Editor’s note: We were tipped off to this story by Jeff Jones, creator and namesake of the Jones mountain bikes. Olsen rode his Jones 2,858.75 miles to finish fifth in the 2013 Tour Divide from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M.
Words and photos by James Olsen.
Just over a week ago I arrived at Antelope Wells after 17 days and about 5 hours of the most intense riding experience of my life. I’m back at home now, I’ve been meaning to get something written down for a few days and it’s only now I’m starting to accept that it’s in the past, no longer waking in the night feeling that it’s time to get up and roll along the trail for a while, warming up before settling in for another long day in the saddle. The Tour Divide was everything I went out there for, it was beautiful, intense and at times almost crushingly hard and it got the best out of me.
Firstly, my bike and kit. I bought a Jones Titanium Spaceframe a couple of years ago and it changed my riding. Really, this wasn’t just new-bike love. Longer rides went by in comfort, the handling was addictive and motivated me to ride almost every day and the comfort meant my rides got longer and my fitness improved noticeably.
I bought a steel diamond frame with truss fork for holidays and bikepacking trips and found it was the perfect tool for the job. Comfy and efficient but also a huge amount of fun downhill—a bike-packer ride that wasn’t ever dull or a compromise when we found unexpected gems of trails. Not once did I think “If only I had my susser here…” on those trips. For the Divide there really isn’t a bike I’d have felt so confident in.
I used my steel diamond frame for the frame-bag space and the Ti truss fork for less weight–it all counted. The Velocity P35 rims let me use my tires at maybe 17-18 psi at times when the washboard roads were beating me up, or simply when I wanted to roll more easily along the rougher trails. Others were sticking to 40+ psi and thinner, lighter rims and I think I had an advantage there. I’m certain I was getting less beat up than other riders.
I used Geax Saguaro 2.2 tires that do roll very well and work well on both loose or hard ground but I think a bigger tyre would have been a wiser choice. Fast-rolling 2.4 tires aren’t so widely available but perhaps the tread is less important at lower pressures. On the roads an Ardent 2.4 at 40psi would’ve been slower than the Saguaro, but on balance it may have been faster or comfier over the rougher sections. I saw a couple of Surly 29×3.0 Knard-equipped bikes on the route and eyed up their tires enviously.
A Ti Loop H-bar was the perfect bar for this kind of ride, plenty of space for lights, computer, route maps etc as well as the grip options. A good number of racers were using them this year.
I used a single 34t oval chainring and a 12-28 six-speed modified cassette on a Hope singlespeed hub, using three single-speed cogs and three Shimano cassette cogs stacked up. This was a really hard-wearing combo in the gears I used 80 percent of the time (16, 19 and 22 rear) and I was confident 2,800 miles wouldn’t put too much wear on them. The shifting wasn’t as slick as a normal cassette but it was ok, like a singlespeed with a few options either side of my usual 34-19 ratio.
The straight chain line and front single ring would have been a benefit in the infamous Divide mud, but it was my downfall on a fast road section at the end. A triple may have been a wiser move, certainly if I’d known it was going to be generally so fast and dry I would have fitted one. Shifting was done by a bar-end shifter with a Paul Component mount and I used XTR v-brake levers on BB7 brakes with 160mm and 180mm rotors. Pre-greased cables were a little sticky at first but ran smooth the whole way and I only used one set of pads. My wheel set uses the same spokes throughout so I only carried 2 spare spokes. All my kit came to around 11 lbs., just under 2 lbs. for my sleeping kit on the bars, 3 to 4 lbs. of clothes and waterproofs in the seat pack, the rest was a camelback for food and water and in my frame bag that had extra space for a full 2-liter water bladder if needed.
As for the ride, the Tour Divide isn’t that well known outside mountain bike circles but the number of entrants has increased sharply the last few years and blue-dot watching (trackleaders.com) has added a new spectator dimension to races like this. This year there were 140 or more of us, mostly gathered at the YMCA Lodge in Banff on the morning of June 14, heading south.
I guess most of us had discovered bikepacking in recent years, seen “Ride the Divide” or read Jill Homer or Paul Howard’s books and been hooked on the idea. Some had been planning the race for a couple of years, others for less time. I fell into the “less time” group. At New Year’s I decided I wanted to do something committing on the bike and the Tour Divide was big and exciting enough to really motivate me (fear is a good motivator I found).
Multiple-race-winner Matthew Lee’s posts on Divide racing attitudes and ethics on a forum clinched it for me, it was a race that seemed to appeal when racing rarely does so. For five months my spare time was focussed on little else. There was no race experience in my past to base any confidence on but I had done plenty of reasonably long rides and bivi trips in the past. I feel at home when alone and outdoors and I love sleeping under the stars. I felt confident in my self-sufficiency and felt that I could answer a reasonably confident “yes” to the “Are you up to this?” check-list on the Tour Divide site. Or at least, ‘yes, after some preparation’.
I also had found the perfect bike for my long rides and overseas trips in my Jones bike. What I needed to do was get myself in shape for the demands of the race, finalize my kit and decide on some kind of strategy.
I wanted to race in a certain style, influenced by what I’d read about the original Great Divide race and Matthew Lee’s approach to Divide racing. I really wanted the Divide to be a tunnel that I entered into with the only way back to home comforts being the finish line, or retirement from the race. That meant (to me) racing without a phone or GPS, being 100 percent reliant on myself for bike servicing or repairs and I wanted to sleep out trail-side every night and find a rhythm that worked with daylight hours and my body clock to maximize rest or minimize physical and mental disruption.
The Divide route was to be an open-air experience and roofs were off-limits between start and finish. I think a few more storms would have tested that aim towards the end, but I’m happy that the stormy nights were times when I pushed on out of town in the evenings, set up camp in the dark downpour and lay safe under my small tarp as the lightning lit up the fabric every few moments. Other nights, the storm threatened, tested my resolve then backed down and let me rest with only a light drizzle that couldn’t disturb my coma-like sleep.
Before the race I said that these ideals or ethics may cost me a few places but racing style was important to me, I had some kind of “clean, onsight” kind of climbing ethics in mind that could only really be done once as a rookie on the route. Ask me about ethics after I mis-read my cues again or rode miles past a turn and spent a stressful time uncertain whether it was the right one and you’d have got a different angle on Divide racing! GPS is a good thing if you want to go fast and phones are a faster way to find out about fire diversions, but adventure and uncertainty is also part of the experience.
I think I had a couple of advantages in the race that made up for a lack of race experience and helped keep me in the top five most of the race. One was being happy to sleep trail-side anywhere and in almost any weather which saved me time, the other was having reliable equipment. I was confident in my bike and gear as I’d used it in roughly a Divide’s worth of distance of bikepacking and touring trips before without a single issue. Some of my kit was fairly new but simply a lighter or simpler version of what I’d used before. Some other things I’d do differently next time having completed the race, but that’s always the case with an experience of that magnitude.
The training went well and I enjoyed the long overnight and weekend rides I did in preparation. By the time the race came around I was nervous, scared almost, but raring to go. If you love long rides and existing with the minimum of possessions the Great Divide is a wonderful place to be. Remote in places but rarely dauntingly so, it’s a route where you’ll often feel very small under dramatic skies and expansive views. The feeling of open space is simply huge. If it wasn’t a race there would have been times when I would have got off my bike and just sat or stood in the middle of these great spaces, trying to take it all in. But it was a race and that added a pressure I never predicted.
I’d ended up in the top 10 on day two; when Billy Rice (a northbound rider nearing Banff, who would then turn around to ride south, completing the first TDR double last week) stopped to say hi and tell me there weren’t many ahead of me I realized I was making my way towards the front of the field. After that there was no letting up, I wanted to do well. If I was going to be happier at a slower speed I could tour the route another time.
