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  1. #1
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    Upgrade MTB or buy new commuter?

    I started bike commuting on most days about 2.5 years ago on a used Trek 4500 (2002 model I think). For 2 years, I had a flat 1.5 mile commute each way in SoCal. This summer I moved to the Seattle area (Eastside) and now have an 8 mile commute with several steep hills (both downhill and uphill). I'm currently commuting 2 miles to the bus in the morning and 8 miles back in the evening on roads (sometimes rough), but plan to do round trips eventually. I've also been riding more on the weekends lately, up to 30 miles per day.

    I switched the Trek to road tires and recently completed $250 of maintenance on it. But I don't know how it was treated before I bought it and something else could always break. It's been good to me so far, but there are a couple of things I'm not happy about:

    1. Climbing hills is painful. I've read that replacing the suspension fork with a rigid fork would help, though I'm not sure how much. The stock fork has no lock out.
    2. I'm often in the highest gear, so a road chainset is something I'd like to get.
    3. I haven't had too many problems with the brakes yet, but I ride in all weather and disc brakes are probably a good idea. This is lower priority for me though.
    4. I definitely feel that a lighter bike would make 20-30 mile weekend rides more enjoyable.

    I'm trying to decide what to do, and hope to receive some advice from all of you. I think I have two options here:

    1. Buy a new bike for commuting and pleasure rides that can handle roads and is not too expensive so I don't mind riding in the rain on it, putting it on the bus, etc... and keep the Trek as a backup in case that one fails.
    2. Upgrade the Trek with a new fork and chainset, and buy a road-like (maybe touring) bike for longer rides and two way commutes in good weather.

    Any thoughts on which way I should go? Is it worth investing more money into an older mtb? I also don't know if I'd be more comfortable on a different type of bike - I have very little experience except on this bike.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Senior Member megalowmatt's Avatar
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    New bikes bring great joy.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Sasquatch.'s Avatar
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    Don't worry about riding your new bike in the rain. You are in the PNW now, if you wait until it's dry you will never get to ride your new bike. Just get some good fenders and lights for your new ride and you will be set for the liquid sunshine.
    Live boldly, minimally & deliberately.

  4. #4
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    I like option 2 !
    Last edited by WestPablo; 11-09-13 at 08:34 PM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member gregjones's Avatar
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    I'm with WestPablo, provided it's a suspension fork/hardtail version.

    Here's a rigid fork for you. I have one now. It's quite nice for a $44 bike part, the fit and finish are excellent. Heavy, but maybe not as much if you are replacing a suspension fork.

    Drivechain can be quite inexpensive to stupid expensive. If you go with road derailleurs you will probably have to go with road shifters to play together nicely. If you stay with your MTB parts you can get a wider geared cassette and have ample RD capacity, but will be probably be limited to a 48t big chainring with a MTB FD. It's not much less than a 53t or 52t, so that's not a lot to worry about.

    Buy a nice weekender.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Medic Zero's Avatar
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    Replacing the front fork with a rigid one would make a huge difference, especially on the hills. If you investigate your front derailluer, you might find it has plenty of capacity for a larger big chainring, thus saving you the expense of an entirely new crankset. Even if it isn't spec'd for something larger, there's pretty much always room for a chainring two teeth bigger, and depending on what your rear cassette is, the combination of changing the two might well give you enough higher end.

    I'm a big advocate of converted MTB's for commuting, particularly up here, but then again it is hard to resist the call of N+1!
    Craigslist is full of bikes for fairly reasonable prices, lots of them with low miles, could fulfill your desire for a bike that isn't too expensive.
    ISO: 22" GT Rebound frame, year 2000 model

  7. #7
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    Thanks everyone for the feedback! I was already leaning in the direction of option 2, but have definitely learned some things here. Weekender (eventually) sounds good to me.

    The derailleurs are both Shimano Alivios. I'm somewhat confused by the information on Shimano's site, but it looks likely that the FD can handle a 48/36/26 chainset. Currently I have a 44/32/22. That should be good enough for me for the foreseeable future on commutes. I don't think the rings on the current chainset are replaceable, and I'd have to switch out all three anyway, which I doubt would be any cheaper. I don't mind spending the money on a new chainset, as long as it's not wasted. Rear cassette is 11-32, 8-speed, which I think is fine and can't get much better. I'd rather not swap out the whole drive train without a good reason, so I think I'll stick to the MTB gear for now.

