Are you tired of reading about this? If you said, “Yes,” I completely understand, because I’m tired of thinking and writing about it. But maybe writing will help clear my thoughts (or help someone else who’s bike shopping), so here goes.
On Friday, I visited The Hub and rode two Kona touring bikes, the Sutra and the Rove. They both have steel frames and disc brakes. The Rove has SRAM integrated shifters, and the Sutra has bar end shifters. They felt fairly similar, ride-wise (their geometries are basically identical). When I lifted each bike, the Sutra felt heavier, due to some heavier-duty, touring components (the Sutra also comes stock with fenders and a rear rack, which contribute some to the weight).
If I was choosing between the two, I’d lean slightly toward the Sutra. If I buy a bike with bar end shifters (the Sutra or the Surly LHT), I’m going to have the shop swap out the bar end shifters for the Shimano integrated shifters (planning to use those currently on my Kona Jake, assuming they are undamaged, which they appear to be).
I spent a decent bit of time on both Konas on Friday, and, while I have not made an overall bike decision, the time on drop handlebars clarified a feature of the 2010 Kona Jake that I really liked — a second set of brake levers for the “top” position (for a tutorial on possible drop bar hand positions, see Lovely Bicycle’s overview).
It may be mostly the fact that I got used to having those brake levers there on the Jake, but I really, really like having that option. I feel like I have more stopping power using the brakes on the tops (though, technically, adding the second set of brake levers to the system reduces overall braking power slightly).
So, I’ll also be asking the bike shop to move the bar top brake levers from my old Kona Jake to whatever the heck I finally decide on.
At this point, my gut and/or make-a-decision-and-get-this-over-with feeling is to order a non-disc [brake] Surly Long Haul Trucker from The Hub. They don’t stock Surly bikes, but, unlike Salsa, they can order Surly bikes. (But part of me says the LHT is similar enough to the Kona Sutra, and I’m being silly and should just go with the Sutra they have in stock.)
But there’s still a little piece of me leaning toward the Salsa Vaya (from non-preferred bike shop), in part because of this review over at The Path Less Pedaled, which talks about it being more responsive and less sluggish than the Surly LHT. The other feature I like is the sloped top tube. I’m not sure it will make that much of a difference for most rides, but it would be nice when riding in a skirt or a dress (though I could use BUB or Big Blue for that). On the other hand, I’m not really sure that I want disc brakes (which come stock on the Vaya, vs. the option for a non-disc LHT).
I should probably revisit the bike shop and ride both the Surly LHT and the Salsa Vaya again, but I’m feeling worn out, and the trip across town, just to do that, again, is not exciting.
If money were no object (and I lived in the U.K. and could go to the shop in person), Thorn bicycles seem pretty interesting. In the U.S., Rivendell Bicycle Works has some interesting options (again, not realistic on my current bike buying budget).
It’s frustrating because I don’t feel excited about anything. I realized over the weekend that this point in our longtail search, the trying to make a decision, wasn’t particularly fun or exciting either. The excitement and anticipation came after we’d made a decision, while we were waiting for the bike to arrive. Then, once Big Blue arrived, riding was fun. I’m just ready for the fun part here.
Update: A friend shared this very appropriate TED Talk link. “Paralysis” very accurately describes what I’m feeling right now regarding this issue.
I have disc brakes on two of my utility bikes (a 2010 Globe Vienna 3 Disc and a Surly Big Dummy), and enjoy the improved modulation and bad-weather performance. They aren’t hard to keep in good form, once you learn a few basic rules.
Tom, my leaning toward the rim brakes is largely because I feel comfortable tinkering with them, at least a bit. I know next to nothing about adjusting/maintaining disc brakes, and I’d like to know at least the basics so I don’t have to haul it into the bike shop for every little thing. That said, I need to learn anyway, because we have discs on the longtail. They are working well so far, but the front brake is squealing (a common complaint I’ve read about disc brakes). We have yet to look into a remedy (if one exists) for that.
I find disc brakes pretty easy to work on most of the time. The key is initial set up. If that’s done right, then it’s mostly a matter of occasional pad adjustment (usually just a turn of a screw or dial) every now and again until it’s time to replace the pads.
The Park Tool site has a good primer. While it is about Avid brakes (the BB7 is a market favorite, but the BB5 is pretty darned good, in my experience), the basic rules apply to most mechanical disc brakes:
There is supposedly a paste one can apply to the rotors that will reduce noise. I haven’t tried it. Some say it’s a function of whether the mounting posts are properly machined, but Avid brakes allow for that.
I’m glad Tom posted because I’ve read disc brakes are better in wet/snow and wondered your aversion.
Honestly, Melissa, I sort of wonder if you wouldn’t be happier getting a frame and moving over the components and other salvageable bits from Baby Jake to a great frame? Riv Bikes are expensive, and many places offer frames that cost even more (I’m looking at your Seven Cycles) but maybe there are some less-expensive options. Further, if you are interested, I believe my friend still has the Felt bike that is probably the right size for you. Even if you spent $150 to muck about with components and add fenders and a rear rack (I spent $230 to bring the Motobecane into 2014, but that was with fairly expensive Velo Orange parts), you’d still spend so much less than on a new bike. A thought.
I get the preference for two brake options on drop bars. I had both options on my old Ross 10-speed (which was donated after my dad passed away by mistake), and miss it on the 10-speed I have now (and also don’t love the downtube shifters).
Eh, I don’t know that I want to deal with all of the decisions of building up a bike, and there are a decent number of important components on Baby Jake that are unsalvageable. I think I’d do best, at least for this bike purchase, going with one of the stock touring options, with the adjustments I mentioned (double brake levers and integrated shifters), especially because I realized today that the heavy-dutiness of a touring bike should make it an able child carrier, so I would have a second, smaller (i.e., would fit on a bus rack) way to transport G!
I totally understand the place you’re in. You want to make the “right” decision… when I was at that point in my road bike shopping I just sorta felt like crying. I wanted it to be over with so I could just stop worrying about it all. I finally just went with the one that I totally fell in love with the first time I rode it. It was the most expensive of all the bikes I considered, but in the broad scheme of things, I decided it was worth it to have the bike that I felt the best about – even if a part of me didn’t really think I “deserved” a bike that nice. It may not be my “forever” bike… but it’s perfect for where I am right now, and if I decide at some point to go a different direction, I know that’s an option.
But when it comes right down to it, you’re probably gonna be happy with whatever you choose. I mean, you were pretty happy with Baby Jake weren’t you? And presumably, the bikes you’re looking at now are all a “step up” from there. It’s not like you’re talking about a radical change here. Plus, a quality bike is pretty easy to sell on the used market, so if you get something and it turns out that it really doesn’t work for you for one reason or another you can always sell it and get something else – a huge pain in the arse, yes, but not the end of the world.
One other thought – I think you are wise to skip the bar-end shifters. CatMan rides a vintage Peugeot that has them (he upgraded from downtube shifters). I’m sure the newer ones are better because his are from the neolithic period, but he REALLY wants to upgrade to integrated shifters. He’s actually considering ordering a custom bike from Rodriguez out in Seattle.
Anyhow, I say go with your gut, and choose the option that makes you feel the best.
Good to know I’m not the only person who’s almost gone crazy over a bike decision. It would be easier if I fell in love with one of these bikes. Perhaps an argument for forcing myself to go ride the LHT and Vaya again, especially because my first test ride was rather pathetic. This shop’s general idea of a test ride is you go out and ride the bike up and down on the [wide] sidewalk in front of their store. I’ll have to speak up and be a bit more assertive in order to actually get a useful test ride.