I’ve Been Riding A Mountain Bike But I Want Something Faster [A Reader Question]

Occasionally, Sportive Cyclist readers will write in requesting advice. Sometimes it is bike-related.

Kevin is one such reader. He sent me a nice email containing the query below. I thought I’d have a go at answering it publicly (with Kevin’s permission) and thereby supplement my own pearls of ‘wisdom’ with the contents of the Sportive Cyclist hive mind*.

(*The ‘hive mind’ being you, good readers, so add your own thoughts in the comments section below).

Enough guff. On with the question.

Background Info

  • Kevin (43) lives in Mumbai (a mix of cobbles / cement / tarmac road; rainy season for 4 months in the year).
  • He began cycling regularly 6 months ago – averages 25km, 6 evenings a week
  • He currently rides a mountain bike [collective sharp intake of breath]

Would Like To Have

Kevin seeks enlightenment a bike that has (or is):

  • Higher gearing
  • Greater aero dynamics
  • No rear suspension
  • Thinner tyres
  • Lighter (in the weight sense, rather than paint job).

Kevin’s Question

“I am considering an upgrade, and though I’m keen on a road bike, …[I’m] also concerned about the impact on my wrists and shoulders given my age and road conditions. What would you suggest?”

Kevin also noted that import duty is very high on bikes coming into India, so only wants to buy once. No pressure then people….

What Type Of Bike?

I know Kevin has specified ‘road bike’ but it’s worth mentioning that he could consider a hybrid or a cyclocross bike.

I’ve talked about the difference between a road bike and a hybrid in a previous post (this one in fact).

As to cyclocross bikes, to be honest I’ve never ridden one. But I did seriously consider buying one for commuting in London. I reckoned that the thicker tyres and sturdier construction would deal better with potholes than my trusty Dawes racer.

For a time I had to carry my bike up and down the stairs of the Greenwich foot tunnel. Cyclocross bikes have their gear and brake cables run along the top of the top tube (as opposed to underneath), making them marginally more comfortable to carry.

I digress. I never bought a cyclocross bike (I stopped working instead, which solved the commuting issue).

Moving on.

Road Bike Considerations

Let’s assume Kevin is set on buying a road bike (and there are worse things to set your mind on). A road bike (chosen well) will certainly tick all of his five requirements (higher gearing; aero-dynamism; no suspension; thinner tyres; less weight).

My strong suggestion would be to get a ‘sportive’ road bike. Some manufacturers describe these as endurance road bikes, or as having endurance geometry.

(For more on the difference between sportive and road bikes, I wrote an article ’bout dat.)

Essentially, these are bikes that are designed to provide a little more comfort versus a race-targeted road bike.

The angles of the various tubes that form the frame are set such that the rider has a slightly more upright position than your common-or-garden Tour de France rider.

Putting numbers on it, a road racer might have a back angle of 40-43 degrees – the angle formed between the horizontal and the line of the rider’s back. My bike (a Trek Domane, very much a sportive bike) has been set up to give me a 48 degree angle.

The more upright position of an endurance-focused road bike will be much more forgiving on Kevin’s wrists and shoulders (as well as lower back).

I wrote an extensive post trying to identify the endurance (or sportive) bikes made by each of the major bike manufacturers. This should give Kevin (and you) a feel for what’s out there and bring the list of potential buying options down to a manageable number.

A Brief Word In Favour Of The Domane…

This is not a sponsored message (if only it were…).

Given Kevin’s particular circumstances (the road conditions in India), the Trek Domane is worth considering.

As I’ve talked about before on the blog, the Domane, as well as being Trek’s endurance/sportive model, is the bike used by its pro team to ride the Spring Classics, a series of long, bone-shaking races around the cobbles of Belgium and northern France.

(Fabien Cancellara, three-times winner of both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders (the two big Spring Classics) rides a Domane, albeit a rather expensive one…)

The Domane has a feature called an ‘Isospeed Decoupler’, aimed at providing a little bit of suspension (and therefore comfort) over rough terrain. The top tube and seat stays are not firmly attached to the seat post. This isn’t (quite) as alarming as it sounds – the Isokinetic Cannon Isospeed Decoupler is a brackety-type thing that allows the whole arrangement to flex a little over bumps.

It’s a robustly-built bike that doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart over rough terrain.

…And (Whisper It) The Specialized Roubaix

I should also mention that Specialized has a similar Spring Classics-flavoured bike.

The Roubaix series of bikes (with the clue planted firmly in the name), as well as being set up with ‘endurance geometry’ (for the less bendy gent), features little rubbery inserts (or ‘Zertz’) in the front forks, the seat stays and in the dog-legged fandango (technical term) at the top of the seat post (so just below the saddle). These Zertz, according to Specialized, reduce vibration over rough surfaces.

And Specialized see Trek’s Cancellara and raise them a Boonen*.

