New Bike, Baby Steps

Trisha and I are now both faced with the necessity of buying new bikes. Well, “necessity” is relative, but we need them. I have not test ridden any bikes since my Jamis was stolen a month and a half ago, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the type of bike I would like to replace it. I learned from Jamis what I like (light and fast) and don’t like (aluminum, chain falling off a lot, brakes compromised by rain). I want a bike that can be a solid quick commuter (but not my primary commuter since that’s Oma’s job) and good for traveling and longer rides. Something quality that will last a really long time. I have $1200 from selling my Prius and would prefer to stay in that price range.

At first I thought the perfect solution would be the newly released Raleigh Superbe Roadster. Steel with internal hub gears and brakes but with lightness and frame geometry similar to the Jamis. But I called Raleigh and found out that it is made in China. I try not to buy anything made in China for vague political reasons, so that disqualified this lovely bike.

Raleigh Superbe Roadster

Raleigh Superbe Roadster


In a quest to find something that I liked made in the U.S., I fell in love with the absolutely gorgeous A.N.T. Light Roadster. I decided I need a bike less similar to my current bike, though. I’m afraid if I bought this, I would end up riding it instead of my Oma, not in conjunction with my Oma. Plus it would take me a year to save up enough money (and I just paid a huge amount in federal taxes). That’s a later in life, student loans paid off, type of bike. I weep at its beauty, though.

A.N.T. Light Roadster Beauty

A.N.T. Light Roadster Beauty

Tonight I stopped by a bike shop to look at the Surly Long Haul Trucker, but couldn’t test ride because it was already dark and then started pouring down rain. This bike has gotten very positive reviews as a great touring and commuting bike. Looked very nice in real life. They have the 2008 model (in my preferred color) with Brooks saddle, fenders, rack, and generator front light for 20% off. I’m going to stop by on the weekend and take a long test ride.

A big turn off, though, is that my frame size comes with 26 wheels instead of 700c. That might be a deal breaker.  Wouldn’t that be so much less efficient?  Also, I’ve never ridden a bike with drop bars and they intimidate me.  Thoughts on drop bars for the city?

Surly Long Haul Trucker

Surly Long Haul Trucker

The sales guy kept steering me in the direction of the Specialized Tricross, but I think that’s way too sporty for me. Not at all what I’m interested in. He said the Surly is heavy, but when we weighed it, it was only 30 lbs. That’s not heavy to me!

Specialized Tricross

Specialized Tricross

I’ve also had my eye on the new Rivendell Betty Foy – steel mixte!! This one makes my heart go pitter-patter.  That should count for something, right?  However, here I come against the money problem again. Not too, too expensive, but definitely more than the Surly.

Rivendell Betty Foy

Rivendell Betty Foy

Adding the Swobo Dixon. Hub gears and disc brakes are great. Aluminum is a turn off.

Swobo Dixon

Swobo Dixon

And last night I had a dream that I found a cool vintage bike for cheap. But that was just a dream. Haven’t seem much good on ebay or Craigslist (Trisha’s been finding some nice pink bikes, though!). Chicago has two bike co-ops that teach kids and teens how to fix up used bikes and then sell them, Working Bikes and Blackstone Bicycle Works. I should probably check those places out and see if I can find a diamond in the rough.

I hate shopping and planning! I always hate the process of big decisions (condo shopping, cat adopting, grad school applying) and just want to get on with it (I ended up loving my condo, cat, and law school). Suggestions?

Also, before anyone makes a smart comment about a new bike getting stolen, I have that covered with my new security contraptions.


34 thoughts on “New Bike, Baby Steps

  1. Lynn says:

    Oh, what a lovely dilemma!! I think Betty would get along great with Oma.

  2. Kinya says:

    how about the Gary Fisher Simple City or the Masi Soulville?
    They could be made in China as well though.

  3. Ian says:

    Check out Pake’s urban six speed:
    Swobo Novak:
    Shwinn’s Willy:

    I absolutely love the Fisher Simple City 8 followed by the Raleigh Superbe.

  4. msdottie says:

    Lynn, I think Betty is my favorite. Not sure if I should spend that much, though (my husband, unsurprisingly, is talking up the idea of a used bike!).

