Can a Mountain Bike Be as Fast as a Road Bike?

When you want to buy a bike, you have two main choices in front of you. You can buy either a mountain bike or a road bike. Although there are other kinds of bikes you can buy, these are the most common in the market.

You will want to consider many different things when buying a bike. One of them is speed. How fast do you want your bike to go? If you prefer speed, you may wonder, “are road bikes faster than mountain bikes?” Here you will find the answer to your question.

The short answer is “yes”. Road bikes can travel faster than mountain bikes since they are designed to go at high speeds. Mountain bikes are built to deal with obstacles and handle tough terrain.

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However, road bikes are definitely faster than mountain bikes when it comes to top speed.

A road bike can go between 10 and 30% faster than a mountain bike on smooth surfaces.

This short answer will help you to know which type of bike is faster. You know that road bikes are built for speed and can thus go faster than mountain bikes on smooth terrain.

Here are all the reasons why road bikes can travel faster than mountain bikes:


Aerodynamics is a key factor why road bikes can be faster than mountain bikes.

In a road bike, the rider is in a better aerodynamic position compared to a mountain bike.

In a mountain bike, the rider takes on a position to get across obstacles and surpass steep inclines. The rider should be able to shift their body weight and mass to get around obstacles.

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Hence, mountain bikes offer greater freedom to the rider to position their body to get through tough obstacles and inclines.

Positioning in a road bike is different. The rider takes on a posture that allows them to travel at faster speeds.

In a road bike, the rider is positioned aerodynamically. As a result, there is less drag so that the rider can travel faster.

However, in most bikes, the rider can adjust the handlebars as well as their seat position so that they can take on any shape while riding their bikes.

Hence, it is up to the rider to adopt any position that they like. However, mountain bikes are generally designed to get through obstacles, while road bikes are made for speed.

As a result, a road bike along with the rider has less drag. This allows them to ride faster.

More drag means less speed. At the same time, less drag means faster speed.

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Pedaling Power

Imagine a person who first rides a road bike and then a mountain bike. This person is applying the same peddling power to both of these bikes. So which one will go faster?

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When riding the road bike, more peddling power is reaching the wheels. So this rider will go faster when traveling on the road bike.

Mountain bike frames can be somewhat less rigid compared to the frames of a road bike. Mountain bike frames are ‘softer’ because they absorb impacts and forces that the rider encounters when riding through obstacles.

Road bikes, on the other hand, have stiff frames. The frames are made to be rigid so that efficiency and speed are maximized.

So when riding a mountain bike, a small part of your peddling power will be absorbed by the softer frame and the suspension movement. But when you ride a road bike, less power is lost because the frame is stiffer.

This is one reason why road bikes are faster. Less peddling power is being lost in the rigid frame.

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Road Bikes Have Less Weight

Since road bikes are built for speed, they are designed to have less speed. Hence, it is easy to see why road bikes will be faster than mountain bikes.

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This factor is perhaps the easiest to understand. In general, road bikes are lighter than mountain bikes. This does not mean that all road bikes are lighter than mountain bikes. It just means that, in general, road bikes tend to weigh less.

More features are built into mountain bikes because they have to absorb more force. Since there are more features, mountain bikes have heavier frames.

Even the tires on a mountain bike can weigh more than road bike tires. Since mountain bike tires have to encounter a lot of resistance, they have to be thicker, due to which they weigh more.

The manufacturer will have to use lighter parts to weigh less than road bikes if they want mountain bike features. Such a bike would cost much more money because lighter parts that are strong need expensive materials.

However, such an expensive bike would not really be necessary because very light mountain bikes don’t make it any easier to get through rough bike trails.

As a result, mountain bikes are not the lightest. And this can have important consequences for speed since weight is a major factor for top speeds.

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On the other hand, road bikes are built with the lightest materials because they should be capable of reaching high speeds.

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Higher Gearing

The gearing in road bikes is higher than what you will find in mountain bikes. As a result, road bikes can be faster than mountain bikes.

The gearing available in bikes has improved greatly over the years. As a result, you can find a wide variety of gearing ratios in the market. You can thus likely find a bike with the gearing ratio that you prefer.

