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  1. #1
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    Cyclocross Bikes at all Suitable for Touring?

    First, some information on me. I have toured before (about 2500 miles in New Zealand ten years ago on a mountain bike). I've not owned a road bike since I was in high school and had an old ten speed bike. I mostly mountain bike now but I want to get into more road riding and, eventually, touring.

    So ... I've been educating myself on road bikes. I'm looking to spend UNDER $1300 USD. Intially I just starting looking a performance road bikes (as opposed to dedicated racing) but realized that I should consider that I could tour again and would need the bike to handle this. Immediately choices began dropping out due to limits in frame material (e.g., carbon fiber forks not suitable for touring; concerns over long distance rides on aluminum frames, etc); geometry (shorter wheel base and chain stay length; ride position) ... you get the idea.

    Basically, I'm looking for a bike that will give me some reasonable performance for blasting around for fun and training but will be suitable for the occasional tour (which might be very occasional but could be rather long and demanding as well). After using my mountain bike for this for years, I was sure excited about the light and fast road bikes and so my enthusiasm was dampened when I considered I might be on a dedicated touring bike in order to leave that door open for future touring.

    One thought that has just come to me is the possibility of the cyclocross bike. There's still limited information on these and virtually nothing on their use as touring bikes. My understanding is that they may have some touring capability as a group given that they can have the necessary braze-ons (for panniers and fenders); can have similar component choices, e.g., mixing road and MTB groups; are intended for handling rough conditions and presumably could handle some weight. K2 is new to the bike scene but they, for example, are promoting their cyclocross bike, the Enemy (yeah, what's up with the name?), as a choice for touring interested riders. K2's frame is aluminum.

    Essential Question: Can cyclocross bikes be a good choice for touring bikes that might give a wider range of use and performance than the dedicated touring bike? What considerations might I be leaving out?

    NOTE: K2 specs include a wheel base of 1042 mm versus 1052 on a Trek 520 (for comparision a typical performance road might have somewhere around 1000). The K2's chainstay is 435 while Trek 520's is 450 (performance road maybe 415 or so). So based on these figures and others ... it DOES appear that the cyclocross bike here (the K2) is approaching touring specs in geometry (in addition to the component mixes).

    >>>OKAY ... that was my intented post from when I joined but found I couldn't post right off the bat (delay in activation and then cookie problems). Since then, I've been doing MORE thinking/learning. Right now I'm seriously considering a Jamis Quest. http://www.jamisbikes.com/bikes/quest02.html

    Sounds like it could be a decent touring bike (for not extended, super duty touring). I'm not too excited about riding a dedicated touring bike on a daily basis. I'm tired of riding lumbering MTB's on the road for fun and exercise when I'm not on the trails. I'm hoping for something with some performance ... my reason for straying from the dedicated touring bikes.

    Questions I'm now sweating:

    1. How necessary are the MTB style brakes on a bike for touring? Seems bikes like the Trek 520 or Bianchi San Remos all have these. The Quest, for example, does not. Cyclocross do.

    2. Bar end shifters. Is this a maintenance thing? Seems like these are used on some tourers.

    3. How important are the number of spokes/rim. Tourers seem to be 36h. The road performance may be much less. The Quest, for example, has Mavic Cosmos wheelset. Sweet stuff but only 24 front, 28 rear. They're pretty hefty though overall. Not cheap.

    4. What is the significance of Fork Rake/Offset? Again, touring bikes seem distinct here compared with road performance.

    5. Is having an upright stem important? I've seen bikes (touring, road, cyclocross) go either way. Generally, touring seem to be 90 degrees but I've seen some more upright stems too. Some road performance may be same or even -10 degrees. Seems to me that you'd want some degree of upright position possible to save your back over many miles. Being strectched out all day will kill me. (Again, I toured on a MTB).

    6. I'm going nuts comparing geometries. The Quest is highly rated by a November issue Bicycling Magazine review as being a very stable, versatile bike. It only has a wheelbase of 1002 mm compared with as much as 1066 mm for the Fuji touring bike or 1052 for the Trek 520. It's chainstay is only 415 mm compared with 450 mm for the tourers. Yet, it seems to work. Am I just being too wedded to the numbers here?

