Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Mountain Bike for Commuting

Although most cyclists around these parts are roadies, I do occasionally see people cycling for transportation. More often than not they are riding mountain bikes. For some time now, mountain bikes have functioned as de facto commuter bikes in places without a culture of dedicated utility bicycles. And while they lack the trimmings of transportation-specific machines, mountain bikes do have some features that can work pretty well for commuting. I've been thinking about this since last Autumn, when, for a period of about a month I rode a friend's mountain bike in this capacity. Even now that I have my own Brompton here with me, I still use a mountain bike on occasion to get to specific destinations - appreciating its benefits as well as noticing its shortcomings for getting around. Here are some thoughts on both.

What makes the mountain bike immediately appealing to me as a hop on and go bicycle, is the combination of positioning and stepover height. The straight handlebars allow for a sportily upright posture. And most MTB frames today have sloping top tubes, some so dramatic as to out-slope a typical mixte frame. These features make the bike easy to ride casually in my street clothes - including skirts, dresses and long coats.

Then there is the usefulness and stability of the wide knobby tires, making poor road conditions a non-issue. They are great for cycling over potholes, mud, debris, sand, even winter slush and snow and occasional ice. The tires can also open up commuting options, making it possible to cut through forest trails and across fields. Finally, fat tires mean that regardless of frame material and other factors, the bike is unlikely to have a harsh ride quality (a suspension fork, if present, will further contribute to this).

The super-low gearing that comes standard on typical mountain bikes is a godsent for traveling through hilly areas. Even the steepest mountain roads can be tackled in comfort with a sub 1:1 gear.

The 26" wheels address my dislike of toe overlap, even with wide tires.

The disk brakes commonly found on most modern mountain bikes offer excellent braking power in all weather conditions.

Finally, mountain bike frames today are typically made of aluminum, which makes them resistant to rust in wet climates and salty road conditions.

All of these features may not make for the prettiest of bikes, but from the standpoint of sheer practicality they are attractive. And in addition, I find the sporty handling and playful feel of a decent mountain bike quite fun.

As far as drawbacks, the obvious ones are the missing fenders and racks. Cycling in the rain or after the rain quickly turns street clothes into a mess. And there is no convenient way to carry things on the bike. Of course both fenders and racks can usually be retrofitted. But this introduces extra costs, complexity, and compatibility issues. And on a borrowed bike doing so if not really feasible. All of this also applies to lighting, for those who prefer the convenience and security of dynamo lights.

Gripping the straight handlebars can also feel uncomfortable over longer distances, and while handlebars can be changed this again introduces extra work, cost, etc.

Otherwise, the one thing I am not crazy about is the high bottom bracket typical of mountain bike frames, preferring a low bottom bracket instead. This, however, is not a dealbreaker, just a personal preference.

All in all, I feel that a decent quality mountain bike, if properly accessorised, can make for a comfortable, practical, versatile and fun transportation/ utility bicycle. And while there do exist readily available bikes on the market (under the "hybrid" category) that appear to already accomplish this, in the past I've disliked the ones I've tried - consistently finding them uncomfortable and inefficient. Recently I tried a few once again, in an attempt to understand what it was about them I disliked. And the thing is, while some of these commuter-ready bikes may superficially resemble mountain bikes, with their fat knobby tires, suspension forks, and general aesthetic, the geometry and handling feel off. I am guessing the manufacturers alter traditional MTB designs to accomplish a more upright position and cruiser-like handling, in the process ending up with a bike that's really neither here nor there.

Despite the recent increase in dedicated transportation bicycles of all stripes, I think the mountain bike, with some modifications, remains a good off-the-shelf option, especially for those with hilly commutes and mixed terrain possibilities, who nonetheless want to dress in street clothes and sit upright. And why not? The more options the merrier.

52 comments:

  1. My first errand/commuter bike was my '93 Specialized mountain bike. I slapped on a rack and fenders and it got me through a lot. I wasn't pleased that it didn't have a chain guard and wanted something prettier so I got a more upright Dutch bike.

