Mountain bike to comfort bike conversion
May 30, 2006 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about converting my mountain bike into something more like a comfort bike. Am I crazy?

I have a nice 2003 Giant NRS 2 cross-country mountain bike. I love it, but I've found that I'm doing less trail riding. A couple years ago I borrowed a friend's comfort bike for Burning Man and loved the upright riding position.

I'm thinking of getting a taller stem, smoother tires, perhaps a wider seat and converting my NRS into a full-suspensioned, disc braked comfort bike. I don't want to buy a new bike, and I don't want to get rid of the NRS either. Am I crazy? Will a taller stem on this bike give me the sweet upright position, or is this simply blasphemy?

Any tips or comments are appreciated.
posted by wezelboy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total)
I did this with a Cannondale a few years back, and it works fine - it'll look a little goofy with the taller stem, but you shouldn't have a technical problem doing it.

As for thinner tires, I wouldn't recommend going any narrower than about 26x2.0 - I had 26x1.75 slicks on my converted Cannondale for a while and they never felt very stable, so I went back to 26x2.0.
posted by pdb at 2:30 PM on May 30, 2006

I might disagree with the specifics, but tricking out your bike so it rides the way you like is a human right.

Do expect most bike shop employees to sneer at your choices. If they get too uppitty, go to another shop.

Specific advice: Get a BMX stem and the highest-rise bmx bars you can find. Much more comfortable (and cooler) than a riser stem. I'd get a solid fork, 'cause two shocks on a bike you ride on the road will cause you to lose energy to flex. Also it will make it easier to add a bmx stem because they usually require more fork tube than your current stem (you can't add any more tube onto the fork you got now). Get some fat slicks. I find them much more comfortable than skinny hard slicks for riding around town.

No matter what you choose, if any bike geek gives you shit, give it right back.
posted by Seamus at 2:34 PM on May 30, 2006

Big fat clipless pedals, wide enough to use with regular shoes.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:59 PM on May 30, 2006

You really don't need disc brakes for a road/hybrid bike. I do recommend skinny, slick tyres if you don't plan on going off-road. You lose a lot of speed from knobby dirt tyres.
posted by Mr. Six at 3:11 PM on May 30, 2006

Response by poster: I can't really imagine having a bike without discs now. I'm hooked on 'em.

I will probably keep the tires somewhat wide since I want to keep the rims with the discs, but I am definitely losing the knobs.
posted by wezelboy at 3:16 PM on May 30, 2006

I can't really imagine having a bike without discs now.

Agreed, especially if you commute in all conditions. Being able to stop on a dime in the rain is essential when a car ignores a stop sign and pops out in front of you.
posted by randomstriker at 3:37 PM on May 30, 2006

My own street bike is a converted mountain bike, so in that respect, I'm right there with you. I'm down to 1.25" slicks on mine, and they roll great. I had 1.6" Conti slicks before, and they were pretty good, but these are better. Definitely do put on narrow or narrow-ish slicks. They're much lighter, have much lower rolling resistance, and take higher pressures. Knobbies are for dirt.

I disagree with the upright-position thing though. That's OK for lightweight, low-key riding, but it is less comfortable when covering any distance. Also, since it throws your center of gravity upwards and backwards, it makes you less stable on the bike as well, so it is less appropriate when mixing it up with motor traffic. When I converted my bike, I put on a longer, lower stem than the stock one, and hacked 5" off the handlebars, so it's more of a roadie position.

My bike has front suspension, which I was skeptical about at first, but have decided is OK after all.

Seamus: you talk about losing energy to flex in the suspension, but recommend putting an un-aerodynamic handlebar setup on? Doesn't make sense, since aerodynamic losses sap many, many times more energy than any flex in the suspension possibly could. If you've decided to go with an un-aerodynamic position, you're not going to notice a few extra percent loss in the suspension. Conversely, if you're trying to be efficient, you'd never use a sitting-up posture.
posted by adamrice at 3:41 PM on May 30, 2006

I just got tall handlebars, new ass cradle- straighter back gives better ride. I have more power, my bike is SUPER FUN now, I wish I had done this way back when. I only ride in town, and my GT Karakoram with longer stem, taller handlebars, and high seatpost puts me way up where I can see what's going on. I love it.
posted by cometwendy at 3:42 PM on May 30, 2006

Go for it!

One of the things I most enjoyed about visiting the Netherlands was discovering that bike riding can be about comfort and convenience. In the US bikes are marketed like you have to be a macho sports fanatic to be worthy to touch a bike.

In retrospect, I think that adding fenders to my bike was one of the best decisions I made for bike commuting.
posted by medusa at 3:44 PM on May 30, 2006

Seems reasonable to me. Get a big pair of trick riser bars and put little plastic streamers on the bar ends.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:56 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: Do it do it do it.

