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Old 05-08-06, 06:15 PM   #1
modbiker
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Hybrid bike suitability

I'm in the process of building up touring bikes for my girlfriend and myself. It's possible that her 700c commuter could work as a loaded touring bike after a few minor changes. She's strongly in favor of this, but I question the suitability of this bike for her.

It's a 90's steel hybrid (Gary Fisher Zebrano) with 700c wheels. We already have it set up with strong wheels and good tires for commuting. The chainstays are 43.5 cm or so, long enough that her heels don't hit the rear panniers when using a Jandd Expedition rack. There are no mid-fork rack braze-ons (not a deal-breaker from what I've read). The rear rack stays are mounted to the seatpost clamp because the frame is compact, and the 8" rack stays probably wouldn't reach down to the seatstays. There are no rack attachments on the seatstays anyway. The rack attachment to the seatpost clamp seems stable enough.

The thing that I worry about is that the steering feels a little "unstable" even when unloaded. She has been commenting on this (we've recently increased our biking a lot), and has said things about the steering that indicate that it affects her confidence on the bike. It's by far the best bike she's owned though, so it's hard to compare. I've ridden the bike and noticed the steering too. If we had noticed this when we bought the bike (used) we probably would have passed on it, but we know more now than then. It's a small frame, and to accomodate the 700c tire the head tube angle is very relaxed (I'm guessing 70 degrees), such that there is only a tiny bit of toe-clip overlap with fender and 700x37 tire. It has a nice comfy ride when going straight, but when initiating a turn it feels odd, a little unstable. I worry that this steering issue would be magnified when the bike is fully loaded with front panniers, though I don't have a front rack yet to test this out.

Maybe this is just something that one gets used to with bikes with relaxed head angles? But she's ridden it for over 4000 miles commuting and she still notices it. And I have a Bridgestone MB4 with a 71 degree head angle and it doesn't feel this way. Or maybe it's TOO relaxed - is this what framebuilders try to avoid by putting smaller tires on smaller frames?

My gut says if she likes this bike, she'd like a LHT even more (and her birthday is approaching). I think a 52cm LHT with straight bars and 26" wheels would fit her well, but I'm only guessing that the LHT would steer better -- as usual with the LHT it's not easy to find one to test ride. The LHT would be significantly more expensive because we'd be starting from scratch, but if it handles better then it's definitely worth it.

From what I've described, do you think the LHT will likely be enough of an improvement to justify adding another bike to the fleet?

Thanks!
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Old 05-08-06, 06:54 PM   #2
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I've toured on a Trek 7500FX hybrid and handles well when loaded. When a bike is loaded, as in loaded touring, there is a substantial improvement in the handling when front panniers are used (as opposed to rear panniers only). I try to put as much weight as possible in the front.

Try using front panniers and try moving the weight distribution around before giving up on the hybrid (Gary Fisher Zebrano).
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Old 05-09-06, 09:24 PM   #3
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I use a 90's Schwinn that fits me well and has a wheelbase/chainstay length/geometry that is very comparable to a Trek 520. I have probably several thousand miles on this bike. With proper fittings it works fine for panniers. There are numerous ways to mount racks without brazeons, provided one end is properly anchored to a dropout. I mount fenders and a Jannd front rack. The fenders are not on in the picture. The upper bracket of the rack is mounted to the front fork using a bracket clip that goes around the fork. Make sure this plastic coated bracket is TIGHT and you shouldn't have any problems.

As a rule I don't pack loose items tied down with bungee cords. If it won't fit in a pannier or rack, it stays home. I do try to balance the front very well. I carry a tent in one pannier and a +30 degree sleeping bag in the other, then balance the front with a little more wieght in the sleeping bag side. It is more stable than you think. I remember when I first put the panniers on the front it seemed wobbly at low speed. I think it was always a little wobbly at low speed, and the extra weight just exaggerated the feeling. In any event, this works fine for me.

About the only thing original is the frame, crank/bottom bracket, and brakes. The 700x37 tires have been changed to 700x32, and I have considered 28's. I can tell you that with the 11-34 megarange gear on back, this thing will climb anything, fully loaded, at 4.5 mph in the saddle, without a bobble.

Maybe I'll retire the Schwinn for a LHT next year, but it has two more tours and a trip across Missouri waiting for it this year.

".......and then the wheels came off"

Last edited by Monoborracho; 08-21-07 at 04:18 PM.
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Old 05-09-06, 10:13 PM   #4
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I bought my gf a trek 7500fx a couple of years ago and it was a very small frame with 700c wheels. It always was a bit weird handling for her, especially when making u-turns and stuff, I suppose due to the funny angles. We also had issues mounting a rear rack on her bike, the frame was so compact. We just got her a nice used Trek 520 in a 17" and she loves it - much better steering feel, perhaps because the frame is a bit larger. I would think that a LHT with 26" wheels would be even better.

