Longer Commute on Hills – Road or MTN?

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ejwme
Participant
#

Crate Bike (aka “Becky”) has gone all toothless and to pieces. I think I’m ready for an actual new bike. Sales people tell me that what I want doesn’t exist, and I’d be better off buying online and building from scratch. I don’t know enough to do that yet, and driving to work in the mean time is killing my soul.

My current commute is 9-10 miles of serious hills (I can almost get up them all, just one left that’s too much), but paved suburban roads. I’m currently debating between going a bit cheaper for a decent MTB, which will haul groceries as well, or flat out “I’m going to eventually have a 30 mile commute that can’t take all day” road bike. I know nothing about road bikes, though I’ve always thought of them as less practical (I know that’s not necessarily true).

I don’t know the pros/cons between the two, other than the cheapest road bikes are twice the price of the cheapest MTBs, neither of which are probably a good idea. I don’t want my preconceptions of road bikes or MTBs to get in the way of my finding the best bike for me, so I’m throwing them out as I find them (but first I need to find them!). I also don’t want to buy a bike that I’ll somehow “outgrow” or be constantly replacing parts in a year or two.

Advice?


reddan
Keymaster
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Some form of cyclocross-ish bike may serve you well…unlike some road bikes, it’ll likely have clearance and fittings for fenders, racks, fatter tires, and all that good stuff that makes commuting more pleasant.

I’ve drooled over the Surly Cross Check and Long Haul Trucker bikes in the past, although I’ve never done more than test rides; you can buy ’em as frames, or as complete bikes.

No reason you can’t have a sprightly commuter that’ll still haul groceries…


dooftram
Participant
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+1 on the cross or touring bike. Try a Surly Crosscheck or REI now has a few steel frame commuter/touring bike models to choose from. Most LBS are useless at this niche, but you could try Thick Bikes.


ejwme
Participant
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see, that’s where I start to think that one $1k bike is more economical than 2 $500 bikes which won’t last as long. Then I waiver and start to think it’s bad enough I’m buying new, why so expensive? The cyclocross tip looks good, though, thanks!


brian j
Participant
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If cost is an issue, look into Kona’s line of commuter bikes. I have a Smoke 2-9, with 700c/29-er wheels, fenders, upright bars. I got mine new for under $350, plus a bit extra for a rear rack. I’ve upgraded a lot of components, but most have those have been gotten via trade or my parts bin. I’ve been quite happy with it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do a longer (15+ mile each way) commute on it.

I’ve done a really long (20+ miles each way) on a converted mountain bike (which also served as my all-around bike for awhile). It wasn’t going to win any races, but it did fine on long hills. And when I rode a faster bike on the same commute, my times weren’t that much less.

Your first order of business should be finding a bike that fits you well. Everything else can fall into place from there.


edmonds59
Participant
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I’m a little surprised, in these days, that a salesperson would tell you what you want doesn’t exist! Any idea what the big sticking point is?

Seems like you want a high performance hybrid (hybrids are cheap), alum frame, triple crank, v-brakes to install fenders, eyelets to install racks, and the possibility to swap to a more roady handlebar in the future. Anything else?

Also, if you can nurse Becky along for another month, there will start to be mark-downs…


Pierce
Participant
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I agree with Bill. So you can get a hybrid for around $400, which would be like a mountain bike with frame eyelets and semi-light weight and slick tires.

For around $1000 you can get a touring bike, like a Surly Long Haul Trucker. It uses road components (derailleurs, cranks, etc) has eyelets and has less aggressive geometry.

I don’t know if this is the case with anybody else, but I think replacing parts is part of bicycle commuting. That being said, my entire drive train (crank, chain, rear cassette) was around $100.

I would recommend using the word “touring” instead of road with bike shops and tell them what you want to actually do with the bike and they should be able to tell you your options. Ambridge Bike Shop also stocks Surly products, and they’re my hometownish Bike Shop, so I have a slight bias towards them.

I have about a 13/14 mile commute and I use a “fancy” (everybody who has seen my jalopy of a bike can laugh) hybrid that gets the job done. It isn’t fancy (okay, forget the first sentence) but it gets the job done. A touring bike would be nice, but isn’t necessary.