    But it's still my go to bike when the weather is really bad or I'm locking up somewhere that has a higher-than-average theft rate. She's not glamorous, but she's my workhorse and I love her. http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/a-makeover-and-spa-treatment-for-zella-mae/

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  2. You make good points. I've been reading about bike geometry lately, as I struggle to understand why my Trek hybrid is so uncomfortable to ride despite extensive modifications. Between Sheldon Brown's website and what you've written here, I'm starting to get it.

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  3. My most-used commuter is a Bridgestone MB3 outfitted with road slicks, fenders, rear rack and moustache bars, a real Grant Petersen tribute bike. A full-suspension mountain bike is great for bombing on gnarly trails, but the constant bobbing can be a bit annoying when pedaling on pavement. Glad you've come to appreciate the merits of MTBs.

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  4. I commuted for years on modified mountain bikes, though my frames were all high-end steel frames from the very early '90s. I added up-jutter stems, drop bars, bar end shifters; swapped tires (Big Apples are very nice); and changed the gearing a bit for closer cruising ratios (say 46/36/24 with a 13-21 7 speed) or, for that matter, fixified the drivetrain with an ENO hub. My frames all took fenders and rear rack, so nothing to give up there.

    The early '90s Diamond Back Axis Team with ENO, 64" gear, 60 mm Big Apple Tires, and Nitto Dirt Drop bar was a particularly wonderful ride, the high bb allowing faster cornering than many other fixed gear bikes. And such a wonderfully balanced and smooth ride!

    But please! No suspension on converted mtb/commuters!

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  5. I picked up a Kettler Alu-Rad that seems to address all the issues of a mountain bike for utility riding. This was a 1990 German stab at using mountain bike components on a woman's city bike frame that had fenders, chain guard, rack, lock and dynamo lighting. All I did was change to an adjustable stem and sweptback bars and put on Nokian Mount and Ground snow tires to make this my winter ride. It has proven to be a great grocery getter with waterproof panniers and can be ridden with snow boots. The only reason this unusual configuration is here in the U.S. is that a service person brought it back from being stationed in Europe. I have found several of these black swans on CL for under a $100.

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  6. Early Wisconsin-built Trek MTBs had 72 degree head angles and reasonable BB height. There is so much difference between MTBs. They tend to get swept into one big pile and very few have the knowledge to sort one from the other except by riding them.

    Switching handlebars is not that much work. Adding barends (again, huge variety) can give some of the utility of a North Roads bar and is even simpler.

    Be like everybody else and use battery lights. Good. Simple.

    Second Mr. Bertin 753 on Big Apples. Great tires. IMO they are very good trail tires too.

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  7. I infinitely prefer the mountain bike as a commuter over "commuter" bicycles (even though I like the aesthetics of a "Dutch" bicycle, for my lock it and leave it bike, aesthetics are a very low - as in nonexistant - priority over practicality).

    How I set mine up at minimal cost (about $600 in total starting with a brand new bike, give or take a couple of dollars) is detailed here. A cross post would be massive and not appropriate I think.

    http://lightandwheels.blogspot.ca/2014/01/prepping-four-season-commuter.html

    I will understand if you don't want to post a linkie to my blog :)

    Cheers!

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    1. Wow very nice. And the specs of that Kona model look spot on.

      Your blog is great, but FYI I have a hard time viewing the layout and linking to individual posts.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Why not? Ask your four years ago self that question.

    Just in the past month you've thought about it? Well at least you paraphrased many of my comments.

    At this point, despite best efforts, you'll never understand geometry as it relates to how a bike rides. That should be despite my best efforts I suppose.

    Now, about that bike you rode in college...

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    1. High School. A sweet Murray circa 1993.

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    2. Did you ever get, like, three feet of air with it?

