Help me pick a new road bike!
August 27, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of getting a new road bike, and would like some help in picking one.

I'm a daily bike commuter in Minneapolis (as long as there isn't ice on the roads, anyway) and recreational rider. Not really interested in racing at all

I currently have a Specialized Allez... I'll be putting my 10,000th mile on it pretty soon. And, while I love it, it's getting steadily more clear that it's not really the bike for me anymore; I have a rack and panniers on it, but they don't sit too well.

I'd like my next bike to be more suited to hauling cargo day-to-day, but also good for taking out on long rides (where I'm more concerned with endurance than with speed).

I'll be going new on this one, since every road bike I've bought previously has been used and I just feel like I'm due. Ideal budget is $1,000-$1,200.
posted by COBRA! to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are a ton of touring bikes built for this purpose, but your best bet is to go to a local bike shop, get fitted and ride a couple. Brand recommendations pale in comparison to a bike that just feels right and fits you properly.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:55 AM on August 27, 2012

Right, and that's the plan, but given the very wide field of bike shops in town I want to narrow the field a little bit before I start hitting shops. Like, if Trek's got nothing for me, I know not to go to a whole swath of stores.
posted by COBRA! at 9:58 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

bike that just feels right and fits you properly.

Amen. And yes, if you're looking to haul stuff, the road bike class you want is "Touring", which will have the pannier mounts, bottle mounts, stronger frame and wider tires, and plenty of room for fenders.
posted by eriko at 9:59 AM on August 27, 2012

Mrs. Advicepig is feeling the same Jones. Right now, the question is, should she get a better road bike for road biking fun and convert her existing road bike for more practical purposes or should she get a better utility bike. It's really fun to have multiple bikes. Test riding has begun.

Touring bikes are great and many cyclocross bikes would meet your needs too. Speaking of which, it would really help to figure out what's not working for you about the Allez.

If you wanted, I'd be happy to help IRL.
posted by advicepig at 10:04 AM on August 27, 2012

I think you want to look at a touring bike, something like a Surly Long Haul Trucker.
posted by bradbane at 10:05 AM on August 27, 2012

I just bought a new bike for touring and looked at the Surly Cross-Check and Long Haul Trucker, Jamis Aurora and Bianchi Volpe. I ended up getting the Cross-Check because I liked the way it felt the most and wanted a "fast bike" for when I'm not touring. Aside from the Jamis, the other bikes are at the high end of your price range new even before you add fenders and racks. You can always try for a used one if you try one of those models and like it.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

you should get a Mercian Super Vigorelli which has been built to fit you if you are willing/able to recycle your current components and upgrade them over time OR inch your budget up a bit.

I'm a classic and vintage steel nerd, if I had that budget and wasn't going to to have a custom frame built, I'd begin scouring ebay/bikeforums/cl/local used shops for some perfect old lugged steel frame (i most recently did this with a 1978 Trek tx500, actually), powder coat it, and pimp it out with vintage Suntour drivetrain, a Sugino Mighty crankset, some Shimano Arabesque shifters, and an old Cinelli stem + handlebar. Oh, and some Mafac centerpulls. Shiny!
posted by par court at 10:08 AM on August 27, 2012

Look at the REI Novara Safari. Not entirely unlike the Surly LHT and in your price range. Very popular bike around here for what you describe.
posted by fshgrl at 10:12 AM on August 27, 2012

whoops I meant Mercian Vincitore. Silly Italian-eque names. The Vigorelli has more track geometry.
posted by par court at 10:14 AM on August 27, 2012

Back in the day there was a class of bikes called sport/tourers. In fact, if you were buying a ten-speed, you were probably buying a sport/tourer. This would probably be perfect for you.

Then the market got hyperspecialized, and the sport/tourer went away.

