reinventing the mountain bike
June 30, 2018 9:28 PM   Subscribe

I stopped in my local bike shop (lbs) today, and noticed that all of the bikes were starting to converge on the same set of features: disc brakes, dropped handlebars, somewhat aggressive position: gravel bikes, adventure bikes, cyclocross bikes, all-road bikes.... what happened? What The Hell Is A Gravel Bike? posted by the man of twists and turns (110 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
As nice as some of these bikes look, there’s something I find downright vulgar about spending 4K on a bicycle. You can literally buy a vehicle with a combustion engine for less... then again some people wear mechanical watches that cost more. I just don’t get it.
posted by pleem at 9:41 PM on June 30, 2018 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I have about $17k of bikes in my living room right now. Cheaper than buying a Porsche for a mid life crisis,
but not as cheap as using the local rental e-bikes....

If you are looking for a bicycle, the cheapest drop bar, wide tire "gravel bike" will be better, faster, and more reliable than the best road bikes that I had 10 years ago.
posted by pdoege at 9:47 PM on June 30, 2018 [12 favorites]


Ah so the recommendation from a serious biker when I described following a certain trail on my old 10 speed beater that I'd be happier with a "gravel" bike is true. They exist, thought my leg was being a bit pulled. But the decimal point, whew, I'm in the $31 craigslist category, would like one lower gear, need to get off and walk up steep pitches and, cough, need new brake pads, cough, so walk down more than I should and err on the side of carrying over some rocks and really do not fit in the mountain bike roar down the trail, but those extra two decimal places sure do make for a purty shiny machine.
posted by sammyo at 9:48 PM on June 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


You can literally buy a vehicle with a combustion engine for less

Hey, if you can't tell the difference, don't worry about it. If it helps, bicycles are more like musical instruments than watches or cars (neither of which gain anything, in a practical sense, from being expensive -- the most reliable cars are cheap.) A bike has to be well-made, but it also has to feel right. Spend five hours on a Huffy, then spend five hours on a $4k bike. You'll understand. (This is not to say there isn't a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in, big-time. In relative terms that point seems to be getting pretty low.)

As for "what is a gravel bike?" Well, what it's called is a matter of marketing and what it is is a matter of tradition and necessity. People have been making gravel/cross bikes for decades out of road, touring and mountain bikes. John Tomac and Ryder Hesjedal both famously mount drop bars on mountain bikes. What's new is manufacturers taking notice, building purpose-built stuff and putting big price tags on it.

And they may be "tested to the same standards" as a mountain bike, but in general you're not gonna do this on a gravel bike. They are awesome for gentler, longer trails though.
posted by klanawa at 10:05 PM on June 30, 2018 [15 favorites]


Shit, I’d say approximately 100% of new bike stores to pop up in Seattle are focused entirely on E-bikes. Which of course make a lot of sense in a city with hella bike lanes and hella hills. But don’t get me started on the different subtypes of E-bikes. There’s speed, there’s off road, there’s commuter, there’s comfort...

It’s impossible for just your Average Person to figure out what kind of bike is going to suit your needs. I have a “comfort/commuter” bike that is woefully inadequate for Seattle’s hills, I have a mountain bike which has literally made me get laughed at by tech bros at Tiger Mountain because it didn’t cost 5 figures and I totally get that it’s design is not up to the single track available around here. I have a bike that I built myself out of an old mountain bike frame (aluminum) that has 7 speeds and plenty of cargo space and an upright comfortable posture but since it’s Frankenbike, it needs constant adjustments and I’m always having to replace parts, because who knew the cable housing I bought would crack so easily or that the braking system was so touchy. In the end, I mostly choose a dependable old Cannondale road bike that was custom fitted for my every day errands — it’s reasonably comfortable and the gear ratios work for the hills I regularly need to climb and the panniers are almost enough storage space and it cost just under $1000. There was literally no bike sales person or magazine article that would have pointed me to this bike for frequent every day use and I could completely live without my other bikes. And now I realize there’s probably a really great e-bike out there that would fit my needs, but I just can’t even.

But all these other bikes seem like they’re made for anesthesiologists and tech bros that can afford to spend 10 grand on each bike that has a slightly different application from the seven other bikes they have hung up in their garages.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:22 PM on June 30, 2018 [16 favorites]


I guess that the Rock Island Trail, which is fine gravel and packed dirt and is generally level but has many erosion micro-gullies (not to mention two or three places in the northern stretch of the trail that are washed out and look to be fixed about the twelfth of never) would qualify, but I just take my cheap Nashbar no-name tourer out on it and it's just fine.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:27 PM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


So I'm an own-one-bike-at-a-time kind of person (apartment living), and a two to three thousand miles a year commuter. In the last few years I've switched from a decades old Bianchi hybrid, to a used 15 year old low mileage Cannondale aluminum hard tail mountain bike, to a brand new steel frame Breezer disc brake gravel bike. The gravel bike is my absolute favorite by a country mile. The steel frame and big tires can hold up to the savage punishment of our near dystopian crumbling street infrastructure and my Clydesdale physique. The compact double gearing may leave me spinning out on the downhill and gasping but still just barely moving on a 6.5% grade, but it's the best combo of relatively bulletproof SRAM drive train at a reasonable cost. I would not try this bike on a technical singletrack, and I wouldn't expect to keep up with an aero carbon bike on a no drop ride, but it can almost do everything. I normally look sideways at something that's trying to be a Swiss army knife, pick the right specialized tool for the job. The gravel bike is really meeting my needs though. The Bianchi hybrid had rims that weren't strong enough, the Cannondale aluminum frame seemed like it couldn't handle the stress of a 250 pound person trying to keep up with traffic over potholes. Having drop bars lets me be just aero enough to go high speed for a few miles, but the flared out style of the drops is a bit more comfy and controllable (sucks on BART though). Being able to run a 45mm tire with fenders is super comfortable for commuting. Hydraulic disc brakes lets me mix with traffic without feeling like I'm going to die. Last week I rode ~125 miles, and I'm not a mamil so that's a bit unusual for me. The combo of performance and comfort is spot on though, especially for a heavier rider. There was a hugely undeserved market for the over 190 pound riders that gravel bikes and fat tire bikes are now serving.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:14 PM on June 30, 2018 [26 favorites]


Oh, and I sold my car that I've owned for 21 years since I bought this bike because I was worried I wasn't running it enough to keep the engine in good shape.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:18 PM on June 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


I get the shock at the price of high-end bicycles, I really do, as a motorcycle rider I have definitely had a lot of "I'VE BOUGHT BIKES WITH MOTORS FOR LESS" grar.

But the thing is, it's almost always an unfair comparison, as people's reaction is usually to compare a brand spanking new top-end bike, to a ten year old hatchback. Compare an expensive bicycle to a new Porsche or Ducati, or your 4k hatchback to a second hand Giant, and it's a bit less ridiculous.
posted by other barry at 11:19 PM on June 30, 2018 [11 favorites]


Do cross bikes still generally come with cantilever brakes, or have they moved over to V-brakes? It took three bike shops for me to find someone who knew how to fix the terrifying front-wheel oscillation that my cantilever brakes induced by adding a cable mount at the bottom of the head tube to dampen the brake vibrations. That’s the sort of convergence I’m all in favor of, cantilever brakes suck.
posted by invitapriore at 11:28 PM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


A $4000 car still needs gas and insurance and oil changes and parking permits and license plates, not to mention repair costs for something that old/cheap.
posted by AFABulous at 11:29 PM on June 30, 2018 [13 favorites]


*Glances over at rigid chromoly '95 Giant bike bought used 20+ years ago*

Eh, still works. Just... don't ask me the last time it saw a trail.
posted by sysinfo at 11:31 PM on June 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


My bike purchases under about $700 have all had things consistently go slightly to very wrong. There's a fragility to low end components that means if you put in a lot of mileage your TCO may be a bit higher, especially if you put a greater than zero value on your time or being late to work/errands. I mean, I agree there's a sweet spot beyond which there are diminishing returns, but it makes sense to me to buy up when I'm spending 10 hours a week using something. That cost to buy up on a bike is cheaper than it would be on a car. As it is I paid about a thousand and got a bike that I've put about three thousand miles on in a year. That's already paid for compared to operating a motor vehicle.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:55 PM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Invitapriore, disc is the majority across the board for both SRAM & Shimano in new bikes both high & low end. I'm kind of wondering if there'll eventually be a UCI requirement for disc.

I was just reading an article about adding zip tying hydraulic lines to the frame to reduce squeal.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:23 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think collectively my 3 bicycles cost about twice as much as what I paid for my car. At least.

The difference is I try to spend as little time as possible driving and as much time as possible riding.
posted by bradbane at 12:50 AM on July 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


My hobbies include:

Buying a bullshit trendy bicycle to strap to my motor vehicle to ferry it 20 mi each weekend to the place it's considered acceptable to ride such a bicycle.

Buying the appropriate motor vehicle so when I get there the other bicyclists don't judge me.
posted by 7segment at 12:54 AM on July 1, 2018 [21 favorites]


Some people achieve status by driving their "bullshit trendy bicycles" around.

Some people achieve status by snarking about those who do.

Some people just like to ride their bikes.
posted by klanawa at 1:17 AM on July 1, 2018 [30 favorites]


The bicycle is the single most efficient human-powered transportation, there's no shame in appreciating the engineering.
posted by rhizome at 2:12 AM on July 1, 2018 [15 favorites]


The bike I bought about six years ago is basically what they’re calling a gravel bike these days. I got a Salsa Fargo, which can fit fattie tires if I want, is made of steel has all kinds of places to mount gear and fenders, and has flared drops and disc brakes. It’s an awesome bike that I don’t get to ride often enough now that I work from home. I commuted for almost two years in Portland on it and never had problems.
posted by zrail at 4:16 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


As nice as some of these bikes look, there’s something I find downright vulgar about spending 4K on a bicycle. You can literally buy a vehicle with a combustion engine for less... then again some people wear mechanical watches that cost more. I just don’t get it.

You find an expensive bike downright vulgar? What are your adjectives and words for a million dollar Tomahawk cruise missile that blew up a school?

Vulgar? That's your description for one of the most efficient, elegant and utterly joyous inventions in the history of human kind? Vulgar?

I'm not angry, I'm genuinely hurt and confused. My bike's name is Joy for a reason.

Also, at 4k you'd get a bike that's a functional work of art and jewelry. For 4k worth of car, you're lucky to get a beater that isn't a money pit, gas hog or a rolling environmental wreck that should really be scrapped for the common good, whereas the bike is practically harmless.

So, a decently good bike these days starts at around $800 USD. That's about the starting price for a decent hybrid/commuter/comfort bike that is not a "Bike Shaped Object" from Walmart.

