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MTB v Road Bike differences in power

Old 08-16-14, 11:20 PM
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LMaster
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MTB v Road Bike differences in power

Did a road bike rental the other week to see what I thought, pretty much loved it, then took a couple bikes out for a test run today trying to decide what to buy.

In any event, I noticed two things when I ride the road bike vs the MTB (what I've ridden all my life):

1)When riding on the road bike I feel like my power output is noticeably lower. I just don't feel as strong as when I'm on the MTB. Can differences in fit/riding position significantly impact that...or is this just in my head
2)When riding the road bike I don't feel like I breathe quite as well, and when I start to bring up the intensity I find I start getting very uncomfortable. Obviously, its going to hurt, that's part of the game running/cycling etc. but I'm talking about just a general discomfort that saps me of all desire to really hurt. My guess is that it's just the difference in feel between the more bent over position of hoods/drops vs being upright for MTB/running making my breathing feel constricted. Anybody else had this, and is it something that will go away as I adjust to the new riding position?

Thanks!
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Old 08-17-14, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by LMaster View Post
Did a road bike rental the other week to see what I thought, pretty much loved it, then took a couple bikes out for a test run today trying to decide what to buy.

In any event, I noticed two things when I ride the road bike vs the MTB (what I've ridden all my life):

1)When riding on the road bike I feel like my power output is noticeably lower. I just don't feel as strong as when I'm on the MTB. Can differences in fit/riding position significantly impact that...or is this just in my head
2)When riding the road bike I don't feel like I breathe quite as well, and when I start to bring up the intensity I find I start getting very uncomfortable. Obviously, its going to hurt, that's part of the game running/cycling etc. but I'm talking about just a general discomfort that saps me of all desire to really hurt. My guess is that it's just the difference in feel between the more bent over position of hoods/drops vs being upright for MTB/running making my breathing feel constricted. Anybody else had this, and is it something that will go away as I adjust to the new riding position?

Thanks!
the rolling resistance is considerably lighter. it requires significantly less torque at slow speeds and at higher speeds as well. road bikes also have more aero positions that help at higher speed. I have an old road bike, but enjoy the ride and challenge of my cheap MTB. Not to mention I can hit bumps on my MTB without worries.
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Old 08-17-14, 12:46 AM
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Originally Posted by torque cyclist View Post
the rolling resistance is considerably lighter. it requires significantly less torque at slow speeds and at higher speeds as well. road bikes also have more aero positions that help at higher speed. I have an old road bike, but enjoy the ride and challenge of my cheap MTB. Not to mention I can hit bumps on my MTB without worries.
I think you missed my point. I go faster on the road bike, no doubt.

However, on the road bike I put out (or at least it feels I do) less wattage. Was trying to figure out of this is in my head, or something to be expected when moving from an upright MTB position to a more racier road-bike position.
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Old 08-17-14, 12:53 AM
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it could be that you are. what speeds do you hit on the mtb and what speeds are you hitting on the road bike?
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Old 08-17-14, 01:33 AM
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Coming from a MTB, a road bike should feel very unstable and the position uncomfortable. Your feeling is not the best indication of how much power you are producing.

Anyway there should be no reason why you can't produce roughly the same amount of power on both bikes, once you are used to the position and mastered the technique required to ride on both types of bikes.

I suspect that the reason you are feeling more out of breath on the road bike is because you were actually producing more power than on your usual MTB ride.
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Old 08-17-14, 08:15 AM
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Agree. Producing continuous power is a lot different than intermittent short term power. It will certainly depend on the characteristics of where you ride, but in general in my experience, the road bike demands continuous power levels as it's the power that limits how fast you go whereas on the mtb the power required fluctuates much more because of the technical and varying aspects of the terrain. Sure you may have a long relatively smooth uphill that's all just power on an MTB, but that's relatively unusual in my MTB riding.
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Old 08-17-14, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by mr_pedro View Post
Coming from a MTB, a road bike should feel very unstable and the position uncomfortable. Your feeling is not the best indication of how much power you are producing.

