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Steel or alu, road or touring, bike advice please!

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Steel or alu, road or touring, bike advice please!

Old 08-02-13, 12:31 AM
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Steel or alu, road or touring, bike advice please!

Hi all

I've been searching the forums for a while now, trying to decide which kind of bike is best for my needs but just can't decide, and we're moving to Switzerland in about a month so I need to, soon. Any more targeted advice would be very welcome.

I'm in the market for a new bike, around $1000, a little more if needs be, that I envisage I will mostly use on weekends for going out into the (Swiss) countryside with my family on day rides. We have a toddler that I envisage my husband will take in a trailer on his Cannondale Synapse (alu, carbon) so I will probably carry whatever else is needed for the day. I may also end up riding the bike around town too with the kid in a rear child seat.

I initially wanted the Dolce Elite, I'm 5'2'' and it was light and fun and fit like a glove, loved it. However for regular loading up and possibly having a rear seat on, I was advised it's not fit for purpose and a steel touring bike would be both more durable, more comfortable and have better control with a heavy rear load.

I've tried the Novarra Verita at REI so far, which apparently has a more road bike geometry than a touring bike. It was a really smooth ride but doesn't come small enough for me.

But following that, I think a road bike with a steel frame is where I'm going, lighter than tourers but able to take more weight and handle better than alu carbon forked road bike. I'm going to see if I can try a Surly Pacer at an LBS on the weekend. I've also been eyeing up the Bianchi Volpe, for some reason it's really speaking to me

My only doubt is whether the extra comfort of steel is worth the extra weight. I found the Dolce pretty comfy riding over New York's pot-holed streets, though it was only for 10 mins. Also, bearing in mind I'll be carrying a load of some sort and may be in hilly country, will I really feel the extra weight, even with a triple? This was the view at the first LBS I tried, though as they were all about racing, I'm not sure they were being fair.

Also, can I even load up a steel road bike? I know more spokes would be needed for proper touring, but for day rides with enough stuff for the kid for the day or a picnic, and sometimes having her in the rear bike seat (she along is 27 lb), is the frame at least able to take it? I read somewhere the chainstays won't be long enough for panniers, so would it still not be fit for purpose? Will the steel road bike end up fulfilling no needs at all?

So I keep going round and round, whether to go for the light road bike, the stronger steel road bike, or just get a tourer that will definitely be able to handle it? I don't see why I'd want more than 28 mm tires or need full loading capacity, but the handling is meant to be more stable and also the geometry more upright, both of which is important if I use it in the city with my daughter on the back.

So, any thoughts on which direction to go down so I can test ride a few types? The first LBS turned me away after my third ride and told me to come back when I had worked out what I want....

Thank you!!

PS I thought about cyclocross but it seems to miss the mark on all, heavier than the steel road bike yet more aggressive. I want to be fairly upright.

PPS Should I just wait until I get to Switzerland/France and see how we end up living and then buy something? It is more expensive there though and less choice, especially at this time of the year....
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Old 08-02-13, 01:06 AM
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To be honest, I'm not surprised the bike shop is struggling to help you.

You loved the dolce elite but want an upright position so a cyclocross bike is too aggressive for you? That doesn't really compute.

It sounds to me that you really want more than one bike - a lightweight road bike that you can have fun with on your own, plus a tourer/trekker that can handle the kid and some luggage and have you in an upright position.

If space or cost means you can only have one, then I'd say the latter is the way to go. Yes, these bikes will be heavier. Yes, weight matters in the Alps. But weight can be overcome with gearing, and frankly, with a 30lb child plus seat and stuff for a day trip on the back, the weight of the frame is incidental.

I'm surprised that you say choice would be more limited in Switzerland. It wouldn't, really, though you may be less familiar with the brands and the styles of some of the bikes available. If you wanted to go the upright load-carrying and eminently practical route, you might consider waiting until you are there and looking at some of these. Unusual in the States and relatively uncommon in the UK, but very often seen on mainland Europe as versatile touring/commuting machines.
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Old 08-02-13, 02:42 AM
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You say the shop you tried is about racing, worried about weight in the situation you describe, and after a few test rides they told you to go away and come back to give them your money once you figure out what you want on your own? One thing I can say for sure is don't go back to them. The sound like the wrong type of shop for you, and not a very good/friendly shop in general even if they were into the type of bikes you're looking for.