Mine was closer to 1100 after taxes and it was a bargain.

Since I'm a filthy bike tourer (and, in cyclist terms, a dirty Fred!) I probably have at least $500 in accessories, cargo racks, bags, lights, bike computer, seat, toe cages, and this is before I count rebuilds and wear and tear and regular spare parts.

I have now rebuilt this bike about 3 times, and it can easily cost as much as $500 in parts for a full rebuild if you go nuts and replace the cranks, bearings and everything.

Getting a bike shop to do it and just do a basic rebuild (cranks, bottom bracket, chain, rear cog, cables, clean up) tends to cost about $300-500 for parts and labor for a pretty basic bike.

And none of this is actually expensive in the world of bikes. These are basic costs. A proper racing bike these days starts at around 10k. People spend 4k just on wheelsets.

One of the magical things about bikes is that once you get over these sunk costs, the more you use your bike the cheaper it is per mile. Try doing that trick with a car.

And this is before the amount of money you'll save on therapy, doctor's visits, open heart surgery and blood pressure meds and a gym membership.

So let's take a wild-ass guess and say I've spent 5k total on my bike over the last 8 years, including the bike itself, rebuilds and accessories and all my bike stuff.

That's still just about 1.50 per day. Let's say I ride 20 miles a day, which is pretty close to an accurate average. That's, oh, roughly 0.07 per mile.

No, I'm not going to count food/calorie costs as fuel. For one I'm on a diet and eat less than most Americans, and I eat healthier and more mindful of environmental costs. For two, no driver anywhere counts their meals as part of vehicle costs even though they probably should with all those drive throughs.

SEVEN CENTS PER MILE. SEVEN CENTS.

If you can find me a cheaper way to get around, stay healthy AND have so much fun that it replaces a therapist and a gym, I definitely want to know about it.

But it probably doesn't exist.

So, seven cents per mile to give me so much joy it's saved my damn fool life more than once?

There's nothing vulgar about that. The words and adjectives I'd use would be "elegant" and "a miracle".
posted by loquacious at 5:24 AM on July 1, 2018 [56 favorites]


As nice as some of these bikes look, there’s something I find downright vulgar about spending 4K on a bicycle.

Here's a great idea: maybe you can post about the thing you like, and we can cherry-pick the luxury version of it and tell you why it's "vulgar" and costs too much.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:48 AM on July 1, 2018 [17 favorites]


Cars are pretty much universally evil, given what they do to the planet and fellow drivers/pedestrians/wildlife.

I cannot think of a single evil bike, although I suppose it's possible someone has engineered one.
posted by aramaic at 6:02 AM on July 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


hey folks, can we get away from this dumb derail about whether spending $4k on a bike is "vulgar" and actually talk about TFA?

One thing that I've noticed that underlies why "adventure bikes" are the new hotness nowadays is the steady rise of different forms of gravel endurance events. A little more than 10 years ago, it felt like there was this convergence around 4 separate trends.

* Randonneuring or self-supported distance cycling began to gain in popularity as an endurance alternative to fast-paced club rides, promoting all-day or multi-day distance events and comfort/lightweight cargo utility over pure speed

* Businesses like Velo Orange and Bicycle Quarterly start promoting the virtues of the "classic" constructeur bicycle from the heyday of midcentury European bicycle manufacturing -- steel frames, wide tires, beautiful cargo racks -- and also highlight events like Eroica which were about riding these bikes over gravel roads in Italy

* there's a boom in independent small scale bike builders, presaged by Rivendell, many of whom start building distance bikes and selling this image of all day, off-road adventure as a method to differentiate themselves from the commercial behemoths like Trek and Specialized who, at least, in 2008 were still largely focused on the road/cyclocross/mtb segments. Specifically, in 2003, Surly releases The Pugsley, which is a super fat tire mountain bike intended for touring into places where trails don't exist, and gets folks imagining the use of a bike as a true backcountry vehicle.

* bike camping enthusiasts like the Adventure Cycling Association start highlighting "bikepacking" as a companion to standard cross country on-road bike touring.

and the synthesis out of those trends are events like the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee and various "raids" which are long distance, all gravel rides which rather demand a bike that's faster than a traditional mountain bike, but has better traction and braking than a traditional road bike, and can provide all day comfort. They aren't races necessarily and are aimed at just enjoying a day out in the woods, and they have this tremendous appeal to these different segments like cyclocross racer, tourist, randonneur, etc.

I've been a little out of that scene as some injuries make all-day/multi-day bike events hard for me, and I've been redirecting most of my outdoor adventure itches to hiking/backpacking/snowshoeing, but I still keep up with old friends via instagram and some days it's just nice to see the photos and some days I miss it like woah

I had a new colleague at a recent job who lives in Bend, OR, but it turned out that we rode in the same randonneuring circles when he lived New England, so we would bond on his recent project bikes, and roll our eyes a bit at yet another "revolutionary" / "swiss army knife" bike concept being hawked by another indie maker, so yeah, it's a little overexposed now, but honestly, compared to what was on the market 10 years ago, I love that we have the choices that we do now. And I love that the space to imagine what one can do with a bike is that much bigger.
posted by bl1nk at 6:10 AM on July 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


Is there an explainer on the difference between gravel bike and cross bike that’s not a video?

I think one of my bikes qualifies as a gravel bike, even though the black one is technically a 650B porteur/rando hybrid that I’m riding as a fixed gear, and the green one is literally a cyclocross bike that, again, is set up fixed gear, because otherwise they’re configured pretty similarly.
posted by ardgedee at 6:11 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking there are always people who will complain about the notion of paying to get something in the higher categories of quality. Take clothing, for example. I have off-the-rack blazers, made-to-measure blazers and bespoke blazers. Some people would consider it vulgar or frivolous to spend ten times more on a bespoke blazer than a blazer from Men's Wearhouse costs. "Is it really ten times better?" It's hard to quantify, but I can certainly say that the experience of wearing a bespoke blazer, and how I look in it, is categorically different from wearing an off-the-rack blazer. It's worth it to me on that basis. I could say the same thing using top quality cookware and cutlery and so on, and I have no doubt the same is true when one spends enough to enter a certain quality category of bike. The thing is that a person has to have sufficient experience and knowledge to tell the difference, a willingness to acknowledge that a difference exists, and a mind to care about that difference. For many naysayers these stars will never align.
posted by slkinsey at 6:13 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I have no problem with people spending big money on a bike if they can and want to. Personally I'd just be terrified to lock a multi-thousand dollar bike up anywhere and leave it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:16 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


I've been into riding gravel for nearly a decade now. My favorite ride is a yearly race that starts when the sun goes down in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and we ride all night on remote gravel roads. You can ride for hours and not have to deal with being harassed by cars, because there are no cars. Downside is that your snot is black for two days from all the dust. If you're very lucky, you get a light rain the day of the race. Lance Armstrong actually turned up at a gravel race I did last winter, got second place, and donated the proceeds to the family of a young kid killed on his bike while training before (not starting a Lance discussion). It was his first gravel race, and when I saw him the week after at his shop and asked him how he liked it he said it was one of the hardest rides he's ever done (riding gravel is one thing, racing gravel and keeping up with the fast people is ridiculously difficult. I'm not fast.).

The first gravel grinder I did on a cross bike. It got the job done just fine, but I wanted wider tires.

I built up a drop-bar bike with a women's mountain frame (because it had a top tube length that worked perfectly with drop bars). It was very comfortable. Very tight chainstay length was a little weird but you got used to it. This eventually became my beater bike.

My current gravel bike is a Soma Wolverine I built from the frame up and I went all out with every component to make it as comfortable on gravel as possible. 45mm tubeless tires strike a good balance between comfort/speed/grip. The bars and seat post were specifically selected because they're designed to flex and absorb vibrations. If I had to do it again I'd probably build a Salsa Warbird.

Gravel is fun in a way that road or trail isn't. Slower than road. Faster than trail. Less technical than trail, but you still have to pick a line, unlike road.

I don't get the hate here at all. Sure, some people spend a lot of money on bikes. Some people spend a lot of money on an espresso machine for their home. Or for their TV. Or they go on vacations on other continents. Who fucking cares. They're having fun and enjoying themselves. Sorry they're not having fun the way you think they should have fun.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:25 AM on July 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


Generally speaking there are always people who will complain about the notion of paying to get something in the higher categories of quality.

Those people usually know next to nothing about the actual category.

I bought a second-hand road bike a few years ago (to get the CAAD9 frame, and it was dirt cheap), and systematically replaced all the low-end crap that was on it with decent components. I've started riding with someone who just spent €4200 on a new bike, marked down from the original price of €6000. I can't justify spending anything like that, and the €1800 saving is about what I spent total on my bike, but she got a fantastic bike for the money, and imo she didn't do anything crazy. Or vulgar.

You can't spend enough on bikes. The bicycle is the best machine humans have ever invented.
posted by daveje at 6:29 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Personally I'd just be terrified to lock a multi-thousand dollar bike up anywhere and leave it.

I just spent a few days working in one of those small mountain towns that is a destination for mountain bikers (along with watersports, etc). Walking to dinner in the evening, we were laughing at how many tens of thousands of dollars of bicycles a determined thief could collect off of just the cars parked on the main street. Most had some kind of cable lock, but plenty of high-dollar bikes didn't appear to be locked at all, which surprised me.

I am considering shopping for a new to me (new or used) higher-end bicycle this year. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns, but up to that point you get a lot for the extra money; the trick is identifying that point and staying under it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Other undesirable aspects of bike inflation: chop shops and pricing people out of bike commuting.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:47 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


So I used to bike back in the very early 90s and I've really started to miss it. I was thinking about trying to get back into it but I gotta tell you, this article and this thread give me major pause. I don't have a spare $800 to put down for a "decently good bike." And I certainly don't want to be judged on the type of bike I own when all I want to do is get outside and get healthy.

This makes me sad.
posted by cooker girl at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2018 [16 favorites]


cooker girl, you're apparently damned if you do and damned if you don't. My advice would be to pick a day when the weather's nice and you have the time, walk into a few bike shops, and tell the sales person what you want to do with your bike and what your budget is.

Test ride. Test ride. Test ride. Start crossing bikes off the list.

When you think you have an idea of what's going to work with your style and your budget, pull the trigger. Maybe it's new, maybe it's used. Whatever.

