Some thoughts on Mountain Bikes

I am currently riding My brother’s Hard-tail, carbon fibre mountain bike to work, because driving to work was doing my head in. This is about as good as a trail-riding bike gets, and his pride and joy. However, it’s my belief that mountain bikes are the work of the devil, and put the cause of utility cycling back a two decades.

First, big, knobbly tyres are bloody hard work on roads. On a road-bike, my commute took 18 minutes. On a mountain bike, this morning it took 27 minutes. That’s 50% more over 4 miles. Even allowing for the fact I’ve not ridden for a few weeks, that’s a simply enormous difference. True, I could put slick MTB tyres on, but that’s like putting lipstick on a pig.
Second, the saddle it came with, a spongy number, was agony in seconds. I have put my Brooks on it, and it’s much better now. If you don’t like cycling because it’s uncomfortable, failure to buy a leather saddle is the cause.
Third, it’s muddy on the roads. With a road-bike, this isn’t much of a problem. You can either put full mud-guards on, like Crud Road-Racer IIs or a seat-post mounted filth prophylactic, and the vast majority of the mud remains on the bike. This morning, EVERYTHING was covered in splatter. Arms, legs, chest, face. A mountain bike spreads the muck so liberally, you cannot consider wearing street clothes if you want to ride it to work.
Fourth, it’s no use for carrying stuff at all. There is no rack, 
I am sure, though I’ve yet to try it, it’s great on the trails getting muddy and rattling downhill. I doubt it’s more effective (in terms of speed over ground) than a cyclocross bike. Where it will excel is the “technical” trails which litter woodland the country over. Over anything like a normal A-B route, even a muddy footpath, a mountain bike will not be the quickest or most efficient machine. The mountain-bike is a toy, not a means of transport. It’s something you put on a car to take somewhere. It’s a hobby. And since about 1985, it’s been the dominant form of the bike. Halfords and Argos are still selling cheap versions to people who don’t know better. Because these are so popular, to the uninitiated, the MTB, not a drop-handlebar road-bike, is what a bike should look like.
And because their first bike is a full-“suspension” number which is slow, heavy, tiresome and covers you in shit, rather than a cheaper, lighter, skinny-wheeled 10-speed, people reject the concept of cycling from A-B. The few who enjoy it, end up spending thousands on their hobby and enjoy it very much, at the weekend. You can see them in BMW X-5s with two mountain bikes on the roof, failing to understand why the be-lycra’d roadie is still slogging around in the traffic, rather than having FUN in the trails.
And that’s the Tragedy. Even people who’ve learned to love the bike still reject it as a means of transport, They’re putting it in a car to go and use it on a man-made obstacle course rather than getting their enjoyment in every day on the way to work. Riding a bike to work or the shops simply doesn’t occur to the moutain-biker, as their bike is not, to them a tool on which to get about. (Many of them also own road or utility bikes, this is not a post about N+1) This entrenches the abhorrent car-culture which makes British towns so unpleasant to be in. A carbon-fibre, suspension mountain bike: never in the field of human endeavor has so much technical accomplishment achieved so little.
9 replies
  1. Steve
    Steve says:

    "this is not a post about N+1"

    All together now…Oh yes it is!

    Horses for courses, there are plenty of mountain bike style bikes with full lugs for everything you could possibly attach, but you won't get that on a lightweight carbon frame, or a BSO from Tesco.

    Remember where they came from, you had bikes with drop bars that most people don't like, or the Raleigh Chilterns with 3 speed (broken) SA hubs. The mountain bike with a more comfortable position and a range of gears was a miracle at the time. Yes these days a cross style bike(gears, flat bar) is better for most journeys, but people only have one bike and so a mountain bike fits that requirement.

    Your brooks saddle costs more than most people want to spend on a bike, its not a good position, but that is where we are. Perhaps we start with something more basic, kill off all "suspension" on cheap bikes.

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Of course there are horses for courses: there's only about 1/3rd horsepower engine so the design is important.

    And of course, for most people, a hybrid with a rack and mudguards is the tool for the job. That, or a Brompton. Thanks to mountain-biking dominance, they don't know this.

    If no problem with mountain-biking on the trail. I weep inwardly when I see someone riding one in town with shopping hanging off the bars.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Clearly mountain bikes should be the only bikes legally available.

