How much effort does it take to pedal a mountain bike compared to a road bike?
In this article, we’ll look at how much effort it takes to pedal a mountain bike on the road and compare it with road bikes.
Here’s Why Mountain Bikes Are Harder to Pedal Than Road Bikes:
Mountain bikes are harder to pedal than road bikes as they have wider, lower pressure tires that have a greater surface area in contact with the road resulting in more friction. Additionally, they are heavier and a percentage of the force applied to the pedals is wasted as the suspension is compressed.
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Are Mountain Bikes Harder to Pedal?
If we’re talking road riding then yes, pedaling a mountain bike is always going to be harder than pedaling a road bike if all other factors are equal.
On a mountain bike, you will have to apply considerably more force (and effort) to achieve the same bike speed. Let’s have a look at the reasons behind this in more detail:
Mountain Bike Suspension Makes Pedaling Less Efficient
When you ride a mountain bike, a percentage of the force you apply to the pedals is wasted on compressing the suspension.
This effect occurs both on hardtails and full suspension bikes, but the effect will be even greater on a full sus as a result of having the additional suspension on the frame.
Additionally, with a full-suspension bike, the rear suspension is located beneath the rider’s center of mass and will be compressed to a greater extent than the front suspension, resulting in a greater loss of energy.
This effect can be minimized by ensuring you’re in a low enough gear such that you maintain a relatively high cadence (the rate at which you pedal).
Keeping your gear low and rate of pedaling high means you won’t be standing up in the saddle or pulling up aggressively on the handlebars to try and pedal faster, which would lead to more unwanted compression of the suspension and therefore more energy wasted.
Thicker Tires Result in More Friction
Road bike tires are designed for speed along a smooth surface whereas mountain bike tires are designed for grip and stability on rough off-road tracks. These design features affect the effort required to pedal each type of bike.
Mountain bike tires are typically at least double the thickness of road bike tires.
This additional contact area with the road means more friction and therefore a greater amount of energy required to keep the wheels spinning.
Additionally, the ‘bumpy’ mountain bike tread will deform more than the slick tire of a road bike, again resulting in further energy losses.
Now you may be thinking that thinner tires have greater rolling resistance than thicker tires. This is technically true as a thinner tire will flatten out more than a thicker tire of the same pressure, increasing the surface area with the road.
Whilst this is true, the effect is mitigated by inflating the thinner tire to a higher psi. A road bike tire is typically inflated to 80psi – 120psi.
Compared to a mountain bike tire inflated to 25psi – 50psi, this additional pressure reduces the effect of the road tire ‘flattening out’, and so results in the surface area of a road bike tire in contact with the road being much less than that of a mountain bike.
Less surface area = less friction = less wasted energy to overcome the friction.
A Heavier Bike Requires More Effort to Move
Another major difference between the two bikes that affects the force required to pedal them is the weight of the bike.
Just like picking up and moving a heavy weight will require more effort than moving a lighter weight over the same distance, pedaling a heavier bike requires more effort than pedaling a lighter bike.
Mountain bikes are considerably heavier than road bikes and so require more energy to move.
How Much Difference Will You Notice Switching Between a Mountain Bike and a Road Bike?
If you’re used to riding a mountain bike on the road and switch to a road bike, the difference will be shocking.
Those rides that seem pretty tough on your hardtail or full sus will be a breeze on a properly set up road bike.
This is of course assuming the road surface is relatively smooth and lends itself well to a road bike.
There are other factors aside from the force you need to apply to the pedals that determine how hard it is to actually ride a bike on the road that we can discuss now.
Are Mountain Bikes Harder to Ride on the Road?
Whilst a mountain bike is naturally going to be harder to pedal to achieve the same speed along the same road compared to what it would be on a road bike, there are a few other factors to consider when asking if mountain bikes are harder to ride on the road in general.
The honest answer is it depends on the road. Whilst the mountain bike is harder to pedal, some features make the ride itself less challenging.
The wider handlebars and more upright riding position on a mountain bike can make for a more comfortable, more stable ride. The width of the bars gives extra stability should you hit an obstacle or need to swerve to avoid an obstacle last minute.
Additionally, the wider tires and suspension means a mountain bike can glide over bumps, potholes, branches, and stones on the road.
This can result in a rider on a mountain bike having to ‘think less’ about what’s coming up, whereas hitting the same branch or stone on a road bike could result in you coming off the bike altogether.
If you do find yourself doing some road cycling on a mountain bike, the following tips should make things easier for you:
Here’s How You Can Make Your Mountain Bike Easier to Pedal on the Road:
Max out your tire pressure. When riding a mountain bike on the road you should increase your tire pressure to the upper limit of what is specified on your tire.
Unless the road you’re on is full of nasty potholes, there’s no need to keep your tire pressure low as you won’t need the dampening effect of low psi tires.
Firm up your suspension. This applies to both front and rear suspension – adjust it to the firmest possible setting to minimize the energy wasted in compressing it whilst pedaling.
Keep your cadence high. I mentioned this one earlier – keep your gear low enough to maintain a high rate of pedaling. This makes for a smoother ride and minimizes unnecessary compression of your suspension, thus minimizing energy losses.