Put on skinny tires. Ride everywhere. Pass Lycra troopers. Laugh hysterically.

It's your choice, but consider going a fraction less upright on the stem than you would on a comfort bike. A lower position will be more comfortable than an upright one once you're used to it (a few weeks of lots of riding), and more conducive to fast riding -- if that's what you're going for. If you swap out the h'bars, consider a pair that'll give you lots of hand positions for the same reason.

Or maybe you just want to cruise around leisurely on short rides, or have a bad lower back. Then ignore the previous 'graph and go for comfort. If you want to change again later it's simple enough.

Have a blast.
posted by Opposite George at 4:27 PM on May 30, 2006

I have a Giant which has everything a comfort bike has, save the higer handlebars-- A ridiculous gel comfort seat, slicks (2.0 I believe) and big wide pedals. It's my primary means of transit this time of year. Sometimes I worry about conscending glances from bikeinistas, but then I sit back on my comfy, comfy seat and feel a certian sense of satisfaction.
posted by fantastic at 4:48 PM on May 30, 2006

If you buy a new fork they usually come way too long in the stem area. Instead of cutting them off, I like to experiment with spacers and try different bar heights. I've also used the bmx stem and handlebars on a mountain bike.
posted by 445supermag at 7:07 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer:
I've got an NRS with 1.25 slicks for the same reason - hardly ever ride off road.

Also, the bike pictured has flat handlebars. I whacked on a set of 2 inch riser bars (carbon fibre, of course!). Consider that instead of a higher stem. The fella that suggested them said it gives you better control. I'd have to agree but I don't know why.

Was considering a comfort seat like I have on my spare bike (fully rigid pig of an MTB, but I love her so) but the rear suspension gives me plenty of comfort. I've stuck with an expensive, light, hard saddle. Reckon it feels slightly better, not having a freakin' pillow stuck between my legs.

Went for a set of Shimano pedals, with SPD one side, and flats on the other (sorry, the model number eludes me right now). I'm often riding in normal shoes. Every so slight down side is ya have to be careful your feel don't slide off. I'd also pop on a pair of toe hook thingies if I could find a compatible set.

Awesome fun. What Opposite George said. Great for the ego when you cane past some lycra Nazis!

And yes, heaps of "serious" MTBers laff at me. More in jest than anything nasty.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:47 PM on May 30, 2006

Oh yeah, and I've set the rear shock to be a bit softer than the manual suggests. Both settings. So I bob up and down a bit more when I'm out of the saddle, but the comfort benefits far outweigh the negatives.

In fact, I tend to just drop down some extra gears and stay in the saddle instead. Only get out of the saddle when I really want to, eg. to have a stretch and change positions.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:15 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: i'd like to chime in with another option for getting a taller stem, because what others have mentioned -- a bmx stem and bars -- might not give you enough height.

you might consider converting to a threaded headset/fork and quill stem situation. a few companies make 1-1/8" threaded stems, which you'd be able to place very high. way above the height of your seat.

if for whatever reason i was going to do this, i'd get a chris king 2nut headset. i know it comes in a 1-1/8" size. i don't know who makes a nice 1-1/8" threaded stem tho.

a much cheaper and reasonable option would something like this stem raiser that you could add to your current setup for about $20. it would give you 3" of height.
posted by ArcAm at 8:55 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: I've done this too: an ATB frame makes a great urban bike.

The (only) advantage to a quill headset is that it's very easy to adjust heights. Since you've got a threadless, I'd buy an adjustable. Nashbar has them for 25$.

I'm not crazy about the Shimano 323/324 flat/clipless pedals (they used to be on the bike below). They hang the wrong way (clip down) when you want to clip in. Platforms with clips in the cetre, like these work better in my opinion. Shimano, Wellgo and a bunch of nonames all make pairs.

My build is here. The handlebars are do-it-yourself cowhorns ('cause flat bars are boring): drop-bars hacked off in the middle of the drop and mounted upside down, with bar end shifters mounted in the ends. I used regular aero-levers for brakes. Worked surprisingly well. One of my favourite builds ever.

I'm definitely going to turn this into a SS soon though. It's currenly mouldering in the basement.

Oh and don't forget the card for the front forks. A Bicycle card, of course...
posted by bonehead at 6:55 AM on May 31, 2006

Just to clarify if I sound like a pretentious azzhole. Not really answering the question any more:

When I say "expensive" and "carbon fibre"… if something is double the price and I’ll only get a 5% improvement, then I’ll always go the expensive option. I want my NRS to be comfortable, yet still as light and fast as possible. Like, I spent a ridiculous amount of money getting my stem, seatpost, and handlebars changed to something xxtra light and strong.

Maybe I’m a sucker? But I use my bikes so often, they are my main transport… my tricked-up NRS is the most valuable asset I own. Sad but true.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:32 AM on May 31, 2006

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