      Sledgehammer

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  10. For the first few years I commuted by bike, I rode on a converted 1980s Cannondale aluminum mtb. It easily accepted fenders and racks, and uber-wide (2.1") 26" tires. But even when "hybridized" with more city-appropriate handlebars and saddle, racks and basket, the bike felt exceedingly heavy, stiff and sluggish. For me, converting a flexy road bike into a city bike proved much more overall satisfying.

    This was the bike, btw. It now lives at my summer home and I use it to tool around the country roads with my kids:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5090530941/

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    1. I did the same sort of thing to 2 different old 'Dales, one of the early ones with the 24" rear wheel and BMX brake, and another late 80's cross country racebike. Both seemed close to perfect in concept but neither lived up to expectations on the road.

      Great trailbikes though. I still think riding fast rigid XC bikes on singletrack is my favorite mountain bike ride.

      Spindizzy

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  11. I agree, and I think the bike industry does too- that's why the hybrid/urban/commuter bikes on the market have departed very little from the standard hard-tail mountain bike. Though, I have noticed an evolution from the stock 26" ATB with "street" tires to the 29er's that were popular a couple years ago, to what is now more or less a road bike with knobbier tires (probably considered a cyclocross bicycle). Or, it could just be marketing trends.

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  12. i tried to lift the handlebars on an old kona firemountain - lovely bike as it is in itself, this doesn't work: the geometry means upright is just not on (its too spaced out)

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  13. My main commuter now is a converted MTB. Primarily so that I could get the wide gear range needed for my hilly area. My biggest complaint is the high BB as well. I'm actually considering having someone weld a second BB shell on the bottom of the frame to drop the crank a couple inches so I can get a flat foot down. Other than than, it is an annoyance that nearly all MTBs have quick release wheels and seat post. Bolt on wheels aren't 100% secure, but at least someone won't just walk off with your seat. What I need is a nice loop loop frame transport bike with a triple crank...

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    1. You can buy, for very little money, a set of skewers which lock on with a wrench. They are easilly as secure as a nut. If you want, skewers can be had with a "security key" which can be defeated by a thief but takes more effort and would be fairly obvious.

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  14. MaxUtility: No need to use a MTB to get wide range gearing! Even with a road frame you can drop the rings to, say, 46/32 and install a 12-32 cassette. Hell, I use a 38/24 sub compact on my Fargo (13-27 9 speed) but, true, that is for off road.

    Flat foot down: can’t help you there.

    derf: There are all sorts of short and high stems available, and there are also stem extenders. I’ve not found it hard to raise a drop bar higher than saddle even on an old-style 19” MTB with level top tube and absolutely no extension to the head tube.

    somervillain: Oh, try a nice, thin-gauge, high-end steel frame! Like the thinwall Prestige of the ’91 Specialized Stumpjumper Team that I converted and, alas, sold. True, oversized tubing and not narrow 531, but nothing like grossly fat and stiff aluminum tubing. But I too would, today, start with a nice, steel road frame.

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  15. Nice old high-end rigid MTBs are great bikes, not just converted into commuters but as BIKES. Full stop. Use them as touring rigs, set them up as dirt road bikes and you find that they approximate good cross' bikes better than lot's of the roadbikes in lumberjack drag they sell as crossbikes now. Or even convert one to fixed and build a great towniebike/caferacer out of them like the guys who put slicks on dirt motorcycles and hare around town 3 blocks ahead of the cops. I done all of that and loved it(not the motorcycle thing though).

    But I don't think they're ideal for anything other than the sort of cross country racing we were doing back when they were new. The frames are too rigid, the BB height never really where you'd put it for choice and typically sized on the small side if you don't want to be all stretched out, hands below your hips, hurling yourself at the shrubbery.

