Bicyclesby Philip Greenspun, revised July 2007
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This article talks about road, cross, city, mountain, and folding bicycles, but starts by looking at the often-overlooked items that are more important than choosing the right bicycle:
Then the front wheel stopped. Instantly. The bike pivoted over the front wheel until my face was pointing straight down at the ground. A split second later, my face was on the rocks, with my forehead taking most of the impact on a big rock. The tip of my helmet hit the rocks also, but it was a bit too loose and a bit too far back on my head to provide any real protection. My glasses were destroyed and my right arm and face abraded, but there was no real blood.
I spent the rest of the day developing a terrible headache and being monitored by a nervous medical doctor friend at 30 minute intervals (flashlight in eyes, checking for pupillary response). It seems that the concussion was fairly mild because the pupils came back to symmetry after less than 24 hours. Two days later, when the headache was gone, I began to feel the pain in my shoulder, arm, elbow, and right leg.
Why did the front wheel stop rolling? I think that a stick got stick in the spokes, but there were no likely suspects after the crash and the wheel was rotating freely. There was no damage to the bike.
Cost of the incident: one week of pain and disorientation; about $3500 in medical bills (including a CAT scan). It seemed like a good time to learn something about helmet fit.
Buying a helmet: try on all the helmets in the store with the Roc Loc detached. You want the helmet whose hard shell fits your head as well as possible. It shouldn't be easy to move the helmet around on your head even without any chin straps or Roc Loc. Then attach the Roc Loc. Then adjust the chin straps until the buckle is rather far forward underneath your chin. The straps should be tight enough that it is actually a bit uncomfortable when you are standing up straight. Bend forward from your waist as you would on a bike and notice that the straps loosen up a bit.
A low-cost low-tech approach is to use Power Grips (under $20). These wrap around the pedal from back to front and hold your shoes tightly enough 90% of the time. They release you from the bike in a crash about 90% of the time also.
Most people eventually get Shimano SPD pedals. These are sort of like ski bindings. You put a metal cleat into your shoes and then you can clip your feet into the pedals. You can exert tremendous up and down force on this system without a release. But twist your feet slightly and your shoes pop out of the pedals. SPDs (and their imitators) hold your shoes tightly enough 97% of the time and release you from the bike in a crash about 97% of the time. [Note: Unfortunately, they didn't release me from the "big crash" described above. That's because I went straight over the handlebars with the bike. The only force on the pedals was still straight up as though I were pedaling normally. Had I not been SPD'd in, my body would have continued in a horizontal trajectory and I would have tumbled on the gravel (probably more scraped but no head injury).]
A real design feature of SPDs is that the shoe cleat is recessed from the tread. So, unlike with similar systems for road bikers, you can walk around with your mtn bike shoes on.
Oh yes, the shoes. You do need special SPD-compatible shoes for use with SPD pedals. However, you really ought to have special shoes for biking anyway. Walking/running shoes are designed to absorb as much energy as possible. They are filled with all kinds of air bladders and foam cushions and the like. This is exactly the wrong thing for biking. You don't want to put energy into compressing foam when it could be turning the cranks. Biking shoes have a much stiffer sole than walking/running shoes and much less cushioning.
"Road biking is the stupidest activity in the world. You ride for hours hunched over with your neck contorted up. All you see is the front wheel of the guy in front of you."That's how I feel about road biking on a road bike. It hurts my neck and back to be hunched over that low and I can't easily see the scenery which was my whole reason for being out on the bike in the first place.
Another stupid thing about road bikes is that, at least until very recently, all road bikes were sold with the gear ratios favored by professional bike racers. You couldn't go less than about 10 mph. Unfortunately, unless you are a monster athlete, going 10 mph up a mountainside is impossible. So you suffer the humiliation of having to get off your $4000 titanium road bike and walk while motorists laugh at you for being a wuss. Oh yes, you are walking because the bike manufacturer didn't think it was worth 50 extra grams to put a third chainring on your crankset (thus giving you a range of lower gears).
For many people, a mountain bike is a better road bike than a road bike. You have a more upright posture and sufficiently low gears that you can ride up hills when you are tired and/or out of shape. The principal problem is that knobby mountain bike tires have a high rolling resistance and rob you of energy. The solution? Put slick tires on your mountain bike rims. If you are too lazy (like me) to change tires all the time, spend $100 on a second set of wheels and keep road tires on one set, knobbies on the other. It then takes only about one minute to switch.
City bikes are sometimes called "cross bikes". My favorite city bikes
are made by Trek. I used one for a summer in New York City and it was
fabulously easy to ride. You get on and ride. Handling is light and
That said, I spent a very pleasant five years on my Raleigh Technium glued aluminum non-suspended mountain bike. I got used to getting out of the saddle over rough terrain and riding "light" so that I didn't get too badly kicked around.
In June, 1997, I went over to International Bicycle Center in Allston, which is one of Boston's best bike shops (the other great one is ATA Cycle in Cambridge and Concord; ATA is smaller and more focussed on road biking). I asked the salesmen what they thought the best full-suspension bike was. "Well, four of us have bought Ibis frames." I took an Ibis Szazbo for a ride over potholes and curbs. Over smooth ground, the Ibis was a nice handling bike with no quirks. It managed to soak up tall curbs at high speeds with surprisingly little rattling of the rider. Great bike but I wasn't sure that it was worth $2800. Then I took my old Raleigh out of my minivan and rode the same course. It felt like I was being beaten. My front tire went flat from an impact with a curb. I pulled out my Visa card.
The Ibis in the woods was a night and day difference from my unsuspended Raleigh. I'm not a strong rider but I could get up technical sections at low speeds that I could never have done on my old bike. The Ibis got stolen, which depressed me until I reflected that there are plenty of folks in this world who can't afford $2800 bikes. I read Angela's Ashes to remind myself of my good fortune overall.
