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I grew up on a big box store mountain bike. I want to get a road bike for my commute, but I'm curious about the limitations I'll experience.

I know the benefits of a road bike: lighter weight, less rolling resistance, aerodynamic riding position, etc.

But I want to learn about the limitations: I'm mainly concerned with the ability to hop up and down from curbs and occasionally riding through some mulch and grass.

Is a road bike's frame less tough than that of a mountain bike? On my cheap mountain bike, I can (though I usually don't) hop over and down from curbs at full speed. Would I have to be more ginger with the road bike or would curb-hopping be recommended against altogether? Would the drop bars make it difficult to hop over curbs at all? And would a road bike's tires be unsuitable for anything off-road? Any other limitations?

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    I wouldn't worry about it. youtube.com/watch?v=HhrImDwwaDc – alex Oct 31 '14 at 1:38
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    @alex - also see: youtube.com/watch?v=Gr89ku-K2WU – Mike Baranczak Nov 2 '14 at 21:43
  • The biggest issue I have hit with road bikes is that usually your riding position is much lower and more stretched out. This makes it much more difficult to loft the front end. Shortening your stem, will do wonders to speed up the bike and make it more agile. – sixtyfootersdude Nov 4 '14 at 17:20
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Honestly hopping curbs isn't something that I would consider as an important factor to consider in choosing a bike for commuting. Riding a road bike it's almost always faster to just stick to the road, and if you do way to exit the roadway it's rare that you will have to travel more than a few seconds before there's a driveway. Still, YMMV - I don't know your route.

Roadbike frames are fine, it's the wheels that will go first. Don't get silly 16 spoke wheels to commute on.

There are a couple of things to be aware of with a roadbike though:

  • crossing small rises at acute angles - with skinny tyres when you roll up a small bump at an acute angle (ie. across the edge of a footpath that is raised above the surrounding grass) if you hit it at too fine an angle your wheel will skid off and straighten out whilst your momentum continues over the bump - resulting in a stack.
  • bottom bracket/crank clearance is less than on a mtb - be careful pedalling through bumps/corners.
  • I don't think most people shop for bikes based on the ability to hop curbs, but for me, it's an indicator of general sturdiness. On my $70 mountain bike I'm used to riding over anything and everything with no concern, but I frequently see other bikers approach a curb, come to a stop, use their foot to lift the bike up/down, then continue riding, when I could've easily ridden over it with my mountain bike. That makes me think that perhaps more expensive bikes need much more babying than a $70 MTB. – Andrew C Nov 3 '14 at 12:25
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    It's also probably a function of the amount of money invested in that bike. I wouldn't give a shit hopping curbs on a $70 MTB; worst case scenario, I need to buy another $70 MTB. On a $1,000 road bike, if I taco my wheel I might be out $200 just for that one component. People tend to take better care of their nicer possessions. – Stephen Touset Nov 3 '14 at 19:02
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A road frame is not as strong as a MTB frame, but for regular commuting that just doesn't matter.

Consider getting a cyclocross bike. On pavement, it's almost as fast as a road bike, but it's got enough room for fenders and wider tires, which will make the ride a little more comfortable.

  • I like to take pretty adventurous routes on my commutes, so it's not all just city street biking ;) – Andrew C Nov 3 '14 at 12:34
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Since I don't ride a MTB my answer is just about road bike capabilities.

What you can do on your road bike comes down to two main things

  • the size of it's tires

  • your skills

These factors do interact: with greater skills you can do more on any given equipment.

Tires come in a range of sizes (as I'm sure you are aware). For the kind of riding you propose I recommend at least 25mm. The idea is that tires soak up the impacts. If you find that you are bending your rims, the first thing to try regarding equipment is bigger tires, then tougher rims.

But it's your skills that are the key. It's not the size of the kerb or jump, it's how soft you land. While I would not recommend going up onto kirbs faster than a brisk walking pace (just manual the front up and the rear will follow), jumping down from kirbs at speeds of 30kph is fine. Just steer straight and try to land softly (that means weight on bars and pedals only). Landing both wheels together is better for the wheels.

You can also do jumps over obstacles or potholes. Edit: This previous answer describes how to do jumps on a road bike. Some other answers to that question are also relevant to this question.

You mentioned mulch and grass. 25mm tires will be fine for that. Before mountain bikes were invented we used road bikes for that all the time. Such tires will also handle sand and gravel.

You also wondered about drop bars. Never found them to be an issue. But make sure you keep plugs in the bar ends for safety.

One last comment: I would recommend a steel frame for this heavier riding.

Enjoy.

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    Tom Ritchey, who's one of the people who can legitimately claim to be one of the fathers of the mountain bike, is known to ride road bikes offroad. – JenSCDC Nov 1 '14 at 18:57
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Road bike will bang / jump - what ever you want to call it
MartynRoadBikes2
Frames and wheels are just as strong
Road Bike Party 2 - The Making Of Martyn Ashton's Colnago C59 Disc

On tires you lose the flotation and traction of a bigger tire. And a smaller tires is more susceptible to pinch flats. You have to be careful with a 25mm tire but as you can see in the video they push it pretty hard.

But for commute I would recommend a cyclocross and and put touring tires on it.

  • This video is exactly what I wanted to see. The kind of jump at 0:56 (youtu.be/HhabgvIIXik?t=56s) is what I wouldn't have thought most road bikes would be able to handle. Could an aluminum frame handle that much force? I'm guessing it's a carbon fiber frame? – Andrew C Nov 3 '14 at 12:32
  • I'm quite curious. Is he somehow riding in fixed gear in any of the shots? Or is he using the brakes? – Andrew C Nov 3 '14 at 12:39
  • I added a link on the making of the bike. He said he rode the same bike and same wheels for the whole video. Yes he in on the brakes a lot - in another video he states without the disc he could not have done many of the ticks. – paparazzo Nov 3 '14 at 12:56

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