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  1. #1
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    Making sense of the touring bike market?!

    Alright, I hate to be the guy that makes another one of these threads, but Iím starting to feel like Iím never gonna be able to make the decision on my ownÖ

    Iíve been reading all the millions of threads here that compare the various touring bikes available, but Iím having some trouble making sense of it all having never purchased a decent bike before (I used to ride a 1986 Trek 1000 road bike that was given to me, but the frame cracked).

    Iíve really been missing cycling since the Trek failed and want to buy something soon enough to ride through the fall. Iíve decided against going the road bike route because I really need something more versatile.

    Iím interested in touring bikes because loaded touring is something I really want to get into eventually. That said, I need this to be my every day bike as well, which means something thatíll be well suited to a 16 mile round trip commute with a 500 foot climb in the morning and descent in the evening.

    The reason Iím reluctant to buy something like a Trek 520 or a LHT is that some people say that they hit their sweet spot when theyíre loaded, and can feel sluggish or unresponsive during unloaded riding. I like to go on 15-25 mile fitness rides, and definitely want something where I can get into the drops and push myself a little and hopefully be as fast as I was on the old aluminum Trek 1000.

    As for the touring, chances are I wonít be on any expeditions any time soonÖ any touring I do in the near future would probably be one or two night light touring on paved roads.

    Everyone here raves about the LHT, and it does look like an awesome bike, but since I need this to be my every day bike as well, I want to make sure Iím not looking in the wrong direction. Would I be better suited to a cyclocross bike like a Cross Check maybe? The CC seems a little sportier, which I think I might like, but I donít want to run into heel strike issues with rear rack/panniers for commuting.

    My last problemÖ literally the only touring bike within a hundred miles of where I live is the Jamis Aurora, but both of the LBS in my area can order Surlys. What do you guys think about buying a bike without test riding, since realistically the only one Iíd be able to ride is the Jamis?

    Thanks so much to anyone that read this far, and thanks in advance for any advice you can give. I know youíve all probably seen this thread before, but I figured it couldnít hurt that much to put my questions out there.

    For the record, Iím 5 foot 7, 163ish lbsÖ if that makes a difference. Oh, and I'm set on keeping this the the <$1100 price bracket to leave some budget room for other equipment. If I'm expecting too much from a single bike just feel free to point and laugh .

  2. #2
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    Bikes feeling 'sluggish' has nothing to do with how fast they go, or if you can ride them in the drops; it's about frame geometry, which affects how a bike handles (twitchy/stable/...)
    If you get skinny, slick tyres you won't be much slower at all I don't understand why you need a fast bike to ride for fitness anyway.
    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_an-z.html#angle http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_ra-e.html#rake http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_tp-z.html#trail

  3. #3
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    So when you say "loaded touring is something I really want to get into eventually," how soon is eventually? Where would you want to go, how far, how often? Might make a difference.

    For "one or two night light touring on paved roads," a cross bike would be as good as anything. Unless you have clodhopper feet, you won't need to worry about heelstrike. You can generally adjust rack and bags far enough away that it isn't an issue.

    Make sure that the gearing is acceptable. Cross gearing can be all over the place. The Cross Check complete bike gives you a 36x25 low gear, and I don't think you'll be able to get much lower without some amount of rework. Might be fine for commuting or for credit-card touring, maybe not so much if you haul a tent with you.

    If you want fenders, make certain that the cross bike provides enough clearance under the fork and under the seatstay bridge.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by lechatmort View Post
    Bikes feeling 'sluggish' has nothing to do with how fast they go, or if you can ride them in the drops; it's about frame geometry, which affects how a bike handles (twitchy/stable/...)
    If you get skinny, slick tyres you won't be much slower at all I don't understand why you need a fast bike to ride for fitness anyway.
    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_an-z.html#angle http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_ra-e.html#rake http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_tp-z.html#trail
    See, shows how much I really know about bikes. When somebody says sluggish, I sorta just assumed they meant slow but I guess they're referring to the handling? This is why I felt like I had to get my questions out there, to set any of my misconceptions straight. It's not that I need a fast, carbon fiber race bike for fitness rides, but I don't want to feel like I'm riding around on a mountain bike either (extreme example, I know, but I think you get what I'm saying...)