Now they're back, but they aren't called that. I'm not sure what the category is called. Crossover? "Cross" seems to wind up in the product names, but they're not marketed as cyclocross bikes per se. Specialized has one. Trek has one.
posted by adamrice at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2012

I'll second the recommendations for looking at Surly. I recently bought a Pacer for myself, and I love it to pieces. The Cross-Check is marketed as a cyclocross bike, but it's got braze-ons for two water bottles, front and rear racks, and is sturdy enough for carting cargo and doing long rides. You might prefer the geometry of it to the Long Haul Trucker, which I think has a more upright geometry and is marketed for looooong touring rides, but you might as well give them both a whirl. While you might not be able to find them in stock at your LBS, you'll almost certainly be able to find a shop willing to order your size for you to test ride.
posted by booknerd at 10:25 AM on August 27, 2012

Having owned both a Cross-Check and a Long Haul Trucker, I vote for the Cross-Check unless fully loaded touring is a BIG priority. I had a rack and panniers on my Cross-Check and it was zippy and fun to ride. The LHT is a great, comfortable ride, but it rides a little slower because it is built to be ridden all day long. I'm a commuter, just like you. In any case, happy cycling.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:34 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clarifying question:

By "hauling cargo" do you mean, like, "a laptop, a change of clothes, a few books, and 2lbs of sundries" or do you mean "routinely carrying 60+ lbs of groceries"?

I'd recommend very, very different bikes for these two applications. In a nutshell, I'd go "light touring OR (some, specific) steel CX bikes" for the former and "heavy touring OR cargo bike" for the latter.

Also: be honest with yourself about the load you'll be carrying most often. I've seen people make the "I'll go with the heavy touring bike so I can be ready for anything" decision quite frequently, and they wind up with a boat anchor that they hardly ever make full use of, when they could've had a snappy, comfortable, enjoyable steed that better-suited their type of ride.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 10:35 AM on August 27, 2012

The Salsa Vaya is the bike I'm hoping to get for a very similar use care- it is along the lines of those mentioned by adamrice, but steel (or titanium, if you are able to get real spendy)
posted by rockindata at 10:37 AM on August 27, 2012

I recently bought a Salsa Fargo 3 which I love to pieces. After trying another bike at the shop the sales person had me try this one and it fit perfectly. I put slicks and fenders and a rack on it and I'm good to go. If you have a Salsa shop in town (generally they're in the same shops as Surley) I recommend trying them out.
posted by zrail at 10:39 AM on August 27, 2012

Nthing surly cross check or long haul trucker. I believe the cross-check has mounts for front racks - which I think are pretty but I've never ridden with one as well as clearance for wider tires which can provide a more comfortable ride. I think you can get the LHT with disc brakes if so inclined. You might also check out Velo Orange for frames or just parts. Also check out Civia and Rivendell, but not sure if these can be had in your price range.

I find myself taken by upright bars, leather saddles, front racks, and internal hubs, and my next bike hopefully will sport these features. But I admit I haven't ridden bikes like this and they might prove too heavy for my taste. Anyways - I get a lot of inspiration from this blog.

Good luck, I hope you find something you enjoy!
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2012

I have similar needs (commuting plus occasional touring) and recently got a Surly Cross Check outfitted with Soma Everwear Tires for extra speediness. Words cannot describe how much I adore this bike, especially for the versatility. If you just want to own one bike, it is hard to beat. Since you are in Minneapolis the 2-ring crankset should be fine.

Try out several "credit card touring" bikes if you can, since so much comes down to personal preference (Bunglegirl's suggestions are excellent, I'd also add the Salsa Cassrroll). I would not get a dedicated touring bike like the Long Haul Trucker if you primarily use it for commuting, since it will be slower. When evaluating them I thought the Jamis Aurora was especially nice for the price, but the Surly fit me best.
posted by susanvance at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2012

Look into the Surly Cross Check and the Bianchi Volpe.
posted by carmel at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2012

The Surly Cross Check is probably your best bet but I'd definitely give the Specialized Tricross a serious look (especially if you find one on closeout). The Tricross has a different geometry than the CC and is a bit sportier (the Tricross shifters are like a dream), but for the price the Cross Check is a hard bike to beat both in terms of value and uses. If you're a larger rider or doing heavy duty touring (i.e. 100lbs of gear) you might find the stock wheels seriously lacking, but that's to be expected for a $1,000 bike with 32h wheels.

One thing you'll definitely want to do is test ride one before you buy - the sizing on the CC is really unique. When I bought mine I also test rode a Surly LHT (60cm, great fit), a Salsa Casseroll (58cm, great fit and bike, but too pricey) and a Specialized Tricross (58cm, a little large) before settling on a 56cm CC with a 130mm stem. If I had to do it over again I would have ordered a Pacer (great road bike for the price) but for $900 the Cross Check was too good of a deal to turn down.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2012

Thanks, everybody!

