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  1. #1
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    Mountain Bike versus Road bike for commuting

    Hi all - I'm sure this topic has been posted to DEATH somewhere out here, but with the search function down, it's all little hard to get the latest and greatest on everyone's experiences.

    For a non-trivial commuter (>5 miles each way) on generally good quality roads, I was wondering what people's EXPERIENCE was with mountain versus road bikes.

    I would love to hear specifically from people who have actually USED or OWNED BOTH mtn & road for COMMUTING; I know at least a million "theoretical" reasons that would be a legit argument, but I'd like to hear about the real deal from anyone who has made the switch and why.

    To start off, would love to hear about:
    1) Speed - how much faster and on what terrain?
    2) Price
    3) Comfort & carrying capacity
    4) Flexibility - is it worth the whole new road bike if you just use it for commuting, or is a mtn/hybrid the best bang for your buck?

    If you can, say a little about your rig and your route so we can all get an idea of where you're coming from.

    Thanks all, great forums here!
    Agarose2000


    PS - I'm on a Gary Fisher Mamba with knobbies, doing a 5-7mile commute in the LA area each way, and am an occasional (but increasingly frequent) mountain biker on the weekend. Installed a rear rack and Jandd economy panniers (I highly recommend panniers!) but don't have fenders. Also use a rear red blinker. I ride fast (for me) and on well-maintained roads, but do duck out onto sidewalks (and go slow) in heavier high-speed traffic, especially on one-lane roads. Change at work, and do the full shirt & tie thing - no wrinkle problems yet with a decent folding job in the packing. (Did I say panniers help?)

  2. #2
    domestique squeakywheel's Avatar
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    Does your MTB have shock absorbers? I have a bike with 2 inch knobby tires and a front shock absorber. For only 5 miles, its OK. On longer rides, it's a little slow. The shock absorbers steal power from your pedal strokes.

    I have 4 very different bikes. My commute is 5 miles of mixed hills / flats, gravel / pavement, rural / city traffic. I get to work in about a half hour regardless of which bike I use. That is kitchen clock to office clock. The time is probably measureably faster with my skinny wheeled geared road bike than my single speed MTB, but it can't be more than 2 minutes. Like I say, it's a half hour regardless at 5 miles for me.

    In summer, I usually commute on my relatively high geared SS road bike conversion with 27 x 1 1/4 street tires. In winter, I usually commute on my low geared SS rigid MTB conversion with 26 x 1.5 street tires. Both bikes have fenders and a rear rack.

    For more than 5 miles on good roads, I think you should use a road bike. You don't need the raciest model made. Make sure it can accomodate fenders and racks. Keep your MTB as a backup.

  3. #3
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    If the longest your road rides are is 7 miles, you don't *need* a road bike, not matter how much faster it may be. You just won't see that much of a difference over that short distance to justify the expense.

  4. #4
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    I'm three days into an 23 mile r/t commute on my hardtail MTB. Mostly suburban roads, two stoplights, been averaging around 14mph on 26x1.4" semi-slicks. I paid $100 for this bike. Added rear rack, trunk, blinkie.

    I'd like a more road-biased ride, but IMO a thousand-dollar bike isn't needed for what I'm doing..

  5. #5
    Bicycle built for 5 tuolumne's Avatar
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    I recently switced from 94 Mongoose IBOC comp to a 2005 Redline Conquest for my 16 mile commute. 50 psi with 2.2 nobbies versus 115 psi with Armadillos is a big difference. My average speed with the mtb was 14 mph. The first day with the road bike I did 17.5. That was apparently due to extra excitement about a new bike. Now I've steadied down to about 16.5 in to work and 16 on the way home. Thats a big difference (about 10 minutes each way) on my commute. So, for me the road bike has been worth every penny. Disavantages: I'm more careful jumping off curbs for sure and I no longer ride down the stairs when coming off of the pedestrian bridge on my route. Yes, I'm a little more nervous about needing to bail off the road in a hurry. When these tires wear out I'll probable go to a 28 or 30.

  6. #6
    Bicycle built for 5 tuolumne's Avatar
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    Also, road bars allow more positions for your arms and back on a longer commute. Make sure the frame has holes in the fork and rear dropouts for fenders and a rack. These are a must for commuting. A bike with great components costs a lot less than a years worth of car insurance.

