Mountain Bikes for Road Riding

Though normally a poor choice for road riding due to their wide knobby tires and upright riding position, mountain bikes still have a purpose for road riding, particularly if they are modified to increase their ride-ability on the road.

I rode a mountain bike 54 miles on the road once, but wouldn't recommend distance riding with one unless that's the only bike you have.  If you ride your mountain bike with a group of friends who are riding road bikes, you'll definitely have trouble keeping up with the group.

Though not good for long rides, mountain bikes are great for short hops to the store, going for a ride with the kids, riding around the campground, or using for short commutes.  If you don't do any mountain bike riding anyway, a mountain bike can be improved to perform considerably better on the road.

If you're planning to buy a mountain bike for road riding you don't need a bike with a suspension system.  An older hard-tail steel or aluminum frame will work just fine.  The mountain bike I modified for road riding is an older Trek 820 with a welded chrome moly steel hard-tail frame.  Modifications to this bike consist of the following:
  • Replaced the original 26x1.95 inch knobby tires with 26x1.50 inch road tires.  The tires I installed are Avenir Streetster tires.  They have an inflation range of 35 to 80 pounds.  Inflating them to the higher pressure reduces rolling resistance considerably.  They're also quieter, give a smoother ride, and corner better.  Changing from knobby to street tires is the most important change you can make.  You still have the option of inflating them to a lower pressure for offroad riding.
  • Replaced the over sized pedals with steel "rat trap" road pedals.  For this type of bike I like the convenience of not having to wear cleats and clip in when riding.  I typically wear tennis shoes when I ride this bike.
  • Replaced the original trigger shifter/brake lever combo with SRAM twist grip shifters and separate brake levers.  This change wasn't really necessary to make it better on the road.  The trigger shifters were worn out, and for road riding I prefer the twist grip shifters.
  • Replaced the original saddle, which was pretty well worn.  The new saddle is an inexpensive, fairly narrow but heavily padded Avenir mountain bike saddle that works better for riding in the upright position.
  • Added a rear rack.  This makes it much easier to carry things for short hops to the store.  I have a bag that attaches to the top of the rack for carrying stuff from the store or whatever.
I put a lot more miles on my road bike, but this bike still sees heavy use.  I carry it on the back of my motorhome when I travel.  I've ridden it on trails - even with the road tires you can still ride it offroad.  I have a Cateye light set that can be installed quickly for night riding.  I bought fenders for it, but since I'm more of a fair weather rider I never installed them.  If I were using this bike as a commuter I would definitely install the fenders.

Though a mountain bike isn't optimal for road riding, they do fit a specific niche that makes them very practical on the road.


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