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Old 04-16-08, 02:25 PM   #1
kbblodorn
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Suspension or No?

I have just started commuting to work, about 18 miles each way. I put some slicks on my old (circa 1992) Rockhopper with rigid fork. I'm finding that the roads and bike paths that make up my route are in awful condition after a brutal winter, and the frost heaves and potholes are just beating me up. In addition, my old Rockhopper hasn't seen wrench nor lube since I don't know when.

I am looking forward to commuting as much as possible going forward, but I need to either overhaul the Rockhopper or get a new bike. Based on the beating I've taken on Milwaukee's finest cement roads, I'm leaning towards a new bike with front suspension. If I overhaul, I will need to replace the entire drivetrain (it's pretty nasty looking), and I will still be getting beat up until the city repaves the roads (if they bother with that). Based on some online research, I like the looks of the Gary Fisher Kaitai and the Specialized Crosstrail Sport. To save a few bucks, I would also look at entry level MTB's (but would really prefer the road bike gearing, 48:11 top end). This bike will be mainly used for this commute, with some occasional family trail riding. No serious singletrack or anything like that. I have a good road bike for my fun rides (just don't want to subject it to the commute). Thoughts?

Thanks!
Keith
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Old 04-16-08, 02:50 PM   #2
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High volume tires would work well too, if you could fit a 26x2.35 Big Apple into your frame it would make a big difference in comfort.

Personally, I quite liked the Gary Fisher Utopia (and I understand the Katai is its little brother) so the Katai could be okay. Don't know about the Specialized.
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Old 04-16-08, 02:52 PM   #3
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If you replace the Rockhopper, you should still keep it and fix it up as time/budget permits, that's a pretty useful frame.
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Old 04-16-08, 02:56 PM   #4
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I have 1.95" tires on there now, at 65PSI. It's a tradeoff because I really want to keep the speed up, given the distance. So I'm hoping that one of these "hybrid" bikes with suspension will smooth out the bumps a little but let me keep the speed up.

I do plan to keep the Rockhopper either way. Replacing the drive train on it will be a great way to teach myself a little bit about bike maintenance! (Course, if I buy a new one, that'll take care of the budget for the next year or so...)

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Old 04-16-08, 03:05 PM   #5
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I think the cheap front shock on a hybrid will slow you down at least as much as fatter slicks on your current bike, so if you want speed, stay with a rigid fork.

I replaced the suspension fork on my Sedona DX with a rigid fork, and I like riding it a lot more now. I run 1.5" Serfas Drifters on it at maximum pressure. I suspect that many of my roads are as bad as yours. With proper riding style, shocks are really not needed for road riding. When you see some crumbled concrete, stand on your pedals, loosen your body and grip a bit and glide over the debris letting your legs and arms absorb the shock while your bike bounces over the rough stuff. They'll do much better than a cheap suspension fork. I admit there are areas where the bad pavement is too long to coast over, but in that case, just choose the smoothest path and relax.

Of course, I would never stand in the way of someone getting a new bike.
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Old 04-16-08, 03:12 PM   #6
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I find a rigid frame handles potholes, bumps and general nastiness about as well as a suspension frame. If I "post" bumps, so that my arms and legs absorb the shock, life is good. If I don't, it's a helluva jolt either way. I have noticed that having things bouncing or rattling around on the bike makes it feel much less stable on rough roads. So fixing up the drive train and making sure that all the bits that should be tight *are* tight might help.

If you're fixing up the drivetrain anyway, you can modify the gearing to suit your taste.
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Old 04-16-08, 03:19 PM   #7
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I'm amazed at how bad these roads are. I suppose I shouldn't be, since the news this winter kept running stories about how all the repair shops were chuck full of cars mangled by the pot holes. What has me thinking suspension is those concrete roads where they leave the expansion joints every 20 feet or so. Those expansion joints are now huge holes. The other day, I had my water bottle fly out after hitting one, and had a pannier bag fall completely off the bike twice (and part way off a third time). (I added additional bungees to hold the bags on, which did the trick on yesterday's ride). I end up trying to bunny-hop the worst of them, which is really a pain in the neck.