    Looking for your knowledge, experience ... and patience!

    Best,

    Brian

  2. #2
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    I think that if you're attracted to a 'cross bike for everyday riding, it is possible to adapt some of them for touring without too much pain. But there will be things to watch out for:

    Geometry:
    aside from fit, the considerations here are chainstay length (versus overall wheelbase, per se) and bottom bracket clearance. Chainstay length is important primarily because you need heel clearance when mounting large panniers, and clearance for tall, fat tires on deep rims, plus fenders.

    41.5 is probably too short. 44-46cm is typical of traditional touring geometry. You might be able to get away with 43 depending on how far back your rack lets you set the panniers, the size of your feet, and the shape of the panniers.

    'Cross bikes also tend to have more ground clearance under the BB than other road bikes. Some tourists feel the higher center-of-gravity is detrimental to the stability of a fully loaded bike. I have no personal experience in this situation, but I do own a 'cross frame that I commute on and I don't find it noticeably more squirrely than my steel tourer, even in crosswinds.

    Gearing:
    most 'cross bikes come with double cranksets and road cassettes. For loaded touring you probably want a MTB triple in front and a wide range (12-34 or something) in back. This argues against buying a stock 'cross bike for touring unless the shop will swap parts for you at cost.

    Bar-end shifters:
    STI shifters aren't field serviceable. And if the indexing malfunctions there's no friction mode. Some tourists feel this is too risky for unsupported touring. Personally, I'm unwilling to give up the convenience of integrated shifters. I haven't toured yet on either of my new bikes, but when I do I'll just pack a downtube shifter as a spare for emergencies.

    Brakes:
    You'll see cantilevers on bikes with STI levers because those levers don't pull enough cable for v-brakes. Bikes with bar-end shifters usually use Dia-compe levers that are v-brake compatible. I don't think it matters, personally.

    Wheels:
    You can always keep a spare set of touring wheels if you'd like to use lightweight aero racing wheels for everyday riding. For touring, wider tires on beefier touring rims with more spokes are worthwhile insurance (you can usually keep riding if you break a spoke on a 36h wheel) and more comfortable with less chance of flats. I just run 700x32c tires all the time, pumped to 95psi, and I consider that an adequate all-purpose compromise.

    Position:
    This is something you'll have to work out for yourself. IMO, all-day riding is more comfortable when you distribute your weight more evenly between the saddle and the bars, and you have bars that allow lots of different hand/wrist positions. But I do mount my bars so the tops are almost the same height as my saddle (which required an aftermarket stem on my threaded bike, and required me to order my unthreaded bike with an uncut steerer tube). I can't imagine anything more painful than having all my weight on the saddle for 8 hours.

    The bike I ride most is an Airborne Carpe Diem. This titanium frame is sold as a touring/cyclocross frame, and I've set it up with touring wheels and a mix of road and MTB drivetrain parts. It's still reasonably light, fast, and responsive and I'm just as happy with it for commuting as for centuries on country roads. If you wanted to start with a cyclocross frame (say a Surly or a Gunnar), having it built up custom by your local shop could give you everything you want.

    RichC

  3. #3
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Holy Cow, those are some impressive essays, Brian and Rich.

    I'll just say that touring can be done on ANY bike. The American continent was crossed by big wheeled bikes back in the mid-1800's when there the best roads were unmarked, unmapped dirt paths.

    Every year, I bring a group of young boys on a 40 mile bicycle tour. I loan the kids single speed ballooners that they think are fabulous.

    As a kid, a friend of mine road from Whitewater, Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois on a Schwinn Stingray - to see a Jimi Hendrix concert, no less. A one-way distance of about 120 miles for a total trip of approximately 240 miles.

