In the cycling community, there is a dedicated following for the mountain bike. A mountain bike is designed for rougher rides. They typically have a wide range of gears, a bulky and strong frame, large volume tyres, suspension, disc brakes, and wide handlebars for control. This allows the rider to take on almost any kind of terrain.
Why buy a mountain bike?
There are several reasons why you may want to buy a mountain bike. One of the main reasons as a cycle commuter is its ruggedness. If you’re looking for a trusty workhorse of a bike that you know you can rely on, a mountain bike can offer you that.
If you’re likely to be taking your bike out in all weather conditions, then a bike that’s designed to take on the most extreme conditions and terrain provides you additional security and confidence.
Mountain bikes have a comfortable, upright riding position which is a positive for cycle commuters. Regularly riding in a hunched over athletic position can cause aches and pains, which may take away from the joy of cycle commuting.
The mountain bike’s wide range of gears is another big plus. Whilst single speed bikes offer the benefit of being low maintenance; the ability to control your gears can be a massive help for commuters that navigate big inclines on their route.
Generally, mountain bikes also come with disc brakes and tubeless tyres, both of which make a commuter’s life much easier.
Disc brakes are reliable regardless of the weather due to their sealed systems and boosted power that enables the rider to use with just one finger. Disc brakes also last much longer as it’s the rotor that wears, rather than your wheel.
Tubeless tyres are able to withstand puncture hazards on the roads. Filled with sealant, tubeless tyres automatically fill in any punctures. You’d have to do some serious damage to get a flat. Even then, you simply plug the tyre and you’re away again.
Finally, mountain bikes enable you to access routes off road, away from traffic. Bridal ways and tow paths can make for car free, stress-less, enjoyable commuting.
Types of mountain bikes
Like with every overarching category of bike, there are some sub sections within the world of mountain bikes that it’s worth familiarising yourself with. This will ensure you buy the right type for your commute.
Cross Country Mountain Bikes
Cross country or ‘XC’ are the most popular type of mountain bike. They’re more lightweight, making speed their focus. Cross country models also tend to occupy the more affordable end of the mountain bike market.
XC bikes are used in cross country racing and can be said to be the ‘road bikes’ of the mountain. They’ll have a wide range of gears for those big ascents. They also tend to shorten travel suspension making them more efficient and a little lighter than standard mountain bikes.
These make a great bike for cycle commuting, especially if you live rurally. You can take on any paths and you can carve your own route through any terrain. XC bikes are also good in built up areas due to their lighter weight.
Hardtail Mountain Bikes
‘Hardtail’ refers to how the suspension is set up.
Hardtails have suspension in the front. These tend to be more affordable and lower-maintenance than other mountain bikes. Lots of hardtails give you the option to lock the front suspension, which is great for cycle commuters on the road, as you don’t lose any power to it. If you want to ride on a trail, you simply unlock it again.
Hardtails are relatively lightweight for mountain bikes and you can easily tackle standard bike trails on them. They’re designed so you can still accumulate some decent speed, but they may not hold up on the roughest of trails, so be cautious.
Full Suspension Mountain Bikes
Also known as dual suspension mountain bikes, these absorb impact at the front and back of the bike. This makes a dual suspension bike fantastic for taking on more challenging trails, offering more support and comfort from those bumps and knocks.
If you’re planning on doing some more extreme cycling, like jumps and tackling very rough terrain, a full suspension bike will be ideal. Most full suspension bikes will have levers that lock out the suspension, meaning that they are still efficient when used on the road.
Is a mountain bike right for you?
Mountain bikes are very popular with cycle commuters, but the decision comes down to what you want from your bike when riding it to work.
If you want to ride for fitness and speed, a road bike may be more your style. If you want unabashed brute strength and versatility of routes, a mountain bike is a great option.
Sharing the road with cars can be a big turn off for many people and is often the main thing stopping someone from cycling to work. Charging through fields and open terrain is a great way to start the day and can offer a much more peaceful and enjoyable ride than you might have weaving in and out of traffic.
Mountain bikes are heavier than other bike types and their large, knobbly tyres produce more rolling resistance. You’ll definitely feel that extra weight when using it on the road and the suspension also results in a loss of power.
So, if you’re already quite experienced with road or hybrid bikes, using a mountain bike may result in an unsatisfying change of pace. However, what you lose in speed and power is compensated with comfort, ruggedness and strength - so it is really a question of what you value more.
Tubeless tyres will see off common puncture threats
The upright riding position offers comfort and a clear view of the road
The sturdy frame stands up well to any bumps and knocks
Wide handlebars give you more control
You have the option to incorporate bike trails and off-road routes into your commute
If the characteristics of mountain bikes appeal to you, but you want better pedal performance, speed and a lighter weight, have a look at hybrid bikes - they may be more suited to your style.
Otherwise, there are steps you can take to improve a mountain bike for your cycle commute. For example, you can buy slicker tyres for less rolling resistance on the roads.