Don't let the attitudes in the article and this thread stand in your way of enjoying yourself.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:58 AM on July 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


Cooker Girl, if you want a decent bike for not that much money, I would recommend dropping by a local bike coop. If you are still in Cincinnati, the mobo bicycle coop looks decent. That particular one only sells bikes once a year, but bike coops are generally made up of nice people who want to get more folks on bikes. Drop by, talk about what you are looking for, and they will help you figure something out, such as getting a used bike on Craigslist and then helping you tune it up.
posted by rockindata at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


Your local bike shop can also help you get a new, unsold model from past years. Mine was 500 off and had better components than the current model.
posted by waninggibbon at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


The people talking about expensive bikes here aren't for the most part people who ride bikes sometimes, they're bicycle enthusiasts. And that's a fine thing to be, there's nothing wrong with spending a bunch of money on something that brings you joy, but there are plany of people who just use bikes to get from a to b.

Before I started telecommuting last year, I commuted by bike 8 months of the year - about 20km/day in total. I've never paid anything like USD$800 for a bicycle. I've never had an irl negative comment on my bike from anyone, ever.

Don't let the enthusiasts scare you off, cycling is great!
posted by Turbo-B at 7:13 AM on July 1, 2018 [12 favorites]


Lance Armstrong actually turned up at a gravel race I did last winter, got second place, and donated the proceeds to the family of a young kid killed on his bike while training before (not starting a Lance discussion). It was his first gravel race, and when I saw him the week after at his shop and asked him how he liked it he said it was one of the hardest rides he's ever done (riding gravel is one thing, racing gravel and keeping up with the fast people is ridiculously difficult. I'm not fast.).
Crazy to think about the skill level. A world class cyclist fifteen years past his prime drops into a different category race with some very skilled riders and comes in second.
posted by resurrexit at 7:35 AM on July 1, 2018


My peeve with the current bicycle market is that geometries are very much designed for the 20-something weekend fast riding crowd -- even bikes that traditionally had a more relaxed or upright geometry (like touring bikes) now have much more aggressive geometries. When I replaced my 1980 Trek 620 a few years ago, it was almost impossible to find a bike with anywhere close to a similar geometry. Even "touring" bikes these days are the same weekend racer geometry with lugs added for attaching racks. And I think this drives away a lot of potential bike riders. If you're not young and in shape, hunching over low bars and riding with all of your upper body weight on your wrists is not comfortable. You ride your brand-new bike for a few weeks and then give up because it's no fun.

This is mainly the fault of the bike manufacturers, who make so much more money off selling $4K weekend warrior bikes that you can't fault them for catering to that crowd. To some extent this is also the fault of bike shops, who are (understandably) loathe to say to a potential buyer, "Hey, you're a fat old man, you're going to hate riding these bikes" -- especially when there aren't any better alternatives to offer -- and the integrated fork/stem exacerbates the problem, because it's much harder to add height to raise the handlebars.
posted by srt19170 at 7:40 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Your local bike shop can also help you get a new, unsold model from past years. Mine was 500 off and had better components than the current model.
Exactly right--there was a four-digit difference for me when I bought a "last year" model. I think it also helped that it was a size 61 frame. I don't know if it's like cars, where there's a certain time of year when new models come in and they slash the unsold older models.
posted by resurrexit at 7:47 AM on July 1, 2018


A world class cyclist fifteen years past his prime drops into a different category race with some very skilled riders and comes in second.

He hung on to the peloton for the whole race (~75 miles) and got pipped at the end by the sprint.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:56 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


My peeve with the current bicycle market is that geometries are very much designed for the 20-something weekend fast riding crowd...

I used to bike commute over country roads. They weren't gravel or dirt, but they were horribly kept, poorly-patched, frost-heaved, pothole-strewn, bumpy-as-hell, asphalt wastelands. I can't imagine ever riding them in the aggressive position of any dropbar bike. Nor, without a bit of cushioning from a front shock fork.

These new bikes look cool as hell, but my back sends me warnings just looking at that riding position. I envy everyone who can manage it.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:08 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking there are always people who will complain about the notion of paying to get something in the higher categories of quality.

Tell me about it. I’m a backpacker. But I digress...

I’ve been watching the transmogrification of bikes over the last 20 years or so. More variety is a good thing! I do hate the WalMart bikes of the world, not because I’m opposed to cheap bikes, but because the quality of these bikes and how poorly they ride is something that gets people to swear off bicycling. I’m seeing gravel bikes around here on occasion and those things make for a pretty good commuter with our roads and desert. I just dread when they start showing up in the big box stores because they’re going to be the same quality as the bikes those stores have always carried.
posted by azpenguin at 8:10 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Mountain bike geometries nowadays are exceptionally easier to ride than in days past, especially for hardtails. Geometries are much more slack and forgiving. A Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo feels like you're riding on ice by comparison. Twitchy as hell.

I don't really agree that touring geometries are more aggressive than in the past. Maybe some models are, but it's not hard to find something that's comfortable and stable.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:16 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


The people talking about expensive bikes here aren't for the most part people who ride bikes sometimes, they're bicycle enthusiasts. And that's a fine thing to be, there's nothing wrong with spending a bunch of money on something that brings you joy, but there are plany of people who just use bikes to get from a to b.
As one of the aforementioned enthusiasts, I should say that while I do have my randonneuring/weekend touring bike w/ a 4-digit price tag, my daily commuter and all around the city bike is a Raleigh roadster that I bought on Craigslist and probably cost me all of $400. My first bike , which I rode for years before getting the distance bug, was a Trek 720 multitrack, a hybrid bike that was basically a rigid mountain bike with narrower road tires for pavement, and that was also around $400 (though 1998 dollars). Nowadays, the 720 label is on a completely type of Trek bike, but the Breezer Downtown EX is a comparable spiritual cousin. And it's great! I did my first century ride with a hybrid bike and would never look down on someone who had that as their ride.
posted by bl1nk at 8:18 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


rhizome: The bicycle is the single most efficient human-powered transportation, there's no shame in appreciating the engineering.

Only true if you're talking about fully-faired recumbents, surely?
posted by clawsoon at 8:21 AM on July 1, 2018


The existence of this thread makes me feel better because I just waded into the new road bike market for the first time in 16 years and felt completely baffled and kneecapped by how thoroughly everything I thought I knew about road bikes had been tossed out in the trash; I'm glad to see that things have actually changed and that at least other people are confused by the new subcategories, too.

All I know is that I love my new freakishly-fat-tired disc-braked comfort-geometry road bike, and I'd be riding it right now if it weren't raining like a bastard in Minneapolis.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 8:25 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


[It'd have been better to kick this thread off without a kinda drive-by (bike-by? walk-by?) gripe about spending money on bikes, but I appreciate folks mostly moving past that back to the topic at this point and let's keep that up. It'd be hard to excise that from the thread that now exists; don't forget that flagging early and often helps us get at stuff before it gets weaved inextricably into the discussion.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


cooker girl: This makes me sad.

I commute on a fairly busy bike path, and I'd say that 90%+ of riders are not in the expensive bike category. The comparison to Porsches and Ducatis is apt. If you're driving a Honda or Toyota, do you care what the Ducati drivers think? And do Ducati drivers care about you, given that you're an anonymous member of the unwashed masses? There are lots of decent bikes that are much less expensive than that, on which you can have a pleasant experience.

The important thing is to think about what you like, how much you'd like to spend, and then find where the two intersect.

For me, it was all about a big, soft seat, splash guards, and upright seating. A bit of oil on the chain, tires pumped up fully so that it glides along, and bit of gear adjustment so that it shifts smoothly; that makes for a pleasant experience for me for a couple of hundred dollars. Old-fashioned brakes have been fine. 7 gears have been enough. I've rolled around on more aggressive, more expensive bikes around a couple of times, and they ain't for me; not comfortable, not enjoyable, and I wouldn't buy one even if they cost the same as my comfortable cruiser.

For other people, though, they're the greatest thing ever, and that's fine. To each their own.
posted by clawsoon at 8:47 AM on July 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm so bummed we have to car-camp instead of bike-camp over 500km this week but this heat would probably kill us.
posted by avocet at 9:00 AM on July 1, 2018


As one of the aforementioned enthusiasts, I should say that while I do have my randonneuring/weekend touring bike w/ a 4-digit price tag, my daily commuter and all around the city bike is a Raleigh roadster that I bought on Craigslist and probably cost me all of $400.

Yeah, I'd say the $800-1000 range is more of the sweet spot where you get noticeably better quality but before you start getting into the really "gucci" stuff like carbon frames (which have genuine advantages over steel frames, but the vast majority of riders won't benefit from them). Although if you're getting into like downhill riding or whatever rather than dirt/gravel trails or city streets, I could definitely see $800 as the entry-level price, because you do NOT want to do downhill without a totally bomb-proof bike.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:08 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


You don't need to spend 800 for a "decently good" bike. Mine was 350$ about 5 years ago at my local bike ship - a basic commuting hybrid with zero bells and whistles, but everything of decent quality, unlike the department-store bikes I'd had before that. I love it so much. It's never let me down even though I'm rougher with it than I should be, and can handle any surface I take it on.

You can get a very decent and enjoyable bike for a few hundred, or less if used. You don't need to spend 800+ if the relatively small upgrade in quality isn't worth the added cost to you.
posted by randomnity at 9:36 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Bike shopping is incredibly confusing. Most bike companies pretty much just make the frame. The derailleur, brakes, rims, etc. come from companies like Shimano, Suntour, etc. And sometimes the bike companies use a standard series of component, and sometimes they have a special line made just for them, which may or may not be equivalent to another line by the same component manufacturer. So when you try and compare bikes on the component level, it's often impossible to compare apples and apples. And now, they've added in "gravel bikes" which are basically the same as cyclocross and adventure bikes. They're not helping making the choosing of a bike any easier.

I was looking for a new bike a couple of years ago, as my mountain bike is too heavy and the tires are too wide for longer road rides. I looked into all sorts of bikes like the ones talked about in the articles at the top (albeit much cheaper ones) and eventually gave up and bought a road bike from the store in my neighborhood.
posted by jonathanhughes at 9:48 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I cannot think of a single evil bike

Well...
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2018


I think that right now we're in a magical point in cycling where everyone is making "road bikes" with room for big tires and braze-ons everywhere for racks and fenders and comfy geometry. I don't go offroad but having a steel frame and 38c tires and a basket in the front makes my ride to work so much fun.

I know everyone's bugging about prices but an off-the-shelf Kona is pretty cheap for a new bike that does all this stuff. You can also find an old MTB and put drops on it as well! Sure, rich people are going to look for the most expensive shit possible but that's the same for everything you can imagine.
posted by monkeymike at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I keep wanting to buy a bike but I get paralyzed by choice and an inability to determine what any of it is worth. Test rides don't really make me feel any less ambivalent. Part of the problem is that I don't really love bicycling which is a bit heretical in Portland but there it is. It is basically transportation for me, I mean I don't hate it but the idea of touring on roads with cars holds zero appeal.

