Mountain Bike VS Road Bike: Similarities And Differences (Updated 2021)

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Cycling is a very healthy and exciting activity. It is an easy-to-learn activity and suitable for people of all ages and genders. Riding bikes is not only a commuting method; it is also a combined action for us to do exercise, have our calories burned and weight loss.

Choosing a suitable bike for your use purpose is essential because it helps you achieve your goals more effectively. However, not everyone knows how to pick a perfect bike type for themselves. In this article, I will show you the similarities and differences between mountain bikes and road bikes to know which one is the best for you.

What Do You Get When Riding A Mountain Bike Or A Road Bike?

The Salsa Timberjack NX Eagle 29 Mountain Bike
The Salsa Timberjack NX Eagle 29 Mountain Bike

In general, both mountain bikes and road bikes are means of commuting. You can use them for any purpose. There is no rule forcing you not to use a mountain bike when riding on paved roads or never ride a road bike on mountain trails.

Both of them are pretty easy to ride, so; they are suitable for many people regardless of their ages and genders. However, there must be reasons why the manufacturers have to separate them into two different bike types. I will explain more specifically about this to know and pick the perfect bike for yourself.

Differences In Structure for Use Purposes Between Mountain Bikes And Road Bikes

The Niner RIP 9 RDO Mountain Bike
The Niner RIP 9 RDO Mountain Bike

First of all, I will show you some main differences in the geometry of these two bike types, which are specially designed for each own use purposes.

Material

As its name demonstrates, mountain bikes are used for off-road riding by riders who usually challenge themselves with rough terrains such as mountain trails or fire roads. Therefore, mountain bikes’ frames must be made of very robust materials to enhance their durability.

Meanwhile, road bikes are mostly made of lightweight material in order to optimize their speed as much as possible. People choose to get a road bike for daily commuting on paved roads, especially in cities.

Shock absorption

The Santa Cruz Tallboy CC Mountain Bike
The Santa Cruz Tallboy CC Mountain Bike

When riding on unpaved terrains, the most tricky issue you have to face is the bounce. Mountain bikes are designed with upgraded suspension forks, which play a role as shock absorbers during your riding on rugged terrains. That helps your experience on rough roads become more comfortable.

In contrast, because road bikes are suitable for even terrains, the manufacturers do not attach particular importance to the suspension of this bicycle type. I bet that you will have a headache due to the “road-shock” if you ride a road bike on unpaved roads.

Tires

Mountain bikes are facilitated with more extensive and thicker tires. Besides, the air pressure in a mountain bike’s tires is lower than that of a road bike. That all plays a role in reducing bounce when cycling on rough terrains. Although the low air pressure in tires causes rolling resistance, mountain bike riders just want to race or commute at an average speed.

Moreover, many knobby on mountain bike tires help increase the friction between the tires and the road surface. Thanks to that, you can get rid of accidents caused by slipperiness.

In contrast, road bike tires are much narrower and thinner. Its air pressure in tires is also higher, around 100 psi, which reduces resistance when cycling. That contributes to creating a higher speed for road bikes in comparison with mountain bikes. There are also fewer knobby on road bike tires in order not to prevent their wheels from rolling faster.

Wheels

The Rocky Mountain Growler 20 Mountain Bike
The Rocky Mountain Growler 20 Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes have more durable wheels than road bikes because when cycling on mountain trails, there are many forces from all directions acting on their wheels. If manufacturers do not raise wheels’ durability, riders may have to struggle with broken wheels regularly.

On the other hand, road bike wheels are skinny, so they can not handle too much weight and external affecting forces. Do not insist on riding your road bike on mountain trails; otherwise, you will have to pay some money for new wheels.

Gear ratio

You may see derailleur gears on all mountain bikes because it is necessary to adjust the gear ratio depending on terrain changes during your off-road riding journey. When climbing up hills, lower gear ratios will improve the efficiency of transfering your energy into repulsive force, saving your energy a lot.

The gear ratio of road bikes is very various, from multi-speed, single-speed to fixed gears. So, you will have more reasonable choices for your use purposes and hobbies. There are also different styles of road bikes for you, from touring bikes, hybrid bikes, utility bikes to flat bar road bikes.

Handlebars

The Giant Contend SL 1 Road Bike
The Giant Contend SL 1 Road Bike

It is one of the most apparent differences to help you differentiate mountain bikes and road bikes, even if it is the first time you see them. Handlebars of mountain bikes are straight and wide, which helps riders easily balance their bodies when cycling on rough terrains.

Meanwhile, road bikes have bent handlebars. Therefore, when riding a road bike, you have to lean your body forward, reducing the air resistance and making your bike move much faster.

Frame design

Besides the difference in frame’s material, the frame design of these two bike types is also distinct. I believe that it is a very obvious sign you can see to distinguish them. A road bike has a slim and simple frame, making this bike type more elegant and light. Men riding road bikes look tidy and gentle. Meanwhile, women will be very graceful.

On the other hand, mountain bikes have a solid and sporty frame design. The frame of these bikes is larger and more robust to handle the intensive weight and force. Men riding mountain bikes look athletic and muscular, while women will be powerful.

For more information about the difference between road bike and mountain bike, let’s watch a helpful video on:

Watch video: Road Bike Vs Mountain Bike - What's The Difference?

The Difference In Safety Between Riding Mountain Bikes And Road Bikes

The Cannondale CAAD13 Disc 105 Road Bike
The Cannondale CAAD13 Disc 105 Road Bike

Mountain bikes are designed for riders to conquer challenging mountain trails or fire roads, which are very risky. Therefore, this bike type is facilitated by an excellent safety system. All mountain bikes need powerful brakes to protect riders, especially when going down abrupt mountain slopes.

