Bicycle Speed Comparison

Booth Drive to the end of Pocatello Creek Road

Booth Drive to the end of Pocatello Creek Road

I’ve been riding a touring bike, road racer, and mountain bike for the last 5 years and each one feels different in terms of riding position, speed, and maneuverability.  The touring bike has a long wheel base, 32 mm tires, and is about the best combination of speed, aerodynamic riding position, and comfort of all my bikes.  It just feels good to ride, but this may be due to the fact that it is the bike I ride the most.  My road racer has the average road racer frame geometry, skinny tires, and is good for a no-frills, minimalist bike ride where the objective is to get from point A to B in the least amount of time.  On the other hand, it has a rear rack, a granny gear, and some low gearing so it isn’t exactly the raciest road racer.  The mountain bike has fat, knobby tires, disc brakes, and compared to the other bikes’ riding positions it feels like you’re riding a tricycle.  The riding position is quite upright and it feels slower than beans.

So just for fun, I thought I would ride all three bicycles along the same route on 3 different weekends and compares the times!  This way, my legs would be fresh each time and all variables would be mostly constant.  My cycling buddies thought the results wouldn’t be very accurate due to different weather, wind, how Korey was feeling that day, etc.  But, hey, it’s the best your average recreational cyclist can do, OK?  And besides, I’d be burning calories while experiencing an interesting experiment!

The route I selected was an out-and-back gradual climb of about 900 feet starting at the intersection of Booth Drive and Pocatello Creek Road to the top of Pocatello Creek Road and back to the intersection for a total of 11.8 miles.  I chose this route mostly because it’s close to home, so I can do the whole ride in under and hour.  Even though the route is far from flat, it is out-and-back so that any climbing slowness could be made up for with a speedy decent.  And at the same time my lightweight skinny-tired road racer should be able to climb faster and descend faster, thus magnifying the speed difference between it and the other bicycles.  On the other hand, this route snakes through a canyon so that top speed on the downhill cannot be reached without the risk of losing control around a bend.  Ah, well, enough of the pros and cons, let’s take a look at the results:

Uphill Downhill Total
Bike Time Speed Time Speed Time Speed Notes
Touring 30 min. 11.7 mph 13 min. 27 mph 43 min. 16.3 mph Nice day, wind calm.
Road racer 27 min. 13 mph 16 min. 22 mph 43 min. 16.3 mph Wind blowing up hill.
MTB 33 min. 10.6 mph 16 min. 22 mph 49 min. 14.3 mph Wind blowing up hill; I pedaled hard on the downhill to try to offset wind and knobby tires

Please note that the total speed averages take into account the time spent on the downhill and the uphill; I didn’t just add the uphill and downhill numbers and divide by 2.  Also, the table shows the order in which the rides were done.  So by the time I got to the MTB ride, I had some experience with the road and the stiff wind that seems to blow up the canyon all the time!

I guess my cycling buddies were correct in saying that the wind speed would affect the results.  I think the wind blowing up the canyon really improved the road racer and MTB uphill times by a few minutes, and really ruined the downhill.  I was tired of bucking the wind on the downhill, so when I got to the MTB ride I really gave it hell on the downhill, especially since I had to overcome both wind and knobby tire rolling resistance.  And I guess that paid off since I got the same downhill time on the MTB as I did on the road racer.

Anyway, there you have my less-than-perfect experiment results!  I actually had a lot of fun with this and I highly recommend that you time yourself on your bikes with different routes and such.  You never really know how well a bike performs or how well you perform until you get out there and do some timed cranking.  Gee, maybe I should do another experiment where I keep the bicycle constant and then cycle while tired, drunk, and hungover and then compare those three results!  Or maybe keep the bike and the rider’s condition the same and do a ride at 60, 70, and 80 degrees!  Ah, so many experiments to think of!  :-)

1 comment to Bicycle Speed Comparison

  • Jeff Selfa

    “You never really know how well a bike performs or how well you perform until you get out there and do some timed cranking.”
    And with variable weather conditions in addition to the myriad other variables, you still don’t really know. ;-p I think that by monitoring both heart rate and power output under similar weather and physical prep conditions that detailed info could be well (and optimally) extracted. Thanks for the post. :-) Ride on!

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