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  1. #1
    Cab dodger
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    What makes a road bike "faster" than a MTB/Hybrid?

    So here's the situation. I just bought a hybrid bike for commuting in the city (Raleigh C40). I bought the hybrid for the cushy seat, comfortable ride, and low price. I've been commuting a mile or two each way (short but harrowing trip through Manhattan rush hours) and while I am very comfortable, I'd like to ride faster. I see some people on road bikes whizzing by me seemingly with little effort, and to my satisfaction, I blow by some delivery guys on their MTB's. So I'm halfway, and I'd like to know what makes a road bike faster, so I can try to emulate some things if possible. Here are my theories:

    1. Frame geometry/seating position. -- The geometry of the frame forces you to ride more bent over, reducing wind resistance? Frame technology that is designed to reduce wind resistance in and of itself? (Or is that just Lance's and super high end bikes?)

    2. Overall weight. -- Lighter frame, thinner rim/tire, lighter components?

    3. Thinner rim/tire. -- Less rolling resistance lets you get more distance per pedal?

    4. Or is that all a myth, and I'm just slow because I'm new to bike commuting and not in shape yet?

    If 1, 2, or 3 are the case, then I can try to find ways to go in those directions, but if it's 4, then I'll just keep pumping away and getting myself in shape. I'm assuming it'll be a combination of all 4 (plus other things I don't know), but are there some things I just can't achieve on a hybrid bike?

    Thanks for your wisdom.

  2. #2
    Senior Member larue's Avatar
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    No. 3 is key to why roadies are faster. It's no myth.
    Leave your treadmill power trip behind.

  3. #3
    LeMond Lives! Dusk's Avatar
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    Yes they all do. Pump you tires everyday and that will help.

    Cheers

  4. #4
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    its a combo of all four. while the expereinces that I have are not while commuting, I still think they apply.

    the fact that you are new certainly makes a huge difference. when I started riding, I was averaging 14-15 mph over 30 miles. I now can average 19 over 55-60 miles. your fitness makes a big difference. also, aerodynamics is important, I found that when I dropped the bars on my roadie an inch, I gained 1 mph average speed. thinner tires make for a faster ride becuase they can be pumped up higher, I run my 700x23's at 120 psi, and they are almost frictionless. the 27x1 1/4 on my commuter fixie only go up to 90, the difference is definitly noticable. plus, higher-quality tires will perform a lot better in the area of rolling resistance, and they are generally thinner. Lastly a lighter bike will make for a zippier-feeling ride, you can accelerate faster and climb a lot easier. manhatten is fairly flat though, so the climbing might not be an issue, but when you're sprinting to make that light, it might be useful to have a lighter bike.

    all of the factors you named make a difference, however, if you are just commuting, i'd stick with the hybrid for a bit unitl your conditioning improves. set goals, ie, when you can average __ mph on your commute, you'll buy a roadie.

  5. #5
    put our Heads Together cerewa's Avatar
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    1. Frame geometry/seating position. -- The geometry of the frame forces you to ride more bent over, reducing wind resistance? Frame technology that is designed to reduce wind resistance in and of itself? (Or is that just Lance's and super high end bikes?)
    For non-Lance-A.-types, air drag is so tiny on the frame that frame shape doesn't matter. the main air drag is on the rider.

    But it's my opinion that the bent-over riding posture allows you to put more power to the pedals because your weight is closer to being directly above the pedals rather than behind them. In my perception, this is more important than the small but significant effects on air drag when you hunch over.

    No. 3 (narrow rims/tires) is key to why roadies are faster. It's no myth.
    I disagree. Tests repeatedly show that 1.5 inch or so slicks at high pressures give lower rolling resistance (and, yes, higher weight, meaning slower climbing and acceleration) than narrow tires.
    Some awesome folks who are working to give Haitians the ability to manage their safety and their lives:
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  6. #6
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    Hi,

    I had a commuter, I ride now a road bike for both commuting and group rides and
    still use the bike of my girlfriend two or three time a week. I think that all the four
    points make sense but I think that the geometrie of the frame and the resulting
    position on the bike is the most important. With the commuter of my girlfriend a feel like I can not transmit efficiently the power to the crank. And I don't know if it's a consequence of that but I feel on a commuter that I always have to shift up or down in order do ride confortably.