    Kinya, I have looked at the GF Simple City 8. A very nice bike! I especially like the internal hub gears and brakes. I’m not crazy about the aluminum and not sure it can carry that much, though. I should test ride one, as googling it I just saw that a nearby bike store has one for 20% off. Masi looks good, too, never heard of that one before.

    Ian, I like the Pake (never seen that before) and the Schwinn – great city bikes! Both those might be a bit too cruiser-y and similar to Oma, though. I love that Pake lets you take off the decals easily; I hate decals. I was talking to a guy with a Swobo at the bike garage and he loved it! Glad you reminded me of this one. Serious contender, except the 9-speed.

  5. Trisha says:

    Dot, I love this post! I voted for vintage since that’s what I’m doing myself for bike #2. For me, the chase is part of the fun, though…I’m determined to find another fabulous deal.

  6. the village scribe says:

    I propose the Trek 520 not so much as a vote over against the others as simply another option to consider. The truth is, I LOVE some of the bikes you’re already considering. However, if your target is “a bike that can be a solid quick commuter (but not my primary commuter since that’s Oma’s job) and good for traveling and longer rides. Something quality that will last a really long time,” the Trek 520 should definitely be a contender. The number of years Trek has manufactured it is, I think, a testimony to both its quality and its popularity. It also means you could find a used one in good shape. It is a very solid bike, designed for serious touring and everyday road use, that also maintains a classic look and feel.

  7. Elisa says:

    I have drop bars and I don’t mind them at all. There is a place for you to put your hands NOT on the drops where you can still keep your hands on the brakes and this is what I primarily use. They can also be adjusted for your wrist and the preferred height.
    Don’t want you to make your decision based purely on these, as they are adjustable and not nearly as intimidating as they appear.
    Good luck!

  8. Tom says:

    Since bikes sold in this country are made in China, finding one that a) isn’t and b) costs less than a grand is tough to do. The Trek 520 IS a good choice, for all the reasons given by the village scribe. And the frames used to be made in Wisconsin (and may still be, for all I know–haven’t worked for a Trek dealer for a while).

  9. The Surly is my favorite but that Rivendell looks pretty stunning. How do the weights compare. I gotta say for me happiness is a light bicycle.

  10. susancyclist says:

    Part of the reason I like my Fuji is the drop bars. I prefer them to anything else. You have the options of riding on the tops, hoods, sides or drops, changing not only your hand position but your body position. There is a tiny learning curve, or perhaps adjusting curve is a better way to put it. The first time you try them it will feel a bit out of control. But ultimately you will actually feel more in control and part of the bike.

  11. Arnie says:

    How about a a Trek Valencia with disk brakes, or the Trek SOHO with it’s belt drive internal hub gearing and roller brakes. Justin over at just bought the Valencia and has been posting his experiences.

  12. Val says:

    Two things: first, 26″ wheels will not be less efficient than 700c. They are used on your frame size in order to make the whole bike more harmoniously proportional. Your proper size with 700c wheels would need a longer top tube (front wheel and bars further away from you), a slack head angle (slower handling), or toe overlap (hitting your toe on the front wheel), due to the larger wheels. The 26″ size helps make the bike handle like a road bike while avoiding these things, and there are many, many styles of tire available for this size; you can go narrow and fast, or fat and fluffy, not to mention everything in between. Second, drop bars can be much more comfortable than straight bars, as they have several positions, instead of just one. The key is to have them positioned so that you can actually use all the positions without straining. Most bikes are set up with the bars too far forward and too low for comfort. When you test ride, pay attention to this, and ask about the possibility of swapping stems to move the bars to the spot you need them in. Have fun!

  13. tsalyards says:

    Doesn’t buying a road bike feel like cheating on your Oma? Why would one want to go from such a beautiful ride to something so pedestrian:)

    Also, I wouldn’t get hung up on something being manufactured in China. The quality can be superb and will help keep the cost down. The days of inferior Chinese quality are largely gone.

    Regarding your potential choices, I’d of course recommend the Surly as a Minnesotan. We see a lot of them around here and they at HOT.

