Friday, May 29, 2015

Finding a Touring Bike {Part 1}: So Many Choices

"I don't know why I can't make a decision!" It simply came bursting out of me with little control one evening as I sat debating the next bike purchase. I'd already been knee-deep so to speak in research for several months, and had been purging bikes from the herd for some time as well. I'd even contemplated annoying others, trying to reach some sort of conclusion that made sense.

The idea of another bike was both exciting and entirely stressful.  I was finally ready, or so I thought, to make a decision and the choice was the one thing I found myself incapable of making. My biggest fear in purchasing a new bicycle is having it go awry and finding myself in a situation that requires starting over (again). I wanted this one to be right - or as right as it could possibly be.
*Image found here - Surly loaded to tour
This notion of touring has been stirring in me for a couple of years now. While it is unlikely at this point that I would be able to take off on a several week or month long adventure, I do think it's entirely possible that I could escape for a few days and see where my legs take me. The hiccup in this idea is finding the right bike for the job.

The Rivendell Sam Hillborne seems like an appropriate choice, but as has been discussed prior, the top tube is too long for me to get more than about 40mi/65km - and that's pushing the limits of what my body is willing to tolerate. In the days following such a ride, I am often ill-equipped to ride again until my upper body mends.

As I browsed initial options, there were a lot of possibilities to consider - even more than the list here. Just do a quick search for "touring bicycles" and it's easy to become overwhelmed. I looked at and more seriously considered bike possibilities from Soma, Co-Motion, Salsa, Velo Orange, Surly, Rivendell, and I thought about custom options from Bruce Gordon  and even another Rodriguez. I also looked through used bicycles on Craigslist and eBay, thinking that perhaps there would be a good option in an older, steel Trek or other bicycle. I figured there's no reason to buy a new bike if something used will work just as well.

Realizing quickly that the list was already too long, I began narrowing down the possibilities. I really didn't want to look at a custom bike at this point. Having never toured, it just didn't make sense to spend the sort of money that would be necessary for a custom. Until I have some experience under my belt, and better understand what I like or don't, I really couldn't justify a custom bike for this purpose.
Rivendell Atlantis - *Image via Rivendell
Eventually, the list was narrowed down to include the Surly Long Haul Trucker, Rivendell Atlantis, a Velo Orange Camargue or Campeur, or finding a used bike that would work.

The one bit of wisdom most touring cyclists seem to share is that the "best" touring bike is one that you can/will ride and that is comfortable (of course, that wisdom is true of any bike). Obviously, there are other needs for touring, such as being able to carry the weight of the load for a tour, and for me, I wanted to be sure that I wouldn't be on a bike that was neither too big nor too small.

One problem with my narrowed down list was the ability to test ride. There were only two bikes available for testing locally: the Surly LHT and second-hand bike possibilities. Sam owned a Long Haul Trucker that I was able to ride in the past, so it was the one bike I didn't feel the need to actually test. I'd also considered it as an option after extensive test riding before ultimately purchasing my Sam Hillborne. The other possibility, a used bike, would be difficult to pin down locally, but if I could find one it would be the perfect opportunity to test ride before purchase.

I have never ridden Rivendell's Atlantis, but I like the ride quality of my Hillborne and I liked the Homer Hilsen, so I kept this in the mix. The Atlantis has a shorter top tube which would make it easier to set up and ride long distances. I had also never ridden any Velo Orange bicycle. These two possibilities from VO were the options that scared me most on the list because it would be a dive into the complete unknown.

After more research, I wanted to narrow down the two VO options to just one. I had done a lot of mental (and verbal, to the utter annoyance of poor Sam) back and forth between the Camargue and the Campeur. I was fine with either the quill or the threadless stem, but what had begun to sink in was reading on a website that the smallest Campeur had an effective top tube of 53cm, which seemed a tad long for me. I also feared the forward/down sloping top tube. In the past, this hasn't been a good position for me. It is technically a horizontal top tube, but I could see from photos that there was a tendency to lean down toward the handlebars.

