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Is A Mountain Bike Good For Commuting?

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Commuting to work by bike is a wonderful way to keep fit, irrespective of what type of bike you use. For sure, different bikes have different strengths, so the route and length of your bike commute might influence which bike you’ll choose to do it on.

Is a mountain bike good for commuting?

Maybe you only have a mountain bike (MTB) available to you or fancy buying one with multiple purposes in mind. This article will tell you how you can use an MTB on your daily commutes and what alterations might increase its suitability for this role.

The type of mountain bike you buy for a commute will depend on the route you’re likely to take and whether you intend using it on rougher trails.

With that in mind, a hardtail will be better if you use the bike mostly on roads and light trails. Full suspension gives you more traction and comfort on challenging surfaces laden with obstacles.

Hardtail = front suspension only, full suspension = front and rear suspension.

Some thoughts are likely to cross your mind whilst weighing up a purchase:

Top Picks:

Is It OK To Commute To Work On A Mountain Bike?

Yes, it’s fine to commute on a mountain bike. Aside from anything else, a good MTB is fun to ride and might make your commute safer by getting you off-road.

You can take a more diverse route to work on an MTB, riding trails and avoiding as much traffic as you can. And some city roads, like cobbled streets, are infinitely more comfortable than they’d be on a road bike.

Video: Mountain Bike Commuting Is Bliss

What Are The Disadvantages Of Commuting With A Mountain Bike?

If you compare a mountain bike to a road bike or a gravel bike, you’ll always be slower on a mountain bike as long as the riding surface is fairly smooth. Rolling resistance in the tires will be higher, and you’ll be less aerodynamic.

Thus, a bike commute on an MTB will probably take you a few minutes extra, since you’re likely to be moving several mph slower. The fun factor could easily make up for that, though, especially if you have to mingle less with motor vehicles.

What Tires Should You Use On An MTB Commuter?

If you’ll be riding on the road a lot during your commute, which is the case for most people, you need to make your tires more akin to road bike tires. That means thinner and slick or semi-slick rather than fat with knobby treads.

An example of a slick MTB tire is the WTBA0 WTB Slick 2.2 Comp Tire. This type of tire will have lower rolling resistance and make your bike faster on paved roads.

A semi-slick tire typically has a slick center and knobs around the edges of the tire for traction in mud. So, if you were spending quite a lot of your time on trails during your commute, this best-of-both-worlds option might suit you better.

Video: WTB Thickslick Tire Review

Is There An Ideal Gear Ratio To Use?

Ideal gears differ for each rider based on their preferred cadence and the routes they habitually ride. In terms of drivetrain efficiency, the gear that causes least lateral strain on the chain is best. In other words—straight rather than diagonal.

Mountain bike gearing tends to be orientated towards easy climbing, and it’s possible you may encounter gear ratios below 1.0 at the low end. This is ideal if you want to ride up steep hills without putting strain on your knees.

These ultra-easy gears occur when the biggest ring on the cassette has roughly the same or more teeth than the chainring you’re using at the front (e.g., 32/32).

Should You Ride A Hybrid Or Road Bike Instead?

A commuter road bike is faster and nimbler on smooth surfaces, and over long distances you’re quite likely to find it more comfortable. But it’s much less versatile than an MTB.

Though you can take a hybrid bike off-road onto some light trails, its versatility on rougher surfaces falls a long way short of typical mountain bikes. Many hybrid bikes have no suspension.

Ride a mountain bike if you want to experience various off-road terrains. Full-suspension is best for the bumpiest surfaces, but a hardtail will serve you better when you join the road.

What Accessories Do I Need To Think About For The Commute?

Accessories you could consider for an MTB commute are: a rear cargo rack to carry your work gear (or a basket), a decent U-Lock with a 16mm shackle (if the bike is expensive), reflective clothes—usually loose on an MTB—and lights if you’ll be riding at night.