    It's my opignon.....

  7. #7
    Bananaed Brillig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iamdoingthat
    1. Frame geometry/seating position. -- The geometry of the frame forces you to ride more bent over, reducing wind resistance?
    That and it's a better position for generating power. I think this is the biggest advantage (speedwise) of a road bike compared to a hybrid or mountain bike.

    2. Overall weight. -- Lighter frame, thinner rim/tire, lighter components?
    Overall weight is going to matter that much, unless you're doing a lot of climbing up noticable grades. Thinner tires and lighter components probably help a little but not a huge difference.

    3. Thinner rim/tire. -- Less rolling resistance lets you get more distance per pedal?
    Probably a little, depending on how knobby the tires on the other bike are.

    4. Or is that all a myth, and I'm just slow because I'm new to bike commuting and not in shape yet?
    That's the big one.

    Always look to yourself for more speed. A lot of the things you see racers do can be literally as minor as shaving several seconds off of an hour ride. You can spend a lot of money on very little gain and it can be frustrating. The biggest factor in speed is you so that's always the first place to start.
    If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.
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  8. #8
    Cab dodger
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    Thanks for the great replies so far. The part about being bent over to put more power to the pedals makes tons of sense, disappointed that I didn't realize that aerodynamics wasn't the only benefit to being tucked. Come to think of it, in my current upright seating position, I do feel myself pushing the pedals away from my body to the front, rather than really using my legs to drive the pedals down/around if I were more directly above them. I'll definitely be dropping my handlebars a little bit when I get home. (They're currently at a grandmotherly upright position.)

    I'm also relieved to hear that the high-tech lightweight components don't make too much of a difference. That was the upgrade I was the most reluctant to make.

    As per the tires, I'll begin to make sure I have adequate pressure in them. I've only been commuting for 2 weeks, so I'm very ne to cycling in general. They're "road slicks" so I won't go crazy trying to get narrower tires. The thought of riding in Manhattan on the super-skinnies kind of makes me nervous as it is.

    Thanks again for such good information. I was thinking that the technology had a lot to do with it, but it seems that the most important things is that I really should just get into better shape. I figure I knew this coming in, but just didn't want to admit it to myself. No shortcuts in this world, hahah.

  9. #9
    . . . rosebud . . . Diggy18's Avatar
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    Hey iam, I noticed the same thing when I was on a paved, level and straight bike trail. I ride a MTB with the stock knobby tires and front suspension, and there were these people on road bikes that were like humming birds. They would just zip buy me, then slow down to talk to their riding partner and then zip off again. And it looked like they were doing it so effortlessly, that's what got me. Heck, I thought maybe they had a top gear that was twice as big as mine.

  10. #10
    Cab dodger
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    Quote Originally Posted by Diggy18
    ......They would just zip buy me, then slow down to talk to their riding partner and then zip off again. And it looked like they were doing it so effortlessly, that's what got me. Heck, I thought maybe they had a top gear that was twice as big as mine.
    Yeah! That's exactly what I'm talking about! They're pedaling slower, seemingly using less effort, but they're going so much faster. I also considered that they might have a much larger gear, and that it had to do with their components, but it seems that might not be the case, which is encouraging.

  11. #11
    . . . rosebud . . . Diggy18's Avatar
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    Yeah, after my ride on that bike path, I was like, "Aw man, I bought the wrong kind of bike . . ." So to make myself feel better I started going for some light offroad rides, you know, places where a roadie could never go. That made me happy.

    And I also figure that, due to my bike, I'm getting a better workout than I would if I had a light, high-geared, narrow-tired road bike.

