Author Topic: Flat Bar Touring Bike--Upgrade or New?  (Read 4697 times)

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Offline RossKB

Flat Bar Touring Bike--Upgrade or New?
« on: January 18, 2023, 11:14:33 am »
I am planning on doing the TransAm leaving at the end of April.  I have a 29er Cannondale Trail (I forget the number—somewhere in the middle) that I have had for three years and really like.  I put around 5000-6000 miles on it a year, often carrying heavy loads (I do my grocery shopping with it) and have done several Eastern tours of 600-700 miles with it.  My thought was to take it in to my LBS where I bought it,  get a new 1x drive train with lower gearing (my lowest gear is around 29” now), replace the suspension fork with a carbon fork that had mounting points for a front rack (which I may or may not need), and get new and stronger wheels.  When I went to my LBS, which I have been going to for 20 years, they said, “You need a new bike,” and they then proceeded to suggest a Cannondale Topstone 2 gravel bike.  (around $2000). I have ridden flat bar bikes for the last 15 years.  After telling them that, they gave me the lines about drop bars being more aerodynamic and providing more hand positions, which they said would be needed for the TransAm.  When I said I didn’t think it wise to change my biking style at this point, they offered to switch it over to flat bars.  The Topstone I was looking at had a lowest gear of around 25” and when I expressed concern about that, they offered to change the drivetrain.  They offered to make any mods necessary to make it work for me.  After leaving the LBS I wondered if there might be a new bike that might be better suited to what I want to do and came across the Surly Bridge Club.  It is an all steel bike and may not have the most “modern” features, but it seemed to be well suited for my ride.  There was a review of it in Adventure Cycling that had a paragraph that resonated with me.  “You can devote a lot of mental real estate to thinking about this bike or that bike, these parts or those parts, but sometimes what you really want is a bike you don’t think about at all.”  That’s what I want. It doesn’t have to be the lightest bike or the most high tech bike, but a bike that just lets me ride without requiring a lot of mental effort spent on the bike. One of the things I love about bike touring (I always ride solo) is being able to ride my ride.  Is it unreasonable to upgrade my existing bike?  I am someone who is conservative by temperament and I don’t like to change things just for the sake of change. (I am looking at you software upgrades!).  Does anyone have experience with the Surly Bridge Club?—it seems like it would require little modification for what I want.  I don’t doubt the good faith of the folks at my LBS, but maybe our temperaments are different.   Thanks a lot for any thoughts people might have!!

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Flat Bar Touring Bike--Upgrade or New?
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2023, 12:43:49 pm »
Personally, if you like the existing bike (frame geometry) which it sounds like you do, I would keep it and upgrade some parts. 

For instance, I would definitely get lower gears.  Maybe some nice road tires (Schwalbe Supreme or similar) since the TA is 99% paved.  If the current wheels have held up to the same weight or more as what you will tour on, I probably would not change that either. If the brake and gear cables have never been changed, perhaps switch them out to new cables and housing because 15k on a bike is pretty unusual and the cables do wear out and will eventually snap (Murphy says it will be in the area where the closest bike shop is 200 miles away and it will happen at 3pm on a 3-day holiday weekend in a small town where the post office is only open on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  Same with brake pads if you use rim brakes.  Of course, you should learn how to replace them yourself can at least carry a spare set of cables so that if it does happen on the road, you can keep riding. Also, are the racks strong racks or a cheap flimsy one.  If the latter, I would get decent new (or decent used) racks.  Used decent racks should still have years of life on them unless the previous owner used them to carry 60+ pounds continually over gravel roads.  All of this is way less than the $2k+ you will spend on a new, untested, bike.

Anyway, after 15k miles and several 2+ week long tours, you would know you like the bike.  Why risk changing it for something you may not like.  If you do buy a new bike, I would at least keep the current bike until you are sure you enjoy the new bike.

To me, it sounds like the LBS is just trying to make a sale. 

Wishing you a wonderful time on the TA.  Tailwinds, John

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Flat Bar Touring Bike--Upgrade or New?
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2023, 10:03:10 pm »
I've got to agree with John.  If every tool you have to sell is a hammer, everything looks like a nail kind of thing.

There's no reason a well built bike with some 20,000 miles on it can't go another 6,000 miles.  It's worth freshening wear parts -- tires, brakes, cables, chain.  Get those replaced, change your gearing, do a weekend shakedown cruise, and hit the road.  I like  drop bars, and I've used them to stretch my hamstrings or to fight a headwind, but there's no reason you have to ride my bike.

I'm not sure why you're looking to go single speed; many of the people posting here are triple fans, and for good reasons.  Set up correctly, a triple will have about the lowest gearing you can get; at the same time, if you want to keep your legs fresh on the half a day you'll have a stiff tailwind, that same triple has a gear for that.

Offline RossKB

Re: Flat Bar Touring Bike--Upgrade or New?
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2023, 04:43:55 am »
Thanks John and Pat.  Very helpful!  I have been riding a 1x for a while and like its simplicity.  Ross

Offline wildtoad

Re: Flat Bar Touring Bike--Upgrade or New?
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2023, 06:56:19 pm »
Hi RossKB, I'm late to this thread and you may have moved forward w/ a decision. In any event, I am familiar w/ the Bridge Club. I helped a friend build one up from a frame. It's a great frame, very flexible and versatile, reasonably affordable as new frames go. In her case, the appeal was her new-found love of touring rather than riding mountain bikes, and she wanted to move over some parts from her old bike to the new frame. The Bridge Club was an ideal choice as it works w/ older QR disc wheelsets and mountain double cranks, and has all the rack and cage mounts that one might need. She loves the bike and uses it primarily as a dirt road/gravel/some pavement touring bike.

I believe has a thorough review of the complete Bridge Club, but it may have been the earlier double crank variant (a more useful bike IMO than the 1x version). I glanced at the current complete bike spec. It's a good value. One issue for pavement 1x touring on that bike....because of the very wide tire clearance, you will not have much choice re upsizing chainring size to avoid spinning out too much on rolling terrain (a real limitation of 1x for touring IMO, at least for my preferences).  Good climbing gears won't be a problem. There are other frames out there that still offer good tire clearance but a bit more flexibility re 1x chainring size.

Reinvigorating/modifying your current bike is certainly an option. I am a big fan of doing so for certain bikes. That said, I enjoy searching for used/"obsolete" parts and I do all the install work myself. In your case, I give your shop the thumbs up as it appears you would have the shop do the upgrade work. Definitely worthwhile to take a pause and think about how you want to ride in the future, and whether or not a different frame might be a better choice. It's quite possible that the shop stands to make more money on the labor to install a new drivetrain, new fork and build new wheels for you compared to the margins on a new bike sale (particularly a bike at the price point of a Bridge Club).

All the best w/ your tour preparations.