Anyway there should be no reason why you can't produce roughly the same amount of power on both bikes, once you are used to the position and mastered the technique required to ride on both types of bikes.

I suspect that the reason you are feeling more out of breath on the road bike is because you were actually producing more power than on your usual MTB ride.
Haha yes, that first sentence is incredibly true! I'm nervous cornering and standing up out of the saddle is terrifying. After a few shorter rides now it is feeling a little less alien to me.

As for the amount of power that can be produced, I agree and if anything think the power produced would like be higher on a properly fitting road bike than it would on the MTB of 12 years that had a frame from when I was 5'4" (5'8" now) and a saddle that can't quite be raised high enough.

Mostly was curious if the change in position could alter slightly the pedal stroke and leave me a bit weaker until I adjust, or if that sensation is all in my head.

Originally Posted by Looigi View Post
Agree. Producing continuous power is a lot different than intermittent short term power. It will certainly depend on the characteristics of where you ride, but in general in my experience, the road bike demands continuous power levels as it's the power that limits how fast you go whereas on the mtb the power required fluctuates much more because of the technical and varying aspects of the terrain. Sure you may have a long relatively smooth uphill that's all just power on an MTB, but that's relatively unusual in my MTB riding.
I should be clear. I rode my MTB like a defacto rode bike. Mostly on paved MUPs or nice, smooth gravel trails designed for all kinds of use. Nothing technical really.
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Old 08-17-14, 09:57 AM
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Another difference is that because of the low gearing on a MTB it is possible to ride almost up any hill without breaking a sweat, especially if it is on a hard surface. On the other hand, the gearing on a road bike can be such that to maintain the minimum cadence up some hills you might need to work it much harder than you are used to or capable of.
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Old 08-17-14, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by LMaster View Post
Mostly was curious if the change in position could alter slightly the pedal stroke and leave me a bit weaker until I adjust, or if that sensation is all in my head.
You can produce more power if you are comfortable on the bike. Pedal stroke gets smoother and you don't have to spend as much energy to balance yourself. But if you are more out of breath on the road bike you are most likely producing more power. The road bike is probably inviting you to go faster and I woud be very surprised if you could pace yourself on your first couple of rides to be at the exact same effort level as on the MTB.
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Old 08-17-14, 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by mr_pedro View Post
Another difference is that because of the low gearing on a MTB it is possible to ride almost up any hill without breaking a sweat, especially if it is on a hard surface. On the other hand, the gearing on a road bike can be such that to maintain the minimum cadence up some hills you might need to work it much harder than you are used to or capable of.
depends on the bike really. I mean on a road bike the power you need is less in comparison to the same speed on a MTB. While his speed may go up on the road bike, his actual watts may be the same or even less. on my MTB I have 48x14's 26", as my highest gear. at about 90rpm I'm well into the 20mph range. On that type of bike it takes 300+watts to achieve that, so for long distance cycling his MTB could have sufficiently high gears.
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Old 08-17-14, 07:54 PM
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Originally Posted by LMaster View Post
1)When riding on the road bike I feel like my power output is noticeably lower. I just don't feel as strong as when I'm on the MTB. Can differences in fit/riding position significantly impact that...or is this just in my head
What makes you think you're putting out less power? Certainly fit can affect power but I'm curious how you are comparing. I presume you don't have a powermeter so in lieu of an objective measurement of power do you at least have an HRM? Is your HR lower on the road bike? It's possible you're putting out more power on the road bike and that's why your legs feel tired.

