Road bike vs mountain bike safety. It’s something you might wonder if you’re considering getting into either sport. Both mountain and road biking are excellent ways to exercise while having fun. However, the dilemma that every biker faces is safety.

Road biking is less dangerous than downhill mountain biking, and yet more dangerous than trail riding mountain biking. However, the location, traffic, and conditions have a lot to do with safety as well.

Safety should always be your top priority whenever you are cycling. For this reason, understanding the safety points that can help you save your life is a wise choice. Stick with me and I’ll share seven of these points and maybe I can say I helped save your life someday. Let’s get this ride going.

Road Bike Vs. Mountain Bike Safety: What You Need to Know

One of the commonly asked questions when it comes to biking is whether it is safer on the road or mountain biking on the trail. Before we can answer that, let us look at some of the most prominent features of these bikes.

A road bike is lightweight, allowing it to be responsive on smooth pavement. This type of bike has thin wheels, which are typically 700c in size. This wheel size reduces resistance and increases speed.

Additionally, the frames of road bikes are light and rigid, making them less suitable for rough roads. Road bikes do not offer suspension.

However, road bikes are less durable (or perhaps the correct word here is versatile) than mountain bikes. Since they are made for riding on smooth roads, they are also less comfortable if those roads prove to be anything but smooth.

On the other hand, mountain bikes are specifically for off-road terrains such as mud, dirt, gravel, and similar conditions. This bike type has a rugged frame, thick tires, and strong wheels. For this reason, it can resist damage from impact much greater than a road bike.

In addition, mountain bikes commonly have suspension systems that allow them to absorb impact and vibration when you are riding on a rough trail. They also feature flat or semi-flat handlebars, so the rider stays upright to maintain balance and control, unlike the curled under bars you find on road bikes that force your upper body downward.

Additionally, tires of MTBs are bigger, offering more shock absorption than the thin and highly pressurized road bike tires.

On the flip side, mountain bikes are more suitable for short-distance riding. MTBs are typically also heavy, compared with road bikes, so you need to exert more effort propelling it. (source)

So, which is safer between the two? The answer depends on where you are riding. In fact, it is determined more by location and conditions than it is generally speaking.

If you are cycling downhill, a mountain bike is more dangerous. But if the road you are taking is a simple terrain, a mountain bike is safer than a road bike because you will not have to ride with other vehicles, such as trucks, cars, and buses.

Not to mention, but city road biking can be dangerous due to pedestrians. Not that they are as scary to ride into than say an 8-foot boulder, but when they jump out into traffic to jaywalk and you swerve to avoid them, you may only have moving traffic or a parked car to choose to ride into rather than hit the oblivious pedestrian. On the mountain bike trail, this sort of thing just doesn’t happen. It’s not like deer are jumping out in front of your bike on the trail.

I’ve painted a picture of crashes on a road bike with possibilities of being run over by a moving vehicle. However, racing down a rock encrusted mountain isn’t without its perils.

Riding a mountain bike, or a road bike, if you crash, it’s likely going to hurt. It could break bones or worse. When you ride, you have to calculate your risks of falling and consider the conditions it might occur in. Then you’ll know how safe it is, but only if you consider all the possible scenarios.

Mountain Bike Safety
Mountain Bike Safety

7 Safety Tips for Road and Mountain Bikers

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have lesser means of public transportation than ever. For this reason, bikes are increasing in popularity. Not only do bikes serve as a means of transportation, exercise, and fun, but it is also reasonably easy to maintain social distance on a bike.

But regardless of what type of bike you have and how you use it, you should know that accidents may always happen. For this reason, you need to know these seven safety tips that can help you save your life while biking.

1.   Always Wear a Helmet

Some places do not require bicyclists to wear a helmet. But according to research, wearing one can reduce the risk of severe accidents significantly.

The NHTSA states the number 1 way to stay safer on a bike is to wear a helmet. Reference: NHTSA Bicycle Safety

Moreover, head injuries are the primary cause of bike accidents that cause bikers to lose their life. In fact, most of the people who died due to bike accidents were not wearing helmets. That said, simply wearing a helmet will help you save your life in an instance that you got into a bike accident.

If you ever feel like a bike helmet doesn’t look cool just remember, it’s just what other people think, but it’s your body and life at risk if you don’t wear it. What would you prefer, some ignorant person judging you or brain damage from a bike accident? I’d rather look foolish to the uneducated rather than have to eat using a straw and drooling for the rest of my life. No thanks, I’ll take safety any day.

