racer to hybrid conversion = just plain dumb?
June 23, 2007 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth rebuilding my racer (bike) or should I just buy a new hybrid/tourer?

In two weeks I'll be on a five-day bike trip along the coast of Hainan Island that will likely have 80% good roads, 15% bumpy roads, and <5 % dirt/trail. at the moment i have a racer i bought a month ago that i've grown really attached too, despite it's limitations. it has a local (chinese) alum frame with shimano gears. i'm seriously considering replacing the whole front end - getting new handlebars to support my typical upright position, new forks with a suspension, and fatter tires the same wheels. i think this would also be good for the general road conditions in my city, where drains and curbs presently scare me and tiled sidewalks rattle me.

the boy inside tells me to buy a Trek 7000 hybrid for twice what I just paid for my racer last month, my gut says to rebuild the racer to save money and stay loyal, my girlfriend tells me to buy a lower-end Decathlon hybrid, and my friends and more bicycley-experienced travel companion are trying to convince me to go for a mountain bike.

Thoughts? Anyone have experience converting a racer to a hybrid?
posted by trinarian to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know the prices in China, but in the States I'd recommend buying another bike.

With new handlebars also may come new shifters (do you have downtube shifters now?).

Fatter tires will make a huge difference in ride quality, as will a front shock. These things may not be possible on your current bike. They might fit, but we don't really have enough info.

The Trek you linked sounds like it would be great in the city and on trails, but I'm not sure how comfortable it would be for a five-day trip. How many miles are you riding each day?

Are you carrying clothes with you? Food? Will you be able to fit all of that on your racer? Will you be able to add panniers to the Trek to carry everything you need?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:21 AM on June 23, 2007

Putting suspension forks on a frame not designed for it isn't a good idea: the fork length is greater (to allow for compression), and that throws everything else out of whack.

Buying parts piecemeal is usually more expensive than it seems like it should be, though the situation in China may be different. You might want to price out all the changes you're contemplating. Don't forget the brake/shift levers.

I'm not a fan of hybrids, but I would think especially for a five-day ride, you'd want to stick with your road bike. You've got one hand position on a hybrid. You've got four of five with drop bars, and the ability to change your position is a relief. Perhaps mount slightly fatter tires, but that's it. I've done tours on my racing bike that included a few miles here and there on packed-dirt roads. You can manage.
posted by adamrice at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2007

the gear shifts are downtube, one more thing I'd have to give up with a new bike.

i have a small <2 5lbs luggage rack right now that attaches to my seat. the trek bike would be able to support a rack that connects at four points and could handle much more weight.br>
We won't need to carry food.
posted by trinarian at 9:29 AM on June 23, 2007

Adam - any particular reason you don't like hybrids?
posted by trinarian at 9:29 AM on June 23, 2007

I suggest a mountain bike with smooth tires. Get a really cheap one for a few hundred Yuan and give it to a homeless dude after the trip. Suspension is unecessary. Seems to be pretty hot around these parts. Good luck.
posted by BeaverTerror at 10:11 AM on June 23, 2007

i've had experience putting larger tires on a road bike, and it helped greatly over rougher terrain. wasn't so nice on pavement, though. i agree with others about the hybrid vs. road handlebars: on a long ride, you really need several positions to guard against fatigue.
posted by lester at 11:21 AM on June 23, 2007

agree with adamrice on several points.

(a) proper fork length, and more importantly proper fork rake, make all the difference in handling. couple years ago I converted my old crit racing frame to a street bike (roubaix suspension fork, new headset+stack, changed from downtube to grip shifters, etc.) and the steering went from amazing to perfectly awful.