Video: Mountain Bike Rack and Panniers

Frequently Asked Questions

Commuting On A Mountain Bike: Is It Possible?

It’s definitely possible, and it might give you the option of taking a more interesting route with less traffic.

Is It OK To Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road?

It’s fine to ride any MTB on the road, even if some types and models are better suited to it than others.

How Do You Turn A Mountain Bike Into A Commuter?

If you’re riding mainly on smooth paved surfaces, the main area of focus is going to be installing thinner, slick or semi-slick tires. You’d probably “lock out” suspension on roads for more efficiency.

Can You Ride Long Distances On A Mountain Bike?

It’s always physically possible to ride long distances, but it helps to have an MTB built for speed like an XC hardtail (or any reasonably light hardtail with slick tires). Road bikes are more efficient over distance if that’s a priority.

Top 7 Best Mountain Bikes For Commuting Reviewed

1. Orbea Alma M-Ltd (best overall)

CHECK PRICE AT JENSON USA

• Frame Material: OMX Carbon
• Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS
• Weight: 19.18 lb. (8.7 kg)

Okay, so it might be overkill for a commute, but the Orbea Alma M-Ltd is a lightning-fast hardtail that zips up hills and offers outstanding ride quality. It’s an XC racing machine with a high modulus carbon fiber frame and Orbea’s Spirit carbon fork.

Other headlining features of this top-level bike include lightweight DT Swiss XRC-1200 Spline wheels (tubeless ready), Level Ultimate hydraulic disc brakes, and wireless electronic gear shifting.

With a 34t ring on the front and a 12-speed 10-50t cassette at the rear, you’ll be able to tackle any hill on this high-end MTB. As well as being fast on the road, of course you can go off-road onto singletrack or doubletrack paths and fire roads.

Any reasonably smooth trail is fair game for the Orbea Alma M-Ltd, though you might switch to thinner, slicker tires if most of your commute is on tarmac.

Is this bike as fast as a road bike? Probably not, but you might be surprised at how fast an MTB built for full-on speed and endurance can go.

What we like:

  • Lightweight – as light as a mid-range road bike
  • Componentry – equipped with top-end SRAM groupset
  • Gearing – you’ll get up any hill on this bike, even with your commuting gear
  • Ride quality – thin stays and top tube create a comfortable ride

What we don’t like:

Price – requires deep pockets, but it is a high-end bike.

2. Diamondback Sync’R Carbon 29 (best hardtail)

CHECK PRICE AT COMPETITIVE CYCLIST

• Frame Material: Carbon
• Groupset: SRAM GX Eagle (Shimano MT501 brakes)
• Weight: 29.1 lb. (13.2 kg)

Whereas the previous Orbea was an XC bike, the Diamondback Sync’R Carbon 29 is more of a trail bike. It has more front travel at 140mm (vs 100mm), which makes it better for going over obstacles. A wider head angle gives it more downhill stability.

This bike has a 12-speed SRAM XG1275 Eagle 10-50t cassette on the back and a 32t chainring. That should get you up most hills, and the weight of the bike is still pretty light thanks to its carbon frame and lightweight FOX 34 Performance fork.

The Diamondback Sync’R Carbon 29 won’t be quite as nippy on the tarmac as a CX, but it’ll be great fun if you can get off-road a bit on your commute. It’s also handy on city roads made from cobblestones or setts.

Although the cost is not at the budget end of the scale, you do get high-quality componentry on the Diamondback Sync’R Carbon 29. It’s a lot of bike for the money.

