Road or Mountain: Which Bike is Better?

By Richard Jones

I am a mountain biker who also rides a road bike, if that’s not too much of a paradox. These are two groups that sometimes share the same space, with occasional simmering resentment on both sides. I’ve been there before myself, giving a cheery wave to some roadies coming the other way whose robotic, chisel-set serious features give no acknowledgement behind their Rudy Project glasses.

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Some years ago, I would sometimes cycle to work on my old rigid Gary Fisher mountain bike, until my brother borrowed it one day and was inconveniently hit by a car. As a result, I bought a Scott road bike and started a fair-weather weekly commute.

After moving to the edge of the Peak District I continued this and started to actually enjoy the challenge of the climb out of Matlock and trying to hit 50mph downhill on the A-road into Chesterfield. Post-ride conversations changed from droning on about near misses with trees/rocks/sheep to droning on about near misses with cars/vans/lorries.

Appropriate clothing is worn accordingly and my road cycling wardrobe is slowly increasing with all manner of spandex-type outfits. My other half is currently receiving a steady influx of visitors. So, when I walked in the door the other day, after cycling home from work, she shrieked with an, “Oh my God, what are you wearing?” as if I’d just walked in wearing one of those Blue Man Group latex body suits, and not lycra bib/shorts and top! She asked why I couldn’t just ride in my jeans – now I know the lycra’s not a good look, but biking to work in my jeans…?!

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However, one of the great things about riding on the road is how much it has improved my fitness and helped shift some lard, which I never seemed to be able to do while mountain biking. And the great thing about being a mountain biker on a road bike is transferring bike-handling skills, like being able to descend at speed confidently.

I recently upset one of our MTB crew by suggesting that I was thinking of taking my road bike on our summer trip to the Alps. Good job he wasn’t supping a cuppa at the time, else I’d have been sprayed with it – the mere idea of tainting such a holiday was utterly repellent. I’ve agreed to leave it at home (for now!) but still, the idea of climbing the Col de Joux Plane… it is tempting!

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So, my road bike is now fifteen years old and starting to make the sort of strange noises I’d associate with aging, similar to the creaks my knees make, and I’m starting to consider buying a new bike.

The only thing is, I have absolutely no idea about road bikes and components, other than the uselessness of rim brakes in wet weather has given a yearning for disc brakes. I know exactly what mountain bike I’d buy at the moment (a Whyte S-150C RS please Santa), I know what tyres, components, etc. I would buy, but I haven’t got a clue about road bike stuff.

I still ride in a mountain bike helmet, mountain bike shoes and egg-beater pedals, so I’m even thinking that maybe I should get these as proper road gear!

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m a mountain biker who also enjoys riding a road bike. I think the thing I always come back to is the sheer joy and escapism I feel when hopping on two wheels, even if it is aboard a skinny-wheeled, slightly rusting old road bike. I still get that thrill of getting out of the saddle and pedalling away towards whatever my destination, whatever the surface.

Now I just need to save up for this new road bike and delve into trying to understand a whole new realm of tech and kit… I think I might just enjoy that!

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Originally published 08/04/19

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