A racing bike and a mountain bike are completely different, from their riding position to their smallest components. Racing bikes pay rigorous attention to weight and aerodynamics for the fastest possible performance. Mountain bikes invest heavily in shock absorption and traction for off-road experiences. Each bike is available in an enormous range of prices and features, so there's no significant difference in terms of cost. However, each bike is highly specialized, and choosing the right bike for the job will give you a much more engaging workout.
Road bikes are the quintessential racing bike. Almost every part is engineered for lightness and strength. The frames for competition racing bikes are exceptionally stiff. They're usually made from carbon fiber, but can be produced from other lightweight materials like titanium and aluminum. The handlebars, or drop bars, allow the rider to take a lower position for enhanced aerodynamics and power transferral. The tires on a racing bike are narrow and run at a high pressure, which reduces rolling resistance. The best racing bikes weigh in at exactly 15 pounds.
A mountain bike is designed to be ridden on the difficult off-road terrain, so they're heavy on durability and control. They use wide, knobby tires that dig into loose soil like teeth, providing traction and flotation. The frames, made from carbon fiber, aluminum, titanium or steel, are designed to withstand the punishment from minor crashes. Shock absorbers in the fork or frame allow the wheels to travel when they're impacted, which gives you more control when you're coming down on an obstacle. Mountain bikes usually fall between 20 and 30 pounds. Full-suspension bikes designed for downhill use are the heaviest variety of mountain bikes.
Off-Road and On
The differences in tires on racing and mountain bikes impact their performance considerably. The narrow tires and light weight of a racing bike contribute to its speed and control, even on wet pavement. The smooth tire tread keeps the bike from hydroplaning like a car can. A mountain bike's tires have a large contact patch that gives them comparable traction in wet conditions. The superiority of a smooth tire ends when a racing bike leaves pavement. The small contact patch of a road tire can do little to maintain traction and control on shifting soil and uneven sand.
The brakes on the bikes also differ substantially. On a racing bike, caliper brakes grip the sides of the rim with two rubber pads, which slows the bike effectively at a very minimal weight penalty. Mountain bikes favor the control and precision of disc brakes, which are located closer to the hub of the wheel. These brakes perform more reliably in mud, and can be applied with more control over the strength of the brake.
Choosing Your Ride
For everyday riding, the light weight of a racing bike will make it easier to carry into buildings and its stiff frame will save you a lot of energy. A racing bike also makes for a great training bike. Its high performance ability will let you get the most out of your workout and help prepare you for your next competition. A mountain bike is a better choice when you want control and comfort and low weight doesn't matter. The shock absorption and large tires of a mountain bike will easily cushion potholes and rough pavement on your commute or local bike trail.
- REI: Bicycles: How to Choose
- REI: Understanding Bike Frame Materials
- Omer and Bob's: Types of Mountain Bikes
- REI: Road Bikes: How to Choose
- Diesel Bikes: Mountain Bike Frame Categories & Disciplines:
- REI: Mountain Bikes: How to Choose
- International Cycling Union
- Sheldon Brown: Bicycle Tires and Tubes