Mountain bikes are often used for long-distance travel; however, they are not exactly designed to go long distances. If you do want to use a mountain bike for a long bike tour, there are several adjustments you need to make to ensure you don’t run into any trouble.
That said, mountain bikes are durable enough to handle any rough paths you might encounter on a long ride. And they’re also more versatile than most other bikes and suitable for almost any kind of terrain.
Which is the Right Mountain Bike to Ride Long Distances?
Before getting into how to prepare your mountain bike to ride longer distances, you need to first find out if you have the right type of bike.
If you own a full-suspension mountain bike, you’re out of luck as these mountain bikes will cause more trouble than anything else on long rides. Cross-country mountain bikes, on the other hand, are best for long-distance cycling.
Full-suspension bikes are not suited to long journeys because of their suspension travel systems. While XC mountain bikes only have front suspension travel, full-suspension mountain bikes have both front and rear suspension travel.
This is for a reason, of course. All this suspension helps absorb the shock that comes with mountain biking on a dirt road, paths with bumps and tree roots, and any other rough terrain.
On long flat rides, or when road riding, the suspension acts against you. Because there’s no impact for the suspension to act against, you’ll need to use more effort, compared to a cross-country bike, to overcome the suspension travel.
One other reason full-suspension mountain bikes are not suited for long-distance riding is that they’re heavier. With all that suspension travel and the components added to accommodate it, you’ll have your work cut out for you when riding down smooth roads.
Cross-country mountain bikes are similar to road bikes. They’re lighter and have shorter suspension travel, hence, they’re more suitable for a longer ride.
You’ll also feel your bike stiffening up, which is a good thing when riding on flat roads. Modern mountain bikes also have a lockout suspension system so you can eliminate the suspension during a long ride.
Preparing a Mountain Bike for a Longer Trip
Now that you know the right mountain bike to use, here are a few tips to help you better prepare your bike for a long ride.
The saddle of a cross-country bike is not a couch. Sitting on it for long hours at a time is bound to cause some saddle pain.
A simple solution is to try and get used to riding long distances in small increments. Before a long journey, try going on multiple laps on your normal cycling route to test your physical limits.
You can also wear seamless pants when cycling longer distances. These are smoother than regular pants, which reduces the friction that comes with being in contact with your saddle for long periods.
Another option is to change your saddle. Go to your nearest bike shop, preferably with your current saddle, and ask if they have a more comfortable alternative.
It’s best to do this long before the trip so you can test out your new saddle and ride it in. Mountain bikes do have a more upright position compared to road bikes, so you don’t have to worry about your sitting position.
Before your trip, make sure that your handlebars are suitable for long-distance rides. For a more comfortable ride, you need to have handlebars that enable you to hold your wrists in a natural position.
This is called the back sweep angle, and the handlebars should be upwards of 15°.
Mountain biking with your wrists in an unnatural position, as happens with flat handlebars, can make your hands numb. If you go on long trips often, this can lead to long-term nerve damage.
Try testing out the handlebars on your friends’ mountain bikes and see if they suit cycling longer distances.
You can also invest in butterfly bars. These help you adjust your wrist position appropriately whenever you start feeling any pain during long rides.
Tri bars or aero bars are also good alternatives for long rides as they’re the handlebars found on a typical road bike.
But make sure they’re compatible with your mountain bike before mounting them to avoid disrupting any cables. Butterfly bars should be your first option, though, for long rides.
You can also boost your handlebars with a stem raiser for more comfort.
Having the right tires is key for long-distance mountain biking. It’s always best to replace knobby tires with slicker, less knobby ones.
Keeping knobby tires on your bike will cause you to expend more effort in your pedaling, and you’ll get tired quickly. Tubeless tires are the best as they’re lighter, provide more traction, and are puncture-resistant.
With tubeless tires, you can also go for longer distances with low tire pressure. Though costly, the advantages justify the price.
You can also use fat bike tires and plus-sized bike tires. A plus-size bike tire is more of a hybrid between a fat bike tire and a normal mountain bike tire.
Both these tires are wider to enhance traction while you’re on the road. The tires of cyclocross bikes also fit on mountain bikes – they’re a mix between road tires and mountain bike tires.
If you decide to keep your mountain bike tires on for a long-distance ride, make sure to increase the air pressure for less rolling resistance.
When mountain biking for long distances, of course, you need to bring adequate food and water to help you replenish your energy along the way. A good rule of thumb is to keep consistently eating to sustain your energy levels throughout the ride.
You’ll need a bottle cage mount, or other similar mounts, to carry your supplies on your mountain bike.
Most hardtails also have racks for mountain bikers to place their luggage and other necessities. If yours doesn’t, you can buy a luggage rack from your local bike shop.
If you’re not sure how to install the rack, rather ask the shop attendant to assist you. Installing a rack can be a bit challenging as it can interfere with other parts of the bike e.g., the disc brakes, etc., so be careful.
Despite the type of bike you use, heavier luggage always means a heavier bike (which means more effort is needed to pedal). Because of this added weight, make sure you’re not adding unnecessary stress to your rear wheel.
Buy a rack with a good rear hub and switch out your back wheel if it’s too old.
Avoid carrying too much luggage. If you don’t need that many supplies, a handlebar bag will suit you best.
And remember to bring a repair kit in case you have a puncture along the way.
Finally, take your GPS if you’re going on a long trip that’ll take a few days. A GPS is needed in case you lose signal on your phone or your battery dies. It’s a good idea to pack a physical map as a backup too.
In conclusion, with adjustments to some of the components, using a mountain bike on a long-distance trip is possible; although, the extras will affect your budget.
Generally, most mountain bikes can handle a one-day trip of around four hours or more. A more extended tour of several days requires more planning and the execution of at least some of the adjustments above.
Just a few minor changes can make a big difference when it comes to getting your mountain bike ready for long-distance trips and enjoying the ride.