    But like all good bikes, if you are willing to put up with some of that they ARE fine bikes and capable of so much. I think modern bike culture and marketing have skewed our thinking about the mountain bike much like the car industry fished us in about SUVs. No utility car who's job it is to spend most of it's time on roads, dirt, mud or snow covered gravel included, would ideally be built with the weight, enormous tires, excessive ground clearance and over the top approach to styling as the typical SUV. But as soon as we start thinking about any sort of weather so many of us default to this assumption that that's what's required. I would love to have something with 325 horsepower, all wheel drive and 10inches of clearance to go get stupid with, (Boy, can I get stupid and I know just the place) but it wouldn't make the ideal commuter for driving to town in the snow. And really, if you loan me yours to take out and use hard, you know, get out of it what it really can do off road, you wont like the condition when I bring it back. There's going to be some fiberglass and thermoplastic bit's missing and you'll realize why the real working stuff has steel wheels. But if you think you need it to get to the office, I won't make fun of you(unless you loop it out sliding down an icy overpass in front of me with the steering jammed all the way the wrong way).

    Modern full suspension mountain bikes are even farther removed from the ideal of a good utility bike, but you can get to the post office just fine on one of those too. I'm not sure WHAT the ideal utility bike looks like, certainly not a 3spd Raleigh( but those get the job done too). It's fun to think about though...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Anyone who doubts the offroad capability of standard road bikes (or any bike) is invited to stroll over to Youtube and watch Martyn Ashton's Road Bike Party and Road Bike Party 2. Ten million views or so, expect to be entertained while you learn something. I imagine they broke some bikes filming that, but still....

      My first really nice bike was a '67 Falcon that had this low BB. With the chubbiest sewups available the BB center was less than ten inches off the ground. With race tires (25mm back then) it was 9-3/4". And though it was a 23.5" frame it came with 165mm cranks. I rode that bike on a lot of trail. Sure I grounded pedals, so what. Didn't do cyclo-x myself but did ride it to spectate. That bike was pressed into service as a race spare a few times. Some Big Names raced on that low BB and they all liked it fine.

      The bicycle marketplace has an enormous variety of niches at the moment but the orthodoxy is absolute. Anyone who tried to sell that Falcon would face universal ridicule from the editors and bloggers and stores just wouldn't stock it. What would you do to market such a thing? Invent a backstory? As used by the Mongolian Postal Service? Bribe the scribes?

      My big problem with high BBs is they make the bike tippy. For those who thrash the bikes hard it makes it ever so slightly easier to initiate turns. For everyone else it makes it easier to fall. And falling from a greater height hurts more.

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  16. As someone who commuted for years on various mountain bikes because of the too long mountain bike craze, I never want to ride a mountain bike for transportation again. Old school hardtails are okay, but anything with suspension, forget it! Mountain bikes are often not even designed to carry weight, so once you get the rack and fenders on, it does not handle well at all. Then there is the sluggishness on roads. I live in a mountain biking mecca and people do get around on their super bouncy bikes, and I can see they are struggling on pavement.
    For mixed road and trail, the idea of the 'country bike', touring or rando with cushy tires work well.
    I was in vAncouver today and saw plenty of mountain bikes being used to get around, if it works, it works.

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    1. Two ways to solve the bounce problem:

      1) Euro market suspension forks used to always have a lockout for pavement and climbing. Never caught on here. You now need to find vintage Euro market scrap forks.

      2) The latest and greatest and most fabulously overpriced MTBs are equipped with accelerometers and computers that can distinguish pedalling forces (which start the bounce) from rocks and trees and holes. Just spend all of your money and your MTB can ride as well as a simple rigid bike.

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  17. Although I am a fan of the older Raleigh Classic 3-speeds, it has to be understood that Mountain Bikes make for a good all rounder.

    After getting a Giant ATX900D, which after 'expensive' upgrades took me close to the 3,000Euro limit, fitting a 15Euro rack is hardly relevant to the cost.

    I dislike dynamo lighting with a passion, and really (as an electrical engineer myself) cannot even see the point of them at all.... the new battery-powered LED gizmos are simple, bright, and very efficient when it comes to longevity of juice. After a year, my 6 Chinese-manufactured wrap-around rubber led lights still function on the same sets of batteries.

    My last conversion, was to go for slicker tyres, still fat Mavics, but semi-slick... great improvement for commuting, since we don't really have mountains here in Malta.

