One of my favorite things about living in Salt Lake City is how the mountains and city seem to intersect. I can leave my door and ride straight up into the mountains and overlook the city far below. The other day as I was riding through the city, dodging stop lights and cars, it made me think about how urban riding is a sport all in its own.
What Type of Bike is Best for Urban Riding?
When it comes to Urban riding select a bike that has all of the necessities, but none of the fluff. In other words, you do not need a carbon bike to cruise through the city, but a light bike would certainly make the journey easier.
A little bit of suspension will help you tackle rough roads, dirt short cuts, curbs, or even stairs, but too much suspension will just slow you down. A cross country hard tail mountain bike would be the ideal bike to take on the city.
Make sure that have a drain train and cassette that matches the terrain you frequently ride. For example, Urban riding in the hills of San Francisco will require easier gears than Urban Riding in Milwaukee.
If you wish to take your Urban riding to the next level, then you can simply add more suspension to your ride. If you want to jump down stairs, or practice your big tricks like they do for Urban Downhill Races on Redbull then a downhill or Enduro bike might be more of what you are looking for. Keep in mind those types of bikes will be more challenging to pedal than a hardtail so you likely won’t want to use it for transportation purposes.
MTB Tools I Love and Recommend
I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.
- Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand. Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential. I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it. This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur. Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
- A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit. Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained. The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider. Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
- Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure. A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not. Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use. An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
- Carry a multitool with you on every ride. I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool. I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works. Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19
Can I Use My MTB for commuting?
Yes! Mountain bikes are great for commuting. A huge benefit of owning a mountain bike is that it can, in fact, be ridden anywhere. While road bikes are confided to the pavement, and even gravel bikes have their limitations, mountain bikes have the ability to be ridden across all types of terrain.
A hardtail mountain bike will be able to handle any dirt, potholes, or challenging roads that your daily commute can throw at you. Additionally, a mountain bike may be more apt to handle adverse weather or road conditions that you may face if you commute year-round.
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How to Set Up Your Mountain Bike for Urban Riding:
Suspension Settings: If you plan to cruise around the city for commuting or running errands then you should pump up your suspension so that it is hard and doesn’t have a lot of squish to it. Soft suspension will just create inefficiency when you pedal. If, on the other hand, the roads you ride are extremely rough, or you plan to go down stairs and work on your skills in the city then you’ll want to set up your suspension softer, just like you would on trails. Consider turning up the rebound so that the suspension recoils quickly in between bumps or stairs.
Tires and Pressure: If your goal is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible then you’ll want a slick tire with minimal rolling resistance. A 40c Maxxis Refuse tire is the perfect tire for a mountain bike that you plan to ride on the road.
Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and pump up the tire until it is firm. If your goal is more technical oriented and you plan to execute tricks or fly down stairs then you should look for a tire with a soft compound, low profile, and with the lugs close together.Under those circumstances, you should run the same tire pressure that you would if you were on mountain bike trails.
What is the BEST TIRE PRESSURE ? I surveyed hundreds of MTBers to get the data. Read this guide – What should my MTB Tire Pressure be?
Tire Sealant: What’s inside your tires is just as important as your tire choice. Whether you are commuting or tackling major obstacles, tire sealant will make your Urban adventures much better. A quality sealant, such as Orange Seal, will easily plug almost any cuts or punctures from glass or other road debris. It can even seal a hole from a nail or screw that has embedded itself into your tire.
Wheels/Rims: The wheels and rims that you choose should reflect the tires that you run. If you are commuting and using a narrower tire then you will need a narrower rim. If you plan to do downhill skills then you’ll need a wider rim. An aluminum wheel will be a great choice for any type of Urban riding.
While damaging rims may seem like a concern when most of your impacts will be on pavement, your tire pressure will be the thing that helps to mitigate wheel damage. If you find that when running your preferred tire pressure, you are often hitting rim, then you may consider running a tire insert for extra protection.
Are you looking for more ways to make your mountain bike more comfortable? Check out this article 10 Ways to Make Your MTB More Comfortable
Safety Equipment to Consider for Urban MTB
Even though many people feel like removing rocks, roots, and dirt from the cycling equation creates a safer atmosphere, Urban riding comes with its own set of dangers. Don’t downplay the risks associated with sharing the road with other vehicles. Instead, be prepared and plan ahead.
Helmet: Always wear a helmet! This cannot be stressed too much. Even if you find that your commute is on safe roads without any obstacles, your helmet is not just to protect you from yourself. Your helmet protects you from others as well. Whether it is distracted drivers, other cyclists, or even a squirrel that jumps out in front of your wheel your helmet can save your life from unforeseen circumstances.