  14. drjafloyd says:

    Most of the big companies’ bikes are made in China: Specialized, Giant, Raleigh, Trek, etc. Even the ones that used to be made here (Specialized, Trek, Schwinn). I totally understand wanting to stay away from that and support American bike builders but they are hard to find. I have the Surly and I love it. It’s pretty heavy but it rides great. I’m not sure where the Surlys are made, though.

  15. Bill says:

    I’d like to chime in here for the Surly, too. My wife has an LHT and loves it. One of the reasons that she chose it was because the Surly frame fit. Almost nothing else did because the frame designs were compromised to fit the 700c wheels, just as Val said.

    You can also (if your local bike shop is good) transform the LHT from a drop bar tourer to a lovely upright city bike (just see for an example).

    One more nice thing is the ability to put bigger more cushiony tires on the bike. This does not always slow your down either. Low pressure Big Apples, for example, have a lower rolling resistance than many narrower, higher pressure tires.

    Either way, good luck. Enjoy.

  16. I agree with Trisha …

    And if buying products made in China is a deal breaker, then you really only have two options: The Rivendell Betty Foy, which is made in Japan (and that is a good thing) or the ANT, handmade by Mike Flanagan.

    Both, in my humble opinion, are far superior to any of the other offerings. We recently sold a Raleigh Roadster, and it was a fun bike, but it is a minor leaguer compared to the Betty Foy or ANT.

    Except for the Surly, most of these bikes come “pre-packaged”. The best part about the Rivendell and ANT is that you can have them built however you see fit. SRAM, Shimano, Brooks, Nitto … whatever your heart desires.

  17. louis says:

    fwiw, the Betty Foy is actually made in Taiwan

    (which is fine by me, but it’s not Japan).

  18. msdottie says:

    Wow, thanks for all the help, everyone! Good to know about drop bars and 26″ wheels. I’ll try to keep an open mind about both of those features. I’m glad to hear about people loving their Surlys, especially a woman loving the LHT (something about the name makes it sound so masculine). The Trek 520 is on my list now – I read a bunch of across the board positive reviews on that that one. I’ll have to look into those other Treks, too (but those are “made in China,” right?) For some reason “made in Taiwan” does not bother me like “made in China.” Vague reasons, I said.

    Little Tiny Fish, I’m with you on happiness being a light bike, especially after my ride with steady 30 mph headwinds on my 50 lb bike this morning! The Surly is 30 lbs with fenders and rack. I’m not sure how much the Betty weighs.

    Bryan, I totally emailed Renaissance about the Betty yesterday! (I hope all’s well in my homeland, NC.) I was a little slow, though, and thought at first that the $1450 price was for the complete bike, not plus the frame. That would have been quite a deal! I love the idea of the internal hub, though.

    I’m really no closer to making a decision, but I have a lot to think about!

    Keep the suggestions coming! :)

  19. Tinker says:

    If the Rivendell is what you REALLY want, buy it. Life is too short to ride while wishing you were riding a different bike.

    Can I confuse things a bit more by suggesting a Kona Africa Bike 3.0? You could modify it to use a new (rear wheel or pair of wheels) with an 8 speed hub, and works fines with 26″ tires. Okay, it is plain black and kind of, uh, macho. I have been thinking about painting it in khaki, with a modified Afrika Korps logo on the frame (palm tree, with a wheel in the middle?)

  20. Kinya says:

    You don’t seem to like aluminum for some reason, but I think you should try it. I’ve had both steel and aluminum bikes and have been happy on both. If strength is what you’re concerned with, the aluminum bikes I’ve had faired better than the steel bikes if anything. I’m not a heavy rider and I didn’t ride them in the roughest of terrain, but they never cracked, bent or go out of alignment even after a few crashes. Anyway, I think you should test ride them before deciding against them just because of the material.

    Also, if you like hand built American bikes, there are tons of independent frame builders in the US besides ANT and Rivendell. Some, like Sweetpea in Portland specializes in bikes for women as well. There is the NAHBS (North American Handmade Bicycle Show) coming up March in Indianapolis. Just looking at the site and the list of exhibitors will lead you to so many bike makers. I’d like to someday get a custom made bike myself, so it’s nice to check and see what’s out there.

    the NAHBS exhibitors link:

  21. msdottie says:

    Thanks, Kinya. My Jamis was aluminum and provided a very bumpy and vibration-y ride, especially on Chicago’s pothole-riddled streets. The seat post shock abosrbing contraption was of little help. The difference in the ride on my steel Oma is huge, although I know the tires and geometry also go into that somewhat. I do plan on trying out a couple of aluminum bikes to give them a fair shake.

