May 26th, 2011


cross country: what bike to ride?

I have two bikes right now.

One is the Ciocc, which is a 1991 restoration of a 1986 bike. Its lowest gear is a 42x21. Riding it on hilly training rides in New England is a stretch. It's not up to mountains, even without panniers. It's not able to take panniers, even if you somehow got a rack on it. And it needs some work on its frame much sooner than 3000 miles from now. Riding this across the country would be like driving a Model A across the country. People do it, but not without spending a whole lot of money along the way.

The other is the Cannondale, which I rode to Montreal and back last year. At that time I put it together according to an ease-of-maintenance philosophy which I no longer subscribe to. And even at the time it was clear that this was the last gasp for this bike. The front end is in bad shape and I did the last rebuild I was going to be able to do. The wheels are both in really bad condition. The drivetrain is nearly as old as the antique drivetrain on the Ciocc. About the only bright spots are the seat (which is the only seat I trust for multiday tours) and the lovely front brake.

So, I've been test riding bikes. I'm a little hard to fit, since my arms are so short. This makes a Surly not work for me -- nor a stock Gunnar or Waterford or really a whole lot of otherwise very, very nice touring bikes. I don't have time to have one custom built. There are some cyclocross bikes with short top tubes and long chainstays -- like the latest edition of the Bianchi Volpe -- and some of those have eyelets for front racks, too. There are some touring bikes that might more or less work, and I have plans to test ride some of those. And then...

And then there's the Trek 520. This was the first model Trek came out with, 30 years ago. They've updated it, but not in radical ways. On paper, the fit is perfect. I wasn't expecting to like the components, but then I test rode one. I love this bike's drivetrain. I love the handlebars. The bike as a whole is incredibly well behaved -- just the thing for a long tour. The brakes are grabby -- but I can put on the front brake from the Cannondale, and the matching rear brake that wouldn't fit on the Cannondale but will work here. It will need new fenders, and racks (I don't trust the rear rack it comes with), and I'll move the seat over too.

I haven't actually bought this bike, because I want to give the Volpe a chance. But every time I ride it I'm more convinced it is the bike for me.