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Old 08-31-09, 09:55 PM   #1
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New Bike: Road vs. Cyclocross

I'm in the market for my first "real" bike.

I live in St. Louis, which has many paved bike trails, and one end of the Katy Trail, a 200+ mile rail-to-trail with a packed gravel surface. I'm looking to use whatever bike I purchase as a new hobby, additional source of exercise (I'm an avid runner), and a way to explore more of the area I live in.

When it comes to aerobic activities, I'm more of an endurance junkie than an adrenaline junkie. I like to go fast, but I don't like hopping over rocks and stumps that much, so a mountain bike is immediately out of the picture. I was originally thinking of just buying a road bike (such as a Trek 1.2 or 1.5, but I'm open to other options), but they aren't exactly recommended on the gravel Katy Trail, and the city of St. Louis has broken pavement in some areas, and even the bike trails have many at-grade railroad crossings.

This leads me to consider a cyclocross bike (I'm not interested in the actual sport, at least at the moment, just a bike). I want something that I can use on the gravel Katy Trail, but will still be reasonably light and fast, and rideable for long distances (50+ miles) on pavement.

Will a cyclocross bike, like a Kona Jake the Snake (looks like a good option right now), work well for this? Or would people riding dedicated road bikes be wizzing by me on the pavement? How are cyclocross bikes for extended rides on gravel and asphalt?

My breakdown of riding will probably be 75% pavement and 25% gravel. I'd like to spend less than $1500 on a bike.

Thanks for any help!
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Old 09-01-09, 12:05 AM   #2
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Cyclocross sounds ideal for the use you will put it to and if you find that you are doing more road than trail- with just a change of a few parts- it will be as good on the road as a full road bike. Tyres and gearing is all I am thinking of.

Kona makes good bikes and my only concern with them is that they are a bit heavy. Over the past few years they do not seem to have kept pace with modern technology but there are plenty of other manufacturers about and one I like is Giant

http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-US/...ad/2299/35372/

Most manufacturers seem to make a cyclocross bike and the only problem could be finding them to get a test ride on.
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Old 09-01-09, 12:36 AM   #3
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Kona is a very popular bike here in Seattle...lots of other good brands in that price range (Redline Conquest, Specialized Tricross, Trek, Surly Crosscheck, Soma, etc.).

One thing that will make a difference for the kinds of rides you're considering is two sets of tires - some 32c or 35c 'cross knobbies for the Katy trail, some 25c road tires for "fast rides."
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Old 09-01-09, 03:37 AM   #4
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I'm using a cross bike for the sort of riding you describe and wouldn't consider anything else.

People with Jakes - or cross bikes in general -report no difficulty at all in keeping up with friends with road bikes. Unless you intend to road race and will be heart broken at losing a metre or two a kilometre, the cross bike is the way to go.

If you're going to ride on gravel and tarmac without changing tyres and want to get the most speed you can on the road while being safe on the gravel, you want something like a 30 to 38mm (the 30 is for a very light rider) Marathon Supreme (slick) or possibly the new Marathon Extreme (low profile tread adventure touring tyre). Getting the tyres right for mixed terrain is harder than getting the frame right and will make more difference to speed and handling. You'll probably want the pressure lower than for a road only tyre. This will slow you down slightly but is better than smashing your face into gravel. (More pressure = less grip.)

Climbing a steep gravel paved slope eats pedal power. Most good cross bikes are doubles with close ratio chainrings for racing (when bikes may get carried up the steepest slopes) but you might want to look at getting a wider ratio or a triple - obviously it depends on the local terrain and your fitness. Any decent LBS should be able to re-configure the chainrings and cassette to give you a wider range.

If you want more advice about cross bikes I'd ask on the Cyclocross forum, it's one of the best here.

Things I'd look for in a cross bike that you might not have thought of:

- Campag or SRAM powertrain instead of Shimano - better at shifting under power

- Sloping top tube - it's hard to find a crosser with a big slope, but even a little extra space is very comforting if you're in danger of coming off the saddle on a descent. This may matter less if you're a girl...

