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So I am currently on the fence about my next bike, I have in the last year and a half taken up cycling more seriously. To give some background I mean I am probably doing around 50km (31 miles) a week. Bearing in mind that this is less now because it is winter here. When in summer when races start again I will probably be putting in longer distances when I can.

I would say most of my rides I stick to the dirt and I am looking to buy a pass to use the mountain trails around us, I really enjoy it when I can mountain bike. My one gripe is always having to clean my bike thoroughly because of how harsh the conditions are around me. In South Africa we can also cycle all year around so I thought I would add that as it might affect answers given.

My current bike is a real beginner bike, a GT Timberline Expert. I was given it as a beginner bike and I actually really enjoy riding it. I’ve gotten used to it’s quirks however after riding my dads mountain bike I know how much nicer a lighter bike can be with better components. I still have fun on mine however, I don’t think I’ve ever thought during a ride that I’m not having fun because it’s a beginner model.

I do however notice in road races even with slick tires on that it’s a struggle. Every year I enter the 109km (67mile) race we have in the area and during training and the race I can say it is not fun having to push hard to keep a good pace.

That’s where my problem comes in. I’m not sure whether to add a road bike to the mix and use it for interval training on the road and racing and continue to use my current mountain bike. Or do I upgrade my current mountain bike to a nice new one. I am concerned about how quickly a mountain bike gets wear and tear but I’m not really sure if that’s a real consideration even?

I’ve done some research and on the road bike side the best deal I’ve found was this: https://www.trekbikes.com/za/en_ZA/bikes/road-bikes/performance-road-bikes/émonda/émonda-alr/émonda-alr-5/p/24166/ Good parts and not crazy priced. However for the same price I could get a mountain bike like this: https://www.specialized.com/za/en/mens-chisel-expert/p/154335 which is also a very nice bike.

What are your thoughts? I hope I haven’t bored you with too much background info? I know it’s a tricky question to ask too...

My current mtb also has not done tons of mileage so it can still go for quite a long time.

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  • If you want something new and can't decide for MTB or road why not go for both worlds and chose a gravel bike?
    – Carel
    Jun 27 '20 at 7:45
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    @Carel I could do that but I feel like the trails in my area are more suited to a mountain bike as they are very rough. So I would prefer to have a dedicated mountain bike for those. Jun 27 '20 at 8:17
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    Can you only have one bike? There's nothing wrong with owning two.
    – Criggie
    Jun 27 '20 at 11:42
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    @Criggie slippery slope hahaha
    – abdnChap
    Jun 27 '20 at 11:54
  • No haha that's part of the problem. I am not sure if owning two will be worth it @Criggie? I know that's something only I can really answer but also if I had a road bike would I be inclined to ride more than I do currently outdoors? I use the indoor trainer for intervals currently but I feel like a road bike would make them more enjoyable to do outdoors? Also would increase my km ridden. Of course my mtb works well for that too currently. It's so tricky because it's a big investment. Jun 27 '20 at 12:25
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Only you can decide if you "need or "want" a road bike. I would not upgrade your mountain bike in an attempt to make it a better road bike. As the saying goes a pig wearing lipstick is still a pig. If you want to road ride for a change of scenery or pace buy a used quality built bike. The used market should have lots of bikes suitable to the local roads. Your times will improve over the MTB on the road just from the gearing alone. If you shopped well, after a year you can decide if you want to upgrade or just sell it. You should be able to get 80% of what you paid for it. If you buy a new bike you might get 60% of the much higher new bike cost a year later. I would ride the mountain bike until the bike becomes the limiting factor in your race times or it breaks. If the races you ride are competitive just upgrading your MTB won't move you from 25th to 1st place conditioning and training has to come in to play.

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  • I think your answer pretty much sums it up perfectly. I think for now I am going to just get stronger on my mountain bike and just enjoy it. I will upgrade it as you said if it breaks or becomes severely limiting however I think you are right... Training will make the biggest difference. Jun 28 '20 at 15:18
  • These are unusual times for bike pricing in the USA at least. Prices are way up and availability is down. I see used bikes that I would have expected to pay about $100 for going for $200+. Maybe there will be a price crash a year from now. Get a bike you think you'll be happy with and don't count on recouping a significant amount from selling your old bike in the future.
    – Armand
    Jun 30 '20 at 19:30
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For road racing and racing, get a road bike. A true road bike will not only be faster, but have better handling and be generally more fun to ride. Pay attention to fit and don't buy a bike without trying it unless you really know what you are doing.