Right now I'm riding a Santa Cruz Heckler X (see www.santacruzmtb.com). It is a dual-suspension mountain bike that the bike shop experts all said "costs about half as much as the Ibis and works just as well". They were right. The bike takes no getting used to, is absorbent on downhills, and is easily controlled on slow rocky ascents. If you take the trouble to clean your mountain bike frame, you'll notice that it is also beautifully finished.
For opinions on different mountain bikes, check out the owner reviews at www.mtbr.com.
Custom tandem frames can be ordered with S and S couplers that make it
possible to split the frame in half for transport.
For both sexes, it is important to wear bike shorts. These come with what looks like a big diaper in the middle. This is a pad to keep your bones from getting beaten up.
Experiment 1: Take a long dowel or rod, place it upright with one end in your palm, and try to keep it from falling over. Now try the same trick with a pin or a match.
Experiment 2: Buy a recumbent bicycle. Approach a stoplight. Fall off the bike as soon as your speed decays.
Aside from the stability problem inherent in a short inverted pendulum, recumbent bikes are superior in almost every way to a standard bicycle. They are so much faster overall that they have been banned from international bicycle racing. The only knock against recumbents that one hears is that they can be tougher to get up a steep hill.
If ergonomics are your principal concern, the recumbent will be better in every way. A recumbent rider sits as though he were in his living room. He won't develop the wrist pain typical of upright distance cyclists, who are unnaturally supporting a lot of their weight on their outstretched hands. He won't develop the neck pain typical of most cyclists who are forced to crane their necks slightly up in order to look around. He won't become impotent (though given how dorky guys look on recumbents, continued sexual capacity may be of only theoretical value).
Recumbents, especially those with the longest wheelbases, may be tricky to get onto car racks.
Going uphill, try to ride with your body as quiet as possible. Your front wheel should point straight ahead. Your handlebars should not move. Only your legs should be cranking. The road bike technique of standing on the pedals doesn't work as well in the mountains. There often isn't enough traction to support a big burst of energy from a standing rider. So you just end up spinning the back wheel in gravel rather than pushing yourself uphill as you would on asphalt. The key in mountain biking is continuous power delivered smoothly.
If you can't get a minivan, get a roof rack. Now that bikes all have non-quick quick releases, it is so difficult to take off the front wheel that I can't recommend the fork-mount bike carriers that were popular in the 1980s. What you want are the carriers that let you keep the bike in one piece. Budget to replace the bike or at least the seat post every few years because you will bash it up against a garage door or something. It is only a matter of time.
There are two major vendors of high quality bicycle racks. Thule is a Swedish company, owned by a the private equity firm Nordic Capital . Yakima started in Washington State, but was purchased by First Islamic Investment Bank, representing wealthy Saudi and Kuwaiti individuals.
I don't know where you have been looking at bikes, but as far as I know 99% of all bikes I have seen (excluding sub $150 bikes) come with quick release skewers on the wheels. Which leads to a second point, the fork mount roof racks that let you take off the front tire are the best because they hold the bike much better, and make it harder to steal the front tire that should be in the trunk.
-- Peter Jolles, November 26, 1997
I just thought I'd point out that it's not necessary to get a full-suspension mtn. bike to get through the technical stuff. My first mountain bike was a Mongoose of about the same vintage as Philip's Raleigh. It was tank and while I could keep up with my friends, it was difficult. Last year, I got rid of it and bought a Klein Pulse hardtail with a Judy XC and the difference was truly amazing. I can go over things I never imagined and the bike does exactly what I want instead of fighting me. I've even ridden it down Mt. Snow in Vermont which is allegedly some of the toughest mountain biking in the country.
The reason I didn't get FS was that I found the rear-suspension robbed power and made it harder to pop the front wheel up(since it compressed when I did this). It is possible to retrofit a suspension seat post and some of these are quite good.
I also have a road bike. The reason I bought a road bike was that I do the Pan-Mass Challenge every summer. This is a 2-day, 192 mile ride for cancer. I've ridden some long mileage on my mtn. bike and even with slicks, it just doesn't cut it. I mean this literally. The riding position causes a lot of wind resistance and it takes a lot of energy to overcome this. My Cannondale road bike is much more efficient and I don't find the riding position to be that bad. I also found that I got use to the high gears quickly(take into account that I'm somewhat of a mascochist). If you can afford it, get a titanium or carbon fiber road bike. Titanium and CF frames dampen impacts much better than aluminum. Litespeed has a titanium bike that I've seen for $1200 and Trek OCLV bikes can be had for a little more.
Don't get a CF mountain bike though. I've seen people have their frames delaminate after an impact.
-- Paul Wilson, December 9, 1997
I hate it when people who've never ridden a properly set up road bike talk about how uncomfortable they are. Most people who have trouble with road bikes just don't have them setup right. I ride road bikes off road just fine, and my road bike has probably seen more off-road action than 90% of mountain bikes out there. Nothing stops you from using SPD pedals and Camelbaks on road bikes, though I've found regular waterbottles to be convenient.
If you want a different opinion on how to get started on cycling, try reading my article on starting up . I've ridden tens of thousands of miles on road bikes and never had a problem.
Ultimately, it's a matter of preference, but if you come from a mountain biking background, try a road bike at a good local shop that knows how to set you up. You'll see what I mean. It's like flying without having to burn gas.
-- Piaw Na, December 16, 1997
regarding fork mount roof racks for your bike: Yakima (and Thule too, I think) make fork mounts with "long throw" levers. These let you clear the little "safety nubs" on most forks. Fork mount racks are more stable and your bike sits lower. As a result, wind noise is reduced and lifting the bike up onto the roof is less of a problem.