That said, it sounds like you have a nice bike there already. Pretty well set up. Might want to at least try the panniers first. It would seem to me that depending on the rack, and how far behind the fork centerline the CG ends up being, it may well help stabilize things, especially at slow speeds. It will definitely slow the steering if nothing else. Since the rest of the bike is setup pretty well and she likes it, it would probably be worth buying a rack, throwing on some pans with 10lbs of rice or beans in each one, and trying it out.
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Old 05-09-06, 10:33 PM   #5
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The sakkits are built with 70 degree head tubes, and it is one of their handling features, they have even gone to 68. One question is whether the rake is correct for what you are doing. Draw a line directly through the head tube to the point it intersects the ground use a big ruler like object, or a string. next drop a point from the wheel center to the ground. On the touring bike I am designing the difference between these two points is 2.4". See pic.

If you figure you can safely tie some weights on your bike you might try it for some parking lot test. The problem with flat geometry in the front end is you need the big Sakkit style racks to get the weight back where it won't add to wheel flop. The rack illustrated in my drawing is really too small. I have a design process underway, but I need my new bags to do it. What I am suggesting is you mock up the weight were it will be with low riders, or buy racks you could also use on your LHT. Racks won't necesarily make steering better with flat geometry, though they could, pack weight low.
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Old 05-12-06, 12:13 AM   #6
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I can't say anything about that Zebrano, but you might be right about the issues with 700c wheels on a small frame.

That said, I think getting a LHT for her is a great idea! I love my LHT!

Have you thought about using butterfly/trekking bars instead of straight bars?
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Old 05-12-06, 07:31 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peterpan1
The sakkits are built with 70 degree head tubes, and it is one of their handling features, they have even gone to 68. One question is whether the rake is correct for what you are doing. Draw a line directly through the head tube to the point it intersects the ground use a big ruler like object, or a string. next drop a point from the wheel center to the ground. On the touring bike I am designing the difference between these two points is 2.4". See pic.

If you figure you can safely tie some weights on your bike you might try it for some parking lot test. The problem with flat geometry in the front end is you need the big Sakkit style racks to get the weight back where it won't add to wheel flop. The rack illustrated in my drawing is really too small. I have a design process underway, but I need my new bags to do it. What I am suggesting is you mock up the weight were it will be with low riders, or buy racks you could also use on your LHT. Racks won't necesarily make steering better with flat geometry, though they could, pack weight low.
A Trek 520 Touring and a Trek 720 Multitrack have identical frame geometries and 2'' of fork lead, or offset. My 720 Multitrack feels very stable and I like how it rides in the "Look-ma-no-hands" mode.
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Old 05-12-06, 12:38 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peterpan1
...One question is whether the rake is correct for what you are doing. ... What I am suggesting is you mock up the weight were it will be with low riders, or buy racks you could also use on your LHT. Racks won't necesarily make steering better with flat geometry, though they could, pack weight low.
I tried to measure the trail the other night and it was between 70 and 75mm. I also measured the chainstays again and they're actually 44.5, a bit longer than I originally thought.

I'm going to order a Surly front rack and test out the ride with some weight front and rear. It looks like the Surly rack could be used on either a 26" or 700C wheel, so it would work on either bike we end up using. Also looks like I'd be able to adjust the weight fore and aft a little. I'm guessing that a low rider would have the bags too close to the ground on a 26" wheel?

The Sakkit racks and bikes look great. But I'm hesitant to drop that much money going custom when I haven't toured much and don't know what I like yet. I'm also trying to gear up for some short trips this summer. I do have a set of his bags though, picked them up used. They're set up for Gordon racks. I think the front bags could be modified fairly easily to work with the Surly front rack.

I've heard Bilenky also makes racks - anyone have any experience with his racks? Any idea about turn-around time and price?
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Old 05-12-06, 12:43 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by wsexson
Have you thought about using butterfly/trekking bars instead of straight bars?
Yes, I've considered the butterfly bars as an option. The bar-ends we're using are long and have a bend, so they fairly mimick the shape of the butterfly bars. The reach to the handlebars on my gf's bike is just right for her now, and the butterfly bars would mean a longer stem. I'm not sure they would be an improvement over the bar ends. I also like the right angle formed by the handlebar and the bar end - it's a reasonably comfortable place to hold on. The only problem is, can't reach the brakes from there, but that's the same with the trekking bars.
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Old 05-12-06, 12:50 PM   #10
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I'm also thinking that it would be preferrable for us to have the same size wheels, making it easier to carry spares for spokes, tubes, tire when on the road.

How much emphasis should I put on this - both bikes having the same sized wheels?

Obviously it influences my choice for which frame I build up for myself. To get a bike on the road this summer it seems like my best choices are a 56cm LHT or maybe a Thorn Nomad (depending on delivery time). Or I could build up my MB4, but I really want drop bars, and the top tube is just too long for that to work for me.

If I shouldn't worry about having the same sized wheels, we could be the Surly brigade...
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