    Greg, how does the fork you linked to compare to the Surly ones? I've seen a bunch of recommendations for those. The one you linked to might be heavy, but from what I've found, it's half the weight of the one I have now My understanding is that I roughly need to match the lengths of the forks, and I measure ~460mm for my fork right now (without sag), while the one you linked to is somewhat shorter. I know the Surly ones are longer than usual - are there any cheaper ones? Bike is a hardtail, so I don't need to worry about the rear.

    Thanks again!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Medic Zero's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post
    Thanks everyone for the feedback! I was already leaning in the direction of option 2, but have definitely learned some things here. Weekender (eventually) sounds good to me.

    The derailleurs are both Shimano Alivios. I'm somewhat confused by the information on Shimano's site, but it looks likely that the FD can handle a 48/36/26 chainset. Currently I have a 44/32/22. That should be good enough for me for the foreseeable future on commutes. I don't think the rings on the current chainset are replaceable, and I'd have to switch out all three anyway, which I doubt would be any cheaper. I don't mind spending the money on a new chainset, as long as it's not wasted. Rear cassette is 11-32, 8-speed, which I think is fine and can't get much better. I'd rather not swap out the whole drive train without a good reason, so I think I'll stick to the MTB gear for now.

    Greg, how does the fork you linked to compare to the Surly ones? I've seen a bunch of recommendations for those. The one you linked to might be heavy, but from what I've found, it's half the weight of the one I have now My understanding is that I roughly need to match the lengths of the forks, and I measure ~460mm for my fork right now (without sag), while the one you linked to is somewhat shorter. I know the Surly ones are longer than usual - are there any cheaper ones? Bike is a hardtail, so I don't need to worry about the rear.

    Thanks again!
    IIRC, you want to measure it with sag, as this would be its height while you are riding it. It's not just losing the weight that helps, you lose a lot of energy into the shock, especially when climbing hills. IMO, this will make a bigger difference than shaving off a pound or two.
    ISO: 22" GT Rebound frame, year 2000 model

  9. #9
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    I'll give option no. 3 which is to buy a used vintage mtb with a rigid fork for commuting. Seattle is an expensive market but old used mtbs tend not to be expensive when compared to road bikes. You may find this cheaper than making the changes on your mountain bike and you'll end up with a heck of a nice old bike.

    Like this on Seattle CL for $100: http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/bik/4169596029.html

    I have no idea if this is your size but you get the idea.

    I love repurposing old mtbs as commuters; this is mine (I just fixed it up the other day). My commute is shorter than yours but it has some rough roads and a bit of climbing (not a lot):

    P1010646.jpg

  10. #10
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    I don't know your finances nor know how much you have budgeted for a new bike. If a new bike to you is spending $700 I wouldn't do it, I would save up more to about $1500. If $1500 is too steep at this time then go down to the LBS that did the overhaul and inquire about changing the front large ring gear to a larger tooth count, that should get you along just fine until you save up more money. I wouldn't worry about the bike breaking, any bike could break even a new one! I would think that when the LBS where you spent $250 for an overhaul went through the bike with a fine tooth comb and replaced questionable or worn out stuff, and perhaps made recommendations of stuff to be replaced, if all that was done then you're as good to go as one can be.

  11. #11
    Senior Member gregjones's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post
    Greg, how does the fork you linked to compare to the Surly ones? I've seen a bunch of recommendations for those. The one you linked to might be heavy, but from what I've found, it's half the weight of the one I have now My understanding is that I roughly need to match the lengths of the forks, and I measure ~460mm for my fork right now (without sag), while the one you linked to is somewhat shorter. I know the Surly ones are longer than usual - are there any cheaper ones?
    It looks, according to Shimano, that having a 44t big ring your FD will handle a 48t chain. They only list five but you would have to have the model# off of your part (usually on the inside of the cage where you can't see it) to know for sure.

    You can plug different numbers into this gear calculator to get an idea of the changes you would get with different gearing. Put your numbers in first and get an idea of the relationship one gear has to another, then you will have a feel for what changes would do for you.

    I don't know anything about the Surly forks except some respectable forum members recommend them, based on that I would use one if I needed it. The lengths listed for threaded forks are the steerer length, not total overall measurement.

  12. #12
    Senior Member gregjones's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
    I love repurposing old mtbs as commuters; this is mine (I just fixed it up the other day).
    That Stumpjumper is very nice!!

  13. #13
    Disco Infiltrator Darth Lefty's Avatar
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    I've also considered the hybrid crank for mine. I just can't justify throwing money at upgrades unless I can hide it from myself as "maintenance" so it will have to wait until something is wrong with the crankset.

