This one made me laugh out loud:
“My mountain bike can keep up with road bikes”…
No. It. Can’t.
Never mind the silly grammatical flaw… The people riding those road bikes you can keep up with on your mountain bike are slow. Period. Bring your mountain bike up to Michigan and I will kick your ass. Twice, just to make sure you know it’s not a fluke and you pick the distance.
Is this statement cocky? Sure, a little bit, but c’mon folks…
Now, to analyze the statement with a straight face – which I almost attempted (the straight face part, the analysis is actually quite simple), I can use my own experience on the Dawn Farm Ride for Recovery this past April. I rode that one with my wife, her first 100k ride. We were averaging between 15 and 16 mph and we were passed by a kid on a straight fork 29’er (no shock), barely. Now, anyone who knows anything about mountain biking knows that only really fast riders choose a hard-tail mountain bike without a front shock. They give up the comfort of a shock for two simple reasons, for weight and speed. He was averaging, on his mountain bike, between 17 and 18 mph to pass us, but he couldn’t hold that for long… He’d pull ahead for a bit, then fall back and latch on to our little four man and one woman train for a while, etc.. Point is, that kid knew what he was doing, he could ride and the best he could do was 16-17 mph… I’m not breaking a sweat till I hit 17 on my road bike. I’m not breathing heavy till I hit 19 and I’m not working till I hit 21-22. A sprint? 31-32 mph. You’re geared out on a mountain bike at 29 – and that’s if you have a huge 42 tooth big ring!
This is very simple: If you can keep up with a real roadie on a mountain bike, call Sky and take Wiggo’s job. Otherwise, keep it to yourself lest you come off like a dope. Whoever you are out there though, good God, thanks for the laugh. I needed that.
Before we even get started, this is the correct answer to the question:
I’m sure that’s a little too simple though so let’s dig deeper for the sake of those who seek great wisdom and two-wheeled happiness.
The answer is subjective and stacked against the road bike from the beginning, with one small factor that gums up the whole works: As bikes go, road bikes are the sexiest by a long shot and to argue otherwise is futile. Think of the road bike as the super car, the Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini or AMG Benz of bicycles. They do one thing, very well: They get the rider down the road, fast. They straighten tight corners (you’ll be able to corner better than most cars trucks) and tame steep grades… Ahem, as long as the road is paved. And therein lies the rub. Trying a road bike on a dirt road at speed will tighten the sphincter of even a seasoned pro. Road bikes are light, sleek and beautiful and are my suggestion for any middle-aged man looking for a midlife crisis to sate, they just suck on anything but a paved surface. This isn’t to say, obviously, that a woman can’t enjoy a road bike (because to suggest so would be stupid), just that cycling fits the whole “male midlife crisis” phase – and it’s a lot healthier than most other options to boot.
On the other hand you’ve got the mountain bike. If we were to compare the mountain bike to a vehicle, it would have to be the Jeep. It’s the all-purpose, ride anywhere answer to cycling. They’re fun and symbolize cycling freedom because you can go almost anywhere that one can hike and get down the trail 3-5 times faster. They’re solid, durable and comfortable, if slow.
The road bike is my personal favorite because it’s more refined, faster and sexier, so much so that I have a tough time finding the time to ride my mountain bike as much as I’d like (though I do like to go for a family ride on the dirt roads after my training ride on the weekends). Keep in mind, this is my own personal opinion, I have a few friends who would rather cruise on their mountain bikes and play in the dirt than ride a road bike. Again, this is subjective.
Which is best, if one can’t have both, will come down to a personal choice of what fits your needs and personality best. A mountain bike is far more versatile and can be used for anything from trail riding to commuting simply by putting a couple of road tires on it. On the other hand, if you want speed and the idea of riding with a large group appeals to you, I’ve demonstrated there is nothing better than the road bike*.
