Old 06-19-09, 11:19 AM
Senior Member
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 6,313
Mentioned: 12 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 432 Post(s)
Liked 4 Times in 3 Posts
Originally Posted by Sry0fcr View Post
I'm definitely not interested in a mountain bike. I live in a suburban area so I'm thinking a more road oriented flat bar hybrid/city/urban/fitness/commuter/whatever bike would be the ticket but I'd like the capability to ride across a patch of grass, a gravel driveway or go up a curb if needed I just don't know if I'd be able to do it on a rigid front fork bike without getting all beat up. A cyclocross bike may bee a little too aggressive for me at this point from (admittedly) what little I know about them.
Listen, your perspective is very very common and this question seems to come up every week. And it's always the same answer.

A road bike is completely capable of handling that and is the most appropriate bike for your needs.

I own a full on high end race bike and I take shortcuts over grass all the time. I don't get beat up (more about that in my recommendation) over grass. Biking on a gravel driveway isn't the most pleasant, but it certainly isn't bone-jarringly terrible either. Your bike isn't going to fall apart if you go off a curb or bunny hop onto one. I plow off of curbs constantly. Short of a full on suspension mountain bike, no bike is going to be able to plow straight into a curb without doing some bunny hopping, and all bikes are going to have some trouble trying to get up onto a curb you're parallel to, but the nice thing about a road bike is that the lighter-weight frame is less weight to pull up for the hop. The reason why road racers are afraid of plowing off curbs is because they own high end superlightweight race wheels that often cost more than you even want to spend on your entire bike ($1,000 to $3,000) and the really lightweight fragile wheels start to have issues. Also, the frame on a road bike is completely capable of going off the curbs (I wouldn't take it off ramps, but curbs are no issue). Some road wheels/rims have reputation for being particularly tough, like the Mavic cxp33's and the Mavic Open Pro's.

The only issue I see is that a solid, comfortable road bike like I'm describing costs $800-$900 retail price. But that buys you a bike that's comfortable over bumps and bad road, durable, and only about 5% slower than the more top end road race bikes (you aren't going to end up having to bike a new bike next year because your bike is to slow). If you did get really into biking and racing, this bike would still be useful for training on rainy days, commuting, and taking on trips like the MS150 where you don't really want to throw your racy bike in the back of a uhaul with a bunch of other bikes. At $800-$900 retail it's a very solid bike.

Now as to which bike to choose, I'll start by saying that there are some road bikes which are a much nicer ride than others. The worst is probably either the old school (like 20 years ago) full aluminum skinny tire bikes. Those would beat the crap out of you, even on "shorter" rides. In recent times, carbon fiber forks and bike design have greatly improved this. Right in the middle are modern "race" bikes, like the Specialized Allez. Far more comfortable than the old road bikes, they're sort of in the middle where some people feel a little beat up after really long rides (like 100 miles), and they're designed to be ridden rather leaned over for aerodynamics, etc etc. But the most comfortable road bikes fall into a category they call an "endurance" road bike. They're designed to be ridden on rough roads and, frankly, to be comfy but still road bike fast for the actual typical bike buyer who wants to cruise around town or bike to work while being comfortable, including on rough stretches of road. This sounds like the category that fits your riding.

I'm not familiar with the Giant or Trek lines of bikes, but I've been really impressed with the comfort level on Specialized bikes. The Sequoia is their less expensive "endurance" bike, and from your description it sounds like the best fit for doing the kind of riding you're talking about:

For the following reasons:
1. Speed - As mentioned, the difference between this bike and like a top end racing bike in speed is like 5%. IMO, I'd say the difference between a fat tired hybrid bike and a race bike is 30%-100%.
2. Comfort on rougher road - it's designed (and in my riding does an excellent job) of keeping even rough roads with potholes comfy on the hands and rear end.
3. Comfort on long rides like the MS150 - a curly bar bike is, counter-intuitively, actually better designed to be comfortable on your hands for really long rides than a straight bar bike (like most hybrids). The curly bars give you 3 different positions for your hands - on top of the brakes, down in the drops, and on the straight part of the bar. Those positions also don't compress nerves in your hands like straight bar bikes do. Typically the tradeoff is that your back has to deal with being leaned over more, but the Sequoia's bars are still relatively high. I want to mention that this isn't just a theoretical issue for me - I went on a 75 mile ride over 2 days on my straight bar bike with round grips, and when I got back the leftmost 2 fingers in my left hand could barely feel it when I touched anything. (Apparently it's something about compressing the Unular nerve.) It took over a month to completely heal - really creeped me out. You can get grips that help, but a curly bar bike ideal and designed for longer distances.

That's my opinion - I think for the kind of riding you're talking about doing an "endurance" road bike would be ideal. You're not going to have problems going over grass, your bike isn't going to break going off curbs, and you aren't going to have to get off and walk for gravel driveways. At the same time, you're not going to have to buy a new bike next year because your bike isn't fast enough to keep up with your son or other riders (whether you're fast enough, well, that's a whole 'nother story! :-)).

I feel obligated to add what I think a road bike isn't appropriate for -
1. If you're really, actually biking through a bunch of mud all the time. Some mud here and there isn't going to hurt your road bike, but constantly being deluged in it certainly would.
2. Gravel bike trails aren't a problem on a road bike, especially a good vibration absorbing design like the Sequoia. They're bike trails, they use small rocks. If you're biking on designed-for-cars dirt road with large rocks, though, the skinny tire on a road bike starts to lose traction and the bumps are to big and you're better off with a fatter tire cyclocross bike (though it's going to be a little bit of a bumpy ride no matter what bike you're riding).
3. If you're going off jumps with your bike.
4. If you spend a lot of your trip biking in wet conditions on unpaved road. It gets kind of mushy and the skinny tire starts handling worse. Now, your road bike can handle things like a wet gravel driveway, it's just not going to be ideal. I mean, handling is going to be a little rough and sloppy but certainly not "bone jarring" or anything. But if your entire ride is a 10 mile long gravel road you regularly ride in the wet, well then a cyclocross bike with wider tires would be a lot better.
PaulRivers is offline