-- firstname.lastname@example.org --, March 3, 1998
I've got a Cannondale Super V (Full suspension) and I find it worlds better than my old no suspension bike. Your comments are generally right on, but I would probably also add a "good brakes" section, for downhill they're at least as important as pedals, and there's been enough recent innovation to make it interesting. Cantilever brakes have improved over the years, but they can't really compare to a Shimano V-Brakes system or an equivalent system from another brand. I haven't ridden a bike with hydraulic brakes, but I have heard nothing but rave reviews, so if you can afford that's probably best.
-- Aurelius Prochazka, April 20, 1998
If you don't do anything else to your bike then for God's sake grab yourself a titanium seatpost! I have a Stumpjumper made of that M2 stuff and while it's a great bike, aluminum (and carbon too) will kick you arse because it is so stiff and rigid. I never noticed how much of a beating I was getting until I rode Willow Koerber's tiny Litespeed at the '97 Collegiate Nationals. What a difference Ti makes! The metal is strong and light but most importantly, it flexes - adding some suspension qualities and cushioning your ride. I immediately purchased a Syncros post for my bike and have been glad ever since.
Oh yeah, while a Ti post might be nice don't spring for a Ti stem. I saw a Specialized Ti stem for sale for $19 and picked it up wondering what it would be like. After a very hairy downhill where I thought I was going to rip the bars off (Ti flexes and all....) I gave the stem to my fiancee for her $199 Giant and switched back to my Kore.
Suspension - If you are buying suspension because you think it will make your street riding more comfortable then (IMHO) you have been misinformed. I have yet to ride a bike that uses suspension (except for expensive dual-shock models like the Trek Y-bikes and Cannondale Super-V's) that is noticeably more comfortable to ride either on the street or trail. In reality, suspension is desireable because it helps to keep your front wheel on the ground so you avoid the loss of control that so often preceeds a crash. I've ridden both Manitou and Rock Shox forks with each turned all the way up and down and have found that having suspension does nothing for comfort (if you're on the street, max out your fork preload so you lose minimal power). All in all, a good pair of gloves and some bike shorts will do more for you than even a $500 Judy DH will.
-- Levent Chen, June 16, 1998
A comment on roof racks.
I've been using a Yakima roof rack for about 8 years now and have never had a problem. I think the comment about budgeting money for a replacement seat post is a bit ridiculous. Just don't drive into garages if you've got your bikes on the roof. It's kind of hard to forget they're there.
Also, Levent's comments on suspension are right on. For me comfort on the road comes from having an efficient bike and some padding on my person. When mtn. biking, then I want some suspension so I can actually keep riding over the tough stuff.
-- Paul Wilson, June 23, 1998
One(?) other thing I would add to the list of 'must-haves' is enough hardware to get you back home in case something breaks down. This can be as little as a spare tube and one of those All-in-One tools (you might want to have an extra cable, but there are ways to improvise around a broken cable). Being stuck 5 miles from home because your seat bolt came loose, or your chain broke is No Fun, and is easily avoidable. I generally carry a small bike repair shop in my rear rack bag, mainly because I'm paranoid, and I like helping out Folks In Need that I come across.
Another handy thing I don't bike without is the "FAPP", short for First Aid Personal Pack. It's a cheap, flat little pack that contains a number of bandages (including butterflys in case you gash yourself open), antiseptic, gauze, etc.
-- Mark Dalrymple, July 22, 1998
I started riding bikes again about 3 years ago. Bought a mountain bike, and tooled around. Eventually got to commuting with it, about 10 miles one way. I kept getting passed by guys on road bikes, so I went and got one myself. It isn't any less comfortable once you get used to it, and it really is much faster and comfortable on smooth roads.
-- Fumitaka Hayashi, September 8, 1998
My first mountain bike (bought as a city bike) was a revelation. It had a stiff frame, effective brakes, a wide range of gears, and I could see the road ahead.
It was fine for my short commute for a few years. But longer rides were uncomfortable. I blamed myself for being out of shape. Still, I appreciated its gear range when (e.g.) bicycling uphill from Bomarzo (see PhilG's beautiful photos) to Viterbo.
After a fair amount of research (including Forrester's Effective Cycling), I decided to buy a touring bike. It, too, had a stiff frame, effective brakes, and a wide gear range. It took me a while to figure out how to keep my back straight instead of craning my neck, but once I did that, it became far far more comfortable than the mountain bike, even for short rides. Unfortunately for buyers' choice, touring bikes (the ones with the gear levers at the end of the handlebars) are unpopular; the silver lining is that they are also unpopular among bike thieves. -s
-- Stavros Macrakis, October 16, 1998
Phillip obviously appreciates that mountain biking provides plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery(as well as much more, IMO), but I'm not so sure he appreciates what road bikes have to offer. Unless he's ridden a decent one, I'm not sure he could. I ride in Sydney, and the effortless glide of riding a good racing bike is a high completly removed from mountain biking. The pleasure of rounding La Perouse point at dawn in the crisp clean air, feeling the speed and clarity that riding fast through a beautiful scene with friends provides, leaves me centered for a day of hassle and rubbish at work. Mountain bikes feel sluggish and unresponsive by comaprison, needing to be shoved and pushed. His point about older bikes and gearing is well made, but hasn't been valid for several years. Apart from the ridiculous cost, road riding is a wonderful thing to take up.
-- Martin Richards, November 14, 1998
Just to add to what the others said about road bikes...
Most of the problems people get from road bikes come from having the wrong size of frame. Having the correct size is much more important in road biking than in mountain biking. Simply look at how many sizes of mountain bike frames there are compared to road bike frames. Good mountain bike frames come in three or four sizes per model (five if you're lucky). Good road bike frames come in six or seven sizes at least. There is a reason for this.