While the Campeur seemed like a great possibility, I dropped it off the list because I feared some of the potential pitfalls. The Camargue, however, had the choice of a 51 or 52cm effective top tube and the top tube had more of an upward slope, an angle that seemed more reasonable for my needs. It also had the possibility of wider tires which had me thinking that it would make riding on dirt and rocks easier.
Velo Orange Camargue - *Image via Velo Orange
And so it came that I had the list narrowed to the LHT, the Atlantis, the Camargue, or a used, yet-to-be-discovered option.

In addition to this soon-to-be bicycle functioning as the touring bike, it also needed to work as a city bike. Of course, just about anything that works as a touring bike could also easily do double duty as a city bike, but the idea of comfort and hauling became the primary mission of this future bike.

Thoughts of my comfort on the current Rivendell were circling. If the top tube was just a bit shorter, perhaps that would make the difference and the Atlantis could be the ideal bike? The more I pondered this option though, the more I thought of it inline with the cost of a custom frame and decided that I probably wasn't ready to plunk down that sort of money for a bike that I would be using as a means to gauge my interest in touring, and if I were going to spend, perhaps a custom would be a better route to go anyway.

So, it was down to the LHT, the Camargue, and the possibility of a used find. I held out hope for finding something used, but realized that it was unlikely that something in the proper small size would materialize, so I viewed the potentials as a list of two. Two fine bicycles. Two great options.

As I'd wander back and forth between Surly and VO's website, I couldn't help but continue to glance at the Campeur. I had to admit I was drawn to it, but I had eliminated it for solid reasons, and so I would have brief thoughts of selecting this frame, but then return to the debate between the aforementioned two.

One day, I decided I just needed to make a decision. The back and forth, the pros and cons, the unknown possibilities were getting to me. I had decided that the LHT was going to be my bike. For better or worse, the choice needed to happen.
Surly Disc Trucker - *Image via Surly Bikes
I went to a local bike shop and quickly learned that the proper size was not available. At home, I did more research and realized that every location seemed to be unable to obtain the size needed. I thought I had my hands on one for a brief moment, and quickly learned that it was in fact already spoken for. Because of the dock strikes out west, there were backups and delays for manufacturers with frames made overseas. If I wanted the LHT, I was going to have to wait.

Time is an interesting component to decisions. The longer I had to think, the more I thought back to the ride of the LHT. I had recalled liking the bike, but also remembered that it had a heavier, slower, more "dead" feel to it. I also recalled feeling in between two sizes with one feeling a bit small and the next up feeling too large. There are ways to work with this, but I would prefer an option that was a bit more precise.  The more I thought, I wasn't entirely sure that the LHT would be the best option.

While I continued to look for a used possibility, I went back to the Camargue. Maybe it was a better choice? Since I had the time, I continued to debate.

It was about this time that I received some information from MG and friends of Chasing Mailboxes. MG was very kind and accommodating with my request in which I asked for thoughts and feelings regarding the Atlantis, the Camargue, and the LHT. The information she sent was both extremely beneficial and added to my internal dilemma. As I went through all the information I'd gathered, and re-read the thoughts received from MG, I was struck by a statement from one of her friends who stated that he believed he preferred the Campeur to the Camargue for touring, unless the rider needed extra stout tubing and/or really big tires.

Would I ever actually ride on rocks? I mean, who am I trying to kid... this is me we're talking about. Dirt is about the extent of my off-road riding, so how wide a tire would I actually need? And, at this juncture, any touring I would be doing would either be supported partially or completely, or it would be for only a few days at most with minimal packing.

I went back to look at the geometry of the Campeur and realized that the measurement listed for the top tube was actually 52cm, not 53cm as I'd previously believed. In reality, it was not a bad starting point at all. In addition, the quill stem would allow me to raise the handlebars up as needed with ease. It looked as though I may have given up on this option too quickly.

Sam had grown weary of my debating. He was patient though as I spoke fondly of one choice and then switched over to the next, and I'd even sucked him into reading about the different possibilities. While he was hesitant to tell me what to do (partially, I'm sure, because he didn't want to influence my decision or feel responsible if the choice didn't work out), I continued to press for his thoughts. He believed that he would go with one of the two VO options as it was difficult to find anyone with anything bad to say about either. I certainly couldn't disagree with that statement.