I've never even test-ridden a bike with suspension, so I have no feel for the difference in efficiency. Perhaps I should stick it out through the spring and see how well the city fixes the roads. (The part of the ride that's on bike paths is smooth as silk, at least the parts that are not under water...)
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Old 04-16-08, 03:34 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by kbblodorn View Post
I have just started commuting to work, about 18 miles each way. I put some slicks on my old (circa 1992) Rockhopper with rigid fork. I'm finding that the roads and bike paths that make up my route are in awful condition after a brutal winter, and the frost heaves and potholes are just beating me up. In addition, my old Rockhopper hasn't seen wrench nor lube since I don't know when.

I am looking forward to commuting as much as possible going forward, but I need to either overhaul the Rockhopper or get a new bike. Based on the beating I've taken on Milwaukee's finest cement roads, I'm leaning towards a new bike with front suspension. If I overhaul, I will need to replace the entire drivetrain (it's pretty nasty looking), and I will still be getting beat up until the city repaves the roads (if they bother with that). Based on some online research, I like the looks of the Gary Fisher Kaitai and the Specialized Crosstrail Sport. To save a few bucks, I would also look at entry level MTB's (but would really prefer the road bike gearing, 48:11 top end). This bike will be mainly used for this commute, with some occasional family trail riding. No serious singletrack or anything like that. I have a good road bike for my fun rides (just don't want to subject it to the commute). Thoughts?

Thanks!
Keith
Hummn! Nasty looking drivetrain.. How? Is it worn out or just dirty? If it's just dirty then you need to spend a little quality time with a chain cleaning machine, mineral spirits, and old rags and clean it out. Or take it in to you local LBS and the them clean it and give the bike a general overhaul. There is no doubt your rockhopper still has lots of life left especially as an on the road commuter. To me it looks like your just looking for affirmation to buy a new bike. That's okay though it quite a natural thing to do.


To a degree it still believe Joe Breeze's philosophy on commuter/town bikes (26" Wheels over 700C). The problem is most MTB are geared low and ride a little like a tank or a bulldozer over the road. I recently picked up a '07 Specialized Sirrus and I'm evaluating it on Houston streets to see if it rides better than my hybridized '89 Alpine Monitor Pass. So far on of the things I noticed is the Sirrus is geared higher, like a road bike and on the short rides I've been on it feels faster than my MTB. Also, compared to the tires 26 X 2.1 I was once running on the MTB the 26 X 1.5 Michelins have always felt a little harsh. My thinking it to stay with a road tread, but to go back to a 26 X 2ish size.

Which brings me back to your situation. You mentioned that you wanted road gearing, well by definition that would not be an out of the box MTB, however, that might fit the definition of a true hybrid like a Specialized Sirrus or the Crosstrail. However, if you looking for a comfy ride going fat tire might be the better way. My experience is that 700C lacks the air volume and always seems comparable to my 26 X 1.5 Michelins, but 26 X 2.n alws seems to have more "float" over rough stuff.
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Old 04-16-08, 03:43 PM   #9
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Probably beyond your price range considering the bikes you posted as examples, but I LUST after a Cannondale Bad Boy Ultra...
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Old 04-16-08, 03:52 PM   #10
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By nasty drivetrain, I mean it's most likely worn out. There's a persistent squeal from the cranks while pedalling, not sure if that's the chain or the BB. I can't seem to get the rear derailleur adjusted so that it shifts right (though that's probably more an issue with cable than the derailleur. I also realized that my pannier may have been interfering with the derailleur). It's the original chain, which I have personnally never lubed and I think it's only been to a bike shop once in 15 years. The bike started out as my college transportation, spent a LOT of time in the garage after college, and got briefly revived when I got back into cycling. I quickly borrowed then bought road bikes. So, it's pretty neglected.