Modifying a mountain bike for road use will get you a bike that is not very good for either road or off road riding. Similarly, the cyclocross and touring bikes that have been suggested are compromises that make the bike more versatile for other uses but not a good racing bike. If you worry about uncomfortable position, take note that road races are long and training for them involves very long hours in the saddle. If there was a setup that would allow more training hours or saving one's strength for sprints and breakaways, serious racers would be already using it. Some people complain about having to look at you front wheel to avoid obstacles. I would recommend looking ahead, instead. Some people complain about reaching brake levers. I would recommend learning to brake from hoods and getting a bike where you can have your hands on the hoods comfortably.

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  • thanks so much for this input. I think it adds a good bit of info. Jun 30 '20 at 11:00
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Every bike is an engineering compromise, so you got to know what you want in order to get it.

For example a road bike is optimized for speed, which means good aerodynamics, low rolling resistance and low weight at the expense of everything else, notably comfort, ability to ride on any road that isn't smooth enough, luggage carrying capacity, etc.

A mountain bike is optimized for basically the complete opposite factors.

MTB has a more upright position so you can shift your weight, look up and see the trail ahead, etc. Handlebars are wide, giving leverage to control the front wheel when it bumps into obstacles. All this means terrible aerodynamics. The race bike is the opposite, you ride in a scrunched position, leaning down with narrow handlebars for best aerodynamics which is the single most important factor for speed.

However riding on a race bike is less fun because leaning down means most of the time you're looking at the front tyre or the butt of the guy in front of you. If you want to enjoy the landscape your neck will hurt after a while.

Also race bikes are less safe to ride on open roads for several reasons. First, the brake levers are positioned in the most aerodynamic position, which means they're harder and slower to reach in an emergency situation. Second, they're uncomfortable on roads that aren't smooth, so you will tend to pick routes with smooth asphalt, which means roads with lots of automobile traffic. This is okay for riding in a group that can be easily seen by drivers from far away, but when riding alone I prefer small roads with little traffic.

Anyway. If you want to race or ride with buddies who have road bikes, then get a road bike. On the road, even a very expensive MTB with slick tyres will be much slower than a cheap road bike because being a good MTB implies bad aerodynamics. It's mutually exclusive.

If you want a more enjoyable/relaxed ride, get a touring bike with a rear rack so you don't have to sweat carrying a backpack, and semi-fat tyres to widen your choice of roads to small country roads with some bad asphalt but little traffic. Consider getting a frame with enough clearance to mount fatter tyres if you like a smooth ride over bad country roads.

So basically, first decide on what type of cycling you want to do, what types of roads you prefer, and then pick a bike that goes with that. There's no better solution, but you need the bike that works well on the trips that you like.

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    Racing bikes are really optimized for handling in tight groups, criteriums and mountain descents and the aerodynamics are as good as this allows. Optimizing for aerodynamics gets you a triathlon bike or recumbent, and those are banned in road racing for good reasons.
    – ojs
    Jun 27 '20 at 15:34
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To give some background I mean I am probably doing around 50km (31 miles) a week.

That's not a lot for a period as long as a week. I cycled 43km yesterday. I had a 5-year break from cycling and have cycled only about 300km since the break. Before the break, I used to do 50km ride daily, and my longest rides were 100km.

However, we can observe something from my numbers. The fact that I can already do 43km daily rides after 5-year break and 300km since the break, means that my bicycle is extremely comfortable and its fit is superb.

That’s where my problem comes in. I’m not sure whether to add a road bike to the mix and use it for interval training on the road and racing and continue to use my current mountain bike. Or do I upgrade my current mountain bike to a nice new one. I am concerned about how quickly a mountain bike gets wear and tear but I’m not really sure if that’s a real consideration even?

That depends on what kinds of rides you're planning to do. All things being equal, road bikes wear no less than mountain bikes, but you can obviously affect this by selecting non-dirty routes.

However, given that you enjoy mountain biking, a genuine road racing bike would be the worst purchase you can ever make. Most have very short wheelbases so that your front tire jumps up if you pedal uphills sitting, if you're long and pedal hard. These racing-optimized machines can fit only 23mm slick tires with no dirt on them. If you ride on a dirty road, the dirt starts to scrape the fork crown with these 23mm tires. Don't even try fitting 25mm-32mm tires!

If you plan to ride for long distances, on surfaces that could be classified as a "road", and want to have the ability to take the bike offroads, I would recommend a more practical drop bar bicycle. For example:

Most of these can fit a 32mm tire no problem, and you're not limited to slick tires, as there's room for tread pattern too.