    Trisha and I were thinking of going to NAHBS, actually. But those frame builders, like Sweetpea, are still way expensive. The Rivendell I’m considering is not custom made and so “only” $2,000. My friend Jeremy suggested local Chicago framebuilder Tati Cycles, so I’m going to investigate that. Website says steel frames “start at” $600.

  22. Erich Z says:

    I think a second option could be the Rawland Sogn. It takes a 650B wheel/tire, which is a size between the 700c and 26″ sizes. It’s becoming more popular as a “do anything” kind of size, and the tires already made in that size are supreme. The Rawland can be set up as a mountain bike or city-style tourer, is steel, made in the USA, and gorgeous. It’d be cheaper than the Betty Foy too, not as gorgeous of course. Check them out:


  23. E A says:

    Hi… I love your dilemma…. such a great one because ultimately I really don’t think you can make a “wrong” decision. I like the Surly LHT since a friend of mine rides one… I used to ride my old Schwinn but I finally admitted that it really just doesn’t fit me anymore. I still love it, though. Good luck with your decision. My question to you is this – what riding position are you looking for? Sometimes the bike I want to ride is dictated by the style of riding I want to do.

  24. Julian says:

    Fun problem you’ve got here. You did see A.N.T.’s new Boston Roadster, right? Cheaper than his others, but nice spec, just don’t know about the delivery time on that one. Check this red one:
    Boston Roadster 09 Ladies

    The new Soma Mixte is really cute as well, and could have a sportier riding position, if desired:

    But do think about “citifying” an old lighter steel frame. I repurposed my old champagne-colored Marin mountain bike with cream fat franks, sprung brooks saddle, racks, fenders, platform pedals, double kickstand, stem extension and city bars, and it handles like a dream. Not quite as upright as my Azor Transport, and so much lighter that it makes a nice contrast on days that I feel like being zippy. It’s my Retrovelo wannabe bike, and only cost a few hundred to makeover. Not so illuminating pic here:
    Yet another bike. Trouble.
    The frame does end up looking tiny, but I actually like the low standover height. I’m hoping to post soon on what went into the citification process.

    Have fun!!!

  25. Kinya says:

    Just read here that Rivendell just received a cease and desist from Middle Earth trademark (parent company?), so If you want that Betty Foy, you might wanna act quickly. I don’t know the validity of the news though since it’s coming from a third party.

  26. msdottie says:

    Julian, I love the ANT Boston Roadster (and VERY good price at $2k) but it’s just too similar to my current bike. That Soma is a beauty. I will consider it. You old Marin is AWESOME. It looks *just* like the Retrovelo, which I really liked test riding. Are the Fat Franks actually fast? Seems counter intuitive, but I’ve heard good things about them. Where’d you get the fenders? That is spectacular!

    Kinya, yikes! They’d better not cease and desist. That would suckl

    Erich, Thanks for bringing the Rawland to my attention. Great looking bike and they have some frams for only $350 due to cosmetic defects. Wow. Looks like they sell only diamond frame, though. Too bad.

    Elizabeth, I decided today I definitely don’t want a drop bar kind of aggressive bike. But I already have a heavy, upright bike, so I don’t want that either. Something with low city bars that’s kinda fast (around 25-30 lbs) and good for commuting and touring. Any chance you and I chatted a bit on Lincoln recently about my heavy bike? I saw your Bike Commuters profile a couple of days ago and though I recognized you :)

  27. J says:

    Hi there,

    A friend forwarded me your entry. I’ll humbly suggest that TATI can help you, if nothing else, wade through the various options and come out a little more educated about what it it you’re looking for in your next bike. There really isn’t a single bike that will meet all of your criteria — but that’s kind of a good thing, since the hunt can be so rewarding and informative.

    That said, given your price range — a genuine custom-built frame is really out of the question, but that doesn’t mean you can’t (a) restore and rebuild a nice vintage frame or (b) design a semi-custom bike exactly to your specifications.