I end up buying fixer uppers that then get stolen.
posted by Pembquist at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


My favorite bike is basically one of these "gravel bikes" already. It's a cyclocross bike that I put flat bar MTB bars and fat semi-slicks on. I hate drops off road. I hate drops unless I'm trying to hammer it. I like my super wide rear MTB cassette mated with a compact double roadie chainring set.

Bicycles... a land of contrasts.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 10:07 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I know next to nothing about cycling, but I used to have a powder blue 70s Schwinn that I loved. It cost me $100 used. It was steel, and totally indestructible, but it also weighed about 35 pounds. I rode it about 10 miles a day, and it was apparent to me that a lighter, more modern bike would have had major advantages.

I’ve been thinking about buying a bike for commuting, but I’m also totally baffled by what’s out there. I have the same problems with bike information that I have with coffee: there’s not a lot of information at the low end of stuff, because the serious experts have radically different expectations than I do. What they find unacceptable might not be so for me, even if there are clear advantages to something more expensive. I made my heavy Schwinn work, and in my mind that was a trade off for having something I could afford. It helped that I had a friend I could go to for help with time ups and adjustments, so I don’t discount that as a factor of the cost (free advice). But yeah, it’s hard to know what will work for a less demanding rider when the reviews all seem to be written by people in a totally different class.

Anyway, to the article: I see the appeal. I had a friend who raced road bikes, but he loved mountain bikes because they were, as he said, so much harder to crash. It makes sense that there would be a balance between speed performance and that kind of stability. But also, again, I don’t really know what I’m talking about.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:08 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I fall somewhere in between the extremes of this discussion.

I used to ride with a buddy of mine from college who periodically bought a new 6k to 8k bike (he works in finance) and sometimes he would have me ride one of his.

Huge difference. I loved them, and as some suggest, high end components like a titanium frame are both lighter and last forever. I ended up buying a used bike which as outfitted cost about 3500 brand new, but cost me 1250. No regrets. I have ridden the crap out of it, even a few wrecks, and I have started recently using it for my commute home after work (40 miles).

Fantastic value. I will clearly not be purchasing another frame ever again, just parts.
posted by habeebtc at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have a lot of friends in the bike industry, and it's not just weird sales hype or dumb design that is driving this—all road bike design is converging on a single platform, and that's very good for riders. Let me explain.

Bike companies love to have lots of SKUs and they've often sold 5 different bikes that look like road bikes but are specialized to just one aspect of racing. A little more aero and it's a time trial bike, a little lighter and it's a climbing bike, holes for fender mounts and it's a winter bike, room for knobbies and it's a cyclocross bike, rim brakes and it's a road racing bike.

I've been a guy that owned 9 bikes at once, because I wanted the perfect bike for every occasion, but I recently sold three bikes to make room for a single gravel bike and I couldn't be happier.

Here's why bike design is converging towards a gravel/adventure platform:
• wide rims and wide tires (32mm-40mm instead of 23mm) make for comfortable rides. Even Tour de France teams are starting to race on 30mm-32mm tires on 30-32mm wide rims. They soak up bumps but also corner like a dream
• cyclocross bikes are too limited in gear ranges and rarely have fender mounts or enough bottle mounts. Gravel bikes basically just add to that platform and give you more gearing plus mounts
• Living in western Oregon, I can be on a dirt or gravel road within a couple miles of my house and I used to push the limits of my road bikes on taking gravel road shortcuts to get to mountain roads. Having beefier tires makes that much easier and safer, with lower likelihood of flats.

I used to tell people getting their first drop-bar road bike to buy a cyclocross bike, because it was a road bike with some added versatility, but I often ignored the shortcomings of not enough range in gearing and lack of fender mounts.

Overall, the gravel/adventure bike platform is the most versatile bike you can possibly buy today and all road bikes are starting to look the same (disc brakes, gearing that handles speed but also big climbs, wider tires/rims) for good reason. I bought a Specialized carbon adventure bike last year (the Diverge with the subtle suspension in the front) and it's now my summer road racing bike, my winter training bike, and with a wheel swap to knobbies, it'll be my fall cyclocross race bike as well.

I love the bike to death and am happy to no longer need three different bikes, because it truly does it all, comfortably.
posted by mathowie at 10:16 AM on July 1, 2018 [20 favorites]


I forgot to add the move to disc brakes play a huge role in bike design and they're so functionally advanced I would never buy another bike with rim brakes again, so it's great to see them move into all drop-bar bike designs.

My only worry is when the bike industry realizes they don't need to make 22 different kinds of road bikes and they could get by with just maybe a handful of options, will they welcome it, or will they freak out and invent new ways to differentiate bikes so they can keep selling as many kinds as possible?
posted by mathowie at 10:28 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've got a $400 Raleigh that I bought ten years ago and don't ride enough; I remember going into the bike shop in 2008 or 2009 so with no real idea what the whole bike situation was and being a little knocked back that a few hundred dollars was basically the starting point for something new and not totally cheapo, because I'd really only looked at purchase prices before in passing on stuff like little department store Huffy stuff or junker craiglist bikes.

But that $400 turned out to be pretty reasonable, because it's a good bike with nothing particularly wrong with it and it suits me well enough. I've learned to adjust a couple little things over the years to fit my personal frame and posture, and learned that there are things that other bikes might do better for me for a little more money, but haven't been riding enough to make looking at a new or more expensive bike sensible.

The comparison that klanawa made up-thread to musical instruments resonates (ha!) with me. Partly because in riding this Raleigh I've learned things about what I like or don't like in a bike that I just didn't know ten years ago enough to factor into my buying.

But partly because in my much longer and more regular experience as a musician I've developed a real strong sense of where my personal good-enough point is with budgeting a piece of gear. I've never bought an extra-fancy piece of gear, not because a $3000 Martin isn't a great guitar but because I know what I use an acoustic guitar for and I know I don't need what that extra $2400 or so would get me. There's a sense of, basically, what's the least expensive version of a thing that doesn't have anything obviously wrong with it (e.g. no fret buzz, no lousy tuners, no intonation problems, etc) and once I get over that threshold I sort of stop and look around at what fits me.

The irony here is I think I'd be more likely, as an occasional biker, to end up dropping $1000+ on a bike than on a new guitar, because I know what I can get out of a $400 acoustic or a $600 Gibson and for me it's plenty. But riding my Raleigh around I can get ideas about things that would be physically comfortable for me that don't factor into guitar-playing. How my ass and my back and my hands and my arms feel, how my feet move, whether when I'm done riding around I feel physically good or like I just beat myself up a little on a bad machine, and what kind of rides I can go on that I come away feeling good from. The Raleigh's great on streets and sidewalks and kinda a no-go for trails, which in the Portland area is fine for in town but writes off a ton of nearby nature rides, and some day it might be that I decide it's worth investing in some exercise and mental health to spend a bit more money on a bit more bike to better enable a serious biking habit. But it helps to have spent a good amount of time riding around on something with nothing obviously wrong with it, to develop a better understanding of whether and what would be worth the investment.
posted by cortex at 10:37 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


mathowie: My only worry is when the bike industry realizes they don't need to make 22 different kinds of road bikes and they could get by with just maybe a handful of options, will they welcome it, or will they freak out and invent new ways to differentiate bikes so they can keep selling as many kinds as possible?

How long until the mass-market manufacturers decide that the time is right to replace all bikes-for-the-masses with this new converged design? Once they do, the upper-end manufacturers will be forced to innovate again just so that the riders with the most money and status anxiety can make instantly clear that they're not riding a mass-market bike.
posted by clawsoon at 10:41 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


cortex: There's a sense of, basically, what's the least expensive version of a thing that doesn't have anything obviously wrong with it (e.g. no fret buzz, no lousy tuners, no intonation problems, etc) and once I get over that threshold I sort of stop and look around at what fits me.

I've been able to find all of that in a new $100 guitar... but I had to test about a dozen new $100 guitars from the same shelf before I found one which randomly got everything right.
posted by clawsoon at 10:46 AM on July 1, 2018


I swear, the next knitting thread that gets posted I'm gonna be all "Why pay $100 for a bag of chopsticks?"

> clawsoon:
"rhizome: The bicycle is the single most efficient human-powered transportation, there's no shame in appreciating the engineering.

Only true if you're talking about fully-faired recumbents, surely?"


I mean, within bikes, speed or endurance records might be on fairing'ed recumbents, but no, all bikes are a more efficient use of human power, e.g. a hand-bike uses the rider's effort better than a wheelchair. Everything I've seen with off-road recumbents says they're pretty much only for tame trails.
posted by rhizome at 10:52 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I in no way meant to imply I look down on people riding sub $800 bikes. That's the price point where machines that are usually designed with a max weight 20+% lower than mine break down or get a little screwy. Most people are going to be perfectly happy with a $100-$200 used bike that they spent time test riding and maybe an extra hundred to replace tires or brake pads. Go to a bike kitchen or a bike shop that sells used so you get a reliable used bike and not a cheapo big box bike that was designed to fail. I can't say no one will judge, but almost no one will and those who do their opinion doesn't matter.

Do not buy on Craigslist if you don't know enough about what constitutes a reliable bike to judge for yourself or you can't have a mechanic take a look at it first. I do volunteer bike repair and I've seen some near unusable/unfixable used bikes. Usually when it's some department / big box store brand that was awful even new. Don't buy at a big box store ever.

My local bike advocacy group motto is "More Butts on Bikes". We just want to see more people riding, safely.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:01 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Even though I like them as a concept, pretty much all of the marketing around gravel bikes seems to exist to sell mountain bikes and mountain biking to people who already own expensive drop bar road bikes and wouldn't be seen dead on anything with flat bars.

(I'm a big fan of blasting along gravel trails on road bikes with 23mm slicks and have thus far come to no harm, nor wanted bigger tyres)

[...] and the integrated fork/stem exacerbates the problem, because it's much harder to add height to raise the handlebars.

The solution to this is to buy either a new fork or build the bike up from a bare frameset, as these usually come with an uncut steerer which you can cut to whatever length you require.
posted by grahamparks at 11:08 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I forgot to add the move to disc brakes play a huge role in bike design and they're so functionally advanced I would never buy another bike with rim brakes again, so it's great to see them move into all drop-bar bike designs.

I hear that a lot from people who swear by disc brakes, but I don't really get it - maybe my riding isn't hard-core enough to allow me understand what I'm missing out on in terms of stopping power, I guess?

I did ride a Salsa Fargo with disc brakes from Mexico to Canada, on a lot of gravel, and I was always a little bit afraid that if I had to change a tire I'd never be able to get the wheel back on right with the disc brakes.
posted by JeffL at 11:10 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


This makes me sad.

Oh, oh no! Not my intention in the slightest!

The point of my comment wasn't about bike elitism at all, but that there's a huge difference between Bike Shaped Objects and a bike that actually works and is safe and fun to ride.

