What’s The Difference Between a Mountain Bike & a Hybrid?

Hybrid vs mountain bike

If you are new to mountain biking you might be confused by some of the terminology. Especially if you are in the market to purchase a new bike. In this post we’ll explain the difference between a mountain bike and a hybrid bike.

So what is the difference between a mountain bike and a hybrid bike? A mountain bike generally has a larger frame and wider tires than a hybrid bike. Mountain bikes normally have a suspension system. They can either be a full suspension bike or a hardtail mountain bike with a front wheel suspension system. Hybrid bikes have a lighter frame than mountain bikes and offer no suspension.

Before you purchase a bike it’s important to truly understand the differences between a mountain bike and a hybrid bike. Each bike offers unique benefits for specific types of riding. Be sure to understand both options so you can buy the bike that most fits your riding style.

The 3 Biggest Differences Between a Mountain Bike and a Hybrid Bike

The Wheels

Mountain Bike Wheels

Wheel width is one of the biggest differences between mountain bike wheels and hybrid wheels. The standard mountain bike wheel thickness is 26 inches. That size is mostly reserved for kids bikes, dirt jumping and free riding. Think 29 inch wheels (also known as 29ers) are quickly becoming more popular. And the 27.5 inch wheel (Also know as a 650b) is the new standard wheel size for mountain bikes and is the most commonly used today.

Hybrid Wheels

In comparison the standard hybrid bike uses a 700c wheel is measured from where the bead or inner edge of the tire meets the rim. There is some confusion as to the exact measurement for the 700c wheel. The important difference is that the Hybrid wheel is thinner than the average mountain bike wheel. Thinner wheels means faster are road and hard packed surfaces and slower on rough mountain terrain.

Recommended Tire Pressure Chart For Mountain and Hybrid Bikes

The recommended tire pressure differs slightly for mountain bikes and hybrid bikes. It’s important to have the right tire pressure for the terrain you will be riding.

I learned this the hard way when I was camping with my daughter. I pumped up my daughters dirt bike to 100psi (which is the same psi I use for my tri-bike…yikes!!). She road off about 100 yards when the tire popped it sounded like a bomb went off!

Here’s a handy chart that goes over the recommended tire pressure (psi) for mountain and hybrid bikes. Keep in mind you would want to keep your psi lower on a hybrid bike if you are riding on rougher trails.

Mountain Bike25 to 35 psi
Hybrid Bike 80 to 130 psi

The Suspension

Hybrid bikes do not offer a suspension system. Which makes sense since they aren’t really designed to do heavy trail riding on rocky terrain. If you do take your hybrid bike onto rougher areas be sure to where padded pants and be prepared for some saddle soreness after the ride.

Mountain bikes have two basic suspension systems. The hardtail option (front suspension only) or the full suspension system which encompasses both the front and rear wheel.


The entry level mountain bike which normally starts out at about $300 are know as hardtails. The is the front only suspension system. This is a great option if you are just starting out and don’t want to invest a ton of money. These bikes can also get very pricey depending on the components you add to the bike. If you plan on doing a lot of down hill riding you would want to consider moving up to a full suspension bike.

Full Suspension

A new full suspension bike start at about $1,500 brand new. The extra cost is worth the purchase if you are planning on doing a lot of mountain riding. They are also more comfortable than there hardtail counterparts.

The Weight

The average weight for a hybrid bike is 24 – 28 pounds. The lighter weight will allow you to move faster on streets. It’s one of the reasons that hybrid bikes are commonly used as commuter bikes.

In comparison the average weight of a mountain bike is 30 pounds. Slightly higher and most often has a heavier more durable frame than the hybrid bike. The extra components in the suspension system are heavy and a big part of this additional weight.

How To Pick Which Style Bike Is Right For You?

If you are in the market to purchase a new bike and deciding between a mountain bike and a hybrid bike you will want to consider a few important factors.

  • What type of terrain will you most likely be riding on?
    • If you plan on riding on pavement for the most part than he hybrid bike is the better option for you. On the other hand if you are looking at exploring mountain terrain and trying out downhill riding then opt for the mountain bike.
  • How much money do you want to spend on a bike?
    • You’ll be able to get a much better deal on a simple hybrid bike if you are on a budget. If you have have about $500-$1,500 to spend on a bike and want the versatility to take the bike on rugged mountain terrain than opt for a hardtail mountain bike. If you are ready to take on the mountain and have $1,500+ to spend then a full suspension mountain bike is the bike for you.
  • Are you using this bike as a commuter bike?
    • If plan on using this bike to commute to work or school then definitely go with a hybrid bike. You’ll be able to move faster from a to b on those paved roads.
  • Do you plan on doing any downhill and mountain riding?
    • If you plan on doing any downhill riding the full suspension mountain bike is the best option. Unless you enjoy having a sore butt and walking funny the day after your ride.

Pitfalls of Using a Mountain Bike on Hybrid Terrain

  • Your mountain bike will not perform well on roads. You should expect to move at a much slower speed if you are using your mountain bike on paved roads.
  • Keep in mind that your mountain bike was designed for trails and rocky terrain. Riding your bike on paved roads will ware out your bike tires faster.
  • The suspension systems on a mountain bike aren’t really required if you are riding on paved roads. It doesn’t really add any benefit to your ride if you take your mountain bike on street terrain.

Pitfalls of Using a Hybrid Bike on Mountain Terrain

  • Be careful not to over inflate your tires if you do take your hybrid bike on rough mountain terrain. Use the lower end of the psi scale (80 psi) about if you do plan on doing some mountain riding. You might even consider going a little lower on the psi as long as the tire is still inflated enough to ride.
  • Be ready for some serious saddle soreness. A hybrid bike is not designed to absorb the bumps you’ll encounter along a rocky mountain trail. You can use padded shorts to help with the soreness but be prepared to have a sore butt the next day.
  • Not having front suspension will also leave your shoulders and arms susceptible to constant pounding during the ride. So you can expect some soreness in your wrists, elbows and shoulders as well.

Related Questions

Is a hybrid bike faster than a mountain bike? It depends on the terrain. A hybrid bike will be slower on rocky trail terrain. You’ll lose grip on those steep mountain climbs as well which will inhibit your climbing speeds. On well groomed trails and street riding the hybrid bike will be faster than a mountain bike.

Can you take a hybrid bike on trails? Hybrid bikes are great for riding on paved streets and well groomed trails. They are not designed for rocky off road trails. You can ride a hybrid bike on trails but just be prepared for a bumpy experience with added soreness.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me... https://mountainbikinghq.com/mike-rausa

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