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If you’ve decided to take up cycling, but are just getting started with the hobby, be it for fun or health purposes, there’s a lot of information to know about different bike styles. How different can a frame with two wheels, a seat, and handlebars get? The answer is very.
According to results from a study published by the Outdoor Industry Association, Americans spend about $14 billion on “wheel sports gear, accessories, and vehicles” which includes bicycles and skateboards. With so much money spent on bikes, it stands to reason that not everyone is riding around on the same kind of bicycle, so this article examines two extremely popular styles: road bike vs. mountain bike.
What is a Road Bike?
If you plan on riding on mostly paved roads or in an urban environment, then you’re probably better off getting a road bike because as the name suggests, you use them on roads and not on tough terrains.
Road bikes are typically very light and made for speed. The tires and wheels are generally skinny or thin. And because they don’t have suspension in the front or back, you wouldn’t want to ride it out on an unpaved trail, gravel, or rocky terrain since they are not equipped to absorb the impacts.
Handlebar styles can vary on road bikes. Some might have a flat bar like a mountain bike’s, but many road bikes have a curled handlebar style also known as a drop handlebar.
If you prefer to stay upright when you’re riding your bike, then a flat bar could be the better option of the two. Flat bars make it easier for you to see further since you’re not bent over the bars, as is typically the riding style with a curled handlebar.
You can find the frames on road bikes that have different compositions for varying purposes.
For example, if you’re on a budget, you’ll probably find that an aluminum frame is a more affordable choice. Aluminum frames typically cost less than a carbon fiber one, although the aluminum frame might include some carbon fiber in the front to smooth out the ride and cut down on vibration.
If you have back or joint issues and plan to ride frequently, then you may be better off spending more on your bike and buying one with a carbon fiber frame because they can absorb road vibration. Road vibration refers to any jolts that you can encounter from the road and carried through the bike into your body, which can wreak havoc on your posture, posterior, and pressure points.
Did you know?
Carbon fiber frames also tend to last longer, are stronger, and lighter than aluminum frames, so they’re an excellent option for road racing bikes, but if your primary cycling purpose is for enjoyment, then you should be fine with an aluminum frame.
Very high-end road bikes have titanium frames which are as strong as steel, but lighter, more flexible, and more expensive. Surprisingly, another factor to keep in mind when examining bicycle frames is geometry. If you plan on aggressive riding, then you’ll want to find a frame with a 72 or 73-degree angle on the head tube or a “performance” geometry that has a sturdier frame and supports lighter wheels.
For upright riders, you should find a road bike that uses sport geometry in the frame that allows for more relaxed steering and could be comfortable for riding long distances.
It might seem surprising, but most high-end bikes don’t come with pedals. If you buy a basic bicycle, it might have platform pedals, but the more expensive bikes don’t have pedals so that you can choose your own that pair best with your cycling shoes. Cycling shoes let you clip into the pedal and give you greater control over your ride.
Platform bike pedals are flat, and you can use these with regular sneakers or shoes. If you’re worried that having to unclip your foot from your pedal when facing a crash might not give you enough time to avoid the accident, then you might want to go with platform pedals.
If you want a more secure way to keep your feet from flying off the pedals when you pick up speed but still don’t want to clip into the bike, then you might want to add toe cages to your platform pedals. Toe cages are clips that create a small frame around your toes and a strap to surround the ball of your foot to secure your feet to the pedals without requiring special shoes.
Road bike pedals usually have a three-hole design that pair with shoes that look like cycling cleats and let you distribute the force to a wider part of the pedal to cut back on the pressure where your foot connects to the bike.
Types of Road Bikes
Not all road bikes are equal, so there is some specialization that you can focus on to find the ideal bicycle that matches your riding style and purpose. An endurance bike has tires that are a little thicker, frame or fork features that absorb road vibration, and an upright riding position. This bicycle can be a good option for most strictly pavement riders.
An ultralight road bike is best for riders who want the lightest bikes for long climbs. However, these bicycles might not stand up for rugged urban use. If speed and racing is your goal, then you might want to look at Aero bikes which have their wheels and frame tubes designed for minimum drag.
What Is a Mountain Bike?
Mountain bikes are durable, have flat handlebars, and suspension to absorb shocks since you mostly ride them on unpaved roads, dirt trails, sand, grass, and even snow.
Mountain Bike Wheels
The wheels on a mountain bike need to be extra sturdy and rugged so that they don’t go flat while you’re out enjoying the challenge of maneuvering through trails and scenic, but unpaved paths, so choosing the right size can play a big factor in having a smooth ride.
