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I have a Mountain bike with 1.95 tyres on it. Most of the cycle path I take into work is fairly well paved/asphalted, I'm not going over any dirt tracks or anything like that although there is the odd bit of poorly maintained asphalt.

There are also a couple of hills that are steep but not long, for the most part it's fairly flat though.

How much of a difference would I notice if I bought a road bike for my daily commute?

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Is your MTB 26" rims? You will notice a big difference there –  Jeffa Oct 26 '12 at 10:22
    
Simply put, and assuming the bicycles are of comparable quality, it will be like going from a tractor to a Ferrari. –  astabada Oct 26 '12 at 10:28
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You'll notice a difference -- the road bike will feel "lighter" to ride, not so much because of actual weight difference, but because of the difference in tires. And your posture will be more suited to high speeds. You will probably want to change your riding style a bit, running higher RPM. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 26 '12 at 10:40
    
You can still get larger tires for your road bike to accommodate the poorly paved terrain. You can usually fit up to a 700x28c (maybe 32c) tire on most road bikes for a smoother ride. Alternatively, you could get a touring bike or cyclocross bike with rack and fender mounts which can hold bigger tires (or skinny ones), racks, fenders, and is much more suited to roads than your mountain bike (but does have a few drawbacks vs a standard road bike) –  Benzo Oct 26 '12 at 12:54
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It may be like going from a tractor to a Ferrari, but while retaining the tractor's engine and transmission. –  Kaz Oct 27 '12 at 0:02
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8 Answers 8

  • You will find the journey a lot less effort, as you are dramatically reducing the weight of the bike.
  • You will also be able to accelerate much faster, as the rolling resistance will be reduced through the use of thinner tyres.
  • Your gearing is likely to allow for faster speeds as well.
  • If you previously had suspension, you will notice the ability to accelerate, brake and turn is much better, and more precise.
  • You will rapidly learn how uncomfortable bumps are so you will have to get used to dodging round stones, potholes etc.
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Less suspension means more precise braking and steering? Do motorbike and car manufacturers know about this astonishing idea? –  Kaz Oct 26 '12 at 23:44
    
Weight only matters if you're climbing a hill, and you get back that energy when you go down. Oh, and it also matters in that you build up a certain kinetic energy related to your mass and speed (1/2 mv^2). So the more m, the more energy you put in to get moving, and so the more energy you waste when you brake. But you are not putting in much mass-related energy when you're cruising on level pavement. The principal advantage of the road bike is less air drag. –  Kaz Oct 27 '12 at 0:39
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@Kaz - fixed the speed bit - I meant acceleration. And the suspension - it may be surprising to you, but yep, suspension reduces your precision dramatically on a bike. –  Rory Alsop Oct 27 '12 at 9:19
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@kaz As cars built for racing tend to have very stiff suspension with very little travel I think it's safe to assume that they do. –  GordonM Oct 27 '12 at 20:34
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How much difference, you asked. When I started to ride skinny tires, I noticed the far places, the ones I took too long to reach, became very close and I could get there fast with way less effort. It's like distance and time were distorted to my favor, like StarWars time travel.

The downside, as already said: it seems like you spent too much time fighting boxe with padded protections, then suddenly you are bare-hands and bare-face, flying at 35+ mph around treacherous obstacles you can no longer ignore, balancing over a twitchier, harsher handlebar where brake levers are not reachable all the time. Anyway, it's impressive how much abuse a 23mm tire can endure if the rims are solid.

After the novelty passes, though, one ends up knowing, respecting and admiring strengths and weaknesses of either bike type, also being able to assemble, if wanted, a whole colorful range of possible hybrid setups, or even using either type of bike outside its expected primary application.

Hope this helps!

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A lot.

But before you go out and buy anything shiny and new, why not try a short term investment in some 26" Conti Gatorskins at 1.25" for your mtb? (You'll probably need a new pair of innertubes as well) Try commuting on these and I bet you'll notice a big improvement on 1.95" tyres, just by making this relatively inexpensive change.

(Then go out and spend a few thousand dollars on a carbon road bike and it'll be better still!)

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A few thousand dollars on a carbon road bike is well beyond diminishing returns. That's like buying a $200 "cryogenically treated" power cord with gold-plated contacts to get better sound out of your sound system. It's for situations where fractions of a second make difference between first and second place, or shattering a world record. –  Kaz Oct 27 '12 at 0:07
    
Oh, and how much will the lock weigh for that few thousand dollar bike? Ah right, that is some $500 unit made of specially annealed unobtainium. Indestructible, but weighing only 100 grams. –  Kaz Oct 27 '12 at 0:27
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@Kaz, I think you're missing the point, Pete is saying that before making investment in a road bike, OP could try making his existing bike more suitable to his needs. Tires do make the biggest difference. –  Mladen Jablanović Oct 27 '12 at 19:10
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@Kaz, actually the line about the carbon bike was said tongue-in-cheek, it is a pity you couldn't see that. What I'm actually suggesting is a route by which this guy can get a taste of the difference by spending fifty bucks on his existing bike, rather than a thousand bucks on a new bike. Like I say, pity you never saw that one. –  PeteH Oct 27 '12 at 23:45
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You will notice 3 major differences right away, with other difference you can optionally implement in the future.

  1. Road bikes gernally are much lighter than mountain bikes. Less weight means you can go further or faster with the same amount of effort you put into your mountain bike.
  2. Road bikes have much narrower tires (compared to a mountain bike) with much higher pressure. This means you have much less rolling resistance on a road bike. Once again, you can go further or faster with the same amount of effort you put into your mountain bike.
  3. Your riding position on a road bike is much more aerodynamic than it is on a mountain bike. Thus you can go further or faster with the same amount of effort you put into your mountain bike.

