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  1. #1
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    Why so many commuters on MTBs?

    I'm just curious as to why so many commuters chose MTB bikes. Around here, almost all commuters use them, and it seems like most on this forum choose MTBs too.

    I have a mountain bike and several road bikes, and I don't like the way the MTB handles on the road. It's inefficient and slow, but the upright position does provide a better view of traffic.

    Most entry-level commuter bikes are based on hybrid or MTB frames, so it does seem that the market demands an MTB style bike for commuting (in general).

    Anyway, I'm not trying to "diss" MTBs or start a flame war, I'm genuinely curious.

  2. #2
    Third World Layabout crtreedude's Avatar
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    The following shows what my roads are like - which explains why I use a mountain bike.



    But for others, MTBs handle trash on the road better, and most people aren't trying to race to get to work, just get there in one piece.

  3. #3
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    Many of the experienced bike messengers in Houston prefer mountain bikes. They find that with light weight slick tires, a mountain bike is about as fast as a road bike for the one, two or three mile trips they are taking. And, if a mountain bike is properly fitted to the rider, the looong wheelbase soaks up road shock and makes for a stable ride no matter how terrible the road conditions...gravel, dirt, debris, rain, ice...

    But, unlike road bikes, mountain bikes can handle the broken concrete, potholes and other problems that exist on the bombed out streets of inner city Houston. The guy on the road bike must go around those obstacles, or even avoid certain streets entirely. The guy on the mountain bike can ride in a straight line from "A" to "B", no matter how bad the streets are in between.

    I had a regular twenty mile circuit that I was riding four or five times a week. My times on a mountain bike were more or less the same as on a road bike. The only days I regretted being on the mountain bike were days I was riding into a powerful headwind...a mountain bike makes a little harder to stay in an aero position for long periods of time.

  4. #4
    Senior Member acroy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alanbikehouston View Post
    Many of the experienced bike messengers in Houston prefer mountain bikes. They find that with light weight slick tires, a mountain bike is about as fast as a road bike for the one, two or three mile trips they are taking. And, if a mountain bike is properly fitted to the rider, the looong wheelbase soaks up road shock and makes for a stable ride no matter how terrible the road conditions...gravel, dirt, debris, rain, ice...

    But, unlike road bikes, mountain bikes can handle the broken concrete, potholes and other problems that exist on the bombed out streets of inner city Houston. The guy on the road bike must go around those obstacles, or even avoid certain streets entirely. The guy on the mountain bike can ride in a straight line from "A" to "B", no matter how bad the streets are in between.

    I had a regular twenty mile circuit that I was riding four or five times a week. My times on a mountain bike were more or less the same as on a road bike. The only days I regretted being on the mountain bike were days I was riding into a powerful headwind...a mountain bike makes a little harder to stay in an aero position for long periods of time.
    exactly what he said!

    the mtb is the SUV of the bike world. It will handle any condition. That said, if you have nice roads & good conditions, there is no reason not to use a road bike.

    I have both type of bikes. the road bike gets beat up (and beats me up). The most the road bike will save me is about 2 minutes on the best day of the year.

    The MTB bike, with fat slicks, disc breaks, fenders, and 4" of front suspension, will get me anywhere, anytime!

    Just today I was bombing down a hill and there was a friggin tree branch in the raod. Like 3" diameter, foliage, everything. I was doing close to 30mph, in the foggy dark. Swerving was not an option, cars on the left doing 50-55mph. I saw it with just enough time to stand & unweigh the bike. The bike just rolled over it, soaked it up. That one instance is enough to make me deal with the somewhat less efficient bike.

    I would say it really comes down to safety & confidence on the bike.

    Another benefit is that the mtb, with slightly smaller wheels and lower gearing, can take off from stops real fast compared to road bikes. at least that's been my experience.

    cheers
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  5. #5
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alanbikehouston View Post
    But, unlike road bikes, mountain bikes can handle the broken concrete, potholes and other problems that exist on the bombed out streets of inner city Houston. The guy on the road bike must go around those obstacles, or even avoid certain streets entirely.
    Wow, Houston must have gone downhill. 15+ years ago I used to ride a lot around Houston and downtown on a road bike and don't remember bombed out roads. That's too bad. Of course there were some neighborhoods that still had dirt roads, but that's a different story.

    Al

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    I love my road bikes but skinny tires positively suck in snowy weather.
    Hence the reason that I am looking to add a cheaper MTB to my stable. That is if I can ever find one that suits my fancy. I'm too freaking picky.

  7. #7
    Just a geek tdister's Avatar
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    Based on what I see here, I would have to say a good amount of it is the variety of quality and prices available in used MTBs. You can find about anything you want in that area, while road bikes are either expensive or junky it seems. not much in the middle.

    Rack mounts are more common on MTBs it seems and, as you said, the flat handlebars seem to be better in traffic. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with image or being intimidated by road bikes. Also, MTBs work better on the road than road bikes do off. If you can only have one bike but want to do both it makes sense.

