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Old 04-13-05, 09:25 AM   #1
dwightonabike
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Trying out bikes before buying

Everywhere you go to seek advice for buying a new bike, you are advised to just ride it around before you purchase it to make sure it fits you. None of the LBS's in my area carry the touring bikes I am considering buying. Has anyone else had this problem, and does anyone have any ideas to help?
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Old 04-13-05, 10:16 AM   #2
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I'm having the same problem myself. I'm getting a lot of good info about the various bikes I'm interested in in these forums, but I suspect there's no substitute for seeing and riding the bike.

My approach is to narrow my search down from many to 2 bikes I'm interested in and then phone around and be prepared to travel.
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Old 04-13-05, 10:48 AM   #3
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This is certainly a common problem in SE and Central Texas; the demand for serious touring bikes is so low that few shops stock them. I will see the occasional Trek 520, rarely in my size.
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Old 04-13-05, 12:36 PM   #4
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This is certainly a common problem in SE and Central Texas; the demand for serious touring bikes is so low that few shops stock them. I will see the occasional Trek 520, rarely in my size.
It's not just a problem in your area. Here in Denver, where we are bicycle crazy, you can find every brand of mountain bike in every model made. We have close to 200 shops in the Denver Metro area alone but I can think of only 3 or 4 which carry touring bicycles and most of those are not this year's model. Touring bikes are a very small subset of a small subset of the bicycle market. Finding one to ride can be an adventure in itself.

Try looking for the major brands like Trek, Cannondale or Fuji. Call shops around you to see if anyone has the specific model you are looking for. If all else fails try contacting the manufacturer to see if they might know of anyone carrying them in your area. Or ask other cyclists to see if someone knows of a the models you are looking for.
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Old 04-13-05, 12:59 PM   #5
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There really aren't that many variables in fitting a bicycle, at least for a non custom. I mean all you really have are frame size options. An additional parameter worth considering is whether you can get the handlebars up high enough, but there are options for this. This is partly the reason that many suggest getting the largest frame that you can still stand over. So it seems to me that while getting to ride the bicycle is ideal when that option isn't available you can probably still get a bicycle that fits and rides great.

First figure out the bicycles that fit your budget and other criteria that is important to you (material, color, whatever). With this short list check out all the online touring sites that you can find (here, CrazyGuy, bikeList, etc) and get peoples impression on the ride as a tourer. If you can get enough positive data points in the areas that you are interested in (stability, relaxed riding positions, what have you) then you can assume that the bicycle is a good tourer if it will fit you. You should have a pretty good idea on general bicycle fit from your current ride and you can adapt that to a tourer. Also most cycling shops can do a general fit for you and you can adjust for their biases. Most importantly you can measure your Pubic Bone Height and use that as a guideline. Check out the fitting advice from Peter White and Rivendell, much of it can be done w/o the bicycle there and then that data applied to your list of options..

This method of online research minus the fit pretty much works for anything. Any time you can get a large number of data points on the aspects that you deem important you are able to make an informed opinion. This may seem obvious, but I think it is worth stating. It has worked for me for my tent, sleeping bag, digital camera and my latest bicycle.
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Old 04-13-05, 01:18 PM   #6
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I'm going to have to disagree with Kodama... internet research works fine for the first pass in the selection process, but anything you are going to have to physically interact with, you probably want to try out in person.

My sister bought a bike that looks perfect on paper for the geometry, is a touring specific model by a highly respected touring bike mfr., has tons of people that swear by it as a loaded tourer, fits her perfectly in terms of ride position.... and handles horribly. I rode it last weekend (we are exactly the same size) and it's not the rider's fault. It's swoopy and wierd. You can barely reach for a water bottle, it's so bad.

This might apply more to folks at the small end of the size range (which we are) but I would try really hard to test ride the bike before you buy. If you can't, you might be able to find a shop that will take a return (good luck) or just buy it, but with the understanding that you might be re-selling it soon.

I really really wanted a Bruce Gordon BLT, and I even visited his shop in person, but he didn't have one built up, so I ended up getting a bike that I could test ride. I'm very happy with my bike - and I knew I would be as soon as I rode it. I bet the BLT would have been even better... but I wasn't willing to take the chance on making such an expensive mistake.

Anyway.... good luck finding a shop to test ride at. And if you can't there's always ebay.

Cheers,
Anna
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Old 04-13-05, 01:50 PM   #7
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My sister bought a bike that looks perfect on paper for the geometry, is a touring specific model by a highly respected touring bike mfr., has tons of people that swear by it as a loaded tourer, fits her perfectly in terms of ride position.... and handles horribly. I rode it last weekend (we are exactly the same size) and it's not the rider's fault. It's swoopy and wierd. You can barely reach for a water bottle, it's so bad.

