Mountain Bikes for Road Touring: Are They a Good Idea?

If you’re a mountain bike enthusiast and want to broaden your horizons, touring is the way to go. Road touring with your mountain bike can be an incredible experience in itself or a great break from all of that dirt and mud (depending on your preference). However, there are also many myths out there about whether mountain bikes are suitable for touring.

In this article, I’ll discuss some important points about why they work well and a few that makes them not so great. So if you’re planning to take your mountain bike out for a long bike touring trip, you should definitely pay attention!

Are Mountain Bikes Good for Road Touring?

Mountain bikes are more suitable for road touring than most other types of bicycles. Unlike road bikes, mountain bikes can successfully navigate terrains such as loose gravel, tree branches, and steep downhills. Mountain Bikes also have a larger gear range which increases comfort during long trips. 

Furthermore, their tougher construction, flat handlebars, upright riding position, versatile suspension, and thicker tires make them less susceptible to damage that may occur throughout your tour.

So if you ever considered mountain bike touring and wondered whether you could use them to travel a long distance, then that worry should be put aside. With that said, there are a few things that you NEED to know before you take your mountain bike out for touring.

What are the Benefits of Using a Mountain Bike for Touring

The benefits of using mountain bikes as a touring bike are highly dependent on the type of terrain you will mostly be riding on for your tour.

If you are riding on many paved roads, the benefits are likely not to outweigh the negatives.

However, if you plan on riding in remote areas with difficult terrains such as hills and unpaved surfaces, mountain bikes can provide many advantages over the typical touring bicycles when it comes to pedaling up steep inclines or carrying your bike through tough conditions like sand. Mountain bikes also tend to feel more at home off-road, which is why they’re often recommended for rough trips where comfort matters most–especially considering how long some tours last.

Each component on the mountain bike provides some benefits to how well they are for touring. Here’s a quick rundown on why each part makes a MTB suitable for touring:

Frame

The frame of the mountain bike can be considered both good and bad for touring. The good news is that the frame of a mountain bike is highly durable and allows you to sit in a more relaxed riding position throughout the journey. This sitting posture will reduce the pressure on your lower back if you plan to take a heavy backpack with you(just in case you hate bike-mounted panniers and bags).

Furthermore, a mountain bike’s weight and geometry(handlebar position, shorter wheelbase, short chainstays, high bottom bracket) makes them more responsive and agile for quick cornering through some terrains. These features make it easier to maneuver while in operation but can impede stability at high speeds when loaded.

Handlebar

The flat handlebars found on most mountain bikes allow them to be a lot more comfortable taking touring. With the flat handlebar, you will be able to stay in an upright position, reducing the pressure on your lower back over long distances. The handlebars on a MTB also make it more responsive and agile for quick cornering through some terrains.

Pedals

Another thing most bike touring enthusiasts will tell you is that road bike pedals are horrible for touring. So if you plan to tour long distances, you’ll definitely need spd pedals or flat pedals (platform pedals). The good news is that mountain bikes typically come equipped with flat pedals.

Brakes

The brakes on mountain bikes are also designed to be durable and withstand rougher terrain. In addition, mountain bike brake systems typically use more material than what they would for a road bike, making them last longer even under extreme conditions.

Drivetrain

Most of us have heard that there’s no such thing as too many gears, but mountain bikes tend to offer more gears than a typical road bike and can also be equipped with an internally geared rear hub.

Wheels

Mountain bike wheels are better for bike touring than road bike tires because the mountain bike wheels are typically heavier, tougher, and can take a higher load. On the other hand, road bike tires are generally light and thin, making them less durable when loaded with gear for long trips.

Cons of Using a Mountain Bike for Touring

While most of the components on a mountain bike make them suitable for touring, they also come with many issues that you might not want to deal with.

The first issue is that some mountain bike frames aren’t built to accommodate all the gear you might want to carry due to compatibility issues with the disc brakes and mounting rear bike racks. In addition, the Aluminum frame on a mountain bike isn’t as durable as bikes with a steel frame. Furthermore, full-suspension mountain bikes are also a bad idea since full suspension mountain bikes are much heavier.

Another issue is that mountain bike tires are designed for off-road riding because of the tire treading, which causes lower rolling efficiency. So touring with the standard tires will not be a great idea depending on the type of routes you plan to take. The good news is that you can do what I do and swap the tires with hybrid-type tires for tours you know involve pavements.

Mountain bikes also won’t allow you to take as much gear as you could on another type of bike. For example, they don’t have as many water bottle positions or the capability to mount multiple. And lastly, since an MTB features a flat handlebar, you’ll have fewer hand positions to work with. So over your long-distance tour, you might get arm fatigue frequently.

Tips for Bike Touring With A Mountain Bike

If you plan to tour with a mountain bike, I’ll share some tips to follow:

  1. The first thing is that you’ll need to make sure that when you are touring with a mountain bike that you’re not doing so on a full-suspension mountain bike which will be much heavier.
  2. Another tip is that if you want to take a lot of gear, then you might want to see if you can find the right racks, panniers, and bags that you’ll be able to mount on your mtb. I wrote a guide on how to choose the best panniers and bags so that you can check that out for more information.
  3. It would help if you also considered getting rid of the knobby tires that are great for rough roads. Instead, it would be best if you opted for a more well-rounded hybrid tire that can tackle rough roads and pavements alike.
  4. Try to swap out your handlebars for something more versatile, like a butterfly handlebar that will allow more hand positions.
  5. If you’re using spd pedals, you MIGHT want to consider swapping them out to platform pedals if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing. SPD pedals are great, but they limit the types of touring bike shoes you can wear. I have found many good touring bike shoes, but I still prefer to use platform pedals when I plan on walking a lot.
  6. If your mountain bike has an aluminum frame, you might want to avoid touring very harsh terrains since aluminum frames aren’t as strong as steel.
  7. Get your bike equipped with fenders so that you can keep your gear and clothes clean whenever the trails get muddy.
  8. You might also need to get yourself one of the most comfortable seats for your bicycle by checking out this article. One of the worse things you can do is take a long bike trip with an uncomfortable seat. So you definitely want to make sure your seat is comfortable before setting out.
  9. Make sure you have all the gear you need, such as water, light, enough high-energy foods, repair kits, tents, chargers, etc.
  10. Plan your routes and trip as much as possible and make sure someone else knows.

Wrapping It Up

Mountain bikes are a suitable option for road touring.

When you’re setting out on the open roads with a mountain bike, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got the right setup. Follow the tips given above, especially the one that you need to swap your tires for hybrid-type ones and switch to platform pedals for more versatility. If your mtb has an aluminum frame, stick to less harsh terrains and get fenders since your gear is bound to get muddy at some point.

It is a good idea to take water and snacks with you when you go on a long ride in addition to your other food items. This way, if you get hungry or thirsty, you can still grab a quick bite while riding. Lastly, make sure you have a way to keep your phone charged or have a phone that can last through your tour.

All in all, you can definitely get away with riding your mtb for bike tours.