Author Topic: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement  (Read 4588 times)

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Offline DirtRoadRunner

I'm fortunate to live in an area with endless gravel roads.  Currently, I have a 56 cm Nashbar Steel Cyclocross bike.  The bike is great for riding gravel, other than I get heel strike when I put panniers on the bike.  This is annoying, since when I go out exploring gravel (usually in the fall/winter/spring), I like putting panniers on the bike to carry maps, lunch, first aid/survival gear, and spare clothing.

So I would like to use most of the components off the Nashbar bike and upgrade it to something more suited for riding with panniers, without heel strike, and light touring.  My miles will probably be 70% graded gravel (short, steep hills), 25% pavement, and 5% rough doubletrack,  I would like to eventually do light touring, of the 2-4 day variety, with no more than 30 lbs of gear (I'm a backpacker so I already have lightweight gear).  90% of my miles will be day expeditions (<10  lbs of gear), the other 10% will be light touring (~30 lbs of gear)

My other musts for the bike are cantilever brakes, reasonable cost (frameset of <$700), and of course plenty of braze-ons.

I've narrowed it down to two frames:

Black Mountain Monstercross [56 cm]
All City Space Horse [55 cm]

Which one would be better for my style of riding?  The All City looks to be more of a traditional touring bike, with longer chainstays and a lower bottom bracket, while the Black Mountain looks a little more racy.  I'd just get the Black Mountain, except I worry that the chainstays aren't that much longer than my current bike (432 mm vs. 425 mm) and I might have heel strike anyway.  The All City has longer chainstays, at 440 cm, but a lower BB, which I could see being a problem on doubletrack.

Here are links to the specs of each bike:
Current Bike: http://www.nashbar.com/bikes/Product_10053_10052_553817_-1___202339
Black Mountain: http://www.blackmtncycles.com/p/black-mountain-cycles-frames.html
All City: http://allcitycycles.com/bikes/space_horse
« Last Edit: August 15, 2013, 10:15:19 am by DirtRoadRunner »

Offline paddleboy17

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2013, 12:47:00 pm »
I think you need to tabulate and rate your criteria. 

Sounds like you really have your heart set on a cross bike, which may not make the best touring bike.
Some other contenders that you could look at, which are in your price range, include the Soma Saga http://www.somafab.com/archives/product/saga, Surly Cross Check http://surlybikes.com/bikes/cross_check, and Surly Long Haul Trucker http://surlybikes.com/bikes/long_haul_trucker.

You have expressed fairly low gear weights, but don't forget about feature creep.  Your cargo needs could go up.  A cross bike should have a shorter wheel base and potential heel strike issues.  A touring bike is going to be longer, but less nimble.  I think you need to sort out your requirements, and then a frame will probably choose itself.
Danno

Offline DirtRoadRunner

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2013, 12:59:34 pm »
I currently have a cross bike, but the short chainstays make it difficult to run panniers and therefore tour.  Otherwise, I like riding gravel on my cross bike, other than it is a bit squirrely on rough double track.  Also the gearing is a little high, but I plan to change from an 11-32 to an 11-36 cassette in the back to accommodate that.

I doubt gear creep will be a problem, I'm a minimalist backpacker and invested a lot of $$$ in lightweight gear a few years ago, that I plan to keep for a long time.  My base gear weight (no food and water) is around 22 lbs, and that simply won't go up because I hate lugging any more weight than that around on my back (or my bike).

I've looked at the Cross Check, but it has exactly the same chainstay length as my current bike (425 mm), so I would still get heel strike with panniers. 

I've also looked at the LHT, but find it to be way overweight (30 lbs!) and too slow for general purpose riding. 

The Saga looks OK, but has mixed reviews.  I want something between a LHT and the cylocross bike I have now - really just something that I can put panniers on without heel strike, and with a little more relaxed geometry than my current bike, but not a heavy, slow handling touring bike.  Both the BMC and All City seem to be between, one is just a little more of a CX bike while the other is more of a tourer.  Tire clearance (at least 42c) is a must because most of the miles on this bike will be on gravel roads.