There's a new Raleigh bike people are talking about that has an excellent spec and price - ask on the forum.
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Old 09-01-09, 03:40 AM   #5
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I use a Specialized Tricross as my commuting bike. I have it fitted out with fenders and a rack. I don't worry about taking it on any kind of rough pavement. I currently use 700c 28 Gatorskin tires because they're nicer for the commute I do, but it came with 32mm tires. I rode that on the C&O canal here in Virginia, which is packed dirt (and sometimes mud.) It worked great for that, so I assume it would work fine on the Katy trail as well.

Frankly, on flattish roads, on my commute it feels pretty much as fast and handles just as well as my dedicated road bike. It's only on the bigger hills that it slows me down somewhat because of the extra weight, but it's really a great all-around solution if you have rougher roads.
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Old 09-01-09, 04:48 AM   #6
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One thing that will make a difference for the kinds of rides you're considering is two sets of tires - some 32c or 35c 'cross knobbies for the Katy trail, some 25c road tires for "fast rides."
And a second wheelset makes swapping tires easy, peasy! It also lets you customize the gearing.

I have one wheelset with 28mm road tires and a 12-23 cassette. The second wheelset wears 34mm CX tires and a 12-27 in the three seasons, or 38mm studded snow tires and a 14-27 in the winter.
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Old 09-01-09, 05:30 AM   #7
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And a second wheelset makes swapping tires easy, peasy! It also lets you customize the gearing.

I have one wheelset with 28mm road tires and a 12-23 cassette. The second wheelset wears 34mm CX tires and a 12-27 in the three seasons, or 38mm studded snow tires and a 14-27 in the winter.
Yes - that's a really good point about a second wheelset: it gives you a different cassette as well as tyres. And wheels don't have to be expensive - I got a decent pair of new 26s for 40 on ebay, although they were freewheel rather than cassette.
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Old 09-01-09, 06:44 AM   #8
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I was originally thinking of just buying a road bike (such as a Trek 1.2 or 1.5, but I'm open to other options), but they aren't exactly recommended on the gravel Katy Trail,
Who ever told you that?

I live in St Peters, 2 miles up Jungs Station hill from the Katy, so I ride it quite a bit. My bike-of-choice for the Katy is my old Bridgestone road bike with 28 mm Gatorskin tires. I occasionally ride my Klein road bike, with 23 mm tires, a short distance on the Katy but I don't like to ride it long distances on the Katy for purely esthetic reasons. Relative to performance it does fine.

I've never owned one but I'm sure that cyclo-cross bikes are fine. I just don't agree that a special purpose bike is necessary for crossing railroad tracks or for riding the Katy trail.
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Old 09-01-09, 07:19 AM   #9
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If you want at least 20% of your riding to be gravel trails, CX is your bike. I've taken my RB on gravel trails, and althought it's kinda fun (well, I'm on a bike right, and riding is fun), wider tires will be better.
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Old 09-01-09, 10:51 AM   #10
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http://www.bikekatytrail.com/faq.asp#tires
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Old 09-01-09, 11:26 AM   #11
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Who ever told you that?

I live in St Peters, 2 miles up Jungs Station hill from the Katy, so I ride it quite a bit. My bike-of-choice for the Katy is my old Bridgestone road bike with 28 mm Gatorskin tires. I occasionally ride my Klein road bike, with 23 mm tires, a short distance on the Katy but I don't like to ride it long distances on the Katy for purely esthetic reasons. Relative to performance it does fine.

I've never owned one but I'm sure that cyclo-cross bikes are fine. I just don't agree that a special purpose bike is necessary for crossing railroad tracks or for riding the Katy trail.
When Googling "Katy Trail" I found a few sites that recommended against it. However, that does seem to be in disagreement with the following link:

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...which is also in disagreement with some of the comments in the forum on the Katy Trail website: http://www.bikekatytrail.com/ktforumthread.asp?thid=89

So, there appears to be no general consensus about road bikes on the Katy...some say they are fine, others say they aren't. I may take whatever bike I get down some gravel roads in the Ozarks (with that oh-so-hard-and-sharp chert gravel), but it will likely be on the Katy trail or bike trails up here quite a bit more.

