it versus how it was meant to be used. If you are trying to ride a mountain bike on a flat surface all the time then you are definitely riding with reduced efficiency.
At the same time, the bike itself is not hard to ride, but the terrain it is meant to be ridden on is definitely challenging and required some good biking skills to ride properly.