Lights: Second only to your helmet, lights are the most important piece of equipment that an Urban rider can have.There is a reason that all cars have both headlights and taillights. If your commute has you riding during dawn or dusk, then it would be ideal to have a headlight that is at least 1000+ lumens on your handlebars and one on your helmet that is 500-1000 lumens.
In addition to a headlight, no matter what time of day you are riding, you should use a red flashing taillight. This grabs the attention of motorists and keeps you safe.
Reflective Gear: Reflective gear is also a valuable investment for the Urban mountain biker. Neon clothing is better than a more traditional bland cycling kit, but reflective gear is the best option to grab the attention of other cyclists or motorists because it sends the light back and increases visibility.
Bells: If you plan to ride your bike on bike paths or cyclist approved sidewalks then a bell may be a good investment to warn other people or cyclists that you are coming by. Most vehicle operators probably won’t hear a bell though so if you are primarily riding on the road, visibility is probably the best way to make your presence known.
Mirrors: Many Urban cyclists like to attach mirror to their helmet or handlebars. If you commute or ride in a busy city then mirrors might be more distracting than beneficial. It’s best to just assume that there is someone coming up from behind. If the roads that you usually ride on are not often trafficked, then a mirror might give you the perfect warning when it’s time to make a little extra space for someone to pass.
Check out this review of a great mirror for your mountain bike. Review of the Best Mountain Bike Mirror
Padding: For the hardcore Urban downhiller, a little extra padding can go a long way to protect your knees, elbows, and hands from the harsh pavement. Remember how badly it hurt when you tripped and fell at recess as a kid? You can safely assume a crash on the pavement will be worse.
Mountain Bike Skills to Master for Urban Riding
While many of the obstacles you encounter in the city may appear very different than the trails, you can utilize many of the same skill sets to conquer them.
How to Bunny Hop Curbs
Learning how to effectively bunny hop curbs can help you truly ride from door to door or even just minimize your wait time in traffic. If it helps, imagine that you are bunny hopping a root or rock instead.
When approaching a curb, make sure that your wheels are perpendicular to the curb. Stand up on the pedals, crouch your body slightly, and press into your suspension. As your suspension recoils, move your weight back over your rear wheel and allow the front wheel to float up and over the curb.
As soon as your front wheel is safely on top of the curb, shift your weight forward, over the front wheel, and lift your back wheel onto the curb. If you are clipped in you can easily lift the back wheel by pulling up on the pedals. If you are not clipped in, you will need to point your toes and scoop the pedals in order to lift the rear wheel.
This same technique can and should be applied for jumping over small objects in the road. With this skill you can jump over potholes, glass, water bottles, or other forms of road debris.
How to MTB Down Stairs
Learning how to mountain bike down stairs will not only allow you to take some of the most direct routes in your city, but it is certainly also a ‘cool factor.’ You should approach a staircase the same way you would approach a very steep descent.
Control your speed as you approach the stairs. Slow down prior to the stairs so that you can let off of the brakes as much as possible as you descend. The goal is to only have to feather the brakes as you descend. Stand up on the pedals and shift your weight back over the rear wheel. Bend your arms and legs in order to lower your center of gravity, look at the exit of the stairs, and hold a straight line as you send it.
How to Track Stand
If you frequently commute through the city on your way to work or other activities, you’ve probably gotten frustrated when waiting at multiple stop lights. Learning how to track stand at stop lights is a fun trick for commuters to show case on their regular routes.
When executing a track stand, you will be able to come to a complete stop without making forward progress or putting a food down. Make sure to practice this skill before doing it at an intersection!
When performing a track stand, stand up, put your best foot forward on the pedals, and find your balance. Grab your front brake and press into the pedal then release the brake and the pressure on the pedal to slightly roll back.
Continue this pattern until it’s time to move again. Grabbing and releasing the brake and weighting and unweighting the pedals helps to keep you balanced when otherwise you might just fall to one side or the other. It may take some practice, but soon it will become second nature.
Mountain bikers must stick together. Even if we are riding through different terrain, cities, traffic circles, or trails, we all have a similar love of being on two wheels outdoors. Let’s all work together to make our cities cleaner and more cycling friendly.
Hannah Finchamp is a professional mountain biker for the Orange Seal Pro Team. When she isn’t riding her own bike she is coaching others to reach their goals as a Certified USA Cycling Coach and Certified Athletic Trainer. To learn more about the author please visit www.hannahfinchamp.com and follow Hannah on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hannah_finchamp/?hl=en