My stepdad rides a custom Bruce Gordon on the Katy Trail, but it has much fatter tires than a normal road bike. He strongly recommended against a skinny-tired road bike (I'm not yet familiar with bike tire sizes), although he said a road bike would work with fatter tires.

I do like the idea of getting a second set of wheels/gears for the road vs. gravel.
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Old 09-01-09, 01:22 PM   #12
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My stepdad rides a custom Bruce Gordon on the Katy Trail, but it has much fatter tires than a normal road bike. He strongly recommended against a skinny-tired road bike (I'm not yet familiar with bike tire sizes), although he said a road bike would work with fatter tires.
The width and pressure of tyre a rider will need will depend on his weight as well as the terrain. And to point out the obvious, when using a bike you already have "Good enough" is fine, but when buying a new bike it makes more sense to aim for "Optimal". Go to Rivendell Bicycle's site and look at the tyre application chart to work out the width of tyre you want, then choose a bike that will take it. 28mm will probably be the limit for any road racing bike, and I suspect a lot of them will stop at 25mm. Tourers will run wider tyres just as well as a cross bike, but their geometry may be "slower" than a crosser's.

Once you start riding you might find that you spend more time on the trails and less on the road then you think - blasting a trail on a crosser is much more fun than riding on the road. Although possibly not enough fun that I'd regularly want to ride gravel on 25mm tyres, as I weigh 210lb and value both my prostrate and my spine, and expect to carry on using both for a long time.

Last edited by meanwhile; 09-01-09 at 01:27 PM.
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Old 09-01-09, 03:09 PM   #13
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I ride a cyclocross with 28 mm tires. These are fine for cracked pavement and packed dirt trails, but 35 mm tires are better for gravel. For keeping up with the roadies, it depends on your legs.
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Old 09-01-09, 03:23 PM   #14
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Will a cyclocross bike, like a Kona Jake the Snake (looks like a good option right now), work well for this? Or would people riding dedicated road bikes be wizzing by me on the pavement? How are cyclocross bikes for extended rides on gravel and asphalt?
There isn't going to be a significant difference in speed between the xcross bike and a "true" road bike. The xcross bike gives you the option of wider tires which might be more comfortable and more puncture resistant and better traction in mud (maybe not a problem on gravel).

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Tourers will run wider tyres just as well as a cross bike, but their geometry may be "slower" than a crosser's.
(Not by much, if at all. Maybe a little bit on steep uphills.)

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I've never owned one but I'm sure that cyclo-cross bikes are fine. I just don't agree that a special purpose bike is necessary for crossing railroad tracks or for riding the Katy trail.
Cross bikes are almost as un-special purpose as you can get.

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Old 09-01-09, 04:45 PM   #15
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Tourers will run wider tyres just as well as a cross bike, but their geometry may be "slower" than a crosser's.
(Not by much, if at all. Maybe a little bit on steep uphills.)
I was being obscure here: I was thinking of cornering characteristics and twitchiness rather straightline speed, hence the quotes. A crosser will tend to have a higher bottom bracket and shorter chainstays and so be twitchier than a tourer - a light more responsive and a little less stable. To the extent that you can separate the two types.

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Cross bikes are almost as un-special purpose as you can get.
Especially the ones that have a good set of braze-ons (allowing racks and mud guards) and a sloping top tube (less good for carrying the bike in a cross race but better for tackling terrain which might make you slide from the saddle).
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Old 09-01-09, 04:51 PM   #16
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I was being obscure here: I was thinking of cornering characteristics and twitchiness rather straightline speed, hence the quotes. A crosser will tend to have a higher bottom bracket and shorter chainstays and so be twitchier than a tourer - a light more responsive and a little less stable. To the extent that you can separate the two types.
A useful clarification.

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Especially the ones that have a good set of braze-ons (allowing racks and mud guards) and a sloping top tube (less good for carrying the bike in a cross race but better for tackling terrain which might make you slide from the saddle).
Those ones especially!
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Old 09-01-09, 06:09 PM   #17
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The width and pressure of tyre a rider will need will depend on his weight as well as the terrain. And to point out the obvious, when using a bike you already have "Good enough" is fine, but when buying a new bike it makes more sense to aim for "Optimal". Go to Rivendell Bicycle's site and look at the tyre application chart to work out the width of tyre you want, then choose a bike that will take it. 28mm will probably be the limit for any road racing bike, and I suspect a lot of them will stop at 25mm. Tourers will run wider tyres just as well as a cross bike, but their geometry may be "slower" than a crosser's.