This might apply more to folks at the small end of the size range (which we are) but I would try really hard to test ride the bike before you buy. If you can't, you might be able to find a shop that will take a return (good luck) or just buy it, but with the understanding that you might be re-selling it soon.

Anyway.... good luck finding a shop to test ride at. And if you can't there's always ebay.

Cheers,
Anna
Anna brings up a good point. It sounds like her and her sister are what are called statistical outliers. If you are especially small or especially tall then getting a professional fit and trying before you buy is imperative. If you are within the average range then my above advice would still hold.

And just as a counter example, my new tourer, bought with absolutely no experience riding any of the makers cycles, fits great and rides incredibly. I bought it based on the makers reputation, countless rider reports of both daily use and real world tours. Obviously I haven't toured with it yet but with a full load of groceries and my commuting load it handles just as well, maybe even better. The bicycle? A Rivendell Atlantis the same as Anna's sister.
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Old 04-13-05, 02:11 PM   #8
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OTOH, I agree with Kodama. For a non-custom fit, close counts. The first basic is the stand-over height. EVERYTHING else on the frame can be changed. (There ARE other frame issues if you are on the edges of the bell curve in the area of body proportions and/or size, where this may not work so well.)

Thirty plus years ago, when I bought my first 10-speed (I didn't know much), a Peugeot UO-8, I did the stand-over test and bought the bike. I was, perhaps, lucky in that there was no need to change the stem length. It was good as was, it turned out. I adjusted the saddle height and have ridden it over 100,000 miles.

When we recently (a couple years ago) bought three Trek 520s, again, we used the frame size as a guide. What we were really buying to fit was the frame. I made no changes to my bike after getting it shipped home (we bought in Seattle on a visiting trip and live in Juneau AK). We replaced my wife's stem, after some riding, here, with a stem 2 cm shorter and with a slightly higher rise.

One of the three bikes was for our daughter (as a gift), who was not even there to stand over the bike. But, I knew my frame size was good for her, but that she'd need a shorter stem. So we had the bike shop swap. I guess right on the stem length, so some knowledge helps.

We needed bikes for a tour in Europe. I wanted three identical bikes so I only needed to bring one set of tools and spare parts. She had outgrown the bike she had. And, I didn't feel out old Peugeots were suitable for loaded touring. We really appreciate the index shifting and 9-speed cassette.

Maybe we were lucky, but we are all still enjoying and are very comfortable on the 520s purchased without a test ride. So, it is possible. (This is not to discount the value of test riding. Just offering my experiences.)

Now, would I BUY a bike mail order or via the web? I don't think I would. I really want to see and handle the bike. See for myself what parts are hung on it. It was side by side comparison that allowed me to feel confident about chosing the 520 versus the alternative in the bike shop. If my 520 got mangled, some how, I might well buy another, sight unseen, because I'd be pretty confident about what I'd be getting.

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Old 04-13-05, 02:12 PM   #9
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Here in DC I couldn't really find any stores with touring bikes other than the Trek. I probably should have checked out Mt. Airy bikes, but it's hard for me to get out of the city. I did planty of online research, found a store that at least had some helpful/attentive folks (Revolution in G'town for me) and tried to ride some bikes with similar frame sizes. I probably paid a bit too much, but since the other places I checked out sort of blew me off, I was happy to get some more detailed fitting & advice.

I've been very happy with my Surly LHT as a daily commuter & short touring (long tours will come when I quit my job) bike. Just my experience. I'm pretty average height/weight/shape FYI.
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Old 04-13-05, 03:14 PM   #10
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That is really weird because here, in Ottawa (600*000 people), almost every store I have been to had at least one touring bike model: Giant OCR touring, Trek 520, Devinci Caribou, Bertrand, Mikado Magellan, Burley, Fuji, Kona Sutra... finding the right one is another story... and one that fits me too since I have short legs and a very long body!
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Old 04-13-05, 04:28 PM   #11
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That is really weird because here, in Ottawa (600*000 people), almost every store I have been to had at least one touring bike model: Giant OCR touring, Trek 520, Devinci Caribou, Bertrand, Mikado Magellan, Burley, Fuji, Kona Sutra... finding the right one is another story... and one that fits me too since I have short legs and a very long body!
The problem I have with your list of touring bikes is that it's pretty short on touring bikes! The Trek and the Mikado (not available in the US) are the only bikes on the list that I would call a touring bike. The others are cyclocross which don't have what I would look for in a good touring bike. I've owned "sport touring" bikes in the past which have similar geometries to the cyclocross bikes and they didn't perform loaded touring duties well at all. If I were going to go on an organized tour where someone else carries my gear, these bikes would work quite well but if you are going to load them up with all the gear needed for multiday touring, the flaws in their designs become apparent very quickly. Try coming down off Trail Ridge Road here in Colorado on a short chainstay loaded bike versus the same trip on a well designed long chainstay touring bike and you'll become a believer too.
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Old 04-14-05, 09:44 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by dwightonabike
Everywhere you go to seek advice for buying a new bike, you are advised to just ride it around before you purchase it to make sure it fits you. None of the LBS's in my area carry the touring bikes I am considering buying. Has anyone else had this problem, and does anyone have any ideas to help?
Same thing where I live. After a ton of research I decided the Trek 520 would be the best ride for my budget. I went to the nearest Trek dealer and explained that I'm interested in the 520, but would not purchase it without a test ride. The sales guy went in the back and came out with the manager, who without hesitating said if I put down a deposit he would order the bike in for me. If, after a test ride I didn't like it, he would return my deposit no questions asked. He also indicated I could take the bike out for entire day if I wanted.

