the time has come (I think:)

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Help me out here.

I’ve been letting this stew for a few years now, but I think the time has come for a bikey upgrade. Don’t get me wrong. My Trek is my great bike love. And I don’t make decisions to acquire more stuff lightly, since if there’s anything I hate more than buying things, it’s buying things that I don’t need.

And strictly speaking, I don’t need a new bike. But I would really like a bike that can do a few key things that my Trek can’t:

  • Take beefier tires. I want to get the heck off the pavement sometimes without destroying my ride (though I would also like to retain the ability to go speedily on pavement)
  • Hold racks, front and back if need be. I would so love to be able to actually take my bike and traveling stuff on a train (or ship it, or fly it on a plane), which is logistically super annoying with a giant trailer
  • Have full fender clearance
  • Be steel
  • Perhaps take disc brakes. I’m undecided about this one but it seems maybe like the way to go

When I bought my Trek about 8 years and twenty million miles ago, I wasn’t really thinking about touring or larger bike adventures. I just wanted a light bike that would get me places fast. Which my Trek is very, very good at. And though I’ve done an excellent job (if I do say so myself:) of making that super light bike serve my every bikey whim, I think it may finally be time to add to my bikey family.

So. This is where you come in, dear reader. Help me figure out what I should do.

My basic idea is that I’ll buy a frame and build it up the way I want. So I guess my starting point is to find a not-super-heavy steel frame that will be touring-friendly but not a beefcake like James’ Long Haul Trucker (DAMN that thing weighs a ton;) I don’t need the bike equivalent of a 16-wheeler. And when I’m not loaded down I like to go fast:)

So if you have any thoughts about frames or starting points, I’d love to hear them. Thus far, my top recommendations have been some sort of cyclocross frame, Surly Cross Check or otherwise, or a few people have mentioned Salsa or Rawland (though Rawland may be out of my price range). And if you have any other ideas, shoot those to me too. I think I’ve decided pretty solidly that I want to keep the 700c wheels, for example, and I’m pretty sold on my integrated brake/shifters though I know everyone and their mom says you should go bar-end for touring. But I’m open to being convinced on basically everything. Shower me with your strong opinions.

Comments here are fine, or email, but help me out if you have a minute. It’s possible I will just continue to stew on this as I have for the last few years and not end up with a different bike at all, but this is my way of making it a little more tangible. Hit me.



  1. Michael Stewart Anderson

    I am excited for you. One of the greatest things is fitting out a new bike. It is its own adventure.

    My friend Ryan builds lots of bikes from scratch. He has some really nice ones that he built last year and brought up to do some cycle touring with the kids. Both of the bikes he brought had some nice crosstires on them and they seemed very versatile to me. He builds some amazing bikes for not that much money too. I can put you guys in touch if you want someone to help with frame selection although you probably know a ton of people where you are who can give you recommendations.


    Question: Why steel?
    The only reason I ask is that both of the last 2 steel frames I got mushy in the rear triangle after about 3-4 years riding. They were racing bikes so that may have had something to do with it…… as well as the several 22k 6-9% hill climbs I was doing each week. I may have thrashed those bikes a bit. Both ended up with some severe chain rub as the rear triangle became more spaghetti-like. On a loaded bike this could be a problem I think. Of course my chain rub may have had more to do with the quality of the frame.

    Get a good quality rugged steel frame especially for touring where you might load it down. (I would still go with a trailer over more bags on my bike though. I like the bike to be nimble. I like the tires to not get worn through. Usually I tour with only a 10lb pack on my back and my tent and bag on a rear rack)

    You might think of titanium for the frame. They are very tough and still light weight.

    If you don’t need cyclocross… get some Continental Gator skin tires…. man are they tough

    Bike Geometry!!!
    Geometry is everything. Your riding position will be the most important thing you can choose. I once rode a bike that I rented on a tour. My knees got thrashed and swelled up so I had to stop my tour and it took 2-3 weeks before the pain went away.

    Get some nice quality forks. You can even get some designed for maximum dampening for long haul riding.
    You might consider some beefy carbon ones.


    I like that you want to stick with 700c wheels. You can stick some nice cross tires on those. It also makes touring fun since you can go really fast.

