Difference Between Mountain Bikes And Road Bikes

By Rachel Lee
Published on
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Initially we only had the road bicycles and then the mountain bikes were born! Today, we have a specific style of bicycle to handle every possible type of terrain. It takes no scientist to understand that pavements and mountain trails are different surfaces with unique characteristics that need a specialized bike.

Road bikes boast over a century of racing heritage in human history, while the mountain bikes were invented much later. The latter comprises of a large share of the cycling market, and they come in a wide range of styles and builds to handle the toughest terrains. 

So, if you are planning to get a new bike then it’s not going to be an easy decision. While there are a plethora of styles available, the two most competing ones are road and mountain bikes. While you get agility and speed in one, the other gives you more power and a sense of adventure.

Which is better of the two and which one would you choose? Are you someone who uses a bicycle for commuting daily or you prefer mountain biking in the wild on weekends? Before that, let’s take a closer look at both these styles.

Features Road Bike Mountain Bike
Purpose Commuting, Recreation Sport, recreation
Terrain Paved roads Rough and bumpy
Types Aero, Endurance, Ultralight Hardtail, XC Full suspension, Gravity
Wheels/ tires Narrow and thin, up to 26 inches diameter Wider and thick, up to 29 inches diameter
Speed (average) 30 mph 25 mph
Handlebars Drop design No drop design
Traction Less traction Greater traction
Suspension No Front, rear suspension

Road Bikes


Also referred to as a racing bike or 10-speed bike (although today we have 18-speed bikes too), these bicycles are lightweight and built for speed. The narrow and agile tires roll with great speed on smooth surfaces and pavements to help you cover more distances, using less effort in less time.

With advance features and upgrades, modern road cycles have come a long way. The disc-brake version is much popular these days and some brands also offer special women bikes (see Amazon). The handlebars, saddle height and so on in the women bikes are perfectly suited as per female anatomy.

Sub-Classification Of Road Bikes

For a beginner, road cycles may seem to be just one type, but once you get to know it better, you realize there are so many sub-classifications of the same. The difference in build, comfort, speed, and endurance also impacts the overall cost of the bikes.


These aerodynamics road bikes feature wing-shaped elongated frame tubes and wheels to defy the drag to a bare minimum. The cycle’s geometrical makeup allows the body and hand positioning of the rider to change depending on the terrain. Designed for road racing, these cycles emphasize on speed more than rider’s comfort. 


The Ultralight bikes are best suited for those who wish to fuel their races and aim for longer climbs. They are made from the lightest materials such as titanium axle and aluminum alloy lever for enhanced agility. While these cycles turn out to be highly durable, they may not be suitable for all-round use.


For more road cyclists, the endurance bikes are the best choice as these models feature wider tires, an upright rider position, and gearing ranges. They also come with some type of suspension or vibration-absorbing technologies to minimize the road impact transmitted from the bike frame to the body.

What Makes Road Bikes Better

If you aim to primarily ride on the pavement then you need narrow wheels that roll faster and a durable frame. Whether you want to race, solo-spin, go on a group ride, or just commute within the city, the road bikes are best for professional and fun rides.


A good quality road bike that comes with lightweight aluminum frame, 18-speed drivetrains, and conventional rim brakes start from $800. The high-end models can go up to $15,000 with advanced features like hydraulic disc brakes, ultra-low weights, exotic materials, and up to 22-speed electronic drivetrains.

Advantages :

  • Light and fast, these cycles are built to give maximum speed on smooth roads.
  • Upright riding position gives more leg power to the rider and helps you cut through the air.
  • With their ‘over the handlebar’ posture the rider gets more power.
  • Narrow, light, elongated wheels and tires are designed to minimize friction
  • The bike components and parts have a high-level of tolerance and high polish.


  • Like a mountain bike, these shoes can’t take a lot of beating from the rough and uneven roads
  • As they have a high gear range for racing, it’s hard to drive slow
  • In the low-cost bikes, the riding positions may be slightly uncomfortable, especially on neck and wrists

Mountain Bike


Rugged, sturdy, durable, and sassy…these words perfectly describe the mountain bikes that are designed to ride on the road less taken. Whether you aim for the narrow dirt trails or mountainous regions, expect to glide on with ease when you have these beasts.