  7. #7
    Pedaled too far. Artkansas's Avatar
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    When I was doing a 17 mile commute each day, having a nice light road bike did provide a benefit. For commutes less than 10 miles without too many extreme hills, a well-used 10 speed did just fine. Now I commute about 2.5 miles, but its very hilly so I ride a mountain bike converted for street use with fenders, street slicks, a rack and lights. Love them low gears.

  8. #8
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    The difference for me is effort. My commute time is the same no matter which bike I use, but I use less effort on a lighter bike.
    HHCMF - Take pride in your ability to amaze lesser mortals! - MikeR



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  9. #9
    tsl
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    I think a lot of it depends on your actual commute. I have no clue what your is like (miles don't mean as much as conditions), so I can share only my own experience. I live just outside the city center, have one job a bit further out in the city and another in the suburbs.

    Right now, I own only one bike. A hybrid. While I'm scoffed at equally by MTBer and roadies alike, for my situation (tiny city apartment, bad roads, little off-road riding) the compromises made by a hybrid exactly fit the compromises imposed by my living and riding situations.

    If I lived and worked in the suburbs, I'd choose a road bike without a second thought. But on cratered, narrow city streets in dense traffic where obstacles can't always be avoided, plus the occassional need for curb jumping, or darting through an alley, a roadie is not the best choice for me.

    I''ve never owned an MTB, but I ridden a couple with friends who have extras. They're great and tremendous fun in the circumstances they're designed for. The main reason I wouldn't select an MTB for commuting is the gearing. Those teeny, tiny chainrings really limit speed (even more, I think, than the squishy suspension and tires)--and in traffic, even city traffic, speed can be your friend.

    Where my hybrid shines is that it's lighter and much faster than an MTB. That makes it easier to flick around in dense traffic, and once I get out to the suburbs, the bigger chainrings mean I can crank right along--which the cagers seem to appreciate as much as I do. On group rides with roadies (once they're done laughing at my bike) I keep up pretty well too, until I spin-out around 32.

    It's also more rugged than a roadie. I just don't have to be concerned with road conditions or equipment failure--which is a nice feeling when you're riding past crackhouses after dark.

    The fact that nobody wants a hybrid makes me feel a little safer when locking it up. All things being equal, an MTB or a roadie is a bigger target. The other big benefit is that they're cheap. Mine was less that either a decent MTB or an entry-level roadie. Even if, despite my best efforts and locks, it does get theived, I'm out less money.

    The saddle and seatposts suck on every hybrid I've seen. I replaced mine as soon as possible. To help overcome the wind resistance of the upright position at speed, I added bar-ends (the curved-in type). Even with these mods, I've spent less that I would have other bikes. Which is fine for my daily commuter.

    Yes, I'm getting rid of furniture so I can fit a second bike in my apartment. It will be a roadie. But I doubt it will replace my hybrid for back-and-forth to work.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by agarose2000
    To start off, would love to hear about:
    1) Speed - how much faster and on what terrain?
    2) Price
    3) Comfort & carrying capacity
    4) Flexibility - is it worth the whole new road bike if you just use it for commuting, or is a mtn/hybrid the best bang for your buck?

    If you can, say a little about your rig and your route so we can all get an idea of where you're coming from.
    Speed - I've noticed that I'm quicker on a road/CX bike than on my MTB. Even with the semi-slicks on the MTB, it's heavier and just not designed to go as fast.

    Price - Can't say. I haven't bought a new bike for 16 years.

    Comfort - I like my MTB for the upright positioning, except when I encounter headwinds. I've got bolt-on bar ends that give me some extra hand positions.

    Carrying Capacity - With the proper eyelets, Road/CX/MTB bikes will have the same carrying capacity. I use a backpack or a mess bag, but just about any ride can be outfitted for racks/panniers if you want them.

    Flexibility - I like my MTB because I can beat the snot out of it. It's been a steady daily commuter for a decade, in college I used to ride it down long flights of stairs on a daily basis, and I used to ride it for the 'intended' off-road use quite a bit. A road bike won't take the amount of abuse I've put my MTB through, but it will hold up to quite a bit of heavy hammering on good roads. I'm not too familiar with hybrid bikes, but for a short commute (<10mi) I'd assume it would be fine.

    My daily commute - 7.5 miles one way. 6.5 miles on dead flat paved MUP, 1/4 mile flat through low-volume traffic on somewhat beat up street with decent bike lane, 3/4 mile uphill with large shoulder lane full of pine cones and rocks.

