Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beginner’s Guide to Bike Commuting in Singapore: Mountain Bike as a Commuter Bike

A mountain bike is the most inappropriately named bike ever. It is like a Land Rover in today's day and age - bought for some other reason other than off-roading.

What is the similarity between this and a modern day SUV? Guess.

Nonetheless, most of us have been on mountain bikes. The rental stations at ECP have tons of mountain bikes. Pulau Ubin's renters also have many mountain bikes. Among the many people I have talked to, people have the impression that the mountain bike is 'safer' mostly because of the fat knobbie tyre and the geometry.

The mountain bike is the most ubiquitous bicycle ever, and it can be credited to be the most commonly bought bike back in the bike boom of the 80's in America. And then again, the mountain bike is the newest form of bike - only around 1975 did its first incarnation appear. But it is now everywhere. Why?

  • All-terrain, all-roads, all-purpose
  • Quite comfy with a front fork and fat tyres, even better with a rear fork 
  • Usually has a very wide range of gearing
  • More upright position than a road bike makes it safer
  • Hardtails usually have rack mounts
  • Starts at around $150 used for a brand name MTB
  • Slow
  • Heavy
Just like an SUV, the mountain bike is often ridden on the road rather than off-road. But it is because of its other merits that make people use it as a daily commuter. For one, the fact that it is an excellent multipurpose bicycle. It can go off and on roads easily because it has a suitable geometry and a wide range of tyres. Throw in a rack and panniers, and you can throw in all your daily necessities.

A mountain bike is often more comfortable than any other type of bike because of its fat tyres and the existence of a suspension fork. For road riding, I'd say that a fork is quite an unnecessary luxury, because our roads are excellent.

And then there's the wide gearing which really helps you climb when you have massive loads. A mountain bike has gearing that can take you up the 7% sections of Mount Faber and then gearing that will take you down the same grade at 50km/h.

Unfortunately, a mountain bike often is heavy. This is because of the beefy frame, extra weight from a suspension fork, fat tyres and beefy rims, etc. You can feel its mass when heading up hills with a equally powerful person on a road bike. It is there and then you'll see him going up so smoothly and quickly. Its heft leads us to the corollary is that it is slow, especially uphill, but even on the flats, the fat tyres and more semi-upright position (dependent on frame geometry largely) makes it quite a draft catcher.

But without doubt, I favour the mountain bike as your first bike for commuting. It offers the best balance between function and price. It's the ultimate commuter bike for locking outside because it can be gotten really cheap, and it also the ultimate commuter for carrying loads.


  1. I am a fellow Singaporean, and I happened to stumble upon this article accidentally.

    I want to tell you that I agree wholeheartedly with this article. I find it surprising that no other Singaporean has ever written about this topic online with as much depth as you have here.

    Actually, if you look at what the majority of Singapore cyclists are riding, you will notice that most Singaporeans are riding mountain bikes. They are everywhere - parked outside MRT stations, hawker centers, supermarkets, etc. They are common because they are relatively cheap, compared to other types of bicycles. Nowadays, one can easily acquire a second-hand mountain bike for around $50.

    I think what is important to most Singaporeans is that mountain bikes, especially those 'no-brand' $50 kind, are less prone to being stolen. The same can't be said about racing bikes. From my experience, I find that cheap mountain bikes(those that cost around $50) are less risky to park outdoors overnight. In fact, my mountain bike - a run-down and ugly $50 n0-brand mountain bike, has been parked outdoors along the public road green railing for the past 6 years, and it has never been meddled with or stolen. It's true! I think it's because it looks so run-down that any smart person with commonsense can see that it is not worth the trouble to steal it.

    That's why I actually pity those cyclists who ride expensive bicycles. Because their bicycles are so expensive that it actually becomes a burden to them - they can't leave it anywhere without worrying that it might be stolen the next moment. This constant worrying about not being able to park anywhere one wishes, erodes the simple joy of owning a cheap form of commute. Being able to park a bicycle where it is the most convenient and without having to worry about it being stolen, is the number one reason why the majority of Singaporeans are contented with a $50 mountain bike.

    In fact, even if anyone were to give me a bicycle that costs $500(or more) as a present, I will not use it. No thank you. I will sell it away and buy a $50 bicycle instead. Ultimately, to me, a bicycle should be my slave, not the other way around!

  2. I agree with this article, it is much easier to go uphill with a hybrid. However, mountain bikes do help on wet ground. After a thunderstorm , which is quite common, any turn past 45° is quite a nightmare if you don't have the grip of a mountain bike.