These bikes feature flat and wide handlebars, 2-inches or even wider wheels, wide-range drivetrains, knotted tread for traction, and hydraulic disc brakes for the steep climbs and fast descents. The wheels in the newer models are the 27.5-inch or 29-inch diameter.

There are special mountain bikes for women built with specifically designed seats, shorter crankarms, and narrower handlebars. Most of them also come with lighter suspension tuning for the smaller riders.

Sub-Classification of Mountain Bikes

Again just like the road bikes, the mountain bikes are also divided into various subcategories based on their capacity, features, power, and cost. So, instead of treating all-mountain bikes alike, look into the features to find out which one suits your needs best.


Hardtail Mountain Bike

The name itself reveals what it may have in store and most models come with suspension forks attached to a sturdy, rigid frame. While they are more affordable types, you may also find the high-end models designed for racing.

XC Full-Suspension

These bikes are typically designed for a shorter-distance of 110 mm or even less. The rear suspension in these models are designed to give more priority to efficiency and low weight to help riders do the climbing part with ease.

Trail Full-Suspension

Next in the range are the mid-travel suspension bikes that are capable of covering a distance of 120-150mm. They are designed to balance weight while climbing with efficiency and also help descend with ease. The tires are usually wider and the brake rotors are larger to stop power. Some Plus models come with 27.5 or 29-inch wheels.

Gravity Full-Suspension

When you wish to go on a hiking spree on a long-distance, the Enduro mountain bikes are the perfect fit. They come with aggressive tire treads and powerful brakes to give you a powerful performance and maximum control while descending on steep terrain.

What Makes Mountain Bikes Better

Mountain bikes can be used for a lot of things. They can be used for sports, adventure biking, exploring new trails and so on. Depending on the style of a mountain bike, it can be used on different types of surfaces from unpaved roads to steep inclines.

The technical trails and difficult terrains require more rear suspension, while the small riders benefit from bikes that come with 27.5-inch wheel diameter.

Cost factor

The basic hardtail mountain bikes are most suitable for the light trail use and the starting price can be as low as $400. The top-of-the-range trail and endure models with carbon fiber frames and advanced suspensions may go up to $10,000.


  • They feature robust frames and components that can take a lot of beating. 
  • The well-designed and intelligent geometry is useful for good traction on the steep climbs.
  • The small and stable 26 inches wheels can take the shock from hitting potholes and rocks.
  • With a higher level of suspension, you get more control as the tires stay in contact.
  • These bikes (even low-priced models) are designed for plush comfort. The frame takes the beating, not your body.
  • They come with wide knobbies designed to give you more control and traction in loose mud/ dirt.


  • Even with a lighter frame, they are often heavier than road and hybrid bikes, making it tough to make steep climbs.
  • The smaller 26-inches diameter wheels tend to exhibit more rolling resistance.
  • The Knobbies have a kind of snow-tire effect on the trails.
  • While the sophisticated suspensions are useful, they reduce the efficiency from the pedal stroke movement.
  • They are not designed for racing, hence they are slower when compared to road cycles

Key Differences Between Road Bike And Mountain Bike

After having looked into the unique features, highlights, advantages and downsides of both, let’s now pit them against each other for a face-off. Here are some of the key differences you may want to consider before deciding which one is best for you.


A road bike is built to be lightweight and more manageable on a smoother surface but they can’t handle rough terrain. They typically come with 700c-sized wheels and thin tires that boost speed by reducing the resistance. These bikes are engineered for speed and help racers reduce their riding time.

A mountain bike, on the other hand, is built to use off-road on trails, dirt, snow paths. They are not designed to perform with speed on pavements and streets. However, you may swap the tires to give it a slicker profile and boost the performance on the streets.


The frames in a road bike are light yet rigid, so they are made of materials like titanium and carbon fiber. You may also find components made of other light and durable materials like steel and aluminum. In these bikes, the rider is in a forward-leaning position to transfer more power to the pedals.

In the case of mountain bikes, cycle frames are made from carbon fiber, aluminum, titanium, and steel to take a lot of beating from rough conditions. The suspension system helps the wheels to soak-up the impact and vibrations caused by the uneven trails. Flat handlebars help to keep riders in an upright position for better control and balance.

Wheels and Tires

The road bike wheels are narrow to minimize the surface friction and increase the speed by applying less effort. The wheels have a 23-26 inches diameter and they are perfectly suited for paved roads for conveyance and recreation. The tires come without lugs for better control and grip on smooth surfaces.

