Mountain Biking vs. Road Biking (Explained for Beginners)

Deciding what kind of biking is for you is the most important decision you can make. Choosing the wrong discipline can let you disappointed and maybe you give up biking altogether.

For this reason, I decided to write this article. To help you find out if mountain biking or road biking is for you, for this, you need to know which one of the two is better for fitness, which one is more dangerous and you need to know the advantages of each one. I will break down all these subjects in this article, so keep reading!

Mountain Biking vs. Road Biking | Which is Better for Fitness

Most people get into cycling to improve their fitness level and burn some extra pounds, so the common question is: Which is better for fitness mountain biking or road biking?

Mountain biking is a physical activity based on short bursts of power and this makes it ideal for HIT training, which will conserve your muscles and will raise your metabolic rhythm so you burn more calories over a period of time. In short, it is better for muscle building and good for losing fat.

Road bike vs MTB

Road biking is a physical activity based on longer sustained effort, this means that it is very effective in burning fat but it will burn a lot of muscle fibers in the process as well. Its biggest disadvantage is that it is just lower-body training and it can easily make your body unevenly developed.

A mountain biker will have a more evenly developed and muscular body than a road cyclist, but on the average road, cyclists are more ripped than mountain bikers.

If you want cardiovascular training that will go hand in hand with your gym workouts then mountain biking is for you. Because you rely on short bursts of energy your body will use glycogen as a main source of energy and for this reason, it will not break the muscle fiber because it uses it to deposit glycogen.

If your only fitness goal is to lose weight and get as lean as possible and your muscle mass is not a concern for you then road biking is the way to go.

Practically if you want a more muscular body mountain biking is the way to go and if you want a lean body road biking will be the best choice. Keep in mind that you can ride on the road also with a mountain bike, the main difference is that it is slower.

If you want to know which of the two bikes is the best choice for fitness you can read this article!

Mountain Biking vs. Road Biking | Which Burns More Calories

Maybe the most common question that people have is which of the two biking disciplines helps you to burn more calories. So let’s take a look!

Mountain biking in generalRoad biking in generalMountain biking competitiveRoad biking competitive
Bodyweight60min [kcal]60min [kcal]60min [kcal]60min [kcal]
70kg / 154.3lb6245511176882
80kg / 176.3lb71463013441008
90kg / 198.4lb80370815121134
100kg / 220.4lb89278716801260

If we examine the table above we can easily say that mountain biking burns more calories and it seems to make sense because it is the most physically challenging of the two.

Riding on rough terrain will put more stress on your body, while this is a good thing regarding the total number of calories you burn on a ride it can mean that your body needs more time to recover and you need more days off.

Now, why are road cyclists leaner than mountain bikers if road biking burns fewer calories than mountain biking?

The answer is simple here, the main source of energy for mountain bikers is the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles because they need energy fast to maintain the short bursts of effort that riding off-road demands.

Because road cycling is based on maintained effort over long periods of time the body uses fat as the main source of energy. Fat takes more time to transform into energy and if you need a burst of energy fast your body needs to use glycogen and not fat.

Mountain biking burns more calories than road biking but is less effective in fat loss due to the nature of riding on rough terrain which demands short bursts of energy and your body doesn’t have enough time to convert fat into energy so it uses the glycogen stored in your muscles.

If you want an in-depth comparison of the number of calories burned in mountain biking and other outdoor sports, I encourage you to read this article!

Mountain Biking vs. Road Biking | Which is More Dangerous

Bike injuries

A big concern that people have when they are in the process of deciding which sport discipline is for them is the dangers that come with it. So how dangerous is mountain biking?

According to a study made on 3474 mountain bikers made by PubMed, the majority of mountain biking injuries are minor and consist off:

  • Impact injuries
  • Knee/Lower Back Pain
  • Wrist, arm, head, and neck pain
  • Saddle sores

A total of 8133 single lesions were reported by 3474 athletes, 36% of whom regularly participated in competitions. The incidence of injuries in mountain biking is comparable to that in other outdoor sports, the majority of injuries being minor. Mountain biking athletes were found to have an overall injury risk rate of 0.6% per year and 1 injury per 1000 h of biking.

Gaulrapp H, Weber A, Rosemeyer B. Injuries in mountain biking. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2001;9(1):48-53. DOI: 10.1007/s001670000145. PMID: 11269584.

Mountain biking seems to be very dangerous but the reality is different, there are very few deaths reported from mountain biking accidents but in a study made by in 2016, about 25.600 people were killed in road accidents throughout the EU, 8% of those being bicycle fatalities.

Let us not forget that falling on the pavement when riding at high speed produces harder injuries than falling on dirt at lower speeds when riding your mountain bike on the trail.

