Are Some Bicycles Easier To Ride Than Others?

Published Categorized as Bicycles, Bike questions & beginner guides

It’s clear that different types of bikes cater to specific needs, but some styles feel far more intuitive to ride—especially for newer cyclists.

Part of it is relative to the terrain you’re on, but even similar models can have surprising differences in ease of use.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand what causes these differences and how to choose a bike that you’ll feel at home on.

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What makes some bikes easier or harder to ride?

In general, more upright posture and wide, low-pressure tires make bikes easier to ride in everyday situations. That’s because their uprightness more closely resembles your posture while walking, and the cushier tires feel smoother and steadier over bumps. Braking and shifting components also affect ease of use, but are usually affordable to upgrade if you wish.

However, these same attributes can make a bike harder to ride in more demanding situations. Below, we’ll take a closer look at how all this affects your ease (or difficulty) of riding in different situations.

Seat height makes a massive difference in difficulty

Saddle height might be the single most important factor in how easy it feels to ride your bike. When it’s too low, your legs are constrained to a weaker portion of their range of motion. When it’s too high, you may notice hip discomfort (due to tilting side-to-side) and may feel precarious at lower speeds.

The key is to a) ride with the ball of your foot over the spindle (center rod) of the pedal, then b) raise your saddle just until your knee is straight while temporarily placing your heel over the spindle. You might need to adjust slightly—especially if you change saddles or footwear—but it’s a great starting point.

Check out this article on how to find the correct seat height to make sure you’re seated as comfortably and efficiently as possible.

Upright bikes feel easier at a relaxed pace

Upright posture makes it easier to find a comfortable, anatomically correct riding position. It’s easier on your neck and wrists, so even those of us with less-than-stellar mobility don’t need to fiddle as much with microscopic saddle adjustments.

Forward-leaning posture (like a typical road bike) is uncomfortable for many of us. It can also create relatively twitchy handling since it puts a large portion of your weight on the front wheel. That’s worth adapting to if speed is a high priority, but it’s harder (and often unnecessary) for new riders to adapt to.

Granted, it’s not more effort to ride a bike despite uncomfortable posture, but it’s extremely hard to enjoy it.

Low-quality components are harder to use

Bottom-of-the-barrel bicycles components (like you’d find on Target models) tend to be unpleasant to use and hard to maintain. Yes, they’re affordable up front, but it’s tough to enjoy imprecise shifting, weak braking, wheels that won’t stay true, and so forth. Even if safe—which I wouldn’t take for granted—these things are just plain frustrating!

Why wider tires really are easier

You might be surprised to hear that wider, fatter, cushier bicycle tires are generally easier to ride, not harder. That’s because wider tires have more overall air volume, which means they can deform (squish) more to grip the ground and soak up little bumps and vibrations. That translates into a smoother ride and better traction—as long as you use the right tire pressure.

It’s true that wider tires add rotating weight, which makes it slightly harder to accelerate. However, for recreational and utilitarian cycling, that minor drawback is a good trade-off for better ride quality. Racers have to care more about acceleration, so their tires remain on the narrow side, but even those have gotten wider on average over the last decade or so.

Keep in mind that every frame and fork has a maximum tire width. If you need fenders, they might limit the width even further. But within those constraints, you’ll enjoy the easiest ride by choosing the widest tires possible.

(Remember that knobby tires are another matter. Regardless of width, knobby or chunky tread is meant for dirt, and will be slow and “squirrelly”-feeling on pavement.)

Ease of integrating into life

Another important consideration is whether your bike is easy to integrate into life. Is it easy to store where you live? Does it have parts you understand and can maintain? Does it accommodate all the practical accessories you need?

This is a bigger factor for a commuter/city bike than a purely recreational one. Anything that adds friction—like finicky maintenance or awkward storage—makes it hard to use your bike as you might’ve envisioned. Whether it’s a folding bike, a low-maintenance belt drive, or some other consideration, these “quality of life” attributes are worth paying for.

Why ease & difficulty are relative

Everything above should apply to most bicycles, riders, and non-extreme situations. But the farther you push in terms of aggressive riding or demanding trails, the harder an upright, relaxed bike will become.

If you’re bombing down rocky singletrack, then factors like suspension design and wheelbase length play an enormous role in the ease of riding. Or, if you’re trying to out-sprint your buddies on a long, open stretch of road, then aerodynamic posture and super-light wheels will make it ease to accomplish that goal.

The same things that make a bike harder to ride to the grocery store make it easier to ride in more intense situations, and vice-versa.

However, there’s a lot of overlap between types of bikes, and consequent gray areas where neither one is obviously easier/harder to ride. Let’s take a closer look at some common comparisons.

Is a road bike easier to ride than a hybrid?

Road bikes create a more efficient and aerodynamic riding position than hybrids, and tend to weigh less, so they are easier to ride at high speed or up steep hills.

However, the narrow drop handlebars and skinny tires of a road bike may feel disconcerting to new riders. It’s usually easier to feel comfortable when you first get on a hybrid bike.

Are hybrid bikes easier to ride than mountain bikes?

Hybrid and mountain bikes feel fairly similar and are equally easy to ride in general. Both have moderately forward-leaning posture, both tend to use wide and flat handlebars for control, and both often have similar brakes and drivetrains.

However, they’re both suited to different types of terrain, so the one that is easier in some situations may be harder in others.

Hybrid bikes usually have slick or semi-slick tires that are thinner than mountain bike tires, so they ride more smoothly, weigh less, and have less rolling resistance. That makes hybrid bikes easier to ride on asphalt and (generally) on smooth, hard-packed dirt and gravel. In many cases, hybrid bikes weigh less, so they may also feel easier when accelerating or on an extremely steep hill.

Pragmatically, hybrid bikes are also easier than mountain bikes for urban riding and commuting. That’s not just because of the tire and weight differences mentioned above, but because hybrid bikes are more compatible with racks and fenders. Those are important accessories when using a bike for practical, utilitarian purposes like commuting or errands.

Mountain bikes are easier to ride than hybrids whenever the terrain is rugged and/or extremely steep. Wide, knobby, low-pressure mountain bike tires do a great job of absorbing some bumps and providing traction over rocks and roots. Many mountain bikes have suspension, as well, which further absorbs those bumps and helps you maintain a straight line even over rough terrain. It also creates a more forgiving feel.

Lastly, mountain bikes generally have overall lower gearing than hybrid bikes. That may mean a lower top speed, but it also enables you to climb the extremely steep hills that are common on trails, but almost nonexistent on paved roads.

Are road bikes easier than mountain bikes?

Most new cyclists find mountain bikes easier than road bikes. MTBs position you more comfortably upright, are more forgiving over bumps, and use an arguably more intuitive style of shifters.

In terms of physical effort, mountain bikes are harder to ride on pavement whereas road bikes are harder to ride on unpaved terrain. Tires are the biggest factor, since knobby MTB tread provides much-needed traction on dirt, but creates excessive rolling resistance on firmer ground. Likewise, the geometry of road bikes feels snappy and responsive around town, but perhaps dangerously twitchy in steeper, rougher settings.

Some folks, myself included, enjoy so-called “underbiking”. That’s the practice of choosing a bike that’s a bit under-equipped for the terrain. As that article describes, it’s certainly not easy, but it’s a great way to find a new experience on familiar trails.