    Additional riding - Grocery run, video store, bike shop, post office, bank, other errands around town. Decent streets, some bike lanes, some heavy traffic double/triple lane. Lots of stop 'n' go at lights and stop signs. Some parking lot and curb hopping shortcuts. Heavy abuse to the wheels and drivetrain. Rarely use derailleurs, and tend to keep things dialed in at a 46/18 combo.

    My ride - 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper. CroMo hardtail, no FS. Shimano Deore DX group. Salsa high rise stem. Mavic XC717 32h 3x rear, Specialized stock 26 x 1.5 32h 3x front. Shimano 545 SPD clipless. Blackburn rack. Zefal plastic half fenders. Profile bolt-on bar ends. Twin Cateye Hyper halogen lights, generic 3 LED rear blinkie. Lots of stickers. And a rainbow haired troll-doll.
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
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  11. #11
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsl
    I''ve never owned an MTB, but I ridden a couple with friends who have extras. They're great and tremendous fun in the circumstances they're designed for. The main reason I wouldn't select an MTB for commuting is the gearing. Those teeny, tiny chainrings really limit speed (even more, I think, than the squishy suspension and tires)--and in traffic, even city traffic, speed can be your friend.
    A typical MTB has a high gear of 44-11. It always surprises me that people complain about the gearing as being too small - I think that pedaling technique might be to blame. I can sprint that kind of gear up to about 30 MPH, which is a lot faster than I can maintain on level ground, especially with the big knobby tires, suspension and less aerodynamic riding position. In fact, I think that those factors would likely make it very difficult to get that fast in the first place. Changing to skinnier slicks would reduce the gear a bit, but it's still possible to hit high 20's, perhaps still even 30 MPH with a 44-11.

    I commute on a touring bike or my "hybrid," which is actually an old Schwinn with flat handlebars and a 3-speed hub. I've also ridden my roommate's SS MTB. Even taking into account the low gear (~60-65 inches), that thing is S-L-O-W. It takes forever even to accelerate up to speed. I suspect that the wide knobby tires and front suspension fork are to blame.

    An MTB and a road bike can both be flexible - my roommate is just as capable of hauling groceries on his Redline as I am on my LHT. My LHT is almost as happy jumping curbs and racing down bumpy dirt roads as his Redline (yes, with slicks!). He can obviously hit curbs harder and expect to just roll over them, thanks to his suspension, while I need to pop the front wheel up. If we were doing more off-road riding, then he might have the better bike, but both of us are primarily road-riding commuters and tourers (no, he doesn't tour on the SS). For mostly on-road riding, a touring or cyclocross bike is probably more flexible and versatile than the MTB, simply because it is more in its element and can move more efficiently. If you spend a lot more time off-road, you might be better off with an MTB. For commuting, I don't think that it's making a mistake either way. If you don't care about the loss of efficiency you get when riding a suspended MTB on road with knobbies, than there's no reason to ride anything else. If you do care, and want to go faster, you might look at something a little bit more road-oriented, like a hybrid, CX or touring bike, or sport road bike. If it can take a rack and fenders and is built to handle the punishment of daily commuting, you really can't go too wrong, as long as you're happy with it.

    Route/Rig: I ride a 2006 Surly Long Haul Trucker (just replaced my old Miyata 210 touring bike), he rides a 1991 Redline Conquest - yes, it used to be a mountain bike - with a Rock Shox fork. We have a daily commute of about 2 miles RT, so... very short. Yes, the LHT is overkill for this distance, but I will be using this bike, like I used my Miyata, for everything, including car-free transportation all over the region, day trips, overnight trips and loaded tours. This is one reason that my roomate is using the Redline for the time being, instead of replacing his stolen hybrid right away. When we had an 8 mile RT commute, this would have been a bigger deal. The route itself is pretty low traffic with a couple stop signs, with a quarter to a third of the route on a college campus. In this case, our particular rides make little difference.
    Last edited by grolby; 08-22-06 at 09:38 AM.

  12. #12
    Cat None SDRider's Avatar
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    I've commuted on both and for riding on city streets I much prefer the road bike. The mtb was just too heavy and slow, even with slicks. I can get around much quicker on my road bike so that is what I commute on. I like the quick acceleration and nimble handling of the road bike. My commute is just under 10 miles one way and I've been doing this once or twice a week since January (twice a week for the past few months). I've had one flat on my ride home so far and it was a quick easy tube change and I was on my way.

    The mtb was a late 90s Trek hardtail. It was a decent bike (I paid about $600 for it new back in the 1997 or 1998, it was originally over $700). I think the model number was 730.

