If you put a mountain bike and a road bike on a racecourse, which one would win?
Would the mountain bike’s thick wheels and variety of gears power it to the finish line? Or would the road bike’s slim frame and thin rims help it come first?
Both bikes serve their own purposes very well. A mountain bike is designed to push its rider up steep hills and roll over rocky terrains, while a road bike is meant to glide over smooth man-made streets and maneuver between cars and traffic.
Let’s break down which bike is faster and how to make the most out of the bike you already own.
Which Is Faster: a Road Bike or a Mountain Bike?
Generally, a road bike is going to be a lot faster than a mountain bike. It’s designed to be quick and maintain high speeds without exhausting the rider.
Road bikes can be up to 30 percent faster than mountain bikes, which means that you’re much better off going with a road bike if you’re looking for speed.
This is purely based on riding on paved roads, which is where road bikes thrive.
If you sit on a mountain bike, one of the first things you’ll notice is how sturdy it is. Mountain bikes are heavy, solid, and thick. This is perfect for slow, controlled, uphill, and downhill movements, but it doesn’t help it pick up speed well.
When you get on a road bike, you’ll notice how thin the frame is and how light you feel sitting on it. It’s an entirely different experience.
According to Condition and Nutrition, “you can expect to cycle over 2 miles further each hour on a road bike compared to a mountain bike.”
However, it’s important to keep in mind that this information doesn’t take rocky terrain or difficult inclines into account.
How Much Slower Is a Mountain Bike Than a Road Bike?
We don’t want to bash mountain bikes. Yes, they are technically slower in some terrains, but they do an amazing job at the tasks they are designed for.
If you’re trying to power uphill, a mountain bike will get you to the top much faster than a road bike — because a road bike won’t get you there at all.
Mountain bikes are the epitome of ‘slow and steady win the race.’ They are at least 10 percent slower than road bikes, but that’s just because you aren’t meant to ride at fast speeds on flat pavement.
You wouldn’t bash a BMX bike for not being as fast as a road bike, so don’t think any less of mountain bikes for coming second in the speed category, either!
Why Is a Road Bike Faster Than a Mountain Bike?
Let’s break down what makes a road bike faster than a mountain bike.
The way you sit on a bike can hurt or harm your speed.
Mountain bikes have you sitting up straight, which gives you a good view of your surroundings and helps you put on the pedals forcefully to get through difficult paths.
On the other hand, road bikes keep you leaning forward, which helps the wind coast over your back, instead of slowing you down. Some road bikes make you hunch over more than others, but generally, you will be bent over when riding.
This also helps you focus your power on your legs, which will speed you up. The handlebars on a road bike make leaning forward comfortable and sustainable.
The frame on both bikes varies greatly.
Road bike frames are notoriously thin and are usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Some road bike frames are stronger than others, but that strength usually comes second to how lightweight it is.
are thick. They are often made of steel and are designed to withstand the wear and tear of the great outdoors.
All mountain bikes are also fitted with suspension, which keeps the rider comfortable as they go over uneven ground. Without suspension, you would probably end up with a headache from bouncing up and down constantly.
Road bikes usually do not have suspension because they don’t need it. They are designed to glide over smooth concrete or asphalt, so there’s no need to weigh them down with front or rear suspension.
Road bike tires are the supermodels of the tire world. They’re thin, smooth, and elegant.
If you run your fingers over road bike tires, you’ll be surprised to find how little texture there is. This is because that texture slows down a rider on the pavement.
Meanwhile, mountain bike tires are covered in texture.
They are fitted with lots of knobs that stick out and provide the rider with plenty of traction. These knobs are essential for riding on loose, dry earth, but don’t work as well on roads.
It’s generally not recommended to use mountain bike tires on roads as they will wear down quicker. A mile here or there during a ride is perfectly fine, but you’ll end up needing to replace them sooner if you use them long-term.
The tire air pressure also plays a part in how fast mountain bikes go. Mountain bike tires thrive at lower tire pressures. This allows them to ride over pebbles and debris without giving the rider a bumpy riding experience.
However, that lower air pressure makes maintaining speeds and picking up the pace a little difficult. Road bike tires are filled completely and are quite firm. You’ll notice it’s easier to ride without pedaling a lot on a road bike.
Finally, mountain bike tires are much thicker than road bike tires.
Their size slows them down. Remember, mountain bike tires are designed to grasp and climb, and without anything to grip on when racing on pavement, they just end up slowing you down.
Some mountain bikes can have over 40 gears, although, on average, they have around 7 to 28.
This wide selection of gears helps tailor your riding experience with going up and down hills. However, when trying to pick up speed, it can get in the way.
A road bike can have as little as one gear, simply because you don’t need as many.
The fewer gears a bike has, the more aerodynamic and lightweight it is.
A mountain bike with 40 gears might give you a fantastic riding experience on complicated trails, but it will only weigh you down when trying to race or speed through the city.
Can a Mountain Bike Be as Fast as a Road Bike?
We don’t want to get your hopes up by painting a picture of a mountain bike that rides as fast as a road bike. The best way to ride a bike as fast as a road bike is to get a road bike.
However, there are a few things you can do to make your mountain bike faster.
To start, you can fill up the tires. Making them firmer will help you maintain speeds and encourage the tires to roll freely.
Make sure not to overfill them by checking the recommended psi. This can be found printed on the tire.
You can also make sure you’re riding in the right gear. Riding in a gear that’s too low or high will hurt your chances of winning a race against a road bike. You want to have as much pedaling control as possible.
Look at your posture when you ride. Can you lean forward a little bit more? If possible, lower the handlebars slightly to encourage your upper body to shift forward and down.
Finally, if you really want to go the extra mile, you can change your tires out.
Road bike tires will completely transform your riding experience. Some riders like having road tires on hand, so they can use their mountain bikes in the city when they aren’t hitting the trails.
If you decide to go down this route, be prepared to learn how to change your own tires. It’s relatively simple, you just need to get used to dealing with sealant and removing the tires from the rim efficiently.
Some riders prefer to have different wheels with road tires on them, so they just have to switch out the rims when they want to ride on pavements.
To Wrap Things Up
Road bikes are faster than mountain bikes, but that doesn’t mean they’re better.
Making the comparison is not dissimilar to asking a rabbit to race a fish in a pond. Rabbits are notoriously fast, they just don’t thrive in that environment.
If you’re looking for speed, you want your bike to be as light as possible.
With that said, many riders enjoy taking their mountain bikes out on the pavement. They work reasonably well, especially if you pump the tires up more.
Make sure to adjust your posture, too.
Have you ever taken a mountain bike on the streets? Do you think the speed is comparable to that of a road bike?
We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!