The Elusive Workhorse Bicycle

Yesterday was unseasonably warm (50* F) and brilliantly sunny so Ken and I decided to go have lunch in New Hope at what appeared to be a sandwich shop we walk by every time we go have lunch across the river in Lambertville. The sign outside the door advertised “really really good hoagies” – and who am I to turn up my nose at a really really good hoagie?

Temps were at freezing when we left but quickly climbed and we found ourselves shedding a layer only 8 miles in. As we chatted about the new route we were taking, I noticed Ken was riding his commuter bike. It’s a Giant OCR2 from a few years ago that he’s outfitted with a rack and fenders. Today the rack sported a trunk bag, which was incredibly handy for stashing tools, extra layers, and nutrition.

This is unarguably his favorite bike. He takes it everywhere – daily commuting, week-long cycling vacations, weekend outings around with friends. The tires are wide enough for almost any terrain you throw at it (except maybe technical off-road trails). The triple crankset makes every hill as easy as possible. It’s light and nimble but stable. Given he rides almost 12,000 miles a year, it’s easy to see why. This is as close to a do-it-all bike as one can get. He’s got three bikes and this is the one I see most.

I have five bikes and while I love each one for the individual purpose they serve, none of them are even close to a do-it-all workhorse.

  • Old Faithful – Specialized Crossroads Sport mountain-hybrid. Great for towpaths and unpaved trails with the family. Aluminum. Very Heavy.
  • Free Spirit – Schwinn Free Spirit Greenbriar vintage 10-speed. Great for local errands, looking dapper and rides less than 5 miles. Steel. Very Heavy.
  • Lady Rainicorn – Peugeot Versailles 12-speed. Great city bike with an old-school vibe. Currently my commuter. Steel. Frame is slightly too big and not enough gears to “flatten the hills.” And there are plenty of hills on the way home from work.
  • Michaelangelo – Felt Nine Sport hardtail mountain bike. Great for mountain biking. Have not found a downside yet. Heavy but doesn’t ride heavy.
  • Electric Dream Machine – Felt ZW5 carbon recreational racer. Great for events and going relatively fast. Fits like a dream, rides like a dream. Lightweight. Not good for everyday riding.

I’m still looking for that elusive Perfect Bike. Partly I blame myself for going from an upright comfort hybrid to a carbon fiber racer – I didn’t have an entry or mid-level aluminum road bike that was used for everything from weekend jaunts to bike commuting. I’m always looking at what everyone else is riding and asking questions – what do you love about your bike? what do you dislike? Would a cross bike be better? or a flat-bar commuter? What about touring bikes?

I mentioned to my mom that I’d like to try bike touring next year and she wants to join me on one. I’m beyond excited – but feel I don’t have that elusive workhorse of a bike that would be able to handle light touring (thinking inn to inn, not necessarily camping). I think about upgrading the components on Lady Rainicorn – but there’s no getting around the frame being ever-so-slightly too big and really, do I want to spend significantly more in upgrading that I did on the bike? Besides – I love the old school vibe a solid steel bike with downtube shifters imparts as you breeze by. I love Electric Dream Machine but that’s not a bike to take touring. I already have rear panniers and am on the lookout for a trunk bag. I don’t think I’m ready for front panniers or a handlebar bag just yet … I’d like to get my feet wet first before I decide to load up on gear.

So I’m back in the mindset for a touring-type bike – something that fits me like a glove that I want to take everywhere. “Lightweight” but able to carry a decent amount of gear. Enough gears to haul myself and whatever stuff I have up hills relatively comfortably. Maybe even disc brakes. It doesn’t need to be new – I am happy to buy pre-loved. Most of my bikes are pre-loved!

Suggestions – Comments – fire away below.

(In case you are wondering, the ride itself was fantastic – somewhere on the Powerline Trail we met up with Fred and Larry, two brothers we know, and ended up riding with them for a bit. Larry is a big touring cyclist so I picked his brain for several miles. Parted ways and determined this new route adds 6 miles to the trip but is less hilly that our usual route to New Hope. Lunch at the Really Really Good Hoagies place was … meh. Took the direct (and very hilly) route home. Took my thermal jacket out of Ken’s trunk bag and stuffed it into my Showers Pass back jersey pocket, which is bigger than you think. It looked ridiculous, I’m sure. Cresting the last hill before my house, I noticed I was at 69 miles and decided to ride around the neighborhood a bit until I hit an even 70 miles for the day. Overall just a really awesome day on the bike!)

See you on the road.

 

(PS – This weekend’s ride put me at 16 & Goal. *hooray!*)

6 thoughts on “The Elusive Workhorse Bicycle

  1. Sounds like you haven’t done much inquiring about touring bikes. My husband and I both ride the Trek 520 and LOVE it. It’s relatively light yet has enough weight to remind you you’re riding a machine that loves you. It melts little bumps like butter. I love this bicycle and highly recommend it. And seeing as I own more than one you’re welcome to come ride it!

    1. You mention Trek; my friend Heather loves her Salsa; my sister’s girlfriend loves her Surly. I saw a beautiful Velo Orange touring bike but I’m not sure what is considered the ideal weight when it comes to touring bikes. I don’t want to get something too heavy but also understand it needs to be sturdy and with that comes more weight than my roadie bikes. It’s not about speed, it’s stability.

      Obviously too much time in my head, not enough trying out. 🙂

      1. The number one rule when buying a bicycle is don’t shop the brand, shop the shop. If you love your bike shop then buy a bike from them. If their inventory isn’t wide enough to suit your needs, find a shop that carries what you want. I mention Trek because you’re looking for suggestions. But the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what works for me, Heather, or your sister, because our bikes will fit you differently. There are bikes that are specifically made for touring. The Trek 520 is one of them.

      2. I totally agree … I’m investigating local shops. I am not married to a brand … noting that everyone has one they love. And I’ll find mine when I ride it. 🙂

  2. I have a commuter bike that I use the most as well. There are two routes to go with this type of bike, 26″ wheels with narrow tires, or 700c with wide tires. If you go 700c make sure there is enough room for a wider tire and fender. Cantilever breaks are great, because they don’t require as much fiddling around as disk breaks, but side-pull breaks can work if they are on a touring bike. Currently I ride the 700c wheels, because I’m nearly 6′ tall and the bigger frame and wheels feel more comfortable on longer rides, but there is barely enough room for the wider tires and fenders. Good Luck!

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