As for which is more comfortable, this aspect of choosing a bike is exceptionally controversial and I am one of those who make it so. Many people suggest that riding in a more upright position, as on a mountain bike, is preferable to the aggressive position used on a road bike. While a road bike can be set up to accommodate the upright position, I have always preferred being lower, more aerodynamic. I can comfortably ride for upwards of 50 miles on my mountain bike but I’m good for more than double that on my road bike. I’d love to be able to write that a mountain bike will be more comfortable but I can’t (even though both of the bikes pictured above have gone through a multi-step setup process by a professional). I favor the aggressive position on the road bike and this is why: Before I started cycling I’d had back issues ever since I was a kid. I started on a mountain bike and my back improved but I really found relief when I switched to the road bike and the further I lowered the stem, the better I fell. I got to a point where I can now go up to a month without needing a pain reliever (Aleve, Tylenol, etc.). In other words, don’t immediately think that because a bike has drop bars on it, it’ll be less comfortable.
The one piece of advice that I will pass along concerning the decision to choose a road bike or a mountain bike, if you can’t have both, is this: To thine own self be true. If you’re really into speed, don’t try to find it on a mountain bike unless you’re also into speed on single tracks and dirt. Conversely, if speed isn’t all that important and you want to ride on more than just paved roads, go for a mountain bike or hybrid. Of course, if all else fails, get a cross bike and a second set of lighter wheels that you can put road tires on… This is a great way to get the best of both worlds.
*As a minor aside, time trial bikes are faster than road bikes, there is no doubt. For the purpose of this post, however, I’m taking into account the social aspect of cycling and the one thing everyone should know about time trial bikes is that they’re meant for non-drafting conditions, with the exception being team time trials in racing.
UPDATE: A commenter who goes by Eckels22, wrote to say they are looking at a Specialized Diverge Carbon Comp as an answer to the cross bike, meets race bike, meets all around long distance bike (I’d call it a cross between the Crux and Roubaix). I’d forgotten the addition of the bike to Specialized’s stable. If my local shop gets one in, I’ll see if I can test drive it for a review but it looks like a REALLY nice cross between an endurance “squishy” bike and a cross bike. However, and I should say this, I won’t buy one. I’ll never say never, but I’d probably opt to save $500 and pick up a carbon Crux or $1,500(!) and get an aluminum Crux with internal cable routing (!) for an all-arounder.
In the last three years I can’t remember ever taken off more than two days in a row from some kind of physical activity, usually riding a bike or running. Either on a trainer, on the road or on a trail. There have been a few times where I had a really rough day working out in the yard cutting up a dead tree or something that I would count as a workout but I had to be absolutely worn out afterwards to do so.
I’ve taken the last three days off and in the last five only ridden fourteen total miles. To say I’m itching to get back out is an understatement of epic proportions. On the other hand, we’ve had flurries every day for the last four so I’m not exactly weeping about it. I’m finally trying to deal with a nagging case of tendonitis in my right arm that’s been bugging me for about five months now. For four-and-a-half of those months the pain was at least tolerable but in the last two weeks it’s really gotten bad. I was hoping, of course, to make it to winter so I could at least get some miles in on the trainer and I pretty much did. I’ve allowed myself a few excuses to stay off the trainer though… A long put-off trip to the dentist’s office yesterday to repair a broken filling and begin preparations for a crown and bridge got in the way yesterday, for example.
In any event, my arm is actually feeling a lot better since I’ve been off. I was nervous about whether I’d done too much damage by waiting so long to give it time to heal and am quite pleased with my progress… So that means it’s time to start thinking about putting in some winter miles – it’s time to get on that horse again.
Unfortunately our forecast is crap over the next ten days with highs only near or barely above freezing, with some snow even, so while I may get in some decent time on the mountain bike (finally) I’m thinking most of my road bike time will be spent on the trainer. Either way, I’ve been on a fantastic tear for three years with some excellent mileage for a working guy… I have to get back at it before I realize how easy it is to be lazy and end up wrecking next season in the process.