    My road bike is a 2000 LeMond Zurich (steel) with Campagnolo Chorus 9 spd group. I have Look Carbon KEO pedals on it and a Polar CS100 with HR and cadence (I also use this bike for my weekend rides). Tires are 700x23 race tires on Open Pro/Record wheels. This bike can easily handle my weight plus as much as I can handle on my back (which isn't much...maybe 10 lbs). I never jump curbs though because you aren't supposed to ride your bike on the sidewalk and there are no curbs in the street.

    My ride is all up and down. Round trip, my commute is just under 20 miles and over 1500' of climbing. Gearing is 53/39 front and 13-26 rear. I hit speeds well over 30mph at a few points on my ride. Average speed is generally 16-17mph. I know I'd be much slower than that on a mtb. I'm in North County San Diego near the coast FWIW.

    I frequently pass guys commuting on mtb's if that means anything to you.

    Last edited by SDRider; 08-22-06 at 10:07 AM.

  13. #13
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    Me want! You don't mine if I knock you over and take your lemond do you?

  14. #14
    Senior Member rando's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jyossarian
    The difference for me is effort. My commute time is the same no matter which bike I use, but I use less effort on a lighter bike.
    I have found this to be true also.
    "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world". ~Grant Petersen

    Cyclists fare best when they recognize that there are times when acting vehicularly is not the best practice, and are flexible enough to do what is necessary as the situation warrants.--Me

  15. #15
    Cat None SDRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DataJunkie
    Me want! You don't mine if I knock you over and take your lemond do you?
    I love this bike. I built it from the frame up exactly as I wanted it right down to the titanium Campy Record seatpost (which they no longer make). You couldn't pay me enough money for this bike...well, you could, but it would be a lot of money. Much more than it cost me anyway.

  16. #16
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    I can see why. That is one damn fine looking bike.
    I hope to build up a frame soon. I only hope it looks even half as nice as your lemond.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by tuolumne
    Also, road bars allow more positions for your arms and back on a longer commute. Make sure the frame has holes in the fork and rear dropouts for fenders and a rack. These are a must for commuting. A bike with great components costs a lot less than a years worth of car insurance.
    I'm not sure how much hand positions matter until you're up past an hour or so. And, if my mtn bike weighs a bit more than my other bike, it has lower gears too. So for my ~15 miles a day, I'm not sure I really see a performance difference (the 2 bikes have the same tires by the way, though 28mm on road-y, 1.5" on mtn). Maybe next year I will try that Seattle-to-Portland ride, try each bike for one day, see what the difference is after that kind of comparison.

    I was wondering about turning my mtn bike into a tour-er, actually. Not sure what would be required beyond maybe a more comfy seat. That plus swapping out the suspension fork for a fixed one (I won my ebay auction, now to wait for the new fork!).

    Commute-wise, the susp. fork is a pain exactly because it doesn't have eyelets for fenders, so my front fenders are tied on w/ copper wire. Strangely stable to this point (~8 months now).

    I'm not sure if I'm playing devil's advocate on the road bike, or just having a moodswing 'cause mine is behaving like a less well-oiled machine right now, and the mtn bike has never been anything but bulletproof (though in only ~1/12 the total miles)
    Last edited by HardyWeinberg; 08-22-06 at 10:34 AM.

  18. #18
    Cat None SDRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DataJunkie
    I can see why. That is one damn fine looking bike.
    I hope to build up a frame soon. I only hope it looks even half as nice as your lemond.
    Thanks!

  19. #19
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    Super cool replies guys (girls). I wasn't aware that for shorter trips that time is roughly the same between both types of bikes and that the amount of effort seemed to be the main difference. I also had no idea that my front suspension fork made a front fender out of the question. I guess it doesn't rain much in Southern Cali, right?

  20. #20
    Bromptonaut 14R's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by agarose2000
    I also had no idea that my front suspension fork made a front fender out of the question(...)
    This is not correct. I have front fenders and front suspension and there are at least 3 different models that you can fit on front suspension bikes.

    Zefal protektor for MTB;

    Tortec Cromotec 700;

    SKS Race Clip-on M.

    Hope this helps.

    Rafael

  21. #21
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    I've always commuted on Mountain Bikes, and I'd recommend slicks. A lock out front fork is good as well- it means you can turn the front suspension off and use it as a rigid fork, although you do still have the extra weight of a fork.

