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Cycling for RVers: What bike should I buy? Part 2, Mountain bikes

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In last week’s Cycling For RVers column, I discussed road bikes, and how appropriate they are for most RVers (the short answer: not very). I mentioned the four broad categories of bicycles, and here they are again:

  • Road
  • Mountain
  • Gravel
  • Hybrid

This week we tackle mountain bikes. These bikes have been around for many decades, and have many things in common—and not—with the other bikes on this list. Mountain bikes are for riding in mountains (of course), but they’re much more versatile than that, being useful in a variety of environments.

The key is that they’re made for really rough stuff, like mountain trails covered with rocks, roots, streams and rivers. They can be ridden on gravel trails and the road, but that’s not their natural element.

Mountain bike characteristics

  • Suspension. This is a primary differentiator. Mountain bikes typically have a shock-absorbing fork in the front, and very often in the back as well. (Those with suspension in the front only are often called “hardtails.”) The suspension helps them roll more easily over big obstacles like rocks, fallen branches, logs, and other debris found on backwoods and mountain trails. (The picture accompanying this article is a full-suspension mountain bike from the online retailer Canyon.)
  • Wide, knobby tires. These are crucial for getting around in the harsh surroundings they’re normally in. There’s often a lot of mud, and the trails can be in bad shape (or barely there at all).
  • Flat handlebars. In contrast to road bikes and their curved handlebars, mountain bikes have a flat handlebar, which is usually very wide. This allows the rider to spread wider on the bike, which provides much better balance. This is another necessity when pedaling through the rough stuff.
  • Seatpost droppers. These are special seatposts that can be raised up or down with the flick of a switch. Riders drop them down when going steeply downhill, as it lowers their center of gravity and makes the bike more stable during tricky maneuvering.

Mountain bikes are typically made of steel, aluminum or carbon fiber. They can range in price from a few hundred bucks to many, many thousands of dollars for top-end models. There is a huge variety of manufacturers and models available. There are many ebike versions of popular models.

Should you, an RVer, buy a mountain bike?

For most RVers, the answer is no. Mountain bikes are wonderful machines, but unless you’re planning on riding mostly in really difficult terrain, they won’t hit your sweet spot. They’re overkill for gentle riding trails, and are a bad choice for pavement, given their huge, knobby tires.

If you’re a real adventurer who prefers being far from civilization, a mountain bike is likely the right choice. But the typical RVer isn’t looking for death-defying kamikaze missions down mountains or through jungles. You can use mountain bikes for a wide variety of riding, of course, but in the same way a road bike is a bad choice for a mountain trail, a mountain bike is a bad choice for a rail trail or beach boardwalk.

They’re also the heaviest types of bikes on this list, and the suspension can slow you down at those times you don’t need it—which will be most times for the majority of RVers.

Are you considering a mountain bike, or do you have one now? Let me know in the comments below.

Up next: The new-ish category of gravel bikes. Happy riding!

Keith Ward, a veteran journalist, writes about cycling, health, and the intersection of the two at thediabeticcyclist.substack.com. His newsletter is all about helping you improve your life through improved diet and exercise.

##RVT1078

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John
23 days ago

I RV so that I can mountain bike all year. I carry three bikes a 2022 Santa Cruz Hightower, a 2022 Orbea Wild, my wife rides a 2022 Orbea Rise. We can ride as much as we want, the miles can be endless if desired. I even purchased my 40’ 5th wheel based on how well it would allow me to work remotely and carry our bikes in a climate controlled bay. I destroyed the paint on my last Hightower storing it on the back of my RV. When boondocking we can ride from the RV and enjoy a nice ride with the dogs. It’s a great way to get off the beaten path and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Last edited 23 days ago by John
Dave Green
25 days ago

I ride a 2020 Trek Fuel Ex 9.75 (I upgraded a 9.7 to a full GX rear end with 108 pawls, carbon wheels, and seat dropper off of a 9.8). Love it as well. Twelve miles yesterday with about 1400 feet of gain. I try to get in over 100 miles a month but kick it up to over 200 miles in July when Trek has its Century Challenge. I’ll be 75 next week and have been riding mountain bikes for over 25 years.

Rick Edgar
25 days ago

Trek Pro Caliber 9.6 carbon frame MTB with 29″ X 2.25 tires. Yes I do off road trails. 17 miles yesterday on moderate trail system. Love it.

Keith Ward
25 days ago
Reply to  Rick Edgar

That’s a great bike, Rick! I’m a huge Trek fan. I have a Domane that I love.