The other significant difference between road bike riding and MTB is that you tend to get much steadier efforts on the road bike. Depending on where you're riding there are usually a lot more breaks or changes of pace on a MTB whereas with a road bike you can easlly ride steadily for 20-60 min. If you aren't used to a steady unbroken effort that may feel different as well.
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Old 08-17-14, 08:01 PM
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I too feel a difference between the more upright position an MTB puts me in and the more forward position of the road bike. I can only go by what I see in correlation between speed and HR. The MTB feels like I am outputting more, but the readings do not bear this out. I have a higher speed and higher HR on the road with a lower feeling in terms of perceived effort. Go by results.
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Old 08-17-14, 08:23 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
What makes you think you're putting out less power? Certainly fit can affect power but I'm curious how you are comparing. I presume you don't have a powermeter so in lieu of an objective measurement of power do you at least have an HRM? Is your HR lower on the road bike? It's possible you're putting out more power on the road bike and that's why your legs feel tired.

The other significant difference between road bike riding and MTB is that you tend to get much steadier efforts on the road bike. Depending on where you're riding there are usually a lot more breaks or changes of pace on a MTB whereas with a road bike you can easlly ride steadily for 20-60 min. If you aren't used to a steady unbroken effort that may feel different as well.
Just the feel of how much force I'm putting in with my legs. In the same way that you can tell pace in running from your stride I'd assume you can do similar on the bike. I may not be good enough to judge yet, especially with the differing positions of MTB and road bike.

I guess the feeling is that my sense is that I'm not applying as much force with my legs compared to the effort of which I seem to be working. When I tried to match my normal cruising force effort (that I'm used to from the MTB) on the road bike it felt more akin to a tempo/strong aerobic effort than a cruising one.

I guess you could just sum it up as feeling less powerful, in that a given "percieved wattage" it feels like I am working harder/have a high heartrate. Even though I'm cruising at least 2-3mph faster on the road bike the few times I've ridden it feels like I don't have quite the same power. Totally possible it's a perception thing and nothing else though.

Originally Posted by mr_pedro View Post
You can produce more power if you are comfortable on the bike. Pedal stroke gets smoother and you don't have to spend as much energy to balance yourself. But if you are more out of breath on the road bike you are most likely producing more power. The road bike is probably inviting you to go faster and I woud be very surprised if you could pace yourself on your first couple of rides to be at the exact same effort level as on the MTB.
Definitely possible as well. It might even be that I'm just not breathing as efficiently or natural as normal in the more bent over position either. Dunno.

Guess one easy way to test would be go do the same climb on the road bike as I have on MTB at around threshold effort and see if the estimated wattage come out similar. 12.6mph on a 4% grade on the MTB ought to be closer to 14.5-15 on a 20lb road bike.

Last edited by LMaster; 08-17-14 at 08:28 PM.
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Old 08-17-14, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by LMaster View Post
Just the feel of how much force I'm putting in with my legs. In the same way that you can tell pace in running from your stride I'd assume you can do similar on the bike. I may not be good enough to judge yet, especially with the differing positions of MTB and road bike.

I guess the feeling is that my sense is that I'm not applying as much force with my legs compared to the effort of which I seem to be working. When I tried to match my normal cruising force effort (that I'm used to from the MTB) on the road bike it felt more akin to a tempo/strong aerobic effort than a cruising one.

I guess you could just sum it up as feeling less powerful, in that a given "percieved wattage" it feels like I am working harder/have a high heartrate. Even though I'm cruising at least 2-3mph faster on the road bike the few times I've ridden it feels like I don't have quite the same power. Totally possible it's a perception thing and nothing else though.
Suggest at least getting a HRM.

I tell pace when I'm running by how I feel and how I'm breathing. If it feels easy and I'm not breathing hard I run faster. If it feels easy on the road bike and you're not breathing hard, pedal faster or shift up a gear and pedal harder.

I have no idea what a 'perceived wattage' is. It doesn't make any sense unless you've spent years riding with a powermeter and know what a given wattage feels like. Sorry can't be of more help.
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Old 08-17-14, 09:24 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
Suggest at least getting a HRM.

