January 24, 2009 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Bike nerds : give me a recommendation for both a long-haul touring setup and a flat-city fashion fixie setup.

I've been riding long enough - and for long enough distances - where I feel comfortable actually spending money on upgrading my rides. (I'm a(n in)famous skinflint. In 2003, I know I racked up at least 5k miles, and in 2008, my guess is just under 3k. I'm finally buying a new bike.) I have two main styles of riding - commuting, and late-night bar-hopping. What sort of equipment should I be looking for? What should I be taking into account?

As far as the commute, I have dreams of one day touring cross-country, so I would want a frame capable of carrying that load. Also, I'd be looking at a sane max gear inch, and using that to choose my front crank (triple, natch) and my rear cassette. I would like the SPD/flats mix pedals for this bike, but I'm open to ideas.

As for the fashion fixie, I care most about getting a hot yellow/black look using the current tires and wheels I use (yellow Vittoria tires, black Wienmann rims and Formula hubs) and a decent geometry for short-run riding. Front brakes are necessary, rear brakes are nice, but not needed. Powergrips are the likely pedal unless if you've got better ideas. Points awarded for frames with beautiful details (lugs, seatstay ends, etc.)

Apart from all of this, I would want a bike that could do assisted solo rides well, such as the Hotter Than Hell 100. However, I'm pretty sure that most racer-oriented bike shops have this angle covered, and I really don't have money to spend on this, so I'll probably continue to use my current commuter ride ('99 Diamondback Expert that I've put a zillion miles on) for this.

So? How about it?
posted by suckerpunch to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am (maybe) just about to buy a Surly long haul trucker to use as a singlespeed in a wet climate. If you're not going to do too many tours, you could buy one of these, use it as your fixie, then just switch out the rear tire and chainset when you wanted a touring setup. Otherwise you could buy one of these and the surly steamroller model, which is a fixed-gear on delivery. Take it to your local powdercoater and get it refinished.
posted by beerbajay at 1:59 AM on January 25, 2009

Best answer: beerbajay: I have to respectfully disagree, allow me to make my case:

In my experience, the setup of a good touring bike is not all that compatible with the setup of a fun short distance bike.

For a round town fixie I would want something with a relatively short rake and short wheelbase (for zippy maneuverability), aggressive fit and aggressive frame geometry and stiffer construction (for that responsive "get up and go" feeling that the bike is rearing to take off) and, finally, minimal weight of the overall build (for easier acceleration/deceleration that city riding or hotdogging around calls for). You will show up at any destination under 5 miles away happy from the fun ride, if a bit stiff from the harshness.

For a touring bike I would want something with a long wheelbase and long rake (for stability and comfort), relaxed frame geometry and more forgiving construction (for a smoother less fatiguing ride), I would pay almost no attention to the weight of any non-rotating parts on the bike since I will already be piling it it up with fifty pounds or more of supplies. Also a main concern is that everything on the bike can handle the extra running load, so you get heavier wheels and tires (which will do much more than non-rotating weight to make the bike feel extremely "grumpy" - sluggish and reluctant to speed up or slow down). Basically we are talking about the opposite of the ideal around town setup. A good touring bike will be, frankly, less than exciting to ride (except for the excitement of realizing how many miles you put on in the last month of riding all day every day).

YMMV of course, I have a high tolerance for muscle soreness and general bodily pain, and I love the feeling of moving forward at a high velocity on my bike. Thusly, I have not touched my touring bike in a while despite my commute to work being about 12 miles each way, sticking with my short-distance ride, which is pretty much a stiff little crit bike - aggressive geometry and tight spoked unforgiving wheels, ridden in a position where at the top of the pedal stroke my knee is about 8 inches higher than my elbows.
posted by idiopath at 3:26 AM on January 25, 2009

Best answer: You haven't listed your budget for the fixie frame. Without that, we'd pretty much be listing random good frame builders. Is that what you want?

Also, it seems like you're saying that you're going to buy a frame based on color. That's not a good idea. You can always powdercoat any frame for about $150, depending on where you are.

