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.