Steel or alu, road or touring, bike advice please!
I've been searching the forums for a while now, trying to decide which kind of bike is best for my needs but just can't decide, and we're moving to Switzerland in about a month so I need to, soon. Any more targeted advice would be very welcome.
I'm in the market for a new bike, around $1000, a little more if needs be, that I envisage I will mostly use on weekends for going out into the (Swiss) countryside with my family on day rides. We have a toddler that I envisage my husband will take in a trailer on his Cannondale Synapse (alu, carbon) so I will probably carry whatever else is needed for the day. I may also end up riding the bike around town too with the kid in a rear child seat.
I initially wanted the Dolce Elite, I'm 5'2'' and it was light and fun and fit like a glove, loved it. However for regular loading up and possibly having a rear seat on, I was advised it's not fit for purpose and a steel touring bike would be both more durable, more comfortable and have better control with a heavy rear load.
I've tried the Novarra Verita at REI so far, which apparently has a more road bike geometry than a touring bike. It was a really smooth ride but doesn't come small enough for me.
But following that, I think a road bike with a steel frame is where I'm going, lighter than tourers but able to take more weight and handle better than alu carbon forked road bike. I'm going to see if I can try a Surly Pacer at an LBS on the weekend. I've also been eyeing up the Bianchi Volpe, for some reason it's really speaking to me
My only doubt is whether the extra comfort of steel is worth the extra weight. I found the Dolce pretty comfy riding over New York's pot-holed streets, though it was only for 10 mins. Also, bearing in mind I'll be carrying a load of some sort and may be in hilly country, will I really feel the extra weight, even with a triple? This was the view at the first LBS I tried, though as they were all about racing, I'm not sure they were being fair.
Also, can I even load up a steel road bike? I know more spokes would be needed for proper touring, but for day rides with enough stuff for the kid for the day or a picnic, and sometimes having her in the rear bike seat (she along is 27 lb), is the frame at least able to take it? I read somewhere the chainstays won't be long enough for panniers, so would it still not be fit for purpose? Will the steel road bike end up fulfilling no needs at all?
So I keep going round and round, whether to go for the light road bike, the stronger steel road bike, or just get a tourer that will definitely be able to handle it? I don't see why I'd want more than 28 mm tires or need full loading capacity, but the handling is meant to be more stable and also the geometry more upright, both of which is important if I use it in the city with my daughter on the back.
So, any thoughts on which direction to go down so I can test ride a few types? The first LBS turned me away after my third ride and told me to come back when I had worked out what I want....
PS I thought about cyclocross but it seems to miss the mark on all, heavier than the steel road bike yet more aggressive. I want to be fairly upright.
PPS Should I just wait until I get to Switzerland/France and see how we end up living and then buy something? It is more expensive there though and less choice, especially at this time of the year....
As long as you're not carrying bags of cement, I don't think you'll have to worry about too much load on the frame. If you like a Volpe, it should work fine- I've seen a couple set up with racks and fenders here.
Sorry, if this is a bit late. I hadn't noticed this post earlier.
I have a Specialized Dolce and haven't had any problems with it and have been using it for 4 riding seasons now. It has been my go to bike for all my family rides over the past several years. i have mounted a child seat on the rear and had no problems with a toddler starting at 20lbs and riding up till 37lbs on the back. I have also towed a 2 child carrier with combined weights of the kids ranging between 50-60lbs. It is difficult towing, you will feel the cart behind you but it is definitely doable! I would also recommend that if using a buggy or cart to tow that you get one that uses a skewer that attaches through your rear wheel, it tows much better and is safer!
The aluminum has held up rather well over the years. With the extra weight on my bike my shop did upgrade my brakes to a beefier pad and I do seem to go through them quicker when towing.
Feel free to ask any other questions!
It sounds like you're looking for a versatile road bike. A touring bike would work for you but may be overkill (meaning, too heavy for what you need). However, most new road bikes aren't very versatile.
If you'd like to carry loads, look for a bike with braze-on eyelets on the rear dropouts, the seat stays, and/or the fork. My friend has an older Dolce that has no eyelets for racks, and had a carbon fork and seatpost, so no way to attach a load! We ended up swapping out the seat post for an AL one and attaching a clamp-on rear rack so she could carry small loads. Otherwise, her Dolce is a good bike.
Frame material: carbon is light, but few carbon bikes are provisioned for loads. And you can't use clamps on carbon frames like you can on metal. Aluminum is strong, stiff, and light. But its stiffness means it's usually not as comfortable. Still, AL frames are fine, especially at cheaper price points. Steel is awesome (my opinion), but you need to get GOOD steel to really take advantage of its best qualities. The Bianchi Volpe is a good steel bike, made of quality chro-mo and with lots of braze-on eyelets for adding racks. It would make a nice, versatile road bike. It may be a couple pounds heavier than the Dolce. You'll notice that weight when you lift the bike into your car, but you won't notice it on the road.
There are other steel road bikes being made, like the Trek 520, Salsa, Surly, Soma, some Jamis, some Raleigh. They usually are versatile bikes with lots of eyelets, because bike makers know that customers seeking steel frames and customers seeking touring bikes are often the same people. Touring bikes have long chainstays for pannier clearance and a long wheelbase for stability.
There are also lots of high-end and custom steel bikes being made. I have a Rivendell Road bike that works great as a light tourer, and a lightweight steel Giordana XL-Eco racer for fast rides. Keep your eye out for used high-end frames, and you may be able to find one and still have money to modernize it within your budget. In this regard, Switzerland may have a better selection of high-end steel than America does, as European frame makers have held on to steel longer than the mass-market American builders.
If you want to ride semi-upright, make sure you can raise the handlebars on the bike you find. You can adapt many bikes with new stems and handlebars, but that starts getting tedious and expensive if you don't do it yourself.
Regarding tires wider than 28mm: you won't know how glorious they feel until you try them. I currently ride 38mm tires on my Rivendell, and they're just as fast as skinnies and 10x as comfortable. Not all frames can fit wide tires, but 28-35mm are pretty perfect for all around riding. If you end up on a steel frame with nice tire clearance (many modern steel frames are capable), then try fatter tires some time.
The advantage of touring (and cyclocross) bikes is that they allow wider tires. If you're loading up the bike, riding on crappy roads (or, *cough cough*, aren't professional rider weight), then wider tires can make a lot of sense.
I think a light touring bike would be perfect for you. Probably not an all out touring model, but the Jamis Aurora or similar seems like it would work well for what you describe.
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