When you are mountain biking you can choose on which terrain you wish to ride, riding the trails on which you feel comfortable riding diminishes the risk of injuries by a lot.

In conclusion, we can easily say that road biking is more dangerous than mountain biking. You didn’t expect that, did you? But it is the truth.

If you want to know more about the risks of mountain biking, I have written an article that compares the injury rates of the more popular outdoor sports and discusses in detail the risks involved in mountain biking. Check it out!

Advantages of Mountain Biking Over Road Biking

Making the choice between these two popular cycling disciplines is no easy thing, before an opinion can be formed we need to know the advantages of each discipline over the other one. Now let us explore the advantages of mountain biking.

You don’t have to deal with cars

One of the best things about mountain biking is that you don’t have to share the trails with cars, so you don’t have to face the dangers that come with riding in the traffic.

Let us not forget that riding in traffic makes you vulnerable to all the driving mistakes of car owners and it is a lot more stressful than riding on mountain trails.

You Get to Enjoy Nature

One of the biggest advantages of mountain biking is that it lets you explore nature and all its beauty. There is nothing compared with riding your bike on a trail at the top of a hill and seeing the sunset over the forest, it is therapeutic at least.

Being able to ride my bike through nature made me relinquish all the mundane live stress that eats out our health every day, this was for me a life-changing experience, and I highly encourage you to try it.

Mountain Biking Is a Full-Body Workout

Because riding on tough terrain is tuff and maintaining balance is not an easy task you will be forced to use all the muscles in your body. Most of the time you need to shift your weight on the bike to be able to conquer the challenges of the terrain and you will need the chest, back, arms, and shoulder muscles to do that.

This helps you do develop a well-balanced body and you will train all the muscles, not only your legs like in road biking. Over time you will become more athletic and will have a better all-around physique.

Mountain Biking Is Good for Your Mental Stress

I can’t imagine a better prescription for stress release than walking or riding your bike true to the heart of nature.

When I ride my bike to the forest and I hear the birds singing and I see all the beautiful landscapes that surround me, all my worries melt away, my mind gets cleared out and I become more relaxed and happy.

It’s Never Boring

Mountain Biker

When you ride your bike on the road you are doing the same thing every ride but if you go mountain biking there are different varieties of terrain that you can ride and all demand different skills so you never get bored.

This is why there are more disciplines of mountain biking like downhill, enduro, cross-country, etc.

You Can Ride in Mtb Bike Parks

One of the big advantages of being a mountain biker is that you can go to mountain biking parks and there you will find an incredible community defined by incredible comradery and all are united by the passion for mountain biking.

Riding in MTB parks is like going to Disneyland when you are a child, it is amazing.

You Can Always Progress

In road biking, nothing changes besides your endurance when you progress from a newbie to a veteran but in mountain biking when you progress you get to ride the more advanced trails and you get to enjoin new types of terrain and challenges.

Bike Versatility

One of the advantages of mountain biking is that you can use your mountain bike on rough terrain or you can ride on the road but you can’t take a road bike and ride over tree routes in the forest.

So you can enjoy road biking even on a mountain bike, but it will be a lot slower.

It’s More Fun

Because you can ride so many styles and you can be so playful on the trails (perform a wheelie, manual, jump, etc.) when you get your mountain bike on the trails you will feel like a child on a playground, it is so addicting.

Advantages of Road Biking Over Mountain Biking

Now that we have explored the advantages of mountain biking let us see where road biking shines.

You Get to Enjoy Speed

Road bikes are designed to be as fast as possible on the pavement and they are well-optimized for maintaining speed. For this reason, if you are a speed junkie then road biking is for you.

You will never achieve the same speed with a mountain bike as with a road bike, mountain bikes are designed for maneuverability on rough terrain.

Lower Cost of Bike Maintenance for Bikes

Because mountain bikes are designed to overcome all the challenges that come with riding on mountain trails they are equipped with suspensions and so the frame will have more moving parts, so more things that can go wrong. This increases the price of maintenance.

Road bikes have a simpler geometry and they are designed for road use they don’t have to endure the same bitting that mountain bikes do in off-road conditions.

More Efficient for Fat Loss

Because road biking is based on maintained effort over long periods of time, you will burn more of your fat reserves to get to the end of your ride than you burn while mountain biking (which is more based on short bursts of effort ).

The Final Verdict

Mountain biking is safer, more fun, more versatile, and better at building muscles than road biking. Really the advantages of mountain biking surpass those of road biking.

Let us not forget that you can use a mountain bike for road biking if you need to lose some pounds quicker. In my opinion mountain biking is the clear winner here.

But if you are a speed junkie and the maximum speed at which you ride is the most important thing then clearly road biking is for you. But if this is not the case you would probably be better off if you stick to mountain biking.

Related articles:

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.