Unfortunately for the sport, most bike dealers are accustomed to pushing cross and mountain bikes out the door (without paying too much attention to how the frames fit the cyclists). You can get away with this with upright handlebars, but you can't with road bikes. And since dealers make most of their money pushing tons of $300 bikes out the door, it's only the extraordinary dealers who will spend the time necessary to fit someone to their $1000 bike.
Road bikes have the (somewhat earned) reputation of making bad backs worse. However, that usually happens when you have a bike that doesn't fit and/or you have existing back problems. If your bike fits, road biking actually strengthens your back muscles and helps alleviate back problems.
As for road bikes not having enough low gears, component manufacturers are now developing triple cranks for their higher quality road lines. Last year Shimano came out with their Ultegra triple crank, which many of my friends swear by. (I don't have any experience with Campagnolo components, but I hear that they also have triple-crank road sets that are quite good as well.)
As for myself, I started out on a mountain bike with 26x1.5 inch tires, and found I had a lot of fun riding that bike. I then bought a road bike with 700x25c tires (much thinner), and found that I also had a lot of fun on that bike also. I also found that I was invited on many more bike rides (since I could keep up with the others much more easily). It's all in what you want to do, I guess.
-- Mark Ploegstra, November 24, 1998
I became a roadie after the 1984 Olympics and use to own 3 road bike that I parked in my condo. In 1988, I bought my first mountain bike. The road bikes are gone and my 2 mountain bikes have thier own room - garage.
For some reason my older mountain bike has transformed itself into a ROAD bike. I must be getting sentimental but I miss riding downhill and keeping up with a car.
RIDE!, I pay TOO much money for my car and if I were smart - and my occupation didn't require a car (websites and stuff), I'd get rid of the dammed thing and have a garage full of bicycles.
Stop geeking out on equipment and clothes, which is better mountain or road, and all the other trivial crap you digest from advertisments.
Ride until you fall over and die, it's good for you!
-- Robert Trajano, December 3, 1998
Don't buy a roof rack. Sooner or later you'll forget about it and drive into the garage with bike still on the roof. It'll ruin your day. No, I haven't done it but I know people who have!
-- Greg Lawton, January 24, 1999
A Comment: The SST Yakima racks hold the bike tighter then they hold the car. I did the bike meets garage scenerio, and the rack and GT Zaskar came off the roof of a VW Corrado. The only damage to the bike was a cut in the (supposedly) super-tough kevlar seat. The bike would have been cheaper to replace then my paint and back window. I now have a "load alert" on the hood before the bike goes on. ALSO, I own both a full suspension bike (GT LTS) and some front suspended only "hardtails". Since I got my Yeti ARC (hardtail, but with the awsome White Bros. fork), the full suspension bike has been collecting dust. But I'm wierd.
-- C Terry, February 1, 1999
For those of you that own roof racks and garages:
Here's a method of preventing the usual crash scenario of: (1) arrive home late from long trip in pouring rain, (2) totally dazed, you completely forget about bikes on roof, (3) horrific crash ensues, (4) pleasant memories of trip are in shambles along with your bikes, car, garage and insurance rating.
1. Pull car out of garage.
2. Park trash can or other large object in garage stall so that car can not be driven into garage without moving obstacle.
3. Affix sign to obstacle saying, "Do not move until Bikes are off Car!" so no one will do you the "favor" of clearing your way and defeat your nifty anti-collision system.
4. Now, mount bikes on roof of car and head out for a great ride!
I also recommend taping a warning sign to the dash or mounting a Yakima Load Alert on the hood as a reminder not to park in parking garages or friends' garages.
-- Mark Wojcik, February 4, 1999
I'm a roadie who has tried mountain biking. The best part of mountain biking is the scenery. You also get to participate in a trendy sport. The worst part is the alarming risk of injury. As a roadie, I drop my bike less than once/year. My mountain biker friends drop their bikes all the time, sometimes with serious injury. This is also illustrated in many of Greenspun's own misadventures. BTW, I don't just ride my road bike in suburban or rural areas. I ride in San Francisco which is rife with risks, but is, in my mind, less dangerous than typical singletrack.
If I wanted to travel off-road, I would probably walk or use a cyclocross bike. With a cyclocross bike, you walk or carry the bike across the really difficult/dangerous sections. I'm sure that to real mountain bikers, this makes me a "girlie-man" to use photo.net parlance. So be it. I hate getting broken bones for no real good reason.
Besides, I think that real men ride fixed-gear track bikes. I've ridden them on the track. They have a fantastically smooth feel. They are also beautiful in their simplicity, lacking shocks, gears, brakes, and even freewheels. But I don't consider myself a real man since I only ride track bikes on a track; real men ride them on the street despite the obvious dangers. True alpha males ride them in hilly cities. They've become popular with SF bike messengers as their work bikes. The main character in "Quicksilver", a 1986 movie about bike messengers, rides one. BTW, that movie was set in SF, even though no mention is made of the city's name and the photography tried to omit all landmarks and street signs.
Given my all my ranting, what do I think most people should get? City bikes. Europeans have used them for decades. They typically have 1 to 3 speeds, fenders, lights, bulletproof coaster brakes, baskets, chainguards, racks, and all-weather road tires. They need far less maintenance than complicated road and mountain bikes, can be cheaper, are easier to ride than road bikes (for casual riders), and can be easier to pedal than mountain bikes (because of the road tires). I doubt that Americans will buy them, though. They're not as "cool" as mountain or even road bikes.