And people getting turned off from cycling due to crappy, dangerous and painful to ride dept store bikes, as well as being intimidated by the snootiness of a local bike shop and all the crazy choices and heart-stopping prices is a known problem in biking.

$800 is - as others have mentioned - the general entry price for a new bike from this season with decent components that will last for years and years, has good resale value and won't make someone hate bicycling because of how slow, painful and difficult their bike is.

This is at about the price point where up front cost and quality of the bike and the ease of ride and maintenance and long term investment start to all balance out. For a brand new bike, not a used one.

This is also about the price point where a bike goes from feeling like too much work to be worth it to "OMG this is so fun that it's better than drugs because I feel like I'm flying."

Compare that to a $200-500 brand new BSO (bike shaped object) from a hardware store, department store or Walmart-type store, and the above $800ish bike is like comparing a nice Acura or Lexus to a knock-off Lada hammered together out of spare parts. The first one is functional and will get you where you're going in comfort, the second is going to be a slog and an expedition because of how heavy/slow the bike is.

You can get a really good and perfectly serviceable single speed used bike from a local bike shop for under $100. You can pick up bare bones vintage frames, and slowly build that frame up to well beyond the quality of an $800 new bike for way less money.

And one of the brilliant things about working on bikes is almost everyone can do it. You really can. And you can do it with really affordable hand tools, even in a small apartment. There's thousands and thousands of great YouTube videos out there about how to do everything from picking out a used frame to building up a bike from scratch - or simply fixing a flat.

No healthy, sane cyclists ever judges someone for their wheels. I'll happily ride with local homebums on their DUI-cycles, and I'll ride with spandex-clad weight weenies. I happily ring my bike bell in solidarity with everyone pedaling around whether they're on a tadpole tricycle recumbent or a Huffy beach cruiser.

My only goal (and the goal of all the bike nuts in this thread) is to A) prevent people from making the fiscally and physically painful mistake of buying a BSO from a department store and B) point out that 4k for a really good life-long bike isn't really that expensive, when decent new bikes are generally 1k-ish these days.
posted by loquacious at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Nthing what #1 said. I love the gravel bike platform. Way more comfortable and rideable for all day in a way that a cross bike can't provide.

However, I still love my road bike, and right now it serves as my "daily driver" to riding to work, as well as most of my weekend fun rides. To be honest, I feel much more comfortable with my rim brakes in terms of knowing when they need to be adjusted. Hydraulic disc brakes just feel like mystery wrapped in an enigma. They tend to make more noise than I like (yes, I clean the rotors). I just never know what I can do myself vs what my mechanic should do.

Where I work, people bring in a lot of shitty bikes to get repaired, and we have to be the bearer of bad news about how expensive it will be to replace a wheel or the whole crankset. It makes me mad seeing these pieces of crap from Walmart or wherever getting sold to people who really don't know any better. The parts are cheap and they aren't designed to be adjusted or replaced easily.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:13 AM on July 1, 2018


> grahamparks:
"Even though I like them as a concept, pretty much all of the marketing around gravel bikes seems to exist to sell mountain bikes and mountain biking to people who already own expensive..."

Sure, I have a feeling of "BMX for dentists" about these, but as above, the shopping experience for bikes has been kind of insane for the past 20? years? Always? Some contraction in the product ranges will help the sport and the industry.
posted by rhizome at 11:14 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I feel much more comfortable with my rim brakes in terms of knowing when they need to be adjusted. Hydraulic disc brakes just feel like mystery wrapped in an enigma. They tend to make more noise than I like (yes, I clean the rotors). I just never know what I can do myself vs what my mechanic should do.

Yeah, that's how I feel. At this point I've relied on my more-mechanically-inclined wife to deal with the occasional fiddling with the disc brakes on my one bike that has them... Which is not an ideal situation since I'm usually out riding on my own.

I guess I need to finally figure out how to deal with disc brakes.
posted by JeffL at 11:21 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


"I hear that a lot from people who swear by disc brakes, but I don't really get it - maybe my riding isn't hard-core enough to allow me understand what I'm missing out on in terms of stopping power, I guess?"

For me, the biggest difference has been with water. Disc brakes stop waaayyyyyy better than brake pads pressing against a wet rim.
posted by jonathanhughes at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


One of my fixer-uppers is an old Schwinn High Sierra with roller cam brakes, which are cool and ingenious mechanically but fall short of expectations, and I'm definitely looking at something with disc brakes for my next bike because omg I got real tired real fast of making minor adjustments to these brakes for ultimately kind of crappy stopping power.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:29 AM on July 1, 2018


Also, say hello to my so-called gravel bike, Joy.

Joy is a Redline Metro Sport, which is a slightly rare beast in that she was born stock as a flatbar gravel/tourer/commuter that's somewhere between a road bike, a cyclocross bike and an old school no-shock mountain bike. There have never been drop bars on this bike, despite that the Redline Metro normally comes with drop bars.

But also note how high my saddle is compared to the bars. This isn't an upright-seated flatbar comfort bike or even an MTB. My cockpit and stance is actually a tuck somewhere between lower than riding the upper position and brake hoods on drop bars, and a bit higher than down in the drops, and slightly farther forward.

And with the MTB-style flatbars I get really precise and authoritative control even in loose sand over asphalt. Back wheel getting loose? Front sliding out? No problems, just whip those bars and that bike around like you're riding a BMX or a motocross motorcycle.

Negotiating twisty climbs is very easy compared to drops, because I have so much more grip and leverage on wide bars both for power shoveling a climb and precise turning and even bunny hops. I also never have issues with shifting/braking during offroad climbs or descents as my fingers can be on the brakes, thumbs on the trigger shifters and still keep a full grip of my handlebars.

I can easily hit 25+ MPH sprints on that bike, which is wicked fast for my age, size and bike and total lack of aero anything. My GPS confirmed speed record downhill on that bike is over 60 miles an hour, which isn't wise but has been done. I regularly hit 30+ on downhills just coasting. That bike also loves twisty single tracks and can go anywhere a cross country MTB can go short of deep sand and river cobble, and it can often get there faster because I'm a dirt pig and grew up riding off road and BMX.

For the bike nerds, drivetrain is SRAM x5 3x8 on rapid fire triggers and two-finger levers on cantis. I'm running 35C tires, which right now is a mish-mash of a Continental tourer on the front and a some kevler XC tire on the back, also a 35c.

Also note the braze-on lugs all over the place. There's plenty for all kinds of racks, as well as everything needed to convert to disc brakes. The only braze-ons I would add or modify is better fender mounts on the centerline and maybe a third bottle cage mount somewhere.

This is Joy in their natural element. Note: gravel!

Here we are kicking it on a dock in the sun after a ride.

Here's a cockpit view with the giant touring handlebar bag removed. Please observe the sound system and "Now Is All You Have" sticker. Joy (and her weirdo rider) like to party. A lot.

At this point I'm known for zooming around town with thumping house music and waving hello at people as I fly past and ring my bell. People look (and listen) for my bike if they want to find me.

As a homeless bike tourer - I lived on that bike. It was (is) my home. That bike has survived being loaded up with over 120 pounds of camping gear, food and water and then ridden by a then 250-280 pound human. Often off road or being pushed deep into forests over gnarled, rooty trails for stealth camping. That's over 400 pounds of crap on a fairly high performance bike that barely weighs 20 pounds when you take all the racks off. If I tried this on a department store bike I never would have made it off the block in Seattle. It would have collapsed under the load.

I've probably put 50k miles on that bike, all on the original shifters/brakes, rebuilding the chainline and rims and stuff roughly three times.

So, that's what about $1000 worth of "gravel" bike looks like. I think it's one of the greatest bargains on the planet.
posted by loquacious at 12:14 PM on July 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


The usual disc advantages mentioned are better modulation, later braking into corners, better wet performance, better dry performance.

The other things I like are:
You don't have to remember to flip the little lever or reattach the cable or whatever you do to brakes to make them work right after putting the wheel back on. I don't care how diligent you are, that's a step even pro mechanics will forget at some point.
If your wheel goes out of true you don't get pad rub or loose brakes.
You can use a rim that's designed optimally without including a braking surface.
You can put zip ties around your tire/rim for "snow chains".
You don't have to worry about your rim getting worn through enough to blow out on a downhill.
Rotors cool faster than rims on a long descent, because both sides are exposed.
Having braked with a 250 pound trailer with both styles, disc is immensely better.

Lastly, I had my number one nightmare scenario on a multiuse trail when a tiny little girl on a scooter entirely hidden behind a stroller swerved out in front of me just as I was passing. At that moment in time I'd have gladly paid all the money I had for five percent better brakes, much less the advantage discs have given me. Thankfully I swerved in time.

That said, the limiting factor for stopping performance on a lot of road bikes is the tires.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:24 PM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


The bicycle is the single most efficient human-powered transportation, there's no shame in appreciating the engineering.

As my Physics 101 professor put it, it's the most efficient machine in the world. The energy input (in calories) and work output of a bicycle has no peer, and the number two on that list is much further down.
posted by zardoz at 1:02 PM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Hey, if you can't tell the difference, don't worry about it. If it helps, bicycles are more like musical instruments than watches or cars (neither of which gain anything, in a practical sense, from being expensive -- the most reliable cars are cheap.) A bike has to be well-made, but it also has to feel right. Spend five hours on a Huffy, then spend five hours on a $4k bike. You'll understand. (This is not to say there isn't a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in, big-time. In relative terms that point seems to be getting pretty low.)

The difference is even smaller than most will admit. Department store bikes tend to fall apart because they're priced like cheap toys, and as a result, get treated like cheap toys. Been riding continuously since the 70s, and have come to realize that the single biggest factor in a "good" bike is being comfortable to ride. Until about a year and a half ago, I was commuting 26 miles round trip. On a stable of different rust bucket bikes, from an aluminum single speed to a 65 pound Worksman. They were all set up for me to ride comfortably. The difference among them in the commute was barely enough to even mention.

Almost every bike was a rescue from the alley, and a few from a lot buy police auction. So, yeah, I kind of balk at the $4k bike. I'm not going to deny the pleasure they bring to their owners. But many potential rider really don't need to spend nearly that much. About a year ago, Ikea, of all places, offered an extremely practical, not too expensive bike that was right up my alley. Sadly it was pulled almost instantly as it seemed one of the key components was discontinued in an untimely fashion. Not that I was actually in the market for yet another bike.

So, what is bad about department store bikes? From my actual riding experience, bottom bracket bearings, since I's a somewhat heavier rider, and I tend to be out of the saddle a lot. Followed by a distant rear hub bearings. That's about it. A few of my bikes are almost stock department store. The things I almost always change are handlebars and seats, as far as the "durable" parts go, to accommodate my comfort. Since they were all alley rats, the expendables often get changed, too, things like tires/tubes, chains, cables. Bicyclists often refuse to accept it, but the bikes are really fundamentally fine and will last decades with a minimum of care. Most of mine already have. And I ride them pretty hard.