So it comes back to how much $$$ you want to spend


edmonds59
Participant
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I like that Kona Smoke! (I’m a Kona fan in general) I had no idea they were that cheap.

For the 2-9, though, I don’t know what the availability of tire variations are for 29″ wheels yet.


ejwme
Participant
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Well, I tell them I want:

– light weight (lighter than Crate Bike ~45#ish)

– lots of lovely granny gears for my sorry butt to get up my hills.

– easily mounted fenders, front/rear racks, baskets, etc. -> solid front fork.

– comfortable distance riding (I like upright, but really I just don’t want to throw out a hip or lose feeling in my hands like Crate Bike did after 30miles)

– inexpensive as possible without being cheap.

– GAP-capable (in terms of conditions I’m likely to ask of it)

For off the shelf, the solid front fork throws out most MTB, the fenders throw out most road.

That’s why I threw this out there – my thinking isn’t getting me very far, so I’m ditching it in favor of what more experienced people (yinz guys) point me towards :D

That Kona Smoke looks interesting, and there’s a Kona dealer walking distance from my office, I think I’ll head over for a look-see. I do wish they had bike weights online, though.


steevo
Participant
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Surly LHT or cross check.

Salso fargo.

A trek 520 is a 1050 dollar bike and is like a

really good mix of all things. thick tires, low

gears, racks and fender eyelets… but you can

also run skinny tires.


ejwme
Participant
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y’all post faster than I type. Becky is missing more teeth on gears than is healthy, and the rear wheel is wicked untrue with a broken spoke (all the spokes are funky from the sound of it). I’d rather not put in another 100$ into her right now, that’s $100 of new bike I won’t be getting if I do. I don’t know what my budget is – what I CAN afford is a great deal higher than what I am willing to afford. I’m on the fence about what I’m willing to afford, though.


Marko82
Participant
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+1 on using the term “touring.” A lot of bikes with drop handle bars are not race bikes, nor are they the proverbial “10 speeds” of the seventy’s. Asking for a road bike is kinda like asking for a two seater car (corvette or smart car). Also, find a bike shop that will fit the bike to you – besides inseam there’s bar reach, seat position and other adjustments that make a big difference in comfort and injury avoidance.


sloaps
Participant
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Where’s @cburch when you need him?

Thick has a myriad of options: old, new; mtn, cross, touring, hybrid, etc.

Reasonable pricing, and excellent service.


cburch
Participant
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yup, you are looking for a touring bike or a cross bike and whoever told you the bike you want doesn’t exist is either smoking crack or knows very little about bikes. nice thing about a cross bike is that many of them can take disc brakes, which are SOOOOOOO much nicer in the wet crappy fall/winter/spring of pittsburgh. go to thick, tell them what you want. this is their niche and they know it very well. plus if you bring your bikepgh card with you, you get 10% off!

fyi: the new entrance is around the corner on bingham st and dont park in the lot anymore during the week(and possibly on weekends) or the landlord will tow you. the lot is all for the ad agency next door now.


Lyle
Participant
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Consider using a trailer to extend the utility of a lightweight bicycle. Your “do it all” bicycle doesn’t have to be able to “do it all all at the same time”.


reddan
Keymaster
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Reiterating bjanaszek’s point: Your first order of business should be finding a bike that fits you well. Everything else can fall into place from there.

That really is key…being comfortable on the bike is what lets you ride longer distances. Trust me on this. ;-)


ejwme
Participant
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Okeedoke, Trek for lunch, DH’s for dinner, Thick tomorrow after work. Keywords – touring/cross, “please help fit a bike to me”. I’ll stop using the words “road bike”. If I lean towards something in the Surly LHT or Cross Check price range, I’ll hit up Ambridge before I buy (it’s wicked far away for me, but those look so awesome).

I’m really hoping to find The Bike in time to join the ride tomorrow evening :D

Thank you guys!


salty
Participant
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+1 for crosscheck/LHT. I have the former but if you buy the complete bike you might want lower gears (I put a triple crank on mine). LHT comes with lower (MTB-type) gearing stock.