Still, it's difficult to choose something that I've never ridden. After having very little luck finding something used that I could actually ride before buying, I decided that I had to make a choice. What was the worst that would happen? The frame would arrive and be built up and it wouldn't work. Yes, I was trying to avoid this problem, but without making a decision, I'd never know.

And with that thought, I hovered the mouse cursor over the online cart. I couldn't believe how sick I was feeling about making this decision, but I was ready to move on with life and other happenings, and this was taking up far too much time during my days.

"I'm going to do it," I announced to Sam, my face grimacing. Hardly the sort of feeling one wants to have when making such an exciting purchase. "Really. I'm going to get it." He just laughed and told me, "Just do it already."

And with that, the decision was made. I pressed the checkout button and decided to move on with life. "It's done. No turning back now, right?" I'm not usually so slow or fretful when making bike decisions, but this decision seemed to really weigh on me as though my life depended on it in some way. Sam reassured me that it would be fine - regardless of the outcome.

The frame coming my way was the Velo Orange Campeur.  I was excited. I was nervous. I was hopeful. And then, I went back to looking at other options for a brief time, thinking that perhaps I'd made the wrong decision... but, what could I do about it now?

*Note: I'll have the second part of this post up soon, which will include more specific information on the bike itself and less of my rambling-indecisiveness.

The second part of this post is up now and can be found by clicking here.


  1. Were we twins separated at birth?? These internal debates and endless rounds of research sound so familiar. I can't wait for the next instalment. :)

    1. :O) Maybe!

      My researching can get out of hand, and I don't know what's happened to me (well, I do - it's the rounds of really bad choices), but I wanted so desperately to make a solid choice with this one.

    2. This so accurately describes my state of mind leading up to purchasing the Pacer in March 2012. After so many "mistakes", I was desperate to get it right and was determined it was the very last attempt at making a stock size/geometry bike work for me. As it happens, the Pacer was pretty good in terms of riding position but everything that could be swapped out was swapped out, resulting in a bike asked to function at the outer extremes of its design capabilities. Weight distribution was all wrong, so handling suffered.

      Hence... custom.

      I learned a tremendous amount from the process, and can make a stock bike work for me up to about 20-25 miles but that's the limit. So my Viking is fine in London and my Cross Check in all its weird glory is fine for commuting 6 miles each way.

      By the way, my Enigma is a touring bike, so I understand those issues too. Maybe one day I'll get a fast light road bike but it'd have to be custom again. No messing around wasting time and money on stock road bikes. :/

    3. I have seen photos of your Enigma with bags and was curious if you were testing the limits of a road bike or if it was truly built for holding bags... so, that answers that question. :O) I think there is more use (at least to me) in a touring-capable bike than a standard road bike. I think if it's capable of carrying a load, the load can always be removed for lighter road riding. I can see the advantage for your multi-day and rando rides as well.

      I think (hope) I've learned from each bike experience. Sometimes I think I know what went wrong and then realize that it was something entirely different. I suppose that in time it all becomes a little clearer.

      I really liked my Pacer, but I could never get the handlebars quite high enough, which resulted in having to let it go. By the time it was all stripped down and re-made it was a very light road bike though - and fast.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences on buying small frame bikes. It's very interesting to hear about the choices available. I'm interested to hear how it works out for you. Are you planning to use drop handlebars?

    I'm not sure what you meant about the campeur having a "forward/down sloping top tube"... isn't it a horizontal (level with the ground) top tube? I guess it's hard to tell from the pictures on their website.

    What vintage / used bikes were you considering? I'm not aware of any vintage bikes that would have a similar frame size as the smaller frame versions of these new bikes with 26" wheels. There are the older 26" mountain bikes with no suspension, but these would have higher bottom brackets for ground clearance and put you higher off the ground and raise your riding position and center of gravity.

    1. Happy to share any time I am able to do so. :O) I suppose I'm a "tall" short person, but by bike standards, I definitely fall into the category of needing small frames. I hope to get the second part up by early next week, so hopefully that will actually provide some more tangible info (even if we're still pretty early on in our time together).

