Eater of Food
Join Date: Apr 2010
Bikes: Surly Long Haul Trucker, Follis Concorde Tandem, Surly Big Dummy
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Depending on where you live, there may be a bicycle cooperative in your area that collects and sells old frames that can be rebuilt. Lugged or brazed touring and mountain bike frames from the 1980s and 1990s can be found inexpensively. Also, e-bay is a good place to find deals, and sometimes the deals are so good that it justifies the shipping prices. I'd also look on Craigslist. As far as reasonably priced new bicycles, Surly makes the best production steel bicycles on the market. The Surly Long Haul Trucker or Cross Check will fit your needs perfectly. Both are offered as bare frames for about $450, or fully-built bicycles for around $1000. Also the Velo-Orange Polyvalent is another reasonably priced, versatile steel frame.
What to look for in a frame: First of all, you want to make sure it fits correctly. Find out your standover height and research "bicycle fitting" on the internet in order to determine what you need. If you are going to be using the bicycle for rides of up to 100 miles, you probably want to avoid something that's overly heavy (ie 1970's clunkers that *look* like a road bike...the ones with suicide levers), and you should consider a frame with the capacity to mount fenders and wide tires. As for your desire to put a flat bar on the bike, the frame will have no relevance in this decision.