City bikes and MTBs are both really popular types of bicycles. That said, they are designed for different purposes and environments. Although there are overlaps, and you can most certainly use a city bike for the mountains and an MTB for city commuting, city bikes are generally better for city riding as the name suggests, and MTBs are better for the trails. Understanding the key differences between these two types of bikes can help you choose the right one for you. So let's dive into it right away.

City bikes - what are they for?

City bikes, also known as urban bikes or commuter bikes, are designed for everyday use in a city or suburban setting. This means that they are used in paces with paved roads or walkways or cycling paths that are generally flat. They are built with practicality and ease of use in mind. Utility is the name of the game here. With features such as a comfortable upright riding position and smooth and efficient tires. City bikes also not uncommonly have features like a kickstand, may have a built-in lock, and an assortment of racks and carriers to make them ideal daily commuting, carrying your baby or kid around or even just going grocery shopping.

An example of a great city bike (potentially biased opinion here) is our Unspokin Frigate. It runs a belt and is really-low maintenance with various rack options too, making it a true blue utility bicycle. Another cool choice would be the Tokyo Bike Classic if you prefer an option with smaller 26" wheels.

What is a mountain bike?

Mountain bikes, on the other hand, are built for off-road riding on rough and uneven terrain. They were primarily designed for sport, not utility. We love MTBs as they are hella fun to ride. They have sturdy frames, wide knobby tires, and suspension systems to absorb shock. This makes for a smoother ride on rough trails so that your bum doesn't hurt half as much when you get off your bike. Mountain bikes also have a more aggressive riding position, with a lower handlebar height and a shorter top tube. This allows for better control on steep descents and technical trails, where control really is key so that you don't crash into a tree. An example of a mountain bike would be the Giant Talon 2 or the Polygon Xtrada 5.

So what's the difference between a mtb and a city bike?

Intended use and design

It all boils down to this: their intended use. The intended use shaped the design process and as a result the components and functionality of each type of bicycle. City bikes are best suited for smooth surfaces and short rides, while mountain bikes are designed for off-road adventures on rough trails. I would personally take a jump on a MTB, but would think twice if I were on a city bike. If you’re primarily looking for a bike to use for commuting to work or running errands around town, the city bike is probably the better choice. But if you’re planning on tackling rugged trails and going on long off-road adventures, the mountain bike is the way to go.


Another important difference is their tires. City bikes usually have smooth, narrow tires that are optimized for pavement and other smooth surfaces. These tires provide a smooth fast and efficient ride. That said, smooth tires can be slippery, like walking on a greasy surface when compared to knobby tires on the trails.  They are simply not well suited for off-road terrain. Mountain bikes, on the other hand, have wide, knobby tires that are designed to grip rough terrain and provide traction on loose surfaces. Resultantly, they really shine and can handle the abuse of off-road riding, but they are not as efficient on pavement. Riding a MTB with knobby tires can feel sluggish and inefficient on pavements and smooth roads compared to smooth tires.


In terms of suspension, city bikes generally don’t have any, or they may have a basic suspension fork to smooth out rough roads. Mountain bikes, on the other hand, often have full suspension systems with a front fork and a rear shock to absorb shock and make for a more comfortable ride on rough trails. While these suspension systems add weight and complexity to the bike, they can significantly improve ride quality on rough terrain. The extra weight that comes with comfort on a MTB also might make it feel a little bit more sluggish as compared to the city bike.

Conclusion: city bike or MTB?

City bikes and mountain bikes are both great options, depending on your intended use and the terrain you’ll be riding on. We are biased as we are commuters here at Unspoken, so we love city bikes even so slightly more. However, if we were based in another country with access to more trails, we may very well be singing a different tune. City bikes are ideal for commuting and everyday use on smooth surfaces, while mountain bikes are built for off-road adventures on rough terrain. Understanding these distinct attributes between these two types of bikes and adopting a needs-based approach to choosing the right type of bike generally will help you make the right decision. If you would like help with choosing the right bike, we have a variety of bikes here. Feel free to hit us up if you have any questions as we are always happy to help. All the best, and ride safe as always!

December 22, 2022 — Victor Tong