Those are the stock differences. Optionally you can:

  1. Add toe clips or cleated pedals to your bike. Locking your foot to the pedal increases the efficiency of your biking. This can make it another 10% easier to ride your road bike.
  2. Add aero bars- if you bike in the wind often, or ride fairly fast, adding aero bars gives you an additional biking position with lower wind resistance. This can make it another 10% easier to ride your road bike.
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"clipless" pedal are widely used on Mountain bikes - aero bars can be fitted as well. –  mattnz Oct 28 '12 at 7:08
    
Just FYI the weight of a bike should not increase the effort it takes to move a bike over flat terrain at a constant speed. –  sixtyfootersdude Nov 8 '12 at 17:51
    
Basic physics says an increase in weight increases the amount of energy needed to keep moving at a constant speed in a friction filled environment. (This effect is slight.) Of course a bike also accelerating and decelerating and you notice the increase in weight here. –  Gary E Nov 8 '12 at 21:28
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Over the years I've used both and in my opinion hard tail MTB with 1.25 inch slicks or a hybrid is the way to go. What you lose in top speed you gain in durability. MTB is far better equipped to take the punishment of daily commute. There's nothing more annoying than changing tubes or sorting tangled chains when you should already be at work.

A set of hill climb / bar ends makes a huge difference and allows you to adjust riding position. If you need extra speed, get a set of riding shoes with cleats or just old school toe clips.

In regards to the speed it really depends on the rider as much as it depends on the bike. I do frequently 30 to 50 miles social rides on the weekend and and I keep up on my 26" MTB. The only times I'm in real disadvantage is long gently sloping downhills where I simply don't have high enough gears.

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The difference is HUGE! When you get on a set of skinny, hard, fast rolling, knob-less road tires, it will feel like your bicycle has been set free. The knobs on a low pressure mountain bike tire create and enormous amount of drag, when you no longer have to push against them the difference will be unbelievable.

You may also notice you are no longer riding with your chest stuck out like a sail. You will find the new, sleeker, aerodynamic profile allows you to maintain your speed with much less effort.

You will also notice the ride on the skinnier, harder, road bike tires is much rougher going over bumps and potholes. This drawback is well worth not having the drag. You may compromise by getting a fatter tire than allows for lower air pressure and gives you more cushion but I prefer the reduced drag hard and skinny tires give you.

You will probably notice the road bike is lighter and with your lighter bike and less tire drag it is much easier to accelerate on.

Going up steep hills you will probably notice the gearing on the road bike is higher and may miss the lower gearing unless you road bike is equipped with a touring gearing (3rd smaller inner ring).

You will probably not notice the lack of tread, even on gravel bike trails. For the most most part the tread is not necessary on gravel bike paths but if you corner hard in gravel you will notice that your wheels wash out much easier, so take extra care when cornering.

If it's a traditional road racing type setup, you will notice the handlebar and braking setup is different and that it's even a little harder to stop. At first you will also find shifting is a bit confusing and may take a little time to get used to.

You may also find your riding position is a little less natural and a little less comfortable.

Get a road/commuter specific bike. You wont regret it.

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You can get tires without knobs for a mountain bike, overcoming the problem of the knobs, while retaining most of the advantages of the mountain bike. It's the thin profile of the road bike that reduces drag, not the lower mass. –  Kaz Oct 26 '12 at 23:51
    
Regarding your second paragraph, I'd say it depends on the quality of the roads where you live. Where I live the roads are TERRIBLE! Full of potholes, drain covers and grates (the latter of which tend to sink a bit into the road surface crating potholes with cast iron bottoms), gashes that tend to suck narrow tires into them, bare cobblestones, etc. I don't know if a road bike wheel would last long against all that. Even my MTB has picked up a few bent spokes after only a few months of it. –  GordonM Oct 27 '12 at 20:41
    
Thanks Kaz, profile is a detail I did not emphasize, the mountain bike profile, with your chest stuck out, catches the wind like a sail, I still don't think you can over emphasize the drag low pressure knobby tires have. @Gordon Pittsburgh roads are HORRIBLE, in the summer I run 26mm 110 psi, bent rims or not, I wouldn't do it differently. –  David Sopko Oct 30 '12 at 18:54
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Instead of a road-bike for commuting, you could consider a "hybrid" bike that's intended specifically for commuting: see for example this question and this answer.

My commute is in traffic, so a lot of starting and stopping, and, all-weather riding: so flatter (instead of dropped) handlebars, disk brakes (useful in rain), mudguards, a rack and pannier, and other things you wouldn't find on a road bike.

A hybrid will give many of the same speed advantages, e.g. no suspension, non-knobbly tires, and an adequate range of gears.

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I have now had a road bike for 3 days since i transferred from mountain biker to road biker. I've done just over 50 miles and my experiences so far would be both bikes have pros and cons. The mountain bike is a LOT slower. The width of the tyres being thicker means more surface contact with the road and it slows you down and requires way more effort to ride especially uphill. The road bike i have, has thin tyres and the speed difference is amazing. The only drawback i have found is that without a suspension, you really feel every tiny bump/divot in the road and on long rides this can become very uncomfortable in your back/lower body/arms.The mountain bike protects you much more. Your body position too needs getting used to. Leaning forward rather than sitting up straight is a bit weird but again, i'll get used to that. Overall though i'll be sticking to the road bike, you'll love the speed difference.

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