Mountain Bike for Road Touring?

Oct 23, 2010

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At least once a week, I receive an email or phone call from someone asking if its okay to ride a mountain bike for their tour, whether it be a weekend trip or a cross-country tour. The quick answer to the question is absolutely, but here are some reasons behind the answer, and ways you can go about making it happen.

First off, not all riders have the privilege of owning multiple bikes, so if a mountain bike is all you have, it may be the best, and most realistic option available. Fortunately, the geometry of a mountain bike is pretty good for long distance touring, with a more upright riding position, and clearance for fenders and wider tires. Older mountain bikes often have long chain stays, which is great for keeping your heels clear of your rear panniers, however, newer race oriented mountain bikes are starting to shorten up the chain stays, which is claimed to improve traction when climbing. This may not create an issue, but something to be aware of, especially with smaller frame sizes. Most mountain bikes also have a very durable construction to hold up against the rigors of off-road riding.

There are a few aspects of a mountain bike that often make people second guess whether or not it can be suited for road riding. The first is that mountain bikes are usually setup with knobby tires. This is a quick and inexpensive fix, as there are a plethora of slick tire options available that will give you a quiet ride on the road with low rolling resistance.

As for hauling your load along, disc brakes can sometimes cause headaches when installing racks. If you have disc brakes and want to use racks, make sure you search out a disc specific touring rack for your wheel size (26" or 29er). Some examples would be the Old Man Mountain Cold Springs racks, as well as Topeak Tubular Explorer racks. If you don't want to take this route, you can always go with a trailer, but again, make sure that you choose a trailer with the proper wheel clearance.

Another mountain bike component that can cause some second guessing is the suspension fork. When riding on the road, front and/or rear suspension really isn't going to help you much, but it probably won't ruin your ride either. If you have a relatively newer suspension fork, you might be able to lock it out for a more rigid ride. Steel rigid forks are also fairly inexpensive, and can be quickly swapped out by your local shop.

As far as handlebars are concerned, sticking with flat bars can give you a more stable riding position, but can also limit the amount of potential hand positions available when compared to drop bars. There's no reason you can't swap drop bars for your flat bars, but this often means that you will have to find a new set of shifters and brake levers.

If your mountain bike has 26" wheels, don't in any way feel inferior to 700c road wheels. Depending on how the wheel is laced up, 26" wheels can offer great durability with their shorter spokes and wider rims. In fact, there are a fair amount of road touring bikes that have played around with smaller 26" and 650B wheel sizes to take advantage of their benefits in strength.

In the end, I'm not trying to insinuate that you should go out and purchase a new mountain bike for your next road tour. This is aimed at riders who currently have a mountain bike, and don't want to invest in a second bike for their upcoming trip.

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TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.

Comments

Dylster

Good thoughts, Josh. Thanks for sharing this! Get my head (and my wallet) closer to my One Bike To Rule Them All idea...

October 24, 2010, 3:10 PM
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Dave The Wave

way cool,its nice to know what i already know,i tour with a mountain bike and love it.it seems to me that you missed a very good point,and that is the gearing,most mountain bikes are already geared low which means you might go a little slower,BUT climbing will be a lot easier with the lower gearing.as for going a little slower ? i dont mind it a bit,i can still cover 50-60 miles a day and for me that is plenty good. remember it aint about the destanation IT'S ABOUT THE JOURNEY. happy trails.

October 30, 2010, 1:14 PM
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Tim Little

The full suspension bikes (http://tour-de-bike.com) and disc brakes are in demand features that only the more popular models have today.

September 7, 2011, 12:38 AM
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Mike Dowsing

I use a road commute frame, with front suspension, strong road wheels, discs, triple road geared chainring and road drop bars. This will eat any mountainbike. It's touring in comfort and I go on sealed and unsealed road with ease.

See my article:

http://www.streetarticles.com/cycling/road-cycle-touring

October 3, 2011, 9:49 PM
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william

I have been using mtn bikes for years I would rather have that than a lht or big dummy I use a next mtn bike and have over 3000 mile on stock equipment only had to replace front derailer bike fell on something and bent the derailler other wise would still be stock oh yeah took off stock bars put on trekking bars here is a vid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNt6KPpCtJQ&list=UUdfsaFCOQJ5v6WMJdIElPdA&index=6

May 15, 2013, 12:56 PM
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Rideon

Recently built a mountain bike that provides solid handling with a load as well as providing a superb way to commute around town on multiple surfaces, gravel, grass, pavement,etc. Thanks for sharing this article as it seems to be a growing trend. Was just looking at some photos of a guy touring for two years on a fat tire bike.

May 7, 2014, 12:39 AM
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Robert

It's been a long time since I used my mountain bike for mountain biking, or any other bike but it for touring. I found it decidedly better in every way to my old Trek 520. Starts with the fact that they are more sturdy and breakdowns are less likely. I have to say I also abandoned paniers years ago - once you try a trailer there is no going back

May 19, 2014, 10:55 AM
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Kristine

Thank you all for your comments and to you who wrote the article. Very helpful!!

July 30, 2014, 3:22 PM
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