Once you start riding you might find that you spend more time on the trails and less on the road then you think - blasting a trail on a crosser is much more fun than riding on the road. Although possibly not enough fun that I'd regularly want to ride gravel on 25mm tyres, as I weigh 210lb and value both my prostrate and my spine, and expect to carry on using both for a long time.
Thanks for the suggestion. I'm right at 165 lbs myself without any gear, and that chart recommends a 35-37mm tire for gravel for my weight range. The Kona comes with 35's from the factory, while the Trek comes with 23's.

I'll head in to some of the local bike shops in the first few weeks and ask around as well. I'm really liking the idea of two sets of wheels/tires/gears. I probably won't be in good enough cycling shape for awhile (I run a lot but haven't cycled much in years), so I'll have no need for higher gears for some time.
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Old 09-01-09, 09:23 PM   #18
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While I really wouldn't disagree too much with the other posters, I do notice a difference between a road bike and a cross bike. The bikes I had/have was/is a 2006 Specialized Roubaix and a 2010 Specialized Tricross Comp. While I do around the same speed on flats, the Roubaix climbed, accelerated and cornered better than the Tricross. A road bike will be more fun on the road, but a cross bike will more fun everywhere else. I ended up selling the Roubaix as I wanted a single bike to do everything. Tricross will do that for the riding that I do. Which includes long rail trails like the Katy.
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Old 09-02-09, 05:10 AM   #19
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While I really wouldn't disagree too much with the other posters, I do notice a difference between a road bike and a cross bike. The bikes I had/have was/is a 2006 Specialized Roubaix and a 2010 Specialized Tricross Comp. While I do around the same speed on flats, the Roubaix climbed, accelerated and cornered better than the Tricross. A road bike will be more fun on the road, but a cross bike will more fun everywhere else. I ended up selling the Roubaix as I wanted a single bike to do everything. Tricross will do that for the riding that I do. Which includes long rail trails like the Katy.
This isn't a difference between road bikes and a cross bikes, but between two particular designs (I bought my crosser from a local TT amateur star and the guy clearly thought a crosser should be as a similar to a roadbike as possible - this bike's geometry is much more like a Roubaix than a Tricross) with two different sets of tyres.

The Tricross will get quite a bit faster and turn much better if you change from the stock tyres (I'm assuming you stuck with them as you don't specify a tyre) which are notoriously among the slowest on any premium bike. If you put Marathon Supremes on your rims the handling should be transformed - they're fast rolling and grippy and tough. You do have to pay extra for their wonderfulness, but they're a notoriously durable tyre.

Or if you value dirt performance enough to give up an edge on the road and can pay even more for a tyre without paling like a fakenger's whitewalls, you could try the new Marathon Extremes - adventure tyres with a subtle "non-walking" tread. These really look the business (see Schwalbe's US website for specs and comparison chart) but they're so new I haven't found anyone who has used them yet. I'll probably take the plunge shortly myself, although I'll miss the turquoise Michelins my bike came with. (Children actually stop and point when I ride past - possibly because they think I'm with the circus.)

Either choice should make the sort of difference to your bike that you'd expect by spending a thousand dollars or more on frame and component upgrades. Tyres are unglamorous, but they're arguably the most important part of a bike.

Of course you'll still have a conflict between setting the pressure low for best handling on gravel or high for the road. I'm thinking of carrying a Truflo Evolution pump (an amazingly fast frame pump) and re-pressurizing between long continuous sections of road and gravel. Especially if my rims will take Schrader valves, as Presta's always seem a little delicate for frequent use. But I wouldn't bother for anything less than sections I was going to spend half an hour on.