    Like you, I dislike the ride height, and I think of the machine as being incredibly ugly...however it is a quality bike that gets me everywhere on time and in quite relative comfort.

    Thanks for your writing...

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  18. I commute 35 miles round trip in Thames Valley UK on my mountain bile. Aluminum frame Merida. I have the suspension locked so it is not squishy riding along. My bike shop was able to mount farily complete fenders. I think my only change for next year might be to go with an internal rear hub. Here in the UK the grit means cleaning the bike moving parts a few times a week.

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  19. I've never been "attracted" to mountain bikes but had to concede some points in your post as sounding fair and reasonable.

    And then this morning I saw this: http://bicycletimesmag.com/first-impression-surly-ecr/

    ...and found myself fantasizing about taking cross-country short-cuts on my way to work.

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    1. That is indeed very nice, very nice. I'd love to try those handlebars too.

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    2. lovely simplicity without suspension, but not far short of £2k, however, I can see how it could be recreated..

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  20. I loved the suspension on my mountain bike as well as its stability and handling. I simply switched out the tires from off road appropriate tires to 1.5 inch street tires. Then I changed the handlebars from the wide flat to a trekker. I love this bike and how it handles anything city riding can throw at it. And fenders? I live in Miami. It rains a lot in the summer. Clip on fenders are a must if you're concerned about stripes up the back of your clothes! I have several other bikes, and each has its place. But for commuting about a city, I love my mountain bike.

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  21. Out of interest, are there any small frame builders who work with aluminum?

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    1. I am sure there are others, but on the East Coast USA I know that Spooky and Gaulzetti can make you an aluminum MTB. Of course you can also go Ti, which expands your options considerably.

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    2. As easy as Aluminum is to work with I'm continually surprised more builders don't use it.

      It's by far the least expensive material, simple to weld, is as light as anything needs to be for the purpose and your tooling lasts almost forever, heat treating isn't required if you just use the right alloy and it aint ever going to rust. The lifespan of the finished frame, while long, isn't going to be as long as that of steel or Ti but the vast majority of customs don't get used up before the buyer wants something different anyway. Those characteristics are why most mid-priced performance bikes are aluminum and all those $800 Truks/Gigants/Spectacles are probably the reason most people don't think of it as a premium choice anymore.

      It's sort of a shame, Aluminum rocks.
      Having said all that, I still wouldn't buy another aluminum bike if I can afford a nice steel or Ti bike.

      Spindizzy

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    3. For years I rode a dual susser around town with backpack and dirt jump tires. Used it for road rides too. Oh the look on some people's faces.

      Same idea as those motard guys, only I didn't have to use streets.

      Go to store, hit a gap, some single track, spend some healthy time on one wheel.

      This blog has gone from posting pretty bikes to posting about one with its saddle pointed down with rusty stanchions. Lawdy.

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  22. Frank Wadleton AKA "Frank The Welder" in Vermont and Rock Lobster in California come to mind for examples of smaller builders.
    Both are legendary framebuilders with decades worth of AL experience.

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  23. For a few years I commuted about 12 hilly miles on a mountain bike. I quickly abandoned the knobby tires for slicks, and found that a 1.75" tire was a good compromise between rolling resistance and being able to stand up to poor road conditions.

    I tried a backpack to carry my gear, but that puts all the extra weight high and has to carry through your seat bones. A rear rack was much better.

    There were lots of options for front and rear fenders, but none worked as well as full fenders as found on European city bikes.

    As far as the straight handle bars, I added bar ends, which gave a second hand position much like a road bike. Normally, a mountain bike is set up with the handle bars below the seat, and that works well for wind resistance, but does put a lot of weight on your hands - fine for short rides, not so good after an hour or better.

    Eventually I switched to a road bike with triple chainrings. I swapped out the rear cogs for a wide ratio set to maintain some semblance of low gearing for the long steep hills found here in Seattle.

