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Which is Better, A Road Bike or a Mountain bike?

November 2014
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Before we even get started, this is the correct answer to the question:

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A road bike AND a mountain bike.

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.
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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.
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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.


9 Comments

  1. bigtosh90 says:

    great post, I personally am a mountain biker (used to be a roadie), but find the mountain bike a lot more fun and I don’t like messing with cars, one thing is the adrenaline rush side of the mountain bike which is what really sets it apart for me.

    • bgddyjim says:

      First, thank you. You’re right about traffic and for some strange reason it just doesn’t bother me that much. I’ve never been able to fully grasp why, it just doesn’t. I love the trails too.

  2. bigtosh90 says:

    Reblogged this on An Average Mountain Biker and commented:
    Here is an interesting post!

  3. Kecia says:

    A TT bike 😉 The correct number of bikes one should own is n+1 (where n is the current number of bikes owned), but you already know that 😉

  4. Horse for course, though my road biking far exceeds my mountain biking. Good to have both though, and my back’s better on the roadie as well, really eases it off.

  5. ekels22 says:

    I was checking the Specialized Diverge on the website talk about a versatile high end bike. I’m considering the comp carbon model.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Now that is one heck of an awesome Frankenstein of a bike right there! Part Squishy bike, part cross bike and part race bike! Great chain, fantastic components (105’s are heavier and a little less smooth than ultegra but they last FOREVER)… It’s quite literally a perfect blend of a mountain bike and a road bike. Better stated, it’s the perfect go-anywhere road bike. Enjoy!

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