    My only experience with serious road riding has been on that Trek road bike i mentioned, and my bike before that was a mountain bike. So those are really the only experiences I can draw from.... I just really want to be sure I'm getting a riding experience closer to the Trek road bike than to the mtn. bike I owned before that.

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    The poor performance of your mountain bike is almost certainly due to knobby tyres, putting high pressure slicks on a mtb already makes a world of difference.

  6. #6
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    Touring bikes will be heavier, particularly the wheels, so they will generally be slower to get up to speed and somewhat slower getting up hills. If you aren't loaded, there isn't a huge difference in weight between touring bikes and other bikes, and you can haul pretty well.

    Depending on the rims that you're using, you might not be able to use skinny tires. (See http://www.sheldonbrown.com/tire_sizing.html#width.)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by ploeg View Post
    For "one or two night light touring on paved roads," a cross bike would be as good as anything. Unless you have clodhopper feet, you won't need to worry about heelstrike. You can generally adjust rack and bags far enough away that it isn't an issue.

    Make sure that the gearing is acceptable. Cross gearing can be all over the place. The Cross Check complete bike gives you a 36x25 low gear, and I don't think you'll be able to get much lower without some amount of rework. Might be fine for commuting or for credit-card touring, maybe not so much if you haul a tent with you.
    Don't have real big feet, so good to hear that shouldn't be a huge problem. The touring... well, I'm not really into the idea of credit card touring. More interested in weekend type tours, 60-70 miles out, camp somewhere, 60-70 miles back. So yeah, I'd be hauling a tent and sleeping bag, but obviously wouldn't need a ton else for such short tours. Who knows, the idea of setting out on a bike and seeing the country sounds pretty dang appealing, but right now I just need to get back into the saddle.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by lechatmort View Post
    putting high pressure slicks on a mtb already makes a world of difference.
    Now there's an idea ... Seriously though, thanks for bearing with me through my newbness. All of this is actually making me feel pretty confident that any one of these bikes I'm looking at are going to serve my needs pretty well.

    I really loved the look (not that it should matter) of the Jamis Aurora when I dropped into the shop to check it out, so I'll probably try to give it a test ride sometime soon. Anyone care to weigh in on the dangers of buying a bike without ever riding it? i.e would it be worth it for me to drive a few hours to Pittsburgh or Cleveland and try to test ride some of the comparable touring bikes (LHT, Trek 520, Fuji Touring, Rocky Mountain Sherpa, whatever else I can find?)
    Last edited by JustinSlick; 09-03-10 at 06:32 PM.

  9. #9
    Godfather of Soul SBRDude's Avatar
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    I would say to get a real touring bike for two reasons. One is that touring seems to be where you are headed, and two, because your fitness rides are short enough that you really don't need to get something more specialized in that direction.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustinSlick View Post

    I really loved the look (not that it should matter) of the Jamis Aurora when I dropped into the shop to check it out, so I'll probably try to give it a test ride sometime soon. Anyone care to weigh in on the dangers of buying a bike without ever riding it? i.e would it be worth it for me to drive a few hours to Pittsburgh or Cleveland and try to test ride some of the comparable touring bikes (LHT, Trek 520, Fuji Touring, Rocky Mountain Sherpa, whatever else I can find?)
    This might not be the easiest way to go, but MAY be the way for you to compare the different ones you are considering. Sometimes a little thing on one bike can be just what you are trying to find.

  11. #11
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    This comment from an otherwise *very* positive review of the LHT is one of the things that makes me reluctant:

    "The downside to the LHT is that it’s bloody heavy. And slow. And I get overtaken. A lot. Which I Do Not Like. The LHT eventually manages to build up quite a bit of speed on the flat, but takes ages to get going. Nippy it ain’t. Mine nods off at traffic lights and wakes up with a “Move? What, me? Oh, go on then”"

    I'm just can't tell whether that's a trait specific to the LHT (sort of doubt it), or if heavier and slower is just a compromise you've gotta make when you buy a touring bike. Maybe it doesn't even matter, it's not like I'm winning any races anyway.

