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BIKE-TO-BROWN  April 2006

BIKE-TO-BROWN April 2006

Subject:

Re: Questions about buying a new bike

From:

"Rogers, Donald" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Rogers, Donald

Date:

Mon, 10 Apr 2006 10:09:50 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (136 lines)

John:

You will certainly notice a marked difference when moving from an
mountain-type bike to a road bike. I would make some suggestions to help
steer your shopping.

Both the Trek 5000 and the Giant TCR-1, as you likely know, are carbon
fiber high-performance bikes that are designed for competition and
cyclists who like to ride recreationally as if they're in a competition.
They are very light, fast, and sleek.

They are certainly high-quality bikes, and will perform very well for
their intended purpose. I would suggest, though, that their purpose is
not 'the bike path and vacations on Cape Cod.' Their purpose is to win
sprints to the town line with your high-performance riding buddies, and
riding a personal best time in a fast century. This is how they're
designed, marketed, and used. 

This is not to say that these bikes can not serve your purpose. For
example, being carbon, they are in fact a good choice for New England
roads, as carbon has some vibration-damping qualities that make it a
favorite choice among some long-distance cyclists. Being light and fast,
they will help you feel light and fast when you ride them. And these
particular two bikes have more comfortable, shallower angles in their
frame geometry than the typical criterium race bikes. 

But a few points that you may want to consider are:

- Do you want to put a rack on the bike to carry your jacket and lunch?
If so, you'll need the appropriate eyelets in the rear triangle.

- Do you want fenders to ride on rain-wet roads (not necessarily while
it's raining) without decorating your back with that old skunk stripe?
More eyelets, in the front too now. Also, for truly effective
full-coverage fenders you need enough clearance in the fork and the rear
triangle to fit them. Many current performance bikes just have no room
in there.

- How big a tire do you want to run? A bigger tire means more air
between you and those bumpy roads, and leads to improved comfort.
Performance bikes sometimes are so tightly-designed that there's only
room for racy 23mm tires. You may be *significantly* more comfortable on
25, 27, or even 32mm tires. It's amazing the difference the tire size
can make, but if you get a bike that can only take 23mm tires, you lose
the ability to make a choice. 

- Can you get a truly comfortable relationship between the height of the
saddle and the bars? Some of the performance-oriented bikes almost force
you to run the bars 2-4 inches below the saddle, which may not be a
comfortable setup for your back, your neck, or your hands/wrists. You
may prefer the bars 0-1.5 inches below the saddle instead. Modern
high-volume manufacturers have been building bikes towards this category
in the last year or two, look for the 'plush' category. I'm not sure how
the Trek 5000 and Giant TCR-1 perform on this variable.

- Do you like to work on your own bikes? Some of the high-end
performance bikes use some exotic parts like high-tension wheels with
just a few bladed spokes, integrated headsets, external-bearing bottom
brackets, and carbon bar/stem combinations. Some of these are designed
for light weight and high (usually 'stiff') performance, but because of
this they may require special tools and/or training to service.
Additionally, some of this exotica, despite its expense, is really
optimized towards marketability; sometimes there is no technical
advantage and in fact may have compromises in the reliability and
lifespan of the components in question. If you prefer to swing your own
wrenches, you may prefer more classic, tested, serviceable, long-life
components.

If you happen to buy a bike that does not accomodate some of these
things, and then decide it matters later, then all of these can be
managed, with things like clamp-on partial-coverage fenders or racks, or
high-rise stems, but each of these solutions is a bit of a kludge and
will feel like an afterthought.

You have asked the Trek 5000 and Giant TCR-1 are 'too much bike.' I'm
not sure that's the best question. They may not be enough bike. There's
nothing wrong with buying high-end, but if you want to make an
investment, be sure you're making a smart choice. 

If it were me, I would choose a steel frame, with a sport-tourer or
touring geometry, and build it up with my own choice of parts. Steel has
its own vibration-damping qualities, but still lets the bike feel
sprightly. It won't be as light, but most people forget that you are not
a 15- or 25-pound vehicle, you are a vehicle-plus-rider, and the slight
difference in weight across bikes doesn't much matter unless you are
actually racing. Steel is plenty light enough in a quality bike.

For a good mix of gears, look at the recent trend in 'compact double'
cranks. These are double-chainring cranks in actual sensible gears, as
opposed to traditional 'race doubles' where the gears are too high for
casual use. 

Some of the brands I've been watching that are developing sensible,
versatile bikes include Surly (very affordable, excellent value, you buy
frame + parts of your choosing, available at The Hub and Providence
Bicycle), Bianchi, Gunnar, and Fuji. You can get a *lot* of bike from
these sources, for significantly better value of cost vs. features. 

You're someone who appreciates good engineering (I can tell by your
Schmidt hub), and you may want to consider an interesting project called
the Bianchi San Jos8. This takes the excellent steel Bianchi San Jose,
which is manufactured as a single-speed bike, and converts it to an
8-speed internal-gear hub. It's seriously practical, can go fast, but is
also low-maintenance, all-weather, and very versatile. It's a project of
Harris Cyclery in Newton, MA:

  <http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/bianchi-sanjos8/index.html>

So, 3 main pieces of advice:

1. Consider in advance all the ways you hope to use your new bike, how
you want it to feel, and what you expect it to do for you.

2. Keep an open mind as you shop, and make sure you're quite conscious
of how much the different dimensions of fit, function, style, cost, and
feel all matter to you. As much as you can, separate the physical
machine from its marketing as you evaluate your choices.

3. Test-ride as many options as you can, for at least a few miles on
each bike. Get a feel for how each one is different or the same as the
rest. Make sure there are no fit issues; if it doesn't fit, you'll never
be happy on it, regardless of the quality or price.

Then make your choice, and enjoy!

Let me know if you have any questions, I'd be glad to hash out more
detail off-list.

Don

Bike to Brown discussion list:
http://listserv.brown.edu/archives/bike-to-brown.html

Bike to Brown website:
http://biketobrown.brown.edu/

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