    So, almost any bike style available today can be used effectively for touring. Perhaps some bikes are faster. Some bikes may be more comfortable, but almost any bike can get you there and back.
    Mike

  4. #4
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by mike
    Some bikes may be more comfortable, but almost any bike can get you there and back.
    That's true. But I think we're really talking about unsupported, fully loaded touring, though. Bikes that get you there, and there, and there... not just there and back. Carrying 60 pounds of gear, everything you need to camp, dress, eat, sleep, cook, maintain your bike, stay dry, possibly hundreds of miles from the nearest town.

    Minor problems that can be ignored on a 40 mile day-ride become major issues, if not trip-killers, on a two-month unsupported camping tour.

    RichC

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    For hostel touring CX bikes should be fine. If you go camping, you may have to go ultra-light. Smaller panniers should solve the heel clearance problem.
    Any modern brake is powerful enough for touring. My Shimano 105 calipers stop me with a big shopping load on steep hills, and I use them off road as well.
    CX bikes tend to be more upright than road bikes, but you can change stems to suit.

    For an alternative, consider a 26" MTB-wheeled light-touring bike.
    UK makers Thorn do a series from heavy expedition tourer to fast city bike, with an excellent all rounder in between:

    http://www.sjscycles.com/thornbrochure.asp

    Bruce Gorden does an expedition version, but do any US manufacturers do lighter versions of this style?

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    Hi Guys. I faced the same dilemna when I selected my touring bike, but the fact that I got a great deal on a cyclocross frame helped make up my mind. I have a Redline Cyclocross Pro Team or something like that, it too is aluminum, which I was concerned about to begin with. Anyway, I use a BOB trailer rather than panniers, and everything works very well, though the tighter geometry gets a little squirrely at about 27 MPH...steep down-hill...I am still trying to figure out the perfect stem angle, but the versatility with the cross bike is unsurpassed. Good luck. Where are you heading on your tour? Zach.

  7. #7
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Rich Clark


    That's true. But I think we're really talking about unsupported, fully loaded touring, though. Bikes that get you there, and there, and there... not just there and back. Carrying 60 pounds of gear, everything you need to camp, dress, eat, sleep, cook, maintain your bike, stay dry, possibly hundreds of miles from the nearest town.

    Minor problems that can be ignored on a 40 mile day-ride become major issues, if not trip-killers, on a two-month unsupported camping tour.

    RichC
    Yes, Rich, of course you are correct. Better bike = better performance, better comfort - no question about it.

    I notice very often that people will chose NOT to tour because they are afraid they cannot tour witht the bike they have. At the same time, they don't want to buy a new bike, so the simply opt not to tour at all.

    Touring on any bike is better than not touring at all.
    Mike

  8. #8
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by mike

    I notice very often that people will chose NOT to tour because they are afraid they cannot tour witht the bike they have. At the same time, they don't want to buy a new bike, so the simply opt not to tour at all.
    There's a lot of variation in people's comfort level for potential problems, also.

    When I was 18, I thought nothing of jumping on my homebrew 10-speed, built out of used parts, in my jeans and sneakers, with a backpack on my shoulders and a laundry sack full of "camping gear" roped to the rack, and just heading up into Wisconsin, sleeping anywhere and depending on the kindness of stangers to get me out of jams.

    Now I'm 50, and things are just different. I account for risks I never knew existed 30 years ago. I'm a lot more careful, and a lot more prepared. Maybe I've lost something, but I've gained something as well.

    RichC

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    BikeBrian, not to confuse the issue even more, but have you looked at the Atlantis? I test rode one recently while looking for a touring bike. While the Atlantis is built for touring it seemed to me like it was ready to run. I bought a Waterford instead, but thought the Atlantis would have been a good choice, and at under $1,000 it seems like it's in your range. There's a decent write-up at http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/atlantis.html
    (where he describes it as "all-purpose, all-surface, all-season, all-weather bicycle frame" - quite a bike, huh? ). There's also some decent info there on the Gunnar that Rich Clark mentions.

    I also got a good test ride in on the Carpe Diem that Rich rides, and I thought it also would have been an excelent choice for my touring, and it was light and fast enough for most everything but true racing. Of course, the price is much higher than the Atlantis, but Ti does give a sweet ride...

