I think I’m pretty fast on my road bike on most rides, but when I’d watch other road cyclists past with ease, it made me think:
What makes one road bike faster than another?
If we consider the bike only, not including the rider, the main factors that contribute to a faster road bike versus another bike are the aerodynamics of the frame, the tires, gears, and the weight of the bike.
I definitely agree that being fast on one’s road bike will be dependent upon the rider themselves, but I also don’t want to dismiss the minor factor here, which is the bike itself. In this article, we will cover multiple factors that contribute to a road bike and a cyclist being faster.
What’s Considered A Fast Road Bike?
While a Red Hot paint job will make your ride look faster, it will certainly take a whole lot more to make your bike faster.
Consider these factors that make a road bike faster:
- Aero framed race bike (Less drag when riding)
- Long and low geometric build
- Solid Frame, quick off the start
- Narrow tires with carbon wheelsets
- Tire size 700cc x 25 mm (As used by the PROs)
- Air pressure- right under the max
- Tubeless Tires
- Standard Crankset
- Rear Cassette with narrower range for quick gear changes
- Clean chainring and cassette
- Lubed gears and chain
- Carbon Framed bikes = lighter bikes
- Bikes weighing between 10lb (4.54 kg) – 14.99 lbs (6.8kg)
- Clipless pedals
- All Carbon Everything
Are Lighter Road Bikes Faster?
Lighter road bikes are not necessarily faster than other bikes.
What makes a lighter road bike faster will be entirely dependent on a riders’ fitness, aero position, body weight, and skill.
Plus, I don’t think it would be fair to compare a lightweight road bike with let’s say a fat bike because both of the bikes are ridden and used differently.
But it would be fair to compare two road bikes together with varying weights.
Most road bikes weigh between 17lbs (7.72kg) to 17.5lbs (7.94kg), and anything less than that will be either a race bike or one that has been upgraded with lighter more expensive parts.
For the average cyclist, you probably will not worry about which bike is lighter. But if you race competitively, weight is everything.
As a competitive cyclist, every bit of weight saved counts, so a lightweight bike will be a factor to consider.
Lightweight road bikes tend to have lighter more aerodynamic components which allow the bike to cut through the wind more efficiently.
The lighter the road bike might also mean it’s more expensive.
Some road bikes that are made with lighter more durable materials such as carbon fiber are not cheap.
To increase your speed on a road bike, one does not have to purchase a carbon-framed bike, however, read on as I will share with you tips on increasing your speed cycling.
Are Road Bikes Faster Than Hybrids?
Road bikes and Hybrid bikes look very similar but are not made equal.
Road bikes are super light, made to go fast, built for endurance and speed. Hybrid bikes are a bit on the heavier side, not meant to go fast but built for comfort, touring, and or commuting.
Since hybrid bikes are somewhat of a spin-off from road bikes, you can say that they are slower than riding a road bike.
Road bikes have drop bars and place you, the rider, in a more aerodynamic position. Also, most road bikes have gear ratios made for climbing hills and accelerating on flat roads.
Hybrid bikes tend to place the rider more upright and have less of an aerodynamic feel because sitting upright creates more drag during headwinds.
Hybrid bikes with wider tires and more tread typically roll slower than a road bike with 700cc x 23 mm tires, for instance.
This is not to say that a rider on a hybrid bike can’t be faster than someone on a road bike.
But a cyclist on a road bike versus a cyclist on a hybrid bike will have more of an advantage in speed considering their position on the bike and the riding weight (rider + bike weight).
Can A Mountain Bike Be Faster Than A Road Bike?
First off, considering that these two bikes are ridden on totally different terrains, tells you that the speed of each will be dramatically different.
Mountain bikes are durable heavier bikes made to ride on rough terrain and downhills. Road bikes are lighter, stiffer, and narrower bikes for riding on paved or flat roads fast.
Both of these bikes can be fast depending on the conditions you’re riding in.
On paved terrain, you can take a mountain bike downhill with a road bike, and find the mountain bike to be faster than a road bike if the mountain bike and rider weigh more.
But there’s a caveat with mountain bikes in which the thick knobby tires can increase your rolling resistance making a bike like this slower than a road bike with narrow slick tires.
Now take for instance a mountain bike racing downhill in the mountains with a road bike, the mountain bike will be faster as it’s made to handle terrain like that.
The road bike going downhill in the mountains is going to get slowed down by all the rocks, dips, and dirt that will make it almost impossible to mountain bike with a road bike.
Mountain bikes will be slower on paved roads due to the added suspension, gear ratio, weight, and tires. Also, the frames are bigger and drag more in the wind.
Speaking of gear ratio, with a road bike the higher the gear ratio the more max speed you can achieve. But unlike road bikes, mountain bikes have low gear ratios and result in slower speed.
Even if you strip a mountain bike down to add components that you would find on a road bike, it still will not make a difference. You would be better off buying a road bike.
Can You Make Your Mountain Bike Faster?
Consider these tips on how to make your mountain bike faster:
- Reduce the bike’s weight – remove unnecessary attachments like bottle cages, lights, mudguards
- Keep Gears in Check- ensure they work properly and they’re not worn
- Ensure breaks are properly adjusted – If you have disc brakes they should be clear of dirt, and rims breaks should not be loosely fitted
- Lock or Tighten your suspension
- Increase Tire Air Pressure
- Keep Bike Clean- don’t let the mud build up or be sure to have a clean ride before heading out
- Use Slick Tires
- Reduce Gear & Kits- ride with less equipment except for the bare minimum, spare tube, pump multi-tool, and water
How Do I Improve My Cycling Speed?
Many cyclists will tell you, in order to become faster on your bike you must ride a lot and consistently.
Improving your speed on a road bike will include increasing your fitness level, interval training, and cycling cadence, which is the speed at which you pedal.
Your fitness level will include losing weight, which is probably the most important factor, but let’s not forget about building muscle.
I talk about cycling as it relates to exercise in this blog and you can read more about it.
Being able to cycle faster will take having fast-twitch muscles to spin out the bike and move it forward faster.
But in order to build fast-twitch muscles, you will need to lift weights or do strength training exercises.
Now pedaling cadence, which might be more important than a faster bike, will be how many revolutions you can spin in a minute riding.
Most cyclists can spin at 90 RPMs and reach speeds that range between 12-14 mph (19.32-22.54 kph).
You must be able to keep a good cadence going over a long period of time in order to cycle fast.
Cadence becomes even more crucial when cycling up hills fast as well.
Consider some additional free tips on becoming a faster rider:
- Wear lycra- cycling-specific clothing
- Use clipless pedals
- Ride in aero position- flat back, hands in the drop bars, bent elbows
- Ride with narrow tires- Most road cyclists use 700cc x 23mm tires up to 700cc x 25mm
- Cycle with faster riders
- Practice sprints
- Cycle standing up on the pedals
When it comes to speed, are wider tires better than narrow ones?
Most road bike tires are narrow for a reason and it has to do with rolling resistance. If you put a wide tire, let’s say like a 35mm tire on a road bike, it will roll better but slower than a tire width of 25 mm. Narrow bike tires are smoother and more agile and allowing you to roll quickly since they are not as heavy. You can learn more about this in detail as well as what’s recommended for road bikes, here.
Can I make a bike faster with sprockets?
On a geared road bike you have many options to change your gear ratio. Some cyclists prefer gear ratios that are higher than what casual riders use. If you take for instance the standard crank which has two chainrings, 53/39, you can reach a higher top-end speed. If you are using a road triple chainring with a compact cassette, which most bikes are equipped with, your top-end speed will be less than the competitive standard gear ratio.