      I believe that VO calls the top tube "horizontal," (and most probably would) but after it was assembled, it definitely does slant toward the head tube (there are also a few photos to be found via Google of built-up bikes and they appear to have the same stance, so I don't think it's just the smaller frames). It turned out to be far less of an issue than I imagined it would be. I think the quill stem helps that.

      The bike is currently built with a trekking handlebar, but I don't know if those will stay or go. Drop bars could easily work on it though if the rider prefers them. Actually, I think the bike is well suited to a lot of different types of bars, potentially.

      Ah, the vintage bike search. Quite honestly, I was mostly searching CL regularly with the terms "steel" and "touring" hoping to find something that would work. It is very difficult to find something that fits shorter riders though. There was one Trek 520 that popped up locally, but the top tube was too long to work. I did consider older mountain bikes as well, but again, as you stated, they are not an easy find. Even my old Bridgestone MB-S (now sold) was too large (not surprising, given that the Rivendell I own is also a large fit). I think for the cost of the new frame, it was worth the investment to test the Campeur out.

  3. As others have already said, it's a good post, "Process" is so important, and applies equally to complete bikes, framesets, components, and accessories (and a healthy measure of self-doubt is a worthwhile spice to any decision).

    I indulge myself with "window shopping", knowing full-well that I'm never going to buy another bike (OK, "never say 'never'"), and was recently comparing VO's frameset offerings. I, too, "decided to buy" a Campeur, for several reasons: (1) having a threaded steering tube gives tremendous freedom with stem length; (2) I ride 38mm tires (no room for fenders), so having the option for both is empowering; and (3) the top-tube decals are cute.

    I know... we'd both like a lugged steel frame, but for that price you'll (I'm guessing) have more breathing room for components. I'm already looking forward to parts 2, 3, and...

    1. JB, that is interesting - great minds think alike.

      Yes, I would definitely have preferred a lugged frame (purely for aesthetic reasons, I'll admit); however, I just couldn't justify the cost, and I've actually found the Campeur to be beautiful in its own way - still not the same, but I think it's decent looking. You would think that would've had me feeling okay with spending the "extra" to buy components, but that isn't quite what happened (at least not yet - though I'm sure that will come).

      Have you built up your Campeur yet? How long have you had it? How are you liking it? I'm sure others can benefit from anything you'd be willing to offer. I think the more opinions available the better (maybe that's just me?).

    2. LOL! No, my "buying" is only imaginary [sigh]. Like you, I narrowed-down the field, and "decided" on the VO Campeur, but that's where our paths diverge :)

      I'll be looking for future posts on this thread... and PHOTOS :D

    3. Ugh. NOW I understand the quotes around "decided to buy." :O)

      Looking forward to sharing more soon.

  4. In case you are not familiar with this fabulous resource for bicycle touring, with thousands and thousands of journals of cyclists travelling and adventuring all over out there in the real world: Great for both information and inspiration.

    While an unloaded touring-specific bicycle may feel heavy and "dead" when compared to a lightweight road bike, its characteristics under a full touring load are what really counts in this game. My own "aha" moment on this came when I rode my Surly Troll fully-loaded for the first time. The handling was unexpectedly stable and smooth and confident, a beautiful ride. (And I've heard other riders say similar things about their Truckers.)

    Point being, purpose-built world-class touring bikes are their own distinct breed, and cannot be easily assessed and compared unless riding with a full complement of front and rear racks, loaded panniers, camping gear, water and the like. In this case, your short list might have also included Thorn and Tout Terrain in addition to some of the others you have mentioned.

    Also wanted to say, Co-Motion bikes are absolutely fabulous, and you may want to give them a little more consideration. I own a couple, and lucked into a used Americano -- with the travel couplers -- and it is amazing (though personally untested with full touring load, yet!) All handmade from the finest british steel right here in Oregon, and great people to work with.

    1. I have read through much on (even before considering touring rides), but thank you for the link - it's probably one I should add to the link list. I agree that it is a great source of info and inspiration.