Even if you can’t find a bike with the gearing ratio you desire, you can modify it.

Road bikes have gearing that is aimed at higher top speeds since this is a key requirement.

Manufacturers know that customers want road bikes that ride at faster speeds. Speed is more important than the ability to climb hills and go through tough obstacles.

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On the other hand, mountain bikes do not have to travel at high-top speed on bike trails. So manufacturers make gears that will help improve the hill-climbing capabilities of mountain bikes. But this also means lower top speeds.

Read Best Time to Buy a Mountain Bike

Mountain Bikes Are Not Meant to Be the Fastest

A key point to note is that mountain bikes are not designed to reach high-top speeds.

If you ever went through a bike trail, you will understand that traveling on these tracks at very high speeds can be dangerous. Going at high speeds on a bike trail like that found in road bikes would put you at risk of a serious accident.

Mountain bikes are built according to the needs of mountain bike riders. As a result, mountain bikes can go through all sorts of slopes, get past obstacles and handle the toughest terrains.

On the other hand, road bikes are designed so that they travel at high speeds on the road. Since speed is a top priority as compared to hill climbing, road bikes tend to be faster than mountain bikes.

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Road Bikes Go Faster on Roads Only

While it has been said many times above that road bikes are faster than mountain bikes, it should be kept in mind that road bikes are faster only on the kind of tracks they are designed for.

That is, road bikes go faster on relatively smooth surfaces.

So if a mountain bike and road bike were to race on the road, you could expect the road bike to win because it is designed to reach high speeds on flat tracks.

On the other hand, if both these bikes were to race each other on a bike trail, the road bike would have a very tough time. The road bike will not be as efficient at going through obstacles and rough tracks. Hence, it will be much slower on a bike trail.

The reason for this is that road bikes are not meant to reach high speeds on bike trails.

Even beginner-level trails can create many problems for road bikes which is why they are not a good choice if you want to get quickly across an obstacle course on a bike. Whether it is their tires or frames, road bikes are not made to go quickly on bike trails.

Hence, road bikes can travel fast on roads. But on other kinds of surfaces, they would not be as fast.

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Bikes Only Go as Fast as the Rider

Of course, another factor to keep in mind is that a bike is only as good as the rider. So the top speed that a bike is able to reach depends a lot on the rider. Strength, endurance, and experience all influence the ability of a rider to go fast on a bike.

So if you have a rider who lacks strength, endurance, and experience, then they will not be able to ride fast, irrespective of the bike in use. Whether it is a mountain bike or a road bike, both would be slower.

But if you have two riders with very similar capabilities, the road bike will travel faster than the mountain bike on smoother surfaces.

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Why Road Bikes are Faster

There are several reasons why road bikes can go faster than mountain bikes on roads.

Perhaps the greatest factor why road bikes are faster is because they are designed for you to lean forward in a streamlined posture.

On a mountain bike, on the other hand, you normally have an upright posture. This can make a big difference. The upright posture would result in higher drag and thus less speed on the road.

The riding position has a big influence on aerodynamics.

However, you should also realize that mountain bikes are not designed to be the fastest. They are built mainly for getting through obstacles, rough tracks, and bike trails. Here, high-top speeds are not such a critical factor for mountain bike riders.

The tire type and pressure can also make a difference to the top speeds reached by mountain bikes and road bikes.

Mountain bike tires are designed to get around rough tracks. They are not meant to go at high speeds on roads.

For example, mountain bike tires have lower pressure to absorb the impacts and shocks encountered in a bike trail. This is also what makes them slower.

The lower pressure allows more tires to come into contact with the ground. This improves traction, but it comes at the cost of top speed.

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Mountain bike tires are also designed to be wider than road bike tires. Consequently, mountain bike tires are also heavier, which is one reason why mountain bikes reach lower top speeds than road bikes. 

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Bottom Line

Road bikes are designed to travel at faster speeds on roads. Mountain bikes, on the other hand, are built for surpassing obstacles and climbing hills. Speed is a lower priority for mountain bikes, so they are not as fast. So whenever you want to buy a bike, go through all the specifics before making a decision.