As far as looking for justification for a new bike, I am actually sensing that the suspension that sounded so good to me yesterday as I was being pummelled, probably is not going to be quite as satisfying. So, I might instead try fixing up the Rockhopper for now and see what kind of improvement that will make. (I just spent a ridiculous amount of money on my road bike a couple years ago, so I'm not sure I'd be able to sell the idea of another new bike anyway!)

Thanks for all the advice!
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Old 04-16-08, 04:03 PM   #11
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Since your urban "trails" are so rough I'd suggest looking at some of the 29'er bike options. You'll get something that's designed for punishment and yet it'll work well on pavement with a tire swap.

I've got one bike that will likely be sold pretty soon that I put Kenda Krad 2.3 wide tires onto. While the bike doesn't see enough use to justify keeping the tires themselves work great at sucking up punishment and providing a smooth ride for my old body. They roll well but are heavy enough (due to size only, the construction is pretty light) that you notice some lag in accelerating but roll well once up to speed.

And ditto on fixing the Rockhopper up. It's a budget bike but it's a very nice frame.
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Old 04-16-08, 04:07 PM   #12
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Another vote for fatter tires. I have some 2.5 in. Kenda Breaker (semi knobbies) on my old Rock Hopper. If you pump them up to the max, they roll pretty well while soaking up a lot of bumps.
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Old 04-16-08, 04:11 PM   #13
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Also w/ the fat tires by the way (though experiment all you want; if you try a suspension bike, take a good long bumpy test ride to see what it gets you). But my main ride is a Surly LHT (basically an old rockhopper w/ more bottle mounts) and I run 26x2.0 big apples at 50psi. Very smoooove.
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Old 04-16-08, 05:11 PM   #14
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Also w/ the fat tires by the way (though experiment all you want; if you try a suspension bike, take a good long bumpy test ride to see what it gets you). But my main ride is a Surly LHT (basically an old rockhopper w/ more bottle mounts) and I run 26x2.0 big apples at 50psi. Very smoooove.
Seconding this. I've been bike shopping a fair bit lately, and it's rather surprising how various bikes work out. There's a couple sections of road in downtown Madison that make for a great test ride - concrete roads with worn edges, and a nice little rise that counts as "steep" for here. I honestly expected that suspension would be better, and well... no. Best ride was a 20" wheel steel folder. Next best was an aluminum frame with no suspension. By comparison, my Al bike with suspension beats me up a lot more. You really can't tell what suits you until you ride it and see.
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Old 04-16-08, 05:29 PM   #15
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High volume tires would work well too, if you could fit a 26x2.35 Big Apple into your frame it would make a big difference in comfort.

Personally, I quite liked the Gary Fisher Utopia (and I understand the Katai is its little brother) so the Katai could be okay. Don't know about the Specialized.
I'm in the same boat as the OP and am seriously looking at either the Utopia or the Montare (the Utopia's bigger brother). What was your opinion of the bike on smooth roads? Is the fork any good? Does the lockout help prevent pedal bob on climbs? How does it handle fairly hairy trails? How much punishment can that bike take? Sorry for all the questions???

Right now I have a no-suspension hybrid that I'm using on some rough terrain and the headset really hates the impact. Could use any advice!
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Old 04-16-08, 05:49 PM   #16
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I have a fair number of potholes/streetcar tracks/curb jumping/off road km's, and so far the only time I have really appreciated front suspension is when I was mountain biking in the rockies.

I say no to the suspention - for me the extra effort and weight would not be worth it.

Fair warning - I'm a pretty small guy, so that may affect my experience...
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Old 04-16-08, 06:09 PM   #17
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I commute on a mtb (well the cdale badboy that has 26" wheels) with suspension and 1.25 slicks. IMO suspension is not worth it for city riding with any type of hills. The climbing is noticably harder due to the bobbing of the fork. If it wasn't my singletrack bike I would get rid of the fork and go back to 1.75-2.0 slicks. No real loss of speed with the big tires when properly inflated, and will be an improvement over knobbies and they are great at absorbing bumps.