Naturally I found myself close to other riders on different strategies and with different strengths but the Divide evens things out soon enough. Racing so closely with Alex Harris for over 2,000 miles taught me a lot as well as stretched my ability and my mental strength, I found I could pedal longer and harder than I expected but the lack of sleep and need to compete with a very experienced racer/adventurer was tough, it wore my nerves down at times but it also stopped me slipping into default tourer mode when I felt tired or close to being beaten by the scale of the route.
I don’t think we were ever more than a few hours apart and all I could go on were tire tracks. If there weren’t any signs of Alex’s tire tracks ahead of me, every time I stopped for any reason I was looking behind me and the pressure built. I learned soon after riding with Alex for the first time that he had experience and a source of strength that I would find it hard to compete with when things got difficult, and it was simply a case of when that happened, not if it would.
Things got difficult after La Manga pass, going into New Mexico. Alex and I were low on food but had eaten well in Platoro, 30 miles or so earlier. We were headed into the first of New Mexico’s wilderness stretches, the Cruces Basin, a very beautiful area that we first saw through rain and a fog of hypoglycaemia as we separately tried to make 800 or so calories each last well over a hundred miles of mixed ground. At times it was among the hardest terrain of the route and all of it was at high altitude.
We both knew it’d be hard as we went in, we’d briefly debated the wisdom of going off-route for 30 miles for food or the ethics of hitching off-route. I didn’t want to hitch or delay but I also wanted food. I remembered Aidan Harding’s comments about considering how a racer-to-be would feel when much-needed resupply points were closed, leaving another half-day’s ride to the next point. I thought it was something I could cope with.
Bravado was called out as Alex decided to head into the wilderness. I think the racer in him knew it could be a pivotal moment in our two-man race. Maybe he was just calling my bluff, I don’t know. But I had to follow. As I pushed uphill in the rain to save what little energy I had only ten miles in, he slowly rode away and I felt alone for the first time in the race. I’d enjoyed riding alone for so many miles before that and at times I wanted to break away from Alex simply to ride alone again, but after the first week’s fatigue I wasn’t up to putting more than relatively brief, almost futile gaps between us and I also enjoyed his company.
The Divide racers’ dilemma perhaps, you need a strong head to race the entire route solo, refusing any company. Further up the trail I found half of the small bag of trail mix that a couple on quad bikes had given us earlier. Alex had split it and left it clearly on the trail… “This really was half, honest! : ) ” it said on the bag. Riding alone was losing its appeal, tough times are better faced as a team but this was a solo race and more so now than before it really felt like a serious, solo race for me.
Dark, irrational thoughts closed in and I thought I may end up losing a few places as I walked, then stumbled, for miles and miles to the next potential food supply but my decision had been made and only I could affect the outcome or take the blame.
It turns out that years of long rides and often-poor pace management had taught me a lot about managing “the bonk” and by eating a tiny amount every twenty minutes I eventually stabilized and perhaps much of my lethargy was due to altitude, or caution-induced. I then had a reckless moment when I ate more than half of my only cliff bar in one go and as the sun went down my energy returned. I caught Alex shortly after turning my lights on and we rode together until we emerged onto a five-mile road climb between the wilderness/forest park areas at around 11 p.m.
It felt like a fairly lucky escape but there were still 50 or more miles to go before any hope of resupply. I was pretty sure that the first possible source of food would be shut anyway, as often had been the way. “Don’t get your hopes up”. I chose to bivi there and rest despite saying earlier that pushing on through the night was a good plan, since by then it was a clear night and getting colder and shivering costs calories. My thin but cosy down bag and cushy Neo-air mat was calling again. Alex had only a bivi bag and down jacket so he pushed on to the next shelter which turned out to be only six miles away. We remained within an hour or less of each other but all I knew the next morning was that I was following his tracks again.
The next day in the town of Abiqui I bought the Divider’s breakfast of two double cheeseburgers each with fries, a large milkshake and large Coke but only after being unable to get any cash at a post office and riding past two cash-only shops over the previous 30 miles. I was also caught at the post office by Liam Crowley who may not have got the friendly hello he deserved from this tired, run-down rider. Sorry Liam… He then gave me a spare bar in a generous offer that I won’t forget.
From that point on, I saw a lot more of Liam. He’d been behind us for almost a week but something had lit his fire and he was riding well, he’d closed a half-day or more gap with what must have been a tough all-nighter across the Cruces Basin from Platoro, a big effort that didn’t seem to cost him in the long term.
In the final miles of our Tour Divide we passed each other as we napped separately for an hour or so or paused at food or water points within 125 miles of the finish. I wanted to ride right through to the finish but sleep deprivation was building and mild, continual hallucinations affected me and falling asleep on the bike for brief moments happened too regularly. Waking and swerving across the road without crashing showed how in tune you can get with your bike after 17 days of almost continual riding but there was a real risk that I’d crash out of the race within sight of the finish.
I had an hour and a half’s sleep under a tree as light rain continued to fall and was back on the bike soon after 4:30 a.m. As dawn broke across the beautiful final desert stretch I was riding strongly but following in Alex and Liam’s tire tracks. Passed Separ, I saw no tracks and got my head down for the last 65 miles of road to Antelope Wells. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized I really was going to finish the Tour Divide, relief that it was almost over was mixed with sadness of a journey’s end, something magical grasped.
I thought I may be about to finish third, unthinkable to me really despite having spent a number of days between third and fourth position and as good as that thought felt, I tried not to dwell on it. It just didn’t seem possible. When I saw two dots behind me on the horizon I upped my pace to my limit, I felt good that morning and thought I could hold the pace for another 35 miles to the finish but whether I actually could, I’m not sure.
My 34×12 top gear was good for a speed that was about as high as a rider with 2,800 miles in their legs could maintain, but Alex slowly reeled me in. I sat up and we regrouped as Liam joined us. For a few miles the pace dwindled and we joked about all of us being caught again as we slowed up – half seriously, as we knew Brian Pal (top US rider that year) had been riding strongly and gaining ground in the last few days.
A truck drove past and pulled into the road side. A big guy in a checked shirt, Texan hat and suspenders got out and stood in the center of the road. His pose was pure wild-west, ready to draw. As we rolled up to him he smiled and held out cans of cold condensation-dripping Coke. Lloyd and Roger Payne, thank you for the best welcome committee possible. Racing was off the cards as we drank two cold Cokes each, then it went back on the agenda as a final sprint was mentioned.
From the one mile out roadside marker.
We were at mile three and I was itching to go. I did feel good, but I was tired enough not to realize that my 34×12 top gear wasn’t going to get me past either Liam or Alex on a flat road. But finishing as racers was the only fitting way to finish, there wasn’t to be any joint-placings among us.
By the time we wound up the sprint, I was back in 5th spot watching the others ride away over the last few hundred yards. It wasn’t a welcome sight yet somehow places mattered less to me then. In the early days I was elated to be top 10, as I moved up the field the only place that mattered was the one I held then and the racing had motivated the best riding I’d done. Ranking mattered less to me than how we’d ridden and coped with the challenges, racing all the way yet happy to ride together when our timing and pace matched.
I’d stuck to my no outside-influence bike service and sleep-out-every-night plans and had nothing but pride and satisfaction for how the race had gone. I’d finished, after all. As much as I’d have turned myself inside out to have got third place, Alex truly deserved his podium spot and at the time I’d have traded that cliff bar with Liam for a place any day. The 17 days had gone by in a blur of huge vistas and wide-eyed discovery, tiredness and endorphins and massive appetites. I’d ridden in sublime places with great people and seen how welcoming small-town American people could be toward tired, smelly bike racers with accents they rarely could place. I’d met Kirsten at Brush Mountain Lodge and Megan and Clay at the Toaster house for not much more than an hour or two and it had felt like I’d known them for years. All the fatigue and pain that was to follow as my body went into a minor breakdown a few hours after finishing were worth it.