What we like:

  • Lightweight – carbon frame and forks help keep the weight down
  • Gears – versatile SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain with a 10-50t cassette
  • Stability – geometry makes for a stable ride, especially downhill
  • Fox suspension – enables adjustability for weight, riding style, and terrain
  • 29-inch wheels – evidence suggests that 29ers are faster than smaller wheels

What we don’t like:

  • Price – not a budget-friendly bike, but it is good value

3. Niner RIP 9 RDO (best full suspension)

CHECK PRICE AT JENSON USA

• Frame Material: Carbon
• Groupset: Shimano XT M8100
• Weight: 30.05lb (13.63kg) – large size without pedals

Unlike hardtails, full-suspension MTBs are great for riding over rough terrain. They’re meant for “technical” trails with switchbacks and obstacles aplenty. And the Niner RIP 9 RDO is one of the very best bikes you can buy for all that.

If you can get off-road on your commute, this is a bike that that fears nothing, though you’ll go faster on smooth trails or on the tarmac with a hardtail. Maybe this purchase is as much about what you can get up to at the weekends as your ride into work?

Headlining features of the Niner RIP 9 RDO include, not least, its carbon frame with CVA suspension (controls unwanted movement), wide tire clearance and a “flip chip” that lets you adjust geometry to suit your riding style.

Other desirables include Fox 36 Float fork (150mm travel on medium size) and Float DPX2 shock, DT Swiss M 1700 wheels, a KS LEV Si dropper post for saddle-height adjustment, and the dependable Shimano XT M8100 drivetrain.

Excellent stopping power comes from Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes.

What we like:

  • Versatile – flip chip geometry adjustment for riding up trails or long descents
  • Gears – climbing made easier with a 10-51t cassette, driven by a 32t chainring
  • Stop – ample stopping power via Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes
  • Saddle height – KS LEV Si dropper post lets you lift and lower saddle

What we don’t like:

  • Loose – check the flip chip hardware for looseness before rides

4. METAKOO 26″ Electric Bike Cybertrack 100 (best electric MTB)

CHECK PRICE AT RTB SHOPPER

  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Groupset: Shimano
  • Weight: 46 lb. (20.1 kg)

Equipped with a 350W Bafang motor, the METAKOO 26″ Electric Bike Cybertrack 100 has five levels of pedal assist. It can also be ridden as a normal bike or without any manual power at all. Speed is limited to 20 mph.

Described as an “all-mountain” bike, the METAKOO hardtail can handle most off-road terrain, but it’s also suitable for roads. It has Shimano gears with a triple chainring at the front and 7 speeds on the cassette (21 gears in all).

The removable lithium-Ion battery that powers the motor fully recharges in just 3 hours. The charge provides up to 37 miles of power – enough for most commutes or leisure rides.

Like all e-bikes, this robust electric mountain bike is great for getting people active when their fitness or motivation may have declined. It’s a fun bike to ride!

What we like:

  • Solid – good build quality inspires confidence
  • Options – ride manually, with pedal assist or all-electric throttle propulsion
  • Stop – mechanical disc brakes stop you reliably
  • Battery life – up to 37 miles per charge

What we don’t like:

  • Assembly – you’ll have to partially assemble it
  • Terrain – unlikely to perform well or be comfortable on technical terrain (ideal for dirt trails or roads)

5. VIVI Folding Electric Mountain Bicycle (best foldable)

CHECK PRICE AT AMAZON

  • Frame Material: Aluminum, carbon steel
  • Groupset: Shimano
  • Weight: 64 lb. (29 kg)

Turns out our best folding bike is an electric bike, too, not least because a motor helps to overcome some of the commuting problems of riding a heavy MTB.

The VIVI Folding Electric Mountain Bicycle is actually a full suspension bike with front and rear shock absorption. You can ride it on roads or off-road in manual mode, pedal assist mode or full electric.

Powered by an included 36V 8 Ah Lithium-Ion battery, the bike is equipped with a 350W high-speed brushless motor. Each charge takes 4-6 hours and gives you up to 40 miles of riding in pedal assist mode—less on throttle only.

In terms of its groupset, you get 21 Shimano gears (triple chainring, 7-gear cassette) and mechanical front and rear disc brakes.

