Last updated: February 4th, 2022
Skateboarding and bicycling are basically opposites in several ways. Bikes are efficient and capable, but big and complex. Skateboards are compact and cheap, but slow and a bit unsteady.
In fact, they’re so different that “harder” totally depends on what you want to use them for.
As a lifelong cyclist who has also dabbled in skateboarding (and longboarding), here’s how I break them down.
Here’s whether skateboarding is harder than bicycling
Bicycling has a steeper learning curve, but after that, it’s generally easier, faster, and more efficient than skateboarding. The same trip takes far less effort on a bicycle than on a skateboard, and may be safer, especially on rough terrain. However, skateboarding is more convenient (thanks to the small, light form) and arguably less intimidating as a beginner.
Remember that difficulty is situational. If your idea of an “easy” ride means cruising fast and without worrying about the road surface, then a bicycle is far easier. But if “easy” to you means portability for quick trips around the block, then a skateboard is the clear winner.
There are many other specific instances where one is easier—some of which may come as a surprise.
They have a similar learning curve
Most people can get around on either a bicycle or a skateboard after a couple hours of practice.
Most of us learned to bike as a child, whereas we’d learn to skateboard from scratch, so it’s not a totally fair comparison. But after helping a couple adults learn to ride a bicycle, I’m confident that a couple hours is enough to get the basics of either—with a little guidance, at least.
Mastery is another matter. Confidently navigating real-life terrain will take days or weeks of practice, and getting into any sort of tricks or extreme riding is a whole other story!
But for simply cruising around on smooth asphalt, the learning curve is very close.
The real differences in ease of riding will emerge when you encounter not-so-smooth ground, which leads to…
Large, inflatable tires make bikes smooth & safe
Bicycles have relatively large, pneumatic (air-filled) tires, so they glide over modest bumps that would stop a skateboard in its tracks.
Most bicycle wheels are 16″ (in the case of a folding bike), 20″ (for most BMX bikes), or 26″-29″ for nearly all others—compared to a little over 1″ on most skateboards.
Just how much does that matter? Very roughly speaking, a 20″ BMX wheel can roll over obstacles 20x the height of a 1″ skateboard wheel. That’s roughly the difference between a tiny pebble versus a low curb, large sidewalk crack, or tree root.
And because skateboard wheels are hard and don’t noticeably deform to the ground, they feel more jarring over rough ground in general.
Wheel design makes bicycles not only smoother, but far safer. Irregularities like sand or gravel can easily take you down on a skateboard—often with little warning—but they’re much less likely to cause a crash on a bicycle.
Bicycle gears help with speed & climbing
Bicycles are faster on flat/downhill terrain and easier on uphill sections. That’s thanks to their geared drive which translates moderate foot speed into much faster wheel rotation. Skateboards are limited to the speed of each kick, at least on flat ground.
On a bicycle, you simply shift down to increase torque for steeper hills, then shift up when things level out. The effort is still 100% yours, of course, but you’re using basic mechanics to your advantage.
That’s just not an option on a skateboard, so you’ll find yourself walking even modest inclines and quickly maxing out on flats.
Bicycles are easier to stop safely
Bicycles have hand brakes (or occasionally coaster brakes) that are self-explanatory to use, and always accessible in an instant. Skateboarders have to use less reliable techniques like popping up the nose of the board or dragging a foot—especially on longboards.
Bicycle brakes have nothing to do with the terrain itself, so they’re equally effective in basically all scenarios. Whether smooth or rough, your hand brakes will still work!
But skateboard stopping techniques require some means of friction with the ground. Consequently, the ground itself will affect how you stop. Even when you’ve mastered those techniques, they’re just not as predictable or reassuring as bicycle brakes.
(Of course, some freestyle BMX riders choose to remove their brakes, but that’s on them!)
It’s easier to carry things when biking
As a practical matter, backpacks are your only option for carrying things on a skateboard. Cyclists can use a backpack, but can also avail themselves of racks, panniers, and baskets for larger items.
If you’re carrying larger loads, or just don’t like the sweatiness of a backpack, then a bike is a better fit.
Skateboards are more portable & easier to carry
Skateboards are lighter, more compact, and more portable than even the smallest folding bikes. You can easily strap one to a backpack or simply carry it in hand.
Whether a bike or a board, it’s nice to have your wheels on hand all the time. You can save time on quick door-to-door trips, or just get out and cruise around when the opportunity presents itself. That’s generally easier to manage with a skateboard, since it just doesn’t take up much space.
A related benefit is that you don’t need to find a rack and lock up a skateboard while you’re at work, school, etc. It simply goes inside with you. (The same can be said of most folding bikes, but they’re still much bulkier than any skateboard.)
It’s easier to bail from a skateboard
Even if you’re not attempting tricks, falling is a part of learning. When things go amiss, it’s easier to bail (jump off) from a skateboard than a bicycle. There are no handlebars to hang up on, nor pedals to whack your shins on the way off.
The flip side is that you’ll need to bail off a skateboard more often than a bicycle…but at least it’s relatively easy when you do!
Along those lines, skateboarders fall more often, but not as hard. Not only is it easier to bail in a split second, but skateboards don’t often reach such high speeds in the first place.
Skateboards are cheaper & simpler
The simplicity of skateboards means they’re far cheaper than bicycles and easier to maintain.
If you’re purchasing new, a good entry-level bicycle might be $300-$500 (depending on the style) whereas a comparable skateboard is closer to $100. In other words, even a high-end custom skateboard build is still cheaper than most decent bicycles.
Likewise, skateboards involves very few parts and almost no special tools. They’re simple to diagnose and fix, since virtually everything is immediately visible or tangible. Bicycles aren’t exactly hard to work on, but you do need to understand a few systems (e.g., drivetrain, brakes, shifters, and wheel construction) that don’t really exist on skateboards.
What about scooters?
If you only need transportation for short distances, then an adult kick scooter may be safer than a skateboard and more convenient than a skateboard. They’re similar to skateboards in speed, size, and weight…but scooters have larger wheels, handlebars, and at least some sort of braking system.
Check out this guide to adult Razor scooters for some easy-to-find options that cost roughly the same amount as a skateboard.