    1) Speed - how much faster and on what terrain?
    A road bike will always be faster than a moutain bike on the road, it's what they're designed for. It's far, far more common for a road bike to pass me than the other way around. You can take shortcuts on a mountain bike you wouldn't do on a road bike.
    2) Price
    A mountain bike is better here. Compare say a Fuji Newest 2.0, and a Fuji Tahoe Comp. They're both within $50 of each other, but the MTB has better components, disk brakes and a front fork.

    3) Comfort & carrying capacity

    I've never ridden a road bike, so I can't compare it.

    4) Flexibility - is it worth the whole new road bike if you just use it for commuting, or is a mtn/hybrid the best bang for your buck?

    I bought a MTB instead of a road bike because of the flexibility it offered me. None of my friends have road bikes, so with a MTB I can go riding anywhere with them. Swapping the tires and locking the fork out can turn a go anywhere bike to a good commuter bike.

    I'm still saving up for a road bike though. I figure if I save the money I'd spend on train fares in a year I can get a very nice road bike.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Akadis's Avatar
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    My commute is 4km with mild hills, city/suburb streets, every day. I ride four different bikes switching from one to the other as my mood/weather conditions dictate.

    1. An 80's 12spd racer; light, fast(less effort), delicate, uncomfortable, poor brakes.
    2. A 70's 10 spd racer with mudguards and sprung saddle; heavier, stronger, more comfortable, poor brakes.
    3. A modern hybrid with front suspension and all accessories; heavy, very comfortable, strong, good brakes, never know what gear I'm in and constantly changing up & down.
    4. Frankenstein ghetto blaster; big mtn bike frame, 26x2" Metro Duo slicks at about 70psi, 3 chainrings front and SturmeyArcher rear. Medium weight, fast(the tyres make a huge difference as well as being puncture resistant), very strong, comfortable, good brakes, highly manouverable, low maintenance. The gear ratios and simple changing are perfect for commuting/city riding.
    5. Still being pieced together - a 24spd racer on a mtn bike frame, 26x1.?? Fatboys or similar, with cantilever or vee brakes.

    So #4 is the one I would keep if I could only have one bike. When I commute on the others I am not disappointed, except that caliper brakes can never match vee or cantilevers for sheer stopping power. Looking at it another way #1 is for racing, #2 for touring, #3 for expeditions, #4 (&5)for commuting or fun. By doing up old bikes I have such a choice; if I was starting out by buying a new bike for my particular commute then it would be the closest I can get to #4, with all accessories.
    Last edited by Akadis; 08-22-06 at 10:10 PM.

  23. #23
    The Spider spidercyclist's Avatar
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    I've commuted on road bikes like a Cannondale R400 and a Redline 925, I've also commuted on mountain bikes full suspension, and on singlespeed mountain bikes like a Monocog. Road bikes are much faster. I've had my 925 up recently to 27 mph. The most I can get out of mountain bikes is 21 - 22 with slicks on the tires. I have one of my Redline Monocogs set up with studded tires. When the road starts thawing in the springtime or late winter, I use my full suspension mountain bike to absorb all the potholes on the way to work. I don't have the Cannondale R400 anymore, it was the fastest bike I had. I could get that bike up to almost 40 mph. But I found out that I prefer singlespeed bikes for the pure fun of it. Have a good night.

  24. #24
    Lean, neat and eat meat!! bentstrider's Avatar
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    I've decided to stick to the MTB for the time-being.
    As durable as most 700c/27in wheeled bikes are, my paths usually lead through a construction workers trash bin. Nails, splinters from wood, staples, broken windows, jarred pieces of metal.
    Not to mention that the wind makes a pretty good workout for those areas where the gym is not going to be. Truck Stops that are segregated from the cities by a hundred or more miles comes to mind.
    And I just plain like them better anyway.

  25. #25
    Pedal Power!
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    Having just got into some regular longer rides recently (30+ miles), I have been asking a similar question myself. And my conclusion...?

    A CX bike!

    My current mountain (style) bike does the 5 mile commute pretty well, but starts to get uncomfortable after about 45/50 mins. I wanted to change to a road bike (Trek 1000 looked like being the one), but there are several non-paved section of my commute and the longer ride is mainly on an old cycle path with breaking-up asphalt. So i have now turned my attentions to something which i see as basically a toughened up road bike - a cyclocross bike!

    In case you are interested, the leading candidate is the Specialized Tricross Sport (cheapest model). Kona Jake the Snake came second only on price grounds and i wanted higher spec components than comes on the standard Jake.

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