Road Bike vs. Mountain Bike: Differences Explained by Expert

Road bike vs. mountain bike: Road bike on the left side and a mountain bike on the right side (side-by-side) on a bicycle path.

This article compares the differences, benefits, and disadvantages of road bikes vs. mountain bikes.

I have experience with both bike types, and I spend a lot of time among road cyclists and mountain bikes, so I feel qualified to explain them in an easy-to-understand form.

After reading this article, you will know how they differ, where they excel, and their weaknesses.

Below, I also share my experience and tips to help you choose the right bike type for you.

In short: While road bikes are suitable only for paved roads, mountain bikes are versatile thanks to wider tires and suspension. Road bikes use drop bars, but mountain bikes have wide flat bars. Their gearing is different, as well as their geometry.

Continue reading to learn more.

Technical Specifications

Here is a summary of the main differences between road and mountain bikes (and other bike types).

FeatureRoad BikesGravel BikesHybrid BikesMountain Bikes
GeometryEndurance or performance orientedEndurance or performance orientedUsually endurance
Sometimes performance oriented
Usually more upright
Suitable forPaved roadsPaved, gravel, dirt, or forest roadsPaved, gravel, dirt, or forest roadsAll types of terrains
Unsuitable forMost terrains except paved roadsMTB-like terrainMTB-like terrainPaved roads
Sometimes 1X
1X or 2X
Sometimes 3X
3X or 2X
Sometimes 1X
1X or 2X
Sometimes 3X
SuspensionNo suspensionSometimes front suspension
Occasionally suspension seat post
Sometimes front suspensionFront suspension
Rear suspension
BrakesDisc or rimUsually disc brakesDisc or rimDisc or rim
Relative comfortBadBadGoodGreat
HandlebarsDroppedDroppedFlat or curvedFlat
TyresNarrowNarrow or wideNarrow or wideWide
Wheels diameter700c650b, 700c700c, 26″26″, 27.5″, 29″
BrowseRoad BikesGravel BikesHybrid BikesMountain Bikes
Comparison of different bike types, their features, benefits, and disadvantages.

Road Bikes Overview

Road bikes are suitable for paved roads because of their 700c wheels with narrow and smooth tires.

Grey/blue Canyon road bike on a bicycle path.
An example of a road bike

They have a sporty geometry (short stack and long reach) that allows you to sit in an aerodynamic position. It’s faster than an upright position on mountain bikes.

Road bikes use drop bars that are suitable for multiple hand positions.

Many of today’s road bikes have wider tire clearances (up to 32 or 36mm) than road bikes from a decade ago (up to 25 mm).

Road bikes are the fastest bike type on paved roads, allowing you to ride long distances without much effort.

Road Bike Pros

  • Excel on paved roads thanks to narrow tires and aerodynamic riding position
  • Are more aerodynamic
  • Are lighter

Road Bike Cons

  • Unsuitable for terrain
  • The riding position may not be comfortable for less flexible riders
  • Less comfortable ride due to the lack of suspension and narrow tires
  • Have narrower tire clearance
  • Offer worse compatibility with additional accessories like panniers, fenders, etc.

Mountain Bikes Overview

Mountain bikes (also called MTBs) are suitable for various terrains. Together with gravel bikes, it’s the most versatile bike type.

Red/black Specialized mountain bike on a bicycle path.
An example of a mountain bike

Their versatility and riding comfort come from wide, high-volume tires and front (eventually also rear) suspension.

Mountain bikes are suitable for terrain like trails, single tracks, forest roads, etc. However, you can also use them on paved roads. But it will take more effort to reach the same speed as on a road bike.

Hardtail mountain bikes only have a suspension fork, but full-suspension MTBs also have rear suspension.

Here is a quick overview of the pros & cons of MTBs.

Mountain Bike Pros

  • Are versatile (i.e., suitable for a wide range of terrains) thanks to the wide tires
  • Have suspension fork (and rear suspension)
  • Often have a more relaxed geometry
  • Are more comfortable than road bikes

Mountain Bike Cons

  • Are not as fast (especially on paved surfaces)
  • Are less aerodynamic
  • Are heavier

Features Comparison

Let me now compare both bike types in depth.

Geometry and Riding Position

Both bike types include multiple subtypes. Here are the basic types of road bikes:

types of road bikes - endurance, performance, aero, cyclocross, gravel, etc.
Basic types of road bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of and

Let’s talk about ‘endurance’ and ‘performance’ road bikes (the performance geometry also applies to aero road bikes).

The endurance one is more relaxed and allows you to ride in a more upright riding position. It has a higher stack and shorter reach. But the riding position is still not as upright as on hybrid bikes.

Performance geometry is suitable for racing road bikes. They have a larger drop and longer reach.

Comparison of endurance vs. performance road bike geometry of Canyon Endurance and Canyon Aeroad road bikes using the tool.
Endurance vs. performance road bike geometry | Created using the tool

The basic categorization of mountain bikes is on:

  • Cross-country
  • Trail
  • Enduro
  • Downhill
types of mountain bikes - cross-country, trail, enduro, fatbike, downhill
Basic types of mountain bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of

Their geometry is vastly different (more upright) than road bikes. Mountain bikers require a different center of gravity depending on the terrain they will ride.

For example, downhill MTBs have longer fork travel (to absorb large jumps and bumps) and push the rider’s center of gravity to the rear (to tackle steep descents).

Type of Mountain BikeSuspension Travel

In road cycling, (almost) everything is about weight and aerodynamics (and stiffness). This means that the ideal (and therefore the fastest) riding position is when you reduce the frontal area.

