Can you help me find the right bike?
August 2, 2011 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Performance quality of a "Road bike" with comfort of upright handlebars?

Currently riding a beat-up early 1990s, 20.5 inch, 18 speed Schwinn to work which has several parts that need replacing. It also weighs a staggering 32.5pounds! Rather than fixing, I'm looking for a bike that is:
  • 5 to 10 pounds lighter
  • includes mounts for a rack
  • includes mounts for rain fenders (Live in Seattle)
  • good for hills (500 foot ascent on the way home every day.)
  • speedy quality of an entry level "Road bike"
  • provides stability and comfort of an upright
I barely know if what I want is possible. Any suggestions? I did test rides on Bianchi Volpe and this Masi bike. I liked the speed and the frame, but there is no way in hell that I could get used to the road bike handlebars. Could i just get a frame like this Soma and have the bike shop make it with high handles?
(Absolute budget limit $1000. Would be happier below $700.)
posted by David-lib to Shopping (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a wide world of bikes that are basically road bikes with flat bars. I nearly bought one of Jamis' Codas, though I ended up going with a full-out road bike, after realizing that it really isn't that hard to get used to drops. I'd look at things that are sold as flat-bar road bikes, as well as the large and vague class of "hybrid" bikes - with slick tires, they're probably going to give you the zip you're looking for in your entry-level road bike desire.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2011

You want one of these. Pick your favorite bike company, and see what they have. Kona would sell you one for 500-700, which seems to be what you want.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:27 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Novara Buzz (and other bikes like it) would do you well. You absolutely could build up that Soma frame with flat bars, but that's also going to mean you'll need different shifters, and at that point you're talking about buying all the parts of your bike separately and paying someone to assemble it for you, which is going to be a bit more expensive than buying a complete bike.

Have you tried walking into your local bike shop and telling them what you're looking for? Try taking some of their models out for a spin and see if you like any. You can definitely get what you want in this price range.

Also check out these bikes by Bianchi.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:27 PM on August 2, 2011

I asked a similar question and ended up getting this wonderful Trek FX. I love it. (Also a Seattleite btw.) It is extremely light but has a more upright posture, took racks nicely, and handles hills well.
posted by bearwife at 1:41 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You want a drop-bar touring bike converted to upright handlebars.
posted by twblalock at 1:44 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a look at this Fuji.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:54 PM on August 2, 2011

I nearly bought one of Jamis' Codas,

I did buy one. I was after pretty much exactly what you are after: A flat-bar road bike that can take fenders and a rack good for getting around a pacific northwest city. I test rode at least a dozen bikes in that category before settling on the Coda. Actually, I was about to buy the Coda Sport because of its slightly nicer components and slightly lighter weight, but the guy in the bike shop convinced me the difference wasn't worth the extra couple hundred bucks (I think it was $500 vs. $700, but that was a couple years ago. They also make an even snazzier one, the Coda Elite, which I think is right about at your limit of $1000.

That said, I bought the Jamis bike because it felt right to me. Test ride a bunch of bikes in the category (there are Treks, Konas, Giants and many more) and buy the one that feels right to you.
posted by dersins at 2:03 PM on August 2, 2011

You're looking for a sport or fitness bike. Try the Trek FXs, Specialized Sirrus, KHS Vitamins or similar. 700c wheels and tires skinner than a 32.

You can also try to find a road style bike that works better for you. You should definitely feel the most comfortable with your hands on the top of the shifters. This is called "on the hoods." All other positions should be manageable, but the hoods should be best. You might also consider getting cross levers installed to allow you to brake from the top of the handlebar as well as the regular brake lever.
posted by advicepig at 2:18 PM on August 2, 2011

Seconding the "on the hoods" comment. I recently switched from a hybrid bike to a "touring" bike, a Jamis Aurora Elite that's just outside the price range you mentioned. Ram's horn handlebars. I was expecting to have a tough time with the transition to those handlebars, but I spend all my time up on the hoods, and it's not really that different from from the posture I had on my hybrid.
posted by gurple at 2:32 PM on August 2, 2011

I've been riding a Brodi Torque (basically a mountain bike) with upright handlebars for 10 years, but I feel like changing to a bike with drop bars. The upright bars are too hard on my wrists for anything more than an hour in the saddle.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on August 2, 2011