A big problem with bicycling is that there are fundamental tradeoffs made, bikes being human powered machines. Things like weight and rideability have to be considered. Automobiles are remarkable these days for being incredibly reliable. But even the most expensive bikes will not survive without some routine maintenance that somebody has to do. And if you can't do it, you get nickle and dimed at the bike shop getting things fixed and adjusted. Stuff that can be a real headache for many. My older long commute was notorious for killing tires/tubes. The best route still had lots of glass, goatheads, debris. Had a flat at least once a month. This can be really daunting for many riders stuck in a rough part of town at five in the morning. I traveled with a tool kit that could get me through,, and I actually like fixing bikes, but I suspect that would put the whole notion of biking to an end for many. Even I got pissed trying to find a hole in the pre-morning dark under a streetlight. Sure, some company can make flatproof tires. But they're things most bike riders would abandon after a couple miles. I've broken chains on a couple occasions. A few other catastrophic failures were oddball higher end details on nicer bikes. Things like the bottom bracket/rear bearings usually give me plenty of warning. No surprises on the road. BUT... you have to be aware of what to look for ahead of time. In contrast, I'm amazed how long cars can go without regular scheduled maintenance. Things can be overbuilt easily with minimal performance penalty. On a bike, you can overbuild only so much.

As a result, my bikes tend to be simpler. My current commute is only about 5 miles each way. I gravitate toward a pink step through beach cruiser (cue Johnathan Winters ), about 1990 vintage these days. Or whatever doesn't have a flat when I wake up in the morning. I'm at the point where a bike is a bike. If it rolls, I'll ride it.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:24 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is this the thread where we share pics of our bikes, here's my touring bike riding down Highway 1 a few weeks ago on a camping trip. And here's my randonneur bike while doing London-Edinburgh-London last year.

I’ve been thinking about buying a bike for commuting, but I’m also totally baffled by what’s out there.

Ok I am a huge bike nerd and this is the standard advice I give everyone asking me for a commuter bike: buy a touring bike.

The touring bike, regardless of what brand or decade you pick from, is essentially the swiss army knife of bicycles. It does not matter if you ever intend to go on an actual multi-day bicycle tour (you should try it sometime, life changing! but I digress). Touring bikes are not very fast, not very fancy, but they do everything. You want racks, a basket, fenders, lights, 1 gear or 36, skinny road tires or mountain knobbies, ride one mile or one hundred, the touring bike will do it.

The idea from TFA, that all bikes are starting to converge on this do-everything all-road type bike, is basically bike makers saying "Hey touring bikes were a really fucking good idea and useful, let's apply modern design principles to it". There has been a concentrated effort by some of the people and organizations mentioned (Adventure Cycling, Grant at Rivendell Bikes, Velo Orange, the rise of randonneuring) to create a bike culture that has nothing to do with racing. It only gets confusing because the "mainstream" brands are attempting to mass market this idea to their predefined little market groups, and they're not very good at it!

So go buy any touring bike from the 80s or 90s on Craigslist, take your old mountain bike and put drop bars on it, or go buy one of these fancy "gravel" or "enduro all-road" bikes if you got money to spend. It's all the same idea: a bike that is fun and comfortable and also carries your shit so that you can actually use it to do things.

People overthink this. I am a pretty serious randonneur* and the rando bike pictured above is by no means lightweight or even all that fast - steel frame from 1993. My touring bike, which is not cool by today's standards, I have ridden across 23 countries and counting - and commuted to work most days for the last decade. The frame cost me $300 originally which at the time I thought was an astronomical amount of money to spend on a bike that didn't even come with wheels!

Randonneuring or self-supported distance cycling began to gain in popularity as an endurance alternative to fast-paced club rides, promoting all-day or multi-day distance events and comfort/lightweight cargo utility over pure speed

Speaking of randonneuring I highly recommend all ya'll enthusiasts in here seek out your local club. All the fun and adventure of doing something dumb/fun on your bicycle without the macho posturing, pacelines, or weekend warriors. It's basically just riding from country bakery to bakery with your friends in a determined but not particularly in a hurry pace. If, like me, you think riding is pure joy then there's not much better than doing it all day (or longer). And when other bro cyclists are bragging about their Strava stats you can casually be like "yeah I'm thinking of signing up for a 600k... I dunno, depends on the on-route bakeries".

It's been interesting to watch how the club has changed - and right now there is a big influx of riders in my local club (Paris-Brest-Paris is next year). Since I joined, which was not that long ago, the membership in RUSA has doubled.

* RUSA #6435
posted by bradbane at 1:36 PM on July 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


Bradbane, I like the concept of randos, but I'm less of a mileage junkie than I used to be (and I wasn't ever really one to begin with). That's why I lovelovelove D2R2; it's a fun day in the hills of Massachusetts WITHOUT any notions of its being a race, the money goes to an excellent cause, and nobody looks down on you for opting for anything other than the 180k. I've done the ride on everything from my tricked out carbon gravel bike to my old steel touring/commuting rig. Deerfield puts together everything I love about riding these days, and while gravel races like Dirty Kanza sound entertaining, I am not into the competition aspect of riding anymore (see also Gran Fondos).

Also, I am digging your orange bike! What is the make/model?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2018


Also, I am digging your orange bike! What is the make/model?
Based on this photo, it looks like a Bridgestone XO-1, which is the grand-daddy of the "go anywhere, do anything" spirit that goes into today's gravel/adventure bike. Much props for the find, bradbane.
Speaking of randonneuring I highly recommend all ya'll enthusiasts in here seek out your local club. All the fun and adventure of doing something dumb/fun on your bicycle without the macho posturing, pacelines, or weekend warriors. It's basically just riding from country bakery to bakery with your friends in a determined but not particularly in a hurry pace.
yeah, my Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 experience was pretty much fueled by pain au chocolat and quiches that I'd pick from one bakery after another. My ex-girlfriend still likes to mention how when she met me at the end, my bags and jersey pockets were this fascinating collection of crumbs and wax paper wrappers from various places along the way. It's been 11 years and I still have fond memories of the crepes that I had at a lovely roadside stand where all that the owners wanted was a postcard for payment.
posted by bl1nk at 3:05 PM on July 1, 2018


bradbane, I'm also hoping this turns into a post-your-bike thread. (Psst, your touring bike link goes to the nice randonneur shot.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:24 PM on July 1, 2018


I like the concept of randos

Yeah I mention it because randonneuring is certainly not for everyone, but they are very welcoming of everyone. And what randonneuring promotes - camaraderie not competition, inclusiveness, adventures with no prizes or winners, explicitly non-commercial organizations - is what cycling needs more of.

But yes, I too have vivid memories involving croissants in the middle of the night.

But if touring or rando'ing does not sound like your cup of tea, there is the much more approachable and low-effort #s24o which anyone of any ability can do on any bike.

Bridgestone XO-1

Good eye on my fellow ancienne I was just looking for that exact retrogrouch link to post. I live near Rivendell/Bridgestone and managed to get that bike from a former Bridgestone employee. I had been on the look out for one for a very long time and got lucky, I couldn't afford a new Rivendell as much as I would like one. But yes it is the grandaddy of the bikes we're talking about in this thread :). From that link which sounds a lot like the OP:
The press assessments of the bike really missed the point. The bike wasn't meant for an entry-level buyer, wasn't meant to be a "hybrid," and wasn't meant to be categorized or pigeon-holed into some pre-processed, pre-determined mold. It was really intended to open up possibilities -- ready to take whatever form that its owners -- serious and enthusiastic cyclists -- best saw fit. It was an excellent base -- great bones, if you will -- on which owners could impart their own needs and create their own adventures. [...] Given the trend in the industry today, to keep making more and more narrowly defined bike categories, (I think the latest "must have" trend is the so-called "gravel bike," which is yet another role the XO-1 would probably fill exceedingly well), the versatility and category-bending approach of the XO-1 is part of what makes it so endearing.
Only took 25 years for the bike industry to realize this was a good idea.

Also THIS is the current incarnation of my touring bike since I messed the link up, and here is it in "gravel bike" mode. Although I've had it a very long time and this is on it's 3rd paint color, once upon a time it was also orange when I rode it at PBP in 2015.
posted by bradbane at 3:29 PM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't have great current photos of my randonneuring bike and it's currently in pieces as I overhaul and replace its ancient drivetrain, but ...

photo from the back in my old bachelor apartment

photo from the front, carrying a Le Creuset dutch oven to the office chili competition during Boston's 2015 snowpocalypse. In case you're curious the panniers were carrying my laptop on one side, and the other side had a Coleman propane camp stove.

The bike in question is the one of the last Club Racers created by Mike Flanigan (ex-Independent Fabrication, ex-Fat City Cycles).

My current daily commuting, round-the-city ride is a Raleigh Supercourse that's almost as old as I am. Currently kitted out with a three speed fixed gear internal hub and an old dynamo hub running a pair of halogen headlights.
posted by bl1nk at 3:49 PM on July 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


I wish I could see your pictures, but I've blocked instagram because: Facebook. Oh well.
posted by loquacious at 3:59 PM on July 1, 2018


The most beautiful object I've ever owned: My Wabi Lightning SE.

I love it so much that I've even done some light touring with it (as seen in the linked tour journal), even though that's a pretty inappropriate use for the bike.
posted by JeffL at 4:15 PM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


@loquacious An old blog with 35mm photos from touring, here's my bike in Joshua Tree

PS that Raleigh is my kind of my bike obviously
posted by bradbane at 4:23 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I applaud and will support anyone who rides a bike, regardless of type, cost, or reason. As long as you're not a jerk. Come ride and have fun!

Go-to bike: 2012 Specialized Roubaix "Feather". Easily the most comfortable bike & setup that I've ever owned, borrowed, or demoed. I will happily ride it from dawn until dusk. An "endurance" road bike from back when that term was in vogue, though it's gone up and down rocky Forest Service roads, etc. Everything short of mudding and ice rides. Set up with the shortest gears one can fit in SRAM 2x10 without going to modular cranks. Has a love affair with the Appalachians from Virginia to Vermont.

For more gnarly roads, grocery hauling that won't fit in a backpack, etc.: 2018 Trek Checkpoint "Unnamed". Not pictured: luggage. Haven't put fenders on it (yet?). Slightly plusher ride than the Roubaix (wide tires hide a multitude of sins) but considerably worse shifters and brakes.