    Just to give you some idea about what my shop does in this genre:

    A winter fixed/free commuter with wooden fenders:

    A 1×10 “fast” commuter

    A 1×10 commuter/cross all-rounder:

    A single speed for a schoolteacher:

    Model T with Dynohub:

    But that said, you should also check out Boulevard, Rapid Transit, and maybe Yojimbo’s… and make sure that you really get some good help fitting the bike. Although I totally agree about the importance of aesthetics of a bicycle, it’s no use if your shoulders are pinched or IT band inflamed after 30 minutes of riding.

    Among prefab bikes, the bikes I’m most excited about this year that kind of fits your profile are the Sveltina Donna and Grantourismo Donna by the Italian company Abici. These will be arriving soon, and I can’t wait!

    Last but not least, a word on the national origin issue. I face it quite a lot at work, being situated next to the University of Chicago and its very “unique” population. Some folks want all European builds. Other all domestic or all Japanese or even all Taiwanese… but know that as someone mentioned, all of the frames you’ve mentioned, save for ANT, are built either in mainland China or Taiwan.

    But if you then start to look at the remainder of the components — it is impossible to avoid things like spokes, rims, tubes, bearings, and tires that aren’t China made. And while it is technically possible to find domestic or Japanese stems, bars, drivetrain components, etc… these will likely for the most part contribute to a bicycle out of your price range. I guess I would say that if you are concerned about things like labor practices and human rights, the best approach then might be to go pure vintage… which is more challenging, but quite possible with the correct guidance.

  28. Julian says:

    Hey – you inspired me to write up the mountain bike conversion:

    And yes, the Fat Franks are fast, zippy, and cushy, all at once. But I’m no roadie, so my fast may not be their fast. The fenders are SKS. Details in the post …

    Go mixte!

  29. E A says:

    Wells and Lincoln are my route, so it might have been me. Was I in a hi-vis yellow jacket?
    Have you considered a bike like the Redline 925? Mmm… great city bike and fast, too! What kind of Jamis did you ride?

  30. JBL says:

    If you like the Surly (and the pricepoint for a complete bike), but don’t like the idea of drop bars, you should talk to your dealer about swapping them out for a set of straight or albatross bars (the sort that come up and back).

    You might also ask your bike shop if they can get you a Salsa Casseroll and build it up to your spec (hub gears, generator lights, racks, fenders, etc.).

    I recently went through city bike shopping and ended up ordering a Raleigh One-Way. It’s basically a sensible steel road bike that takes fenders, racks, and fat tires, but is set up as a single speed to keep the cost down. If you want gears, Raleigh has the Clubman.

  31. Kinya says:

    Looks like you’ve got a new bike in the works already, but I just saw this and it looks so awesome!
    I think it’ll be at the NAHBS, so maybe you’ll be able to see it in person too.

  32. Heather says:

    I am trying to decide between a betty foy and a surly lht myself. If I get a surly I will be switching the handlebars to nitto albatross bars or something like that. I want both but can afford neither right now! The surly lht is a good sturdy tourer but I cannot resist a pretty mixte bike that is also a versatile sturdy tourer! I have an old lugged raleigh that has similar sizing to the 52 cm betty foy and it is amazing! It fits so well and is fast even with 4 working gears. The 26 inch wheels make sense because it is a smaller bike. Don’t fall into the belief that 700 cc tires are better. Norco make a steel touring bike like the lht but the small frames have 700 cc tires and it does not work! Tire size, gearing, cranks etc are what give you speed My current main ride has 700 cc tires and the bike is too big for me. The Rivendell mixte ‘glorious’ is positively beautiful but way more expensive. I can’t wait to read some reviews on the betty foy.
    Good luck!

  33. dottie says:

    Heather, Let me know what you decide between the Surly and Rivendell. I’ll be very interested to hear! I am leaning now heavily toward the Betty Foy :)

  34. Phil S says:

    I just stumbled onto this blog… I made the transition from a Surly LHT (built for an upright position, not with drop handlebars) to an ANT Light Roadster in July. I use my bike for commuting and family outings on bike paths. I still have both bikes. Both are great rides. The ANT wins, hands down, though for comfort and style. The Surly is the tow bike for the child chariot and performs quite well in that capacity.

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