By "hauling cargo" do you mean, like, "a laptop, a change of clothes, a few books, and 2lbs of sundries"

My usual daily load is almost exactly a laptop, a change of clothes, a few books, and 2 lbs of sundries.

it would really help to figure out what's not working for you about the Allez.

Nothing terribly wrong. The two biggest issues are 1) the sizing, while adequate, has never felt perfect for me and 2) the brake configuration doesn't work very well with the rack I put on it.

I know shops that carry Jamis and Surly bikes, so I'll probably start with them.

Side question: what's the advantage of disc brakes on a road bike? Last time I was doing any kind of research, I was only seeing them on mountain bikes.
posted by COBRA! at 10:54 AM on August 27, 2012

Disc brakes were added to the Surly LHT to give it better stopping distance and more responsive/stable braking when fully loaded. This only matters when you're talking north of 20lbs of gear. Otherwise disc brakes mean nothing but more maintenance and more expense.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:10 AM on August 27, 2012

Also maybe if you plan on riding in rain and snow and mud alot, disc brakes may handle slightly better, but regular caliper brakes are fine in all but the worst city conditions.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:12 AM on August 27, 2012

The cult of Surly is very strong on internet forum recommendation threads -- particularly for situations that are very much like this one. "Get a LHT/CrossCheck" is sort of a knee-jerk response to someone in a situation like yours.

LHT/CrossCheck are good bikes but -- my opinion only -- not a great fit for what you in your situation. To keep them at their same price-point over the last 8 years, Surly has de-specced and downgraded almost every component two or three times. The LHT that everyone seems so smitten with and is recommending so much probably stopped being produced in 2007.

It's also too much bike for what you're doing. If they're not under considerable, more or less constant load, the LHT/Trek 520/etc are kind of squirrely, even. And who wants a triple chainring and bar-end-shifters for their daily ride? And who wants a good (Tiagra/Sora) groupset when they can have great (105) at the same price point? etc, etc..

At your price point, and knowing that you want "new", you're handcuffed a tiny bit. A Bianchi Volpe isn't a perfect bike for your situation, but it's a bit better suited than some of the other boat anchor tourers recommended in this thread.

Some new Nashbar or BikesDirect piece might also work fabulously, and give you better components, cheaper. There was an amazing Nashbar light touring bike that I recommended for years that people absolutely fell in love with -- but I'm not finding it on their site. I hope it's not been discontinued.

OP... In a nutshell, my advice/opinion: Stay away from heavy tourers; in your situation they're more than a bit overkill.

Surly folks: No doubt, Surly make great bikes, and I'm not saying anything different. LHT/CrossCheck are great bikes, for heavy touring/recreational CX riding, respectively. Maybe not so great for OP.

(Oh... and your followup question about disc brakes: Biggest upside to disc brakes is amazingly-effective/consistent stopping power in wet conditions. Biggest downside is fiddly/finicky adjustment and readjustment.)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 11:26 AM on August 27, 2012

If the Volpe had been $400 cheaper (the only local shop that had one had it priced at $1,349) I would have gotten it instead of the Cross Check, but having ridden and consider both I don't really see how the Cross Check is any more of a boat anchor than the Volpe, if you're talking about actual bike weight. Now, in terms of components and shifters/brakes, the Volpe wins HANDS DOWN.

Finding the cheapy black-and-gold "Made in Taiwan" sticker under the bottom bracket of my Cross Check really disappointed me when I had to fix a flat a couple of weeks ago. Again, I got a really good deal on mind, but it's hard to argue that the components on the Cross Check don't leave something to be desired.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 11:36 AM on August 27, 2012

One of my favorite bikes to ride around these lovely Twin Cities is my Bianchi Volpe. I love STI shifters on a steel bike.

One other thing that may or may not matter to you, but I see way too many Surlys around these parts. Don't get me wrong, I love supporting the local team, but I'm just kinda bored with them. Maybe that's why I keep looking at the Civia Bryant (then looking in my empty wallet). The Prospect is close to your price range and kinda dreamy.
posted by advicepig at 11:51 AM on August 27, 2012

This is exactly type of bike that you want:

i.e. a steel-framed light/sport touring frame with rack mounts and a slacker geometry, but free of the adaptations for loaded, multi-day touring that would be overkill for you. You don't need the crazy stuff like cantilever or disc brakes, a heavy-duty frame, bar-end shifters, etc.