    It might curb people like the bastard that overtook the road traffic stopped at a red light at 40 mph in a 30 mph zone, cutting straight through the pedestrians crossing on the 'green man'.

    Where these morons get the idea that the Laws of Newton don't apply to them beats me. They might THINK they can stop on a dime but in reality they can neither brake or steer quicker than a car travelling at the same speed.

  4. dalethecaptain
    dalethecaptain says:

    'I remember when bikes were bikes, proper mudguards and a cover for the chain….'

    I love riding my mountain bike on the road, I agree its hard work but I live in the socialist republic of Yorkshire where the roads are shit, the skinny wheels and tyres of the road bike don't last 5 minutes and I consider myself to be a really careful rider.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I really hope you limeys give up mountain biking, because your co-opting of the sport is shit, your interpretation of it is shit, and if the youtube "instructional" videos bikeradar et al. release are any indication, your understanding of it is shit as well.

    Only a people so deprived of vast natural spaces with REAL technical features would come up with the idea that they need molly coddling and guidance on virtually every mundane facet of the sport. Come to California and practice the do or die teaching method we use, then maybe once you've shat yourselves a few times you can go home and convince all the other poseurs in your country to go back to delivery bicycles where they belong.

  6. lost_nurse
    lost_nurse says:

    This post is either a superbly-written wind-up… or else your understanding of cycling history is so off-beam as to be mildly insane.

    Gary Fisher & many of the original Repack crew were accomplished roadies. And the likes of Keith Bontrager could lecture you into the ground about the, er, cross-over between road, cyclo-cross and mountain biking. Finally, not all of us drive shitty cars to trail centres at the weekend, so as to pilot over-blinged sussers around pre-fab trails – many of us are out there everyday, in the woods, doin' it for the simple joy of fast, loamy singletrack & grinning ear to ear.

    For somebody who preaches about the diversity of coffee shops, you have a mighty narrow view of the bicycle…!

    lost_nurse: full disclosure – I own a mountain bike, a road bike, a BMX and a Brompton. All fit for purpose.

  7. lost_nurse
    lost_nurse says:

    This entrenches the abhorrent car-culture which makes British towns so unpleasant to be in.

    This statement is so ridiculous, I'm forced to return to it… although I still suspect it's all rather tongue-in-cheek.

    I've been riding mountain bikes for well over two decades… and your generalisations about 'em are absurd. Your caricatures don't describe anybody I know – all of whom ride (& commute on) multiple types of bike. Besides which, the weekend warriors you mention are themselves the target demographic for the hi-end road & tri market. Who, do y'suppose, is keeping Wiggle in the money?

    I'll agree that anybody riding a feckawful department-store faux-suspension bike (monstrous things, should be melted-down) is likely to be put off cycling for life… but the percentage concerned is vanishingly small compared to the number of people who have got into cycling via mountain biking… after all, the accompanying boom probably saved the cycling industry. And all those good, cheap-ish and very functional hybrids you see around town (identikit models available from Trek, Giant, Specialised etc – yer classic cycle-to-work-scheme fare) with their v-brakes, aheadsets and aluminium frames? They're largely a legacy of the cross-over from mountain bike product development (& see disc-brakes on CX bikes, euro bottom brackets on BMXs etc).

    You need wider handlebars – and a wider perspective. The "abhorrent car-culture" which so stifles this country is the end-product of many factors, but mountain bikes ain't part of the problem. It's a frankly laughable claim – and I did laugh. 🙂

  8. Luke
    Luke says:

    I agree – mountain bikes are the spawn of satan, an abomination of abominations etc. Slow, heavy, lacking mudguards, racks.

    I will allow them to be used in the US – see your anonymous and presumably American commenter). There, "off road" means gravel trails, rocky paths etc. Here, off road means mud (or grass that will be turned into mud if a few mountain bikes go over it). Compare the US "trail running" (poncing around on paths in California, with summer sunlight gently dappling the forest glades) with the manly pursuit of cross country running – struggling through ankle deep mud in the rain.

    On a serious note, £75 mountain "bikes" can be made with 18 gears, suspension etc. Just think what you could do for, say, £100, if you just made proper, basic bikes. Maybe hubs, maybe just one gear I dunno. Tough, reasonable weight, and who cares if it gets nicked – it's not much more than a monthly tube pass.


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