    But I also thought that those people zipping around didn't really look like they were in especially fantastic shape or anything. I think it was the bike making them go faster, not the rider.

  12. #12
    Senior Member larue's Avatar
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    No it's always the engine not the bike, you can buy the most expensive bike available but it's not going to make you fast. You have to be fast. Better bikes just help you along.
    Leave your treadmill power trip behind.

  13. #13
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    I think you should stick with what you have for awhile for two reasons. First, it will help you decide if you can stick with it before you spend more $$$. Second, you will get an education about what you need and don't need (or want and don't want). After a few months or a few years, you will be able to make much more educated choices.

    I used a Raleigh M-50 for commuting on and off for 6 or 7 years before I finally bought a cyclocross bike (basically, a road bike that has room for bigger tires). The M50 did just fine. I commuted continuously for about 6 months last year before I convinced myself (and my wife) that it was worth the upgrade.

    Now, I'm a year-round commuter. I run 28's at 95-120 in the summer and 35mm Nokian studded tires in the winter. After taking my old M50 out for a few rides on bad roads, I loved how much better it handled the potholes. I'll probably put 32 slicks on my cyclocross bike in the spring.
    Last edited by Daily Commute; 09-16-04 at 08:41 AM.

  14. #14
    '80's Miyata 310, 42x16
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    If your hybrid bike has any sort of suspension components on it (fork, seatpost, cushy seat), these will also sap power. Energy that should be directed to the pedals is absorbed by the suspension, whereas on a road bike, which is certainly more rigid, there is less inefficiency.

  15. #15
    . . . rosebud . . . Diggy18's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by larue
    No it's always the engine not the bike, you can buy the most expensive bike available but it's not going to make you fast. You have to be fast. Better bikes just help you along.
    Yeah, but don't you think that given the same engine, you'll go faster with a "speedier" bike (ie a light bike without suspension and with narrower tires)?

  16. #16
    Bananaed Brillig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Diggy18
    Yeah, but don't you think that given the same engine, you'll go faster with a "speedier" bike (ie a light bike without suspension and with narrower tires)?
    Yes, but not much.

    I have a road bike and a hybrid and I still ride the hybrid sometimes when I go riding with my wife. Believe me, there's not that much difference. It's the engine.

    Oh, another difference you didn't mention might be pedals, since most hybrids tend to be platform or toe clip and most road bikers tend to use clipless. They actually do make a big difference after you learn to pedal correctly with them.
    If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.
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  17. #17
    Go hula
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    All are good points and I'd like to add one more:

    Gearing. I commute on a mountain bike that's been set up with taller gears in the back, but my crankset is still from a regular mountain bike. My big chainring is only a 46 and would you believe the small chainring is a 20? (never use it on my commute :b) If you go into a bikeshop, you can see a noticeable difference in the gearing between a good roadbike and mountain bike of comparable value, especially in the chainrings. You can put Lance Armstrong on my commuter bike and he'd never make it beyond 27-30 MPH on a level surface simply because the gearing isn't set up for speed. However climbing super steep hills is another story.....

  18. #18
    Bananaed Brillig's Avatar
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    Yeah, but unless anyone here can say that they're maxing out their biggest gear, then I doubt gearing is the issue here.

    Especially with hybrids. Although the gearing is lower, it's generally still plenty enough to go over 40 mph depending on how fast you can spin.
    If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.
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  19. #19
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brillig
    Yes, but not much.

    I have a road bike and a hybrid and I still ride the hybrid sometimes when I go riding with my wife. Believe me, there's not that much difference. It's the engine.

    Oh, another difference you didn't mention might be pedals, since most hybrids tend to be platform or toe clip and most road bikers tend to use clipless. They actually do make a big difference after you learn to pedal correctly with them.
    When I switched from my winter heavy, studded, 35's to semi-slick 28's for spring, I noticed a HUGE difference. It was a lot easier to get up a good head of steam.

    Good point about the toe clips.