And I’m looking forward to tomorrow – unboxing my Jones, simply lubing the chain and riding my local trails again.
See more of James’ photos from his trip in his Flickr gallery.Tweet
By Adam Newman
Jeff Jones isn’t afraid to think outside the box. In fact, it’s safe to say he probably isn’t concerned about the box at all. He has been designing and building his own unique brand of non-suspended mountain bikes that have made the pages (and pixels) of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, for years.
In recent years, Jones has brought a production version of his bike to market and after we reviewed it as a mountain bike, he pointed out that it is just as versatile on the road as on the trail. Since a couple of the staff use 29er mountain bikes with slick tires as all-purpose commuters and touring bikes, the idea struck a chord.
The $850 Jones diamond frame and fork feature everything a touring cyclist could need: rack and fender mounts; room for fat, comfy tires; three water bottle cage mounts; a shorter effective top tube and high, comfortable handlebars. Those handlebars are another of Jones’ original creations, a loop shape that puts your hands at a relaxed 45 degrees and creates a platform for carrying gear.
One of the key elements of what makes the bike unique in mountain bike mode is the ability to use a 29er front wheel or a 26×4.8 fat bike front wheel. As such, the fork is a specially designed unit that uses a 135mm fat bike front hub. When laced to a 29er/700c rim, it creates an especially strong front wheel that tracks straight, even when loaded. The rims are Velocity’s Blunt 35 that measure a huge 35mm wide and give the 29×2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple balloon tires even more cushion. Propulsion is provided by a Shimano 2×10 XT group that is geared low enough for even the steepest hills.
I packed up the panniers and the specially-designed frame bag that Jones sent us to try and had a great weekend riding and camping along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. While I wasn’t setting any speed records, the big tires and relaxed fit kept me cruising in comfort.
We’ll be putting the Jones through its paces all summer as we explore the countryside. One thing we’ll be paying close attention to is how the Jones fits a variety of riders, as it is only available in one size. The setup you see here is for my 6-foot-2 self.
Watch for it to make more appearances on bicycletimesmag.com and for a long-term review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss an issue!Tweet
By Karen Brooks
Quite a long name, eh? But it tells you what you’re getting, pretty much.
This was to be the bike for my second annual trip to and/or from the National Bike Summit, along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails, back in March. Alas, it was not to be. We got extremely lucky with the weather last year, but this year we got cold temps and snow before the Bike Summit, and yet more snow—heavy, wet snow, and lots of it—afterward. Bummer. Still, I’ve been having a good time on this bike just doing my normal commute plus some extra-curricular riding around.
It’s nice to see that a big company like Specialized has not totally abandoned steel as a frame material, especially for an all-rounder bike like this. Some of the other current TriCross models, as well as past versions, rely on Zertz vibration-damping inserts at key points to soften the ride of their aluminum frames. But to me, and a lot of other classic aficionados (or retro-grouches, if you prefer), steel makes sense for smoothing out the ride, in a refined and comprehensive way.
Indeed, this bike is smooth and unflappable. As you can tell from the dust and splashes in the photos, I’ve been riding it in some dirt and gravel. The Body Geometry bar tape with gel padding helps keep that smooth feeling without being too fat. I dig the integrated bell on the top brake lever. I also dig the no-nonsense graphics — the bike looks sleek and serious.
It’s been a while since I rode a bike with a triple crank, mountain or road. I had to really concentrate not to end up in the big/big gear combo. Funny how quickly we forget… But the granny ring has come in handy for traversing my local park via singletrack trails as well as the wider gravel paths.
The bike’s Avid BB5 brakes were doing a weird pulsing thing for a while. It almost felt as though the rotors were of uneven thickness, or as though I’d gotten a wad of gum stuck to one. But the pads looked fine, and so did the rotors — I went so far as to measure them with calipers. (Any excuse to get out the more esoteric tools!) After consulting with Specialized and with Avid, I’m gonna chalk it up to contamination of some sort. I swapped pads and rotors and have had no trouble since.
It looks like I’m going to go on a long ride with this bike after all, at least for a day—from our HQ in Pittsburgh to Raystown Lake for the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, 130 miles. This is the kind of bike that encourages such impromptu adventures.
Check out the full review coming up in issue #23.Tweet
By Adam Newman
Trek’s pedigree of high quality road bikes was firmly established years ago under the effort of a certain now-disgraced cyclist with the Madone platform. But as with most of aspects of cycling technology, the one-road-bike-to-suit-all model has been tossed aside in favor of machines that specialize in their respective disciplines. Some bikes put a priority on feathery weight, or all-out stiffness. Others borrow designs from time trial bikes to cheat the wind. Some, like the Domane, put rider comfort out front. After all, a comfortable rider is a fast rider.
When creating the Domane, Trek sought out the expertise of one of the most powerful riders of this generation, Fabian Cancellara. The winner of Tour de France stages, World Time Trial Championships, and handfuls of single-day Classics races. Cancellara is something of a freight train in the pro peloton—a big rider with an even bigger motor—and he excels when the conditions are difficult. The Domane is designed to give the rider a distinct advantage under those difficult conditions.
The most crucial piece of this carbon-fiber puzzle is the IsoSpeed “de-coupler” between the top tube and the seat tube. The two tubes are joined by a small bearing that allows the seat post to flex fore and aft to smooth out the ride. Make no mistake—this is no suspension system but it does do a marvelous job of isolating large hits and high-frequency vibrations. This video demonstrates how it works:
The rest of the carbon fiber frame abounds with high-tech features like the integrated DuoTrap computer sensor attachment point, the integrated chain keeper, a massive BB90 bottom bracket shell, and a tapered head and steerer tube that is wider than it is deep, front to back, for a more compliant ride. My favorite feature though is the amount of tire clearance and the hidden, removable fender mounts. Three cheers for a dry behind.
The $2,730 Domane 4.5 model I’m riding differs from the more expensive models with a standard, round, 27.2mm seatpost rather than Trek’s integrated seatmast, external cable routing rather than internal. I actually prefer both these features as they keep things simple and don’t seem to hinder performance very little.
So how does the IsoSpeed system work? In my first few rides I’d say seamlessly and flawlessly. I can’t feel it actively working, but when I hit a pothole or railroad crossing my behind stays planted in the saddle rather than being bounced off. That contact is what allows the rider to stay on the gas over irregularities, and I can say this comfortable rider certainly feels faster.
Want to read the full review? You’ll have to watch for it in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and never miss an issue.Tweet
By Matt Kasprzyk
My commute by bike isn’t too difficult. There aren’t many hills (unless I want there to be), but the route takes me over several surfaces–asphalt, cement, crushed limestone, and a gravel access road. The different surfaces makes finding an appropriate bike challenging. Half of the route is on the road. The rest of my commute is on varying types of rougher surfaces, so I need something that’s as effective on the road as it is on the trail.
Bikes like this Quick CX line from Cannondale might be the right tool for the job. “On-road efficiency meets off-road ruggedness,” says Cannondale. Well it certainly has a suspension fork, disc brakes, and knobbier tires.
I guess that means it’s more rugged than your average commuter.
Efficient, though? The fork has a useful lock out, but the stock tires don’t feel very efficient on the street. It has a tall and short geometry. The toptube is relatively short with a fairly high standover. There is a more upright riding position because of the short toptube, but after adjusting the height of the stem and bars I’ve found a very comfortable riding position.
