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My son (age 15) and I have ridden a couple of thousand miles in the past few years--road riding. We like mountain climbs and descents. He was on a comfort bike until a month ago, when he acquired his big brother's road bike--an older Cannondale Saeco with an aluminum frame. The other day, standing on the pedals and sprinting hard at about 25 mph, he lost control, veered right, and hit a concrete storm-sewer inlet at the side of the road. He crunched the front wheel, bent the frame, and dinged himself up pretty good--thankfully no head injury or internal injuries. This whole time I've been riding a mountain bike with 1.6-inch road tires. For at time I also had a road bike (a nice, older Klein Aura V). To me the road bike felt a little twitchy in its handling, and, with safety in view (as well as my wife's peace of mind), I decided to stick with the mountain bike, which felt a little more stable and of course has stronger wheels and wider tires. Now we need to decide what kind of bike to get for my son. I'm not finding a great deal of discussion on the internet about relative safety of road-style bikes vs. mountain bikes for road riding. I'm sure there's a great deal of variety of handling characteristics within each category, depending on wheelbase, frame stiffness and geometry, wheel diameter and weight, etc. Sure would appreciate any helpful discussion of the safety issues here, or pointers to web sites where these things are knowledgeably discussed.

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Two "road" bikes can be as dissimilar as a road bike and a mountain bike. Try looking at touring bikes or hybrids: they're sturdy, fast, and easy to handle. If you're staying on paved road or gravel trails it is the way to go. –  WTHarper Sep 21 '13 at 16:19
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There's some, in the answer to Explaining the effects of frame geometries. –  ChrisW Sep 21 '13 at 16:34
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I don't mean this unkindly but it sounds like your son crashed due to carelessness. And its possible to ride any bike carelessly. You might argue that a road bike is more dangerous because of faster speeds but (a) these speeds could equally add to his thrill of cycling, and (b) I'm sure trail descents can be quite dangerous too. I guess I'm saying that personally, I would think hard before using this as a purchase criterion, I'd place more emphasis on the surfaces he sees himself riding. –  PeteH Sep 22 '13 at 19:08
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+1 For @PeterH. Also not to be unkindly how do you know if it was the bike, the wheel, the tire or the rider? I personally have done a hard sprint or two where I -- very momentarily -- looked down at the ground/pedals and had a "control scare". But you are on the right track now that you know about trail. A bike meant for criterium racing will be "twitchy" in this sense. At the other end of the spectrum, something like a Surly LHT can be ridden with no hands easily. –  Arbalest Sep 23 '13 at 1:14
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@PeterH, No need to worry about being unkind. "Carelessness" is probably a bit of an overstatement: his unfamiliarity with this particular bike's handling under such riding conditions is probably the key failure. Yes, he could learn how to handle a twitchy bike better with experience. But he's not aiming to develop into a serious racer. He just wants to enjoy basic road riding (not trail riding; my initial post specified road riding). I've been quite satisfied with my mountain bike for road riding, so if it has a safety advantage in handling, brakes, tires, etc, it deserves consideration here. –  Randy Sep 23 '13 at 23:42

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I would say it's debatable and depends on the individual's preference. Mountain bikes (MTBs) obviously have more traction due to wider and more grippy tyre designs. However a road bike could hold a turn better due to lack of shoulder on the tyre. Speeds tend to be lower on a mountain bike due to added weight and those grippy tyres. On the other hand these slower speeds could be a disadvantage in road traffic. (for reference I ride both an MTB mainly off road and a hybrid with road tyres for paved trails and roads)

I would recommend looking at better/further safety equipment (knee pads, elbow pads, gloves etc) and/or training rather than a new bike. For one, It's cheaper, but it will also install confidence.

Another option is to try with a rented mountain bike to see which your son prefers.

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As I've indicated elsewhere, I'm envisioning a MTB with road tires, not knobbies. I've actually ordered a bike from Nashbar (the FB-1): it has a pretty relaxed frame geometry. I hit it on a 2-day discount that made it too good a deal to pass up, as it also had a lot of other valued features (good gearing range, pedals with a flat side and a clip side, etc.). If he's not satisfied, then we'll also look for something a little more aggressive on Craigslist, and, as you suggest, we can spend some time in comparison. Any loss in resale of the rejected bike is just the cost of the decision process. –  Randy Sep 25 '13 at 22:50

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