  12. #12
    commuter TimeTravel_0's Avatar
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    maybe an all-rounder is what you're looking for...

    rivendell sam hillborne or something.

  13. #13
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    My current feeling is that unless you have a lot of experience with bikes, a 15 minute test ride isn't going to tell you all that much. The more critical issue is fit; as such, if an LBS is going to order a bike, you need to be sure it's the right size -- and what they'll do if it isn't the right size.

    IMO if you are looking for a versatile bike, get a cross bike, most LBS's should have one kicking around. (The Jamis is actually a cross bike with a few tweaks.) Put some slick tires on it and it's about as fast as a road bike; put some treaded cross tires on it, and it's a winter / dirt-trail bike; put some wide tough tires, fenders and a rack on it, and it's a tourer and commuter bike.

    Weight makes very little difference in terms of performance. What will make an LHT slower than a standard road bike is that the rider is sitting very upright (thus creating more drag). Wider tires with more tread will also slow you down. The geometry results in a more stable vehicle (i.e. turns slower) which "feels" slow but really doesn't make a difference. Weight is the same way, everyone harps on it but it's essentially unimportant. Aerodynamic drag makes much more difference.

  14. #14
    Godfather of Soul SBRDude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacciagalupe View Post
    My current feeling is that unless you have a lot of experience with bikes, a 15 minute test ride isn't going to tell you all that much. The more critical issue is fit; as such, if an LBS is going to order a bike, you need to be sure it's the right size -- and what they'll do if it isn't the right size.

    IMO if you are looking for a versatile bike, get a cross bike, most LBS's should have one kicking around. (The Jamis is actually a cross bike with a few tweaks.) Put some slick tires on it and it's about as fast as a road bike; put some treaded cross tires on it, and it's a winter / dirt-trail bike; put some wide tough tires, fenders and a rack on it, and it's a tourer and commuter bike.

    Weight makes very little difference in terms of performance. What will make an LHT slower than a standard road bike is that the rider is sitting very upright (thus creating more drag). Wider tires with more tread will also slow you down. The geometry results in a more stable vehicle (i.e. turns slower) which "feels" slow but really doesn't make a difference. Weight is the same way, everyone harps on it but it's essentially unimportant. Aerodynamic drag makes much more difference.
    Good points, but weight is important when climbing. Also for accelerating, but since he's not racing, that's not a problem.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravel_0 View Post
    rivendell sam hillborne or something.
    hah, I think it's a beautiful bike. sadly, I'm pretty sure the frame and fork are out of my price range, much less the complete bike.

  16. #16
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    I'm about as tall as you, maybe a bit lighter. I have a Giant Defy 3 road bike and a 26" 54cm LHT. For what it's worth, my commute is a good 10 mins longer when I take the LHT (fitted with front, rear racks, heavy duty dual stand, etc it probably weighs 16-17 kilos before you put any bags on it.) I seem to travel about 10%-20% slower in any given situation with my tourer. I'm fine with that, because I keep my LHT for grocery runs and touring, and my road bike for commuting.

    From what you have told us, I think a steel-framed 700c 'light-tourer' like a Fuji Touring or Surly Crosscheck would be a pretty good bet. Try and ride as many potential candidates as you can and the decision will become clearer.

  17. #17
    But wait... I AM the man. NoGaBiker's Avatar
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    I ride my 15 pound titanium race bike, I ride my 3x-pound LHT. Enjoy them both. Unless you just want the pure joy of crisp, sportscar handling, or unless you have a reason for needing to actually go a certain speed, you don't need the faster geometry. Again, you may just enjoy it (driving a Porsche is very fun when I feel like it, but since I don't get paid to go fast I don't need one). Or you may be (eventually) riding with group riders who'll be able to go 1-2mph faster than you if they are on a race bike and you're on an LHT, and things are otherwise equal. 1-2mph will leave you behind the group in mere minutes.