Back in the day, all mountain bikes had 26-inch wheels, but now there are additional sizes to provide riders with maximum control and durability. The terrain type and how you plan to use the bike are important aspects you should use to help decide on the right tire size.
Did you know?A 27.5-inch wheel is a better choice for faster, zippy rides because they are lighter, easier to control, and accelerate faster, so they could be the ideal choice if you plan on riding through narrow trails with a lot of twists.
If you plan on taking long treks on your mountain bike, a 29-inch wheel can take a little longer to accelerate but is more efficient at retaining the speed once you achieve your desired pace. The larger tire also has more grip if you plan on riding anywhere that you might encounter tree roots, rocks, or slippery terrain.
For wheels that roll over obstacles rather than help you quickly steer around them, the 29-inch is a better choice than the 27-inch. The 29-inch is also usually a more comfortable option for riders who are over six feet tall. If you encounter a wheel with a “+” size next to it, that means the tire is wider than normal for a ride that should be more comfortable and offers less resistance.
Mountain Bike Frames
You might come across frames for mountain bikes that say they are double or triple-butted which refers to the procedure of thinning the walls of the tubes in the middle of the frame while using thicker walls for the tubes on the ends.
- Chromoly steel is a blend or alloy that’s lighter than steel and more expensive.
- Aluminum frames are not as sturdy as chromoly steel but do weigh less and could be an excellent choice for riders trying to balance cost and weight.
- Carbon fiber is expensive but lighter than titanium or aluminum. It’s popular among competitive mountain bikers but does experience durability issues if you ride on trails where the frame can suffer a lot of impacts.
- Titanium is a popular material for high-end bikes because it is sturdy, light, and resists corrosion which is useful for mountain bikers who can ride through damp or moist areas. Titanium can match carbon fiber’s ability to reduce road vibration and provide a smooth ride, so it’s popular with hardtail mountain bikes.
Most mountain bikes do not come with pedals, but many manufacturers produce clipless pedals that you can use. Instead of the three-hole design for road bike pedals, mountain bike pedals have two holes with screws in them that attach to two slots or tracks in a cycling shoe. The design allows you to slide your cleat a little back and forth to get the right foot placement and angle for your ride.
Mountain bikes are famous for allowing you to switch gears to let you adjust the bike’s flow while you’re riding, and you use shifters to change gears.
You can use a grip shifter to choose different gears by turning the grip, located on your handle, backward or forward to the preferred gear which cycles the chain until you find the most comfortable ride. With a thumb shifter, you can switch gears on each hand to move the chain either up or down to make the ride easier or harder.
Finding the right balance of using your shifters of switching through your gears depending on your speed and the terrain can help you use less energy during your ride so that you don’t get tired quickly and you don’t push your legs to the breaking point. Check out both shifter styles to see which one is easiest, feels more comfortable, and doesn’t distract from your ride.
Brakes can be an essential component for mountain bikes if you’re maneuvering through twisty trails or need to come to a quick stop if you encounter an unexpected obstacle. There are a few different brake types to choose from:
- Hydraulic disc brakes self-adjust for worn brake pads, require less finger strength and provide stronger braking power. They are a bit more expensive to maintain.
- You must manually adjust mechanical (cable-activated) brakes to account for a thinning brake pad.
- Rim brakes are typical of entry-level mountain bikes because they are cheaper and it’s easy to see when your brake pads need replacing. However, if you’re not on top of your bike’s maintenance, rim brakes can wear out the wheel’s rim which can lead to needing to replace the wheel versus a rotor.
Types of Mountain Bikes
You can find highly specialized mountain bikes designed specifically to handle your intended terrain and riding style. A hardtail mountain bike or trail bike usually has suspension forks, a stiff frame, and is a more affordable option for this class.
A fat bike is good for beginners and has oversized tires with a lot of traction that allows the cyclist to maneuver their way through challenging terrain, including in snow or sand. What goes up, must come down, so if you plan on riding down steep, rough terrain, then you’ll probably want to consider an Enduro or Gravity Full-Suspension mountain bike. These bicycles provide riders with precision control for descending trails by using rugged tire treads and highly efficient brakes.
An XC Full-Suspension bike or cross-country bike weighs less to make it easier for riders who undertake long climbs.A Trail Full-Suspension bicycle straddles the line between climbing and descending power with wider tires and bigger brakes.
Which Bike Is Right for You?
Hopefully, this piece has provided enough details to help you come to a conclusion on your road bike vs. mountain bike decision as to which bike is the better option for the terrain, speeds, and distances you plan to explore.