    Today, I ride for fitness and my mount is a Retrovelo Alfons, which is a European rendition of an American 1980s mountain bike (a la Mt. Tams and Marin County). The early mountain bike frame geometry provides agile road manners. Riding in the city, I much prefer the more upright posture of the Retrovelo, which allows me to see better in traffic. The large, 26" x 2.35" wide Fat Frank tires look bad ass and roll over bumpy roads like there is no tomorrow. The Brooks B67 saddle has just enough give for a mid-50's rider. Plus the full fenders keep me and the bike clean.

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  24. the geometry of my hybrid "A" commuter is very close to the geometry of my 94 rigid stumpy.

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  25. Off topic. Interesting roadster in a small size. UK only.
    http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Vintage-Collectable-early-1900s-Path-Racer-Light-Roadster-Rare-/281248135113?pt=UK_Bikes_GL&hash=item417bb1f7c9

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  26. I love my modernized DL-1 for solo commuting, but it is no bicycle to carry a child on, especially with hills. As I can't afford an xtracycle edgerunner just now, I went and bought and retrofitted an early 90's step thru mountain bike. All cro-moly steel. It handles pretty well with the kiddo on board, and I am loving the fat tires and gearing for city riding. Here she is:https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos?pid=5972274571105464738&oid=112583837496611119512

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  27. I've been really enjoying my '84 Raleigh Crested Butte MTB that I got a year and a half ago. It's become my most-used bike, and it was built in an era before suspension and gaudy graphics, so it looks nice too. But as Velouria acknowledges, it takes some "work" to make them "work" as a city/utility/commuter/tourer. I've installed racks/baskets, fenders, better swept-back handlebars, and dynamo lighting. (Sorry, Chris Grillo, but I don't share your passionate dislike for dynamo setups, but do share your like of old three speeds!) These types of things are not the things that a casual cyclist might tackle, unfortunately. The good thing is that old rigid-frame steel MTB's from the '80's into the 90's are plentiful out there, and still pretty cheap. And if you look hard enough, you can find one without gaudy graphics. ;-)

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    1. No probs adventure. :-) Each to his/her own... Scared stiff of getting caught without lights when stopped. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/20553362/Raleigh-Chiltern.jpg

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  28. What spindizzy said- the steel ATB from years ago, maybe the spiritual successors of the Bridestone MB-1, are the true does-it-all bicycles. Apropos to this, whatever happened to the "29er" hybrids that were so popular a couple years ago? Were they absorbed into the Cyclocross marketing push of late?

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  29. A while back, someone posted a 1990ish Giant Rincon for free, so I went and picked it up. It had been stored outside a lot but cleaned up nicely, and I used it to teach myself how to overhaul a bottom bracket and headset. When my son grew out of the bike he was riding, I used that as an excuse to have fun with the Giant, swapping out this and that, giving it a more aggressive stance with a road stem and flipped North Road bars and those awesome Resist Nomad 26 x 2.25 tires that can go up to 100 psi if one is so inclined. The thing rides like a dream at whatever tire pressure. Only when I flipped the bars did I realize that the frame basically had touring geometry. The thing is indestructible, with a hi-ten fork and stays, and a blast to ride. He goes to school, to see his friends or the corner store, and when he's not looking I raise the seat and take it out, because I must Obey Giant.

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  30. Bicycle with suspension, without fender, flat bar, fat knobby tires: all these equipment are close to four-wheel drive (4wd) which are often used on smooth roads, sometimes in a traffic jam.
    For commuting on decent road we can consider that traditional bike are more efficient.
    Suspension can be replaced by first a good geometry, steel tubes, cushy tires, good saddle, appropriate handlebars, smoothly limber legs and arms …
    MTB are more or less dedicated engine, they could always provide us dream of liberty because we have ability to ride one day through forest or across country.
    L.