Offline paddleboy17

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2013, 01:12:42 pm »
I would drop frame weight from your consideration.  Rotating weight is what really matters, and that will be under your control.

If the LHT strikes you as heavy, that is probably due to the non-frame choices due to completing the bike.    All steel frames will be on the order of 4 pounds.

Long wheel base to give you clearance is in direct conflict with short wheel base to give you agility.  No easy way out here...

What about using a trailer with your current bike?  I like personally like trailers for off road and prefer panniers on road. 
Danno

Offline DirtRoadRunner

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2013, 02:01:37 pm »
A trailer would be fine for touring, but not ideal for day trips when I may only have 10 lbs of gear.  I've just been dealing with the heel strike on my current bike on those trips, or wearing a backpack instead (not really ideal, I tend to sweat a lot under it and then freeze when it is taken off).

I'm a minimalist when it comes to weight, rotating or not.  The LHT is just too heavy for me, considering maybe 10% of my miles will be lightly loading touring.  I used to have a 1998 Cannondale T-800 touring bike, which I liked a lot (it was ~25 lbs and super-stable), but finally sold it as it was a 58cm and just a hair too big for me for all-day comfortable riding.  I would buy another Cannondale tourer for this, but have been looking for one in a ~56cm size for about 6 months and still have not been able to find one.  So instead I'm probably going to go with a new steel bike.

Offline ...neil...

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2013, 02:03:46 pm »
If you are simply trying to eliminate heel strike, you might consider altering your rack/bag choices...

- How about the awesome frame bags and such from Revelate Designs? Pretty cool for off-road, minimalist applications.

- OR using a rando/saddlebag combo. I just added the boxy rando and large saddlebag from Acorn, and after recovering from the sticker shock, I find I now have 14 L of cargo space before I even consider my panniers.

- OR use a rack like the Tubus Cargo Evo that has the lower mounting rails that are pushed a bit aft, specifically to eliminate heel strike.

But perhaps you are looking to justify a new bike. Believe me, I understand. I vote for the Space Horse. I think that looks like a swell all-rounder.

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2013, 02:07:10 pm »
I doubt gear creep will be a problem, I'm a minimalist backpacker and invested a lot of $$$ in lightweight gear a few years ago, that I plan to keep for a long time.  My base gear weight (no food and water) is around 22 lbs, and that simply won't go up because I hate lugging any more weight than that around on my back (or my bike).

Then have you considered a bikepacking setup? Meaning: a rackless setup with framebag/saddlebag/handlebar bag? If you don't have a lot of gear you can probably make that work. No panniers means no heel strike, which means you can either continue using the cross bike you already have or get another cross bike.

And another option to throw out: You can get a longer rear rack, like a Jandd Expedition. This means you can position the panniers a bit further back, lessening heel-strike issues. (Of course, this can create other issues.)

Offline DirtRoadRunner

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2013, 02:42:51 pm »
I am indeed trying to justify a new bike :).  Though, my wife would be very happy if I kept my current bike (she does not understand why I need more than one bike, much less 3-4!).

I will look into the frame bags and saddlebags more.  Those Acorn saddlebags look sweet, and two would be more than enough for a long day tour in cold conditions.  Any recommendations for something more water-resistant?  I could see them getting wet during creek crossings (along with possibly a frame bag).

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2013, 03:07:24 pm »
The LHT is just too heavy for me, considering maybe 10% of my miles will be lightly loading touring. 

FWIW, Paddleboy is right.  There's about a third of a pound difference between the frame and fork weight of the Long Haul Trucker and the Cross Check.  The rest is how they are equipped (tires, wheels, and saddle likely make most of the difference).

Offline latifb

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2013, 11:59:07 pm »
I'd throw  Salsa Vaya into the mix. Mine feels stable and comfortable on gravel and even did a bit of single track recently and it surprised me how well it did. Haven't toured with it yet but have tried it with lightly loaded panniers for grocery shopping and it's very stable.

Offline DirtRoadRunner

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2013, 07:54:41 am »
The Vaya is on my radar as well.

