Are Road Bikes Hard to Ride? (And What Makes Them Different)

When I bought my first ‘real’ road bike after having ridden a mountain bike for a while, the new bike felt twitchy and unstable. I doubted my riding ability and started to ask myself…

Are road bikes hard to ride? 

Road bikes are not hard to ride, but they do feel different from riding other types of bikes. A road bike can feel twitchy and unstable compared to a mountain bike or a hybrid bike, but they are also a lot faster to ride. 

If you’ve been wondering what makes a road bike different from a mountain bike or a hybrid bike, keep reading. In this article, we’ll discuss why it seems more challenging to ride a road bike in some ways and why it is easier in other ways. We’ll discuss balance, comfort, gears, hills, and whether road bikes are suitable for beginners. 

But first, we’ll discuss whether road bikes are harder or easier to ride than mountain bikes. 

Are Road Bikes Harder (or Easier) to Ride than Mountain Bikes?

A road bike isn’t harder to ride than a mountain bike. It’s just different. This difference is because the bikes were designed for different purposes. Road bikes are specially designed to ride on paved roads, while mountain bikes are designed for rougher terrain. 

Mountain bikes are designed for more off-road riding. They are heavier, longer, and have different gearing. While mountain bikes will feel more stable because they’re designed to tackle rocks, tree roots, and messy trails, they’re slower on the pavement. 

You certainly can ride a mountain bike on the road if you want to. However, because it’s heavier and has bigger, fatter wheels, it will take more effort to power the bike along. 

Road bikes, on the other hand, are designed for smooth rides and speed. They may feel twitchy and unstable compared to a mountain bike, but once you get used to them, you’ll find they are faster, more responsive, and easier to pedal on pavement. 

You can try to ride a road bike off-road, but your skinny, smooth wheels probably won’t have enough traction and grip to get over rocks and push through dirt trails. 

Now that we’ve discussed the difference between mountain bikes and road bikes, what about something in between, like a hybrid?

Are Road Bikes Harder (or Easier) to Ride than Hybrids?

Road bikes are a little harder to ride than hybrids. Hybrids are designed for comfort and ease of use. A hybrid bike is a combination of other types of bikes. So you’ll have a more comfortable position, easy gears, and a stable, well-balanced bike. 

A hybrid bike can tackle some easy off-road terrain with its slightly wider, grippy wheels. Since you’ll have good traction, you’ll be able to handle some wet pavement, as well. But because this puts you in a little more relaxed, upright position and has chunkier wheels, you’ll sacrifice some speed.  

Road bikes are just not quite as easy to ride as hybrid bikes. First of all, a road bike puts you in a more aggressive position to make your entire body more aerodynamic. This position means you’re leaning forward, which can take a little getting used to. 

Road bikes also have a thinner tire with more tire pressure than a hybrid bike. These kinds of tires give you a faster ride, for sure, but they also have less grip on the road. When you first start riding a road bike, the skinny tires might feel a little out of control at first, but you’ll get used to them with practice.

How about recumbent bikes? Are they hard to ride? If you want to know, check out our article Are Recumbent Bikes Harder (or Easier) to Ride?.

Is It Harder to Balance on a Road Bike?

When you first hop on your road bike and take it for a spin, you might feel like it is harder to balance on than other types of bikes. This is especially true if you’ve never tried a road bike before.

Road bikes may feel more difficult to balance because their tires are thinner and smoother. Road tires can make your bike faster on pavement, but they can also make it seem less stable. Not only that, but the geometry, or the shape of the frame, puts you in a position that feels a little more precarious. 

The seat on a road bike is a little bit higher than the handlebars. So when you ride a road bike, you’ll be leaning more forwards than sitting upright, which can also make it feel like it is a little hard to balance. 

However, thanks to the laws of physics, you actually can balance pretty easily on a road bike. If you remember back to physics class, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. 

When you ride a little faster, you have an easier time staying upright because your bike wants to stay in motion. Since road bikes are designed for speed, they help you balance when you are riding. But is this comfortable?

Are Road Bikes Uncomfortable?

Road bikes can be uncomfortable if they don’t fit you correctly. Road bikes have “aggressive” geometry which tilts your body forward, to reduce the wind resistance. While this helps riders go faster, it can also be uncomfortable if you aren’t very flexible. 

Hybrid bikes, on the other hand, have a more relaxed rider position. This relaxed position makes them feel a lot more comfortable because the handlebars are higher, and you can sit up straighter on the bike. Wider, more grippy tires will absorb more of the road vibrations, making hybrid bikes a little bit more comfortable than road bikes. 

Mountain bikes are also a little bit more comfortable than road bikes for the same reasons. They have a more upright position and wider tires. Many mountain bikes also have suspension systems, which take out a lot of the bumps you might feel when you’re riding. Road bike suspension is more limited comparatively.

Are Road Bikes Good for Beginners?

Road bikes are good for beginners if that’s the type of riding you want to do. If you are just breaking into road cycling, you’ll want a good all-around entry-level road bike. For example, a Giant Contend 3 is a great bike to get started in road cycling. 

The Contend gives you a great ride with a comfortable position, a seat post that reduces road vibration, a lightweight but inexpensive frame, and room to put wider tires on if you desire. It isn’t the cheapest beginner bike, but it will give you a great start with a balance of comfort, quality, and price. 

What if you don’t want to get into pure road cycling? Then a hybrid bike is probably your best option as a beginner cyclist. Hybrid bikes give you a balance of comfort and handling, so you can take your bike on various terrain without having to worry too much about what will happen to your bike (or you!). 

Is It Harder to Shift Gears on a Road Bike?

Road bike gears are not harder to shift than the gears on hybrid or mountain bikes. In fact, once you get used to them, you may actually find them easier to use than the typical handlebar crank gears that are found in other types of bikes. Road bike gears can actually be smoother and require less effort to shift.

Most bikes have two chainrings in the front and several cogs in the back that are collectively known as the cassette. The shifters, your controls for the gears, are on the handlebars of modern bikes. To change the gears in the back, you use the right-hand shifter, and to change the gears in the front, you use the left hand. 

The front chainrings make big changes, while the rear cassette creates more minor changes for fine-tuning. So if you’re about to go up a very steep hill, you may want to shift into the small chainring in the front to make it much easier to spin. If you’re doing downhill, shift into the large chainring in the front to make it harder to pedal.

Some mountain bikes only have one chainring in the front. A single chainring makes shifting even less complicated because you only shift up or down with the rear cassette. The rear cassette has a wide range of gears, including a ‘granny gear’ – a gear designed to make it easier to go uphill. 

Are Road Bikes Easier to Ride Uphill?

Road bikes are easy to ride uphill on a paved surface. Most road bikes are designed to be lightweight, which is an advantage when you’re going up. They also tend to have lots of gears to choose from, so you’ll be able to put your bike into an easy gear and spin your way to the top. 

However, the exception is when you’re riding uphill on an unpaved road, such as gravel or dirt. Your road bike has thin, smooth tires, which will not give you the traction you need to get up that climb. This can also be dangerous.

So if you’re looking for a bike that can tackle gravelly hills, you’ll want to look at mountain bikes or hybrids instead. They’ll have the wider tires that give you a good grip, and even though they are a bit heavier, they might also have that extra easy gear to help you overcome the challenge.


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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