The frame has all the mounts and eyelets that you’d find useful if you’re considering the Quick CX as your all-season commuter. I’m going to eventually replace Kenda Happy Medium tires with a puncture resistant touring tire. I hope that might quicken the ride on pavement. Aside from that, I don’t see much to change about the bike and plan to put several miles of rough commuting on it before my final judgement.
Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for the complete review, and order a subscription today to make sure you don’t miss it.
By Shannon Mominee
A lot of people immediately associate Norco with gravity and mountain bikes, I know I did until the Indie Drop 1 showed up at the Bicycle Times headquarters. Truth is, Norco has many bicycles designed specifically for commuting and street use.
Double-butted, 4130 chromoly is used for the frame and straight bladed chromoly fork. There are braze-ons for front and rear racks, full coverage fenders, and two bottle cages. Pretty much all you need to accessorize the bike for commuting and errand running.
Reflecting its intended urban use, the parts package consists of Shimano 105 derailleurs and shifters , with less expensive Shimano components filling in the remainder of the 2×10 drivetrain. The wheels are Shimano hubs laced to deep-V WTB Freedom Cruz rims. A set of Hayes CX-5 mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors scrub speed, and though they are a little squeaky up front they have a great amount of stopping power that’s easy to modulate without skidding.
With full coverage fenders a 28c or maybe a 32c tire will fit into the frame, depending on the tire’s height. Without fenders a 35c tire can be used.
The Indie Drop 1 is one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve thrown a leg over. A quick stem swap and everything else lined up perfectly. My size 57cm tester has a 72.5-degree head tube angle that keeps steering at a predictable pace, yet quick enough to maneuver around road debris without being race bike twitchy.
Look for a full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.
By Justin Steiner
Specialized classifies the Crosstrail series of bikes within the “fitness adventure” category, which is an apt description given their aptitude on mixed surfaces. My Crosstrail Sport Disc retails for $830, making it the second least expense disc brake equipped model in the lineup. Only the base Crosstrail Disc is cheaper at $630.
Because I’ve been spoiled by testing dozens of fancy, high-dollar bikes over the years, I have to admit to not being terribly excited about testing this bike. Sure it seemed practical and economical, but there wasn’t much on the spec sheet to excite me. But, that was just me being jaded and spoiled. In reality, the Crosstrail has proven itself a fun and reliable partner over the last two months. More than making up for its lack of sex appeal through an oversized helping of practicality.
I greatly appreciate the Crosstrail’s ability to cruise back and forth to work on pavement while also tackling dirt trails, even light-duty singletrack, without breaking a sweat. The SR Suntour NEXi fork utilizes 60mm of travel to take the edge off of curb hopping and the Specialized Trigger 700x38mm semi-slick tires provide surprising grip offroad, even in snow, while rolling respectably quick on the road. With geometry and that’s on par with many 29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes these days, the Crosstrail’s off-pavement prowess is no surprise. That said, folks looking for a true mountain bike would be better off with Specialized’s Rockhopper 29.
The Crosstrail is versatile too, with rear rack and fender mounts as well as fender mounts on the fork. As you can see, I slapped fenders and rear rack on the Crosstrail and haven’t looked back.
To remain visible this time of year, I’ve been using a Lezyne Mega Drive headlight (look for a review in a future issue of the magazine) and a NiteRider Solas taillight. Both are USB rechargeable, which make be feel OK about utilizing them as daytime running lights.
Overall, the parts spec on this Sport disc model is quite good considering the price point, with nice touches like a quality, house-brand two-bolt seatpost that makes saddle adjustments a breeze. The front and rear Tektro Draco hydraulic disc brakes have performed flawlessly despite temps dipping into the middle-teens and are a welcome addition in sloppy winter weather.
For the ladies in the crowd, Specialized also offers the female-specific version of the Crosstrail called the Ariel. This lineup offers frame, fork, and components designed specifically for women. I give Specialized kudos for not skimping on the women’s-specific products; they offer seven models each for men and women at a range of price points from just shy of $2,000 to $580. Though there’s one potential downside for female customers looking for a blingy parts spec; the high-end Ariel tops out at $1,200.
Thus far, I’m highly satisfied with my Crosstail experience. You’ll have to check out the full review in Issue #22 for the final word. Subscribe by the end of February to have issue #22 delivered straight to your door.
Schwinn has been designing and building bicycles since 1895. Being pioneers and innovators throughout the company’s history, Schwinn continues to innovate with its environmentally-friendly flax-fiber bike, the Vestige.
The Vestige frame is made with 90 percent flax fiber and 10 percent carbon. Flax fiber is a biodegradable material derived from the same plant that linen is made from. The paint used on the Vestige is water based, which is environmentally friendly, and the fenders and grips are made from bamboo. Schwinn says the flax material has performance characteristics similar to carbon fiber, but with a much lower carbon footprint in the manufacturing process.
The Vestige is designed for commuters and casual cyclists with rear rack mounts for some mild utility riding. I’ve used the bike for cruising around town and have done a few lightweight grocery jaunts. The 1×9 drivetrain is plenty for most occasions and the full fenders and chain guard have kept water and grit off me.
On the front wheel is a Shimano Dynamo hub that powers an LED light system. The flax frame is translucent so the top and down tube of the frame let off a spectral glow when riding. While not bright enough to act as a stand-alone light, the concept is novel and elicits double takes as you make your way about town.
We’re pushing on through the winter aboard the Vestige, so look for full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now and never miss an issue.Tweet
By Shannon Mominee
The CrossRip Elite ($1,270) is part of Trek’s Urban Utility line. It’s made from their 100 series Alpha Aluminum and includes a paint matched Bontrager Satellite carbon fork. Frame sizing runs large or at least long. The size 56cm has a 58.4cm top tube. So, I swapped out the 100mm stem for a 80mm one to achieve my desired reach to the shift/brake hoods.
The frame and fork both have mounts for full coverage fenders. The fenders pictured are not included with the bike, but I added them for my commuting needs. With the fenders the bike accommodates a 35mm wide tire, and 29×1.8” tire without fenders.
There are also front and rear rack mounting points, internal derailleur cable routing, and mechanical disc brakes. Those small details amount to many options for all weather commuting, light-duty touring, or even a cyclocross outing if desired but the main triangle is a little tight for shouldering. Along with the Shimano 9-speed drivetrain and FSA Vero compact crankset, there’s not much paved or hard packed terrain that the CrossRip Elite can’t handle.
A nice feature I was glad to see that the CrossRip Elite is spec’d with a traditional bend drop bar, instead of an ergonomic bend that I have never found to be comfortable. Shimano’s Sora STI shifters create a nice and flat hand area and feel comfortable on my hands. They have a smooth action when shifting or pulling the brake lever. The Sora front derailleur on the other hand is finicky and rubs against the chain when I’m in the smallest or largest cog.
I like that Trek chose a 160mm rotor for the front wheel and a 140mm for the rear wheel to accommodate the Hayes CX5 mechanical disc brakes, which do a good job of slowing the bike down when the wheels are wet. The mechanicals are a huge improvement over the caliper brakes on my personal commuting bike.
It’s taken me a few rides to get comfortable on the CrossRip Elite, mostly due to the long stem and drop from the saddle to the bars. I like to be more upright when commuting and riding in traffic, and the stock set up just didn’t offer that to me. The Bontrager Evoke 1 saddle also seems to lose comfort and support after about seven miles and becomes a real pain in the ass. In any case, I’m set now.
Trek also offers a slightly less expensive, standard CrossRip for $1,100. It’s the same frame and fork with a different build kit. Look for a full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times Magazine.