I think you should think about waiting until you get to your destination to figure out the bike situation.
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Old 08-02-13, 03:44 AM
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Fuglisam, the frame material is irrelevant. Expecting a light sport/tour bike to also carry a child is unrealistic. Putting a child carrier on 28 mm tires is a rough ride for the kid.
My $.02 is to get the nice riding sport bike here outfitted as desired for those day rides and if you want a baby carrier/grocery getter get a step through traditional three speed or equivalent there. At your height a 20"-26" wheel bike with step through frame is a lot better with a baby.
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Old 08-02-13, 04:16 AM
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Tube-wall thickness is what you need to resist the clamps of child seats. Ultralight tubing of steel or alu is not robust enough, biut any midrange bike is fine.
Child seats put a lot of weight high and rearward so you need long chainstays to keep the weight over the rear axle.
Small/proportionate wheels are sensible in a small frame. You can get 1-1.25" tyres for 26" MTB. 1.5" will probably give a better ride.
You need to mount the bike safely with child on-board so look for dropped/compact top-tube and low bottom bracket.

I suggest a non-suspension MTB in Kona style (ie very compact frame), with trekking/butterfly bars for comfort, road rigid fork (Kona project) and slick tyres.
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Old 08-02-13, 06:12 AM
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Sounds to me like you need a hybrid bike...Like others have said, a few pounds ain't gonna make a lot of difference if you are planning on loading it with a kid...the variety of gears on a hybrid like a Cannondale Quick or a trek FX or Something like that...Don't sweat the aluminum vs steel too much...Good luck but also follow your gut and plan for the surroundings you will be in...Hills, flats, dirt etc....Switzerland...Damn...i would be taking my Harley fo sore...
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Old 08-02-13, 06:42 AM
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fuglisam, If you're limited to just one bicycle, pick the one to do the dirtiest deed. I suggest the Novara Randonee.

I've used my touring bike unloaded and it's no big deal. A touring bike IS heavier than most other styles and a lot of that extra weight is in the wheelset and tires. The geometry favors straight line stability rather than corner carving.

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Old 08-02-13, 07:08 AM
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Will you have to pay an import duty on the bike when you move?
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Old 08-02-13, 07:20 AM
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If you don't have stand-over in a Randonee, REI should be able to put drop bars on a Safari for you. Safari small has 26" wheels, should give you stand-over. My wife has a Randonee from when they used to put 26" wheels on the small frame for that bike. She likes it and it's been very reliable. The Safari and Randonee both have a compact frame which should give you more stand-over than the Verita.
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Old 08-02-13, 09:38 AM
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Dont sweat the steel Vs aluminum thing .. people tour on all sorts of bikes .. and theSwiss also have bikes ,

so since you are moving there , you can get it there.. One less thing to move..

TreK has nice bikes. want a step through frame? might be best if you mount a child seat on the back..
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Old 08-02-13, 10:47 AM
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My daughter has a Raleigh Sojourn that she absolutely loves!
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Old 08-02-13, 11:21 AM
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Aluminum vs. steel should be a non issue. I've done long tours on steel framed bikes, Long Haul Trucker and Bianchi Volpe, and they both did a good job. Recently I did a 1200 mile tour on a Connandale T2, an aluminum frame bike. It was as comfortable as either the steel framed bikes.

The only thing I don't like about aluminum frames is that they are relatively fragile. My aluminum frame road bike and my wife's aluminum frame touring bike have dents in them. They are a result of very minor incidents that would not have done any noticable damage to a steel frame. However, I like the solidness of the T2, and it might take the place of the Volpe as my favorite all around bike. Unfortunately Cannondale quit making touring bikes in 2010.

We have also used lighter weight road bikes with aluminum frames for some lightly loaded touring. There are a lot of issues with this: rack installation, heel clearance,fragile wheels, and narrow maximum tire size limits. I would definately not hual a child on the back of one.