    Good luck!

  10. #10
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by BobR
    the Atlantis would have been a good choice, and at under $1,000 it seems like it's in your range.
    Just to clarify, the Atlantis is under $950 for frame, fork, and headset. Built up, you're still looking at a $2000+ bike. Quite a nice one, and I thought a lot about it when I was deciding on my Carpe Diem. But in the end I already had a steel tourer and wanted something different.

    RichC

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    Thanks Rich, for clarifying the Atlantis price - sorry for the confusion (although it's still a sweet ride...!)

  12. #12
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    Hey guys. Thank you all for the posts. Just an update on where I'm at. I still like the idea of a cyclocross bike but I've been looking harder at choices in the road performance category. There are some versatile bikes there that are better performers in terms of speed and handling than a touring bike surely but also the cyclocross. Maybe not as built for punishment as a CX bike, but appealing. As I believe I originally posted (can't recall now), I'm tired of riding my mountain bike on pavement for fitness. This is one reason why I've shied from the touring bikes.

    I'm not going to tour all the time. I can't even be sure when I'll tour again but I do know that I'm interested in something that will give me the speed and agility on the road that I've been craving.

    I thought I had found a good compromise bike in the Jamis Quest. Word has it that they're sold out for the season, however. Oh well. So, still looking. Guess I'll be looking harder again at the CX choices ...

    LBS's in the area are essentially limited to Specialized, Fuji, Bianchi, Trek, Klein, Lemond, and Jamis. The GT/Schwin guys have backed away from those lines for now. Jamis and KHS seem to have picked up the slack.

    Best,

    Brian

  13. #13
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    See if you can find a Bianchi Volpe to try. For my money, if it fits you, the Volpe is one of the best bang-for-the-buck, do-anything road bikes on the market.

    RichC

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    monkey rider bka2's Avatar
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    I still like the idea of a cyclocross bike but I've been looking harder at choices in the road performance category. There are some versatile bikes there that are better performers in terms of speed and handling than a touring bike surely but also the cyclocross. Maybe not as built for punishment as a CX bike, but appealing. As I believe I originally posted (can't recall now), I'm tired of riding my mountain bike on pavement for fitness. This is one reason why I've shied from the touring bikes.

    I'm not going to tour all the time. I can't even be sure when I'll tour again but I do know that I'm interested in something that will give me the speed and agility on the road that I've been craving.
    i know this thread is 6 years old, but i'm in the exact same position as brian was in (brian, i'm assuming you figured something out!). just thought i'd give it a bump and see if anyone had any more recent thoughts.
    "get a bicycle. you will not regret it, if you live." -mark twain

  15. #15
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    Heh, glad you pointed that out, with your bump I thought it was new.

    I've done one very short tour on my Tricross sport (carbon fork - not sure why OP assumed that was unsuitable for touring). It was clear that it was much better suited to the task than the stock mountain bikes that every single other rider was using. Having tried both, I'd never willingly tour without drop bars, for instance.

    I did find the bike somewhat unstable at high speed downhill, but that was probably due to the non-ideal loading (lots of weight high above the rear rack, and a handlebar bag but no front panniers). Not dangerous or anything, but I found it very challenging to even look backwards over my shoulder on a narrow trail.

    Having briefly testridden a couple of dedicated tourers such as the Surly LHT, I can see how their geometry would be more comfortable for long kilometres. The LHT rides very straight with minimal steering, compared to the tricross, for example. Would it make much difference to me? I doubt it. If someone offered me free use of a LHT for a 3 week tour, I'd probably still take my own bike instead, put it that way. 3 months might be a different story.

    If you want to ride 25,000 kilometres on a bike and do nothing else with it, buy a tourer. If you want a bike that you can use for tours here and there, a cyclocross is IMHO more than adequate. I'd rather tour on a cyclocross than commute on a tourer...

