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:
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.