A mountain bike usually has wider and stronger wheels with a diameter of up to 26-29 inches. They may have different tire profiles but they are mostly wider to give you better traction. The tires have raised lugs that dig loose soil like teeth and provide a powerful grip on uneven surfaces.


Many low-cost road bikes lack this feature although there are some models that do come with offer suspension. The mountain bikes are much sturdier and they need to stay in one-piece even after handling a lot of rough conditions. Thus, you will find forks even in the low-cost mountain bikes.


Well, the point of difference in pedals is not exactly related to the built or design, but the size of cleats that comes attached to the bike shoe’s sole. The mountain bike pedals have small-sized cleats that are much easier to unlock. This is useful to prevent a rider from falling off an MTB while climbing steep slopes or going on uneven terrain.

The road bikes, on the other hand, have much larger cleats to increase the surface of contact between the pedals and the bike shoes. Sometimes cyclists chose to have mountain bike pedals installed in their road cycles.


The road bike brakes have a much shorter pull when compared to their mountain bike counterparts. The former typically have the mechanical cantilever brakes while the latter usually have mechanical disc brakes or V-brakes.

It is more common for a rider to hit brakes while mountain biking to come to a halt, but you would not want a dead stop. Riders prefer slowing down and adjusting the speed to overcome an obstacle when they are about to hit it and then accelerate once again.

Rear Cassette

The rear cassette on road bikes is slightly smaller than those you find in mountain bikes. However, there may be some exceptions in the case of long-distance or touring road bikes. The road bike cassettes feature individual gears and the hub splinging is much deeper.

The mountain bike cassettes come in multiple gear groups that help in evenly distributing the force. The manufacturers also tend to make the splines shorter in order to reduce weight and make the frame lighter.

Front Derailleurs

A road bike typically has 2 chainrings making it easier for the cyclist to shift gear. Some models may have triple chainrings to achieve a greater speed. The standard mountain bikes used to have 3 chainrings and a rear cassette.  As the number of chainrings vary, it’s not feasible to fit a mountain bike crankset in a road bike and vice versa.  

Which One Is Better: Road Bike Vs Mountain Bike For Exercise

Riding on a road bike helps you improve the cardiovascular fitness and overall workout as you are able to do longer distances at great speed. With a mountain bike, your body gets exposed to a more dynamic exercise. Steep slopes, tough climbs, potholes, and bumpy terrain result in improved endurance and muscle building.

While road bikes give you a good overall body workout, the incorrect posture due to riders hunching over the handlebars and rising off the seats may result in back pain and other issues. Riding a mountain bike gives you an upright posture as you are spared any physical discomfort. They also prepare you for any obstacles or challenges on the path.

There’s a psychological factor too. Let’s not forget that venturing out in the wild or hilly terrains let you reconnect with nature and breathe unpolluted air. Mountain bike trails take you to remote and peaceful places to meditate and relax in great outdoors, an opportunity you rarely get when riding road bikes on city pavements.

Our vote goes to mountain bike for its various advantages unless you are looking for speed in your workout. To be honest, we feel this choice will vary depending on what people want from the exercise – weight loss, better mobility, muscle building, or overall good health.  

You can also have a look at this article: Are Road Bikes Harder To Ride Than Mountain Bikes?

Related Questions

Can a mountain bike be used as a road bike?

Yes, you may as there are no hard rules regarding this. There are many people who actually prefer a mountain bike for longer distances but please be aware that you cannot match the speed of a road bike. As the wheels in a mountain bike are wider, expect more friction while riding.

A mountain bike may also have several features that you don’t need while riding on smooth pavement. If you prefer a mountain bike but mostly ride on smooth roads then we would suggest that you get a hybrid or cross bike to enjoy the best of both.

Are road bikes faster than mountain bikes?

Yes, the road bikes have lighter frames and narrower wheels to make them perfectly designed for higher efficiency and greater speed. They are the best choices for road racing but they can’t perform well on uneven terrains. The mountain bikes are better at handling obstacles on-road and ride well on uneven terrain.

Which is easier to ride – mountain or road bike?

Both these bikes differ a lot in purpose, built, and design. It’s more a matter of preference than ease of riding. We believe it is easier to ride a mountain bike because the seat is more comfortable and you sit upright while riding. In a road bike, the cyclist leans forward and this can cause discomfort while riding long distances.