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Thread: Upgrade Advice

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    Senior Member derekthelion's Avatar
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    Upgrade Advice

    Hey All: Its been a while since I've posted on here. This semester killed me!

    Anyway, I've been commuting now for about a year. The bike I use was never purchased with the intent of commuting, and i am beginning to see its weaknesses for such a job. Here's a photo:


    Its cons: its an older bike (nothing wrong w/ that), but its a very heavy bike. I commute mainly hills, and having such a heavy bike can be a bit of a pain. Not to mention, with its age it also has old parts. Many of which I have a hard time finding replacements for, and its difficult to use some modern parts or additions to the bike. I can already begin to feel some issues arising with the derailer, and its also a bit too small for me. While the Mixte frame is cool, It can be an issue as well.

    I have about $1000 to spend on a bike. I'd like to spend less if possible, but that's my limit. Like I said, I have a commute of anywhere between 8-22 miles each day. Most of it is hills, completely road (no trail or anything). I dont even know where to begin in terms of what to look for. The bike I currently am using was given to me, and I never really even had any experience in shopping. I am usually carrying heavy books/laptop with clothes for school/work. From my limited research, I have been suggested a touring bike, but am not sure if this is a good idea. The Trek 520 was frequently brought up in searchers.

    Should I do a touring bike? What are some MUST haves I should be looking for? I imagine the bike rack in the rear would be a great idea to look for for panniers for my books and stuff. IS there an advantage between drop handlebars vs other types for commuting? Any direction would be helpful! thanks, all.


  2. #2
    Cary, NC Commuter BiketoFeel's Avatar
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    First off -- buy used!

    Buy a lower end road bike with the mounts for a rear rack. The lower end road bikes are also typically built with more dependable components. I bought a road bike for $300 dollars 14 years ago and after 15k miles it's still going strong. Anything you buy new is a waste of money.

    I also believe it's good to buy something that is not quite perfect and learn how to make it work for you. The challenge of using what you have available (and hopefully free) is a good mental exercise. I learned this while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Haiti. I only had one bike (my only transportation other than foot), which wasn't perfect, and had to make it work for me. Fun.

  3. #3
    Senior Member matimeo's Avatar
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    Where do you live? You don't have fenders on your old bike but would they be useful in your climate?
    El secreto, por lo demás, no vale lo que valen los caminos que me condujeron a él. Esos caminos hay que andarlos. Jorge Luis Borges, El Etnógrafo

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    Senior Member derekthelion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BiketoFeel View Post
    Buy a lower end road bike with the mounts for a rear rack. The lower end road bikes are also typically built with more dependable components. I bought a road bike for $300 dollars 14 years ago and after 15k miles it's still going strong. Anything you buy new is a waste of money.

    I also believe it's good to buy something that is not quite perfect and learn how to make it work for you. The challenge of using what you have available (and hopefully free) is a good mental exercise. I learned this while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Haiti. I only had one bike (my only transportation other than foot), which wasn't perfect, and had to make it work for me. Fun.
    You aren't the first person to mention buying used instead of new. I guess one my biggest issues is not being sure what size bike to get, or how I will know if the used bike is a lemon or not.

    Are there any specific things one should look for in looking for a commuting bike? Certain brands, or anything like that?

  5. #5
    Senior Member matimeo's Avatar
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    If you don't have the experience to evaluate quality and used bikes, go to the bike shop and let them help you. There's no way we can help you since we don't even know what used bikes are available in your area. The bike shop, if nothing else can help you figure out sizing and let you know what your options are.
    El secreto, por lo demás, no vale lo que valen los caminos que me condujeron a él. Esos caminos hay que andarlos. Jorge Luis Borges, El Etnógrafo

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    Fat Cyclist
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    I just purchased the new Trek 7.2 FX. Everyone on BF says that it is low end and it won't last very long, and that it would be wise up double my budget (which was $600). However, I talked to my LBS and they said that it is a fantastic bike and it should last a long time. Since you are only going to commute 8-22 miles, the 7.2 seems perfect. It's almost half of you maximum budget, and should suite you perfectly. Personally, I love it because it is very light weight, very fast, shift super smooth, handles very well, and looks great. The money left over could be spent on a nice light set (I recommend the blackburn voyager 2.0 combo - only $36), racks, and whatever else you might need.
    “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” - Jiddu Krishnamurti

  7. #7
    12mph+ commuter
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    I don't think a lighter bike will make your commute much easier. A well-maintained $60 30lbs bike from the 80s rides pretty similar to a $1000 20-25lbs bike from the LBS. The most important feature of a bike in hills is proper gearing.