    Steve

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    monkey rider bka2's Avatar
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    thanks steve, this is very helpful. i am in kind of a complicated position. i've been riding fixed gears for a long time, having given up on gears at some point in high school, but now i guess i'm going back to the gears, and i am looking for a road bike. i don't plan on doing a whole lot of touring, but i do plan on touring now and then (a friend and i are riding from michigan to maine this summer--2-3 weeks--it would mainly be very occasional trips like that). on the other hand, i am doing my first triathlon this fall.

    so i'm in a really tricky place--i need a bike for pretty opposite purposes. i worked in a bike shop for a long time, and if anyone had asked me this then, i would for sure say something along the lines of, "just buy two bikes." but i'm a college student and don't really have the space or the cash to buy a touring bike and a race bike, not to mention that, being realistic with myself, i don't think i'm serious enough about touring OR triathlons to buy a bike for each. the main thing i'll be using my bike for is just riding, for fun, for fitness, for speed.

    i'm thinking about going with a cross bike like the jake the snake or the tricross and just fitting it with some fast tires for tris and my daily rides, and thicker ones for touring. i also have a chance to buy a new, very nicely built up gunnar roadie at a REALLY good price. i am worried about touring on a bike as aggressive as the roadie, but wonder whether in the long run the roadie would be the best bike for me. OR i could go with something like the bianchi volpe or the giant OCR.

    anyway, sorry for rambling--that's where i'm at right now. any thoughts are very much appreciated.
    "get a bicycle. you will not regret it, if you live." -mark twain

  17. #17
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    I chose a touring bike when we decided to ride the TransAmerica, but we saw plenty of road bikes and cyclocross bikes on the route whose owners seemed to be doing fine.

  18. #18
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rich Clark View Post
    Just to clarify, the Atlantis is under $950 for frame, fork, and headset. Built up, you're still looking at a $2000+ bike. Quite a nice one, and I thought a lot about it when I was deciding on my Carpe Diem. But in the end I already had a steel tourer and wanted something different.

    RichC
    My how time flies...the Atlantis is now $1600, a 68% increase since this was originally posted.

  19. #19
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    I have last year's model of the K2 Enemy, the bike you mentioned in your post, and until a month ago had a modern touring bike. I may tour on the Enemy this summer, but the touring bike would be waaaaay better suited. For one, the Enemy doesn't have rack eyelts on the seatstays. There are ways around that, but still, it's a pain. Also, forget about a front load.

    Also, the low gear is 38 x 25. It's 9 speed Tiagra, so I will probably put on a mountain rear derailleur and wide range cassette, but this is not an option with 10 speed drivetrains.

    So a cyclocross bike can work, but I'd avoid the ones that are more race oriented. A good option would be the Tricross Sport Triple. In fact that would be a great option, but I tend to think that the Tricross line is overpriced. The best bikeor your pruposes--fast road riding and touring--would be the Salsa Casseroll triple. It may be stretching your budget bby a couple hundred dollars, but I have a feeling it's perfect for you--much better than a race oriented cyclocross bike.

  20. #20
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    My cyclocross bike that I use for commuting has 22-36-46 chainrings with 12-23 cassette and Deore rear der. I also have a 12-26 cassette that I will put on when I want to tour (not full load).

  21. #21
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    I have a 2002 Trek X0-1. As some of the parts have worn out I've replaced them with touring-like components: bar-end shifters, beefier wheels, larger cassette, etc. In terms of components it's set-up more like a touring bike than an XC.

    I haven't done any expedition touring, but I've been very happy with it for a couple week-long light tours I've done. The geometry isn't the best of loaded touring, but as someone else mention I'm sure it would work well with a trailer: That's the great thing about trailers - they can turn almost any bike into a tourer (though they can be cumbersome if you're weaving through traffic).