Also helpful would be your size or the size you're looking for. Framebuilders can be ridiculously out of whack with each other when it comes to size. For instance, I ride a 53 Iro Angus. I quite like the geometry--the top tube length is perfect for my size... however, I've always felt it's about a half inch too short on the seat tube length.

Iro is notorious for riding small. So, the 53 is really a 50 by most builders' standards. With that in mind, I checked out a EAI Bareknuckle. Their 50 is about the right height, but then the top tube is much too short. (Their 52 has the same top tube length as my Iro, but is about an inch higher, which is half an inch too tall for me.)

Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that it all depends on your preferences.

If you're happy with your current ride's geometry, what is that geometry? That would be a good starting point for figuring out what to buy next--at least when it comes to standover height and reach.

If your funds are unlimited, the best frame builders imo are Jonny Cycles, Vanilla, Bilinky, Hufnagel, Condor, and Bob Jackson. Note that I haven't ridden all of these frames, but am just basing this on reviews, interviews, and word of mouth. (Though I rode a Bilinky, Gorilla, and Bob Jackson last summer.) They're mostly all out of my price range. I also like the Freeman Transport bikes but haven't read any thorough reviews yet and certainly haven't ridden one.

If you'd rather buy a used but good frame, you might want to check out this site which sells frames from Japan, all NJS.

As for components, here's what I ride and recommend:

Iro Angus
Phil Wood high flange hubs
Velocity Deep V rims
16t Phil Wood cog on one side, White Industries Dos freewhel on the other (16/18)
Phil Wood bottom bracket
170mm Sugino 75 crank and chainring (48)
MKS RX-1 pedals with Soma double strap cages
Thompson seat post
Selle An Atomica saddle (which is a fucking godsend)

With the exception of the frame, saddle and wheelset, I bought everything on Craigslist over the course of about 4 months. The wheels were done by

Note that some of these parts are a little heavier than normal (the wheelset, for instance) so my bike's a bit heavier than your average courier's fixie, but it rides fantastic. I put almost 4k on it last summer and never had any discomfort.

If you plan on putting serious miles on your bike, I can't recommend enough buying a quality saddle. I did one 20k ride on a friend's bike (adjusted for me) and my ass was killing me. I swore I'd take my saddle with me and throw it on any bike I ever rode again.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:37 AM on January 25, 2009

Oh, and a good place to look at frames if you're interested in details and whatnot is Magazines like cogmag are also good--they've featured a custom frame builder in each issue so far.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:38 AM on January 25, 2009

Oops, that should read 20km ride on the friend's bike. :)
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:38 AM on January 25, 2009

Best answer: Seconding the LHTrucker as your touring frame. From there it's a question of cost on the components and your wheel set. For a seat, touring folks (and many fixie types too) seem to agree that some version of a Brooks saddle is best, just find what works for you then break it in. Alternatively, any steel frame which will take wider tires/wheels (up to 38mm) would be a place to start. I like the Jamis Aurora also - great price for lots of bike and ready to do your touring. But if you want to build something more to your tastes, the LTH is a great frame.

If you have the time to investigate them, I'd look at swept back handle bars - I use the steel 56cm Albatross, but there's a 54cm aluminum version also, along with many others and yet others

As for fixies, seconding - way more details and info than you can really take in, but it will give you a chance to settle on what you can afford and which styles you appreciate. Not nearly as good as hanging around some friends who can let you try a ride on their bikes though.
posted by unclezeb at 9:04 AM on January 25, 2009

Best answer: idiopath explains the geometry setup pretty well.

If you _do_ have the money to burn, go with the bareknuckle. It's a great, solid frame. It's pretty plain, but as stated previously, buying a frame on looks is not good. The fork is damn-near vertical, and it handles like a dream. Depending on how you ride, you may actually want a fork with a higher rake. Oh, and it's drilled for brakes.

I won't go into wheel stuff, because you already have a set built, so...

EAI makes cogs that are just as good (and thread-wise, about the same as) the Phil cogs, and they're a bit cheaper. You have a formula hub, which means you should probably look towards the dura-ace cogs. The threading fits a bit better.

Stay away from even numbered cog/chainring combos. Here's why.