    Whatever you decide on getting, don't let fancy parts talk you into a bike that has gearing that's just as impractical as your mixte.

  8. #8
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Sent to the US market, Mixtes seem to be small sizes .. like 5'3" females.

    A diamond frame is stronger, and lighter ,
    by virtue of less steel needed for the main tube.

    Fixed up a Mercian 531 Mixte for a GF, the lighter tubes used let you torque
    the head tube with the handlebars without much effort.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 12-04-11 at 10:01 PM.

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    Senior Member recumbenttoad's Avatar
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    Anything you buy new is a waste of money.
    I don't think I would go that far. I buy both new and used and like both. Used is certainly an option, especially if you can wrench on your own bikes. I enjoy putting bikes together, but if you don't have the proper tools it is a pain in the behind.

    If you are going to buy new I find something like the Giant Seek a good choice (okay, I have one, so, I'm biased). Other bikes like the Scott Sub 30 would be a good choice. You mentioned the Trek 520 and I also think that is a nice bike. Lots of choice, but leave enough money for racks, fenders and lights.

    I actually like the mixte. I may buy one in the future to play with. You might think about throwing some new parts on it and giving it a new personality.
    My name is a thread killing word.

  10. #10
    Senior Member a1penguin's Avatar
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    Given the length of your ride, I might consider a road bike with drop bars. It will be lighter (20 lbs?). You can upgrade wheels which seems to be the one upgrade that people say makes the biggest difference. You won't be riding sitting up, but more bent over and you'll definitely be more aerodynamic. Since you already have a bike, you can take your time and find the right bike on craigslist.

    Do you plan on adding fenders or a rack? Not all road bikes easily accommodate those.
    2012 Cannondale Synapse 3, 2012 Trek 7.5 FX Disc, 2003 Trek 2200 WSD, 1997 Specialized Rockhopper Al Comp

  11. #11
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    There's a big range of bikes that are suitable for commuting. On one end you can absolutely commute with a bicycle designed for road racing, you just may have difficulty mounting fenders, may not have rack mounts, may have geometry that handles poorly with weight on a rack, and won't be able to mount as wide tires, which are more comfortable/shock absorbing and can be better if you're placing a lot of weight on a rack. A touring bike of course handles all these issues but can be genuinely slower if you're doing a lot of rides that are essentially unloaded, and in my experience feels a bit less fun than a more performance oriented bike. A cyclocross bike can be a good medium, with lighter stock builds than most touring bikes, more responsive geometry, but possibly better provisions for mounting racks and definitely better ability to mount wide tires and fenders. Bikes like the Surly Cross Check and the Specialized Tricross are popular for this kind of use since their design isn't purely race oriented.

    You want a gearing range that's appropriate for your terrain and how you ride, but it's very possible that proper touring gearing is overkill for commuting, unless you want to transport large amounts of luggage (like groceries). If I'm riding for less than an hour to commute somewhere, I can expend a lot more energy on climbs than I would touring because I don't need to maintain that effort for very long.

    I have two bikes I use for commuting: a proper touring bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker with a mountain crankset, 11-32 cassette, and bar end shifters; and a Trek XO-1 Cyclocross bike that I ride with a road wheelset and tires and no rack or other commuting accessories (except lights of course) and lately I've been riding the cross bike with a backpack more because it's more fun and genuinely a little faster. I also really find I like integrated brake shifter levers.

  12. #12
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    +1 for the LHT, although any touring bike seems to fit your bill.
    I love my Surly Cross Check.

    If yo have a viable used market, but can be picked up for as low as $600.

    But they're kind of heavy.

  13. #13
    Old, but not really wise CptjohnC's Avatar
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    Things you don't mention: How do you like to ride? Fast all the time? Slow and steady? some of each? Do you like a more aggressive position or do you prefer a more relaxed?

    Do you ride using the hoods and drops or do you ride on the flat part of the bar 99% of the time (like many folks riding with drop bars because that's the bike they are stuck with do)?

    How much load do you carry on a regular basis? Is any weight savings on the bike itself going to be insignificant compared to your book/laptop/stuff load? (trying to save even 3-5 lbs on the bike if you still carry 25 lbs or more in accessories and load on your rack seems pretty silly.)

