Cyclists just love bikes, period. It doesn’t matter if one has fat tires, and one has skinny tires. It’s counterproductive to avoid either one. Road biking helps mountain bikers build endurance. Roadies can benefit from the technical skills gained from mountain biking. The sharing of knowledge and skills between both disciplines is beneficial to all cyclists. But what are the differences; they’re all over the place, ranging from fashion to attitude, body shape to grooming, just to name a few.
If you’ve spent any time at bike races, bike shows or even watched cycling events on television, you’ve noticed a few basic roadie versus mt. biker fashion differences.
Mountain bikers are more extreme than roadies. The baggy shorts and different types of shirts or jerseys — often emblazoned with soda or energy drink logos — characterize mountain biker fashion. Body armor is sometimes present adorning shoulders and knees, and full-face helmets, which are actually more prevalent in downhill.
The typical road cycling enthusiast prefers tight gear. Lycra shorts are a given, with black being the most popular. Baggy shorts are considered flappy, and excessive. Jerseys are cycling specific, more consistent, cut and fit to hug the body. The logos are often based around cycling products and sponsors. More fashion oriented than mountain bikers, roadies prefer designer sunglasses over full-face helmets.
The fashion differences between mountain bikers and roadies is not happenstance. The fact is, mountain bikers don’t need to be as aerodynamic as roadies. If you see a mountain biker wearing a t-shirt instead of a jersey, it’s because they can get away with it.
Road riders spend hours in the saddle, and back pockets on cycling jerseys store enough goods to keep riding. Roadies also need the extra gear; medicinal and spare parts come in handy miles from home. Mountain bikers are fine with any kind of shirt, pockets or not.
The Baggy Shorts
The difference in shorts is somewhat controversial. Some mountain bikers testify that baggy shorts are cooler, and more comfortable. Others say that baggy shorts allow your genitalia to be more free, that the constant restraint from Lycra is uncomfortable, and prevents the necessary adjustment to the family jewels. The constant standing, sitting and swerving of mountain biking requires a more flexible approach. And the fact that baggy shorts typically have numerous pockets is a plus as well.
Lycra shorts have padding. Baggy shorts do not typically have padding. Road riders sit for hours in the same position. The padded front on Lycra shorts cushions the genitalia better. Mountain bikers stand and sit, stand and sit, stand and sit, over and over again. You would think the padding would come in handy, but mountain bikers still prefer the option to allow the family jewels to move around. Mountain bikers swear that baggy shorts are more durable than Lycra, and that snagging a stick with baggy shorts isn’t as likely to tear as Lycra.
To the Contrary
If you’ve watched or participated in any mountain bike races, you’ve probably noticed that some mountain bikers have Lycra on underneath the baggy shorts. Go figure. So maybe all the talk about family jewels is just that, talk, and it’s a fashion thing after all. Personal preference is what it’s all about, you can wear anything you like, but you’re more likely to see mountain bikers wearing Lycra than a roadie wearing baggy shorts.
Roadies typically prefer clean shaven faces, or neatly trimmed goatees. Mountain bikers just don’t care, and stubble, scraggly beards and long hair is considered normal.
Taste is a personal thing, it’s just inherent to your nature. But if you’re a mountain biker, you’ll drive four hours to ride for just one hour. Mountain bikers prefer the BBQ to the fancy restaurant, or the movies to the art gallery.
Road cycling is steeped in tradition. Almost every aspect of road cycling from equipment to clothing to hand signals, is governed by rules. Some of them have evolved out of necessity, and some of them are simply tradition for tradition’s sake. But because of all the rigidity in road biking, the roadie is often mis-diagnosed as fastidious, snotty and aloof. The aloof appearance could be a natural expression of the fastidious expression of rules. Roadies may not even acknowledge you, or don’t even appear to know you exist at times.
Mountain Biker Attitude
Mountain bikers seem to actually enjoy what they’re doing. The vocabulary and persona of the mountain biker has a decidedly more modern, western vibe than the roadie’s old-world, European sensibility. Mountain bikers refer to a ride as, “gnarly,” “flowing,” “cool” or “nasty.” They get “stoked.”
The cleanliness of the roadie is the complete opposite of the mt. biker. They’re not afraid to get splattered with mud, and go out of their way to find it. Serious roadies won’t be caught with so much as a speck on their bikes. Mountain bikes are often so caked with debris that you can’t even recognize a derailleur from a stick. Mountain bikers are more inclusive to strangers and may mingle with roadies.
If unadorned by tell-tale clothing, body shapes can also be a dead give-away. Roadies are typically lean and skinny. Mountain bikers are husky. The constant mashing of uphill climbs makes mountain biker calves bulge. The constant pedaling of road biking makes for longer calves.
Over the Bars Scars
Look for scars from surgery on mountain bikers, who tend to break bones more often. Road rash scars are typically more prevalent on roadies.
Just Get Out There
Cycling is a lifestyle that shouldn’t be isolated into camps. If you love two wheels, there’s something in there for both disciplines. Unfortunately it’s like politics. You come down on one side depending on your upbringing. But there’s no reason to stay there. Get out there and enjoy them both.