Mountain Bike Or Road Bike: Which Is Better For Fitness?

If you are wondering if mountain bikes or road bikes are good for fitness, you are in the right place!

In this article, I will discuss if a mountain bike is good for fitness, which of the two types of bikes is good for weight loss and building muscles and I will break down the pros and cons of using each type of bike for fitness. So keep reading!

Can a Mountain Bike Be Used for Fitness?

A mountain bike is a good choice for fitness due to the great number o calories needed to ride it on the road and off-road. Riding off-road is a great workout that will strengthen your lower and your upper body, this has a positive effect on your overall fitness level.

A mountain biker will have a more balanced body because to ride a mountain bike on the trails you need upper and lower body strength, this comes with higher energy demand.

If your primary fitness goal is to lose weight you need to pay attention to your heart rate. To burn the excess fat you need to ride at a lower intensity, if you ride too hard then your body can’t keep up with the high energy demand by using fat, and then it uses the stored glycogen.

Biking on road

Practically you have two options to ride for fat loss:

  • Slower and longer rides: you need to maintain a pedaling cadence that is easy to maintain and will allow you to bread easily, the problem with this method is that you need to ride for long periods of time to be effective
  • Interval training: after a warmup period you need to push as hard as possible for a set amount of time (the 30s, 45s, 1 min) and decrease cadence for a period of time that is double the time of max intensity, repeat this for 10 to 20 times

If you ride off-road due to the nature of the terrain your training will fall in the interval training category, but it will not be so effective because you will not control the intervals.

If you want to build muscles you need to ride your mountain bike as hard as you can and try to ride the hardest trails that are within your skill level.

Keep in mind that if you want to lose weight you need to increase the level of activity and decrease the amount of food you eat, and if you what to gain muscles you need to increase the level of activity and the amount of food you eat (because you need lots of protein to rebuild the broken muscles).

Is Riding a Mountain Bike on the Road a Good Exercise?

A mountain bike is less effective in maintaining a high speed on the road than a road bike because it has wide and knobby tires that have a higher surface of contact with the road, therefore the effort to ride on the pavement is greater and so is the energy demand (calories needed).

Riding a mountain bike on the road is better suited for interval training because it is harder to maintain a decent speed and this will easily make your heart rate go over 70% of your maximum capacity and this will force your body to use glycogen as a fuel source and not fat.

If you find it hard to breed when riding then you are over 70% of your max heart rate, if you what to burn fat without doing interval training then you need to slow down. I know it’s not fun but for your body to use fat as its main fuel source you need to ride on a lower intensity.

Do You Burn More Calories on a Mountain Bike or on a Road Bike?

As a general rule, you consume more calories by riding a mountain bike on trails than you consume riding a road bike on the pavement because riding in off-road conditions is more demanding and requires all the muscles of your body.

Road bikes are optimized to maintain a high speed with as little effort as possible, so you can ride faster for a longer period of time. This makes them perfect for long rides with lower pedaling cadence, it is easier to maintain your heart rate below 70% and we know that at this heart rate the body uses fat as fuel.

Now let us see a corporation between the two biking disciplines regarding the consumption of calories:

Mountain biking in generalRoad biking in general
Bodyweight60min [kcal]60min [kcal]
70kg / 154.3lb624551
80kg / 176.3lb714630
90kg / 198.4lb803708
100kg / 220.4lb892787

So the energy demand is higher on mountain biking but you need to know that it is harder to ride on rough terrain and usually, road bikers ride for longer periods of time because road biking is less intense.

If you don’t have much time for training a mountain bike will be your best choice (you consume more calories per hour), but if time is not a problem then a longer ride on a road bike (at a lower intensity) will burn more fat.

Be aware that more calories are not always equivalent to more fat burned, if your training is more intense your body will take the required calories from glycogen and not fat. This occurs when your heart rate is more than 70% of your max, practically when you start to breed harder.

If you what to know how many calories you consume in mountain biking compared to other outdoor sports, I encourage you to read this article!

Which Is Better for Fat Loss – a Mountain Bike or a Road Bike?

Cyclists riding a bicycle on the road

Riding a mountain bike on rough terrain will have a greater calorie demand than riding a road bike on the pavement, but it is more intense, and your heart rate usually will be higher than 70% of your max. For this reason, a big part of those calories will be from glycogen and not from fat.

Now you know why you see many mountain bikers with a little belly and most road bikers are super slim.

Because road bikes are so optimized for speed, you can have fun riding on a lower intensity than on a mountain bike. If you can easily breed when riding then you are at the right intensity for fat loss.

Because fat takes longer to convert into energy if you ride at high intensity your body will use glycogen as fuel because it is quicker to convert it into energy.

Now we can say that road bikes are better for fat loss than mountain bikes.

Which Is Better for Building Muscles – a Mountain Bike or a Road Bikes?

Riding on trails is much more demanding than riding on pavement. Off-road riding is a much more intense workout and it will tear down more muscle fibers, which will lead to muscle growth over time.

Road biking is a lower-body workout that will make your feet bigger, but mountain biking is a full-body workout that will give you a more balanced body when it comes to muscles.

If you want to be able to ride longer on tough terrain it is recommended that you incorporate strength training into your workout routine.

No doubt about it, mountain biking is better at building muscles, but if you ride a mountain bike only on the road it will not be more effective than riding a road bike.

Pros and Cons of Using a Mountain Bike for Fitness

When deciding if you what to use a mountain bike for fitness you need to wey all the pros and cons so you make an informed decision.

Good for building musclesIntense workout
can consume glycogen and not fat
Full-body workoutHarder on your hands
(sour hands)
Burnes many calories
Tough bike
can be used all seasons
Suspensions offer
joint protection
Less stressful to ride in nature
More intense on sprints
and climbs (increased bike weight)

As we can see there are a lot of pros and just a few cons, and if you don’t push hard you can maintain a lower heart rate and burn fat, not glycogen.

Using a mountain bike for fitness is a great choice and it will give you the versatility to ride any terrain on top of all using it on trails is a full-body workout.

Pros and Cons of Using a Road Bike for Fitness

Now let us examine the pros and cons of using a road bike to improve your overall fitness level:

Good for fat lossCan develop
muscle unbalance
Good for long ridesHarder to maintain if used
in rough weather
Build leg musclesCan be used only
on pavement
Long rides can
cause back pain
Road traffic

Road bikes are excellent for losing weight because you can ride with speed without breading like a train, at a lower intensity the body can use fat as fuel, and let’s not mentioned that you can ride longer periods of time without being depleted.

The biggest downside is that it works out only your lower body, it is great for building leg muscles but if you don’t incorporate a training routine for your upper body you can develop muscle unbalance.

One more disadvantage is that road bikes are built to be light and for this, a sacrifice on toughness must be made. If you will ride your bike in muddy conditions or in winter you will have to get some money out of your pockets for bike maintenance.

The Verdict

Mountain biking is great for fitness because it is a full-body workout that will develop all your muscles, of course, the muscles from your feet will benefit you the most.

The amount of energy you need to shred the trails is big and so are the calories you burn but this is an intense workout that needs a lot of energy fast, this can make your body consume glycogen because transforming fat into energy takes too much time.

Road bikes are better for fat loss than mountain bikes because you can maintain a high speed with a moderate effort and that allows your body to use fat as fuel, the downside is that this is only a leg workout, your body will not get stronger as a whole.

One more advantage is that road bikes will not deplete you so quickly and you can ride longer, this is another great thing for losing weight.

If you only want to lose weight then a road bike would be better for you, but if you what a full-body workout and to lose weight then a mountain bike will be more suited for you.

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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.