Home » Cycling » How Much Faster Is A Road Bike Than A Mountain Bike?

How Much Faster Is A Road Bike Than A Mountain Bike?


I’ve written often about the differences between road an mountain bikes – and even a “how to” on making a mountain bike fast on a budget.  But what’s the raw data on the difference?  I use Endomondo as a sports tracker so I actually have hard historical data on the two.  Now, it must be stated prior to the examination of the data that there is a large quality gap between my mountain bike and my road bike.  My mountain bike, a 2008 Trek 3700, is high end entry level while my road bike, a ’99 Trek 5200, is a legitimate high end race bike (even if it is older).

That said, here’s the data:

  • Cycling, sport

    • One hour 20.42 mi
    • 10 miles 26m:13s
    • 20 km 33m:49s
    • 50 km 1h:35m:59s
  • Mountain biking

    • One hour 16.44 mi
    • 10 miles 33m:41s
    • 20 km 44m:32s
    • 50 km 1h:55m:08s

All of the personal bests above are from solo rides, though some of the mountain biking miles occurred on hard packed dirt roads while the road bike miles obviously occurred only on paved roads.  Seven minutes over ten miles is a big deal – so is four miles in one hour. If you’re wondering why the  larger minute difference between the one hour and 10 miles/20 km times, I can sprint for ten or twelve miles before I need to slow it down for a rest.

There are some obvious changes that can be made to a mountain bike to make it faster as I detailed in the previously linked post, chief among them switching out the knobby tires for slicks, a cost of $40-$50 but in my personal experience, this only allows for a  1-1.5 mph increase.  In fact, I ended up “gearing out” with the slick tires (and aero bars) while riding downhill.  In 21st gear (my highest on the mtb) I couldn’t pedal fast enough to make the bike go any faster – I ended up having to coast.  I obviously don’t have that problem with my road bike – at least not on the hills in southeastern Michigan.

The big advantage with a mountain bike, in terms of fitness, on the other hand is that you’re working harder to push the fat tires – you literally burn more calories to go slower – a 30-60% increase in calories burned as a matter of fact, depending on the terrain.

UPDATE:  I have a second, companion post, to this one in which I explored the difference between typical mountain bike tires and slicks here.

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18 Comments

  1. Karen says:

    I agree road bikes are faster, but mountain biking gives you much more of an all-body workout. On rough terrain it’s not uncommon to engage your upper body and core with much more frequency than road riding. Plus the nature of mountain biking lends itself to more interval type explosions of needed power which burns calories and makes you strong and fast.

    I love mountain biking because it gets me in the woods and it’s more playful than road riding. Speed is fun but not the goal for me. I like road biking because it’s so much different— more of a controlled, consistent effort that can be built upon. But yeah, you can definitely fly faster on a road bike.

    PS – I think we have the same model mtb, except mine is from the year 2000. It’s freaking heavy, which makes climbing a bear but it tracks beautifully when you bomb down some rocky descent. Love that old bike!

    Great post!

    • bgddyjim says:

      I couldn’t agree more – in addition, I also hold the belief that mtb’ing is better for the glutes too. All said, I like the mountain bike as a fitness vehicle. The speed demon in me is winning the battle for time lately though. :)

  2. CultFit says:

    I’m being a bit internet lazy this morning…Did you consider the geometry of the frames (I could look it up but…)? The industry trend lately seems to be putting more of a top tube sloop on mid level road bikes for comfort and performance as a trade off? What about gearing as well? Great post!

    • bgddyjim says:

      They slope the top tube for fit… Manufacturers don’t have to make as many frame sizes with a sloped top tube. The geometry for my mountain bike was a no-brainer. I bought it used from a guy who was heavier and 1″ taller than I am. The geometry for my road bike was fussed over BIG TIME. I got a full fitting done to make sure the bike would fit me before I bought it. It fits perfectly and I’m absolutely comfortable on it. My first road bike was too small and I hurt like hell riding it.

    • bgddyjim says:

      As for the gearing, on the high end bikes you won’t see very many triples any more – they figure if you’re spending that much on a bike, you’ve got the legs for a double (and you’d have the wherewithall to change the ratio of the cassette for the mountains if need be). I happen to like the doubles myself. The gearing on the cassette for the mid to low end road bikes will more than likely have easier (bigger) cogs to allow for leisure riders to push easier. High end bikes are meant for racing. With the doubles, you don’t have to worry about cross-chaining as much – you have access to more cogs on the cassette.

      Here’s the ratios for my mtb: Crank 44, 34, 24 Casette 7 sp 13-32 Top speed about 26 mph

      For my road bike: Crank 52, 42, 27* Cassette is 12-25 Top speed about 36-38 mph.

