Road Bike vs Mountain Bike

Written by : Bob Sharp; in :
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One question frequently pops up when considering purchasing a bike – Road bike vs Mountain Bike?

This may sound like a simple question, after all, chances are you already know what type of cycling you intend to do. But buying a bike can mean some serious cash outlay, and you want to be positive that the choice you make is the right one.

This article is written to help you decide which bike is right for you.

The differences between a road bike and a mountain bike

The obvious answer is a road bike is optimized to work best on paved surfaces, a mountain bike is optimized for rugged off-road trails. Even to the untrained eye, a quick glance at the bikes is enough to spot some fundamental differences: -

  • Wheels and tires: A road bike usually has larger wheels and thinner less chunky tires than a mountain bike. The raised lugs on a mountain bike’s tires are designed to “bite” into the loose surfaces of mountain bike trails. By contrast, a road bike’s tires are designed to allow for a smooth fast ride, but still offer plenty of grip on the surface they were intended for.
  • Riding Position: The riding position on a road bike tends to have the rider leaning forward, this aims to make the “rider and bike package” more aerodynamic. Mountain bikes have the rider more “rear orientated” this helps maintain the right center of gravity on downhill runs, which helps with balance and control.
  • Suspension: With very few exceptions, mountain bikes will feature a suspension system. Hardtail bikes have front fork suspension only, full-suspension bikes have front and rear suspension. This is great for softening the impacts on the trails but means a loss of efficiency when cycling on the roads. This is why road bikes will rarely feature suspension.
  • Weight: Maybe this isn’t noticeable but try picking up similarly priced road and mountain bikes and the difference is immediately obvious. Road bikes are built for speed, and mountain bikes are built to absorb punishment. An average road bike will weigh in at around 16 - 18lbs, an average mountain bike will be well over 20lbs and perhaps even 30lbs.

Which should I choose? – Road Bike or Mountain Bike

My completely unbiased opinion is - why would you even consider a road bike?

Nah, only kidding, I have had some amazing fun on road bikes over the years, the sheer thrill of speed can be hard to beat.

Why choose a road bike?

So a more serious approach is to ask yourself what you intend to use your bike for. If under no circumstances you can see yourself wanting to hit mountain trails, then a road bike may be the right choice.

But before you rush out and purchase that road bike there are a couple of other considerations to think about:

  • Weather: If you can think that come rain or shine, snow or ice, you will be biking regardless, then a mountain bike will give you more grip in difficult conditions.
  • Versatility: The moment you buy a road bike you have locked yourself into riding on smooth tarmac surfaces. Even potholes pose a danger to the more delicately constructed road bikes. A mountain bike is a far more versatile tool.

Distance is another consideration. Road bikes are built for speed and distance if you are intending to set out on some serious road trips or spend days racking the miles up, then a road bike is going to make it easier and more comfortable.  

Below is a summary of the pros and cons of a road bike:

Advantages of a road bike

Disadvantages of a road bike

Great for long-distance high-speed rides

Not as robust as mountain bikes

Lighter than mountain bikes

Not as versatile

Easier to maintain

 

Less effort required (on paved surfaces)

 

 

Why choose a mountain bike?

Mountain bikes are optimized to work on rough and uneven terrain, where reaching high speeds is not considered essential. While this characterization means they will always underperform on road surfaces when compared to road bikes, they do still ride admirably well on roads.

The same cannot be said if the tables were turned. I’m often riding my mountain bike on roads, I have never ridden my road bike on a trail.

This versatility is why many people choose a mountain bike even if they never have any intention of doing any serious off-road riding. Even for those who already own road bikes, owning a mountain bike is a great way of keeping your options open.

Bumpy footpaths, uneven canal and river banks, and roads that have seen better days are all accessible on a mountain bike. And they needn’t cost the earth, the price of mountain bikes has dropped in recent years and now it is possible to get hold of a perfectly adequate mountain bike for under $500.

Here are my pros and cons for mountain bikes:

Pros of Mountain Bikes

Cons of Mountain Bikes

Extremely versatile

Heavier

Robust

Require more maintenance

Great in all weathers

 

Better brakes and drivetrain

 

The final choice

There are no rights and wrongs when choosing between a road bike and a mountain bike. Ultimately, the choice is dependent on how the bike is going to be used.

The only piece of relevant advice I would give is this – If you could only buy one bike and want to cover as many bases as possible, then it has to be a mountain bike.

If you are certain that road work is all you will ever do, then a road bike is probably the right choice.

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