      I think you are correct in your statement about loading a touring bike to truly test it and learn its capabilities on a long journey. Just as with any task-specific bike, the only way to really know if it is suitable is to ride it in the manner intended. I should also point out, that despite what may appear anti-Surly statements, I really do like their bikes (It was not my intention for it to come across as a "don't buy Surly" statement, but rather just to explain how I arrived at my purchase). I've owned two Surly's myself, and we've had a total of 5 in our household at various points. I would even be willing to bet that at some point, there will be another. They are simply versatile and easy to ride bikes.

      The tough thing about comparing touring bikes is that they are not always easily accessed (even more so for a rider who is shorter - or often taller - than industry standards), and many - dare I say most - shops aren't going to allow a person many days to load a bike up and take it out, so the process of learning becomes one of trial and error and finding as much information as possible beforehand. Since touring is a completely new activity to me, I know I've had to depend on the wisdom of others and hope for the best.

      I have heard nothing but positive from those who own Co-Motion bikes as well. It may have been an option that was removed a little early from the bowl of possibilities, but I had reason. Which is not to say that I wouldn't love to test one out at some point, but for this particular experiment, I decided it just wasn't quite ticking all the boxes. If I wasn't going to have the opportunity to test it first, I really wanted to keep the costs as low as possible, which nixed the Co-Motion, unfortunately. I realize the Rivendell is just as expensive (really more expensive, but I've had experience with three of their models so I felt more confident leaving the Atlantis in the mix, even though it was ultimately removed as well).

      Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences. It's never a bad thing to have more opinions and real life experience in the mix when a person is trying to make a decision. Even though mine is made for the time being, it's good to know what others have found to be solid choices.

  5. One comment on the quill stem (threaded headset) of the Rivendell vs. the threadless headset and clamp-on stem of the Velo Orange and Surly. I've had bikes with both types of stems. While riding one of my bikes with a quill stem, I learned a hard lesson as to why the mountain biking community abandoned quill stems early on and created the threadless headset option.

    Quill stems can slip if your front tire is caught in a trolly track, a pothole or a tree root. That is, when you try to muscle your tire free as you ride, the quill stem can slip - the handlebars turn, but the wheel does not. Splat, you go - thrown over the handlebars.

    Threadless stems that clamp on have a much stronger connection and virtually never slip. Not an issue if you ride pristine roads. But as many cities are bringing back streetcars and trolleys, dealing with tracks is an ever present danger for many. Touring outside of cities means the possibility that you encounter railroad tracks, many with an adverse skew with the roadway - they lay in waiting to grab that front wheel. Similarly, no one, cities or counties, seems to keep their pavement in repair and in many locations, it is falling apart and full of chuckholes.

    Yes, quill stems are a little easier to adjust the height of the handlebars, but you can accomplish the same thing with a threadless headset and clamp-on stem.

    Based on what I know now, I will strongly lean toward a threadless headset on any new bike I purchase.

    1. I have mentioned that threaded vs threadless is a matter of debate in the second part of this post (yet to be published or finished at this point - guess I'd better get to wrapping that up soon :O) ), but I think the reasoning you've mentioned is part of the debate for many and why they prefer to have the more modern threadless style. I am aware that there are other functional reasons argued for one vs the other and sometimes simply a preference based purely on looks.

      I would certainly agree that many cities/counties do not keep roads free of potholes and other potential hazards to cyclists.

    2. The OP stated her preference for a 52cm top tube, which corresponds to the VO Size 47 frame, with a seat tube of 470mm. Now, their Features section about the Campeur frame claims "26" wheel size for 47cm, which provides the aforementioned 52cm top tube. Furthermore, for tires there are two in the VO Shoppe:
      * Fairweather Touring "Cruise" Tire, 26x1.75 [inches] or 44.5mm, Brown
      * Onza Canis Skinwall Folding Bead, 26x2.25 [inches] or 57mm, Black
      I do believe that other characteristics of these two tires notwithstanding, either of them would not fall-prey to the traps of trolley-car/tram tracks, nor of insidiously designed sewer grates, and the like. Both tires are quite stout, and should prove their independence of things narrow and confining. OTOH, we don't know how well, or if, either tire will fare [fit?] with fenders, and this question might be better asked of the VO Support staff. At this point, I remain a staunch advocate for the OPs original plan using threaded steerer tube and quill stem. Information always makes us wiser.

