Riding MTB vs Road

Hi All,

I’m looking for some thoughts on the differences in an MTB ride, vs Road ride. I’ve been a roadie for the past few years, but have moved house recently and now looking to also get into a bit of MTB.

I know nothing about MTB. But i do know there are lots of great trails near to where i live in Surrey (UK).

If my regular road rides are 100km and 1000-1500m c3.5hrs, what would that equate to in an MTB route? I’m just looking to plan some rides, and want something of similar, or slightly less difficulty.

I don’t know the terrain you have there, but I typically average 16-20 km/h on mtb ride. For me, a three hour MTB ride is typically 36 miles/60km or so. A three hour mtb ride takes a lot more out of me, however. It requires far more concentration, and it works more of your body. For skill reference, I have improved a ton but still no where near the top of my strava segments for MTBing (except a couple of climbs that I use for intervals).

Also, depending on your terrain, the climbing might feel very different. I see friends who live near mountains and their MTB ride is one giant climb and one giant descent. I live near flat terrain, so it is lots of shorter steep climbs that that wear me down.

That said, can’t you bike/drive to your trail, do a lap and assess?

Edit for clarity: I average 16-20 km/h on singe track. If I bike to a trail, do a lap, and bike back, my avg. speed is higher.

You’re from the same neck as the woods as me and I’m also getting back into the MTB. The King Alfred’s Way has got me motivated.

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I’m often in between (gravel bike) @tman1234 . The gravel bike has got lower gears, nobbly tyres, I’m not as aero, etc so youll go slower than the roadbike but its fun IMO and you can get a good workout. I guess on a mtb you’ll go slower again but it’ll be fun; at a guess you’ll go 60-65km in 3.5hours. Enjoy

I know nothing about the UK, other than it looks muddy and there are a lot of downhill superstars. But I’m about 50-66% of my road speed on trails on a MTB (and I only ride gravel bike on the road, so YMMV, haha). On trails the same distance/el. gain can be faster or slower depending on how smooth or well-ridden those trails are vs. being rough or technical. Usually (but not always) you can expect more el. gain per km than on the road. Add time for unfamiliarity, and then once you settle in your new place, constantly bumping into people you know and saying hi. :slight_smile:

I find the biggest impact on km’s of the MTB rides is the “free” kilometres. If you have a lot of gravel, or even more so tarseal, roads to, from, or between trails then you could easily cover a lot of ground.

Rides where I link trails by road can be a lot more distance than ones where I spend all my time on singletrack.

I’d say, just go out and have a play and work out your routing from that.

I suggest not even bothering counting km’s off road. Volume by time is much more useful (ime)


Hard to know how your rides will compare to road, as that will depend on the trails. Eg smooth dirt flowing singletrack is very different than rocky trails with steep ups and downs.

Just go ride some trails, and you’ll start to get a feel for how MTB compares to road.


It’s pretty hard for others to answer your question.

Trail systems in my area can vary wildly between how much “work” I do on each. Varying trail conditions can affect that even more. Some days and trails I may average 10km/h vs 20km/h on a different trail.

Just get out and ride and forget the numbers for a while. You’ll get a feel for the differences between road and mountain. Being new to the sport you’ll find that mountain can be pretty damn hard sometimes.

Measuring in hours instead of kilometers/meters is the best first step.

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Generally you will find you achieve a climb ratio about twice as much as road. Thus 100km off road you could easily get 3,000m of ascent in the Surrey hills.

Mountain biking will feel much more like an interval workout. You’ll hit pretty much every intensity in the Surrey hills.

Mountain biking you have the technical aspects to deal with, drop offs, berms, tree roots, rock gardens etc. For technical ascents you may need to do a rapid acceleration, followed by manoeuvre through a technical bit, then resume pedalling to avoid spin out or catching the pedals.

You’ve got to get your weight distribution right , you don’t just sit in the saddle and occasionally stand. You’re constantly shifting weight backwards and forwards , side to side as you choose the best line, maintain traction, and ensure you don’t un ship because you got the weight distribution wrong through a technical section.

You’ve got different surfaces all in one ride to deal with and those surfaces change through the seasons, and even one ride. Deep mud, think mud, gloopy mud, hard pack, loose pack, dusty, greasy, dry etc.

Whole different experience. I wouldn’t judge a mtn bike outing by how far you went, but by how wide your grin is. There’s a whole world of technique and skills to master, far more than road biking. But once you do, it’s a whole load of fun without needing to go that far.


Surrey Hills regular here :raised_hand:t4:

Good mix of XC all the way up to what could be considered “black” trails with decent drops and gap jumps if you’re so inclined.

I’m quite fit, not a racer but do ok; Typical Sunday in the SH takes approx 3 hours incl. a coffee/pork&leek slice stop (you’ll understand soon). Approx 16-24km with about 10-12 “proper” trails in it, approx 6-800m climbing.

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I’d usually average 33kmh on my weekend endurance road riding around 100km. I now average 15 or 16kmh on an endurance MTB ride, terrain dependant, around 65km which includes 24km total of commuting to and from the trail

I ride a lot of natural tech trails and climbs which is a lot slower than a fireroad climb and down an official trail. Also depends how good of a climber you are.

I’d say set 50km routes, change your routes often and go down paths you think may be secret/natural trails. You have lots to discover. Give yourself time to get lost and have fun :slight_smile:

These are my SH Sunday rides. (Moving time shown here). Elapsed time is 3 or so hours including chatting at trail heads, coffee stop etc.

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If you are new to the mountain bike I highly advise getting lessons and learning some proper basics. It is easy to think that since you’re fit and not crashing all the time that lessons might be a waste but they help so much.

After that then plan your routes based on time and don’t worry about mileage (or kilometerage). Like everyone has said they are different rides. Treat them as such.

Not many people have a power meter on their MTB but you can check your heart rate over a 3 hour ride to see how hard you are working compared with road bike (its how I measure how hard I have worked on the MTB). For me on a reasonably quick club ride we average about 18mph, whereas on my own I dont often cover more than 10-11mph MTBing assuming the route has plenty of off road.

For UK riding I would go with MTB, I found it easy to get drawn in to the romance of gravel riding when watching Strada Bianche or the American races, but you are going to get a beating off-road on most bridleways / farm tracks on a gravel bike. I am in the process of ditching the gravel bike and getting a better hardtail MTB (I live by the South Downs).

Fairly new UK Roadie turned MTB’er here too. Last year i bought a Trek Procaliber hardtail XC when the weather turned good but i no longer wanted to have to do 50 miles of road riding for a good outdoor workout, what with the current state of the driving aggro, incompetence and hate out there on the roads.

So my outdoor rides are now about 30 miles in 2 hours, mostly over fast fireroads and forest trails, with road sections to link up the trail sections. I’ll spend 70% - 80% on trails and it’s fantastic. Not having to worry about cars is great, and being out in the forests and hills is awesome.

One thing i did was do a couple of the “Glorious Gravel” series of rides to get an idea of the great tracks around where you live. Gravel (as a quasi-religion, and on the wrong bikes, rather than just a road surface) is a load of crap if you ask me - Use a hardtail and have just as much fun. As a TR user you’ll be overtaking the gravel riders anyway. :slight_smile:

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