Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Noobie Bike Questions" & Attempts At Answering Them

 From time to time I get an e-mail, Facebook, or private message on some forum asking me a question or two. Well, I got more than a few from a reader here. So, let's dive in, shall we?

But first...the Disclaimer: NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Okay- with that out of the way..... The questions! First up, we have the requirements.

Polo seats are in- really!
 Stated Goal: "I am looking for another bike. I want to do gravel riding, little bit of cross racing (Just for fun), and RAGBRAI this year." (Price Range: $1700.00)

GT Says: That's a tall order. Basically, we're talking an "all arounder" that features versatility over any one specific attribute. Okay....

 Question #1: "I have never had a steel bike. But have heard the ride is great. How would an aluminum bike with a carbon fork compare to how (a) steel bike rides?"

GT Says: Typically one can ride any material, and one isn't necessarily better than another, especially in the competitive price range we're focusing on. "Fine ride quality" isn't mutually exclusive from "Inexpensive" bicycles, but it gets harder to find the lower the price goes. Steel can sometimes ride poorly, aluminum can sometimes ride great. Carbon forks are not always a panacea for a smoother ride. Of course, those ideas have been pushed forward by folks in the industry to serve as marketing touch points and to help close sales, but in reality, they are not maxims to live by.  So, what to do?

Fit trumps all, and then function, followed by weight, and color, (yes- really), for a cyclist at this price point, or someone looking to find their way to bigger and more adventurous cycling times.

Question:" I probably shouldn't worry about the weight, but is (a) steel (frame) much heavier than an aluminum one?

Un-bearded opinion
 GT Says: Not necessarily. Some aluminum frames can be pretty porky. For complete bicycles, it depends on component spec, to a large degree. Think of it this way- A product spec manager at any given bike company has to "paint inside the lines" when he/she specs a bike. The "lines" in this case are usually defined by what the MSRP of the final bicycle will be, along with some other design/marketing parameters. If the folks at company "X" decide to market you a carbon frame at $1700.00, the component spec will likely suffer. If, on the other hand, the idea is to give the consumer better components, you may see a (heavy-ish) aluminum frame hung with some outstanding components at a similar price. Chrome-Molybdenum alloy steel is, now days, generally a higher priced frame material, so generally speaking, aluminum frames yield better component spec value, then steel, then carbon. But that isn't always a rule. Just a guideline! Anyway, frame material, frame weight, and frame ride quality can vary widely depending on the spec at the prices we are talking about.

Finally, weight isn't everything. Yes- it is important, but for the stated purposes of the rider in question here, weight shouldn't be a top priority. I'll point back to what I said about fit, etc, above. Weight is really only on the top of the list for bike geeks and better yet- for racing. At the price range that is being discussed, I think function and fit are better focus points.

Kona Rove Prototype

 Question:  "Would a steel bike like the Kona Rove be good for all that, (RAGBRAI, gravel rides, and cyclo-cross), or is there a better bike in that price range? ($1700). I also am looking at a Trek IonCX, I read you could put a 40cm tire that bike. I have Trek Xcal 29er that I could use for the gravel rides, would steel ride better than that?"

 GT Says:I lumped all of this together, because really, the question is "which bike is right for me?". The answer could be any of the above and a few other great bikes to boot. (The Salsa Vaya comes to mind.) The bottom line? While I have my preferences the other bikes mentioned here are all good bikes that will get these tasks done well. Really- as I've said many times- there are not many "stinkers" in the bike world these days, and for someone looking for a all around bike that will do various rides and tasks, the Rove, Trek Ion, or the Vaya would all be able to fit. Even the X-Cal could be pressed into all these duties. Now, that said....

I'm going to summarily throw out the Trek bikes in this discussion. The 29"er for its off road bent, and the Ion because of the race/aggressive stance. That leaves the Kona Rove and the Vaya 3. Either bike is better suited to the all around tasks stated above. Both will be stable, yet capable bikes on all surfaces and are great touring capable rigs too.

Gravel Freak
Question: "What are the frame types that most of the guys in Trans Iowa use?"

GT Says: I saved this for last because it is really the odd question out of the bunch. Yes- one of the stated goals is gravel riding, but Trans Iowa riders bring such a diverse range of bikes to the event, it is hard to tell someone "this is the one". And then- which group of guys/gals are we talking about? The "pointy end" of the event- the fast guys and gals- these are almost exclusively on what is becoming gravel specific rigs. Either that or highly personalized/modified cross bikes. Then there are the guys in it to finish it. These will cover your Vayas, Kona Roves, Surly Cross Checks, Fargos, and 29"ers. Single speeders are another sub-set with a wide range of rigs.

Relevant to this discussion, I will say that I do not see a whole lot of aluminum frames on any given Trans Iowa. Not that guys do not ride them with success, because it has been done, but overall, the vast majority of rigs are steel, titanium, or carbon fiber. Maybe guys and gals have bought into the "aluminum rides harsh" mythology, but for whatever reason, steel bikes are commonplace at Trans Iowa and other gravel events.

Okay-  that's a wrap! I hope that helps a few folks out there and of course, comments are welcome.


Max said...

I agree with your advice, G-Ted. My comment is really meant to touch on the frame material debate. I have 2 steel and 3 aluminum bikes. I can honestly say that factors such as wheel choice and tire width/pressure make the noticeable differences in ride quality. I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about frame material.

Tim said...

I know that pugsley! That seat was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever sat on.