I see no reason to not fix your rockhopper. I would take it to 2-3 shops and ask around about how much it would cost for a tune up, new tires and cassette/chain ( in case the drivetrain does need to changed). I like old mtbs myself, bombproof and durable. My other mtb is a a wheeler pro 1000 from the late 80's. Still in great shape and I ride it daily.
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Old 04-16-08, 06:25 PM   #18
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I would advise against any kind of suspension for road riding. Your knees, feet, and getting your butt off the saddle are good enough.
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Old 04-16-08, 07:13 PM   #19
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Thanks for everyone's input! Seems like the votes are for fixing the old bike and playing around with tires. I may still go try out a couple of the suspension bikes (there's a shop that has the Specialized Crosstrail about half mile off of a rough part of my commute route - perfect test conditions!). After taking a closer look at my drivetrain, I believe the BB is fine (no noise, spins easy without the chain). The teeth on the chainrings and cassette are looking pretty chewed up, probably from running an old worn out chain for too long. So, assuming I don't change my mind after riding some suspension bikes, I'll order up some new parts and teach myself a few bike repair tricks. (I'll buy a bike maintenance guide as well).

-Keith
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Old 04-16-08, 10:23 PM   #20
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Probably beyond your price range considering the bikes you posted as examples, but I LUST after a Cannondale Bad Boy Ultra...
I recently bought a Cannondale Caffeine F3, which is basically a Bad Boy Ultra with mountain bike gearing (44-34-22 chainrings in place of 48-38-28, IIRC) and 26" wheels. At some point I'll get a 700C wheelset for it, which will make it into a BBU except that I like the blue of my Caffeine better than the flat black of the BBU.

Personally, I like the front suspension. I've been commuting to work on and off with the C'dale for a few weeks, and with the air pressure in the Headshok up near the maximum (I'm around 250 lbs, so it needs to be there anyway) I don't notice a lot of bobbing unless my cadence gets well above 90 RPM. It's also ridiculously easy to lock out the fork if I want to really spin. The biggest downside of the Caffeine (shared with the BBU, AFAIK) are the lack of rack mounts - I've got a disc-compatible rack, but until I get around to hunting up some P-clips I'm using a backpack.

This bike replaced my '91 Rockhopper. If the frame on the Rockhopper didn't have a serious bend in the top tube I would probably have thrown $300 at it instead of $1100 at the Cannondale, and ended up with a bike just as good as the Cannondale for the commute. My commute isn't particularly rough, though, so the rigid fork on the Rockhopper wouldn't have bothered me.

To the OP: Putting some money into the Rockhopper will probably get you a better bike than spending the same money on something new. You might keep an eye on garage sales and Craigslist - it's not hard to find a bike with pretty decent components for cheap, and swap a little-used drivetrain from somebody's garage queen onto your Rockhopper.
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Old 04-16-08, 10:39 PM   #21
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If it helps I've taken my full susp dualie up to the LBS that's about a mile away on a number of occasions. I feel at least 10 years older and 30 lbs heavier when riding it on the road. It doesn't bob much (uses the FSR system licensed by Norco) but even that little bit is enough to soak up a lot of energy and not give it back other than as heat to the atmosphere....... Law of conservation of energy and all that don'cha know....
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Old 04-16-08, 11:23 PM   #22
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Well, let me say I haven't read every post on this thread, so my suggestion may have already been brought up and shot down. I recently had a post similar to this regarding suspension. It was suggested to me that I should try a sprung saddle. I tried one and liked the way it "took the edge off" some of the more savage potholes etc.

I purchased a Brooks B66 and WOW! I added it to my '83 Schwinn Continental, makes for much smoother ride. And it will only get better as the saddle gets broken in. Ok, I'm done.
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Old 04-16-08, 11:51 PM   #23
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