I tell pace when I'm running by how I feel and how I'm breathing. If it feels easy and I'm not breathing hard I run faster. If it feels easy on the road bike and you're not breathing hard, pedal faster or shift up a gear and pedal harder.

I have no idea what a 'perceived wattage' is. It doesn't make any sense unless you've spent years riding with a powermeter and know what a given wattage feels like. Sorry can't be of more help.
Agreed on how to regulate, HR/effort are indeed the way to monitor effort in lieu of being able to afford a powermeter, and that's what I've been doing.

But to draw an analogy to running. Let's say I'm used to doing your normal jog cruising around 7:00 pace. But all of a sudden my VO2 max dropped by drastic amount. If I then go out the door and run 7:00 pace it's going to feel much more difficult, so I will dial it back to say: 8:00 pace. That will get the run feeling easy again, but I'll will feel very slow, and out of whack, as my stride will be much shorter than I'm used to and I won't be exerting the same force with easy toe off. All of which changes the feel.

That's basically what I mean by perceived wattage. You can clearly feel effort on the bike, but you can also feel how much force you are applying to the pedals. I feel like at a given heart rate I'm not able to push as hard on the pedals (wattage) as I am on the MTB.
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Old 08-18-14, 01:13 AM
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Yeah, I think using the "language of power" is just confusing things here, because you have no idea what your wattage is, nor your heart rate, so it's just a waste of time talking about that. And really, your power output is your power output, and it doesn't matter the type of bicycle...or if it's even a real bicycle. So let's just stop talking about power like we know something, because we don't.

Let's just say you feel like your effort level is higher on the road bike. Now why would that be?

Assuming the usual differences between Road and MTB bikes, we know the Road bike has less drag and therefore rolls more efficiently for a given effort level, i.e. faster. The faster you go, though, the more wind resistance you need to overcome, which requires more effort. So, it could be that you're going faster, and worker harder, but that depends on how fast you're actually going.

The other thing we know is that Road bikes have taller gearing than MTBs, so if you're not riding that hard, it will feel like the MTB is easier to pedal, which is true. So, if you're used to low-ish speed, low effort riding, yes, a Road bike built for speed will take more effort because the gear ratios are higher.

Get a speedometer and watch the numbers, and let us know what you see. If you're really imto it, get a heartrate monitor and do the same. The other thing you can do is figure out which gear combo on each bike yields the same gear inches (count teeth on front chainring and rear cog, and plug into a calculator like Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Gear Calculator) and compare your effort level in the same gear.
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Old 08-18-14, 10:03 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
The other thing we know is that Road bikes have taller gearing than MTBs, so if you're not riding that hard, it will feel like the MTB is easier to pedal, which is true. So, if you're used to low-ish speed, low effort riding, yes, a Road bike built for speed will take more effort because the gear ratios are higher.
Was riding the MTB between 16-20 mph depending on terrain type, weather, hilliness, etc. So not too slowly. Not to mention, you can just shift your gears to where they have the same resistance as the MTB.

Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Assuming the usual differences between Road and MTB bikes, we know the Road bike has less drag and therefore rolls more efficiently for a given effort level, i.e. faster. The faster you go, though, the more wind resistance you need to overcome, which requires more effort. So, it could be that you're going faster, and worker harder, but that depends on how fast you're actually going.
On the road bike? The couple times I've rode it 19-23 seems to be cruising speed over relatively flat terrain depending on conditions.

Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Yeah, I think using the "language of power" is just confusing things here, because you have no idea what your wattage is, nor your heart rate, so it's just a waste of time talking about that. And really, your power output is your power output, and it doesn't matter the type of bicycle...or if it's even a real bicycle. So let's just stop talking about power like we know something, because we don't.

