If you think that mountain bikes run much slower than other bike types, then youʼve hit the mark! But, the more important question is—what makes them slower?
Today, I’m going to tell you about the many factors that make mountain bikes slow, things you can do to make your mountain bike speed up, and the average mountain bike speed on various trails.
So, without beating around the bush, letʼs answer all those mountain biking questions about speed.
What factors make a mountain bike travel slowly?
Mountain bikes, compared to other types of bikes, are much heavier and as such, ride slower. However, there are other factors as well that slow down a mountain bike speed.
Today, weʼll focus on some of the biggest factors affecting speed – gravity, aerodynamics, tire rolling resistance, bike weight, gear ratio, suspension, and pedaling speed (power output).
When you’re riding uphill, you have to work against gravity, and thatʼs when the average speed of a mountain bike decreases considerably.
Itʼs also worth pointing out that mountain bikes havenʼt been designed to go at high speed; rather, they are designed for riding long distances on rough terrain. You see, mountain bikes come equipped with wide handlebars that are high up-front.
And, it is because of these rider settings that a large frontal area against the wind is created during your rides.
Now, when the mountain biker frontal area (surface area created by the riderʼs body and bike surface) gets hit by the wind, the resistance becomes higher at a higher speed, thus decreasing the average speed of the mountain bike, irrespective of how hard cyclists or road bikers race.
On average, one can expect to create a frontal area of 0.6m² on a mountain bike. Meanwhile, road bikes donʼt exceed 0.4m².
Though it may seem like a small difference, it can create a bike average gap of 3.1mph at 300w power output on a flat surface. And, that would make a huge difference when it comes to speed!
In effect, you could say that a mountain bike doesnʼt excel in the aerodynamics department.
Next, letʼs talk about tire rolling resistance. Tire rolling resistance is related to the total weight, riding trails, and the tire.
Now we know that a mountain bike is much heavier than other bike types, is deployed on treacherous mountain biking terrain, and has much wider tires than that of a road bike. These settings create higher-resisting rolling force when you ride and, thereby, cause a mountain bike to go slower than other types of bikes.
Now, letʼs discuss suspension. Even though having suspension on your mountain bike can be beneficial in a lot of areas, especially at absorbing shocks and vibrations felt on bumpy roads, it does cause a mountain bike to go slower.
The thing is—suspension forks can absorb pedaling power. This means that they can decrease the pedaling power that is transmitted to the back wheel of your bike.
If you donʼt want the suspension fork on your mountain bike to eliminate this loss, you should consider locking it like many cyclists and riders do, and you’ll go noticeably faster.
Last but not least, it is also worth mentioning that your fitness levels play a huge factor in determining your fastest speed and lowest speed on a mountain bike.
How can you make your mountain bike speed up?
In addition to locking your suspension fork, you can also make your mountain bike speed up by working on your aero position. To do that, consider raising the height of your riding saddle and lowering the front end.
Also, remember to make your handlebars narrower. Riding on this new setup may take some getting used to, but you’ll be able to increase your overall speed on straights and hills.
When using this mountain biking setup, make sure you bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. In this body position, you will be able to save power as there will be less air resistance over the distance.
You can also increase your riding speed by changing your tires. Replacing your high-rolling resistance tire with a low-rolling resistance tire will offer you more speed gains than you can imagine.
And, of course, as a rider, you can also make your mountain bike go faster by reducing its weight, and your body weight too. A little bit of interval training also wouldnʼt go amiss when trying to increase your riding speed.
What is a good average speed for a mountain bike?
According to numerous statistical reports, riding 17 miles per hour is considered a good speed for a mountain bike on the road. However, the mountain bike speed can decrease drastically when the mountain bike takes on technically demanding trails, dropping down to a speed of 14mph.
On average, you could say that a mountain bike is 7% faster on flat terrain compared to other trails.
What causes riders on a mountain bike to go slower on trails? Well, there are many variables including potholes, bumps, rocks, mud, and slippery conditions.
During single-track riding, the average bike speed for a mountain biker is 10mph. On uphill single-track sections, the mountain bike speed, understandably, decreases to average speeds of around 8mph.
Meanwhile, the average speed increases again when the bike takes on downhill sections. On average, riders post road bike speeds of 12mph.
Of course, an electronic mountain bike has a higher average speed than your traditional mountain bike average speed.
For instance, an electronic mountain bike has an average speed of 13mph on a single-track lane. So, it runs 3mph quicker than a mountain bike.
To make things easier for you, Iʼve listed the average speed of mountain bikes on different terrains.
Downhill mountain bike average speed
Mountain bikers, at an average pace, travel at approximately 44.8mph when riding downhill on their mountain bikes.
Off-road mountain bike average speed
Mountain bikers, on average, travel at a speed of approximately 9mph when riding off-road.
Cross-country mountain bike average speed
The average speed of a cross-country mountain bike is 9mph. Experienced cross-country mountain bikers can reach peak speeds of 18mph in favorable conditions, whereas novice cross-country mountain bikers may sometimes find it tough to hit the lowest speed of 4mph.
Trail mountain bike average speed
The trail mountain bike riding average speed is around the 7mph mark. However, when experienced cyclists are in peak condition and race in top gear, they can even reach a top speed of 15mph during trail cycling!
To compare the speed capacity when cycling on a road bike, the average road bike speed is around 17–18mph for a regular rider. Pro riders get to 25–28mph.
Is a 29-inch mountain bike faster than a 26-inch bike?
Yes, a 29-inch mountain bike is much faster than a 26-inch mountain bike, irrespective of the track and weather conditions.
Why so? Well, it is simple really.
A 29-inch bike has a larger wheel diameter and wheel size and, as such, is able to create a larger contact patch with the ground. And, it is because of the greater contact patch with the ground that the 29-inch is able to tackle the obstacles of technical terrain much more efficiently.
Additionally, it is able to roll much faster than a 26-inch bike when up to speed owing to its advanced rollover abilities.
Whatʼs the point of knowing the average bike speed? Well, by using the stats, you can track your progress and see how you measure up to other experienced riders around the world when it comes to average speed.
Of course, you must also learn not to push yourself beyond your limits. Comparing your average speed to others can prove to be quite detrimental when overdone.
Also, be careful how you interpret the above stats. Just like how a scale that measures your weight isnʼt able to measure the fat you’ve burned, the bike-average stats donʼt completely take into consideration the conditions, distances traveled, drop-offs, trails, and obstacles during your rides.