Needless to say, I was amazed at this level of service. After getting measured up, I slapped down my deposit and am waiting for my call back. Dwight, it may not hurt to ask an LBS in your area if they'll do the same thing. I think it says a lot about the shop if they do.
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Old 04-14-05, 12:58 PM   #13
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Thanks for all the advice ya'll. Keep it comin'! I think I'm starting to lean towards a Surly LHT, but I am a big guy (250 lbs) and would feel uncomfortable paying >1000$ for something I am unable to test. I love the guys at my LBS, maybe they will order one on spec for me, its at least worth a try.
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Old 04-14-05, 04:38 PM   #14
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The problem I have with your list of touring bikes is that it's pretty short on touring bikes! The Trek and the Mikado (not available in the US) are the only bikes on the list that I would call a touring bike. The others are cyclocross which don't have what I would look for in a good touring bike. I've owned "sport touring" bikes in the past which have similar geometries to the cyclocross bikes and they didn't perform loaded touring duties well at all. If I were going to go on an organized tour where someone else carries my gear, these bikes would work quite well but if you are going to load them up with all the gear needed for multiday touring, the flaws in their designs become apparent very quickly. Try coming down off Trail Ridge Road here in Colorado on a short chainstay loaded bike versus the same trip on a well designed long chainstay touring bike and you'll become a believer too.
The Trek 520 not available in the US? As for the others... it is true that the Kona and the Giant look more like cyclocross bikes but the Bertrand, Fuji and Burley are true touring bikes... as for the Devinci, I would say it is just a weird bike.
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Old 04-14-05, 08:21 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Magictofu
The Trek 520 not available in the US? As for the others... it is true that the Kona and the Giant look more like cyclocross bikes but the Bertrand, Fuji and Burley are true touring bikes... as for the Devinci, I would say it is just a weird bike.
No, the Mikado isn't available in the US. You are right about the Fuji but, since the Bertrand and Burley, didn't have specs on the frame and looking at the pictures, they look a bit dodgy for touring bikes. Chainstays look a bit on the short side. Could work for people with smaller feet but I'd probably kick the bags which becomes very annoying, very shortly. 17.5" to 18" are best, in my opinion.
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Old 04-15-05, 05:52 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by cmarkey
Here in DC I couldn't really find any stores with touring bikes other than the Trek. I probably should have checked out Mt. Airy bikes, but it's hard for me to get out of the city. I did planty of online research, found a store that at least had some helpful/attentive folks (Revolution in G'town for me) and tried to ride some bikes with similar frame sizes. I probably paid a bit too much, but since the other places I checked out sort of blew me off, I was happy to get some more detailed fitting & advice.

I've been very happy with my Surly LHT as a daily commuter & short touring (long tours will come when I quit my job) bike. Just my experience. I'm pretty average height/weight/shape FYI.
Larry Black runs both College Park bicycles, on Knox road, and Mt. Airy bicycles. If you work with him I am sure you could try out bikes at the College Park store, which is about half a mile from Metro's College Park station.
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Old 04-15-05, 09:09 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by dwightonabike
Thanks for all the advice ya'll. Keep it comin'! I think I'm starting to lean towards a Surly LHT, but I am a big guy (250 lbs) and would feel uncomfortable paying >1000$ for something I am unable to test. I love the guys at my LBS, maybe they will order one on spec for me, its at least worth a try.
I know this will just add to your problems but you might want to consider the Cannondale T800. I'm nearly as big as you and I used to ride a steel frame. Add the load of gear you need for touring and you can overwelm a steel frame pretty quickly. They ride nice without a load but loaded up mine tended to develop a high speed shimmy which it doesn't have unloaded. I also couldn't stand up to pedal because the bike tended to "noodle" down the road under load. The Cannondale is stiff as all get out unloaded but it is real smooth and stable with a load, even at high speeds and while standing. I can throw it around like a race bike under load without problems.
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