Because fitting a helmet is critical check out this link to a YOUTUBE video on correctly measuring your head for a MTB Helmet

Besides, there are some pretty cool helmets out there these days, so technically you could be safe and look great doing it. Check out my article on the differences between road and bike helmets for more information on the types.

2.   Wear Reflective Materials

Vehicular drivers have limited visibility when it comes to bikers. If they cannot see these bikers, there is an excellent chance for accidents to occur. Such is especially true if you are biking at dawn, dusk, night or riding at intersections where you are likely to cross with other vehicles.

Installing reflectors on your bike will increase your visibility. Still, it is important to wear bright and reflective clothing to ensure that other drivers will see you.

Additionally, wearing reflective materials will reduce your risk of getting into an accident substantially. In many areas reflectors aren’t just a good idea, they are actually a legal responsibility if one is to take their bike on a roadway. At least, in many areas, this is the case.

3.   Make It Routine to Check Your Bike Before Riding

Bike accidents do not always happen because of your environment, like a distracted driver or an unexpected road bump. Sometimes, accidents happen because of your bike equipment malfunctions like having a chain pop off and jam between your cassette and rear frame.

To reduce the risk of accidents related to equipment malfunctions, make checking your bike equipment before driving it a habit. Make sure that both of your tires are not flat.

In addition, always check your lights and reflectors to see if they are working correctly.

4.   Bring Repair Tools with You

While you can prevent malfunctions from happening, you can still have a repair tool to use during unfortunate situations. Even a minor brake or derailleur adjustment can save you hours of headaches having to walk a malfunctioning bike off the trail.

Of course, you cannot wear your entire toolbox as you will not have anywhere to place it in your box. So, a multi-purpose tool just like the Crankbrothers 19-in-1 Multi-tool. It easily fits your pocket or your small bag. I highly recommend carrying a multitool like this on the trail, or road.

5.   Learn About Your Signals and Use Them

Bike accidents are likely to occur near or at an intersection. For this reason, it is essential to make sure that you are entirely familiar with bike hand signals. You should be able to use these signals to communicate with the drivers and other cyclists near you.

Nearby drivers cannot anticipate what you are going to do. So, you need to provide a fair warning for them.

That said, you need to make sure that your hand signals are clear and obvious to other drivers. You will be able to reduce the risk of accidents if you are on the same page with the people around you.

6.   Keep Your Hands on The Bike

You may think that you are already a pro when it comes to riding a bike, or you have an excellent sense of balance. This characteristic may allow you to ride your bike without your hands holding on to the handlebars.

However, it would be best if you thought twice before you ride hands-free. Such is especially true if you are driving on one road with other vehicles. If you do not have your hands on the bike, you will take more time to react when you encounter unexpected circumstances.

For instance, if there is a pedestrian in your way and your hands are off your bike, you can cause an accident as you will not be able to brake on time.

7.   Do Not Have Distractions

Distracted driving can cause fatal accidents regardless of what vehicle you are driving. However, bikers are more vulnerable to severe injuries compared to other drivers. For this reason, you need to ensure that you limit your distractions while cycling.

True enough, riding a bike is an excellent experience. You will be able to exercise while getting fresh air. It is also challenging, especially if you are driving on a rough trail or uphill. But try not to use any gadget while driving.

If you need to drink, choose a water bottle that you can open with one hand. In addition, keeping your eyes on your path and looking at your surroundings will help you ride safely. (source)

Okay, I’m going to say it. But, I promise I’ll only say it once: Put away your smartphone. I kid you not that I’ve been close to accidents with two people on bikes who were literally biking and texting or something. They weren’t even looking. Don’t be that person, please!

Tuning Up Your Bike for Safety

Tuning up your bike is crucial as it allows you to be ready for every ride. This step will enable you to keep yourself safe from things like a derailleur out of adjustment allowing a chain to skip off the cassette and jamb on your rear frame.

Whether you are riding a new top-of-the-line or an old bike model, proper maintenance is the key to keep it moving safely at all times. Here are the steps that you can do to maintain your bike:

1.   Clean Every Inch of The Bike

Tuning up a bike mainly revolves around cleaning, lubricating, and adjusting its parts. Such is especially true if you own a mountain bike that you frequently drive on rough and muddy roads and trails.  