An excellent example is Remco Evenepoel, the 2022 UCI World Road Race Champion, who has a super-aero riding position.

Remco Evenepoel riding Vuelta a Espana in an aero riding position.
Remco Evenepoel in his aero riding position | Picture Credit: Luis Angel Gomez, Unipublic / Sprint Cycling Agency

Mountain bikes, on the other hand, are all about handling, stability, comfort, and reliability. No wonder mountain biking is so popular.

You have to consider the terrain you want to ride in the most often when choosing an MTB type.

Wheels & Tires

Wheels and tires are one the biggest differences between mountain and road bikes.

Road bikes use almost exclusively 700c wheels (except smaller bike sizes that may use smaller, 27.5” wheels) and smooth tires.

Nowadays, 25 and 28-mm tires are popular among road cyclists (21 and 23-mm were popular not so long ago). However, wider tires will probably become a standard in the following years.

A road bike with narrow tires vs. mountain bike with wide tires side-by-side.
Road bike vs. mountain bike tires

Mountain bikes use 26″, 27.5″ or 29″ wheels with wide, knobby, high-volume tires.

You can inflate high-volume tires at lower pressures so they can absorb more bumps and vibrations. This results in better overall riding comfort.

Mountain bike tires usually range from 1.9″ to 2.5″ wide (and up to 5″ on fat tire bikes). This width allows you to tackle almost any terrain.


Road bikes usually come with 2X drivetrains (2×11spd or 2×12spd). They offer enough gears for most scenarios you encounter on a road bike.

The following table shows the groupset lines of major groupset manufacturers.

Mid-range105 11spd
105 12 spd
105 12 spd Di2¹
Rival eTap AXS¹
ProUltegra Di2Force eTap AXSChorus EPSElectronic
Super Record
ProDura-Ace Di2RED eTap AXSSuper Record EPSElectronic
A comparison of road bike groupsets (from entry-level to pro) of the major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo) and their type.
¹Shimano 105 Di2 and Rival eTap AXS are electronic groupsets.

On the other hand, modern mountain bikes use 1X drivetrains, which are simpler to use, lighter, and easier to maintain.

Entry-level and beginner mountain bikes come with 2X or even 3X drivetrains. I don’t recommend the 3X MTBs because more things can go wrong.

Entry levelTourneyMechanical
Entry levelAltusMechanical
Entry levelAceraX5Mechanical
Mid rangeAlivioX7
Mid rangeDeoreNX
Mid rangeSLXGX EagleMechanical
ProXT Di2X01Electronic
ProXTR XX1Mechanical
ProXTR Di2X01 Eagle
XX1 Eagle
This table compares mountain bike groupsets (from entry-level to pro) and their types of major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM).

Gears are easier on mountain bikes because mountain bikers often face steep climbs, and to keep traction, they have to ride in the saddle.

Those are the main reasons why MTB gears are easier.


New road and mountain bikes come almost exclusively with disc brakes.

You may find some budget bikes with rim brakes, but they are becoming less popular.

Disc brakes are either mechanical or hydraulic. The hydraulic ones are more convenient but more expensive.

But I believe the difference is worth it, so save more if your budget is limited and pay for quality brakes.

They are one of the most crucial components of both bike types.


Road bikes usually don’t offer any suspension.

There are exceptions, like Specialized with their Future Shock suspension headset on Roubaix road bikes, Trek with their IsoSpeed suspension, or Canyon with their VCLS seatposts.

Examples of road bike suspension systems (Isospeed, VCLS seatposts, Future Shock).
Examples of road bike suspension systems by Trek, Canyon, and Specialized

Regarding suspension, we can distinguish two mountain bike types:

  1. Hardtail mountain bikes (only front suspension)
  2. Full suspension mountain bikes (front and rear suspension)
A front-suspension mountain bike icon
A mountain bike with front suspension
A full-suspension mountain bike icon
A full suspension mountain bike

Hardtail MTBs are lighter and provide more efficient power transfer. However, they won’t allow you to ride as technical terrain as full suspension bikes.

Those also provide a whole new level of comfort. I remember the first time when I experienced the difference. It was mindblowing.

On the other hand, they are heavier and more complex. So again, you have to think about the terrain difficulty you will want to ride.

Frame Materials

Road and mountain bikes have mostly frames made of aluminum or carbon. Titanium and steel road and mountain bikes are not as common.

The used material depends mainly on the price range and type of bike.

Aluminum is cheap and relatively lightweight material suitable for entry-level bikes. You can find them on beginner road bikes and budget mountain bikes.

Carbon is stiffer and lighter but more expensive. It can absorb more vibrations contributing to a more comfortable ride. It’s more common on more expensive road and mountain bikes.

The question is, are carbon frames worth it?
I believe so, but only if you are a passionate cyclist with money to spend.


Mountain and road bikes are not as accessories-friendly as gravel or hybrid bikes.

They usually don’t have additional mounts for panniers, a kickstand, or more than two bottle cages.

But as always, exceptions apply.

Road Bikes vs. Mountain Bikes FAQ


Mountain bikes are the most versatile bike type thanks to the wide range of terrains you can use them for.

On the other hand, they require more effort to ride the same distance as road bikes due to their higher weight, wide tires, and worse aerodynamics.

The choice between mountain vs. road bike should be easier than the choice between gravel and road bike, for example.

This is because MTBs and road bikes are suitable for completely different use.

Road bikes are only suitable for paved surfaces but are the fastest bike type. They don’t require as much effort to cover long distances.

Comment below which bike type is better for you and why.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top