August 29, 2006

The Proper Road Bike

by psu

I've had my current road bike since I moved back to Pittsburgh in the early 90s. So, I imagine that it is almost 15 years old. In this time, I have spent a lot of time shopping for my "next bike", the perfect machine that combines versatility with technical and aesthetic excellence. The problem is, whenever I ride my bike I realize it's perfect (except in the rain).

This didn't stop me from building a list of attribtues in the perfect road bike. This piece overlaps a bit with my previous rant about road bikes, but not too much.

1. Steel

Here is the thing. Aluminum is cheap and light, but it's a crappy way to make a frame. Stuff just breaks off if you are not careful. Carbon fiber is just a fancy way to say "plastic". Would you ride a plastic bike after you crashed it? Titanium comes the closest to being a real contender. It doesn't rust! The only thing going against it is cost. But custom bike frames are primarily yuppy toys anyway. Still, you can't get a nice lugged Titanium frame. So steel wins.

2. Lugs

Lugs look nice. They can be a bit overblown, as in the Rivendell bikes. And, people can be a bit too ardent about defending them with foofy statements about Bike as Art. That's stupid. Lugs just look nicer than those stupid huge bubble welds in the average aluminum mountain bike.

3. Fat Tires

Bikes as transportation people make a big deal about wanting a frame with clearences so that they can fit fenders for rain riding. I used to think this way. But, over the last few years I've come to the realization that I will never ride in the rain unless I happen to get caught in a freak all day thunderstorm on a century ride (this happened once). I mean, my favorite saddle is a Brooks, made out of leather, which hates rain. 'Nuff said.

Fenders aside, the bike should be able to take 28-32mm tires without using stupid cantilever brakes. I don't like cantilevers. They squeal, they are hard to open, they are weird to adjust. I realize this is my particular problem.

4. No Lawyer Nibs

No lawyer nibs.

5. No Stupid Colors

It is a fact of life that companies that make bikes and bike related equipment employ people who are colorblind. The shoes from Sidi and Carnac are the best proof of this. But, the paint chosen for most production bikes and frames makes the case almost as well. You generally have a choice between industrial gray and black or some hideous two tone striped pastel mixed with blazing green.

Everyone knows that the proper color is a single paint and any color you want as long as it is blue, burnt orange, or red. Solid black is also OK. If you must have white panels around the lugs, I can forgive that.

6. Higher Handle Bars

Drop bars are for keeping your hands comfortable. This means you should not lean way over and put too much weight on them. If you want to crouch, get in the drops.

7. Bikes I like

I like my road bike a lot. Its only real failing is a lack of clearence for fat tires. I tried to run 26mm tires once, and for a year the tires rubbed against the frame whenever I was in the big ring. For the most part, I can forgive the bike this one sin. But, in looking around, I have found a few almost perfect bikes to replace it:

Surly Pacer. This bike is all business and no nonsense. No lugs, but no stupid welding either. I like the black and the fact that it's cheap.

Bianchi Volpe. This bike is great except for the cantilever brakes. Unfortunately, the same frame with decent road bike frames will only take skinny tires. Pick your poison.

Rivendell. This is the cheaper production of their road frame. I rode one of the custom road frames back when they only cost this much. These bikes are great, but I think the lugs are overdone and I don't like the paint panels.

Ebisu. I rode one of these a few years ago in Berkeley. I think this the current favorite on the "bikes I shop for but never buy" list. I like the understated styling.

Jamis. Jamis makes some nice cross bikes (Aurora, Nova) whose only bug is cantilever brakes. They used to have a bike that was the perfect orange, but they changed to stupid colors instead. I still haven't gotten over that.

Posted by psu at August 29, 2006 07:31 AM | Bookmark This

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