I thought $1k was a lot to drop on a bike too but it was worth it. I probably saved that much in gasoline in the past year alone.


brian j
Participant
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Don’t get too caught up in comparing weights. If I can channel Grant Petersen for a moment…consider that most of the weight you pedal around is your own. A few pounds one way or another, unless you are steevo, really won’t make a different in the quality or difficulty of your ride. Yes, a lighter bike will go up hills more easily, but it also won’t carry stuff quite as well.


ejwme
Participant
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bjanaszek… that brings up a good question. I may be proving I’m not worth my degree, but why is that? Is it just the extra rigidity and perhaps higher stress limits that a heavier bike has that makes it good for hauling? I mean I’m not trying to carry cement bricks in paper sacks, but do I really need a reinforced steel cage to get them from A-B, or will a durable gunny sack do? (sorry for the analogy, I don’t know bikes enough to talk real sense except through what I see as the comparison).

Or is it just the idea (common conception?) that weight == strength?


bd
Participant
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I’ve commuted on mountain, road, and now a cross bike and like the cross bike best by far. It’s sturdier than the road bike in terms of trails and potholes but still somewhat lighter with a more aggressive geometry and bigger big ring than a mountain bike so I can still pretend I’m going fast when I forget I’m old and out of shape.

Many cross bikes have a tipple chain ring, and there is almost no road hill that you can’t pedal through in the granny gear.

I mostly like my disc brakes. I’ve got a few steep downhills and I burn through fewer disc brake pads than I did rim brake pads and stopping power is definitely better when it’s wet. Pads are more expensive, but there are some deals online where you can get them for about $7 a set if you buy 4 at a time. So about double the price of a rim brake pad but overall with the longer life and increased wet stopping power I think it’s a win. I also find them easier to adjust and keep tight that rim brakes as you just need to spin the dial and not mess with wire tension and alignment.

I ended up getting a used one off ebay, but had been looking at the Kona Dew (flat bar) or Dew Drop (drop bars) but couldn’t find a local dealer at the time. TRM now carries them so I assume they’d be at any of the local Trek stores.

I’d guess you’d be very happy with any bike store brand with the triple chain ring for going uphill and the disc brakes for going downhill. I don’t know why, but cross bikes seem to command a premium price over similar looking bikes from the road, mountain, or hybrid categories. Going with a used one was the only way I could find to bring down the price significantly.


brian j
Participant
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Much of a bike’s load carrying characteristics are determined by its geometry. So, a bike can be reasonably light, and still carry a load (the LHT and Cross-Check come to mind) because they are designed with such utility in mind. Not every commuter bike is, ironically, designed to carry a bunch of stuff.

I suspect that given your needs, a Surly or maybe a Kona would fit the bill nicely.


cburch
Participant
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fyi you can get the surly bikes at dh and thick (and probably trek, but i’m not sure) pretty much any real bike shop can order surlys even if they dont stock them and surly is owned and distributed by qbp and pretty much every bike shop in the country has an account with qbp.

also, for what its worth, stef(b) got her first two bikes at ambridge bike shop and they were both way too large for her (the road bike in particular would have fit a 6′ tall man and she’s a 5’3″ woman) she hasn’t been back there since we met.


edmonds59
Participant
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re: bd, yeah, I’ve looked at cyclocross bikes, they seem to be a little “hot” right now (everything is relative :)), few (what I would consider) good deals.


ejwme
Participant
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cburch – thank you for the tip. I’m going to ride Kona’s at Trek in a few minutes, and while at DH I’ll talk to them to see how fast they can get a bike in for me if I know what I want and they don’t carry it. I’d rather buy from the shop that has given me so much great service, but I’d also rather buy a bike that I’ve tried and I know fits. Or at least someone that seems to know what they’re doing thinks it fits. Apparently I’ll ride anything that rolls and not notice until something goes inconveniently numb, so my opinion of “fits” or “comfort” may be grossly off.