    You will need some beefy rims with maybe some more spokes. Mavic makes some rims that can take some punishment in 36 hole configuration. Check out the Mavic A719’s.

    Anyhow…. great luck with your exciting bike building adventure. I wish I could be doing one, but I will just get another Trek Carbon bike off the rack when I turn 56… Not long now.!!!!!!

  2. If you’re not dead-set on disk brakes, you could look at something like the All-City Space Horse or Soma Double Cross; they’ve got mountpoints for front and rear racks, fenders, and clearance for 38mm tires, and you can get a version of the DC that’s set up for disk brakes.

    Oh the other hand, you may not need really big tires; I’m riding 29.5mm Resist Nomads right now and they’re wonderful on gravel, plus are really really fast on pavement. Prior to that I spent about a year and a half riding on 26mm Nashbar Duro tires (no longer available) and liked them very much on gravel. And I weigh more than you do. (And I’d vote pretty seriously against Conti Gatorskins; I tried them and found them to be seriously awful tires — harsh riding, slippery as can be, and not much less punctury than any other tire with an anti-puncture strip.)

    Bar-end shifters are for the birds.

    • Michael Stewart Anderson

      @ David.
      Interesting what you say about gators. Of course you are right in your experience, but I know many people who ride them primarily because of their durability. My wife has been riding them for a while without punctures and they have seemed to wear a lot less than her previous sets of tires.

      As to the slipperiness, you could have a point there, but they seem much grippier than my slicks do. I guess it depends on what you are used to riding before as to how slippery they are. We have lots or rain in our parts and I don’t think my wife thinks of them as slippery.

      Generally we don’t inflate the tires to be super hard so once again they don’t seem harsh in any way.

      What I like is that they seem to function much as the old Kevlar linings I used to put in my tires back in the mid 1980’s. They allow you to roll through rough road material and glass and not end up with a flat.

      Basically, I think they are a great tire to keep you moving briskly if you are not training for a race or something. They allow you to roll up a lot of miles without wearing down or stopping for punctures. I will definitely put a fresh pair on before my next 2 week bike tour since I like to tour at a good pace and I want to have some confidence that the tire won’t wear down to the nylon during the tour with a loaded down bike. My wife has yet to get a flat on hers and although our story is merely anecdotal, I think that for us, Gators are an improvement over previous sets of tires.

      I would never call them an awful tire by any means, but as you stated… they seem not to be what you might need to be on your bike.

  3. Tire choice is an interesting thing. Some people really really really hate changing flats, so will go well out of their way to look for flat-resistant tires (I was that way on my xtracycle for quite a long time, but even the kevlar-belted tires I was using got flats every thousand miles or so, so I /had/ to learn how to change flats — none of the flats were conveniently close enough to home for me to walk the pickup truck there — and this took away the prime advantage of flat resistance) and other people are willing to put up with a lot of flat changing to ride the most comfortable tire they can find.

    My limited tire use (~40k miles over ~5 years) got the following results

    Vittoria Randonneur: last 5k miles, flats every 1k miles.
    Rivendell Ruffy Tuffy: last 2.5k miles, flats every 1k miles.
    Nashbar Duro (26mm): last 2.5k miles, flats every ~750 miles.
    Clement Strada: last 1.5k miles, no flats until 1400 miles, and then a flat every day (when the tread had worn down to the casing.)
    Challenge Parigi-Roubaix: pulled from the bicycle after the third flat in 200 miles.
    Some el-cheapo CST 700c tire: pulled from the bicycle after the 4th flat in 200 miles (three of these flats were on /both/ tires, because the debris would puncture the front tire, then fall out so that the rear tire could run over it as well)
    Resist Nomad 45mm; over 1k miles, one flat
    Resist Nomad 35mm: over 3k miles, one flat
    Resist Nomad 28mm: over 2k miles, flats every 500 miles — more flats when I got the tire pressure down more than 20psi below the rated minimum
    Horrid Gatorskins: over 2k miles, two flats

    My big problem with the Gatorskins is that they’re slippery; if I leaned over at all and the tires broke free, they’d never get traction again and down I’d go. After riding them for a month, I wiped out on wet leaves, and then two weeks later I wiped out on railroad tracks by Union Station. The first time I didn’t even know what was happening, but the second time I could feel the rear wheel breaking free, sliding across the rail, then the asphalt next to it, then into the gap by the other rail before down I went. (Compare this to Ruffy Tuffies; I have one on the rear wheel of my xtracycle and I managed to taco one wheel when I hit a manhole cover when heeled over at 20mph one day — the wheel slid across the manhole cover, hit the asphalt, grabbed hold, and then the mechanical advantage of the long xtracycle folded the rear wheel right on over. I dumped there, of course, but it was a really steep turn at a highish speed and it’s hard to steer your way out of a catastrophe when the rear wheel of your bicycle has become a sled.