    Toughness...I'm sure most have their good reasons. I'm also sure some really wouldn't have an answer, it's just what they use.
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  8. #8
    Trans-Urban Velocommando ax0n's Avatar
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    My mountain bike with slicks is the same average speed as my road bike for my 29 mile round trip. I usually use the road bike when it's nice outside, though, because it has a rack for my panniers, and I have less wind resistance.

    Another big selling point is price. Cheap mountain bikes cost $50 new at big-box stores. They might not last very long, but they're cheap. You can get a durable name-brand mountain bike used, and for cheap. I'm talking about bikes that cost $350 and up when they were new, with plenty of life left in them. Go to a bike shop or hit craigslist and you can find one for $100 or so that will last a long time.

    Durability is another thing. As was just mentioned above. Mountain bikes are often made of steel. They sometimes have suspension forks. The tires are thicker. The drivetrain components are more readily available (cheaper) yet often more rugged than the stuff they put on road bikes. You can bomb off of curbs, run over storm drains and pot-holes, and ride down flights of stairs on a mountain bike. Try that on your Madone. Hell, try that on a Specialized Allez. A cross bike might tolerate that sort of abuse on occasion, but not with the finesse and comfort of a mountain bike.

    I also like to take unorthodox shortcuts on my mountain bike. You don't need roads when you're on wide, knobby tires. Taking the grassy, muddy land behind city hall saves me almost 5 minutes on my way to the grocery store as opposed to riding on the road.

    Then, there's the comfort factor. Wide, high-volume tires and front suspension forks absorb a lot of road vibration. The upright seating position is less stressful on the back, as well. People with arthritic hands/wrists and bad backs get a lot of comfort benefits from a mountain bike or hybrid.

    An added bonus is the "heads up" factor. Your head is up higher, making your more visible and makes it easier to look around behind you. It also angles your head out toward the road, instead of having to hold your neck awkwardly to look ahead as you must when crouched over on the hoods or in the drops on a road bike.

    Simply put, some commuters -- especially the urban variety -- really require versatility and durability over speed and efficiency. Others like the upright riding position for any of a host of reasons. Since every bike commuter has their own specific needs, a mountain bike is often the right choice for some.
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  9. #9
    crash survivor tate65's Avatar
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    I did it for a couple of years, but after my accident I went to a flat bar road bike with 700x32s and a commuter fork. I can still hop curbs, go on 2 track, or across a yard if need be. I like the bigger tires and relaxed geometry for my 42 mile commute.

  10. #10
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    Thanks, these are all good points.
    I guess it shows by my post - I am a long time roadie, short time commuter. So, for me, it seemed natural to go for a road bike when taking up commuting. The roads around here aren't too bad, and I'm comfortable with the position. But I can understand where many would want a more rugged, upright bike.

    Too bad the marketplace is relatively bereft of low-priced, commuter-type road bikes. Jamis makes some nice ones, but it seems like they're the only game in town.

    I'm thinking of using my MTB for commuting when it gets snowy. I'm sort of dreading it, but if everyone else here does fine on an MTB I guess I will too.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Lamplight's Avatar
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    My main commuter is a mountain bike and I use it because it can withstand just about anything. It has lots of braze-ons and has carried 60+ pounds of groceries with ease. I ride it in rain, snow, and anything else I want because I don't care about what happens to it. Plus I can hop curbs, ride down stairs, or whatever else may surprise me. However, if the weather is nice I will often times ride one of my road bikes. If it's utterly nasty outside, the mtb always gets the nod.

  12. #12
    Senior Member pharnabazos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by matthew_deaner View Post
    I'm just curious as to why so many commuters chose MTB bikes.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member tarwheel's Avatar
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    The roads are in good condition on my commute, but it's very hilly. There is no way I would ride my MTB rather than a road bike, unless I didn't have a choice or there was snow. I rode my MTB a couple of times, and it was significantly slower with no advantages on the roads I travel. However, I could see the advantages of a road or touring bike with racks for eyelets and fenders.

  14. #14
    Senior Member swwhite's Avatar
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    When I was a kid I had the standard one-speed bike with the upright riding position. At some point, I bought a "ten-speed" because it was the main style available. I remember not liking it. I didn't like the riding position, I didn't like the narrow handlebars. But I got used to it and had that style for some decades. In 2002 I bought a mountain bike for commuting, used it for a year or so, and then got back on a road bike one time for some reason. All over again, just like 40 years ago, I didn't like it. (I didn't hate it, just didn't like it in comparison to the mountain bike feel.) So that's my reason, in addition to many of the above.
    Riding in search of the simple life.

  15. #15
    Thread Killer evblazer's Avatar
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    I rode a touring bike with racks and fenders now touring xtracycle and fenders. With 700x32 marathon plusses it handles crap really well. I can cut through sand, glass, brush, lawns and even handle some pothole, gaps, drops and roadruts pretty well. Even though my FD has been frozen up for the last couple months the gearing is wide enough to take me from a stop to over 20mph well before I cross the intersection. Unless traffic is really gunning it I can keep up pretty well which for a nearly 70lb bike and 270lb rider isn't too bad.

    If I had room I might get a cheapie mtb or hybrid with some studs for weather like today. they reported 200 accidents in fort worth on the news this morning (of course that could be just 1 more then normal for all I know) so I came to work pretty late to avoid the stand still. If I had an ice bike like I did back in Connecticut I would have been at work before traffic without any worry.