You may want to do additional research on the crank length after you choose your frame. Pedal strike is terrifying, and likely to cause serious injury.

You don't need a King headset or a Phil bottom bracket. Want is another issue entirely.

As far as beautiful frames go, you're going off into hella-expensive land. Vanilla is what I'd buy if I won the lottery, hands down.

Also, seriously think about ditching straps in favor of a set of ATACs.
posted by onedarkride at 9:33 AM on January 25, 2009

Note that EAI has put out a new frame this year which is supposedly better than their Bareknuckle. Info at the bottom of this page.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:37 AM on January 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you. This is all good advice.

As far as price goes, I'm honestly not sure how I want to budget myself here. My commuter takes everything I throw at it and laughs it off, and my 10-speed-to-fixed conversion does its job. I don't need to buy right now, and I can wait and save money if I decide to spend quite a bit. This also means I can wait for a good used deal.

I've given quite a few of my friends' rides a spin, and all I can say for certain is that I don't want a trick fixie/pursuit setup. I find myself shying away from a true track geometry, but I'm not sure if it's because I don't like it, or I'm not used to it. I'll need more seat time before I figure that one out.

As far as the touring setup goes, my previous thinking was a Long Haul Trucker, Brooks saddle, moustache-style handlebars, downtube shifters, Schwalbe Marathon or Vittoria Randonneur tires. (I currently run Panaracer Paselas, but they're not nearly as flat-resistant as I'd like.) No preference on the rest, except that I won't exactly need Campy Super Record parts. So, yeah, my thinking hasn't changed here, except that I might go with more swept-back handlebars and bar-end shifters. (Well, I might see if I can find another TFI Liberator saddle. It's not exactly a sexy choice, but I used to do regular 60+ mile rides on one, in regular clothes, without fear of saddle sores. Hell, I didn't even know what saddle sores were until I switched up saddles.)

As far as the around-town fixie goes, well, I realize that focusing on the color is silly and worthless, but I know how this purchase will probably go. I'll fall in love with the way a frame looks and then figure out a way to make it work for me. Stupid, yeah, but I don't pretend to be anything else.

The NJS site is interesting but the front forks on all of those bikes are not drilled for brakes, and without knowing any better, I'm assuming that drilling them out myself would be a mistake.
posted by suckerpunch at 11:27 AM on January 25, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, yeah, forgot to mention. I just tried to measure pubic bone height using what I've got around - a straight ruler, not a tape measure. 82cm by closest estimate. Jives with the fact that 56cm road frames tend to fit me well.
posted by suckerpunch at 11:45 AM on January 25, 2009

The LHT should treat you right. Just know that it's a tad on the heavy side., which is nothing you won't be able to cope with. Also, it's more likely to stand up to a spill than anything aluminum or carbon.

Never apologize for your setup. The only people who will make fun of it have no bartape, no brakes, and ride really, really slowly.

For a commuting bike, you may want to check out the Armadillos. They're a bit squishy and have a higher rolling resistance, but I've had one set on two bikes and have yet to have a flat. They're now getting worn down to the point of holes in the rubber that expose the kevlar, but this is after 1.5 years of heavy use.

Hell, check out the Soma Delancey for your fixie setup. The geometry is a bit more relaxed, it's purty in my opinion, and it won't break the bank compared to a lot of other frames.

RE: the Toyo: WTF on the 1" headtube. Why, seriously, why in this day and age would someone do that? It does bring up a point about the current bareknuckle setup, though: the goddamn paint. You can cross your eyes at the paint and get a scratch.

Those welds don't look much better than the ones on the bareknuckle I have, but when it's all hand-welded, variance is expected. Those tube rings look nice, though. The fork hasn't changed from what I can see, which isn't surprising.

Anyway, yeah, don't drill your own brakes. If it's not designed for brakes, putting them on is a mistake.

I gotta ask: What's your issue with track frames? Twitchiness? Toe overlap? FAM association? Low-rake associated endos?

One last thing: Try to match like with like. I see a lot of bikes around here that have frames that cost less than one of the wheel, and it's just weird. When your seatpost and stem cost more than the frame, something is awry.
posted by onedarkride at 4:29 AM on January 26, 2009

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