Dear bike riders: Give me some buying advice

Say you were going on a long-distance bike ride with your sister and you had never been able to keep up with her in previous trips. And now she will be on this next ride with her newly purchased electric assisted bike. She will travel halfway around the world while I am putting on my shoes.

I will only be on the trip for one week – she goes on forever. During that one week of my pedaling, there will be one day of gravel riding. I have a road bike, which tend to go over on gravel.

But I also have a mountain bike that has been converted into some Frankenstein monster bike: no knobby tires, no bar ends but now with fenders, two bells, compass and headlights. The fenders, bells and compass could go away to make it at least somewhat presentable on the trail. Ride that bike for a week? After riding my road bike for several years, I feel uncomfortable on the faux mountain bike, like my torso is being bent upward between the handlebars and the seat.

So given these choices below, offered to me by biking friends, what would you do:

Buy a gravel bike: “It’s all I ride anymore,” says a riding friend who also owns a road bike. Clerks at three bike shops tell me it is the bike to have for Seattle: low gears for hills, wider tires for wet streets and the option to start riding non-paved roads and trails. My sister has already suggested two other gravel trips we could in the years ahead. So, dear bike riders, would you buy one of these:

This bike is out of stock, but my bike shop has one sitting on its floor.

Buy an electric assisted bike: In even suggesting this, I have already been called a wimp by a biking friend. A gravel ebike could go every day on the upcoming trip except that the battery range is up to 50 miles on a trip that has at least one century day. The battery goes dead, and I’m left pedaling a 40-pound bike up hills. My sister would go twice around the world while I’m doing the walk of shame up mountain majesties.

The bike above is not the Marin Four Corners, but it is close enough, and the Four Corners could have electric assist added. That’s part of the problem on this bike and others like it: The electric assist looks like something added later. Mostly because it was added later. One of the problems with buying the Richey above would be if I added electric assist later it would look like something that had been added later.

This is the Hilltopper Discover Electric gravel bike. The battery is in the front tube as if the bike had always been planned to be an electric assisted bike and not cobbled together later in its life. However, it is out of stock. I talked to someone who answered the phone at Hilltopper, who said COVID had done no favors to its supply chain or its ability to bring people together to build bikes. I heard that from other bike reps I talked to: Lots of people want bikes now, perhaps to stay socially distanced and go somewhere, and the ability of the bike builders to keep up with the demand ain’t there. Maybe by summer, as Hilltopper’s website says.

Switch bikes: The first two days of the trip cover 105 miles, including the gravel trail. I could ride the Frankenstein bike for two days and have a SAG person carry my road bike for me to switch to for the rest of the week. Frankie could be left out back of the motel and could be picked up later, depending on how I felt about it after riding it for two days.

What would you do, dear biking friends – or strangers. I’m willing to listen to some sage advice before digging – or not – into my wallet.

4 thoughts on “Dear bike riders: Give me some buying advice

  1. Take a look at the mechanics of the bike. Can you fix and maintain everything? Or will you have a bike shop close by on all your rides?

    Are all your body parts working properly? Rugby players tend to have nagging injuries. If you do, that might determine some of the parts. In an extreme case, you can get electronic shifting for example. Hydrolic disk brakes might be easy on the hands too. Reach and stack height to take care of your bad lower back. Soft, large tires to take the jar out of the road surface. etc, etc…

    Right fit. If the above problems are solved, you still have to ride the beast for a long time. It’s got to be comfy in the last 10 miles of a long, hard ride. Unfortunately, you might not know if your bike is comfy at the end of the ride, until the end of the ride.

    Personally, I got a racing cyclocross bike at 75% off (frame only) and built it to fit. Cheap because of the now old fashioned cantilever brakes. Fuji. It takes big tires, has a high clearance, handlebars are high, it’s tough, and carbon fiber is comfy. Steel is great if it’s got to last a long time. They don’t break like my first carbon fiber cc bike did.

    If you are feeling old, an electric bike sounds good. I am drifting closer to an electric bike all the time. I also like a mountain bike with the bars raised high.

    –Charley Bell

    1. Thanks for the advice. I’d say my bike maintenance skills are minimal, but I’ve been able to get through longer rides before with changing tubes, etc. I had my road bike fitted at Experience Momentum because of back pains. That made a big difference in my riding comfortably. The electronic shifting and disk brakes sound like a good idea for me as I have arthritis in my hands. I’m trying to hold off on the electric assisted bike, probably out of misplaced pride. Have a good riding season.

  2. Hey John, our monster-biking friends David & Diana were just visiting us in Tucson, and they seemed to solve one of your problems by carrying two sets of wheels in their camper truck. They rode both gravel rides and road rides while they were here, and seemed to think that was a great solution. I am happy to put you in touch with them for more details. They’re on the road still, not sure where (N.M.?) taking the long road back to Seattle.

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