Last edited by meanwhile; 09-02-09 at 05:14 AM.
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Old 09-02-09, 05:24 AM   #20
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Thanks for the suggestion. I'm right at 165 lbs myself without any gear, and that chart recommends a 35-37mm tire for gravel for my weight range. The Kona comes with 35's from the factory, while the Trek comes with 23's.

I'll head in to some of the local bike shops in the first few weeks and ask around as well. I'm really liking the idea of two sets of wheels/tires/gears. I probably won't be in good enough cycling shape for awhile (I run a lot but haven't cycled much in years), so I'll have no need for higher gears for some time.
Any decent store should change tyres, chainrings and cassettes. In the current market I'd expect to pay the price difference between components and nothing else - in fact I'd always argue labour should be irrelevant as the store will have to build the bike up anyway. Changing any of these later should take a few minutes at the store - or at home, if you buy the tools.

If you buy extra wheels at the store (I'd consider ebay) then negotiate hard for a discount on the bike! Don't be talked into going for super-light wheels - it really doesn't make that much difference.

What matters is that you buy a bike with the ***clearance*** for at least 38mm tyres. Most bikes don't have this. You might want even more clearance for running fenders.

Your biggest decision is going to be whether to get a bike with double or triple chainrings at the front. Consider the local terrain and find out what range you can get through customizing a double - a standard double ring cross bike is definitely lacks hill climbing power compared to an MTB or tourer. The Kona Jake (as opposed to the lighter race designed JTS) and Tricross Triple come with triple rings. (Oh - and the JTS maybe less durable than the heavier plain Jake - lighter race-dedicated crossers often make this trade; ask on the Cross Forum.)

My other suggestion is to start riding offroad with BMX platform pedals instead of "clipless" pedals that lock to a dedicated shoe. They're much cheaper, you can ride in any shoe, and they grip your foot well but allow instant removal if you need to put a foot down. And they can save you a lot of pain if you do come off the bike - staying attached to 22lb of metal is not a good idea in a crash. Again this is an easy change. Diamondback Bigfoots are a good choice - probably about $25 on ebay, shipped. Changing to SPDs or Looks, etc, will be easy later if you feel the need. Again, Rivendell has some advice here.

Last edited by meanwhile; 09-02-09 at 06:25 AM.
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Old 09-02-09, 12:36 PM   #21
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Now, Q about different rims.

If one were to have two wheels with different exterior widths... is there a certain amount of time that is wasted with the wheel switch getting the brakes re-adjusted for the different rims, or is that not an issue?
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Old 09-02-09, 02:11 PM   #22
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I'm really liking the idea of two sets of wheels/tires/gears.
There's quite a good chance that you don't really need two sets of wheels. Also, the gearing that comes with the bike is probably fine starting out (and even for longer). Having two sets of wheels is more convenient than changing tires all the time but you might not any real problem with using 32/35mm (for example) tires for all your riding.

It's possible that you will have a better idea of what exactly you want the extra set of wheels for after some time with what the bike comes with.

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Your biggest decision is going to be whether to get a bike with double or triple chainrings at the front. Consider the local terrain and find out what range you can get through customizing a double - a standard double ring cross bike is definitely lacks hill climbing power compared to an MTB or tourer.
It's not clear that there's any real down side to a triple. (I think I'd suggest the triple.)

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Originally Posted by meanwhile View Post
My other suggestion is to start riding offroad with BMX platform pedals instead of "clipless" pedals that lock to a dedicated shoe. They're much cheaper, you can ride in any shoe, and they grip your foot well but allow instant removal if you need to put a foot down. And they can save you a lot of pain if you do come off the bike - staying attached to 22lb of metal is not a good idea in a crash. Again this is an easy change. Diamondback Bigfoots are a good choice - probably about $25 on ebay, shipped. Changing to SPDs or Looks, etc, will be easy later if you feel the need. Again, Rivendell has some advice here.
This is reasonable advice. Though, I would not call a packed-gravel path "off road". If you have any concerns about clipless pedals, there's no reason you have to deal with that at the start.

