When you're looking for a new bike, one of the most important things to consider is how you'll be using it. A bike that's effective for commuting may not be the best choice for tackling rugged mountain trails. Depending on your purpose, you may prefer a road bike, a mountain bike or a hybrid bike. Each type of bicycle has unique benefits and is geared toward a different type of ride.
Cycle Showdown: Mountain Bikes vs. Road Bikes vs. Hybrid Bikes
|Smooth pavement||Off-road environment||Pavement or off road|
|Best for long distances||Suited to rugged terrain||Best for casual rides|
|Drop or flat bars||Flat bars||Flat bars|
|Typically none||Fully rigid or hardtail||Suspension forks or seatposts|
Advantages of Road Bikes
- Lightweight Frame – Less weight allows for a faster ride.
- Tall, Lightweight Wheels – High-pressure wheels are narrow and light to reduce friction with the road and improve climbing, acceleration and handling.
- Handlebars – Drop handlebars create a forward-leaning position that enables better aerodynamics, while flat handlebars allow for a more comfortable upright position.
Limitations of Road Bikes
- No Suspension – There's nothing to cushion the blow of bumpy terrain.
- Thin Tires – The thin tires of road bikes are best suited for paved surfaces and are not constructed to handle the rigors of off-road riding.
- Discomfort – While it may be more aerodynamic, some find the forward-leaning position uncomfortable.
Advantages of Mountain Bikes
- Sturdy Frame – The heavyweight frame is designed to withstand effects of rough terrain.
- Suspension – Fully rigid bikes provide no suspension, while hardtail models have front-wheel fork suspension only. Full suspension options include both front and rear suspension. Each provides a different level of comfort to provide more control and reduce hand and arm fatigue.
- Smaller Wheels – Thick, low-pressure tires are generally 26 inches to 29 inches with knobby treads to provide traction and control on uneven and rocky ground.
Limitations of Mountain Bikes
- Knobby Wheels – Tread designed to create friction on rugged surfaces are less efficient on pavement.
- Bike Weight – Added weight makes mountain bikes heavier and slower than road bikes and hybrid bikes.
- Reduced Efficiency – Suspensions take away from the efficiency of pedal strokes.
Advantages of Hybrid Bikes
- Versatility – Combining features of road bikes and mountain bikes, hybrid bikes are well suited for a variety of terrains.
- Comfort – Upright handlebars, cushioned seats and available suspension can offer more comfort for short, casual rides.
- Efficient Wheels – Wheels and tires are light and suited to paved surfaces, allowing for more efficient pedaling.
Limitations of Hybrid Bikes
- Not Built for Extremes – Construction is not suited for tough mountain terrain or the fast speeds of road racing.
- Less Aerodynamic – The upright position of hybrid bikes creates more drag when traveling at faster speeds.