Commuting on a Mountain Bike: Is it Possible?

Is it possible to commute on a mountain bike?

If you’ve grown tired of the long hours waiting in traffic while driving to work or the overall hassles of public transportation, a good option could be to get a bike for an easier and possibly more pleasant commute to work.

There are several ride options you could consider, and a mountain bike is among the alternatives. However, given the overall structure of MTBs, you might be wondering how you can pull off commuting on a mountain bike.

Commuting on a mountain bike: Is it possible?

Yes, it is, you can comfortably use a mountain bike for your commute with the possibility of a few modifications depending on your terrain to work. Replace the tires with a narrower or less knobbly pair, add a set of bright lights, some fenders, and possibly reflective tape to make for a more comfortable and safer commute. Then possibly the joy of an easier and more interesting route to the office with less traffic your normal daily commute.

The best bike for commuting is one that offers you the most comfort and practicability so that you can ride more often without feeling like it’s a chore. That old mountain bike that you’ve neglected in the garage could be transformed into a functional commuter bike.

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As long as you are willing to make a couple of simple and basic modifications, which will turn your old mountain bike into a faster and lighter means of commuter transportation.

Consider making the following changes:

  • Tires: Firstly, you want to start by replacing those big heavy off-road tires on your MTB with a narrower slicker tire that can fit on your rims. This is because although mountain bike tires may be convenient on the dirt road, they tend to add a bit of weight and slow you down when used on tarmac.Replacing them will have an immediate impact on the weight, feel, and speed of your bike. When fitting different tires, be sure to use the correct size tubes; a pair of puncture-proof tubes will fit in suitably here.

    And when it comes to pumping the tires with air, make sure they are very hard so as to reduce the rolling resistance as you ride your bike.

  • Add Mudguards: In spite of mountain bikes being designed for mud and dirt roads and terrain, only a few come with fenders. This is usually to prevent the mud from getting lodged between the tire and the mudguard, rendering you immobile. Given that you will be using your bike for an urban commute, fenders could be a handy addition. You want to fit in a set of fenders on the front and rear tires to prevent water and grime on the road from splattering your work attire (although in truth you may be better in a spare set of clothing, just for riding). This will ensure that you arrive at the office clean and dry.
  • Lights: If your line of work dictates that you have to spend time traveling in the dark hours, it is imperative that you have a pair of bright lights installed on your mountain bike. See our ‘Bike Laws’ page for information regarding your local state laws.

    Generally, most commuter cyclists choose to fit a white front-facing light while pair it with a red rear facing light. These will ensure that you have adequate illumination to comfortably navigate your way through the dark. There are several nice options for you; from USB rechargeable to battery operated and those with generators.

  • Reflective Tape: This is another important inclusion you want to consider. Reflective tape is a nice way to increase your visibility on the streets at night and guarantee your safety. You can easily find this in your local bike store. Make sure you place the tape on areas that will shine brightly at night. I suggest having them on your cranks as moving reflectors is a sure way of getting a motorist’s attention.

You might also want to replace the current pedals if they are not suitable for road use. This should ensure that you can comfortably ride in your normal office footwear.

Make these few changes and your mountain bike will be good to go. The other positive thing about a mountain bike is that it has a suitable hardtail when you compare it to a suspension bike. If you would like more detailed information on Commuting on a mountain bike you will find a lot more information in our commuting section.

Mountain Bike vs. Road Bike

When you compare a mountain and a road bike, you will realize that there are a number of distinctive features that make either bike type a suitable candidate for commuting to work. However, I would say that a mountain bike can make for a better choice if your possible shortcuts have anything close to a non-street terrain.

Firstly, mountains bikes can basically ride anywhere. You will be able to shorten your commute by avoiding crowded spaces by cutting across areas like parking lots, dirt alleys, and pedestrian malls (mind the pedestrians).

Whenever the traffic is jammed up and you are running out of time, mountain bikes ensure that you can easily access alternative routes that a road bike may not be able to navigate comfortably.

Mountain bikes have fat tires that cover a large surface area, making the bike easier to balance on the road. This will be very convenient if you have to carry a laptop bag slung over the shoulder. It also makes it easier for you to dodge oncoming motorists.

MTB‘s also feature easier gearing. Generally, a standard mountain bike has easier gears compared to a standard road bike, allowing you to spin more easily on difficult climbs. Taking it easy on a climb will not only save you the energy but also ensure that you’re not sweaty and smelly when you get to the office.

Mountain bikes are naturally meant for rugged terrain. While this may not sound like a good quality for a commuter bike, it, nevertheless, comes in handy when the most direct road to your job premise is in a sorry condition.

If you have to ride through potholes and loose gravel, a mountain bike will ease your stress and make the commute friendlier. Meanwhile, a road bike subjected to continuous abuse from potholes and poor road conditions may have problems a lot quicker than a mountain bike.

The other benefit of a mountain bike over a road bike is the riding posture that a rider assumes. It is generally much more upright and comfortable for your spine. It can also give much better visibility, enabling you to clearly see where you are heading. This means you won’t have to worry about an aching back or struggle to see cars approaching you.

How far is too far to Bike Commute?

If you must commute to work using a bike, it is crucial that you consider the distance you’ll be covering daily to see how practical this will be.

If you live less than 10km from your work area, this distance is ideal for a bike commute. Most people living (10-20) km will find it relatively manageable, although those at the higher end of the bracket might find it more demanding.

For those traveling longer distances, road bikes may be a better commuter bike choice compared to mountain bikes. This is because road bikes are better suited to cover greater distances on the tarmac and at a faster pace.

Your current level of fitness will also go a long way to determine how effective the commuting on a mountain bike will be. For some people, just a ride around the corner may be too far whereas others will comfortably complete a 20-mile trip.

All in all, one crucial aspect to remember is the way the miles you bike will add up. One day cycling a 40-mile trip is relatively manageable for a fit person; a whole week of cycling 40 miles, however, will be far more challenging.

You could always start by commuting on your bike every other day.

Final Thought

The next time you are thinking of switching your commute to work from public transportation to biking, don’t overlook that old mountain bike you have. With the right modifications, you can end up with a practical and effective and cheap transportation alternative.

However, be sure to carry out a little bit of due diligence to find the most ideal route to work; avoid the busy roads with heavy traffic while making the most of bicycle lanes, paths, and side streets.

You never know, you might actually enjoy getting to work.

If you want to learn more about bike commuting, we’ve put together a comprehensive 71 page step-by-step PDF guide that goes into all of the things you’ll want to know –