For me, it is pretty obvious that mountain bikes are slower than road bikes. But maybe I am overlooking some factors. So let’s dig into this a bit more.
Why are mountain bikes slower than road bikes? Mountain bikes are slower than road bikes because they are heavier, the tires are thicker and have knobs. Mountain bike riders body position is not as aerodynamic, more shock absorption makes you slower, and the gear ratio causes lower top speed. Lastly, mtb tires have lower pressure, the rider wears more gear which adds weight, the handlebars are wider causing wind resistance.
The purpose of a mountain bike is to ride off road and not on the road. Let’s see how its design causes it to be slower on the road.
What Makes Mountain Bikes Slower Than Road Bikes
- Everything about a mountain bike is heavier than a road bike. It will take more effort and energy to pedal a mountain bike on the road. If a road bike and a mountain bike are going the same speed on the road then the mountain bike rider will be working harder to get to and maintain that speed.
- Mountain bike tires have more rolling resistance on the road than a road bike. This is because the tires are thicker and wider. Because the tire has more surface area and contact with the ground this causes more friction. This makes it more difficult to go fast.
- When you are riding the trails you need tires with grip. So mountain bike tires have knobs on them. Some short and some tall depending on how much grip you want. Using these tires on the road will just slow you down. The knobs will absorb your pedal power on the road. You will have to work harder to go the same speed as a road bike.
- In order to remain stable and balanced on rough terrain mountain bikers have an upright position. Even when they want to go fast they get into an attack position. This is not aerodynamic when used on the road, there is more wind resistance. This slows the rider down at higher speeds.
- Suspension is used on the front and rear tires of mountain bikes to ride over roots and rocks. If you ride a bike like this on the road the suspension will absorb your pedaling force and momentum. With each stroke you won’t go as far forward on the road than you would by taking away the suspension.
- More and more new mountain bikes are using a 1×11 gear system set up. It is lighter, simpler and made for the trails, not for high speed road races. Using 11 speeds on the road a mountain bike won’t have a high enough gear in order to go as fast as a road bike.
- Mountain bike tires hit a lot of sharp edges on the trail. In order to prevent damaging the rim and prevent getting a punctured tire riders lower the psi. This lower psi helps will grip and absorbing the impact. Using a lower psi on the road will cause you to go slower with the same effort as a road bike.
- Some downhill mountain bikers wear full body armor to protect themselves from a crash. Others wear elbow pads and knee pads. Plus they wear baggy shorts. This weighs more than road bikers who wear spandex clothing. This added weight if used on the road will slow trail riders down.
How To Make a Mountain Bike Faster on the Road
- The first thing to do is to change the tires. Get tires which are thinner. This will reduce the rolling resistance and make the bike lighter. Make sure the tires are slick, no knobs. This will help you to roll faster and increase your momentum. Also, increase the pressure in your tires.
- Take away any suspension that you have on the front and rear tires. You can also lockout your suspension or set it to stiff or rigid. Now you won’t lose any pedal power to shocks absorbing it. Pavement is flat and smooth, you don’t need suspension.
- If you use flat pedals change them to clipless pedals. Now when you pedal you will first push down, then you can pull up to complete the rotation. You are applying force during the entire pedal stroke which will increase your speed.
- Switch out your current handlebars to more narrow handlebars. Then set your handlebars so they are as low as they can go. This will give you a more aerodynamic body position. You can tuck in your elbows and your head and shoulders. This will reduce wind resistance and make you faster.
- Instead of a mountain bike fork use a rigid fork. Most forks for trail riders have travel. This is so you absorb the impact. You don’t need this on pavement. You will lose speed with travel bouncing. Especially if you stand on the pedals for speed. A rigid fork will keep your pedaling power forward.
- If you have 3 chainrings you can change to 1 chainring. This will reduce the weight of your mountain bike making it faster on the road. You can save up to 300 grams of weight. Saving here and there can add up. It makes more difference on the road compared to the trail where weight is absorbed.
Can a Mountain Bike Keep Up With a Road Bike
If you take your mountain bike the way it is and ride it against a road bike on pavement then you will not keep up with it. First your mountain bike is heavier and it will take more effort by you to pedal at the same speed as the road bike. Even if you can it will be difficult to keep up with the road bike for a long time.
Next, if you have been mountain biking and never have been road biking, then you are not conditioned for it. Road biking takes more endurance and resistance to lactic acid build up. Therefore you will not be able to keep up after a certain time because you are untrained for it.
The best way to be able to keep up with a road bike is to change your mountain bike the way I explained earlier. Then you need to train yourself with your mountain bike by riding on the road more. This will help improve your road biking as well as your mountain biking.
Are Mountain Bikes Good For Commuting on Road To Work
- If you have a mountain bike and you want to start riding to work you can still use it to get to work. As long as you are not going to be in a big rush to get to work mountain biking is a more comfortable and safe way to ride to work.
- Even though mountain bike go slower on the road than road bikes, mountain bikes can be ridden anywhere. You can save yourself time by going through the park, mall parking areas, behind buildings, and down stairs and over curbs.
- Mountain bikes offer more grip with there wider knobby tires. This grip is essential on sharp turns and weaving through traffic. Also, various weather conditions like snow and rain require good traction. You don’t want your wheels siding out from under you.
- Sometimes in the city or the suburbs the roads are bad. There may be pot holes or dirt and gravel. Mountain bike suspension gives you the support you need to handle those impacts. Especially if one surprises you, you’ll be prepared. A road bike might throw you off on to the ground.
- Unless you are in a race you don’t need the tucked position of a road bike. A mountain bike allows you to see cars and pedestrians easier by keeping you in an upright position with your weight balanced. Also, people and cars will have an easier time seeing you.
- Even though generally mountain bikes are slower than road bikes on the road you will have the advantage by being able to find alternative routes. You’ll be safer due to enhanced grip and more comfortable because of suspension. Plus you will probably look cooler.