(*Four times winner of the Paris Roubaix; 3x Tour of Flanders)

It’s All About The Bike (Fit)

Supporting too much weight through the arms and hands can also be a symptom of an ill-fitting bike putting too much strain on your lower back and core.

Given the more challenging road conditions he deals with, Kevin really doesn’t want to be absorbing road vibrations via the wrists and shoulders. I’d therefore strongly recommend that some of Kevin’s bike budget be applied to getting a professional bike fit.

The ideal scenario would be to find a shop that can measure Kevin for size on an adjustable rig, order him the right sized bike and then set up and fit the bike when it arrives.

I did something similar, but the place where I went for a bike fit didn’t supply Trek bikes. Instead, they sized me up on the jig, and I paid them a small fee for the measurements and some advice on which of the main brand frame sizes would fit me. Then, when I returned with my newly-bought bike, they knocked the sizing fee off the cost of the full bike fit.

(My full bike buying and fitting saga is spread over two posts: part 1 and part 2).

Does Anyone Have Any Further Advice?

Do you have any further advice you’d like to add? Or perhaps you disagree with my own incoherent ramblings?

Either way, let me / us / Kevin know in the comments under this post.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

8 thoughts on “I’ve Been Riding A Mountain Bike But I Want Something Faster [A Reader Question]”

  1. IMHO You’d do well to look at audax or trecking style bikes as you will be able to fit mudguards (rainy season) and wider profile tyres. You’ll also (generally) get a higher spoke count on the wheels than a regular road bikes, which should be a consideration when you’re looking at regular riding on variable terrain.
    Examples from the people at Ribble (you can spec the build to suit)

    If you want a racier, more aggressive position but with the practicalities of wider tyres and go-anywhere ability then the other option is to look at the new breed of gravel bikes that are coming out.

    Rough guide to gravel bikes:

  2. I’ve been riding a cyclocross bike as a winter bike since October. I’ve set it up with an identical fit to my Sportive bike. The advantages are: aluminium frame (safer in the bike rack at work – not a consideration here); much beefier rims that will take 28-40mm tyres. 32mm marathon’s are good on loose stuff (lateral grip) but rubbish on winter roads, so I now have 28mm conti 4 seasons. Another option would be a hard tail 29er.

  3. Hello Monty, thanks for the detailed note. I really appreciate the effort and level of detail. I also appreciate you taking the time to write a comprehensive post, instead of just pointing me to a stack of links from earlier posts.

    I will not say that the inputs have cleared my mind, but they have given me plenty of material to chew on.

    I especially will note the aspects on posture and ride geometry. As well as the option of a hybrid.

    And Nick’s suggestion above on the 29″ hard tail is also appealing.

    Sadly all this is also coinciding with a new car purchase this month, and I’m also trying to figure out how to convince the wife to let me splurge what could potentially be about 750 quid on a new bike. . .

    I thank and appreciate all the others for responding too. Cheers.

  4. Here are my 2 cents worth.
    If you are set on a road bike check the size of tires it can accommodate. The Domane will work well with 700X28. Other bikes may be more but the wider the tire, the more you can soften the ride. Then you can use your skinnier road tires for smooth roads. You can also specify a carbon bar. The carbon bar will absorb mare of the vibration than the aluminum ones. (I just made this upgrade to my Domane and it definitely works.) I understand about keeping vibration levels down since I have arthritis, as well as a shiny new replacement shoulder (actually 5 years old). As you get older (well into my 60’s) every comfort item helps.
    If you consider a hybrid then the same comment I made above about tire size applies, except in reverse – get a set of skinnier tires for when you are on good pavement. A suspension type seat post might also help. Hybrids are typically lighter than suspension mountain bikes and 29ers.
    Whatever you do make sure you have a comfortable saddle. Don’t just settle for what comes with the bike, if it doesn’t fit you comfortably. As has also been stated have your bike fit to you.

  5. My commute combines enough cobbles to let me pretend I’m riding Paris-Roubaix (but not so many I get bored of them), a canal tow path and lots of tarmac. I can’t love my cyclocross bike more. It lets me go for long, fast(ish) road rides, while also handling all the off road I can fling at it. It did 50 miles of the South Downs Way last weekend.

    The only problem is the colour.


    After we came off the SDW last weekend my boyfriend was pretty knackered, so I swapped onto his hardtail and let hi have the fast bike for the roads. His mum was so rude about him riding a pink bike, although I’ve got blue bar tape.

  6. Better late than never, right?
    Can we get more info about the bike Kevin rides? Model, size, gearing, ratios? What gear you use on flats mostly, do you use your lowest or higher gears at all? What surfaces are you riding on? Is it a mix of cobbles, cement, tarmac? Anything off-road-ish like gravel, plain old track in the woods or fields? And where do you want to ride on ideally, irrelevant of fitness or time or distance? The weight of your current bike, a plain accurate number in kg please. What tyres you actually have, size and approx. tyre pressure.
    All this makes sense. Obviously your bike got to complement and suit YOU and the terrain you ride. Regardless of the model or type.


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