Paul Andrews

Why my city bike is a mountain bike

In Bicycling, Mountain Biking on May 14, 2009 at 9:10 pm
One day I saw the light...

One day I saw the light...

My phat tires make a thrumming sound on pavement as I ride along. Skinny-tire cyclists pass me by like they have motors. My frame has a constant layer of dirt and mud.

Yet still I ride a mountain bike on city streets, and on Bike to Work Day, because I like it that way.

It’s a relatively old bike, approaching 10 years, but a good one. Made of titanium, so it does not rust. It will not break (titanium is stronger than steel and aluminum). It never needs painting and its finish does not scratch or scrape. Best of all, it damps. It soaks up bumps and hits better than steel and aluminum.

But I could get a skinny-tire bike in titanium. For all its drawbacks in speed and sleekness, I ride a mountain bike because I’m not in the hurry I used to be, and the fun factor is so much higher.

I should clarify that my bike is not actually a commuter bike because I no longer commute. I did for years by bike, but that was when I worked in an office. Instead I take daily rides around town, running errands, doing shopping, and meeting people. Last year I put less than 2,000 miles on my car, and most of that was for mountain biking trips. I’d estimate I put twice that many miles on my bike. For just about anything in town, my bike does me just as well as a car.

My mountain bike (a Titus HC) feels safer and offers more versatility than the road bikes I used to commute on back in the day. It has disc brakes that stop as well in pouring rain as dry sunshine (the same cannot be said of caliper road brakes). It has a lower center of gravity and feels more stable. If a car cuts me off, I can hop curbs. If I hit a pothole I can bunny hop over it (on my road bike the city twice paid me for a wheel damaged by a pothole). I can take shortcuts through parks and dirt alleys and down stairs that I would never do on a road bike. There are expert “fixie” (fixed gear) and single-speed and skinny-tire riders who can do most of these things on a road bike as well, but you have to be really good, believe me. With a fat-tire bike, all you have to be is a rider.

Fat tires get fewer flats. They absorb shock better. (I have a shock on my front fork as well that comes in handy for concrete obstacles.) Their wheels are stronger and stay true better. Yes they are slower, and they make noise.

But I’m out for the sweat as well. So what if I have to work a little harder to go the same amount of distance — the workout is part of the deal. When I belonged to Seattle Athletic Club and rode my bike to go for a swim or lift weights (I decidedly did not do spinning!), I can’t tell you how many times guys coming and going would say, “Wow, you rode your bike here?!” Like, isn’t that a lot of … exercise?

As for speed, I’m willing to go slower on pavement so I can go faster on dirt and gravel. At some point in my cycling life a light bulb switched on and showed me the way to mountain biking. I haven’t touched my road bikes in years and may not ever again. Mountain bikes just feel right, whether I’m ripping down a trail in Winthrop or going to the grocery for bread.

In the long run, it doesn’t really matter anyway. What matters is not the bike, but the ride. To each his or her own — just keep the rubber side down!

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