    3. JB, I don't think a 57mm tire would quite fit through the fork on this frame (definitely not with fenders); a 47mm will. I ended up going with a Schwalbe model because I already had a set and they offer great puncture protection (they are about 38mm and there's still room to go larger, if needed/wanted... the same tire is available in a 50mm size, but I was a bit concerned about clearance. After seeing the tires on the bike, I think it would handle the larger size as well, but I think fenders may be a tight fit).

      As a side note, I'm actually getting ready to test the Fairweather Touring "Cruise" tires in another size on another bike, so I'll be curious to see how those handle.

      I have not myself had problems with quill/threaded stems (as long as everything is tightened properly - there has been an incident of the handlebars slipping, but it was because everything hadn't been secured properly), but I also realize that it doesn't mean issues don't occur for others.

      I've actually considered doing a post regarding preferences for one type of stem over another (for the most part because I find the debate quite interesting), but I think there's already quite a bit to read on this topic, and it tends to inspire some fairly passionate debates from both sides. I don't know if I'm prepared to moderate that sort of controversy. :O)

    4. I see the merits of both threaded and threadless headsets and have bikes with both. I see a number of factors at play here that would tend to tip the balance in favour of threaded:
      1 - the fact that this is a touring bike, for which threaded tends to be more common (rightly or wrongly) and therefore perhaps easier to take as common ground with people who are most familiar with touring bikes.
      2 - the fact that the writer is a woman on the short side,
      3 - with known hand/wrist problems, and
      4 - likely also ongoing experiences with stock bikes presenting reach problems (confirmed by her stating she has a maximum ETT preference without stating a corresponding seat tube length preference).

      Threaded aka quill stems allow for much greater height adjustment, which will help with 2, 3 and 4 above. I have very rigid limits on points 3 and 4 myself. My personal experience is, the only way you can make a threadless stem work is if the steerer tube is uncut. A lot of bike shops won't pay you the courtesy of knowing what you are talking about, when you request this. I had the owner of one bike shop cut it down anyway in spite of my specific request not to - why? just because "it looked so weird". Huh? Who's the boss here?

      So you leave the steerer uncut, decide in due course that yeah, your final stem position is a few spacers down from the top so yeah, you really should cut that steerer tube down a little just to reduce the possible risk of impaling yourself on it.

      Back to the bike shop -- probably the nearest decent one, which may not be the one you purchased the bike from. Another round of arguments, plus a fee for them to do it.

      Quill stem? Adjust it yourself, as and when needed. Job done.

      For someone who is very likely going to want that stem set fairly high, it makes sense to go threaded.

    5. EDIT - my issues are 2 and 4 (no known wrist problems). Wish the text box was big enough to re-read and proof before clicking "publish". :)

    6. aaaaannd, I seem to have cross-posted with G.E. at the exact same time and perhaps have inadvertently inflamed the sort of controversy she would rather not moderate. Sorry!!

    7. (I am laughing as I type this, Rebecca. I don't think you'll be inciting any riots - at least I hope not!)

      I think here in the U.S. it has become easier to find threadless stems. It's not impossible to find a threaded one, but it's also not something I can walk into a chain bicycle store and easily obtain. Even given that, I wouldn't shy away from a threaded stem. They are not that uncommon.

      Like you, I own both varieties, so it wasn't really a factor in my decision (okay, maybe a bit - I guess I'd be lying to say it had nothing to do with the decision). The biggest reason was due to one that you mentioned - so many shops like to cut down the steerer tube. My understanding is that VO does not do this (on their threaded versions), but if someone knows with certainty, it would be an interesting thing to know.

      Your post recently on stack and reach are far more accurate (in my opinion) than the actual top tube measurement. As a generic "rule" (if there is such a thing) I have found that somewhere around 52cm for a top tube length seems to work, but other factors that are a little more in depth/mathematical seem to offer a better indicator as to whether a particular bike will work.