See more at www.trekbikes.com.Tweet
By Karl Rosengarth
Raleigh told me that the Misceo Trail 2.0 is a city bike that can take a beating, and handle some light hard-pack trail use. Sweet! That sounds like a bike that fits my riding style. Let’s take a closer look at the $800 Misceo Trail 2.0 and find out what this versatile machine has to offer.
The Misceo Trail 2.0 rolls on 700c wheels. That’s the logical choice, for a fast-rolling city bike. Kenda’s Happy Medium 700cx38c tires have a center section that’s patterned with minimalist knobs. More-aggressive lugs line the outer edges (for cornering grip in loose conditions). The tires roll quietly, and I’ve been impressed with their traction on dirt. On a $800 bike you don’t get a fancy wheelset (Weinmann XM260 Disc rims laced to Joytech disc hubs). But the proof is in the pedaling, so I’ll reserve judgment until I see how the wheels hold up to longer-term testing.
Flat bars offer a comfortable riding position, and they’re the ticket when venturing off-road. The head-ups posture also makes it easier to scan the surroundings (i.e. traffic). My personal city/road bikes are set up with flat bars. That’s how I roll.
I like the concept of a suspension fork on rugged city bike. For a number of reasons: potholes, bridge expansion joints, curb drops, railroad ballast, gravel roads, rumble strips, and singletrack shortcuts. Offering 63mm of coil-sprung travel and a lockout lever, the SR Suntour NCX fork is not a high-performance mountain bike suspension. It doesn’t have to be. It just has to soak up the aforementioned irregularities. And so far it has been working just fine.
Beyond the suspension fork, the oversized fame tubing is another clue that this bad boy is ready to rumble. I couldn’t resist heading for some rocky/bumpy terrain to get a feel for the bike under strain. The aluminum alloy frame felt reassuringly solid and up to the task. More off-road testing is definitely in order.
Disc brakes are de rigueur for bikes of this ilk. For that, I am happy. The Shimano 416 mechanical calipers and 160mm rotors offer impressive of stopping power with good modulation, wet or dry. I’m about three weeks into this test and the brakes only squealed once (in wet conditions, and very briefly at that.)
The Shimano Alivio 3×9 drivetrain (with Deore rear derailleur) offers plenty of gearing range, which is quite welcome in my hilly hometown. The Wellgo M21 pedals, with their aluminum alloy body/cage, are keepers. The rear dropout has an eyelet for rack/fender mounting.
Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for my long-term review. Subscribe today!Tweet
By Adam Newman
Kona’s advertising describes its new adventure/commuting/touring bike, the Rove, as “For the Never-Ending Road”, which is funny, because where I’ve been going, we don’t need roads.
The Rove ($1,699) is something of a mix of various Kona models: the fit and feel of the Jake the Snake cyclocross bike, eyelets and disc brakes from the Sutra touring bike, and the monstercross sensibility of the (now discontinued) Dew Drop. The Rove is designed for someone who does a little bit of everything: commuting, touring, even cyclocross racing.
The frame itself is no nonsense, butted chromoly mated to Kona’s venerable Project 2 steel fork. Kona has a reputation for building tough bikes that are designed to last, and I have no doubt the Rove will still be rolling after the Apocolypse. I’m guessing the tubing is sourced from one of Kona’s mountain bike models because it is as stiff (and as hefty) as any steel mountain bike I’ve ridden.
Highlights on the frame include full-length brake housings (for the inevitable availability of hydraulic brakes and protection from the elements), a full compliment of fender and rack mounts—including low-rider mounts on the fork, and an inset “Campy-style” headset. There is clearance for 35c tires and fenders, though please excuse the odd front fender setup pictured here, as I couldn’t get the stays on my old fenders to play nice with the disc brake caliper and resorted to some creative mounting. Also note the saddle pictured here is not the stock item, but a Syncros piece for a future review.
Propulsion on the Rove is handled by SRAM’s Apex group, which is not an ergonomic favorite of mine, but has performed flawlessesly. The 36/46 chainrings paired with an 11-32 cassette gives plenty of range for all but the most heavily loaded tours.
Though they’re anything but revolutionary, the disc brakes are So Totally Hot Right Now, and once the pads in the Hayes CX5 calipers bedded in a little the stopping power has been adequate, but not exemplary. I know many people are scared to spec a rotor larger than 140mm on a “road” bike, but I would have appreciated the extra stopping power. The location of the caliper inside the rear triangle on the chainstay makes installing fenders and racks on the rear a breeze.
I’m looking forward to some more big adventures this spring with the Rove and I know she’ll be up to anything I can throw at her. Look for my long-term review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times, and be sure to subscribe today to make sure you never miss an issue.
By Karen Brooks
I hadn’t been familiar with the Viva brand until a representative contacted us. The company was started in Copenhagen by a former member of the Danish national cycling team. From the look of the bikes, one could definitely guess the Copenhagen connection, if not the racing pedigree.
Viva is also the name of the younger one of my dogs. She approves.
Most of Viva’s bikes are in the style of a Dutch (or Danish) city bike. I chose the Kilo model, which instead of the typical 700c wheels, has 26-inch wheels with big Schwalbe Fat Frank tires, good for our local potholes. I dearly wished for the white, step-through frame for maximum style points, but alas, not all the options shown on the website are available in the U.S. The basic black allows my domestic partner to ride it without looking too girly, at least once he takes off the flowery Basil saddlebags I like to use.
This is a bike that lends itself to casual cruising, so I’ve installed the handlebar mount for a Soundmatters speaker I’m also testing. It’s perfect for pedaling casually to work while listening to the radio—the one thing I miss when I ride rather than drive. Naturally, a bike this civilized comes with a bell, a two-tone one at that, as well as a rack, fenders, and kickstand.
The brakes are an interesting departure from my recent rides: a Sturmey-Archer drum brake in front and a Shimano Nexus rollerbrake/ 7-speed internal gear hub. They are a softer than the disc brakes I’m used to, for sure, but better than many mid-range cantilever or caliper rim brakes. They match well with the general vibe of the bike.
I generally try out any of my Bicycle Times test bikes on my 12.5-mile (each way) commute at least once, even when they are such beasts as the Ahearne Cycle Truck, because it’s a good way to quickly reveal any shortcomings. (Our web editor Adam made fun of me on one such occasion.) But I’ve found myself riding the Viva to work more than once, because the enjoyment factor outweighs the, er, weight and relative slowness of this bike compared to my lighter, drop-handlebar, 700c-wheeled daily commuter. Of course, it’s also great for trips to the store and other close destinations.
As you can see from the mud splatters, I haven’t taken it easy on this bike. There was a city ride after our company retreat that involved some railroad ballast, some muddy rides in the local park with the dogs, and other “inappropriate bicycle” moments. But the components seem to be holding up fine—no rattling, no slipping out of line, no adjustments needed to shifting or brakes. At about $1,300, this is an expensive ride, no doubt, but it seems that aside from the “Designed in Denmark” premium, durability makes it worth it.
Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for our long-term review. Subscribe today!Tweet
By Stephen Haynes
I’ve been tooling around on the Fairdale Flyer for a few months now and I must say, I think I’m in love…
This bike takes me back to the surf and skate days of my southern California childhood, living a block away from the beach and having a beat-up cruiser to get me where I needed to go. Simple and utilitarian; No gears, no fenders, and handlebars big enough to give a friend a lift down the street.
The Flyer builds on the Spartan tradition of the beach cruiser with subtle yet effective touches that are appealing without betraying the bike’s usefulness.
My Flyer came to me in military green but it’s also offered in white. Both colors are accented with simple rainbow-esque lines on the down tube and seat tube. It’s just enough color to make it appear neither masculine or feminine, and visually gives the bike a lighthearted appearance;—like a smiley face emoticon at the end of a sentence.