We carried full camping gear, but kept the loads light when we used our road bkes. However, we did have full camping gear on this trip.

Surly bikes tend to have long top tubes which can make it a bit of a stretch for some people, and they tend to be heavier.

The Bianchi Volpe is a great bike. I have used mine on a 3700 mile fully loaded tour, on several shorter tours,to haul groceries, on slower club rides, and just for fun weekend rides. It is my all-around bike. I often ride it instead of my lightweight road bike. However, I have to work a little harder to keep up with my wife when she is riding her light weight road bike

The best way to tell which one will best suit your riding style and needs is to just test ride as many different bikes as you can. All bikes are compromises. Select one that meets the majority of your needs.

P.S. We found Switzerland to be very expensive when we rode through there a couple of years ago. It may be prudent to buy the bike here, and ship it with your household goods.

You might be amazed what you can haul with a Volpe!

Last edited by Doug64; 08-03-13 at 10:04 PM.
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Old 08-02-13, 11:23 AM
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a bike like the Trek seems like a good compromise with having low gearing, upright riding position, and being tough enough to take a 30lb+ child and stuff (been there done that a lot). You may find you prefer a bike trailer at some point as well, although not quite as convienent as a seat, is nice because the riding is not affected the same as a heavy high up seat full of kid.

a friend of mine bought a Trek 7.3 last year, it now has 9 speeds, and nice low gearing with a 48/36/26 crank along with a 11-32 cassette-just what you would want for the hills in any Swiss town. Other brands sell similar hybrids, but the 7.3 does have slightly lower gearing than some, which is a big advantage for you (both for terrain and mule duties, remember I did a lot of daddy mule duty, the weight can add up)

heck, keep a bike like this in reasonable shape and at some point the kid can start using it when he/she is a teenager, my wifes 20 yr old hybrid gets used by our teenager now.
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Old 08-02-13, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by 3speed
You say the shop you tried is about racing, worried about weight in the situation you describe, and after a few test rides they told you to go away and come back to give them your money once you figure out what you want on your own? One thing I can say for sure is don't go back to them. The sound like the wrong type of shop for you, and not a very good/friendly shop in general even if they were into the type of bikes you're looking for.

I think you should think about waiting until you get to your destination to figure out the bike situation.

When I bought my road bike last year I had narrowed it down to two bikes, went to the LBS 5 days in a row and rode both of them (as well as a few others) each day. It was a tough choice. The LBS never flinched. They were more than happy to let me try them out as much as I wanted. Result - I bought one of them. If they had told me to come back after I made up my mind, I never would have returned.

If waiting until you get to Switzerland is out of the question, I would at least find another LBS to deal with.
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Old 08-02-13, 01:49 PM
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I've gone back and forth on the question of steel or aluminium, touring or mountain. After buying a Nashbar touring frameset I decided to buy a mountain frame even though I haven't even completed my touring frame project yet. I ended up choosing an aluminium mountain bike frame made for suspension forks and 26 inch wheels (I'm 174cm tall).

Aluminium won't rust like steel. Suspension forks can save you from potholes you haven't even seen. And 26 inch wheels have a smaller turning circle that can allow you to turn around more easilly. Plus, 26x1.75 or 26x1.85 tires can be pretty cushy for swallowing up bumps on the road.
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Old 08-02-13, 01:59 PM
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some good advice above

i will add
the limiting factor of where and how a bike can be ridden is the tires
modern road bikes that can usually not fit wider than 25mm tires
are very limited
and are generally not meant for carrying heavy luggage or children

touring and cx bikes fit a range of tires
that make it possible to ride anywhere

except for super light steel frames
the difference in comfort between a steel and aluminum bike
all other things being equal
is completely eclipsed by changing tires
or even changing pressure in tires

super light steel frames might offer a noticably smoother ride than some alumunim bikes
but are generally more fragile than aluminum of the same weight and quality

you should worry less about the material the bike is made from
and more that it fits your body
and the type of riding you want to do

if you have a trailer
do not get a rear mounted seat
get a second hitch to attach the trailer to whatever bike you get
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