To clean your bike, the first thing you need to do is to check the chain and drivetrain. If there is dirt, wipe it off with a towel or rag.

If the chain is dirty, rusty, or too greasy, you may need to give the chain a good cleaning. You will also need a fine brush, so you reach the links, as well as heavy-duty magnets that can get errant metal filings.

When using a degreaser, be sure to wipe it completely off the chain. In addition, rinse thoroughly and let it dry entirely before re-lubricating the chain.

For more information on cleaning a chain, check out my video on cleaning an old rusty chain here.

2.   Check The Brakes and Adjust If Necessary

Checking the brakes of your bike is a must. To do this step, start with the pads. When you see any indicator of wear and metal poking through the brake pads, those are indications that you need to replace them.

Tune up your bike for safety
Tune up and Double check your bike before every ride

Disc brakes may be a little different, depending on the pad material. I like to thoroughly clean my brakes with water (only, no soap or oily anything) and adjust to ensure they are good. That’s it, that’s all. When the pads in my calipers wear, they scream, so I’ve got a great sound indicator. What do your brakes do to let you know they need replacing? Let me know in the comments at the end.

If you aligned the brakes and they are making a grinding noise, you may have to buff them down to fix the issue if toeing them in doesn’t work… The noise means that the pads are hitting too square on the rim. Disc brakes don’t have the same issue.

 You also need to check if there is damage to your brake cable. If you find a few spots with the rust of loose strands, you need to replace the cables. Hydraulic brakes should be free of visible leaks or ‘sweating’ of the hydraulic oil from any seals. Lines should be free of cracks.

3.   Check the Tire Pressure

You need to check your tire pressure before driving your bike. For this maintenance step, find the recommended pounds per square inch (PSI) on the side of the tire. Next, use a tire pressure gauge and match the tire’s PSI to the numbers indicated on it.

The standard PSI for mountain bikes is between 40 to 80 PSI. On the other hand, the maximum PSI for road bikes is 120 (typically).  

4.   Test and Adjust Derailleurs

One of the most important checks is to ensure your derailleur maximum settings and indexing are set properly.

For friction indexing, you only need to ensure your maximum settings are correct. However, for stepped or staged indexing, the cable or hydraulic pressure must be set as well as the maximum set screws, posing a slightly greater maintenance challenge.

That’s why I keep a bike repair stand in my garage. So before each ride I can quickly check the bike to ensure my derailleurs, brakes, and other components are properly tightened and adjusted.

5.   Lubricate the Bike Parts

One of the major causes of problems on bikes is the lack of proper lubrication. You need to check on the lubrication every month. If not, the bearings can grind, the metal will rub, and the bike will stop running smoothly.

But it is important to note that you do not lubricate the bike too much. If you do, dirt will stick to the parts, which can also cause the bearings to ground.

That said, the perfect lubrication should be barely visible. Still, it has to leave an oily residue when you touch it with your finger.

For biking on smooth roads or in good weather, it is ideal to use extra-dry Teflon-based lubricant on the chain. Extra-dry lube stays dry. For this reason, it will not attract grime and dirt.

But if you drive in a wet environment, such as driving while it is raining or mountain biking with streams, wet lubricant like bearing grease will work better in protecting your bike’s chain.

When adding lube, put a couple of drops on the tops and bottoms of the chain’s links, and then run gears up and down. (source)

When you have the whole bike cleaned, tuned, and lubed, just take a rag and clean any excess grease or oil. That way nothing is dripping, and the bike is clean and ready to go.

Now that you know the basics of safety and a few safety tips and maintenance, get out there and enjoy your (safe) ride!

Looking for More Ways to Stay Safe on Your Mountain Bike

MTB Tools I Love and Recommend

Bike Hand Repair Stand
Bike Hand Repair Stand
Bike Hand 37 pcs Tool Box
Bike Hand 37 pcs Tool Box
Topeak Smartgauge D2 Air Pressure
Topeak Smartgauge D2 Air Pressure

I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.

  • Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand.  Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential.  I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it.  This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur.  Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
  • A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit.  Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained.  The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider.  Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
  • Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure.  A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not.  Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use.  An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
  • Carry a multitool with you on every ride.  I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool.  I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works.   Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19


David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or making YouTube videos at 👉 DIY Mountain Bike Read more about David HERE.