The split top tube is both sexy and useful as it can hold a U-lock or anything else you might be able to fit in the slot (but mostly it just looks great). The same exact tubing is flipped upside down to create the Flyer’s step-through model as well.
Fairdale Archer bars have a good bit of sweep and 80mm of rise, but I wish they were just a bit wider. For cruising up and down the strand you probably wouldn’t bat an eye, but here in hilly Western Pennsylvania, a little more leverage would go a long way. Still it’s hardly a complaint as the bars are well suited to the bike and look awesome.
In addition to the Flyer, the good people at Fairdale sent one of their skateboard racks for me to check out. A novel and useful design reminiscent of bike/surfboard racks a few of my friends had growing up. No more tying your skate to your handlebars or riding one-handed to get to your favorite spot! Just throw it on and strap it in with the provided custom bungee.
For a good laugh and an intro to the skate rack, check out Fairdale’s founder Taj touting the benefits of the rack in this super funny video.
I’m looking forward to many more excursions on the Flyer in the time I have left with it. Check out my full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times!
By Eric McKeegan
I’ve reviewed a whole slew of cargo bikes, but this is the first time I’ve ridden a “longjohn” style bike. Longjohns carry the cargo low between the wheels and use a linkage-steered front wheel. The Cabby is Gazelle’s version of the ultimate family bike.
The Cabby utilizes a steel frame, but rather than the more common wooden box, the cargo compartment is aluminum and fabric. Inside the cargo box you’ll find a removable bench seat with shoulder harnesses for two kids.
Unlike most bikes sold in the U.S., the Cabby is a turn-key commuter, with fenders, a full chaincase, a skirt guard, rear rack, front and rear lights and a sturdy centerstand. The internally-geared hub and drum brakes keep maintenance to a minimum, and the upright riding position keeps thing comfortable and casual
After spending quite a few months on a three-wheeled cargo bike, the Cabby looks and feels almost sporty, quite a feat for a bike that is almost nine feet long. As an experienced rider, It didn’t take me long to get used to steering a wheel that sits five feet in front of the handlebar. My wife took a little longer to get used to it, but the handling becomes second nature quickly.
I’ve been putting the Cabby through the full range of cargo bike uses over the last few months. If you are interested in the full review, check out the next issue of Bicycle Times, available soon on print and digital newsstands, or in your mailbox or tablet device should you be one of our cherished subscribers.Tweet
By Karl Rosengarth
Co-Motion Cycles has been hand-crafting an eclectic mix of bikes from their digs in Eugene, Oregon, since 1988. In addition to a wide range of tandem offerings, the company offers single bikes in the road, cyclocross, touring, and city categories. Their menu includes both stock geometry and full-custom offerings.
The Divide is a recent addition to the line, and like the other Co-Motion models, the bike is a purpose-driven machine that was created in response to customer demand. Ever since the company released the 26-inch Pangea adventure touring bike, folks had been asking about a 29er version. Read our long-term review of the Pangea model here.
The folks at Co-Motion eventually got tired of saying “not yet,” and built a few custom adventure-touring bikes with 29-inch wheels. The idea was to create a 29er suited for touring on the miles of unimproved roads that beckon for exploration, with the added versatility of 700c compatibility for efficient paved-road touring. The first few custom builds were very well received, and Co-Motion decided the configuration deserved its own model designation and stock sizes. The Divide was born.
The Divide is purpose-built for adventure touring, and not simply a road frame with extra tire clearance and additional braze-ons. The custom drawn, butted chromoly tubing is unique to Co-Motion. The oversized main frame tubes and massive chainstays are designed to handle the abuse of fully loaded touring over rough terrain.
Beefy custom forks are another other feature that sets Co-Motion’s touring bikes apart. The steerer tube and fork crown are turned down from a single piece of hollow bar stock, in house, on a CNC lathe. The result is a stronger and more precise part compared to traditional two-piece steerers. The stout head tube on the Divide is another clue that this bike means business. The dropouts are also Co-Motion’s own design, made in house on CNC equipment.
The base price of the Divide with standard touring kit is $3,925. However, my test bike included a $250 upgrade from BarCon shifters to Ultegra STI, and a $225 up-charge for two-tone paint ($4,300 sub-total). The Tubus Tara front rack and Cargo rear rack (both 29er compatible) represent $110 and $120 up-charges respectively (for a grand total of $4,530).
My main reason for requesting the Divide as my test bike was a 355-mile loaded tour on the unpaved Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Towpath trails, from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. I shed the stock Continental Race King 29×2.2in tires in favor of a pair of Continental Country Plus 700x42c tires—skins more suited to the anticipated trail surface. The cherry on top was a set of Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders, and I was ready to roll.
After pedaling 70lbs. of combined bike/gear weight for six days, over 355 miles of mostly-unpaved trails, I came away impressed with the Divide. My experience left no doubt that this is one solidly-built machine. I’ve never ridden a frame that felt as stiff as the Divide. There was no perceptible flex while pedaling, nor bouncing over rough roads, even when fully loaded.
The C&O Towpath has some washed-out sections, and I soon discovered that I could plow into potholes with no fear. Sure beats having to constantly steer around them, especially when they come in rapid succession. And when I did need to make a quick course correction, the Divide responded nimbly enough, while still feeling comfortably stable. No shimmy and no shake. No wiggle, no waggle. Rock steady, mon.
If the 28.3 lbs. base weight of this bike (sans pedals) seems high, I’d argue that it makes perfect sense if you want a bike that can handle loaded touring over rough roads and not bat an eyelash. And the Avid BB-7 Road disc brakes did a fantastic job of controlling a full load, even on steep hills (did I mention there’s a C&O Towpath detour that forces you onto 6-miles of paved road that’s rather hilly?).
That’s all I have to say at this point. In the meantime be sure to subscribe to Bicycle Times to read my full review, scheduled for issue #21.
- Country of Origin: USA
- Price: $3,925 (base price) $4,530 (as tested)
- Weight: 28.3 lbs. (no pedals)
- Sizes Available: 52, 55 (tested) and 58cm (for full-custom sizing add $300).
- Website: www.co-motion.com
By Karl Rosengarth
I have a knack for doing things the hard way. Even my vacations tend to morph from much needed rest and relaxation into masters-level exercises in logistics. As I type this blog I’m in the midst of preparing for a week-long, self-supported bicycle tour along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath trails with my riding pal Kevin.
The first thing on my vacation To Do List was getting a brand new Co-Motion Divide test bike (shown below) dialed in for the journey. Thanks to front and rear racks that Tubus was kind enough to provide, Brooks panniers that Bicycle Times previously reviewed, a swap of the stock 29er MTB tires for fresh Continental Country Plus skins and a set of Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders, my whip stands more than ready for the adventure. Look for my Co-Motion Divide "first impressions" blog in a few weeks, after I return from trip.
Next up was setting up Kevin, who owns two mountain bikes but nothing built for touring, with a suitable bike. My old Gunnar Crosshairs "cyclocross" bike to the rescue. The Crosshairs was long ago retired from the race circuit. Saddled with fenders and front/rear racks, the former thoroughbred now romps in greener pastures with the other grocery getters. The biggest challenge, and object of late-night wrenching in my dingy basement, was converting the Gunnar from drop to flat bars.
Kevin was just not comfortable on drops, and I was willing to make the switch, figuring that flat bare would better suit the bike’s current lifestyle anyway. It is amazing what some scrounging and cursing can accomplish. I unearthed some 9-speed Shimano XT brake/shift levers that I was able to get to play well with the Tiagra triple drivetrain (with less muss/fuss than I’d anticipated). The result is shown in the photo below.
