Can I have my dream bike and ride it too?
November 29, 2011 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Pittsburgh cycling: road bike or hybrid?

Eleven years ago I bought a Trek 7500 Multitrack hybrid, which I've used mostly for short local rides and few longer ones, the longest being a 300 mile, week-long tour with 2500 of my closest friends. During that long tour I tried out someone else's super-light road bike and was immediately jealous.

This summer, I bought a 1989 Cannondale 400T, which was marketed as a touring bike but is nevertheless quite light, with presta valves and very skinny, high-pressure tires.

My wife and I are moving to Pittsburgh in a few weeks, and for the time being will not have space to keep two bikes. I am inclined to sell the Trek, because its novelty has long-since worn off, while the Cannondale is a bike that I've coveted since it was new (22 years ago) and still strikes me as fun.

I've only ever spent a couple of days in the Pgh, but I got the impression that there are a lot of potholed asphalt avenues, brick and cobblestone side streets, and partially paved trails. Is this impression accurate? Will a lightweight, skinny-tired road bike be useful, or am I likely to beat it into a fractured pretzel in the first year I'm there? (I weigh 160#)
posted by jon1270 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
Any bike you love riding is the right bike, even if it's not the one that's "meant" for whatever you're doing. Obviously you're going to feel the road a little more on 23c tires but I've seen (and ridden) far less practical things on some pretty rough terrain. I say take the Cannondale.
posted by theodolite at 4:55 PM on November 29, 2011

You can probably fit wider tires on your Cannondale - I'd imagine 28/32mm tires would squeeze in there. Keep the one you like more, in this case the Cannondale.

I really enjoyed checking out Kraynick's Bike Shop when I stopped in Pittsburgh on my cross-country tour.
posted by stachemaster at 5:00 PM on November 29, 2011

Best answer: theodolite and stachemaster's advice is spot on. The best bike for you is the one you love to ride.

Plus, to assuage your fears, if this 1989 Cannondale catalog is to be believed, your ST400 originally came with 36-spoke hubs on 27" rims with 1 1/8" (28mm) tires. Though it's road-styled, it's clearly intended to be a true touring bike - while I wouldn't advise taking it hucking down stairs and off loading docks, it'll be able to handle the vagaries of the open road.

From the picture, even the stock build appears to have decent clearance. If you're feeling like you want a little more air volume, you should be able to pretty easily fit some larger tires. On my somewhat similar Trek 613 I replaced the 27" wheels with a nice sturdy 700c set, upgraded the brakes to longer-reach centerpulls, and found that I had room for relatively plush 33.3mm Jack Brown tires. That was lovely on a three-week tour with loads of pavé, forest trails, and ill-advised "shortcuts".
posted by lantius at 5:28 PM on November 29, 2011

Best answer: I live in Pittsburgh and bicycle for transportation. Your impression -- potholed asphalt avenues, brick and cobblestone side streets, and partially paved trails -- is accurate. (Though there are a variety of paved trails nearby.) I live within the core of the city and encounter at least one of these things daily. I use a hybrid bike that leans more toward road than mountain. The tires are 700 x 32c and my bike weighs 23 pounds. I feel fine on it, but I do have to stand sometimes when riding because roads -- yes, main roads -- are so bumpy that I feel like I'm going to get a concussion. I also do quite a lot of swerving around potholes.

That's me though. I do know people who bicycle on much skinnier tires and see people on touring bikes all the time. Whether they adjust their routes, are just better at swerving around stuff, or are simply more sturdy than me, I can't say.

Also, if you're planning to cycle regularly in the winter, you will absolutely have to get tires for it. Snow removal in the city is terrible, even for major thoroughfares.
posted by unannihilated at 5:40 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, there are several bike shops in the city. I'm sure if you called them up and asked for some advice they would give you some. Also check out Bike Pittsburgh:
The biking community there (there is a message board) may also be equipped to answer your questions.
posted by unannihilated at 5:45 PM on November 29, 2011

I ride my Cannondale 800T (c. 2003 or so) all over the place here in Pittsburgh. It's perfect for short or long rides, hauling lots of stuff, etc. The thing is, if the 400T is anything like mine, then I wouldn't really classify it as a skinny-tired road bike since it can take at least up to 700x38s. So I'm not sure you have to commit to the skinny-tired life if you go with that.

That said, you should keep the bike that fits you best. I think either bike would be good for the roads around here, or would be with minor modification. (And hills - I get a lot use out of my granny gear!)
posted by chinston at 6:10 PM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: These are all great answers, and very helpful.

To lantius's comment, the Cannondale still has the original 27" wheels but the previous owner switched to 1" tires. Some fatter tires might be a good investment if I can find them in the right size; I'd rather not replace the wheels just now.

posted by jon1270 at 7:10 PM on November 29, 2011

I biked around Pittsburgh for a year, and bottom line, you're going to want something built to go up hills. If you've got that, you'll be in good shape.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:18 PM on November 29, 2011

Best answer: Keep the Cannondale! But get wider tires for it.

For 27"/ISO 630 rims, Harris Cyclery carries tires up to 1-1/4" (32 mm). You might find somewhere that carries wider ones (I'm no expert on ISO 630).

Also, make sure that you're not running the tires with too high a pressure. The maximum pressure on the tire is just that--its maximum--not what you should necessarily be running. This article from Bicycle Quarterly is a good place to start. Properly inflated tires should provide a reasonable amount of cushioning. You might also consider a saddle with springs, which is a cheap way to add suspension to the bike.

If you've still got the original gearing--the 28-40-50 triple and 14-30 freewheel--you should be set for all but the steepest hills. If you need something more, you could try to fit a 26-tooth (or even a 24-tooth) granny in place of the 28.

And if you don't care that much about keeping the bike in its original condition, consider converting to 700C (ISO 622) wheels at some point. That would let you run even wider tires. It might be hard to get 700C wheels that fit, though, since your frame is aluminum (steel frames can be bent to accommodate the slightly longer axles of a modern 700C road wheel).
posted by brianogilvie at 1:29 AM on November 30, 2011

But you could probably find hubs of the proper size, used or NOS (or even reuse the hubs you now have) and have 700C wheels built on them, as long as you want to keep using a 6-speed freewheel, which is really all you need anyway. A handbuilt wheel is worth the investment, anyway, especially on rough roads.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:34 AM on November 30, 2011

Response by poster: It might be hard to get 700C wheels that fit, though, since your frame is aluminum (steel frames can be bent to accommodate the slightly longer axles...

Frame's aluminum but the fork is steel, so that's something.

Thanks again, everyone.
posted by jon1270 at 2:32 AM on November 30, 2011

The fork shouldn't need to be respaced, though, since front hubs still have an OLD (over locknut distance) of 100 mm except on some weird bikes. It's the rear triangle that would need to be respaced to fit modern rear hubs. I think your Cannondale rear has an OLD of 126 mm, and modern road hubs are 130. Modern mountain bike hubs, which are sometimes used on modern tourers, are 135.

Anyhow, the late Sheldon Brown said that under no circumstances should you try to respace an aluminum frame by cold setting.

Never fear, though: Phil Wood makes hubs that are spaced for older frames. Phil hubs cost $$$ but are very well made. And Shimano's 14-34 "megarange" 6-speed freewheel is cheap. That would definitely give you a bailout gear with the 28t chainring!
posted by brianogilvie at 5:15 AM on November 30, 2011

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