    With a 10yo bike there quickly comes a point where upgrades are not a good deal. I just went through the exercise of seeing what it would take to put disk brakes on mine. Too much...New fork + new brakes + new wheels = $400 or so... never mind.

    Here's another gearing issue. Road bikes climb more efficiently but it's hard to find one that has gears as low as a MTB. Mine is 22:28 at the low end and that's not particularly low, there are bigger cassettes. But road bikes are often 36:28 at the low end, with bigger wheels to boot.

  14. #14
    Senior Member puckett129's Avatar
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    Get one of these: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/...iberty_cxd.htm

    Or if you're willing to spend a little more, one of these: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/...ane/outlaw.htm

    I think the sizing is different between the two. Either will satisfy all of your requirements and feel much quicker. I don't think putting money into changing the gearing on your MTB is a good investment unless you really know how to get deals on parts and do the work yourself. I think MTB's can be made to be the most bombproof commuters, but you're looking to do longer stuff on the weekends. I just don't see being able to get the bike good for that without a lot of money invested. Good luck.

  15. #15
    Disco Infiltrator Darth Lefty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gregjones View Post
    Here's a rigid fork for you. I have one now. It's quite nice for a $44 bike part, the fit and finish are excellent. Heavy, but maybe not as much if you are replacing a suspension fork.
    That's a good find. But the original bike has a suspension fork so that one will probably put the nose down. He needs to measure the axle-to-crown distance, and then get a "suspension corrected" fork of the right length (there are several lengths available).

  16. #16
    Senior Member Medic Zero's Avatar
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    I don't buy into the whole "it's not worth upgrading" mentality. I end up changing most of the components of a bike anyway, and am partial to the geometry of old steel MTB's, so I put a small fortune into upgrading my commuter MTB to be just the way I want it:







    It's also plenty comfortable for longer rides on the weekend. In fact, I took it out on two short bed and breakfast tours this summer. I can ride this bike all day in most terrain. Dirt, gravel, light singletrack, rough asphalt or pavement, nice smooth roads, it's good on any of it.
    ISO: 22" GT Rebound frame, year 2000 model

  17. #17
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    On the idea of a new bike, I'm not suggesting you get one but just in case you're thinking about more than fixing the old one to make it work. Bikes Direct has a great bike for commuting called the Motobecane Fantom Cross Pro, it's a X bike with Rival which I think would be idea for commuting, they have very limited stock on hand so not sure if they have your size but it's a good deal if you're leaning that way; see: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/..._pro_rival.htm

    Or for a bit more money but with Ultegra is this X bike: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/...eam_al_xiv.htm

    The Team X bike come with bosses in the rear dropouts so you can mount both a fender and a rack at the same time whereas the Pro only has one set of bosses so you can mount a rack but no fender or vice a versa, however there are fenders on the market that don't require a set of bosses.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Slaninar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post

    [LIST=1][*]Climbing hills is painful. I've read that replacing the suspension fork with a rigid fork would help, though I'm not sure how much. The stock fork has no lock out.
    A LOT. A lot. By all means get a suspension corrected rigid fork and forget about it.

    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post
    [*]I'm often in the highest gear, so a road chainset is something I'd like to get.
    Shimano Acera cranksets can be found in 28-38-48 triples - that should be fast enough for most occasions.

    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post
    [*]I haven't had too many problems with the brakes yet, but I ride in all weather and disc brakes are probably a good idea. This is lower priority for me though.
    Haven't used disc brakes on bicycle yet - in almost 30 years of cycling. No problems yet.

    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post
    [*]I definitely feel that a lighter bike would make 20-30 mile weekend rides more enjoyable.
    Maybe, maybe not. Depends on what you like and find enjoyable.



    Quote Originally Posted by physdl View Post
    Any thoughts on which way I should go? Is it worth investing more money into an older mtb? I also don't know if I'd be more comfortable on a different type of bike - I have very little experience except on this bike.
    If the frame is right for you - just ride it, keep it, maintain it.

    If you want another bike - that is nice. I have bought a fine weather commuter - sort of a road bike. But find the old heavy mule much more relaxed - lock it anywhere, trash it - no worries. And the older tech seems more reliable, less fragile.
    Last edited by Slaninar; 11-10-13 at 01:05 PM.
    Evviva il comunismo e la libertÓ.

  19. #19
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    what others have said rigid fork and chainring. you can use sheldons online gear calculator to tweak it, but a 48 tooth big gear should be plenty for on/off road.

    http://sheldonbrown.com/gears/index.html
    .
    purchasing a bicycle from walmart or any other discount department store for commuting
    only works if you know what your getting into and can do all of the work to it yourself.