Then there are the logistics of the trip itself. How far to pedal each day? Where to grab our meals? Where to camp? As I type, we’re about a week and a half from blastoff, and we’ve managed to sort out the aforementioned logistics. Not to mention rounding up the camping gear we’ll need.
Tell your story
However, there is one final task with which I’d like to ask your help, dear reader. In an effort to make this vacation even more like work, Kevin and I plan to shoot photos and video, with the goal of documenting the life and times along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath trails. If you have a story about life along the trails, historical landmarks, the best scenic vistas, or would like to share your experiences pedaling on the trail, please use the web form at this link to tell us your story. Our goal is to create a unique documentary film and/or published articles about the trail corridor.
By Justin Steiner
Don’t let those cantilever brakes fool you; this ain’t no ‘cross racin’ bike. All City lumps the Space Horse into its “Road” bike category, and for good reason. The Space Horse’s geometry is more of a road/touring hybrid than a racy cross bike, with slightly longer chainstays and a lower bottom bracket for stability.
For many, the Space Horse’s versatility will be the main appeal. You can run it singlespeed or geared, with the option to mount up full coverage fenders as well as front and rear racks. Frame materials were chosen with light touring loads in mind; 20 lbs up front, 30 lbs. out back.
Thus far, my riding on the Space Horse has been strictly pedestrian compared to All City’s intended use. They say, “This bike was made to get you into and out of trouble, to be your companion on exploration missions and all day benders, and to get you and your stuff around as quickly as possible.” By that token, my mellow commute to and from work sounds just as routine and boring as it has become.
I know a lot of folks are curious about what sets the Space Horse apart from similar bikes like Surly’s Cross Check. In a few words; not a whole lot. That said, the Space Horse does include a few nice details. The internal cable routing for the rear brake is nice and clean, while the lugged fork crown and dropouts offers a nice touch of class.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is the electrodeposition (ED) treatment, which seals this 4130 chromoly steel frame inside and out prior to it being painted. For those riding in wet and potentially corrosive conditions, this rust proofing is a significant advantage. Though, riders in those conditions would also appreciate a disc brake version of the Space Horse. I’d be over the moon about this bike if it was so equipped. As is, it’s a nice riding, reliable, attractive bike that makes me wish it was disc-ready.
My test bike is the 2013 build spec, with the exception of the rims, which will be Alex DA16 instead of the DA20 pictured. The Tiagra group works wonderfully, while the Tektro brakes are adequate in dry conditions. For the $1,450 asking price, there’s a lot of utility in this package.
Read the full review
Look for the complete Space Horse review in issue #20 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by October 15th to have that issue delivered to your mailbox.Tweet
By Adam Newman
Before joining Bicycle Times I worked for a spell in a bike shop that sold Cannondales. Among all the carbon road bikes and tricked out mountain bikes, there was always one or two of these odd little city bikes floating around the shop and the staff loved them, taking turns riding wheelies through the shop when no customers were around (don’t tell the boss).
The Hooligan is like men’s nipples, or that extra fork they give you at fancy restaurants—I have no idea why it’s there, it just is. But regardless of the "why" is the "what", and you’ll certainly be getting that question quite a lot when riding the Hooligan.
"What is that?"
"What’s it for?"
"Is that some sort of prototype?"
"Does it fold?"
The answer is usually: "It’s a bike," and a rather fun one at that. The 20-inch wheels and three-speed drivetrain make zipping around crowded city streets a breeze. The steering is quick and responsive, perfect for dogding potholes or puddles. Available in several versions over the years, the frame can also accomdate several other builds with its disc brakes and eccentric bottom bracket.
As you can see from the photo, the World’s Longest Seatpost does an acceptable job at accomodating my 6-foot-2 frame, but I’m really at the limit of who can ride this bike. Available in only one size, it’s flexible enough to also fit my 5-foot-3 girlfriend quite well. At $1,100 it isn’t cheap, but with quality parts and the Delta-V frame, this is no toy.
Pretty cool, huh? Keep an eye out for my full-length review in a future issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and you’ll be sure not to miss it.
By Justin Steiner
Dreaming about a new bike now that spring is here? You aren’t alone. Buying a bicycle is extremely exciting, but can also be a little nerve-racking. With so many bicycles of varying designs and price points, how do you decide which bike best fits your needs? Bicycle Times is here to help you feel more confident about making a purchase. Think of this as a road map to the process of buying a bike.
With each issue of Bicycle Times, we review three or four interesting bikes to keep our experienced readers abreast of the performance and aptitude of the latest technology and trends. This article, however, is geared toward riders who are newer to our lovely sport, or re-entering the scene after a hiatus. If you know someone who’s hoping to buy a bike in the near future, pass this article along to help him or her make a more informed decision.
Buying a new bicycle is just like any other project—you first need to define your needs and the desired outcome. Start by realistically assessing your goals and ambitions for the next few seasons of riding, since this new bike will hopefully be with you for quite a while. Here is a list of questions to keep in mind; writing down the answers may help solidify your thoughts (again, be realistic):
- How often, and for what duration, am I riding now, and what do I have in mind for the future?
- What will be the main function of this bike?
- Transportation and utility, fitness and recreation, looking good, racing?
- What do I prioritize in this new bike?
- Style, cargo capacity, all-weather capability, light weight, durability, or the ability to fold for storage or travel.
- Where do I enjoy riding the most, and what do I enjoy about these locales?
- Do I care about country of origin (where it’s made)?
With needs defined, it’s time to talk budget. In the bicycle world, as with most anything, you get what you pay for. Spending more will buy better performance—less weight, higher precision components, and increased durability—but not everyone really needs top-shelf stuff. Keep in mind that a new bike will set you back at least $300 regardless of its intended use. If you’d like to buy a bike made in the good ol’ U.S. of A., it will add to the cost as well, possibly by as much as an extra zero on the price tag.
So, what’s your budget? How much cash do you have to play with? Whatever number you come up with, subtract $200–$400 (even budget shoppers should set aside at least $150) to arrive at your target price point. Why? Because you now have a cushion to purchase clothing, comfort, and safety items that will enhance your riding experience. It can be argued that these clothing and comfort items are every bit as important as the bicycle itself. (More on this later.)
At the bike shop
OK, now you have a better idea of what your needs are, and you know how much money you’re comfortable spending. Time to start shopping. Make a list of all the bike shops in your area, and note the brands each store stocks, the store hours, and locations. Then devise a plan to visit all of them. Bonus points if you can shop on a weekday, as salespeople will likely have a great deal more time to spend with you. Sure, it’d be nice if the dealer you end up choosing is close to your home, but don’t place too much value on proximity. Finding a shop where you can form a trusting relationship, and maybe even a friendship, with the staff is far more important.
As you are shopping, pay attention to the vibe and feel of each store you visit. How do the employees treat you? Did someone offer you assistance, or did you have to seek help? When you’ve connected with a salesperson, relay your answers to the assessment questions. Armed with that information and your budget constraints, the salesperson will be able to recommend the bike, or bikes, that best fit your needs and budget. Be open-minded about the style of bike the salesperson might be suggesting—don’t let your preconceived notions get in the way of good advice. Do ask the salesperson to explain why he/she has recommended particular bikes. Be sure to take notes on manufacturer names, models, and pricing.
Take time to inquire about the fitting process at each store, as this will be a large part of the deciding factor for where you should make your purchase. First, how do they determine which size is best for you? And second, how do they fine-tune the fit of the chosen size? Hope- fully they will include the store’s policy, and rates, for swapping stems, saddles, and other parts as needed to personalize your fit. The answers to these questions will begin to shine light on the great stores—the people who truly care about your fit and comfort. I cannot emphasize enough how important fit is to cycling. Comfort on your bicycle will keep you riding, while pain and discomfort will likely stop you dead in your tracks.