    8. This whole discussion is fascinating to me. I only recently got my first road bike with a threadless stem. I do find the idea of adjusting it myself kind of intimidating compared to how easily I make changes on my quill stem bikes. I have had the experience of the quill stem slipping, but it was when I accidentally dropped my bike. Putting the handlebars back right was easy and didn't require anything other than the multi-tool I always have with me.

    9. Kendra, I think once you know what feels comfortable, the adjustments won't feel like such a big deal. I think getting to that point can be frustrating, but once you find it, hopefully you won't need to change it around. What I DO like about threadless stems is the ease of changing handlebars (but maybe that's just because I seem to change handlebars until I find one I like). Being able to simply unscrew the stem clamp is a nice feature, I think, of threadless stems. Another aspect of threadless that I appreciate is the variety of stem angles available. Many of the same exist for threaded versions, but they seem to be more challenging to find (again, at least here in the U.S.).

      In regard to raising or lowering the stem though, the quill is much simpler. Plus, as Rebecca indicated, if the manufacturer or shop cuts down the steerer tube before you have the opportunity to find the right height with threadless, it's very challenging to get that back. Sometimes not impossible with a different angle on the stem, but depending on how much was cut, it could be quite problematic.

    10. G.E. Obviously a good post with great discussion.

      @JBHoren, FYI the advent of streetcars in US cities has renewed a debate over the problem of the type of tracks available for purchase in the US. Go to any bike blog in a US city where street cars systems have been added or expanded recently and you will see posts on the debate. I am most familiar with Seattle, WA and Tucson, AZ.

      The problem is that streetcar projects use federal money, thus triggering the "Buy America" law. US made rail tracks have a very large gap. They are essential the same tracks used for heavy freight railroad traffic. I had an incident last year where a truck cut me off in traffic forcing me into the street car tracks. I was riding my city bike with 26" x 2.35" tires and still fell victim to the gap. So yes, I can attest that the tires sizes you mention will definitely get caught in the gap next to the track if circumstances prevent crossing at an oblique angle. Of course, we always try to cross tracks at an angle, but we also know, "stuff" happens out on the road.

      There is a manufacturer of a safer track in Switzerland that makes a better design (narrow gap), but the production is limited and there is a lengthy procurement process. To date, I am unaware of any US city agency applying for the required waivers from the Buy America Law to install this safer track - something that is sorely needed. Hence, a need to be wary when riding in cities.

      Regarding whether a threaded stem can slip when properly tightened. There is an argument that could be made that for narrow dropped handlebars in combination with a smaller rider that the connection won't slip. The narrow dropped bars don't have as much leverage. Perhaps a smaller rider could not twist hard enough. But if they can't twist hard enough, then they are likely not going to be able to turn the bars hard enough to extricate themselves from the gap. In my case, the threaded stem twisted where I know my mtn. bike with a threadless headset would have been able to turn out of the trap. That said, wider bars on city bikes and some mountain bikes do have enough leverage and can slip with a properly tightened threaded stem. My stem was tightened as tight as is prudent and I can definitely turn my wide handle bars hard enough to cause the connection to slip.

      Regarding height adjustment with threadless headsets. When the bike is new, or at least the fork is new, the steerer tube is extra long and can be adjusted for height to the same or a greater degree than a threaded headset/stem. However, once the steerer tub is cut to fit the rider, options for further adjustment become more limited. At that point, the angle of the stem employed must be used to adjust the height - at least for dropped handlebars. For flat or swept bars, the amount of rise in the handlebar can still be employed to adjust height. So threadless allows for less ease in changing height down the road, but can be adjusted just as much, or more, than threaded initially.

      Finally, I agree with the supposition that in the US it is easier to find threadless headsets. Because of the advantages, many bike builders and manufacturers have gone to threadless and the after market has responded with numerous options for cyclists.

    11. That is interesting regarding the streetcars and tracks, Augsburg. We have many railroad tracks here (some in better shape than others), but they are, at least for the time being, used only for transporting goods and not for transporting people. I know a few people who have had accidents even on these, without very wide gaps on the tracks, so I can imagine with an even wider opening that it could cause more issues.