-- Joaquin Cunanan, April 2, 1999
Two remarks above, Mark mentions the cyclo-cross frame as a good compromise between road and mountain options. I could not agree more. As a dedicated roadie, I'll do most of my stare-at-the-wheel-in-front-of-me riding on my beautiful old Marinoni (made the old way in Montreal). But my butt spends far more time on my equally old and beautiful Bianchi cyclo-cross. It is a wonderfully fast, rugged city bike; is quite possibly the best frame for loaded touring; and, in a pinch, is a fine off-road rig. And all of these options can be had without having to swap wheels. My local wheel builder provided me with a pair of incredibly tough Titan Tour rims with Continental Top Touring tires, and these have, so far, handled all the abuse I have put them through. Perfect.
-- Hugh Macaulay, April 27, 1999
Even road riders do themselves no favors by skimping on gloves, in my experience. Shock absorption typically both reduces a bicycle's mechanical efficiency, and raises its cost. This suggests that mountain and road bikes both shake the rider up about as much as he or she is going to be able to take. Road bikes just shake riders with less amplitude and higher frequency.
I vividly remember going from an ordinary, decent, 30+ pound bike to a 20+ pound double-butted Reynolds 531 frame with sew-up tires years ago. (I had to lose the tires; couldn't look at them funny without a puncture.) On my first long ride, about 60 miles round trip, the bicycle seemed to want to jump out from underneath me. It felt like a spirited horse. But I also remember that at the end of the day my forearms felt like they'd been worked over with a rubber truncheon.
These days I ride a Marinoni disguised as a Raleigh. It's a very stiff ride; perhaps not quite as much as newer bikes with even shorter wheelbases. I appreciate gel gloves. Cork handlebar tape is also a wonderful thing.
I don't know what to say about the horror of riding in the down position. I'm used to it, and one sign that I haven't ridden in much too long is that back muscles start twanging up strangely. A good ride--or stretch on the rack, more upright riders might say--smooths them right out. But hyperextending the neck does get tedious. On a long ride I find myself wondering why I can't have the network of bones and gristle that, say, a horse has in its neck.
That said, handlebars or clip-on extensions (as in my case) that allow you to really tuck in low with your forearms resting pads are definitely worthwhile. Aside from the neck, which is already getting it anyway, it can be restful and it makes you substantially faster. My clip-on has added more than a mile an hour to my average speed on long rides.
Helmets, definitely. Don't leave home without one. Is there any room for doubt? The next-to-last time I can remember bouncing my head off concrete, I probably started two or three feet closer to the ground and weighed a third of what I do now. It was unpleasant. So were the stitches. But last time, about a month ago, I literally bounced my head off concrete. With a helmet. Much better. Dazed, but also elated to be only dazed. Amazing. The helmet was a Giro, but the lateral impact didn't test the Rok-Lok or whatever it's called. Just as well. :-)
-- Jacob Dickinson, April 30, 1999
From junior high school through freshman year of college, I rode a Fuji cross bike. Dad spent $400 on the bike and then I spent $200 over the life of the thing replacing rear wheels because I'm such a fat ass even a strong alloy rim can't hold my weight. About $100 of that was spent right before it was stolen. I loved the bike and was sorry to see it go...
Anyway, by college I never rode any trails anymore, I just used it for getting around campus, occasional forays into Houston, and even more occasional exercise. I figured that I would completely trash a real road bike so I consigned myself to hybrids again and started looking.
Unfortunately, somewhere between 1991 and 1998, hybrid bikes changed quite a bit. My Fuji had a light, aggresive frame, trigger-type Shimano rapid-fire shifters and was a joy to ride - fast, responsive. All the hybrids I tried were total duds. I hated the fact that they all had grip-shifters now. I hated the fact that many only came with those *&#@#@! suspension forks and seatposts. None of them felt aggressive at all.
I ended up with a Raleigh touring bike. Fast as heck, great RSX dual-control shifters, and durable enough to handle me. I remember with great glee how on one ride around Houston, my two skinny-as-a-rail riding partners both blew flats on their skinny-as-a-rail racing tires while I went over all the bumps and construction without any problems. And I didn't have any problems keeping up with them on the road, either.
I don't know what Phil is talking about with the head/neck thing on road bikes. Riding in a dropped position is actually better for your back on long rides. I don't use the full drop too often, rather, I tend to grip the bar above the brake hoods.
-- Alex H, July 28, 1999
Helmets: The newer helmets not only fit better, they are lighter, more ventilated, have wicking pads and I suspect slightly stronger (bonding technology is better than it was in the early 90's). But they are way more expensive! I remember trying on the Giro Boreas and eventually breaking down and buying it. Now I let my friends with old helmets try it on just to see the "wow" expression on their face. The Loc Roc thing helps them fit better than any old helmet using pads could. They even get around the old rule of helmet shape (round or oval) being crucial to fit (Bell is round, most others are oval).
Road bikes: Get a triple if you need it. Get fitted properly. Go to a bike shop that will spend time with you doing that. Then it won't hurt. That's probably more important than which bike you get. Try aero bars. Finally, if you ride around the city and through parks and on bike paths, try a hybrid bike.
