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I enjoy riding on narrow trails, going on cross country and exploring the woods with my bike. But sadly, I spend most of my time on the bike commuting to my job. My question is what are the best specs that don’t compromise safety and performance on the woods but also that I can use the bike to commute (10 miles aprox). I assume that a hardtail is the best option, but:

  • 27.5 or 29 wheels?
  • Air or coil spring suspension?
  • How many speeds to look for?
  • What tire width is better?

I commute around 10 miles daily to my job. My budget is around $2000 USD. Two options I'm considering are the Specialized Fuse 27.5 and the Trek Roscoe 7. Both bikes look awesome, but I worry they would be slow on roads, the Fuse because of 27.5 wheels and the Roscoe for its wider tires.

I have two nice parks on my way home. The trails are steep and full of mud and tree roots. In the past, I had a Trek Marlin 5 that was good to commute but not so nice on the trails. Then I bought a full-suspension bike that was not impressive on the trails nor the roads. In the end, I decided that a full-suspension bike was not for me and I sold it.

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  • every single one of your questions comes down to personal preference and local terrain. also, bringing up "safety" really muddies the waters.
    – Paul H
    Oct 5, 2022 at 19:25
  • Really hard to answer without knowing situation, distances or budget or availability. Even compromise safety is quite subjective. Might even be applicable to get multiple bikes (eg cheap commuter, expensive trail bike). Think visit to the local bike shop might be in order, tell them what you want to do and see what options they recommend
    – Hursey
    Oct 5, 2022 at 19:45
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    @mattnz - your calculations are way off. A 30x10 gear on a 27,5 inch rim with a 50 mm tyre means 38,7 km/h at 100 cadence, and 30,9 at 80.
    – Marjan
    Oct 6, 2022 at 6:19
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    The question would benefit from a great deal more detail. Do you plan to commute in the rain? Is the commute on road or is it mixed surface? Is it a daily commute? Some photos of the woods you ride would give further context to the capability that is required there
    – Andy P
    Oct 6, 2022 at 10:38
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    @Marjan - Good spot, those numbers are MPH, just a slight difference.
    – mattnz
    Oct 6, 2022 at 19:45

3 Answers 3

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To give you some concrete numbers: My commute is ~8 miles one way, only on paved surface. At the same effort level I need about 30min with the road bike and 35min with the full suspension trail bike with very knobby tires.

Why I sometimes use the MTB for commuting, having both a MTB and road bike: There are nice trails near my workplace and on my way home. Also I can shower and get fresh clothes at work, coming in dirty because of missing fenders is not a problem for me. So im totally fine using an all out MTB for commuting. You could put fenders on the MTB, but would have to remove them for trail riding, also MTB fenders never work as good as the "close to tire" type you find on "street" bikes.

If I could only have one bike, I would choose the bike that is best on the trails, and maybe put a better rolling tire on the back, like an semislick (if the trails are dry). A second set of wheels is always an option, but at that price point you could also buy a used beater bike for commuting etc.

Having fun on trails is more important to me than being 5 minutes faster at work.

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  • Excellent! I think you are describing my situation. I have two nice parks on my way home. The trails are steep and full of mud and tree roots. In the past, I had a marlin 5 that was good to commute but not so nice on the trails. Then, I bought a full-suspension bike that was not impressive on the trails neither on the roads. At the end, I decided that a full-suspension bike was not for me and I sold it. By your comment and knowing your commuting times I can take a better decision. Do you use 29 or 27.5 wheels on you MTB? Oct 6, 2022 at 15:45
  • I use 29er wheels. But also im a big guy, the biggest frame size of some bikes is not big enough for me ^^ On the road wheel size doesn't matter, and if you have enough clearance between your butt and backwheel on steep trails, i would go for 29"
    – airace3
    Oct 6, 2022 at 20:19
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    I second the two bikes sentiment. E.g. Roscoe 6 + $600 for a dedicated commuter will give you a 7.5/10 for trail riding and 6.5/10 for commuting performance, whereas a Roscoe 7 will be the same total cost and give your 8/10 for trail and 2/20 for commuting performance... Oct 8, 2022 at 21:54
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    Of course my numbers are somewhat made up but in my experience the gains per dollar are much higher on the second bike than performance losses due to saving money on the first. That's because of generally diminishing returns as things get more expensive. Oct 8, 2022 at 21:59
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Nothing - anything that makes a suitable single track bike is compromised for road riding. However, a 10 mile commute on a MTB with knobblies is not out the question altogether.

What's 'best' will depends very much on your preference. Some would be happy to commute on a squishy with knobblies to get the most fun off road, others want a bike that does not break off road, but is light and goes fastest on road. Most are somewhere in the middle.

If you have space to store them, the best bike might be two cheaper bikes. For me, a $500 commuter and a $2500 MTB would be a better choice than one $3000 bike that does both badly. Also consider where the commuter is stored (out side in the weather, security), might be better to commute on a beater.

If I had to buy one bike, given my preference for MTBing, it would be a 29" hard tail MTB. You could also look at Gravel bikes if your trails are not too technical. Where I live with the trails I ride, I would run two sets of wheels - one with commuting tires and one with off roads. You may get away with the same tire for both, there are some good choices for fast rolling with side knobbles (just watch the corners on wet roads)

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    Just saw you budget - you could still do two bikes $2000 and be better off, especially if you bought a beater on the used market.
    – mattnz
    Oct 5, 2022 at 20:49
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    I ride my hardtail 12 miles to the local trails. The route passes my old work. I'm fitter now and do my old commute slightly quicker than I used to on my hybrid, but weekend rather than rush hour. There's not as much in it as you might think. But with the OP's budget I'd buy 2 bikes - a slightly cheaper MTB and a commuter of some sort (or even 3 at my price point!)
    – Chris H
    Oct 5, 2022 at 21:17
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The question is very hard to answer clearly, for a simple reason: there's a lot of "it depends". For example, "going on cross country and exploring the woods with my bike" can have a very different definition depending on where you live. The forest trails of some areas can be more pleasant that some roads in other areas. It also depends on the speed at which you want to approach the trails.

If you live in an area with nicely maintained forest trails, a MTB may actually be overkill for this use, and a gravel bike/good hybrid can be a valid compromise, eventually with different sets of wheels.

If you live in an area with trails that require a proper MTB, the best approach to my opinion is 2 bikes, as the desired characteristics for commuting and trails are opposite.

Or another option: your question implies that you already have a bike. If your current bike is an entry level one, it is in fact very likely that it already has some specs that are more suited for commuting than a Roscoe or a Fuse: for example a 2x/3x drivetrain and often eyelets that allow to install fenders or a rack (that are often missing on better bikes). So you can just modify it to make it a better commuter, replacing the tire by road ones (not necessarily 23mm one, but some with a thread pattern suited to road), adding fenders, racks, lights. And you buy proper trail bike for the trails.

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