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    I toured 7,500 miles on a Cannondale Cyclocross Disc and would highly recommend a cyclocross bike for touring
    Its true that you have to watch the geometry, I barely had clearance between my heel and panniers, so I had to adjust the panniers by tilting them a bit
    I left the chain rings as they came with the bike, which proved to be a good choice. I left the cassette that came with the bike, which proved to be a bad choice, I swapped it out for a larger cassette later on during my tour, it made those hill climbs much more manageable.
    The rims that came stock on it were 32 spoke and I found that they worked just fine, I never broke a single spoke in all the miles I covered.
    The tires I used were Marathon Supreme 35's, which fit fine, however I didn't use fenders.
    There are no eyelets on the back, so I had to buy special adapters to secure the rack on.
    No point changing out the shifters to bar end, I like these much more. The disc brakes on the bike are a major plus as well.
    Overall I'd say go for it, I loved touring on my cross bike.
    120 Days, 12000 Kilometers, 2 Wheels - Alaska to Panama for Charity - www.CyclingForACause.com

  23. #23
    Senior Member c_m_shooter's Avatar
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    Get a Cross Check. It can handle touring, commuting, fast group rides and intermediate level mountain bike trails.
    May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
    May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. -Edward Abbey

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    Quote Originally Posted by bka2 View Post
    i know this thread is 6 years old, but i'm in the exact same position as brian was in (brian, i'm assuming you figured something out!). just thought i'd give it a bump and see if anyone had any more recent thoughts.
    Thanks for resurrecting this thread as I'm in the same boat. After much searching, I've narrowed it down to between Kona's Jake the Snake and the Trek Portland... I agree that the Specialized Tricross Sport is a little pricey for the Tiagra group, but I still haven't fully crossed it off... the Snake's about the same with 105 -- and the guys at a LBS in Boulder found that that the front shifter can handle a triple, which I plan to swap in (with new derailleur) if/when I buy it... it'll add some bucks, but I'm pulling a kid and trailer and need the granny gear for some of hills/mountains around here. The Portland's already got a triple, plus disc brakes, but is way pricey. But I have to admit there's something about it that speaks to me. I also plan on pulling a trailer when touring (which may be awhile til the little one gets older). The only thing is the wheelset, which seems a little light... decisions, decisions...

    And anyway, I've got an older steel lugged beast (early 90s Miyata Triplecross) that I can use for the expedition-style tours... I just want something lighter to pull the little one with... well, that's a rationale for really wanting a new bike after sixteen years!

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    Strangely, I too am in exactly the same boat....

    I ride a mid-90s MTB for everything, and like the OP I want to "go faster". I'm not an experienced tourer, but I don't want to buy a one dimensional bike that can't tour (won't take wider tires, fenders, rack, can't go on gravel).

    At the same time, a hard core touring bike is optimized for self-supported touring in remote areas (reliable bar end shifters or clunky feeling MTB components, steel frame, maybe kinda slow) it's unlikely that I'm going to be doing that any time soon. I don't want to drop big $$ on a bike that will be barely faster than my MTB. The touring I do will mostly be in the credit card/SAG variety, within a taxi ride from a North American bike shop that can fix anything, and a lot of my riding will be unloaded day rides. I also like sexy performance features like fancyish road components, integrated shifters, aluminum frames, etc, which again are not optimal for reliable hardcore touring in the boonies but that's not my style (yet).

    I'll probably never commute with it because Toronto is a hotbed of bike theft and my commute is short, fine for a ugly old bashed up MTB.

    Some more critieria: triple crank is a must, and I don't like garish "racing" paint schemes, I much prefer an understated monochrome like the Cannondale T1. Hey, it's gotta look good too!

    So I've been looking at Aluminum frame tourers like the Cannondale Touring 1. Also looking at the Trek Portland, "sport tourers" like Specialized Sequoia, and also looking at cyclocross bikes (although the latter make me uncomfortable... I have zero interest in any kind of racing and don't want to buy a bike optimized for something I will never do).

    In general, touring bikes are EXTREMELY hard to find in shops (in Toronto!), especially in my size (I run towards a 60 or so), so I can't even ride one to make up my mind... I'd have to buy it sight unseen and hope I like it.

    I guess it's time to stop reading bike forums and go ride some bikes
    Last edited by Darrenmc; 05-26-08 at 12:29 PM.

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