Underbike | ˈəndər-bīk |
1. ride a traditional road bicycle on surfaces that typically warrant the use of knobbie tires, flat bars, and sometimes suspension : its fun to see dual-suspension mountain bikers’ strange looks on the trails as we underbike.
1. a bicycle with a light frame, drop bars, slick tires, multiple gears, suitable for ordinary roads, but instead ridden on fire roads, trails, singletrack, sand, and rocks : let’s put some 35mm road tires on there, we’ll have ourselves an underbike.
2. a bicycle that facilitates mixed surface riding
• Rivendell: a country bike
un•der bik•ing noun
un•der bik•er noun
an underbike ready for the trails COUNTRY BIKE, all-rounder, cyclocross bike, mixed-surface riding
Underbiking used to be called “bicycling,” long before the logic of marketing dictated design. Since then, the tried-and-true technology of bicycling has been replaced by gimmicky bells and whistles (although without the actual bells), and the industry has divided bikes and components into highly specific uses.
Can you spot the “mountain” bike in this photo?
Before all this nonsense, Raleigh DL-1s would ramble along dirt roads with 28” wheels and French cyclotouristes would ride their 650B randonneur bikes on long rides through the mountains. In other words, people rode bicycles around long before most roadways were paved. In fact, roads in the U.S. were originally paved in order to facilitate bicycle travel. But that’s another story.
Even the mountain bike pioneers of Marin in the 70s took modified Schwinns on singletrck. Still today, much of the world rides ordinary bikes on off-road surfaces. Considering the kind of riding that takes place in underdeveloped nations, underbiking may be the most wide-spread type of cycling in the world.
Some consider riding a mountain bike with slicks on road rides underbiking. I guess that flys. But I don’t think it is much fun. Riding dual-suspension mountain bikes on simple fire roads and hard-pack trails, which is very, very common — I’ll call that “over-biking.”
Utility is the logic of underbiking. If you can find a road bike with enough tire clearance to run something above 32mm, any trail, any errand, any route is yours. For more tips, see Chris Kostman’s classic essay “Any Bike, Anywhere.” I disagree with Chris a little. I do believe that some singletrack requires knobbies and suspension helps from getting too beat up – but for most off-road riding, a well-equipped road bicycle is just about perfect. Here’s a few reasons why underbiking is so much fun:
1. Mellow trails are more challenging and exciting on an under-equipped bicycle.
2. Road bikes climb faster than suspension-clad mountain bikes
3. Ride to the trail, ride home
4. You will descend slower and more carefully, enjoying the terrain and the view