I imagine this make/model might be hard for you to source where you are, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what to look for.
posted by wutangclan at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2012

Finding the cheapy black-and-gold "Made in Taiwan" sticker under the bottom bracket of my Cross Check really disappointed me

Isn't this where most Bianchis are made too? Along with the vast majority of other "quality" bikes?
posted by werkzeuger at 12:03 PM on August 27, 2012

Also don't forget OP that you can order Surly frames bare and build up a bike with whatever you want. IIRC the Cross-check is around 420 USD.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:05 PM on August 27, 2012

Just to chime in on the brake issue: I tend to go fast in city traffic and am quite fond of my disc brakes when I have to make emergency stops, which happens a few times per year. If you get brakes with both pads adjustable (I have Avid BB7's), they're as easy or easier to set than rim brakes. The other plus of discs is that they're easy to replace when worn through, compared to a rim.
That Civia bike looks really sweet, advicepig...
posted by gijsvs at 12:09 PM on August 27, 2012

Isn't this where most Bianchis are made too? Along with the vast majority of other "quality" bikes?

I'm fairly certain they are, I just found it funny the bike shop left it on during the build.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 12:16 PM on August 27, 2012

No kidding, gijsvs, really pretty bikes and still rather unique. I love them. Been eyeing one, but it sits in exact same spot as my un-cyclocrossed Volpe, so it doesn't make sense for me. So sad.
posted by advicepig at 12:27 PM on August 27, 2012

Surly builds their frames in mainland China now- hence (my opinion, but that's when the switch was made) the shift from swoopy to straight tubes on some bikes.

Of course, if you want a pretty, disc-capable, made in Wisconsin, fast steel road frame bike, I recommend the Gunnar Fast Lane The frame and fork alone will bork your whole budget though.
posted by rockindata at 12:29 PM on August 27, 2012

Just wanted to add that you can easily narrow your options by deciding if you want integrated or bar end shifters (it's a big difference between the Volpe and the Cross Check, for example). I prefer the latter personally and they are cheaper to buy/maintain, but I often get the impression that I'm in the minority; for city traffic there is a definite argument for them.
posted by susanvance at 12:48 PM on August 27, 2012

Sigh, I mean that STI/integrated shifters might be preferable in city traffic. They are tricky with mittens in the winter though.
posted by susanvance at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2012

> you can easily narrow your options by deciding if you want integrated or bar end shifters...
If I may help narrow it down: OP, you absolutely want integrated if at all possible.

I can not think of one reason (besides saving $40-$70 at time of purchase) why anyone who is not planning on touring the most remote and inhospitable and rugged backcountry would ever elect for bar-end shifters on a new bike. The ease of maintenance/repair is of only the slightest imaginable advantage to an urban cyclist.

Integrated shifting is the most impressive and game-changing advance in cycling componentry in the past 30 years. It's also a mature and reliable platform that is now very nearly perfected. I'm as guilty of fetishizing antiquated gear as the next guy, but let's not let OP buy some bullshit because us bikies like to debate and discuss and pretend there's still some tangible advantage to various pieces of senile tech.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 1:15 PM on August 27, 2012

@rockindata: Do you have a source for the claim that Surly makes its frames in mainland China now? Their website says that all frames and forks are made in China.

To the OP: I was going to recommend a few bikes. The Surly Cross Check is one; another is the Raleigh Clubman, which comes already equipped with fenders (barely adequate ones, IMHO, but at least they're there). The Jamis Aurora Elite is more of a fully-loaded touring bike, but you might still check it out, and the Trek 520 too.

Personally I find that bar end shifters are great for commuting and long day rides. They're more convenient than downtube shifters and easier to manipulate with thick winter gloves or mittens than brifters. Plus, the rear shifter can be run in friction mode if you have a problem with your rear derailleur's adjustment (e.g. a crash that bends the derailleur hanger).
posted by brianogilvie at 1:17 PM on August 27, 2012

You may also want to take a look at the Surly Pacer when you're in the shop; it's a very solid-frame build and has additional clearance for larger tires (you can swap those on in the wetter/icier seasons) and room for fenders and paniers.

