That is the question, especially if you’re not sure of the differences. Maybe you’re in the market for a new bike or you need the age old question answered. Either way, let’s talk about the differences between a mountain bike and a road bike.
First, some things to consider:
- Where do you want to ride your bicycle? This is a good thing to think about, if you live in a town or city and plan to ride on paved roads and on streets, or if you plan to take your bike off road and on more harsh terrain. If you think you might do both then remember that as we discuss options for bikes and what they are good for.
- Why do you want to ride? It is also important to think about why you are looking to buy a bike. Maybe you want to commute to work, take weekend trips, get fit, or you are training for a big race. If you are not sure and want to get a bike for many different occasions then it is also best to know that now.
- How often do you want to ride? This is important because sometimes a bike that is designed for speed is not as comfortable as a bike made for long distances. Or a bike is made to be comfortable but it won't be the best for your training sessions. These are things to think about.
- How much do you want to spend? Perhaps you are a novice rider and you need a bicycle to get you into the swing of things, then you might want to get a bike that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles yet as little upgrades that cost more won’t make a huge difference at the beginning level. However, once you start passing into the more advanced models you are more aware of things you need. For example, you might want to splurge for the mountain bike that has a lighter frame. Either way, you’re looking at $500-$2000 for a good bicycle but again depends on what you need.
So let’s break it down per type of bike:
What features does a road bike have? These bikes are best for pavement. They are lightweight and are good for commuting, touring, or racing. The wheels are usually thin and hard since they are for speed and not as much for shock absorption.
The rigidity of the wheels make it so you can fly around wide turns without too much movement and deceleration. Depending on what you’re using the bike for you can look into different elements to help make your bike built more for speed, or changing the positioning of the handlebars to help with steering, or getting accessories that make it more commuter friendly such as lights, fenders, or racks.
Road bikes have two options for handlebars, the most common is the drop-bar, but you can also get a road bike with flat-bar handlebars. Flat-bar allows the rider to sit in a more upright position, although some find this more comfortable it does take away some speed as it makes the rider less aerodynamic. Drop-bar handlebars are the choice for those concerned with speed, the rider is bent forward and there is more strain on the body, however it is more aerodynamic.
Mountain are best for, you guessed it mountains, and any other unpaved dirt road you feel like climbing up or flying down. They are built to be more shock absorbent, they have thicker tires as well as suspension.
These bikes are usually made to be heavier and if you want to go after the lighter models you will be looking at spending more than expected. Mountain bikes are also better equipped in the braking system area and can handle more wear and tear since that is what they are made for.
The two big options to consider when it comes to a mountain bike is hardtail or full-suspension. Hardtail has front suspension, meaning front suspension in the front fork of the frame, but no rear suspension, it is lighter in weight, and can be a more flexible bicycle in terms of terrain. Full-suspension bikes have both front and back suspension so they are great for off road, unpaved, twisty, and bumpy roads. They can also handle jumps and drops, they are usually more expensive than hardtail suspension and can be the heavier of the two.
Maybe that's all great, but you're still not sure and don't want to commit to one versus the other? If you really can’t decide and what you are looking for is somewhere in between the two types, there’s also hybrid bikes. These types of bike are for a mix of pavement and off road recreational use, they have some aspects of both road and mountain bikes depending on which model you are looking into.
Some styles offer bigger wheels for an extra-smooth and efficient ride and many feature front suspension forks as well. In fact most hybrids have large tires so you can ride them on gravel or dirt as well as pavement. Some models include rear racks and/or fenders. They sometimes have the holy trinity--larger wheels, front suspension, and flat-bar handlebars, and these features can be exactly the compromise some riders are looking for.
Now you’re ready to start hunting for the perfect bike! Remember to really think about your needs before diving in. Your checklist should include where you want to ride your bike and why, how often you will be riding, and how much you want to spend. Once you have those answers you can start looking into detailed features and brands. If you have decided to go for the mountain bike because you know you will be on more than just paved roads and you want that flexibility, check our home page for a more detailed post on top mountain bike options. Good luck!