-- Dave Tang, August 11, 1999
Photo.net is great! Where else would I find my two greatest loves on one web page ! I have been "mountain bikeing" for over thirteen years and have had all the latest greatest technologically superior bikes that you could imagine but the bike I am rideing now is by far the greatest thing that has happend to me and my involvement in this sport . About a year ago I had a truly custom frame made to fit my taller than normal stature and boy oh boy what a difference a custom frame makes!! The builder ("Rock Lobster" in Santa Cruz ,CA)really new what he was doing. I am rideing faster and stronger then ever before and I am getting over obstacles that I could never make on other bikes or let alone , have the confidence to even try! The best thing about my bike is it's lack of suspension (other than a big 2.0 front tire ran at low pressure)and it's lack of multiple gears ! one speed is all I need! I tell ya "single speeding" is the only way to go around here (Santa Cruz mountains) ! I have so much fun rideing a bike this simple , it has really steep angles as well so it just rips on the tight and nasty single track and it climbs like a road bike! you have to be commited to ride on a one speed though, I have to get out at least twice every week other wise is hurts to much ! single speeding makes rideing much more of a mental challange as well. Which seems to fit right in line with my veiws on photography ... no auto focus , do it all for you wonder meter cameras for me ! Free time is a luxury for me so I try and slow it down and make it last and for me this is best done with a all manual camera AND a all manual bicycle.
-- mike pailliotet, August 17, 1999
One thing concerning tires: I bought Swedish Crescent ATB in late eighties (All Terrain Bike - I suppose nowadays they are called hybrid bikes). If you know what a Volvo is, then Crescent is the bike equivalent. Anyhow, it came with special tires. In the middle of the tyre, there is a about 1 cm thick "slick" region, that raises above the knuckled part of the tyre. It is a great invention, on a smooth surface, like asphalt, the tyre rides on this easy-rolling part (I can tell it not only by feeling it, but also by driving through a pool of water and watching the marks the tires leave). When the terrain is softer, the knuckled part kicks in. Unfortunately these babies are getting harder to find, but they really work.
-- Timo Aaltonen, December 17, 1999
scetch of the tyre
Maybe this format works better...
-- Timo Aaltonen, December 17, 1999
Imagine biking on a lawn chair...
There would be no need for bike gloves, because the weight is on your tush, just like now :-) Neck strain would be comparable to, say sitting at your computer. No funny pants would be needed to prevent inner thigh sores.
I bike Boston in a recumbent of my own design (comfort cruiser a name without a real company, or for the best source of info, see Recumbent Cyclist News). The difference in comfort is absolutely enormous. On my road bike, I feel every bump on the road, and there are many bumps on the road. At the end of the day when I am tired, my head hangs low and I study for the next pothole. On the recumbent, I have a three inch cushy seat that absorbs what Boston gives. When tired, I actually lay back even more, take a deep breath which can be done more easily, and slog on looking at the sky.
Youngsters can take all kinds of abuse in the name of some principle or another, but as the body gets older, it will gravitate to something more comfortable. That is why the mountain bike was able to beat the road bike in towns with no mountains (a bit more laid back). Recumbents are a niche now, but they are a very comfortable one and well worth the price of admission.
Incedentally, I have done a "front tire freeze" crash on my bike because the tire ended up in a deep pothole. I was catapulted from my comfy chair and landed on my feet. In recumbent wrecks, feet lead the way, as it should be to protect to processor. Still, I have a top of the line helmet and 2 mirrors to study the crazy drivers around me.
-- Douglas Sweetser, February 28, 2000
Nice to see a mention of recumbents. OK, perhaps not an alternative for off-road, but worth a look for road riding. I am lucky to be riding a Windcheetah (Speedy), a recumbent tricycle.
Great things about the Speedy ? Not being miserable when faced with a hard twenty home in a strong headwind. Going like the clappers downhill. Drivers passing with plenty of room so that they can gawp at the "funny bicycle". Being able to go very slowly up hills without falling off. Being able to stop and view the scenery from your personal deckchair. Less exposed body parts on winter rides. No numb body parts !
Less great things about the Speedy ? The price ! Three wheel tracks make pothole dodging rather difficult. Lie back seating position means said pothole impacts transfer to your back with little attenuation. Lining-up with the spray output from truck wheels. The additional weight up hill.
Personally I have had more fun with my Speedy than years of upright, road and trail. And I like being a little different.
-- David Gumbrell, April 25, 2000
Phil (and all of your audience): Douglas and David's mention of recumbent bikes and trikes are very fitting additions to this cutting edge website of technology. Certainly most of you have read about Steve Robert's Behemoth http://www.microship.com. My personal mode of transport is a recumbent TerraTrike http://www.wizwheelz.com, a very reasonable performance-oriented machine. Our family also has the highly affordable BikeE http://www.bikee.com which performs extremely well on long distance road rides (i.e, centuries) and is equally at home on off-road trails. For more on the fast, fun, and comfortable world of these human powered vehicles, log onto http://www.ihpva.org. One last comment regarding the concerns expressed about driving into a garage with cycles on the roof. Merely remove the remote garage door opener from the car--works for me.
-- David Lawson, November 13, 2000
I'm also glad that recumbent cycles have got a look in here. They definately have a place in any technological future. I ride a city bike about town, a recumbent on the open road, and one of these when I go to the mall. No problems with potholes due to its unique suspension, and we don't have any mountains here in Cambridge (UK). I found the discusion about fitting bikes on bikes on cars less interesting - I can fit any of my bikes in my micro compact car on the rare occaisons I find any need to drive it at all.
-- Ralph Williams, November 14, 2000
An effective solution to the "fork safety nubs prevent easy use of fork mount roof racks" problem is to grind or file them off (it took me about 10 minutes on an alloy fork with a hand file). Of course, after you do that, you won't be able to sue the manufacturer if you crash from the wheel coming loose because you forgot to close the quick release. :-)
-- Marc Erickson, December 3, 2000
I'm what you might call stupid. The places I ride my bike and what my bike looks like after a ride would probably scare you. Anyway I don't belive in gloves for biking, probably because I couldn't do the things I do with such a loss of control. I did buy gloves. Because it gets kind of cold here in midwinter in Montreal. Imagine the ancient scenario where you stick your tongue on an exposed piece of frigid metal. Now, your fingers are are grabbing on to brake levers that are below the ambient temperature of -4F (or -20C for those more practical people) and you can see that gloves can come in handy.