Over the weekend, I priced out what it woudl cost me to build a new bike using most of the drivetrain from my current CX bike, but getting new bars, stem, seatpost, cassette, wheels, tires, saddle, and of course a frame.  It came to $1400, or just a few hundred less than a brand new Vaya 2 (then I woudln't have to cannibalize my old bike).  The complete Space Horse is only $1450.

I certaintly like the looks of the Space Horse better, but I'm not fond of the build kit on the complete bike.  I'll probably ride both, along with a Vaya, and see which I like better.  I'm not sure if I'll love or hate the disc brakes.  I do wish the Vaya had a triple with bar ends instead of the double with Apex brifters.  I'm not crazy about the rest of the parts spec on the Vaya 3 (Sora triple crank, Microshift bar ends, lower-end wheels), or I'd just get it.

BTW I ordered a rack-top bag and a handlebar bag for my current bike.  They should get me through another season of gravel grinding/exploring before I spluge on something new (if at all!)

Offline JayH

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2013, 08:39:46 am »
You mentioned a frame...  You can replace the parts with a triple, etc.  I have an older Vaya with the compact double that I use for commuting and touring. It is a very good bike on dirt/gravel and I enjoy it immensely for where I ride.   It has the eyelets for running fenders and a low rider rack.    I have the vaya with the 26" wheels and I have Avid BB7 mechanicals on them.

On disc brakes, I am annoyed at how often you need to tweak and adjust them, but then adjusting them is pretty simple.  Ignoring them leads to major squeeking issues but I've found automotive brake squeel compound works well for bikes too, as well as using isopropryl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to clean the rotors and pads occasionally.. 

Jay

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2013, 11:02:12 am »
I certaintly like the looks of the Space Horse better, but I'm not fond of the build kit on the complete bike.  I'll probably ride both, along with a Vaya, and see which I like better.  I'm not sure if I'll love or hate the disc brakes.  I do wish the Vaya had a triple with bar ends instead of the double with Apex brifters.  I'm not crazy about the rest of the parts spec on the Vaya 3 (Sora triple crank, Microshift bar ends, lower-end wheels), or I'd just get it.

FWIW, and I'm not recommending for or against the Vaya 3...

A crank is an expendable in the long run.  Wear the Sora out, perhaps after two-three long tours, and replace it.  In the meantime, it'll serve you well.  Better yet, work with a dealer and get him to put on a mountain triple, with good, low gears (24 or 26 tooth on the low end).  Shouldn't add more than $100 or so to the price, even if he hits you with nearly full retail on the new crank.

Wheels are wheels.  It's unlikely you'll get wheels that are ready for loaded touring on a new bike, unless you go full custom from a good builder.  Instead, find a good wheel builder (or learn to do it yourself), and make sure they're tensioned adequately and stress relieved.  They'll be good enough after that, again until they wear out.  Maybe the hub won't last as long, or, if you repack as needed, maybe it'll last longer than the high zoot hub.  Sometimes bling takes weight AND durability out of the lower end parts, while replacing it with shine.  (The shine will disappear with the first rain.)

Offline DirtRoadRunner

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2013, 01:22:40 pm »
Valid points.  I did just try to look up the Vaya 3 specs again, to find that Universal Cycles has the 2014 Vaya 2 and 3 listed on their webpage.

Both bikes now use triple drivetrains, with the Vaya 2 having 105 STI shifting and what looks like a 105 shifter.  The Vaya 3 has a Sora shifter with STI shifting.

I definitaly like the idea of the 105 triple on the Vaya 3 - perhaps I'd switch it for a trekking triple, but the bike already comes with nicer wheels and other options. 

I'll try to ride both, along with a few other bikes, this fall/winter.

Offline Rick.in.AZ

Re: Best frame for riding and light tours on mixed gravel & pavement
« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2013, 12:27:24 am »
I'd argue that tires are what matters.  I have ridden my Randonee on gravel a number of times, and occasionally with panniers. Wide tires are what help.  I'll bet one of the more stable touring bikes (Surly LHT?) with 42mm tires would be a good compromise.