I find that the bar end vs. downtube vs. brifters is really about what you're used to. I preferred bar end until I got my first set of brifters, now I can barely imagine cycling without them. I do find I am adjusting and replacing parts more often with my brifters, though, so to what degree you're comfortable making adjustments yourself should weigh on your decision.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 1:52 PM on August 27, 2012

I'm n^thing the recommendations for a steel touring bike. I was recently looking for the same kind of thing, and after considering a Surly LHT and other such bikes, I ended up finding a really good condition vintage Miyata 1000 frame and then got a local bike shop to build it up with mostly new parts. It feels like a new bike, and the price ended up being about the same as the Surly for a rather nicer machine, so I'm really happy with the way this went and I'd recommend considering the same approach. Obligatory picture of my bike.

Until I got this bike, I'd been using integrated shifters for 25 years of using a bicycle for the majority of my transportation, and really had nothing but trouble with them always getting out of adjustment and breaking (granted, I could be better about maintenance). I finally went with bar-end shifters this time and couldn't be happier with my choice!
posted by Emanuel at 2:02 PM on August 27, 2012

Hey, I am totally wrong about where Surly frames are made. Still made in Taiwan. Sorry! I shouldn't have believed my overly grumpy (but generally knowledgeable about such things) friend about that one. Mods, feel free to delete the first part of my comment.

The Fast Lane is still a prettier bike (and it should be, at 3-4x the price!). I also rather like the Civia offerings.
posted by rockindata at 2:02 PM on August 27, 2012

I say this in many threads but I will say again: I love Jamis and the quality for the price is unrivalled. Go to the LBS that carries Jamis and chat with them.
posted by dame at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2012

another parts comment: I would make a case for bullhorn handlebars + bar-end shifters for a city commute. It's a pretty fast way of riding and you never have to reach for anything, operable with thick winter gloves (my friend from Boston rides a setup like this all year round). Not standard on any commuter bike that I know of, but practical and distinctive-looking, if that's an argument.
posted by gijsvs at 3:36 PM on August 27, 2012

Hmm, this may be completely off-the-mark, but I recently (a couple of months ago) purchased a Trek Earl and have been thoroughly happy with it. It's more of a commuter bike, of the fixie variety, and significantly cheaper than your budgeted allotment. It's durable, well-built, and fun. For me, it's perfect. I probably log a good 50 miles on it per week.
posted by fignewton at 4:35 PM on August 27, 2012

Here's another vote for Jamis! I've got a Coda Comp (well, I have the Femme version) and it's my go-everywhere, do-everything bike. This includes: daily commuting and erranding, weekend rides with a local cycling club, long event/charity rides, overnight tours (loaded with 20 lbs. of camping gear), and just taking it out for a short ride because riding a bike is so gosh-darned fun.

What I like about it is that it's sturdy and featureful enough for all that utility riding (so many gears! So many mounting points!), but still light and responsive enough that I don't embarrass myself on club/event/charity rides.

The only thing I don't like about it: the stock handlebar is shaped sort of like a French rolling pin, and it's impossible to fit any bar-mounted accessories (light, bell, computer) on. I switched it out for a more standard flat bar--with bar ends for the additional hand position and leverage) and am much happier. I also switched to thinner, puncture-resistant tires, but the 32c Vittorias it comes with are quite nice and wonderful for utility riding.
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:53 PM on August 27, 2012

I have a 2010 Surly LHT and quite like it, but my current bike crush is the All-City Space Horse. It's got most of the Surly niceties (steel, braze-ons, can take wide tires), but it's still road-bikey (slicks, STIs, no CX bars) and definitely feels faster than my Trucker. Almost like a cross between a Pacer and a Cross Check. Freewheel and Angry Catfish each had some bikes in stock last time I was there, so you can probably find a 55 or 58cm frame to try locally.

The big downside to the Cross Check IMO is that it comes with knobby tires and you probably really want slicks, so plan on an extra $50 for that.
posted by substars at 8:35 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love my Bianchi Volpe with brifters, rear rack, Schwalbe Marathon tires, and fenders. I originally thought I'd get a Cross Check but didn't like the feel of the bar end shifters when biking around downtown Minneapolis (though I was cool with the down tube shifters on my old bike). Finding last year's model on closeout at Flanders sealed the deal for my Volpe.
posted by Maarika at 2:25 PM on August 28, 2012

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