Specialized ( http://www.specialized.com/ )(big bike company) notes that BMX'ers don't experience the same hand numbness as other bikers so I figure that since I started off with a BMX (that cost me $20Canadian) I didn't have the same problems when I moved to a mountain bike. You'd be quite surprised though at how important grip choice is in avoiding blisters and calouses and fatigue and numbness in your hands.
As an aside and feindishly Un-American of me (I am Canadian) I promote the use of Celcius as oposed to Farenheight. The reasoning is simple: water freezes @ 0, water boils @ 100. Could it be more simple and effective? No! Versus the stupid gradient where we can have water freeze at 32 and -40 and plus 40 are the same on both scales. How does that make sense?
Oh! and I only bought a suspension fork because I trashed two rigid ones. They broke at the crown. suspension forks have big chunks of aluminium for the crown. You dumb yanks are nannies! Ooh my poor hands, Ahh I scratched the paint on my car(in reference to the roof rack discussion). Chuckle-Tee-hee-hee!
-- Dominic porter, January 13, 2001
The road bike comments are right about on-target, but there are some exceptions to the racer-boy bikes out there. Notably a wonderful little company called Rivendell Bicycle Works run by Grant Peterson of Bridgestone fame. They make road bikes (with more upright seating positions), mountain bikes that ride like a dream without suspension and just about everything in-between. They cost lots, but are amazingly beautiful and huge leaps and bounds better made and more comfortable and practical than the gear mentioned in the article - and I thought you had great taste, Philip!
PS> As a mountain biker since 1983 and the owner of a small stable of bikes (everything from $200 beaters to $3000 full suspension high-zoot monsters) I have the following advice about suspension and gadgetry: unless you race or like big air, forget it and improve your riding skills. Just to check it out for myself, I started taking a road bike with 23mm tires (slicks) on some really technical singletrack and guess what - it worked just fine. Since then I have settled on a touring bike (often loaded with lots of stuff) for technical riding and I don't find that my pace is particularly slower and the riding is more pleasureable to me - and unlike my FS bike, it's never left me sans frame bolt at the top of a 15 mile climb... Suspension is fine and well, but try something different too!
-- Josh Stella, February 20, 2002
For the love of God, file those little "safety nubs" off of the dropouts of your fork. This is the first thing that should be done to a bike, with the possible exception of removing those plastic cassette guards on the rear wheel and any other ridiculous accoutrements (reflectors, anyone?). You should file them off while still in the bike store, if nobody's watching. I have ridden for about 12 years and have raced for 3, and I can say from experience that they do no good: they slow wheel changes/removals significantly, and offer no protection. If your skewer *somehow* becomes loose as you ride your bike then you are fucked anyway (technically speaking) and no dropout nubs in the world will save you. Think for yourselves, people, instead of letting lawyers and bureaucrats tell you what equipment to run on your bike. I mean, honestly.
-- B Hurley, October 28, 2002
Have to agree about the safety nubs on the forks, these were designed to avoid litigation from people too stupid to do up their quick releases. None of my bikes have them and I don't lose any sleep at night worrying that my fron wheel is going to come off.
Regarding the road bike/touring bike/city bike/hybrid/mountain bike discussion, in my opinion the best all round bike for offroad, touring and commuting is a rigid (or front suspended) MTB with an extra set of wheels with 1.5" slick tires.
I have a ten year old McMahon Titanium MTB that has done thousands of miles off road, toured through France, and is now used for commuting most days. It is a rigid frame/fork but is light, stiff and comfortable. A fantastic bike that works off road and on.
I also do a lot of road riding and agree that nothing beats a pedigree road bike for covering distance on good roads. Position on a road bike is critical and they can take some getting used to for a new rider, but a good road bike at speed is a delight.
On helmets and gloves, I don't ever ride without them after some bad experiences. I have broken a helmet in an impact with the road and didn't even get a headache. I have also come off at speed without gloves and removed most of the skin from the palms of my hands - six weeks with my hands in bandages - ouch!
Lastly, gel gloves suck. The extra thickness just makes the bars harder and more tiring to grip. If your hands are getting numb/tired during a ride it is because you are riding straight armed. Learn to bend your elbows when you ride rather than locking them straight and your numb hands and sore neck will reduce dramatically.
-- tim Minogue, November 21, 2002
One thing to consider when getting a road bike is wether or not to get sew-ups. When I got mine, a late 80's Atala, it had sew-ups and I thought I was the coolest guy in the world. It costs about $75 to buy and get a sew-up installed at a store. The weight you gain from clinchers is nothing. Unless you are a professional cyclist, you just don't need them. Sew-ups are for elitists or professionals with their own team behind them. Simply unnecessary for 99.9999% of the population. I write a lot about my difficulties on my blog, http://kurtandsandy.blogspot.com.
-- Kurt Schroeder, September 1, 2005
I disagree with Philip's view of road bikes. I spent 4 years mountain biking in the rockies and loved it, the bike was also very comfortable for its purpose (mountain biking).
I then moved to a place without mountains and threw slicks on my bike and joined some roadies for bi-weekly rides. Although I was able to keep up, my back was killing me by the end of each ride. I purchased one of the guy's old road bike and all the pains went away and I actually enjoyed the rides.
I now only bike for commuting purposes and the mountain bike is rarely used and I feel my body is better off.
Mountain Bikes are for mountains, Road bikes for pavement. Its as simple as that.
-- Patrick Grout, October 17, 2005
Let me second the Rivendell recommendation. When you're tired of the componant-of-the-week, and riding an uncomfortable bike so you can look like a part of the Tour d'France peloton, buy a Rivendell. Comfortable, well engineered bikes that will last a long time. Me, I own two.