Impala26
Participant
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After using a mountain bike with good shocks on the road the other weekend, I have to admit that comfort should be taken into account with longer rides/commutes. Even if you’re riding on pavement, how many roads in the Pittsburgh area are in sub-par condition? I still think it might be in most people’s interest to invest in a mountain bike but swap out for smoother road tires and other upgrades to make it more “hybrid”. I still think the design of mountain bikes with shocks and a wide variety of gears is good in for riding in the Pittsburgh area. The seat is also likely to be upright, which gives you a great view in traffic. The drawbacks are that the bikes are heavier and the tires, but like I said you can find more road-like tires for mountain bikes. You would still need to get lights, fenders, and racks/baskets.

Still, I would suggest to most new people looking to commute in comfort to stick with a mountain bike and adapt it, or go with a hybrid type bike or something.


Greasefoot
Participant
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Performance Bikes is having a parking lot tent sale that started today. I have not been there since the grand opening but I recall they had some reasonably priced ($300ish) GT mountain and commuter bikes. They may be worth taking a look at this weekend.

http://www.performancebike.com/bikes/Product_10052_10551_401502_-1_600000__


Garth
Participant
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My wife and I have both been riding Specialized Cross bikes for the last year or so and love them. They come with 32mm tires, which are great for rail trails and lousy city streets. My wife has a second set of wheels with 28 slicks on them for road riding. The bikes can mount fenders, racks, etc. Three chain rings in the front and a road cassette gives a lot of options for going up hills and going fast on flats (not quite a road bike, but still). Anyway, they are great all around bikes. They were $1050 at DH last year.

Next week my wife is going to ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI) on her’s!


helen s
Participant
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In the past 15 years here in Pittsburgh, I have commuted on a Specialized mtn bike (old stumpjumper until the frame cracked, then a rockhopper), a Trek (original, frame cracked after 20 years, now a 520) and a Motobecane Grand Record (racing bike, yep, frame cracked, new frame). I had to lash a rack to the Moto, but it worked fine for a 7 mile commute. My preference is the 520, but “road” bikes are fine for commuting and light trail riding- I ride mine on Frick and Schenley trails sometimes.

As far as cost, multiply your car commute by $.50 for as many miles you will commute in a year, them by around 10 years or more. Compare that to bike prices. Factor in enjoyment, fitness, and earth friendliness.


ejwme
Participant
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I just test rode a Kona PhD (sale for $899) and a Trek… something that was $399 not on sale. (The Trek store may claim they sell Konas but they had exactly 2 in store, they were not that keen that I asked to see Konas) I of course preferred the Kona (though it was really “hard”, I didn’t like the tires I think). It seemed to have mostly everything I want, and the shifting felt… well, rich.

My old bike was a death trap. I needed new brakes. I know, because I completely flipped over the handlebars on my test ride rather than gently slowing down from a crawl to a sub-crawl, which is what I thought would happen upon “gently” applying the brake. I’m now less worried about disc brakes vs rim brakes since I’ve survived in what I had, which was, by comparison, no brakes. But the handlebars were not true to the wheel when I was done, they kinda shouldn’t have let me test drive it without that being tightened, no?

See, I stopped by Performance on Tuesday after work, having remembered the Great Wall O’ Bikes and the sale prices and the really nice sales staff, and they said what I wanted, they don’t carry (that’s where I was informed of my “niche market” status). But I’ll be in the area this weekend, so I’ll try again.

I’ll see if DH has any more of those Specialized bikes tonight.


eMcK
Participant
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Any shop that tells you this is a niche market, doesn’t stock a bike like this, or tries to sell you something else, isn’t worth your time.

The “sturdy” road bike market is literally exploding with new models from just about everyone making bikes today.


edmonds59
Participant
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Which trek store did you go to, shadyside? Doesn’t sound like very good customer service. Maybe they’re just absorbing the shadyside ‘tude.


ejwme
Participant
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Oh, no, this was Cranberry, as I am currently in Hell. They didn’t… I didn’t offer them much in the way of information (other than to ask to see a Kona Smoke, he corrected me to point out they are a _Trek_ store but could order me one for money down). He asked for my price limit and I said I’d rather talk prices after we talk about bikes. Funny, I’m not sure he ever asked for clarification for what I’d be using it for, and I know I wasn’t helpful there. I was not a helpful customer, but they were polite and did a fine job, I have no complaints at all! The first bike they showed me was actually pretty darn perfect for what I want (Kona PhD). The second was just too small. The third I just didn’t have time to ride (someone else was out trying it).