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Originally Posted by knobster View Post
While I really wouldn't disagree too much with the other posters, I do notice a difference between a road bike and a cross bike. The bikes I had/have was/is a 2006 Specialized Roubaix and a 2010 Specialized Tricross Comp. While I do around the same speed on flats, the Roubaix climbed, accelerated and cornered better than the Tricross. A road bike will be more fun on the road, but a cross bike will more fun everywhere else.
I don't think anybody is saying that there is no difference. The original poster is looking for a compromise (of sorts). A cross bike is a better fit for him than a "pure" road bike would be and he won't really lose much by going with the cross bike.

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Originally Posted by wirehead View Post
Now, Q about different rims.
If one were to have two wheels with different exterior widths... is there a certain amount of time that is wasted with the wheel switch getting the brakes re-adjusted for the different rims, or is that not an issue?
Interesting. If they were not too far different, one might just deal with it. The primary value (in my opinion) of multiple wheelsets is to avoid changing tires frequently (maybe this isn't necessary) and changing cassettes (probably really not necessary). It might make sense to use rims with the same width.

Last edited by njkayaker; 09-02-09 at 02:46 PM.
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Old 09-02-09, 02:40 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by njkayaker View Post
It's not clear that there's any real down side to a triple. (I think I'd suggest the triple.)
The main limit is that it might reduce the choice of bikes - most crossers come with a double and adapting to a triple would require a brifter change, which could cost real money. Or it might not be possible at all, because of chainstay clearance. But I think a double with the inner ring changed to a smaller one than standard, to give a wider range, would be almost as good. Especially with a wide range cassette.

Talking of triples with wide tyre clearance, that Sherpa 30 you ride looks like it could be an excellent bike for the OP, even if it is marketed as an adventure tourer rather than a crosser. What do you think?

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Though, I would not call a packed-gravel path "off road".
You should see the one I ride in my local forest - the slope across the ***width*** (which goes down to about two feet) of the track can be almost 30 degrees and it has roots and even the remains of stumps sticking through it that could endo a bike or ruin a rim. It's definitely off road enough for me to prefer BMX platforms to SPDs. The only reason I ride on the gravel instead of picking out my own path is that the forest contains protected plant species and I'd die of shame if I crushed one.
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Old 09-02-09, 02:45 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by wirehead View Post
Now, Q about different rims.

If one were to have two wheels with different exterior widths... is there a certain amount of time that is wasted with the wheel switch getting the brakes re-adjusted for the different rims, or is that not an issue?
Cantilevers will cope with a lot of rim clearance, so you could set them for the bigger rim and they cope with the smaller. But there isn't any reason to get very different rim sizes - people think they need thin tyres to get their best speed on the road, but this isn't really true unless your best speed is much higher than that of most people here and your definition of "best" is very picky.
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Old 09-02-09, 02:49 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by meanwhile View Post
The main limit is that it might reduce the choice of bikes - most crossers come with a double and adapting to a triple would require a brifter change, which could cost real money. Or it might not be possible at all, because of chainstay clearance. But I think a double with the inner ring changed to a smaller one than standard, to give a wider range, would be almost as good. Especially with a wide range cassette.
Yes, swapping a bunch of stuff right at the start doesn't make a lot of sense. The spec sheet for the Tiagra brifters say they will work for doubles but you have to be careful. It's not clear whether that means that there is also a double specific Tiagra brifter.

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Originally Posted by meanwhile View Post
Talking of triples with wide tyre clearance, that Sherpa 30 you ride looks like it could be an excellent bike for the OP, even if it is marketed as an adventure tourer rather than a crosser. What do you think?
(I think it would work fine but it might be hard to find one to poke a stick at. I used it loaded on the GAP (flat packed gravel -> very nice) and C&O (flat and a bit lumpy narrow dirt with sticks). It's appears to be intended for that kind of riding as well as touring on the road.)

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Originally Posted by meanwhile View Post
You should see the one I ride in my local forest - the slope across the ***width*** (which goes down to about two feet) of the track can be almost 30 degrees and it has roots and even the remains of stumps sticking through it that could endo a bike or ruin a rim.
Well, that's why I have a mountain bike!

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Originally Posted by meanwhile View Post
The only reason I ride on the gravel instead of picking out my own path is that the forest contains protected plant species and I'd die of shame if I crushed one.
You are the superior life form! It's evolve or die!

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