    • Michael Stewart Anderson

      Yikes about the gatorskins.
      I appreciate your input.
      Great stats on the flats.

      • Michael Stewart Anderson

        Found this interesting post on Gatorskins.

        I have been reading a bit more about Gator skins around the web since we have not had the problem with slipping you have encountered. But your post made me have to do some further investigation to see if others had similar experiences.

        This was an interesting post. Gatorskins seem to protect from flats pretty decently if you look at what the OP found in the tire. Most other posts across the web seemed to also give positive marks for puncture resistance that is in line with what the riders in our cycling club seem to say.

        One person in the commentary section put 6K miles on the Gatorskin. And so although durability would seem to vary from rider to rider, they seem to last, for some people, longer than your experience.

        So far my wife has over 2k miles on hers without a flat and pretty hard riding. I was looking at them today and they probably have a good bit of riding left on them. I would say she could easily get another 1k miles or perhaps more.

        We have not encountered that the tires have lost grip even in complete deluges. We have not experienced the slipperiness of hitting a pile of wet leaves or sliding on train tracks. Many of those types of things are very situational as to whether you go down or regain control and that has more to do with so many factors in addition to the tire.

        I too have gone down on things like sand patches and train tracks, but I never equated hitting the asphalt with being specific to the tire. It had more to do with that any tire would have broken free under the circumstances and I don’t think any tire would have kept me from hitting the road.

  4. Heh. I should have known that when I said “strong opinions” I would certainly get strong opinions. Way to be passionate about your bike choices:)

    Though I actually don’t care about tires as much as the rest, I kind of just get what I can afford at the time and deal with flats as I must.

    But I’m still kind of stuck on frame. I test-rode a Cross-check the other day and super liked the feel of it but am kind of (read: really) turned off by the horizontal dropouts. I’m intrigued by the Soma, though I have to say that after I rode a Salsa Vaya around I was kind of not as into disc brakes anymore–though that might have simply been because they weren’t super well adjusted. I’ve also read a bunch of reviews that said that Soma frames broke (the chainstay most often, it seemed), though David I know you have a Soma of some sort. Any thoughts about its durability?

    Anyone else?

    Oh, also, I was chatting with a fellow at a bike shop who said that triple chainrings are falling out of favor now, which sort of broke my heart cuz I love my granny gear. Is this true? Should I be convincing myself that a double can cover the whole range of gears that I’ve come to know and love?

  5. I like my Speedster; it’s up to about 25,000 miles now and is still happily chugging along. I’ve never heard anything about the chainstays breaking on them, but I’m not that hooked into bike culture so I wouldn’t know), and the only bizarre design features it’s got is the only verticalish dropouts (theyre angled just enough so that it messes with my fender line unless I deflate the tires before extracting/inserting the wheels) and the sucky clearance on the stock fork (that’s what provoked me into getting a Double Cross fork and reraking it — it’s nice to have some additional stability for no-handed riding, but it’s /really/ nice to have enough clearance under the fork for Nomads and proper fenders. Which the pink ones aren’t :-)

    I fully expect that the midlifecrisismobile will last me until I’m either squashed by a SUV or am too feeble to ride a bicycle.

    I think that a compact double chainring pretty much covers all the ground that a triple does; I use a 50/34 front, and I get, when I’ve got a fat enough (11-32) cassette on the midlifecrisismobile, 110-30 gear inches. (I’ve got an 11-34 cassette, which would give me 110-28 gear inches.) I’ve never even used a triple, mainly because I like a narrow tread and it’s hard to fit a triple (I’ve tried!) into the 140mm gap between cranks.

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