  6. I absolutely adore your "rambling indecisiveness." Obsessive research and constant self-doubt about which choice to make appears to be the one way in which you and I are very much alike! It's funny how we can convince ourselves that so much is at stake and that a mistake will be a disaster. Silly!

    I'm eager to hear how it turns out and to see the pictures.

    1. Ah, my rambling indecisiveness. I think the problem with this - we'll call it personality characteristic - is that I often want to think through every possibility with a given choice (an odd combination for someone who prefers spontaneity, I'd say). What is delineated here is just a snippet of what goes on in my mind really. I think when the decision is one of financial concern or one that affects someone else I feel more of the need to run through every possibility; whereas when it's a matter of whether or not to participate in an activity, it's easy to go with the flow or suddenly take off on a new adventure without thinking too much. Plus, I think I'm becoming a little more thrifty as I get older (I'm not sure how I feel about this shift because it's never bothered me in the past to be down to my last dime). I am an odd cookie - though I think I blend in pretty well since most people have no idea how much thinking/processing goes on behind the scenes. :O)

      At some point, I have to make a decision though, and this really isn't the end of the world kind of decision (most aren't).

      Pictures should be up soon in the next post. Hopefully, I won't have too many delays in getting them up.

  7. This is timely and accurate. I've been on the fence for a new travel bike since Christmas. Being from DC, I have been wanting grab a VO product, or at the least an American designed product. I've been on a continual cycling tour of the USA since 2011, and have ridden many bikes over the last 90k+ miles. The most comfortable being my 92 MB3 and the stoutest a 2012 520. Both and many of my bites have one item I just turn my head to not like.... sloping top tubes. This seems to be the curse of being 5'4 and having legs and arms of equal length. I too looked at the same bikes listed, except the LHT- that thing is not my type of cycling. I bought two vintage frames in the last week. Mainly based on the geometry of the listed ones to trial fit. Each I found for 50 bucks. The Sam and Camargue are interesting in larger sizes. I picked up a Trek 850 in a larger then usual size the other day- a 22" frame, to play with. I want a straight top tube with a usable triangle for frame bag. Ultimately, I'll end up purchasing one of those listed once I finished.

    1. That is fantastic! You must have many stories to share with so many miles across the U.S.

      I would be curious to know about the fit of the vintage frames you purchased and how they end up working. I have had difficulty myself finding vintage frames that will work for longer than a few miles due to sizing.

      The Trek models seem to be a go-to for many, but I have found it difficult to find them in small sizes. I think I would struggle with a too-large frame, but it could be a good test to see if the geometry itself works.

      If you get the opportunity down the line, I'd love to hear how your options end up working for you.

    2. Definitely, if it will help others in the same boat, I will share my findings. I've been back and forth fighting the ETT issue my whole life. Those old Specialized, the Scotts, Schwinn, Barracudas, Fishers, Bridgestone, Performance, Bianchi pre 87 are nice and short. Problem... Still MTB which yields some crazy short seat tubes or weird combination of braze ons. Even if you look at the VO models, the smaller size loses the third bottle mount, slanted top tube, decreased fitting tire size width, or the bottom bracket height is an insult.

    3. I don't want to hijack teamdarb's comments as I too would love to hear more of his experiences, but I thought I would just pitch in to say, here in the UK, Trek is the main 'go to' brand for women and shorter riders needing small frames. My friend Sonia's main road bike is a Trek (not sure on which model) with 650b wheels. It's darling and fits her beautifully. (You'll see it in a number of my posts, most recently the Great Escape audax report.)

    4. Teamdarb - I think it would be fantastic if you are willing to share any findings. Not only for myself, but for others as well.

      Rebecca - Interesting that Trek sells bikes in the UK with 650b wheels. I think the only variety sold with that wheel size here are mountain bikes (I could be wrong, but it's all I've noticed in shops). But, I have to say that for an off-the-shelf bike, both of the Treks I owned fit pretty decently. They must have a good thing going for smaller riders, it seems.


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