  20. #20
    Go hula
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    I max out my big chainring on my rides when the wind is right Like I said, my biggie is a 46 so it doesn't take much to max it out, yet I'm probably not going more than 27 MPH. Back when I used to have a cyclocomputer, I'd max out around 26 MPH. I often get passed by roadies on the gradual downward grades (they pass me so fast it's embarassing). And it's not because they're bike's so lightweight or that they're in a more aerodynamic position (well, those help, too ) but I'm maxing out my chainring and the best I can do is just coast while they're still pedaling away.

    I've never had a hybrid before so don't know what their gearing is like, but I'm talking strictly mountain bike vs. roadbike when it comes to gearing. MTB gearing is at a huge disadvantage if speed is the issue. You can put Lance Armstrong on my commuter bike and he won't go any faster than 25-28 MPH on a level surface cuz he'd be maxing out the gearing.

  21. #21
    VegetarianBikeRider coney's Avatar
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    Congratulations on deciding to commute in Manhattan! Soon, us cyclists will be in charge of the streets. Why can't Bloomberg ban personal vehicles from driving into the city during rush hour? People should take mass transit, or bike, or walk. Period. Only cabs and delivery trucks allowed.

    4)
    I was pretty slow on the City streets when I started riding my bike. Bike messengers were flying by me really fast, and I thought "they must be CRAZY riding like that!!" but it was all just getting used to how the traffic works.

    Now, a year after I started my commute from Queens to Midtown, I fly past about half the bikes on the road, while still feeling like I'm riding safely and in control. I won't go into my highest gears, simply because, if anything or anyone comes out in front of me, I want to be able to stop. If I'm going as fast as I do on the Central Park Loop, no way could I stop if an idiot on his/her cell phone walks in front of me cause they're not paying attention.

  22. #22
    Senior Member rykoala's Avatar
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    Sorry to hijack the thread but what's with all the posts saying you can pedal past 30 and up to 40mph. Are these racing bikes or what? On the flats with no wind or a tailwind? I'm kinda confused, I thought 20-25mph was what was most common. How on earth are you guys getting so fast?

  23. #23
    . . . rosebud . . . Diggy18's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rykoala
    Sorry to hijack the thread but what's with all the posts saying you can pedal past 30 and up to 40mph. Are these racing bikes or what? On the flats with no wind or a tailwind? I'm kinda confused, I thought 20-25mph was what was most common. How on earth are you guys getting so fast?
    My computer says my average is between 12 and 12.8 MPH, and I think maybe the fastest I've gotten on a straight flat was 23. You sure won't see me doing 40, unless I'm falling off a cliff or something!

  24. #24
    'Bent Brian
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    If I recall the wind tunnel tests it seems that air drag becomes the main factor besides rolling resistance at speeds above 16MPH. At 30 MPH about 90% of your energy is going into defeating wind resistance. If you can get down into a racing tuck you will notice a big change in performance, at least I did on my old road bike. Unfortunately most people cannot ride ina full racing tuck for hours on end without discomfort. my new bike, although a good deal heavier than my road bike offers a riding position that provides low wind resistance, about the same as a rider on a road bike in a full racing tuck. I do have full visibility and nothing gets sore over extended rides. The heavier bike is slower to accelerate but still climbs well. On the flats it is as fast or faster than the road bike, and down hill it screams.

    If you have the need for speed run high pressure tires fully inflated, set up the right gearing, and adjust your bike so you can pedal efficiently while maintaining a low aerodynamic profile.

    'bent Brian

  25. #25
    Bananaed Brillig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rykoala
    Sorry to hijack the thread but what's with all the posts saying you can pedal past 30 and up to 40mph. Are these racing bikes or what? On the flats with no wind or a tailwind? I'm kinda confused, I thought 20-25mph was what was most common. How on earth are you guys getting so fast?
    When talking about those speeds in relation to maxing out gearing, we're usually talking about downhill.

    If you're maxing out your gearing on the flats you got problems (or a new career )
    If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.
    - Thomas De Quincey

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