What we like:

  • Transportable – fits easily into the trunk of a car
  • Suspension – full suspension absorbs bumps on trails
  • Fun – encourages people to ride a bike and regain fitness
  • Long rides – up to 40 miles per charge (ideal for many commutes)

What we don’t like:

  • Heavy – you’re likely to need pedal assist up steep hills

6. Cannondale Trail 5 (best value)

CHECK PRICE AT REI

  • Frame Material: 6061 aluminum alloy
  • Groupset: Shimano MT200 brakes, microSHIFT Advent shifters & gears
  • Weight: 32.6 lb. (14.79 kg)

If you want a lot of bike for not too many bucks, the Cannondale Trail 5 hardtail is definitely worth a look. It’s built with a durable SmartForm C3 alloy frame, which offers an excellent ride quality.

The SR Suntour XCM fork has 100 mm of travel and remote lockout. You’ll probably use the latter if you ride mostly on roads during your daily commute. SAVE micro-suspension makes the rear of the bike compliant, despite not being full suspension.

In terms of gears, you get a 10-speed cassette with 11-48t sprockets driven by a 30t chainring. Hills aren’t a problem on this moderately lightweight bike.

Stopping power in the Cannondale Trail 5 comes from reliable Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. The microSHIFT Advent shifters, derailleur and cassette help keep the price down while delivering crisp gear shifts.

What we like:

  • Smooth – excellent ride quality
  • Compliance – SAVE micro-suspension absorbs shock well at the rear
  • Shifting – crisp gear changes from microSHIFT Advent components
  • Fun – enjoyable bike to ride

What we don’t like:

7. Vilano Blackjack 3.0 29er (best budget MTB)

CHECK PRICE AT AMAZON

  • Frame Material: 6061 aluminum alloy
  • Groupset: Shimano (mixed)
  • Weight: Approx. 30 lb. (13. 6 kg)

Finding a budget mountain bike that is also reasonably light and well made isn’t the easiest task, but the Vilano Blackjack 3.0 ticks the right boxes. At its heart is a hand-built, butted 6061 aluminum alloy frame.

The Blackjack 3.0 is a hardtail MTB featuring a front suspension fork with 80mm of travel and lockout, so you can make the fork rigid for riding on smooth roads.

Of course you don’t get top-tier componentry at this price point, but the bike comes with a reliable Shimano groupset.

Bike parts on the Blackjack 3.0 include an Altus RD-M280 rear derailleur, an 8-speed Tourney cassette (12-32t), Tourney front derailleur, EF-51 Altus shifters and Shimano mechanical disc brakes.

Triple 42/34/24 chainrings at the front mean you have 24 gears overall, the lowest of which will easily get you over hills. Double-walled alloy rims make the wheels robust, and the fitted 29 x 2.1 Kenda tires roll easily over obstacles.

What we like:

  • Price – hard to beat at this sub $500 price point
  • Suitability – good choice for a mixed-terrain commute
  • Components – inexpensive but reliable and upgradeable Shimano parts
  • Weight – surprisingly light for a budget bike

What we don’t like:

  • Seat – you might find yourself replacing the saddle for more comfort

And That’s Us Finished…

We hope you’ve found this article useful in thinking about an MTB for your commute.

Price aside, it’s hard not to confirm the Orbea Alma M-Ltd as the ultimate commute machine, but you might need to be an XC racer to justify it.

Moving away from high-end prices, the Cannondale Trail 5 is a great bike for a relatively modest outlay. Just be a little wary of its height.

A mountain e-bike is tons of fun for a daily commute, so the METAKOO 26″ Electric Bike Cybertrack 100 gets our third podium spot upon reflection. Hardtails are always going to be a better choice if road commuting is the main purpose of the bike, but you won’t go far wrong.

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Bike Push - Mark W
Mark W
I’m a cycling enthusiast, and the founder and chief editor of Bike Push. If I’m not working on this website, then I’m out on the bike clocking up the miles. I want to help others get the most out of cycling.

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