As you shop down through your list of stores, the experiences you have will vary drastically. Some of the encounters will make you want to go back and others most certainly will not. Scratch the shops off the list where you had less than satisfactory experiences and make note of the shops where you felt comfortable and received sound advice. Now it’s time to go back for a test ride. These folks will set you up with a fitted bike for a spin. Be sure to take notes about your impressions of the bike(s) you are able to ride—it’s hard to keep track of all the subtleties of different bikes if you don’t.
Also inquire about the store’s service policies. All reputable dealers will include a post-break-in tune-up with the purchase of the bike. Additionally, some shops offer extended service and/or insurance plans that could save you money in the long run, but make sure you clearly understand the terms. Many stores will even offer a discount on gear purchased with the bike.
Thank the salesperson and explain that you’re doing some comparative shopping and will be making a decision soon. From here on the decision should be fairly easy. Most likely, one of the bikes you ride will feel markedly better than the others. Congratulations! You just found your new bike.
Shop where you can form a trusting relationship, and maybe even a friendship, with the staff is far more important.
Why haven’t I even mentioned the importance of parts and specifications? I intentionally left out these details because, in my opinion, they are the least important aspect of buying a new bike. Since you’re looking at bikes made for a particular riding style and within a small price window, all of the models will offer similar parts packages. Sure, one bike will have widget X instead of widget Y, where the other has widget W instead of widget Y, but who cares? Of course, there are certain spec characteristics worth considering such as internal vs. external gearing, belt or chain drive, and handlebar type.
The salesperson you’re working with should be able to shed light on the advantages and disadvantages of each style of bike and why it might be well-suited or not to your specific needs. But the specifics of each component are not worth worrying about. The cycling marketplace is highly competitive and the overall package at any price point will be comparable. Staring cross-eyed at spec sheets will take your focus away from the overall fit and feel of the bicycle and which store has earned your money, both of which are far more important.
What about the extra $200–$400 you’ve stashed away? Now it’s time to invest in your comfort and safety. Pony up for a new helmet if you’ve had that old one for five years or lon- ger; helmet materials break down over time, rendering older helmets less effective. If you don’t have some form of protective eyewear, buy some stylin’ shades. Pick up some nice gloves to protect your hands for longer rides. If you will be riding in cold and/or wet weather, prepare yourself accordingly. Depending on your needs, a few nice pairs of cycling shorts may be in order, too. The guys and gals at the shop will be able to help you select clothing to fit your needs. (From my experience, you can’t go wrong with wool.)
You will also need a way to carry water, spare tubes, tire levers, a pump, multi tool, and patch kit. If you don’t know how to change a flat tire, ask a knowledgeable friend to show you how, offer to pay the shop to teach you, or find a local how-to class—community bike shops are a fabulous resource for knowledge. There are few things that kill the buzz of a nice ride quicker than having to call someone to pick you up, or worse yet, a 10-mile walk home, and a flat tire certainly won’t get you off the hook for being late to work.
So there you have it—bike buying made simple. Of course there are situations I simply can’t cover within the scope of this article. What I hope you take away is the general process and approach to purchasing a new bicycle. Trust yourself and your judgment; if things don’t make sense, ask questions—be analytical. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; this might not be the last bicycle you ever buy, but rather the first step on the never-ending ladder toward cycling enlightenment.
Key things to remember
- Be honest about what you intend to do with your new bike.
- Set a budget and make sure it includes $200-$400 for accessories.
- Visit as many bike shops as you can and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
- Spend your money at the bike shop that you feel has earned your business.
By Matt Kasprzyk
Singular claims that the classically inspired Peregrine is its most versatile frame. The bike can be your adventure tourer, your commuter, or even your fat-tire monster ‘cross. It’s built from Reynolds and proprietary butted 4130 chromoly lugged steel. Although the paint and construction may take you back a few decades, Singular makes use of some relatively modern amenities like 29-inch wheels and disc brakes.
My ride to work can cross multiple surfaces, which has made the hunt for a perfect commuting bike difficult. I’ve been after a bike that can handle miles of road and urban streets, as well as dirt—a bike that can weather the abuse of rough gravel and provide some comfort.
Enter Marty of The Prairie Peddler, the only North American distributor of U.K.- made Singular bikes. He built his own Peregrine to tackle miles of unmaintained gravel roads in the Midwest. So, imagine how happy I was when he offered to loan me his personal bike for review.
The frame’s hub spacing is 135mm in the rear, 100mm in the front, same most mountain bikes. Tire clearance is similarly burly—the stays and fork will take a 29×2.0 tire. My loaner had Kenda Karma 29×2.0 tires installed. The frame didn’t leave much clearance for any- thing more aggressive, but Marty says you can get up to 700x45s with fenders if you wanted to go smaller.
The larger diameter tires made a huge difference on the rough when com- pared to the 37mm ones I have been using; I went from trying to pick smooth lines through rough gravel to not needing to pick lines at all. Using mountain bike tires with lower rolling resistance, riding on pavement was still bearable, albeit a little slow.
Obviously, disc brakes are pretty rad, but what I really appreciate is the fact that the Peregrine doesn’t have any canti brake bosses ruining its clean lines. To complete the frame, the braze-ons for racks and fenders don’t interfere with the disc caliper mounts, and there are three water bottle mounts and open-style guides for full-length cable housing.
The 59cm frame is the largest offered and has a 590mm top tube, which I thought was going to be a little short for my height. But with wider flared off-road drop bars, it made riding in those drops a comfortable reach. The 70mm of bottom bracket drop might sound like a bit on the low side until you factor in the taller knobby tires, which raise the bottom bracket height.
Same with the chainstays: 445mm may sound fairly long for a road bike, but that’s pretty average for a 29” mountain bike in order to fit decently aggressive tires. However, when compared to a 29er mountain bike, the wheelbase is short, so expect a nimble ride off-road.
Given the frame’s geometry, the handling offered no surprises. Unloaded, the front end will feel predictably light on pavement and wandered slightly because of the rake of the fork. It took about a half a ride off-road to get used to. The issue for me was getting comfortable in the drop bars on dirt rather than any nuances with handling. All things considered, the geometry is pretty standard—if you can call mountain bike wheels with drop bars standard.
The only drawback for me was toe overlap. Buyers with bigger feet will have to deal with it. I never noticed it on pavement, but I had to be conscious of it when turning sharply off-road. Given the larger tires, my feet, and the frame’s geometry, there isn’t really a way around it. Shorter cranks and smaller tires might have solved it, but that also diminishes the bike’s versatility.
There are no color changes planned for 2012, and that’s fine by me. The classic paint and lugs are a nice compliment to some of the varied builds the Peregrine can take. The second- generation frames will have hourglass-shaped chainstays to allow clearance for road cranks with a narrower Q-factor and bigger chainrings. The eccentric bottom bracket allows for a singlespeed set-up, plus there is a derailleur hanger for geared options.
For $725, North American customers will get a frame with a sterling silver headbadge, matching fork, and Singular licensed Phil Wood EBB. Singular has a much broader presence in Europe with several retailers offering complete builds.
If you’re into the retro steel aesthetic and need something more comfortable to crush miles of gravel, or just want a burly commuter that can handle some singletrack, this could be a wise choice. Singular offers a five-year warranty.
- Age: 32
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 185lbs.
- Inseam: 34 inches
- Country of origin: Taiwan
- Price: $725 (frame and fork)
- Weight: 25.4lbs.
- Sizes: 50, 53, 56, 59cm (tested)