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Old 07-19-02, 09:10 AM   #1
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What defines a mountain bike?

The thread about Amir's new Fisher got me thinking... what is a mountain bike?

Most people would define a mountain bike thus:

A bicycle designed for off-road use, with suspension [forks at least], 26" wheels, fat tires, flat or slight riser handlebars. The problem is that there have been a whole lot of MTBs that don't fit that description... Let me deal with this point-by-point...

A bicycle designed for off-road use: Cyclocross bikes are designed for off-road use... and they're not MTBs.

Suspension [forks at least]: Until the early-90s, very few MTBs actually had suspension of any kind. Today, a lot of small frame builders [Soma and Kelly] make frames for MTBs with rigid forks -- particularly SS and fixie... And there are a whole lot of hybrids and cruisers out there that do have suspension, but aren't MTBs.

26" wheels: This used to be the standard, but there have been 24" MTBs, and Gary Fisher has 29" models... and they're all MTBs...

Fat tires: Cyclocross bikes have fat tires, and a whole lot of MTBs -- particularly those racing on dry hardpack, have relatively skinny tires. A buddy of mine has his riding on 1.25" semis...

Flat or slight riser handlebars: Ance again, this hardly differentiates MTBs from hybrids or cruisers, and some of the greats of the sport -- John Tomac and Juli Furtado leap to mind -- rced on drop handlebars at points in their careers. I don't think you could deny that they were riding MTBs...

In theory, a MTB could be a bike designed for offroad, with rigid forks, 29" (700c) wheels, 30mm tires and drop handlebars. Would you recognize this as a mountain bike?
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Old 07-19-02, 09:53 AM   #2
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Well some descent points were made. however the one missed that specifically seperates MTB form Cyclocross, and Hybrid's is the frame. In specific the geometry of the frame. True that some hybrid's have as their setup fat tires, suspension, flat or riser bar's. However the geometry is such that it places you more upright, as opposed to the more agressive laid out position of a MTB specific frame. Take a look for example of Iron Horse, KHS, and Jamis. Their hybrid's, are dramatically different in frame geometry than their MTB's. The suspension will also be dramatically different. I have never seen a Mainotu Black or Mars on a hybrid. I have not seen a Rock Shox Sid, or a Marzocchi DJ 1 on a hybrid. You may find shimaNO XT on a hybrid but not say Avid Mech. Disc brakes. Those are just a few I can think of right off the bat.
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Old 07-19-02, 10:02 AM   #3
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Liking to keep things in their places I tend to think of them as seperate entities. Tire size does nothing to this asssment because I don't cnsider the size of the tire the making of a bike. If I see a cyclocross bike on a trail I think that I saw a cyclocross bike. Not a mtb. Mountain bikes (xc and dh and freeride) all have their different geometries. Same with hybrid's. While I think they all have a place on the mountain this doesn't make them mtb's.

Sheech my cousin rides a bmx (20") on some single tracks.
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Old 07-19-02, 01:09 PM   #4
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I give this exercise a go.

A mountain bike. . . is meant to be ridden on unpaved, uneven surfaces, generally not suitable for automobiles or bicycles meant for paved, road surfaces. A mountain bike is suited for dirt roads and paths, which may include narrow rugged trails stream crossings, rocks, roots and generally aggressive off-road terrain.

A rider may choose any bicycle to ride on such terrain, however his bicycle might not be optimized for such conditions. Therein lies the difference between a mountain bike and other types of bicycles. While tire size and tread type, frame geometry, and handlebar type do not necessarily define a mountain bike, mountain bike evolution has optimized these parts to improve performance.

One attribute that defines a mountain bike is durability. Water, snow and mud are all part of the mountain bike experience, and riding conditions usually subject the bicycle frame and components to physical and environmental stresses not usually encountered in "normal" road riding. Therefore, a mountain bike will have a reinforced frame, and components like hubs, pedals and deraillerus will be designed to deal with such conditions.

While other bicycles may be ridden on unpaved surfaces, or even optimized for certain off-road conditions (cyclocross), they generally do not have the durability, frame geometry and specific components to maximize speed and comfort needed for rugged trail riding, and unpaved ascending and descending.

Just a thought on a boring Friday afternoon.
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Old 07-19-02, 01:12 PM   #5
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Wow WoodyUpstate. Do you work for Encyclopedia Britanica or something?

That was one heck of a definition! j/k

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Old 07-19-02, 01:48 PM   #6
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If you want to enter an IMBA (whatever the acronym) MTB race, what kind of bike do you need? Can you use a cyclo-cross if the fancy takes you. They do have some specs for valid machines, but I havent seen them.
In a cyclo cross race any bike may be used, but in a UCI road race there are restrictions .

There are expedition touring bikes with low gears, 26" wheels, sealed components, durable frames, designed for off-road riding but these are not MTBs
There were MTBs before suspension (remember the 1980s), and suspension before MTBs (Moultons).
26" wheels were a very arbitrary choice, could have used a 650B just as well. Many good smaller road bikes use 26"MTb size rather than the narrow 650c size.
I think the marketing dept like to pidgeon-hole bikes and target them at market sectors. In reality, experienced riders tend to build the bike that suits them. Does a flatland off-roader need a 27 gear Mountain bike or a singlespeed/fixed. Does a mud-puppy need the same bike as a desert fox?
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Old 07-19-02, 05:22 PM   #7
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Theoretically any bike you use in the mountains can be called a mountain bike. Technically it comes down to the bikes geometry. A prime example, I know a guy who races dh on a 1980's GT beach cruser, he calls it his mtn bike. Funny as hell to watch though(he is fast too). I also have a friend who sets his mtn bike up with slicks, drop bars, ridged forks and call the bike a road bike. It's all how you percieve you own bike and what you do with it.
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Old 07-20-02, 08:38 AM   #8
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In the UK there has always been a strong tradition of riding off-road. Cycle tourists call it Rough Stuff and there is a decades old club dedicated to riding on trails using normal touring bikes.

Some of these riders have undertaken epic journeys, like the first bike crossing of Iceland in the 1950s (using a singlespeed).
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