I like the idea of building up the SOMA frame with albatross, bullhorn, or moustache bars and real road bike components (Shimano bar end shifters, not MTB shifters, etc.). Totally flat bars encourage a death grip that doesn't help you in the end, and on pre-built production bikes flat bar = shitty MTB components that will prevent you from making any upgrades in the future without nearly stripping the bike to the frame. You should not be putting tons of weight on the bar if the rest of the bike fits properly. You'll have to trust me on this, but I speak from experience; I bought a so-so flat bar road bike that I grew to hate because it caused me wrist pain and shoulder spasms. They're fine for really short trips but I don't think most people should buy them when there are other bar shapes that make more sense and are more comfortable. Flat bars just feel really stable to the novice rider, and that's why they sell and became popular, but there will be a glut of uncomfortable silly flat bar hybrid things on the market once all those people realize they can't ride more than ten miles comfortably.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:09 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's hard to go wrong with a good used mid-range touring bike. Trek 520, Surly Long Haul Trucker, Waterfords, etc.
posted by pjaust at 3:45 PM on August 2, 2011

I'm a big fan of albatross/Northroad style handlebars. I also use some dorky riser bars on my three speed/fixed gear former 70s 10 speed, and they seem to suit me well.

A hybrid bike is what you want. If the generally flat bars don't suit you, they will be much easier to swap with the above mentioned bars than if the bike came with drops.

The downside with these handlebars is that they seem to work best if the bike has a somewhat upright riding posture. Which I find also demands a wider, springier saddle since more of your weight will be shifted to your butt. If you want to retain a racier, more aerodynamic riding posture, the drops or bullhorns are probably the way to go.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:33 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can confirm that the Trek FX is awesome! Very light (though I got one of the pricier ones and the materials may be a bit different). KokuRyu and slow graffiiti are right, though -- riding with upright bars can be a bit tough on your wrists, but so far it hasn't bothered me too much just commuting or taking the occasional 10+ mile ride. I try to be conscious of not putting too much of my weight forward onto my wrists and that helps a lot.
posted by imalaowai at 4:47 PM on August 2, 2011

Hey, how about a folding bike? Dahon makes a very large, moderately-priced range. I have a Ciao P8 and my husband has a Boardwalk (although he's lusting after others as well). Both have upright handlebars, and they're extremely light and portable and a beautiful ride. He's ridden the Santa Fe Century on his (although he modified it from 8 gears to 21). Great commuter bikes--both of ours came standard with racks and mine has fenders and a chain guard.

Besides, every third person you pass (or who passes you as you're folding your bike up) will say, "That is such a COOL bike!"
posted by tully_monster at 4:50 PM on August 2, 2011

What part of Seattle are you in? I can recommend some good local bike shops:

+ Ride Bicycles, 6029 Roosevelt Way NE
+ FreeRange Cycles, 3501 Phinney Avenue N
+ Aaron's Bicycle Repair*, 6527 California Avenue SW
+ Recycled Cycles, 1007 NE Boat Street
+ Bike Works, 3709 South Ferdinand Street
+ Counterbalance Bicycles, 2943 NE Blakeley Street
+ Montlake Bicycle Shop, 2223 24th Avenue E

There's also Gregg's, which is a bit of a crap shoot. I've had great service and terrible service there. The staff turnover seems high. They do have a pretty good selection, but you're more likely to get good personal service at one of the other places. REI also has a good selection, but I have no idea how well its staff knows how to do a proper bike fitting.

Really, what it boils down to is finding a bike that you like once you have it out for a test ride, and that's not something anyone on the internet is going to be able to tell you. My approach is to look for something that's _almost_ exactly right and then swap out components until it's exactly right. Working on bikes isn't that hard, really, and bike components are cheap compared to car components.

* I'm not a fan of Aaron; he rubs me the wrong way. But he does run a great shop for commuters.
posted by hades at 5:20 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get whatever bike you want swap out with different bars? I don't see what the problem is, bars are a personal thing that is easily changed.

Don't get some weird hybrid bike or whatever because (you think) you don't like drop bars.

I would get a touring bike and put moustache bars on it with bar end shifters. Something like a Soma Saga or Surly Long Haul Trucker.
posted by bradbane at 7:25 PM on August 2, 2011

Any competent shop should be able to switch out the bars for you but bear in mind bar end shifters and decent bars don't come cheap so you will be looking at $120+ on top of the price. Definitely take a look at the North End/Moustache/Porteur style bars they are a joy to ride on a commute and there is a gain in visibility that's not to be sniffed at: both in being seen and being able to see. A touring bike will give you the attachments and a geometry that is more forgiving to an upright position. It is possible to ride a pure road bike with upright bars but there are things you have to be careful of. I ride a twitchy Bianchi with porteur bars and narrow tires as a commuter and I paid the price in punctures until I found the right tires as a lot more of my weight was over the back wheel (and I'm light for my size). The handling is somewhat different form what you might expect with drop bars, though I like it, and there is something to be said for being able to bunnyhop a road bike.
posted by tallus at 10:32 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may do just fine by changing your stem to raise the bars a little higher. You may need the seat position adjusted when doing this, but it is by far the most affordable solution.
posted by dgran at 6:52 AM on August 3, 2011

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