  16. #16
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Maybe I'm suffering from selection bias...but while I have observed a large number of MTB riders, it's never seemed to me like the majority on this forum use MTBs.

    I always thought that the majority used some derivative of road bike. Not a "racing" bike with a CF frame and 23mm tires, but rather a touring/cyclo-cross/or other "hardier" road bike in that vein.

    In fact, it was the preponderance of cyclo-cross riders here that prompted me to choose a CX frame to build my commuter bike on, using various CX type components.

    I'm not saying that MTBs don't have a place on a commute, and many do quite well on them, but I don't think that the majority use them for precisely the reasons you pointed out in starting this thread.
    Good night...and good luck

  17. #17
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    Bicycle type has only a marginal effect on my commute times.

    Tire type is a different story.

  18. #18
    Senior Membre doraemonkey's Avatar
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    I'm currently using a Cannondale F900 MTB that I bought almost 10 years ago for my commuting. I have it fitted out with some more streetable 1.5 inch Marathon tires. But I have to say, if I were to do it again, I would have a touring or cross bike for a commuter. But I was young, and at the time I had to have a really fast racing bike and a really cool MTB. I don't race anymore, and I don't go off road as often as I thought I would... so a touring bike would more fit my purposes... but I have to get around to selling the current bikes.

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    I do 22 miles each way and it much easier on me and simply faster to ride my road bike with good 23mm tires then my MTB or hybrid. I do not carry any extra weight with an exception of spare tube and air tho. Also the gearing on the road bike are much nicer for hilly paved road, I can tune the gear with small increments getting the most comfortable ride. With my MTB that's not possible and I have to pick from only 3-4 (at most) gears on a road.

  20. #20
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    I'm responding to my own thread... but oh well...

    My main commuter is a Surly Long Haul Trucker. My commute is 39-miles round trip. I used to commute on a lightweight road bike, but I had to carry my stuff in a backpack and that got old quick. I tried a rear rack on the road bike, and it flexed a lot when pedaling out of the saddle... there was just no way I could live with that. The Surly is everything I want in a commuter. It's tough, takes wide tires, hauls heavy loads, and has all the braze ons that I need.

    For my "city bike", I have two old fixed gear conversions. One has fenders and 27X1 1/4 tires, and the other is sort of a "go fast" fixie with narrow 23c tires and no fenders.

    My MTB is an old Trek (I think model 800). I'm going to try it soon, when we get some snow.

  21. #21
    extra bitter kyselad's Avatar
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    A couple of the posts above get to the heart of the matter -- it's not so much the bike as the setup. A cheap, steel bike boom "road bike" frame can handle most commutes. But depending on the conditions, the original tires, seat, handlebars, and fork may not do the job. A lot of mtbs are already setup fairly well for commuting, they're abundant/cheap, and a set of slick tires may be all it takes to get a decent commuter setup. mtb frames are perhaps beefier and heavier than most commuting applications require, but if you aren't lugging the bike up stairs, who cares? All that said, I sold my mtb because I prefer my steel 80's road bike, but I think for most commuters the road bike requires a lot more part swapping than the mtb.

  22. #22
    Senior Member lil brown bat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by matthew_deaner View Post
    Thanks, these are all good points.
    I guess it shows by my post - I am a long time roadie, short time commuter. So, for me, it seemed natural to go for a road bike when taking up commuting. The roads around here aren't too bad, and I'm comfortable with the position. But I can understand where many would want a more rugged, upright bike.
    I doubt you'd be using a nice roadie to commute in Boston. If you did, you'd break your heart in short order. My roadie is definitely faster, but I like my hybrid for dealing with trolley tracks, curbs, emergency bailouts onto the grass/scrub/dirt/whatever, debris, potholes, etc.

  23. #23
    hello roadfix's Avatar
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    Why so many commuters on MTBs?

    because you can buy MTBs almost anywhere for under $100?....

  24. #24
    Fattest Thin Man Az B's Avatar
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    A lot of good responses. One thing that is not mentioned is image. Many people think road bikes are not manly and prefer to be riding something tougher looking. It's similar to the same reason SUVs are popular for single occupant suburban commutes.

    I love all my bikes, but mountain bikes on the hilly, well paved roads around here suck. I commute on several different road bikes, and prefer it that way. With well built wheels, I've never had a problem with branches, curbs, potholes, etc. Low spoke racing wheels aren't appropriate, but that should be obvious.

    But then again, I think SUVs are pretty stupid too unless you enjoy serious off roading.

    Az

  25. #25
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by matthew_deaner View Post
    My main commuter is a Surly Long Haul Trucker.
    That's the kind of bike that I have found to be a more favored bike in this forum, and amongst more "experienced" commuters.

    Again, not to say that there aren't very capable and experienced riders who have very good reasons to prefer a MTB...but unless there has been a shift here lately, it would seem to me that you are in the majority with your bike choice.

    The LHT and the Cross-check are FREQUENTLY mentioned/recommended around here. Do a search and you'll see.
    Good night...and good luck

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