(2) a proper touring bike (or tourified racing bike) will be much more comfortable for extended rides than a hybrid type or mtb. just think about what each is designed for.

if you don't want to spring for a separate bike, consider:
-- fatter tires as already suggested
-- suspension stem and/or suspension seatpost...
posted by dorian at 12:10 PM on June 23, 2007

i have a small <2 5lbs luggage rack right now that attaches to my seat./em>

I've broken two seatposts in the last 12 months, and I suspect that kind of rack was a major contributor.. You can probably improvise mounts for a proper rack, even if you don't have the right brazed on eyelets.

posted by Chuckles at 12:14 PM on June 23, 2007

i have a small <2 5lbs luggage rack right now that attaches to my seat./em>

I've broken two seatposts in the last 12 months, and I suspect that kind of rack was a major contributor (assuming it is the kind of rack you are talking about). You can probably improvise mounts for a proper rack, even if you don't have the right brazed on eyelets.

posted by Chuckles at 12:17 PM on June 23, 2007

Why am I having italics problems?!?! Well, I'll shut up anyway..
posted by Chuckles at 12:18 PM on June 23, 2007

I don't like hybrids because of the "jack of all trades, master of none" problem. They try to satisfy the needs for both road and mountain bikes, and wind up doing neither, instead being comfort bikes with delusions of grandeur.

I say, if you want a road bike, ride a road bike. If you want a mountain bike, ride a mountain bike. And if you want a low-speed town bike, get one of the many old-fashioned "roadster" style bikes being produced in China that are basically replicas of a 50s-era Raleigh. They have panache.
posted by adamrice at 3:00 PM on June 23, 2007

I'm with dorian. Really, the best bikes for touring are, well, touring bikes. I don't think a hybrid's gonna cut it. But touring bikes can be pricey and we're talking about one 5-day trip here so let's try to not break the bank and maybe leave ourselves with a bike that solves your current road problems for when you get back.

For a single 5-day trip, fatter tires and maybe a suspension seatpost or stem get you 80% of the benefits @ 20% of the cost. For the tires, try something around 32mm if they'll fit, maybe bigger if you're heavy or carrying a heavy load -- don't overinflate them or you really aren't solving the ride problem! -- read this, this and this. Bars with lots of hand positions are better for touring but don't be afraid to adjust what you've got to better suit your preferred position. These minor changes should have a significant impact on your difficult road problems.

Though you can probably get away with it if your load is really, really going to be 25 lbs. or less, IMO it's a bit of a risk using the kind of rack that just clamps on to the seat post without any support from below, and I wouldn't do it -- IMO they stress that part of the bike in a way it isn't designed for. So see if your local shop can mount a traditional rack to the racer even if it doesn't have the braze-ons. It won't be as bulletproof as a braze-on mount but it'll still be stronger than a seatpost rack (plenty strong for 25 lbs.) and for 5 days you can live with it.

One more thing if you're not used to being in the saddle all day -- spring for some padded bike shorts and gloves and make sure you're happy with your bike seat.

Have fun!
posted by Opposite George at 6:55 PM on June 23, 2007

Oh yeah, one more thing that may force you to a new bike, or at least major work on your current ride -- most off-the-shelf racers are geared pretty high, while tourers and mountain bikes are geared much, much lower. Be sure your bike has enough of a low end to get up the hills on your tour, keeping in mind you'll be carrying extra weight and more tired than usual.
posted by Opposite George at 6:57 PM on June 23, 2007

Try fatter tires and a cassette with a broader gearing range. And don't replace the handlebars - replace the stem.

Make sure the tires fit the stays: Measure the gap between the stays where the current tire sits, and get the widest tire that provides several mm clearance on each side. Remember that fatter tires are also taller than skinny race tires.

Also make sure the chain and rear derailleur can handle a wider gear range.

Before ditching drop handlebars, experiment with where they're placed. The standard racing position puts the top of the bars below the saddle, while touring and commuting positions put it at or above the saddle. If nothing else, an elevated posture will let you see more of the world around you. This may require replacing the stem or inserting an extension post.

The sum cost of these changes (new tires, tubes, stem, cassette, possibly rear derailleur) is considerably less than buying a new bike, and your bike can be reverted to its original state with maybe an hour of shop work.

It doesn't sound like a good idea to take a brand-new bike on a long ride before you've got the fit dialed in. See what you can do with your current bike.
posted by ardgedee at 4:17 AM on June 24, 2007

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