….or any bike really!
As I mentioned in my introductory post, I recently became the proud owner of a shiny new touring bike. My main city bike is my 2 speed Brompton which is fine for most of the terrain and distance I cover on a regular basis. However, I sometimes want to cycle further across London and may well encounter hills I would fail to get my self up. I also have the romantic notion that I will start cycle touring in the not too distant future. Touring bikes are generally acknowledged to make excellent commuting bikes as they have racks, mudguards and are tough, so it was with great gusto that I set about trying to find the one bike to rule them all (until I realise I need something else as well).
To pick this bike, I went through a process that is probably familiar to many of you already. I thought it might be helpful to some to outline this process and the kinds of things I considered and my process of elimination and refinement. It is somewhat similar to what was highlighted in the recent post about choosing a £1000 carbon bike.
This isn’t really a post about how to choose a touring bike exactly, it is more about the things to keep in mind when picking a bike for ones specific use, it just happens to have a touring bike as the example. I will not be going in to details about the ins and outs of touring specific features here, as that’s an entire blog post in itself.
The really important things
Firstly, I decided the things that were really important to me. These provided a framework to start narrowing my choices and meant that I didn’t get sidetracked and end up with something I didn’t really want because I got distracted by a colour, or sale, or something. It happens, some bikes are just so damn pretty.
I set myself a budget. It was not terribly restrictive, I know I will have this bike for years to come so I am willing to invest in it a bit. However, the budget was there and it helped. My husband, a non-bike enthusiast, also appreciated it, although I think he would have preferred that it was lower or this whole thing wasn’t happening at all!
I knew I wanted a full steel bike. This material is more comfortable over varied terrain and long distances than an alloy, a feature of equal importance on a tour or on London streets. An overview can be found in a post written a few years back about the different frame materials and their properties. Steel is also easier to fix and weld, should I venture into pastures remoter than the suburbs.
It was important for me to keep in mind my intended use for the bike. The features of the various bikes out there are determined to a great extent by the way the manufacturer envisions the rider will utilize the bike. I was looking for a bike I could use for commuting in the short term and full touring in the long term, therefore I needed a bike with full front and back mounts for mudguards and racks. It also needed to be fairly mechanically basic so as to be easy to fix on the road. There are lots of bikes that have some features of touring bikes and would make excellent commuter bikes but would limit my luggage capacity or fixing ease for long distance touring. Simple is also better for all-season commuting, where the bike will be battered by the elements.
It is useful to pick a couple of features that are a must for you. This kind of ties into my point above about use; by choosing features you are more able to narrow the types of bikes you look at. Bikes used for touring can be anything, but generally a lot of cyclocross bikes would be suitable as well. By having the features in mind, it makes it easier to sift through all the options out there and keep your list of potentials manageable. Choosing features also involves getting the various specifications that are important to you. In my case I wanted to get a good frame primarily. If everything works out for me I will have this bike for a very long time and probably will need to replace various components but will always have the frame.
Correct fit for any bike is vital. Once I had a list of possible bikes, I tried as many as I could. In the case of touring specific bikes this turned out to be very hard as not many bike shops stock them. I tried a few, worked out what I liked about the fit from them and then looked at geometry charts for others to see how close they were. From there took the plunge and ordered a bike that fit all my vital criteria and looked like it should fit well. If it hadn’t been right I would have sent it back, but luckily it worked out. There is some refinement to be done on the fit still, but those are little things I can tinker around with at some point.
Good bike shops in London to consider when buying a touring bike:
- Soho Bikes – stock Genesis cyclocross bikes- good lighter weight tourers.
- Brixton Bikes – Stock a range of touring bikes
- Condor – several of their frames are touring worthy. Can also provide bike fitting services
This list is in no way comprehensive, most bike shops can point you in the right direction and will help you select other kinds of bikes. Also, checkout the London Cyclist app for iPhone which lists all of London’s bike shops.
Once all these things are set, you can narrow your search and not be so overwhelmed by the choices available. There are so many bikes out there, and many of them will almost suit most purposes. By creating your own list, knowing what is vital to you, what has latitude to change and giving yourself specific search parameters, it is a much less confusing process. It will also stop your hallway/spare room/garage ending up looking like this:
Online searching is a good starting point, but it is vital to visit local bike shops, try bikes and get actual advice from people who have experience helping to choose. For example, I thought I was set on my features but after a discussion with a bike shop friend, realised that I would be better off with something else. By tying bikes I found out things about the bikes that I never would without test riding. For example, as I am not very tall, the frames of some bikes are small enough that I end up with the front wheel hitting my foot, otherwise known as toe overlap. I hate this it turns out, but would never have known if I hadn’t have tried several bikes.
The process outlined above is in no way fool proof. Obviously, your criteria needs to be reasonable. An old adage in cycling is that there are three main criteria for bikes: Strength, Weight and Price and that is only possible to have two out of three, something is always going to have to give. It is up to you to decide which of those two is most important to you, given the way you will be using the bike.
What did you go through when deciding on your trusty two-wheeled steed? Let us know your tips and selection process in the comments below.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.