When cycling on mountain trails, brakes are used at a high frequency. So, if they are not good enough, they might be broken down soon and push you into danger. Controlling your bike on rough terrains is very challenging. So, if your bike brakes are not strong enough, you might lose control, which is extremely dangerous.

Hence, mountain bikes are safer in general because they are specially created to protect riders from risks when cycling on unpaved terrains. However, it does not mean that road bikes are not safe. You are still totally protected when commuting a road bike as long as you do not use it on rough terrains like mountain trails.

Differences In Wheel Size Of Mountain Bikes And Road Bikes

The Van Rysel Ultra CF Road Bike
The Van Rysel Ultra CF Road Bike

Both of these bike types have various wheel sizes, but generally, almost all road bikes have larger wheels than mountain bikes. It is because road bike riders pursue a very fast speed; meanwhile, mountain bike riders only need an average speed to ensure their safety on risky terrains.

The most popular wheel size of road bikes is 622 mm (700C) in diameter. It means that with one time rolling, this road bike can move around 2 m. Simultaneously, 584 mm (650B) is considered the best wheel size for mountain biking. With this wheel size, a mountain bike can move around 1.8 m for one time rolling.

You may think that the gap between 1.8 m and 2 m is unremarkable. Yes, it is. But many a little make a mickle. You can actually feel the difference in speed when you try riding both of these bike types.

These parameters are for adults. Smaller riders can choose smaller wheel sizes that fit their height because both bike types have various wheel sizes for riders to choose from. Remember that the most suitable thing is the best thing.

Because mountain biking is a risky activity that requires skills and strength, generally, almost all manufacturers do not produce small mountain bike wheel sizes for little kids (12 inches and 14 inches. However, if your kid is old and high enough, there are 16 inches, 20 inches, and 24-inch wheels for beginners in mountain biking.

There are also 29-inch wheels for mountain bikes, but they are specially designed for men who have enough skill and strength and really want to conquer mountain trails with high speed.

In contrast, road biking is more straightforward and suitable for people of all ages. So, the range of wheel sizes is wider, from 12 inches, 14 inches to 29 inches. They are all popular and easy to buy.

Speed Difference Between Mountain Bikes And Road Bikes

The Trek Emonda ALR Disc 5 Road Bike
The Trek Emonda ALR Disc 5 Road Bike

Mountain bikes are made of robust material. So they are much heavier than road bikes, which are made of lightweight material. Moreover, to support their functions on rough terrains, mountain bikes also have more parts compared with the minimal design of road bikes. The difference in weight makes mountain bikes slower than road bikes.

Besides, wheel sizes of mountain bikes are usually smaller than that of road bikes, so with the same rolling round of wheels, road bikes go a further distance. Furthermore, to absorb shock most efficiently, the air pressure in tires (psi) of mountain bikes is lower than road bikes, creating rolling resistance and making them move slower.

To sum up, due to their structure and functions, mountain bikes get a medium speed. That is reasonable because riding fast on rough and unpaved terrains is very dangerous. Meanwhile, you can reach a breakneck pace when cycling road bikes, which are sometimes called racing bikes.

For more information about the difference between road bike and mountain bike, let’s watch a helpful video on:

Watch video: Road Bike Vs Mountain Bike: Which Is Harder?

Differences In The Comfort Of Mountain Bikes And Road Bikes

The Giant Defy Advanced Mountain Bike
The Giant Defy Advanced Mountain Bike

Do you feel comfortable riding a bike with a good suspension that can help you roll over potholes smoothly? If your answer is yes, then riding mountain bikes brings you more comfort than road bikes do.

Moreover, due to the bent handlebars, you have to keep your body lean forward all the time when riding road bikes. That helps you move much faster but makes your neck and waist weary if you are a road bike beginner rider. Even when you are familiar with these bikes, keeping this cycling position for a long time also makes you tired.

Conclusion

No one makes you ride mountain bikes only for off-road riding. You can use them for daily commuting in cities. It is the same with road bikes. However, the right bike for the proper purpose is always the best. I hope that what I share with you in this article is informative and helps you find which one is better.

FAQs

Can a mountain bike be as fast as a road bike?

Definitely yes. It depends on the road you are cycling. If you apply the same amount of energy, of course, a road bike will move faster. However, when riding on rough terrains, a mountain bike definitely overwhelms a road bike in terms of speed.

Which one will help riders burn more calories?

Of course, the answer is the mountain bike. Riding on mountain trails requires more power and endurance. Besides, mountain bikes are heavier, and more calories have to be burned to generate energy for operating them.

Is a mountain bike safer than a road bike?

Yes, it is. Specially designed for riding on more dangerous and challenging terrains, a mountain bike is made of robust material with solid brakes, upgraded shock-absorbing systems, and knobby tires. Therefore, it is safer than a road bike.

What is better in general, mountain bike or road bike?

It depends on how you use it for your purpose. Riding a road bike for off-road riding is definitely not a good idea. But when cycling on paved terrains, a road bike certainly overwhelms a mountain bike.

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About Jim Felt

Jim Felt, a man with a genuine love of speed. A man who designed his very first triathlon frame for Johnny O’Mara – the star of Motorcross at “The O-Show” – then got big successes in 1990. In 1994, Felt incorporated with Answer Products to launch his brand, starting a 7-year relationship until 2000. In 2001, Jim Felt relaunched the Feltracing brand in conjunction with Michael Müllmann and Bill Duehring. Our product lines were then expanded into a full line of commuter bikes, cruisers, MTBs, MBX, even road and tri bikes. The total number of models were up to 140 distributed in 27 countries.