Not pictured: 2000 Univega steel frame "Blu" that wore Campy triple gruppi for the longest time but recently converted to SRAM 2x10 and sent off to the main work office so they'd have a bike there. (To be honest: so that I could have a beloved bike to ride when I visited the corporate HQ.) Badly needs a paint job.

(Re discs, I'm in the camp of "to each their own: I love them on my cargo-haulers and MTBs but they're net worse for me than rim brakes everywhere else." I will happily take a set of aluminum + Swisstop greens or a set of modern Reynolds/Mavics + mfg pads any day. I'm traction- or CG-limited in all cases, etc. I'm glad they exist for folks, though!)

Yay for bikes!
posted by introp at 4:40 PM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


So we seem to agree that the gravel bike is a great choice for versatility! I love mine!

No one has mentioned the well known version of bike we all see so much, the dentist bike!
posted by nofundy at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2018


I just completed a four day tour amongst the pre-alps in Northern Italy. The bike I chose to use for this was an e-bike (in the shape of a hardtail mountain bike). I am coming around to the idea that I might like to try drop handle bars again, but I think front suspension of some sort is a must for me if there is any chance of a bumpy downhill.
I had a fantastic time and would recommend it to anyone who does any cycling. The e-bike takes a lot of the pain out of cycling; flattens hills, negates headwind, means stopping for any reason doesn't lose you momentum and can give you an extra push when you need it. As I had a limited time an a lot of mountains to climb, I decided on hiring an e-bike. Ludicrously heavy, but as long as the battery is not empty a whole lot of fun to ride. Downhills with the motor disengaged were quite something! Certainly gave me an appreciation for disc brakes, about which I had previously been ambivalent.
Hills are one of the things that put people off cycling, along with inadequate cycle paths. Those are the things that we need to deal with in order to get more people cycling. In fact, on the way home I met a couple who had just completed a two week tour of the coasts of West Ireland and Northern Wales who had chosen coastal paths in a belief that there would be less hills. Not every cyclist likes hills as much as I!
posted by asok at 5:30 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've done some gravel races including the Almanzo on my 15 year old cross bike and I'd say the most important bit of equipment for gravel riding is air. As in finding the correct air pressure for your tires. Everything is just bonus.
Surprised no one is bringing up the other big trend in bikes - fat bikes! Maybe that's over now. (Over from a marketing standpoint that is). If you want a good time do some single-track in the winter on a fat bike. Wheee!

Spent last week riding some great single-track stuff on my '95 Gary Fisher hardtail. While I love looking at these $5K bikes my old bike works fine and I'm a crappy rider so I'll make do. Have fun with what ya brung!
posted by misterpatrick at 7:21 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I started riding again about 18 months ago after taking five years off due to a couple of very bad accidents - the latter of which very nearly killed me. I had a reasonable bit of PTSD to work through and it turned out that one part of doing that was to tentatively get back on a bike.

As part of doing that I decided that I was going to engage with things fully and build up my own bike, which I did first with an aluminium framed thing from the local bike coop that was so rigid my teeth felt like they were falling out when I hit bumps. I then got lucky though and found the frame of a 1988 KHS mountain bike. Horizontal top tube, rear U-brake under the chainstays, tange steel and in a possibly not very gorgeous pink and green paint scheme. Cost me $35. It is the finest thing I've ever ridden; I point, it goes. It does mud, road, whatever. And the funny thing is that its geometry, steel, lugs and everything else is pretty close to this ridiculously hip and fashionable thing, ignoring the low-trail fork and discs. Everything old is new again. I just wanted cheap and all-purpose, I didn't know I was going to be on-trend.

Unfortunately the frame is now pinging when I hit bumps or use the front brakes; something is moving in a joint that shouldn't be and I'm faced with maybe having to pay more than $35 for a frame, which is upsetting.

But I'm riding again, very differently to how I used to, and I officially no longer have PTSD. The difference to my life in getting back on a bike and getting over that has been massive.
posted by deadwax at 7:40 PM on July 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Man, I really need to put some panniers on my daily commuter bike. I've been riding with a backpack that has a change of clothes in it, but half the reason I need a change of clothes is the sweat that pools up in all the spots the backpack touches...
posted by tobascodagama at 8:28 PM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Reading this thread puts me in mind of this classic Big Chill clip starting at 0:44.
posted by fairmettle at 9:46 PM on July 1, 2018


So I had a mid-life crisis and reinvented a mountain bike recently. It was the most expensive thing I have ever done and probably will do for quite some time. Decades. I did it mostly over the Internet, a little bit over the phone, and with a ton of good-sport support from my LBS.

The result is a work of art. I feel like I commissioned a sculpture.

I've been riding bikes, specifically mountain bikes, since I was a kid. But there was a long dry spell starting in college after I left most of my stuff at mom's house and moved into a dorm. And it ended the day I quit going to therapy, about ten years later. By then I'd moved to Los Angeles to get promoted, got promoted, lost my job, and was living in a situation that didn't last long. (I remember, loq was there, staying with me for a month there near the end of my dark times.) The place we had was right on the LA river, and the city was in the process of installing a bike path along it.

Therapy wasn't working, and I realized that for the cost of two sessions I could buy one of the bikes on the sidewalk outside of the LBS in my hood. So I did it—quit therapy, saved a few weeks, and bought a cheap Giant rigid MTB that was way too small for me and rode the crap out of it. Bike didn't fit me, but bicycling certainly did. Joy (what a great name for a bike) crept back into my life, my work situation improved, and I decided to buy a bike that fit me. It too was a Craigslist piece of junk, and I'd moved away from the river so I just didn't ride it as much as I'd've liked to. But it fit and worked fine until it didn't.

That bike had an elastomer suspension fork on the front, and it didn't work very well. I didn't like it much, so I didn't ride it much. But then The World Famous gave me his shed bike.

Beautiful green Cannondale M100 that was re-branded by Cabelas eons ago and kitted with a relatively good gruppo compared to the past few bikes. Nothing special, just an aluminum frame and some knobby tires, but it was free and fit me like a glove and that's the spot, the one in the picture, that I mark as when the madness began.

Tops of mountains.

I started riding some of the local singletrack on the Bridger, and it performed fine. I'd do dumb things like load panniers with stuff then go ride chunk and have to stop every fifty feet to re-mount all my bags. I learned more about the sport and some of the 'norms' surrounding it, and at the same time I started to have spending money for the first time in my life. So I bought a fancy bike off eBay and promptly broke it. Then I did all the internet research I could about the best rigid MTB one could get. I couldn't afford that one, but I could just barely afford this one.

The Jones made me guffaw with laughter when I test rode it, and so I bought one and I rode it all the fucking time, everywhere. It was heavy steel and felt alternately like a billy goat and a Panzer. It got to the point that I stopped driving to rides and would just ride to rides, 30 or 50 miles altogether with a good portion of the climbing on dirt and the best part of the mileage buzzing the gigantic 29x2.4" tires down the road. Comfortable for days, and the most sure-handling bike I've ever owned; it is a marvel of cycling design. But that kind of riding I like, bouncing down a mountainside and caroming off rocks and jumps...was good for my soul and bad for my knees. After one meniscus fell apart and the other threatened to do the same I was under orders from my doctor to ride a suspension bicycle.

The Jones remains my commuter bike, and it is the best commuter bike ever. Faster than a McLaren down Wilshire Blvd, doncha know?

But the mountains call to me, and so back to eBay I went. I spent a dumb amount of money on a Mooto-X YBB that turned out to be too big for me. Coming from years of rigid MTB riding, I wanted something with give but not so incredibly plush and bouncy as full suspension mountain bikes are these days. They all pretty much suck at climbing too, and I require comfort and enjoyability from my bike, ESPECIALLY over the course of 3-5mi at 11% grade. I was intrigued by the YBB design and figured it would take most of the stress from rapid rocky descents off my knees. Even though it was huge I turned the lay-back seat post around backwards and rode it for a year anyway, and nearly killed myself time and again whilst trying to dab on dangerously narrow and height-exposed singletrack. Plus, the delightfully plush suspension fork kept bouncing me over the bars. Nevertheless, the YBB was an incredible bike that evolved the way I ride and I still have it here though it needs to go and soon to help offset the more recent expenditures.

Listen, if you want the best bike for distance XC/racing and have 32-34in inseams, have I got a deal for you! (I put aluminum Jones loop hbars on it and pretty much doubled the weight, natch.)

That progression of bicycles, coupled with some really unfortunate and unexpected life insurance policies being paid out, brought me to the point where I knew what I wanted to ride, knew what my body could handle, and had just barely enough experience to make decent decisions about a custom bicycle. So I wrote out everything I loved about my Jones Diamond Truss 29er and everything I loved about the YBB and took the plunge on Easter this year, emailing a custom frame builder in Colorado.

Throughout all this Internet bicycling, I tried really hard to give the LBS as much business as I could. Tune-ups, bolt-ons, bags, swag—pretty much everything but the bikes themselves. But my weird-ass situation has meant that I'm on my own whenever it came to buying an actual bike.

Oh man, I tried to swing that back around to the articles, but it's really just a very long plea to hey look at my bike leaning against things. Also, after I started this comment I took the train to the mountains, rode up the mountains, then rode all the way back home. Why drive to the ride?

TL;DR: ride bikes
posted by carsonb at 12:28 AM on July 2, 2018 [10 favorites]


Looooongtime lurker, first-time poster here. I remember a post in the distant past (maybe this one?) about an earlier biking fashion leading me to some like-minded souls. So it seems appropriate to break my long silence and enter the conversation at this juncture, because we are experiencing another paradigm shift in the cycling world.

Gravel bikes are without a doubt the least-stupid bike trend of recent decades. You can pick up an awesome road bike suitable for a thousand sorts of adventures or simply commuting at nearly any bike shop this year. They have precedents in earlier periods of cool bikes, like the Specialized Rock Combos/Bridgestone XOs of the early 90s, the first wave domestic 'cross bikes of a decade later (when all of Shimano's 9 speed stuff worked together) and more recently the popularity of "comfort" road bikes with elongated head tubes, compact cranksets, and room for 28mm tires. That the whole industry should get Surlified and start making Rivendellian adventure bikes was not something I saw coming, but it is definitely good for the bike-buying public. Hydraulic brakes with drop bar levers are what made this whole category possible: brakes were removed from the tire/rim/frame clearance equation allowing for greater volume tires and the accompanying clearance for fenders. Bike nerds loved building bikes like this for either taking long rides to the trails or allowing road rides to get explore more off-beaten paths, but now this formula is open to all and these bikes will serve their new owners well for years of centuries, tours, gravel grinders and just getting around town.

