What’s the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike?
Built for completely different terrain, the road bike and mountain bike are as different as night and day. Here Matt Baird explains the key differences
From their targeted terrains to overall weight, handlebars and wheel types and much more, there are fundamental differences between road and mountain bikes.
A road (or racing) bike is targeted at exactly that; for riding on the road at speed. They’ll usually boast thin 700c-sized wheels with slick tyres, a lean overall frame weight (often using carbon at higher price points) and generally thinner frame tubing (except on some aero road models) compared to a MTB.
The drop handlebars, with a flattened top section and each end curving forwards, down and back in again, and overall geometry of the bike (i.e.the increased distance from seatpost to handlebars) have a more aggressive geometry than a mountain bike (and also hybrids) to encourage better aerodynamics by reducing the frontal profile of a rider.
While you can happily ride a mountain bike on tarmac, they excel at riding off-road, from towpaths to technical trails and on mud, girt, gravel and more. As well as versatility, a mountain bike will provide added durability with its reinforced – if heavier – frame materials, a larger saddle, wider and tougher wheels (sizes range from 26” to 27.5”, 29”, Plus and Fat, but that’s a whole other story), and thicker tyres with lugs for off-road traction.
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Mountain bikes feature a flat handlebar with the brake levers on the top and the geometry promotes a less aggressive riding position for improved comfort and better handling when dealing with tricky trail sections.
Also key for mountain bikes are their suspension systems (either hardtail with just a front suspension fork, or softail/full suspension with both front and rear suspension abilities) for reducing the roughness of the terrain. Seatposts can often have in-built suspension on a MTB as well.