Let's just say you feel like your effort level is higher on the road bike.
I wouldn't say that's entirely correct, because I can always change gearing and get back into a nice easy effort. Which is I guess the whole idea I'm trying, and failing, to make clear. Let's put it this way, on the bike there are two things you can sense when riding as far as effort goes:

1)Percieved effort - how hard am I working, HR, amount of pain, etc
2)Force at the pedal - how hard am I physically pushing on the pedals

For instance, if you went and tried to ride a bike at 20,000 feet up a 4% climb at threshold you could dial in the exact same effort level as at sea level. Threshold effort from a HR/perceived effort standpoint is threshold effort. It doesn't feel any different at 100ft or 20,000 ft. However, despite the fact that these efforts are both threshold, they will absolutely not feel the same. At 20,000 feet your ability to apply force at the pedal will be significantly lower if you want to maintain threshold effort and you'll end up feeling like you are much weaker. This is very akin to how I've felt on the road bike, though it is not that extreme, but enough to seem different from the mountain bike.
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Old 08-18-14, 09:05 PM
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The wild hypotheticals add a new layer of obfuscation to the already imprecise, pseudo-technical, pointlessly complex considerations.
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Old 08-18-14, 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
The wild hypotheticals add a new layer of obfuscation to the already imprecise, pseudo-technical, pointlessly complex considerations.
The hypotheticals are nothing more than a final way to try and describe the feeling, and the last possible way I know to explain the feeling. I've taken severals stabs at it and clearly don't seem to be succeeding. If the feeling I'm trying to describe isn't clear by this point, I'm not able to articulate it.

Hopefully after a few rides on the road bike and adjusting it won't even be an issue.
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Old 08-18-14, 11:27 PM
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OK, I think I understand what you're trying to say.

Let's deal with the constricted breathing, for starters. Deal with the obvious issues and make sure the bike fits you. If you feel cramped and unable to stretch out, your riding position may need looking at.

If the fit is OK, you may be doing what many new road riders do and rolling your shoulders forward, thus preventing you from opening your chest. Even though you are "bent over" your shoulders should be down and relaxed and your chest open.

As far as the feeling of lacking power is concerned, I'm guessing that is illusory. When on the road bike, try riding along with your hands on the tops and then move into the drops while maintaining the same level of effort. Your cadence, and speed, will rise with the reduction in drag, and you'll probably feel that you're pressing less hard on the pedals. Your HR may climb slightly, too, because there's a small energy cost to just turning the pedals faster. So you may feel that your CV system is working harder on the road bike than it was on the mountain bike, despite the feeling of pressure on the pedals being less. That's as it should be, in my opinion. Running the higher cadence will mean that you are actually putting out more power, even though the force exerted with each pedal stroke may have fallen slightly.

The issue here is what sort of efficiency we're talking about. In terms of generating the maximum amount of power for the lowest oxygen consumption, low cadences of about 60rpm are the most efficient. They're harder on the legs, though, the muscles tire. High cadences require more oxygen for a given power output, so the HR climbs, but they spare the legs, so ypu can sustain the same speed/power for longer. You're fit from running, your CV system can take it, so stick with the high cadence/low pedal pressure. You'll be faster, and stay fresher, for longer.
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Old 08-18-14, 11:41 PM
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Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
OK, I think I understand what you're trying to say.

Let's deal with the constricted breathing, for starters. Deal with the obvious issues and make sure the bike fits you. If you feel cramped and unable to stretch out, your riding position may need looking at.

If the fit is OK, you may be doing what many new road riders do and rolling your shoulders forward, thus preventing you from opening your chest. Even though you are "bent over" your shoulders should be down and relaxed and your chest open.

As far as the feeling of lacking power is concerned, I'm guessing that is illusory. When on the road bike, try riding along with your hands on the tops and then move into the drops while maintaining the same level of effort. Your cadence, and speed, will rise with the reduction in drag, and you'll probably feel that you're pressing less hard on the pedals. Your HR may climb slightly, too, because there's a small energy cost to just turning the pedals faster. So you may feel that your CV system is working harder on the road bike than it was on the mountain bike, despite the feeling of pressure on the pedals being less. That's as it should be, in my opinion. Running the higher cadence will mean that you are actually putting out more power, even though the force exerted with each pedal stroke may have fallen slightly.