My new gravel bike (steel, 1x11, 50mm tires) is super stable at low speed (low center of gravity, slack geometry) and can chug along fine in a paceline at over 40 km/h or navigate technical trails if you can pick the right line, all on the same ride. Right now I have it swapped over to 33s with racks and bags for some family bike touring. My other bikes have barely been touched since this usurper arrived on the scene, and while it's not perfect (a little top tube shimmy on fast descents, pedal-induced sway when riding no-handed at speed, an MTB-inspired affectation in the form of a stock dropper post that was easily jettisoned) it's truly not far off.
posted by St. Oops at 3:20 AM on July 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


I love how wide a range of things we include in the word "bicycle." Like, carsonb, what gear ratio do you have on that custom bike of yours? To my (mostly roadie) eye, it looks like you broke a triple chainring apart, left the granny gear up front, and added the other two to your rear cluster.

I went to college next to a "youth program masquerading as a bike shop" and volunteered there many weekends stripping down donations and doing simple repairs. The clientele was mostly college students and not-exactly-affluent South side residents, recirculating the same population of 70s and 80s steel frames. If you need to repack a cup-and-cone hub or pull a freewheel (really, not freehub and cassette), I'm your man.

It was funny, because most of the time I spent at that bike shop, I didn't really ride much. A mile or two at a time to get to class, on a $100 plumbing steel bike from a company that went out of business the year I was born.

I once had a ridiculous conversation with a man outside a grocery store. He was on a mountain bike of similar pedigree. He pointed at mine and said, "So that's what a thousand-dollar bike looks like, huh?" I can only imagine he was going off the local belief that anyone associated with the university was rich enough to take a thousand-dollar bike to the grocery store. To be fair, I may well have been living a more comfortable lifestyle than his on my $8000/year campus job, with all the attendant free food and entertainment and access to law and social work students happy to give the scholarship student some pro bono advice on his slumlord property management.

I got into recreational riding later in college, first social rides with the university velo club and then I guess what we would now call sub-24-hour overnights on my own, just out into the fields, eat a few PB&J sandwiches, sleep in a ditch, and come back the next day. It was a lot of fun, although the Midwestern climate meant I could kind of only do it during the shoulder seasons unless I wanted to deal with ice and salt or else heatstroke.

Later when I moved to New York, I did the New York Cycling Club spring training series a few times. That's a great program, and one I highly recommend to anyone interested in club riding and paceline skills. They'll take you from a 24 miles in 2 hours to a century over the course of a couple months, and show you how to change a tube in the mean time. Their forums, too, are a great resource for local cycling experience, well worth the price of admission alone.

Sadly, I've at this point had a few too many close calls with taxicabs, pedestrians, and would-be bike thieves. Plus, my commute changed from a lovely straight shot across the GWB and down the west side path to a gnarly meander through some thoroughly unfriendly streets in Queens and midtown. I haven't ridden in two or three years, and with a baby on the way it seems unlikely I'm going to pick that up any time soon. So long, and thanks for all the fish, I guess.

Anyway, carsonb, what is up with those gears? What is that crazy parallelogram contraption on your front fork? And why does your fork curve backwards? I'm super curious.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:30 AM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Anyway, carsonb, what is up with those gears? What is that crazy parallelogram contraption on your front fork? And why does your fork curve backwards? I'm super curious.

So many weird decisions were made for this bike! I didn't like the full suspension options (see above with all the OTBs...plus, the current range of dampened suspension forks designed to clear Plus tires is like 2 and neither of them are great), was medically barred from the rigid option, so went with the Lauf fatbike fork. This was also the option with the largest fork offset. Since I was attempting to replicate the geometry of the Jones, which has a ridiculous offset number—nearly twice that of most other forks—the Lauf came the closest to giving me the "trail" measurement I wanted.

As the name implies, it's leaf-sprung with no damping. Which is scary-sounding, "You ride down that on a pogo stick?" but in practice is really, really incredibly good. It offers all of the handling plusses I was after, has some flex and soaks up gobs of chatter on the road and trail, and it looks freaking awesome. The fork attaches to the bike via the forward-thrust main arms, and to the wheel and brake through the rear floating pieces. The axle/brake pieces are attached to the main arms with a total of 12 glassine leafs, that are a proprietary compound akin to carbon fiber but more like glass fiber. They make some weird sounds when they're working hard.

There's a gravel bike version of the Lauf too, coincidentally. I get a lot of questions about it, especially how I rate it, and overall it is excellent. The one application it has given me a little trouble with was hauling a fully-loaded BOB trailer down a mountain. Probably would have wanted the extra-stiff version for that instead of the regular-stiff version I have. BOBs make front ends wobbly anyway, but watching the front wheel use all of its clearance under load/braking was really unnerving.

The drivetrain is SRAM GX Eagle with a 28-tooth chainring. It's 1x12! The dinner plate in the back has 50 teeth! I've got a normal 3x10 setup on the Jones, and the Moots came with a 2x10, so I've been working my way towards simplifying my thumb controls. I asked about installing a 2x10 since I knew I'd be riding plenty of mixed terrain, but it's nigh on impossible to squeeze a front derailleur onto the curved seat tube. Now that I don't need my left thumb to shift, I can use it to operate my seat dropper. LOL.

The drivetrain and fork are pretty distracting, and it's obviously a mountain bike, so I think most people look over the rear shock but don't notice that there aren't any pivot points. It's a pivot-less full-suspension bicycle!
posted by carsonb at 7:48 AM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


My gravel bike.

deleted the long list of components/specs

I bought it as a naked frame/fork and built it up from scratch with everything I wanted, including building the wheels. Bars and seatpost were selected for comfort on long bumpy rides.

Since that pic was taken I've moved the 2.1" tires to 45mm tires (tubeless) and I've added a nicer stem and cut down the steerer tube (that stem was just to see if I liked the rise/reach). Steerer tube hadn't been cut yet because that was the first ride.

I can swap it to a belt drive if I want, which I'm thinking about if I go with an internal hub one day. For now I'm happy with it. Fun and comfortable.

Lately my mountain bike has been getting the most miles.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:58 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Every time I try to convince my wife I could use a new bike, she reminds me that I already have 3.

Not giving up the road bike although I don't ride it much, because my kid can't keep up with me when I do.

Not giving up the trail bike because my kid is getting interested in trail rides, and if I sell it, odds are I'll never buy a replacement.

Not giving up the street bike because I have had it since 1993 and I love the thing, sweet-ass 1990's paint job and all...
posted by caution live frogs at 9:28 AM on July 2, 2018


Everyone needs two bikes. Maybe three if you do trails. Maybe four if you race. Five if you have an old classic you love working on. Six if you have a winter beater. Sev... uhhh... hmm.

No, I don't have a problem; maybe you have a problem. *akimbo*

(I only have 1.5 bikes per person in my house right now but it's a challenge every day. A real challenge.)
posted by introp at 11:17 AM on July 2, 2018


What The Hell Is A Gravel Bike?

It's awesome, that's what it is.
posted by slogger at 11:41 AM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


This thread got me to go out and do some much needed maintenance on one of my bikes, and I kind of love how, after you zone out hand cranking the pedals for a long time while adjusting derailleurs and oiling the chain, your brain expects your phone to scroll with the same resistance, speed and feel as the pedals for a half hour or so after.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:19 PM on July 2, 2018


Thanks to everybody that’s pointed out the lineage from touring bikes to do-it-all mtbs to disc-brake cross bikes to gravel and all-road and adventure-touring—it’s been a great pleasure to see people like Grant Peterson and Surly validated, and to see how the one-bike-for-almost-everything concept has evolved with technology and the times.

(Also, now I want to convert my Salsa Fargo to a 1x drivetrain, like the one on my all-vintage-parts (except the Schwalbe Big Apples) Bridgestone MB-1 town bike.)
posted by box at 5:36 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Aaaahhh, the XO-1! I have a Handsome XOXO, which is a lovingly produced replica of the XO-1, right down to the 1" steerer tube (seriously Handsome, why not 1 1/8"?!?). It was offered it only in two sizes, and my old place of employment had the smaller frame lying around, and it was calling out to me. I built it up with Velo Orange sweepy drop bars and 10 speed bar end shifters and 650B wheels and big fat tires, and it has been so much fun to ride. I just wish it were a little bigger.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:59 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


And carsonb, that is one sick mtb! Love the fork!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:10 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


The XO-1 is probably the closest forerunner to to the gravel bike, geometry and intended purpose-wise, but emerged on a totally different market. Bike shops stocked a wide range of 26" (559) tires, from smooth 23mm road slicks to aggressively knobby 55mm beasts. The 92 model version I have came with caliper brakes which limits you to tires in the mid 40s, but even then you had a good selection in the 90s, with a number of tread patterns from which to choose. Sadly, getting this bike shod today requires hunting the depths of the internet as almost no shops stock a selection of 26" tires anymore, and manufacturers are focusing on other sizes.

The 700c/622 rims on gravel bikes, for example, can be clad in a dizzying array of rubber from unfashionable 18mm rock hard slicks to 75mm monsters. And by using disc brakes, if the frame doesn't accommodate your chosen tire size one has the option of lacing up a new set of wheels with 650b/584 rims and squeezing an extra few millimeters of volume in there. Some models even are even planned around multiple wheel sizes like this (One UP for example.)

Ultimately, as the title of this post suggests, gravel bikes have emerged to fill the niche mountain bikes (and the XO-1) once filled as utilitarian but fun adventure machines as mountain bikes have evolved into bouncy-bouncy enduro mounts. "Gravel" bikes take a little more skill to ride on trails, and a little more effort to ride fast on the road, but these are fine compromises for a bike that is so much more useful than its moniker suggests.
posted by St. Oops at 11:20 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


So many recent advances in design and technology pushing the gravel scene to fruition… the biggest ones for me are wide 650b tubeless wheels and compact wide-range gearing. I love being able to air way down for traction on soft surfaces if needed, and an extra plush ride. I used to own the last gen steel S-Works MTB from the 90s, which was effectively an XC setup (hardtail, 26", XT/XTR group), and my Endpoint does everything just a little bit smoother.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Lots of rain here means no mountain biking allowed for a few more days, so the gravel bike is going to get some quality time tomorrow.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2018


"Ahh, I bet this is a carsonb comment/post, yep it is. Man, I wish we could go riding some time. I bet I could keep up with him on some twisty downhills and single tracks even on my totally rigid XC/hybrid weirdness and skinny touring tires, because I've been riding so long and I'm obviously so badass..."

The result is a work of art. I feel like I commissioned a sculpture.

"SWEET JESUS OK MAYBE NOT. WHAT THE FUCK EVEN IS THAT, WHAT PLANET IS IT FROM AND FURTHER DOES IT EAT PEOPLE?"
posted by loquacious at 11:02 AM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


No, it eats singletrack. And gravel.
posted by carsonb at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


...and gravel made from people. Shhh.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:17 AM on July 22, 2018


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