  20. #20
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    You may not need a rigid fork if the fork has a suspension lock out, or tighten the adjustment so tight it barely moves, this way if you decide to ride off road with it you simply unlock or loosen up the suspension. Unless you just want to lose the weight of the suspension fork because you have no need for suspended fork.

  21. #21
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    i forgot to look. some frame geometry cant swap to a standard rigid fork that trek 4500 would need a locking fork.
    purchasing a bicycle from walmart or any other discount department store for commuting
    only works if you know what your getting into and can do all of the work to it yourself.

  22. #22
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    Thanks for all the additional feedback!

    Buying older rigid MTB: Very tempting, but my main concern is that I don't feel confident knowing what to look for in a used bike to understand its condition, nor the experience yet to figure out what components to replace. Plus there's the time spent looking for such a bike, which I don't have much of.

    Regardless, bikemig and Medic - those are beautiful bikes and it's very cool that you two can restore them! Thanks for sharing!

    Chainset replacement: Thanks for the calculators! From what I see right now, I don't think the slightly bigger chainset (though the FD should be able to handle it) will help that much, but it will rob me of some of the gears on the low end and at least some money. One of the ascents on my commute has a max gradient of 13%, and it'll take some time to build up the strength to do that on road bike gearing

    Fork: It looks like I definitely need to upgrade. The current fork is about 455mm from crown to axle. Not much sag from just sitting on the bike, but from the review I've read of the fork (Rock Shox Judy TT) it's basically stiff springs. I might not get as much benefit, but certainly some (less weight and one less part to fail at the minimum). roashru, can you explain why the bike won't allow a rigid fork (as long as it is of adequate length)?

    Old parts failing: The repairs so far have included tires, cassette, chain, brakes, wheel trueing and a tune up. But I'm not sure that the LBS who did most of that work (all but the wheel trueing) were 100% competent and they didn't tell me if anything should be replaced in the future. They kept insisting that the cassette was fine until the third visit despite me complaining about skipping. I'm mainly concerned about the wheels though. I found a broken spoke when I replaced the tires, and when it was trued by a different LBS, they commented that that wheel was pretty far out of shape (and I've definitely had to adjust the brakes quite a bit after the trueing) but couldn't really predict if any other spokes would fail. If others did fail, they recommended replacing the whole wheel, as you'd probably get a domino effect. None have failed thus far, but it's a minor worry for me.

    New bike: If I'm getting a weekender, it'll be in the $1500 range most likely. I'm personally thinking of keeping this bike as a commuter (with a new fork, and maybe new chainset if I really feel constrained by this one), buying a touring bike in the next year, and then potentially upgrading the commuter (maybe with a vintage) sometime after that depending on when things wear out.

    Thanks again everyone!

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    a standard rigid fork
    if you can get a rigid long fork that matches the frame geometry thats what you would need.
    purchasing a bicycle from walmart or any other discount department store for commuting
    only works if you know what your getting into and can do all of the work to it yourself.

  24. #24
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    There are some pretty nice new touring bikes for that $1500 range.

    Bikes like the Surly Long Haul Trucker (LHT) cost around $1250, and not as well equipped as some of the others in my list, about on par with the KHS.

    Fuji Tour est $900 not bad for the price but the KHS has it beat for the same price.

    Jamis Aurora est $950 or the Aurora Elite est $1600, the Elite is my favorite here because it has a old school look and the price is worth it because it comes with the best components by far in this list and for only $100 more than some of the others that have just average components, the Elite is a sweet bike.

    KHS TR 101 Adrenalinbikes.com had this for $988, probably the best one for under $1,000.

    Kona Sutra est $1500 to high priced for what you get.

    Raleigh Sojourn est $1500 but not any better than the KHS!.

    And Trek 520 again overpriced for what you get est $1500.

    All those bikes are handled by LBS's but of course depending how big the city is you live in or live near not all may be available.

  25. #25
    Senior Member AusTexMurf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
    I'll give option no. 3 which is to buy a used vintage mtb with a rigid fork for commuting. Seattle is an expensive market but old used mtbs tend not to be expensive when compared to road bikes. You may find this cheaper than making the changes on your mountain bike and you'll end up with a heck of a nice old bike.
    Nice old Specialized. Sure that it is a great riding bike. Check out the long chain stays, comfy/functional handle bar setup, quality saddle, tires, and wheels.

    All it takes for a very nice commuting ride.

    Good job and thanks for sharing for the OP.

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