Mountain biking vs road cycling
The weather looked a bit ropey on Monday so I got the mountain bike out and caught a train to the heart of the Peak District. Doesn’t sound too unusual for me so far, but it was actually my first proper MTB ride since mid December. I’ve been so consumed with getting the road miles in and bombing round the smoother trails on the cross bike that I’d neglected the art of bouncing over silly terrain as fast as you can without hurting yourself.
30 miles of this got me thinking about the relative merits of each discipline and whether one was better than the other…
The case for mountain biking:
- As Ernest Hemingway once said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best”. Whilst I couldn’t agree more, just imagine what he’d have said if he’d had a half decent mountain bike. Whilst mountain biking you not only learn the contours of the land, but you also end up learning about soil types, geology and a load of other random topics. Like most Peak District MTB’ers I could tell you a thing or two about the differences between wet limestone and muddy gritstone. I could even (but won’t) write a blog post on the many styles of gate I’ve been through. You just don’t get the same level of involvement on a road bike.
- Skills! You need to be fit to get the most out of any bike ride, but MTB’ing requires you to master some pretty tricky skills as well. As well as just beating your best times on a Strava segment, you also get the challenge of clearing a section without putting a foot down/falling off, (complete with the resulting “I reckon I could do that if it was dry” kind of banter)
- Are mountain bikers friendlier? Today reminded me of the off-road camaraderie: you’ll never pass another rider out on the trail without a cheery hello or the offer of holding a gate open. I’ve even done big rides and a pint with a riders I’ve met on the train out to the country that morning. I’m not saying all roadies are miserable, but too often you’ll be lucky to get a nod or a wave, making you appreciate even a coolly raised finger of acknowledgement.
In defence of road cycling:
- Convenience. Wherever you live, it’s usually less hassle to get out on the roadie for a ride. Unless you live miles from a road, your route begins as soon as you leave the door. The other main advantage becomes apparent when you get home: even if it’s pissed down, you can just give the chain a wipe and lube and you know it will function fine next time you ride it. Try doing this after a serious MTB ride and you’ll find that half a national park has coagulated around your drivetrain, suspension and any other moving parts, making for a less than satisfying ride and a impending repair job.
- Distance and speed. I’ve done some hefty off road adventures before, but for covering ground the road bike wins every time. In the UK you’ll often find that when you stop to fill your bottles that you’ve travelled so far that everyone has a different accent. And then there’s the speed. Tarmac might not be technical terrain, but once the speedo starts getting to 40 mph and beyond the thrill is just as great as battering down a trail at 20 mph.
- There’s generally less to go wrong on a road bike. I’m not suggesting that you’ll never need to spend cash on the upkeep of your roadie (and let’s face it, we kind of like spending money on bike porn), but count yourself lucky that you won’t replacing pivot bearings, sending your suspension off to get it fettled by an expert or arsing about bleeding disc brakes. Until disc brakes become standard tackle on road bikes that is…
So which is best? No idea, I like them both and long shall I continue to do so. If you’ve only only tried one, give the other a go. If you already do both, don’t neglect one as I shamefully did. If you do both of them regularly, try something else. Anyone fancy track cycling?