    You mention that it is all paved roads -- what size tires do you like to run? if you're used to running 27 x 1 1/4, you might find it punishing to run 23 or 25c tires. Urban streets tend to be pretty rough, so I'm a fan of having some robust tires, which most modern road bikes won't fit. Cyclocross bikes do, though. How about weather -- will you ride 4 seasons (do you have 4 seasons)? Snow? rain?

    New can be good (I bought my latest commuter new), and so can used (my other two bikes are used). One advantage of used is that you can save enough (hopefully) to change out things you don't love. OTOH, if your budget covers the cost of a bike that's 'perfect' out of the box, then great. Also, do you do your own maintenance/repairs? depending on your LBS, you might well get the cost of tune-ups/adjustments covered for a year, or even 'life'. One thing to consider, also, is whether there are any end-of-year specials/clearance sales which might make new look even better.

  14. #14
    Descends like a rock pallen's Avatar
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    Yep, CptjohnC is on the right track. Any bike can get you back and forth. Its how you go back and forth and how much you carry that should guide your decision.

    Do you want something sportier or able to haul stuff? Do you want a comfy, soft ride, or responsive and efficient? This is going to be a very personal decision based on what you like. Take some test rides on some very different style bikes. Don't just assume you want lighter until you ride some light bikes and see if you can really tell a difference.

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    Senior Member bassjones's Avatar
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    How much and what type of riding will you do when not commuting? A cyclo-x makes a great all around bike. I have a hardcore roadie bike I wouldn't use for commuting and am seriously considering a cheaper bike to commute on and use for a beat around bike when I'm not doing serious road riding.

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    I'd worry about riding a nice bike to school. Make sure to invest in a good lock.

  17. #17
    Gearhead old's'cool's Avatar
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    Your current bike doesn't look that heavy or inefficient to me, though if it's not a good fit, properly adjusted, and well maintained that could make a bit of a difference. What I'm saying is, don't expect getting on an ideal bike to suddenly give you wings compared to your current mount. You should expect only an incremental difference.
    22 miles is a decent length round trip; drop bars will help with that if you ride on the drops to reduce wind resistance.
    Your bike is already the right genre for your needs. I would pass on a mixte frame myself, but that's a detail. You might consider using your current bike as a learning platform, to optimize for your needs up to the point where you can accurately identify its limitations and thereby choose your next commuter bike very wisely. If you come on over to the C&V forum http://www.bikeforums.net/forumdispl...c-amp-Vintage? with your questions on how to tune up and optimize your bike, you will get some very helpful information, I think.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bassjones View Post
    How much and what type of riding will you do when not commuting? A cyclo-x makes a great all around bike. I have a hardcore roadie bike I wouldn't use for commuting and am seriously considering a cheaper bike to commute on and use for a beat around bike when I'm not doing serious road riding.
    I'm shopping for a new commuter and CX bikes are at the top of my list. They have the advantages of a road bike (light weight, drop bars), are a bit more heavy-duty (especially the wheels) and have room for fenders and larger tires. My last commuter was a low-end road bike ('07 Schwinn Le Tour GS which was not purchased with commuting in mind) which worked well but I was limited to 28mm tires as I wanted fenders. Had it not been totaled in an accident, it would still be in service but, as the insurance company will be funding a replacement, I will be buying a bike best suited for my commuting needs.

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    I think that a vintage touring bike or older CX bike would suit your needs well. You can find some really great ones for about $450 on down. I have paid more like half to a quarter of that for my bikes. Even a good older mountain bike with city tires might be good if that is the way you want to go. Most bikes of these types will have room for wider tires, fenders, and braze-ons for racks and fenders. I think that you can easily put together a great bike to meet your needs for about half your budget. But then, you may have to learn a few things along the way. If you are willing to do that and like that kind of thing go that way. Otherwise, for an easier switch, just go with a newer used bike - possibly the hybrid type. I prefer drop bars, although I have trekking bars on the one hybrid bike I own. Both work well for commuting and in my opinion, are better than straight bars. You get more hand positions.

    To find the size you need, I would check out this article. If you measure your inseam correctly and find a bike with a stand over height within a cm or two you can always fiddle with an appropriate length stem and seat adjustment.

    You may want to look around on the C&V forum and the touring forum for some ideas.
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