They did admit that most of the traffic they get is “I want something to ride the GAP on” and a blank check from people with either more money than sense or just enough money they don’t care. I think I just confused them, which is normal for most of the people around me, I wouldn’t hold it against them.

Their other customer at the time was up from Florida looking for a bike that “could handle all these crazy hills” (he said as he gestured to the mostly flat area around us).


John
Participant
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REI might be another place to check out, at least to test ride some things. They seem to have an emphasis on practical bikes. A few ideas:

http://www.rei.com/product/796407

http://www.rei.com/product/775749

http://www.rei.com/product/796453

http://www.rei.com/product/791138

Don’t know what they have in stock locally.

They also have Surly stuff, at least online.


bikefind
Participant
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Thought I’d add to the thread why I bought a cross bike when I sold my road bike. Like many women, my legs are longer than a those of a typical man of my height (men generally have proportionally longer torsos, women longer legs). So when I looked at road bikes that were “tall” enough for me (max distance from seat to peddle), they were generally too long (from the seat to the handlebars). That made me lean forward more than was good for my back for too long. There were women’s bikes at the store I wanted to buy from, but I really didn’t want a pink bike, or one with flowers (etc) on it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with girly stuff, but I like to be able to opt out if/when I choose. I want a flower, I’ll weave one into my helmet or something. anyway.) The cross bikes had a slighty different geometry – I was finding bikes with sufficiently long seat tubes and sufficiently short top tubes (tall enough, but not too long). So we put road tires on the thing and I’m extremely happy.

Good luck with this – I know it can kind of hurt to spend money, but at the same time, getting a great new bike has got to be one of the most exciting things around.


brian j
Participant
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Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to the Trek store in East Liberty, errr, East Side, but they had a decent selection of Kona models. That’s where I purchased my Smoke.

If you end up looking at hybrids or upright road bikes, too, be sure the frame will accept full fenders. I don’t understand how bikes billed as urban/commuter bikes can be designed with at least clearance for fenders.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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Not sure if you want to go to this cost, but I spoke to “Jeff” at the Shadyside Trek shop. He said they have a Trek Portland commuter with disk brakes and fenders on sale. Normally $1549, on sale for $1299.

And I think he said they had a Kona Sutra which looks really similar, for maybe less than that.

Sorry to hear about your Cranberry experience. I hate what passes for “customer service” these days.


ejwme
Participant
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Oh @ALMKLM, it’s not the bike shop that was hell, it’s Cranberry itself – I have zero complaints about Trek Cranberry, they were very nice! I’ll try Shadyside and other trek stores too though.

@bikefind – thank you! You put into words what I’d been pondering about fits and mens vs womens sizes and whatnot.


Tabby
Participant
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Don’t know if you’ve made your decision or if you still want ideas…I bought my Redline a couple months ago using just about the same criteria that you posted. It’s a cyclocross style frame, sturdy/good hauler, disk brakes. I posted a link and pics of it in this thread if you’re interested: http://bike-pgh.org/bbpress/topic/road-or-cyclocross

I’ve been pleased with it and Glen @ Big Bang did a great job making sure I got what I needed and was fit accurately.


ejwme
Participant
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Thanks Tabby – I can still use advice. I may be borrowing a friend’s daughter’s bike for sanity’s sake until I sort this out.

I was going to say that I’d mostly ruled out a lot of cyclocross style bikes because of the handlebars, but realized that I don’t think I’ve ever actually ridden one (or a road bike, at least not in recent memory) and am purely going based on what I *think* it would be like to ride crouched like that. I’m hitting another bike shop tonight in an effort to actually give cyclocross/road style drop bars a fair shake. I’m not sure you meant to, but thank you for pointing out one of my personally erected mental roadblocks!

I did try a… well, I can best describe it as a 1961 Stationwagon with wood panel sides in bicycle form last night. I don’t remember who made it. Aluminum frame, avocado green, white tires, wood rear rack panel. A very nice bike, but definitely a Crazy White Lady Bike. Very upright position that, surprisingly, I didn’t like at all, lowering the handlebars didn’t fix it much.

So perhaps I do not prefer the posture I thought I did.

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