I’ve done some research and on the road bike side the best deal I’ve found was this: https://www.trekbikes.com/za/en_ZA/bikes/road-bikes/performance-road-bikes/émonda/émonda-alr/émonda-alr-5/p/24166/

Don't buy this bike. Its tire clearance appears to be very limited although it seems to have 25mm tires (better than 23mm), room for dirt between the tire and fork crown, and perhaps possibility to fit 28mm tires. The low spoke count wheels fail if you take it offroad. The saddle has razor-thin edges (although you can of course easily replace it with a more comfortable, i.e. heavier, saddle). The first time you fall, you're left wondering if the carbon fork has structurally weakened from the fall, and the same is true for carbon seatpost too although the seatpost can be changed. The only way to inspect a carbon fork after a fall is with something like x-rays, and you probably don't have an x-ray machine at home. The 11-speed drivetrain has so closely spaced gear ratios that you need to click...click...click... A LOT to have any meaningful change in gear ratio. The handlebar can only be put to such a low position that lot of your weight rests on your arms. For developing arm strength it might be a good bike, but you won't benefit from developing arm strength if what you like is mountain biking. In fact, if you have weak arms, you probably find you won't be using the road bike much due to its low handlebars.

My bike is built from Surly Long Haul Trucker and has high drop handlebar and 28mm slick tires. I don't claim it's the optimal bike for every situation -- in fact, your preference to mountain biking could benefit from 32mm tires with offroad tread. I ride mostly on roads and most of them are paved, so 28mm slick tires are the best tires for me.

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  • There are also endurance road bikes, that are lighter than tourers but have a more comfortable geometry than racers
    – Chris H
    Jun 27 '20 at 10:24
  • Really appreciate the feedback, given me a lot to think about. I am not really looking to replace my mtb with another category of bike if you get what I mean? I know the gravel bike technology has improved a lot but some of the trails nearby I wouldn't be able to ride with it which is a bit limiting... Jun 27 '20 at 12:21
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    @DanielBailey That wasn't what I was suggesting. I'm suggesting to purchase a multi-use drop bar bicycle instead of one dedicated for road racing. You'll still have the mountain bike dedicated to riding on trails.
    – juhist
    Jun 27 '20 at 12:34
  • @juhist Ah okay thank you for clarifying, do you have a link to a good example? I'm not sure I 100% understand. Jun 27 '20 at 12:37
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    @juhist So if I understand you correctly, a gravel bike will have less aggressive geometry which will be better than getting a road bike as my tarmac/racing bike? Jun 27 '20 at 12:43
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To help with part of your question, MTB lifespan all depends on how rough your trails are. At some point, parts start breaking so fast it's just refreshing to buy a whole new bike. You also need to factor in whether you can afford to replace broken parts as well. Rear derailleurs, spokes, rims, and tires wear and break surprisingly often, and this can add up quickly if your bike comes with nice components in the first place.

Ultimately, remember that road bikes can handle smooth terrain extremely well but can't do MTB trails at all, while MTBs handle rough terrain extremely well and can do some road riding too. If you're serious about MTB, you'll enjoy the nice MTB much more than a nicer road bike. You can always sell your current bike to recuperate some costs too.

Not a product recommendation, but Specialized is generally a poor choice when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck. They make great bikes, don't get me wrong, but they come at a premium cost.

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  • I disagree with the claim that road bikes can't do MTB trails at all. With my Surly LHT having 28mm slick tires and 78mm bottom bracket drop, I have ridden in forest, encountering obstacles like tree branches. If I had 32mm-35mm tires and less bottom bracket drop, the off-road experience would be far more pleasurable. If you are aware of cyclocross, they ride in MTB trails using what are essentially road bikes with slightly wider tires.
    – juhist
    Jun 27 '20 at 19:00
  • @juhist I don't call CX tracks "proper MTB trails". You aren't going to find large drops (2 feet or more), gap jumps, steep rocky features (at least 45 degrees downwards), etc.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 27 '20 at 19:52
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    If think that LHT is representative of what road bikes are, your answers might be slightly off.
    – ojs
    Jun 28 '20 at 6:25
  • @juhist the LHT is designed specifically for “Long Haul Touring” hence LHT. It’s not really designed for log hopping, steep jumps or steep mountain descents along jagged ridges. It’s primary use is long tours carrying lots of weight
    – Dan K
    Jun 29 '20 at 9:03

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