Mountain biking is one of the most popular and exhilarating extreme sports, and the latest technology used on these bikes allows them to reach incredible speeds both up and downhill, on terrain that would be difficult to walk up, let alone pedal up.
But one thing people often wonder is just how fast can mountain bikes go, particularly over the variable terrain that they’re capable of negotiating.The truth is, there are a lot of variables, and mountain bike design is one of the most creative and competitive of any sport.
The angles of the geometry, the materials used, the componentry from gears to suspension to even the width and hardness of the tyres used all have a huge impact on the speed of a mountain bike before even considering the different terrain being ridden.
Then there’s the size and weight of the rider to consider also, as well as weather conditions, and the technical ability and fitness of the rider on top of all this.
However there have been studies that have tried to give some estimations on mountain bike speed, and while there are too many variables to give precise results, it’s certainly possible to give an idea as to the speeds a mountain bike can handle.
In this guide we’re going to look at how fast a mountain bike can go, as well as the most common average speeds over various terrain and for the main formats of bikes in order to help you get a better idea of what speed you may be capable of.
This information is actually really useful, particularly if you’re planning a bike trip and need to get an idea for what distance you can cover in what amount of time, as trying to organise stops for resting, eating and sleeping can be difficult to arrange without some idea of your speed while riding.But without further ado, let’s look at the specifics.
Average Mountain Bike Speed
The average speed for a mountain biker of relative fitness is thought to be around 10mph (16kph) while riding fairly technical single track trails, which is what mountain bikes are truly designed for.
The speed on uphill sections can slow to around 8 miles per hour, and even below this on particularly technical sections of trail or very steep climbs, however these are usually quite short.
This is averaged out by the much faster speeds that riders reach when going downhill, which can meet 15 miles per hour or more, depending on the steepness of the descent and how long it goes for, as well as if conditions are dry or wet and the skill and confidence of the rider.
For professional or semi-professional cross country riders the average speed is around 9 mph which seems slow, but these riders are often covering huge distances and some of the most difficult terrain in the sport, so this is actually an incredibly high speed to hold consistently.
As for downhill mountain biking, it’s thought that the average speed is around 17mph (27kph) however it can exceed this and often peaks at 30 mph or 50 kph on certain trails. This is the preserve of more experienced riders at competitive events, as the dangers of these speeds make it very difficult for amateur riders to achieve.
How can you speed up?
There are several ways to improve your speed while mountain biking, and not all of them involve getting fitter, although this admittedly will make the most difference of all.
There are things you can do with your bike and your setup to help improve your speed, especially if you know of certain areas you need to improve.
For climbing, improving your riding position is one of the best things you can do, and this involves keeping your weight balanced, with enough over the rear wheel to provide traction, but a good lean forward towards the handlebars to keep the front wheel down.
Another thing to consider is picking out slightly narrower tyres as this will reduce rolling resistance and help you climb faster, however this could have the opposite effect on particularly wet trails and downhill sections, so it could be a bit of a trade off.
Another thing to consider is picking the right gear, and entering sections and climbs with good speed in order to carry some momentum and take a good chunk out of a climb before you have to start digging out of it.
If you’re struggling for speed downhill, work on braking less and only using the brakes at key moments to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency. It’s also important to choose a good line and make sure you’re avoiding as many obstacles as possible as this will slow you down massively.
Finally, you can pick out some slightly wider tyres if you’re having traction or confidence issues heading downhill, and these will provide more grip and stability while making it slightly more challenging to climb, so this is again a trade off you’ll have to consider carefully.
Wheel size definitely makes a difference to your speed, and it’s become clear now that 29” wheels are the kings of pure speed, especially for climbing, and more downhill riders are converting to this size wheel also for its better angle of attack and huge rolling speed.
27.5” tyres are still a good choice for downhill riding but don’t roll as fast, however they are very nimble and make maneuvering a little easier.26” tyres are all but extinct now unfortunately, and while they are very nimble, their angle of attack and rolling speed simply can’t compete with the bigger wheels.
Naturally, commuter e-bikes will help you to ride faster and can increase your speed on climbs as well as descents, and you can expect to see considerable improvements as long as you have enough charge to get you around the whole route.
Naturally e-bikes are a little heavier, but the speed boost they provide is incredible and on flat terrain they can hold upwards of 15mph for considerable amounts of time.