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  31. Back in time there was something called the ATB, -the all terrain bicycle. Rigid steel frame, 48/38/28 touring cranks, 26" wheels with 1.75 or 1.95 not too knobby tyres, vantilever brakes and riser bars. Most of them came with eyelets for fenders and racks, many also with lowrider bosses on the fork and room for 3 water bottles. They of course came in all price ranges from water pipe to lugged triple butted cro-mo.
    At least in Germany and Scandinavia they were a huge success, for the first time you could buy a bike somewhat sporty bike with gearing that actually made it possible to climb a moderate hill without being an siperfit athlete, and with tyres that did not go flat at least twice every ride.
    They disappeared in the very early nineties when the stretched out backside up head down mtb came in fashion.
    Wih some choise upgrades these old ATBs can make great capable bikes. My wife rides a womans Miyata from 1989 with triple buttet tubing, modern brakes and wheels, a B67 and high end dynamo lighs.
    Fashion go in cycles. Once in a while its worthwile to look back and see if some of the ideas that were scrapped by "fashion" deserve a second look.

    jh

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  32. Having had a mountain bike or two for city riding, I prefer them without shocks and smoother tires. Not wanting to pay a lot, I sold my aluminum MTB with front shocks and later found a 1994 purple GT Talera with cro-mo frame. I changed the tires to smoother 1.5c tires and added a slightly curved-back handlebar. The frame size is more like I'd choose for a city bike, having less standover height without sacrificing too much reach. When I want to ride all terrain, I use this bike.

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  33. MTBs do have a longer reach to frame size for more top tube clearance. I can ride a 20" GT with a slight handlebar change but need a 17" Nishiki. MBs with a raised handlebar stem works best for me.

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  34. LB word of the day: out-slope. Wild.

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  35. My daily commuter bike is an old mountain bike from the 80s. GT All Terra, fully-rigid steel frame, 21 speed derailleur gearing. I found it abandoned in the basement of a house that I lived in about ten years ago. I took it in and upgraded key components (tires) and replaced parts as they broke. Replaced the shifters after one of them broke following a nasty crash. Replaced the seat after the cover became ripped and the cushioning was non-existent. The original plastic pedals broke last summer and I replaced them with new ones. The brakes are original: fronts are center-pull cantilevers, rears are center-pull calipers ("U-brakes"). Brakepads have been replaced as they wear out.

    To turn it into a commuter bike, I installed permanent fenders and a luggage rack. I think both are standard equipment for bike commuting, owing to the desire to ride in all types of weather and arriving at work without a sweaty back. I bought a battery-powered, USB-rechargable Cygolite 800-lumen-max head lamp so that I could see where I'm going. All told, probably 300 USD to "convert" the bike. I view this as an investment in a bike that I want to last for the long term.

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  36. I've been riding a mountain bike for transportation and fun since June 2012 and I like it! I have a front basket for carrying things. I didn't love the knobbly tires when I was riding exclusively on streets, but now I've moved far away and the surface I usually ride on is recycled asphalt gravel on a rails-to-trails path. Although I bought the bike second hand from a friend, she is a similar height to me. She must have gotten the bike professionally fitted because it just feels right to me. That's the best thing.

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  37. Picked up a used low millage all HIGH end parts 93 Novara Ponderosa rigid fork, and steel frame. Turns out it was a special order per REI. Added fenders, slicks, rack for trunk bag and panniers. I've done centuries on it on paved trails, and 20-50 daily commuting. Also use it for physical training ride. It is a couple of miles slower than a roadie conversion which adds up over long hauls. But the damn thing is built like a Sherman tank. I would recommend SPD peddles and shoes also

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  38. My commuter is a 90-something Bianchi Volpe. Very versatile bike (I've seen people use them for touring, cyclocross and road riding). When I got it, the brifters were messed up and the frame being a tad too small for me, I put on flat bars that had risers and MTB shifters. It is an excellent bike for commuting. Has 38C slicks on it, a rear rack, panniers, eventually I will fork over some money for fenders, and it really has been a dream to ride.
    I still sometimes dislike the bars, but they also keep me a bit more upright (which is nice in the city) and the stock seat needs to go. It's too cushy for comfort, but a road seat is too hard with the geometry/seat position I get. At some point I'll bite the bullet and get a Brooks.

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