Video: Is MTB harder than road cycling?

Heart rate and power meter data compared

Video
Is mountain biking or road cycling more physically intensive?

Is mountain biking or road cycling more physically intensive? (click to enlarge)

To help determine whether or not mountain biking or road riding is more physically intensive, the Global Mountain Bike News crew rounded up some heart rate monitors and power meters. After sending out former professional road cyclist Daniel Lloyd and Pro DH/enduro racer Neil Donoghue on rides, the crew compared and contrasted the data.

Do you agree with their findings?


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  • Johnny Rotten says:

    Hardly a scientific test.

  • Christopher Slade says:

    I will wholeheartedly disagree that mountain biking is harder in certain aspects.
    Road for legs and lungs, mountain for upper body and cardio peaking.

    Trying to get back into shape here – and I get absolutely destroyed on our road rides. We go mountain biking, same group, and if it is a technical ride – I have no major issues keeping up at all.

  • grady says:

    May really be dependent on terrain and rider style, though since roads are graded for cars and traffic, at least in the developed world you will never encounter the types of steep grades on road that you will off-road. As someone who lives on the steep and hilly coast of Norcal can state that a 20 mile off road ride with 2500-3000 ft of climbing is way more difficult than the same distance and climbing on the road here. Again riding on the road does not require the same type of out of the saddle pushes or upper body control that a mtn bike ride does. Have also ridden off road with roadies whoa re god on sustained climbs but fall apart in technical ascents and descents as don’t have the same bike handling skills as a mtn biker.

    • Larry says:

      I ride road and mtn both. No doubt 20 mi of mtn is harder than 20 mi of road, but if you compare riding time I think things change. A 2 hr road ride will leave me deeper level of fatigue than a 2hr mtn ride. Both disciplines can bring different things to your overall fitness that can be achieved by doing one or the other. I do think an experienced mtb rider that also rides road(especially early season) will have a higher level of aerobic fitness than one that doesn’t. It will help you push quite a bit deeper before you go anaerobic on the demanding pushes (the spikes) that you experience mountain biking.

  • Phil B says:

    Surely it just depends on how much you put into it? The MTB rider had to vary his power output quite a lot and maybe peak higher – not surprising really. Higher average for the roadie.

  • gg says:

    C’mon why do the GMBN jerseys have a soccer ball logo ??

  • JEff says:

    worthless test unless they compare elevation gained and distance traveled. they appear to be pitching an easy to use power meter vs. trying to answer an easy to answer question. MTB is harder (over same elevation and distance) no question.

  • john says:

    Mtb mIght not be harder according to this, but it sure is funner. Yes, funner is a word and it safe to take your helmets off when sitting down at a computer too.

  • Tim says:

    I agree that the “science” here is worthless. No indication of the comparative conditions of the two rides. However, from personal experience I largely agree with the conclusion. I ride/race road and XC, and have found that road is great for those long medium-high efforts (80-100% FTP), but without focused attention to the short/hard efforts like sprints or short punchy climbs, top end power and recovery time suffer. A lot. So I’d say for a similar duration and competition level, MTB is more difficult. Especially since it’s more of a whole body workout than the road tends to be.

  • Dylan says:

    It’s almost impossible to make a fair comparison. As Phil B points out, to a large extent it just depends how much you put in. This is certainly true on the road – you can go on a 2 hour recovery ride, or a 2 hour sufferfest, almost regardless of what the road itself is doing, up and down the hill. On the MTB, it’s much more dependent on the trail. If you have non-technical, groomed, and fairly level XC trails then you can more or less approximate a road workout. But living somewhere with steep hills and technical climbs, you often don’t have a choice, it’s full gas or walking on the way up. Then when you hit the downhill, leg power output drops to zero because you’re braking, not pedalling. Doing a 2 hour ‘recovery’ ride on the trail here is basically impossible unless you walk the climbs.

  • Farmer Ted says:

    I am mostly a mountain biker and prefer it that way. I’ve never ridden a lot of road but will do it occasionally when the trails are snowy or muddy. I live in Northern Colorado where the mountain biking is steep and technical and the road riding can be flat or mountainous depending on where you ride.

    In my personal comparisons, mountain biking takes a lot more effort than road biking, even on steep terrain. Mountain bikes are heavier and have higher rolling resistance so there’s an increase in effort to go the same speed right there. with loose, soft, uneven terrain, even more effort is required plus the fact that mountain bike trails aren’t graded like roads and typically include large obstacles that require extra effort to get over. Just take a look at the gearing between the two…when was the last time you saw a reduction ratio on a serious road bike? (not counting the triple rings that a casual rider might use).

    In my mostly non-scientific personal comparisons, I burn close to twice the calories and average about half the speed over the course of a ride of the same distance on a mountain bike when compared to a road bike. Another way to say that is that In the same time, I would go about half the distance on a road bike when compared to a mountain bike. Of course, I’m riding the mountain bike on trails and the road bike on pavement. I typically figure that the effort to go one mile on a mountain bike equals about 2 on a road bike. Of course this can vary with terrain.

    Does mountain biking take more effort? definitely. More skill? I’d argue yes. Is it more fun? Absolutely.

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