    On the otherhand, if you aren't pretty sure you'll do truly loaded touring, with the whole camping, self-supporting thing, then an LHT is overkill. Nothing wrong with an LHT even if you don't load it down. Nothing at all. It rides like a dream empty or full. I suspect that with as little riding experience as you have (no offense intended) you wouldn't have much of an idea of what the difference between an LHT and a slightly sportier but still touring-capable bike felt like anyway.

    A lot of rambling, I know -- sorry. But in the end an LHT would probably suit you fine. leave the front rack and all the panniers and the fenders and lights and bells and GPS off of it and use it for sporty rides with not-hyper-serious road riders. You'll do fine. Load it down a lot or a little and commute and tour on it. It's a great choice if you only get one bike. In my opinion, it's easier to press an LHT-type bike into duty as a fitness or group-ride bike, than it is to press a race bike or even a "sporty geometry" bike into duty as a long distance heavily-loaded tourer.

    Eventually, you'll either be content with the LHT for everything you do, or you'll add another, sportier bike to your stable. Then you would have two bikes that each did something really well, rather than one bike that does everything acceptably.
    Stick it to the man.

  18. #18
    commuter TimeTravel_0's Avatar
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    for what it's worth, I never enjoyed the LHT either. I found the ride less than lively. But this is purely a matter of preference and "what works for you", I suppose.

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    My 2 cents. It's not all-about-the-bike; it's attitude.

    I have more of a Ford than a Ferrari by most measures - a Bikes Direct Windsor Tourist. Not as heavy as an LHT or Rivendell by any means; certainly not as light as any Carbon Fiber bike.

    Around town, the Tourist works nicely as a commuter. The steel frame is stiff enough that my 240lb lard-butt doesn't bend it while still being nimble enough to avoid potholes, light enough to lift the front wheel or try to bunny hop the rear if I really have to (the latter is a technique I'm still working on, I'm only 50% successful here), and geared so that I don't crawl across intersections after stoplights.

    On the get-out-and-ride-with-the-roadies runs in the morning, it's a question of gearing and cadence. I definitely don't leave tire marks from dead stops (due more to my fitness level than the bike's weight), but I can keep up with groups doing 17-20mph relatively easily once I'm rolling. It takes basic cycling technique on my part to get rolling with them after any stops (shift to easier gear ahead of time/while stopping so I don't have to try to muscle it off the line). Since I live in Southeastern Louisiana, our riding doesn't include any hills, so I can't say how I/it fairs with the lightweight bike boys on grades while unloaded. However, I don't think the bike would be the limiting factor - that would be me.

    Did I know someone with one or get a test ride before buying it? Not a chance. I just ordered it. For me, it's probably as good an all-around bike as many at the sub-$1000 price point (it's actually $599). The only drawback, if you can call it that - no snob appeal. And being purely an online order thing, I did need to "fit myself"/decide on the proper frame size by myself prior to ordering but that was fairly simple. The only adjustments I have had to make so far are seat height and seat forward/backward adjustments.

    The point is, you're not stuck with what's available locally. YMMV.
    (Then again, I did live in/learn to gamble in Las Vegas a couple years back.)

    Oh, 1 other thing, I still have the 700-28 tires on - that affects speed/nimbleness obviously.
    Last edited by drmweaver2; 09-04-10 at 02:34 AM.

  20. #20
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    Classic over-thinking.

    Go ride some bikes and buy the one you like best.
    1988 Miele Azsora

  21. #21
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    If you think you'll be doing some touring, get a touring bike. I'm the same height and weight and the bike I ride most frequently - for recreational rides, commuting and tours - is an old Trek 520. Sure, it's a little slower to get going and on the hills, but not that much. Besides, when I ride with others - maybe 10-20% of my miles - it's nice to have an excuse for being slow. I like the bike because it is comfortable, reliable and versatile.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jtgotsjets View Post
    Classic over-thinking.
    Am I over thinking it? Almost certainly! It's one of my worst habits when it comes to making large purchases. Forums like this are a blessing and a curse in that way... on one hand, you can get tons of very, very good information (thanks everyone). On the other hand, it can all be too much. Am I really in any position to care whether the bike I buy has an 11-34 cassette or an 11-32 when I've never really experienced the difference myself? Maybe not, but it never hurts to educate yourself as much as possible.