The issue here is what sort of efficiency we're talking about. In terms of generating the maximum amount of power for the lowest oxygen consumption, low cadences of about 60rpm are the most efficient. They're harder on the legs, though, the muscles tire. High cadences require more oxygen for a given power output, so the HR climbs, but they spare the legs, so ypu can sustain the same speed/power for longer. You're fit from running, your CV system can take it, so stick with the high cadence/low pedal pressure. You'll be faster, and stay fresher, for longer.
well, if his cardio is up to par because of being a runner wouldn't the best place for him to train is in the lower rpm ranges and build strength in the legs. I mean you can increase rpm a bit, but at some point if you want to go faster the force has to increase.
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Old 08-19-14, 10:14 AM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by torque cyclist View Post
well, if his cardio is up to par because of being a runner wouldn't the best place for him to train is in the lower rpm ranges and build strength in the legs. I mean you can increase rpm a bit, but at some point if you want to go faster the force has to increase.
Depends what he's trying to achieve, and whether leg strength is a limiter. For most people, it isn't. And as time goes on he'll find he can push bigger gears at the higher cadences.

In any event, what I was mainly trying to do was account for his feeling that he is less powerful on the road bike, and tell him not to worry about it.
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Old 08-19-14, 10:26 PM
  #23  
LMaster
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Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
Depends what he's trying to achieve, and whether leg strength is a limiter. For most people, it isn't. And as time goes on he'll find he can push bigger gears at the higher cadences.

In any event, what I was mainly trying to do was account for his feeling that he is less powerful on the road bike, and tell him not to worry about it.
It felt like it was at first switching from running, but after a few months of riding decent miles with some solid workouts I'm not really feeling like that is a problem anymore. Might feel it on a long ride if I tried to go at tempo to threshold for a long time...but I haven't done that sort of ride yet to know.

On the plus size, my road bike should be ready tomorrow (Cannondale CAAD 10, shop had to build it up but should be ready) so I'll get many more chances to play with these fantastic speed machines.

Thanks for the thoughts everyone, and I think there is a possibility you are onto something Chasm about the position when on the hoods/drops. I'll have to make sure I'm maintaining solid posture.
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Old 08-20-14, 07:57 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by LMaster View Post
1)When riding on the road bike I feel like my power output is noticeably lower. I just don't feel as strong as when I'm on the MTB. Can differences in fit/riding position significantly impact that...or is this just in my head
2)When riding the road bike I don't feel like I breathe quite as well, and when I start to bring up the intensity I find I start getting very uncomfortable.
1) You do produce more power on the mtb, but only because that's the position you have adapted to over time.

2) Again, you are used to the mtb and so you breath easier. A longer reach on the road bike might help with the breathing.
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Old 08-20-14, 12:49 PM
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I ride road, recumbent, and MTB's on a regular basis. I have power meters on the road and recumbents.

After adaptation (months), my FTP (measured at 30min) consistently differs between the road and two styles of recumbents ("mid-racer" vs. "high-racer"). I find my maximum sustainable power comes when I ride sitting very upright on the tops of my road bars -- it definitely isn't the most aerodynamic position, but I suspect I can breathe easier in the more open position and get better cooling (either on the trainer or outdoors) that way.

If I haven't been on the high-racer recumbent in several months, my first few rides on it will feel very constricted. My power numbers won't be far off their normal, but the effort feels twice as hard. After a week of regularly riding it, everything will be back to normal.

I wouldn't be surprised if the extra width of the MTB bars is letting you breathe more freely than typical road bars/positioning. My MTB's are setup that if I put my hands on the bars close to the stem (inside the shifters/brake levers), it feels very roadbike'ish. Some MTB bars can be exceptionally wide, and I've found I need to cut mine down (contrast that with wanting the biggest width road bar), or at least move the grips in, to be all-day comfortable.
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