Are Mountain Bikes Good for Commuting?

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Using a bicycle for commuting, whether itʼs a mountain bike, road bike, hybrid or fixed gear bicycle, is a great way to maintain and improve your fitness along with being a scenic option for getting around.

According to Cycling UKʼs policy team, bike commuting has grown in London by massive margins. Between 2001 and 2011, work commutes by bike doubled from 77,000 to 155,000, while bicycle transit as a whole in London has seen steady year-on-year increases while motorised forms of transit have declined. That means there are a lot of new cyclists on the road, and likely many more aspiring cyclists on the sidelines looking to make the switch from gas-guzzling automobile commutes to emissions-free, leg-and-lung powered bicycle commutes. Having said that, however, there are some bikes that are better than others for the purpose of commuting.

For new and aspiring bike commuters, mountain bikes appear to be good for commuting because of their apparent sturdiness, the upright cycling position they require, and their wide, rugged tires that deflect hazards in the road and ensure long-lasting kilometres. But, is this really the case?

Mountain bikes, as implied by their name, are made for mountain trails and off-road surfaces in general. Whether or not they will excel on your daily commute is a matter with plenty of variables, so without further ado, here are the pros and cons of using mountain bikes for commuting.

Types Of Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes come in a wide variety of suspension and geometry options to suit the off-road surface and type of riding a rider expects to encounter. There are four main types of mountain bikes, each with its particular specialty:

  • Cross Country bikes are the most common type of mountain bike around. Theyʼre built for speed over maximum suspension and because of that are generally light and easy to pedal. A cost effective suspension option is to go with a hardtail which means no rear suspension – buying a cross country bike with both front and rear suspension is more comfortable, but much more costly.

  • Trail mountain bikes land somewhere between cross country and enduro bikes. They tend to have a slightly more aggressive geometry and are built for long trails uphill more so than fast rides along flat terrain. Owing to this, they are slightly heaving, slightly more expensive, and less efficient to pedal.

  • Enduro bikes feature full suspension and very aggressive racing geometry meant for riders looking to excel uphill, downhill, and across crazed, twisting, rocky, terrain. Cost-wise, they are more expensive than either trail or cross country mountain bikes.

  • Downhill bikes are for bombing downhill as fast as possible and with great agility. They feature incredibly strong frames but at a significant weight penalty. Downhill bikes come with very few gears since they arenʼt meant for any type of riding other than downhill.

Considering these four mountain bike styles and their characteristics, the cross country mountain bike will be best suited to daily commuting. But, is it comfortable?

Plenty Of Comfort

Cross country mountain bikes feature a relaxed geometry when compared to road bicycles in that there are no handlebar drops or aerodynamic positions required. Instead, riders will find themselves upright and wide-armed. This position is a great boon to inexperienced cyclists or people with back issues as it is very easy to maintain over long periods of time and is quite comfortable. Another great advantage to this position for commuters is that many commuters ride in their work clothes and are therefore less flexible than they would be in specialised riding gear. Adding to the overall comfort of commuting on a cross country mountain bike is the front suspension which creates a plush, forgiving ride that does not get bothered by variable or bumpy road surfaces.

Adventure Seeking Route Options

Many cyclists face a variety of road conditions during their commutes. Broken glass, potholes, rocks, and other debris create challenges that often cause flat tires for commuters using road bikes or other similarly skinny-tired bicycles. When commuting with a mountain bike, riders add an extra level of insurance against the possibility of getting a flat tire and thereby being delayed in getting to their destination. Commuting by mountain bike also opens up a whole world of route options unavailable to road, hybrid, and fixed gear bicycles in that, because of their durability, suspension, and sturdy tires, theyʼre able to equally handle asphalt roads, trails, dirt, mud, and anything else you can throw at them. Finding shortcuts and cutting creative paths is a cinch on a mountain bike, giving riders a dose of adventure on the morning commute.

Downsides

So, mountain bikes are comfortable and durable enough to handle changing road conditions – that must mean theyʼre good for commuting, right? Well, it depends on your level of commitment.

  • Maintenance. Mountain bikes require a fair bit more maintenance than either their road or hybrid bike counterparts, and that maintenance is normally quite complicated to do. The advantages of plush suspension that mountain bikes offer are offset somewhat by the regular servicing that those suspension systems require.

  • Weight. With weight ranging up to 15 kg, mountain bikes can be quite heavy. Cross country bikes are the lightest of the bunch, but even there, depending on the chosen suspension options, they arenʼt featherweight. Commuters who have to haul their bicycles up and down long flights of stairs may want to reconsider their options.

  • Drag. The upright position maintained by cyclists on mountain bikes is great for comfort but poor for aerodynamics. This means that on a windy day you may find yourself having to push extra hard on the pedals to battle through the draft. Road bicycles, on the other hand, require a much more aerodynamic position from riders and are therefore more energy efficient.

Conclusion

Whether or not mountain bikes are good for commuting depends on individual considerations regarding fitness, commute obstacles, road surfaces, and riding style. Despite these variables, cross country mountain bikes are a strong choice for commuting by bicycle and are sure to make a good option for most aspiring bike commuters. With so many XC bikes to choose from, finding one can be tricky. Here are five great options for your consideration:

  • Specialised CrossTrail

  • Ghost Kato 1.6 AL

  • Cannondale F-SI Carbon

  • Felt Dispatch 9/60

  • Merida Big Seven






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