    Quote Originally Posted by jtgotsjets View Post
    Go ride some bikes and buy the one you like best.
    That's something I most certainly would do, but as I mentioned before, there just aren't a lot of touring bikes sitting on shop floors in my region. When it comes down to it, I know perfectly well that any one of these bikes is going to make me a pretty happy camper--even a Windsor Tourist. I'm not really the buyer remorse type, and to be quite honest I agree with what NoGaBike said about me probably being to inexperienced to feel most of the subtle differences anyway. I've done a good bit of riding, but all of it was on a very dated bike, so any one of these is going to feel like an upgrade to me. So anyway, I probably come off as pretty picky, but I'm just trying to learn as much as possible about these bikes because chances are I'm not going to get to take most of em for a spin before making a decision.

    Again, thanks everyone for all your responses, there are a lot of different opinions in here to soak up!

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustinSlick View Post

    I really loved the look (not that it should matter) of the Jamis Aurora when I dropped into the shop to check it out, so I'll probably try to give it a test ride sometime soon. Anyone care to weigh in on the dangers of buying a bike without ever riding it? i.e would it be worth it for me to drive a few hours to Pittsburgh or Cleveland and try to test ride some of the comparable touring bikes (LHT, Trek 520, Fuji Touring, Rocky Mountain Sherpa, whatever else I can find?)
    I have had a Jamis Aurora for nearly 3 years, with about 8,000 miles on it so far. It has worked well for me as an all-purpose bike (all the things you seem to want in a bike) - around town, fitness rides, club rides, event day rides, weekend tours, week-long loaded tours. The only thing I changed at time of purchase was the original stock FSA crankset to a Shimano 48-36-26. As I noted elsewhere a while ago, it may be the Rodney Dangerfield of touring bikes. It may also fit your budget a bit better. If you can afford to spend a bit more, take a look at the Jamis Aurora Elite as well (2009 or later models).

  24. #24
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    I have always taken the view that if I could keep only one of my bikes it would be the tourer. Partly that is because I like to tour (doh) but it is also because of the bike's versatility. It's a pleasing enough ride when unloaded, it's pretty much perfect for commuting because I frequently need to take a laptop etc. as well as clothes, it has clearances for pretty fat tyres so can cope with moderate off-road, it'll haul the groceries.

    I have no view about the LHT, I've never sat on one. The Jamis is significantly lighter, though, and looks (I haven't made a detailed comparison) as if it might have slightly sportier geometry.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  25. #25
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NoGaBiker View Post
    . leave the front rack and all the panniers and the fenders and lights and bells and GPS off of it and use it for sporty rides with not-hyper-serious road riders. You'll do fine.
    None of us would be on the touring forum if we were true "weight weenies," but it is amazing the way that a touring bike can "gain weight" even just hanging around the garage -- ultra flat-proof tires; heavy tubes; racks; triple water bottles; a big seat bag with spare parts including 3 extra tubes, patch kits, extra spokes, kickstand, etc. Nothing in particular is that heavy, but if you start piling it all on, it adds up.

    For recreational riding, if you own just one bike, put your touring bike on a "diet." You can save more than two pounds just switching to lighter tires -- Continental makes some good 28c tires, or get some 300-gram 32c tires (there are several) instead of the heavier touring tires that are 700 to 800 grams per tire (If you want to go all out, get a second set of lighter-weight wheels). Carry a small patch kit in a small bag under your saddle; get a lighter weight pump; get ride of the fenders, racks, and lights, etc. Your touring bike will still be heavier than a pure road bike, but you can pare off noticeable weight switching to lighter tires, and getting rid of all the touring attachments while you're "in town."

    A 'stripped down' touring bike, especially if you went all the way to lighter weight wheels, will be just fine.

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