      I can maintain 20 mph easily on the middle ring – third smallest cog (15 or 16 t) @ 100 rpm while it takes a lot more effort on the mountain bike (44- 13) but I tire out too quickly to maintain this for any length of time, mainly because of aerodynamics – with slicks and aerobars I can maintain an 18.5 mph average but I gear out down hills.

      *The 27 t chain ring is too small for the derailleur and is an after-market change – I’ve had to lock that ring out with the stop screw because every time I shift from the small to the middle ring the derailleur drops the chain into the bottom bracket. I’ve had the best pro in our region look at it and he can’t make it work right so I’ve got a standard 30 tooth Ultegra ring on order for when I go on vacation to the Smokey Mountains on vacation – I’m going to need it.

  3. [...] I spent some time looking back at some of my most read posts and at the top of the list was, How Much Faster Is A Road Bike Than A Mountain Bike?  Initially I got the idea for writing the post as I was comparing results on Endomondo between [...]

  4. [...] I spent some time looking back at some of my most read posts and at the top of the list was, How Much Faster Is A Road Bike Than A Mountain Bike? Initially I got the idea for writing the post as I was comparing results on Endomondo between the [...]

  5. Helen says:

    Thanks for this post – I am training for a Sprint Tri on a MTB with road tyres and getting very very despondent over my low speed and times. I went looking for a benchmark – I agree with your estimate of how much difference slicks make to the MTB – I’ve only seen a rough increase of about 1 mph, although that could also be put down to greater fitness as I work through the training programme. I’m averaging about 12/13 mph but able to sustain that over 45-60 minutes, with top speed on the flat being about 20 mph. There are days when getting the bike to move on the road is like cycling through treacle.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Quite welcome Helen, and good luck! I did my first two Olympic Length Tri’s on my mountain bike and I’m infinitely glad I went that way… I was working so hard on that mountain bike that I was in great shape once I bit the bullet and picked up a road bike.

  6. Because mountain bike can pass in a rough road and a smooth road .

  7. Johno says:

    Those are some good mountainbike times. I gt 10 km in about an hour of riding.

  8. Michael says:

    Jim’s numbers indicate about a 17-20% increase in mph for a road bike versus a mountain bike. However if you put the mountain bike on the same Touraine (i.e., a smooth paved trail) the difference in speeds between MTB and road bike should be closer. FYI, over a 2.3 mile stretch of hilly, curvy paved trail today an experienced road cyclist did it about 30 seconds faster than me on my MTB (26×2.2 Tsali tires inflated to just under 40psi). Both riders were dressed for the cold (about 30 degrees F outside). I was averaging about 15mph and road biker was averaging about 15.9 mph. The road cyclist was going about 6% faster than me.

    • bgddyjim says:

      You are incorrect. Those numbers were from the exact same paved road. I was smart enough to make sure of that and clearly pointed that out in my post. I average 18-19 mph on my road bike – on an easy recovery ride.

      Your comparison of yourself and a9 road cyclist (whom I’m presuming you did not know) would be far more flawed had I messed up and went dirt to paved roads.

    • bgddyjim says:

      On further review I see how you could have come to the conclusion you did. I amended the post to make it more clear. Apologies.

      • Michael says:

        Jim, no problem. You seem like a really cool guy. And I’m guessing, based on “Cedar Point” interest and Mitch Albom (sp?) you are from OH or MI. I’m a slow reader so forgive me if I missed some details. Anyways, your a no-nonsense guy who does things that make sense. I’m 48 and I just get a couple of 20 mile MTB rides a week in during the Winter (I’d love to do more, but my job is very demanding; oh during the summer I shoot for 3 or 4 rides per week). I completed a century in 4 hours 50 minutes a long time ago (as a young man in the Days of Greg LeMond – the legitimate American All-Star cyclist; I did it on a Centurion Prestige which I know many of you would laugh at). I lived in Cleveland and I sometimes ride there when I am in town. You know my email, I have a good city cycling route I do in Cleveland if you are interested.

      • bgddyjim says:

        I don’t know what to say brother. Thank you, I am interested… And nobody makes fun of old school bikes if they’re well kept. I have a ’90 Cannondale and I find it just as cool as my Venge, just in a less-efficient, less comfortable and a pain to shift way. Even so, I still put miles on it.

        4:50 on an old-school’er is mighty impressive.

  9. Michael says:

    Oh, BTW. It sounds like 17-20% is a reasonable number. I’m not trying to say my little example should be relied upon. I have seen this guy on the trail and know he’s a fairly good cyclist. But, your numbers are legitimate and have the good control of you being the same person for both the MTB and the road bike. Your numbers are much more reliable, I was just giving an example. Thanks for the clarification!

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