Cycling: Road Biking or Mountain Biking?

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Mr. Greg Eckley, Guest Writer, Teacher

So, you wanna ride a bike, huh? Well, have you thought about what kind of bike will get you where you want to go? How fast do you want to go? Do you wanna smell the roses or pick bugs outa your teeth? Where do you want to ride? How far will you go? Do you like to ride alone or with a group? 

These days, in the bicycling world, you have so many options when it comes to bikes. There’s a bike for just about every kind of riding and terrain you can think of. There’s BMX, Cyclo-Cross, Road, Mountain, Cruiser, E-bike, Recumbent, Stryder, Touring, Gravel, Track, Fat bikes, and I could go on! If you’re like me, you would like at least one of each, please! So, the question of the day is, how do you narrow it down to “the one”? 

Well, that just depends on what you want out of a bike. Whichever you choose, it should fit your personality and riding preferences. You have to think about which bike will bring you the most joy! If you like the open road an easy-rolling bike that’s light and quick might serve you best. That could be a road bike. Road bikes are built for speed and for distance. You’ve probably seen one; it’s got very skinny tires and curly handlebars (drop bars). Those smooth, skinny tires hold anywhere from 80-130 psi (pounds-force per square inch), which makes them hard, yet they roll so smoothly over hard-surfaced roads like paved streets and highways. Because they’re so skinny, there’s little friction or resistance as they roll down the highway, which allows you to go fast for long distances. Be careful though, wet roads, gravel, or road debris can quickly cause you to lose control. A road bike needs to be connected to the surface at all times. Trust me, crashing on a road bike can be very serious and very painful due to the high speeds over pavement. Something else that makes these bikes so efficient is the light-weight, aerodynamic frames. These bikes are made out of everything from aluminum to titanium, to carbon fiber and can weigh an average of 17 pounds. The world’s best racers’ bikes may weigh as little as 15 pounds! Imagine how many mountain passes you could ride over on one of these babies! So, if riding fast and far are what you like, then the road bike might just be the steed for you! But, what if you like to ride in the dirt?

Some people find the most joy on a bike when they are far away from the hustle and bustle of those busy streets and highways. Single-track trails and dirt roads might be just the thing you are looking for. If that’s the case, you might find your joy on a mountain bike. Mountain bikes have fatter tires with knobby tread to grab the dirt and mud as you corner or climb. These tires don’t have a need for high pressure like road bikes do. In fact, the average psi of a typical mountain bike tire runs between 25-35. This allows a little more cushion and more stability in your ride as you roll over bumps and rocks and tree roots. Be careful though. Too little pressure and you’ll get a flat much easier. In contrast to road bikes, mountain bikes have straight bars to give the rider more control over a wide variety of terrain, including narrow trails. Mountain bike frames, like road bike frames, come in a variety of materials: Carbon Fiber, Aluminum, Titanium, Steel, etc. Each material offers a different feel when you ride. Mountain bike frames are usually “beefier” than road bikes because aerodynamics isn’t as important as ruggedness and strength. A mountain bike is built to withstand jumps, bumps, dirt, rocks, and all kinds of stuff! Another really cool feature of mountain bikes is the suspension systems. Depending on what type of mountain biking you do, there is a suspension system made for it. Suspension not only offers more comfort but more control over rough terrain. 

These are just two of the many types of bikes out there, but they stand in stark contrast to one another. If you enjoy riding bikes, like me, I can almost guarantee that you would find joy on either one.  When the trails are muddy or snowy, I hop on the road bike. When the trails are ripe and calling my name, I pull out the mountain bike. Both bikes are an awesome way to get out, get exercise, see the countryside in a whole different way, and are certainly therapeutic. They will make you grin; I promise! So, do you wanna stick to the pavement and ride long distances on a smooth, fast road bike, or do you feel like getting dirty on a rugged mountain bike? This time of social isolation is the perfect time to strap your helmet on, get outside and find your joy on whichever bike you have! Happy riding!