-- Michael Edelman, May 2, 2007
With all the talk about minivans and cross bikes, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there's no discussion of bike culture and style. Sure, a cross bike with a shock on the seatpost may be a reasonable way to get around the city, much as a sturdy pair of wal-mart shoes with velcro attachements in a nice brown color would be a very reasonable pair of shoes.
What people really want is not just to get around, but to look cool doing it. The coolest bikes, by far, are fixed gear track bikes with no brakes, preferably of italian descent. These are the bikes one sees the coolest bike messengers riding in all the coolest cities. They are terribly difficult to ride, but have a style and grace that would not lend itself to comparisons with wal-mart loafers.
-- Koil Gugliemi, July 5, 2007
Some of the instability of recumbents comes from the fact that many of them have smaller front wheels. A lot of a bike's stability comes from the gyroscopic effects of spinning wheels. Smaller wheels, less gyro. But yes, otherwise they sure are better. It's a shame they are not more popular, as that would make them a lot cheaper.
For a rack, I got the one from 1upusa.com They have changed their design a bit since I bought but I like the small footprint and the ease of loading the bike since you lift it less than a foot, compared to putting it on the roof.
-- Brad Templeton, July 6, 2007
About bikes, I live in Shanghai (a flat city well prepared for bikes with roads devoted only to them) and I have found a bike which allows me to commute (subway) from side to side of the river and then ride the last mile quickly with the bike. It is http://www.bd21.com/shop/product.asp?id=435; It costs around 40 euros (400RMB), materials are not extremely good, but you can ride fast enough to get easily to work. I tried the non-foldable one (http://www.bd21.com/shop/product.asp?id=443) and it was also very useful. In both bikes you don't feel like they are small at all, I ride as fast as an average person which is not speeding. I have no relation with the company of whatsoever, I just thought people who search for foldable bikes in the internet might end up here and this bike is worth a try.
-- Luis Sanchez, July 6, 2007
A few comments from a roadie...
Each manufacturer uses a different "last" (ie form) on which to build their helmets. I have a Giro head - Bell helmets just don't fit right. So try on different manufacturers.
Too many nerve endings not to wear gloves even in the summer.
You imply that road bikers use toe clips. Not for quite some time now.
A big advantage of water bottles over camelbacks is that they are easier to use with hydration drinks, because cleaning camelbacks is such a pain in the butt.
I do sometimes carry my camelback on long rides (say, 80+ miles).
There is no reason not to have a bike that is comfortable for you. Even a racier bike can be set up to be comfortable for 5+ hours for the vast majority of riders (with a little training), and there are lots of touring bikes that are more comfortable. Having somebody do a bike fit for you is a very good idea.
WRT your assertion about climbing. Even if it were true that climbing gears weren't available until recently - which it is not - this wouldn't be an argument about bikes today.
And if you spend $4000 on a litespeed with a double and a close ratio sprocket and don't have the training to ride up the hills you want to ride up, the problem is that you bought the wrong bike, not a problem with the bike.
Don't complain that manufacturers are making products tuned for people with different considerations than you.
And, for the record, my all-carbon bike has a triple and a mountain cassette on the rear (though I ride some real steep stuff).
You also don't mention hybrids, which are a very good choice for people who want to ride on road and perhaps some light gravel roads but don't like the position of a road bike or the complexity and expense of a suspended mountain bike.
Tires aren't a huge problem, though you have to get the right ones. Transportation *is* a pain.
And I think the comment about sexual orientation is beneath you.
1) Saddle position (angle, height, fore/aft) has a big impact on this. 2) Saddle design has a big impact. YOu may need to try multiple saddles 3) Good shorts work better than cheap ones. 4) Don't wear anything under the bike shorts. 5) There are mountain-style shorts with a "normal" overshort if you don't like the race look.
If you are getting numbness, you have an issue you need to get taken care of. Lots of riders ride for hours and hours without numbness.
Bents are considerably more eficient. The disadvantages are that they are harder to be social on, and that don't really work on mixed rides with non-bent riders, both because of the height difference and the speed differences.
-- Eric Gunnerson, July 6, 2007
You omitted one group of bikes that offer some relief from the problems of road racing bikes, namely tourers. Longer wheelbase is the principal feature along with a more relaxed geometry, less upright seat tube, more upright seating position, even with drops, and the chance for bigger, more shock-absorbing tires. Someone mentioned Rivendell, which is a small outfit in Walnut Creek, CA but there are many others like Co-Motion, Bruce Gordon, Independent Fabrication, Sakkit and Mercian. Custom builders like Vanilla Cycles and ANT also make fine touring designs.
-- Christopher Henry, July 19, 2007
Regarding a folding bike (disclaimer: I don't own one and haven't tried these), I'd strongly suggest using 700c wheels or maybe 26" wheels. You really don't want to bring a bike on vacation, ruin a tire, and be unable to find a replacement. Perhaps this isn't such a big deal if you are sticking close to the big cities but even then....
Anyway, I'd suggest looking at the Ritchey Break Away, http://www.ritcheylogic.com, or something with S&S couplings like a Co-Motion, http://www.sandsmachine.com/. Both seem to fold up fairly small and you can get a hardshell case, if you want to fly on an airline.
If you've got the bucks, titanium won't get chipped paint. :)
-- Dion Dock, July 25, 2007
Coming from the land of the mills, tulips and recumbent bikes I could provide you some useful information on at least one of these subjects.
You may like to visit the Dutch Ligfiets Plaza site for more information, especially the English pages. On it a list of recumbent bike companies. Videos of recumbents can be found here.
-- Mark (Blogfietser), August 11, 2007