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First off, sorry for being unable to phrase my question more precisely. Currently, I ride a 26" hardtail mountain/trail bike to and from work/university (around 7km each way). Surely, this is not the ideal bike, but I do love the ruggedness (occasionally jumping a flight of stairs etc.) and maneuverability. So I‘m not going to replace it entirely, but rather extend my fleet.

Also, I’m considering doing a bike tour through Europe once I finish my degree (another two years until thats the case). In the meantime I’d naturally like to train, i.e. riding more than 50km at once, which isn’t nice on a trail bike.

Also, I plan on building it myself, if that makes a difference?!

So here are my concerns:

  1. Should I just buy a touring bike now? Seems they are too heavy for what I need now.

  2. Should I buy a fixie? I’m surely not interested in being fashionable, but I read here that it helps develop a smoother pedaling style; that can’t be bad?!

  3. Should I get clipless pedals? There are some which you can still use with normal shoes, is there a major drawback?

But mainly, what type of bike?

Edit: Based on the answers so far (thanks guys) I noticed that I wasn’t really clear. I don’t want to use this bike for touring, I want to get around town quickly and do a longer day tour with it, no need for carrying stuff.

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For day trips your MTB with smoother tires would be a fine starting point, or buy a used basic road bike -- something that's just one or two steps up from a department store bike. Or you can get that fixie, if that's what you want. Really, for your basic unloaded day trips there's no specific formula you need to follow. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 6 '12 at 0:30
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(But if your intent is to train for touring, one thing you need to work on is your cadence -- maintaining a steady cadence between about 70 and 90 RPM is best for long-term endurance. A fixie is obviously not the way too train for this.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 6 '12 at 16:38
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5 Answers 5

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If it were me I would buy a comfortable steel road bike with fenders and racks. This will give you a bike you can comfortable go distances on as well as practicality for the commute. You aren't racing so you don't really need an extremely expensive, high end road bike and a steel frame will be comfortable and durable assuming you store it properly. When you feel the need to romp around you can take your MTB out. If the road bikes are out of your price range then consider a similar setup with a single speed/fixed gear. Fixed gear bikes will make you pedal smoother but a disciplined rider of any bike can get the same benefits using cadence drills without the added danger of getting bucked by pedals moving faster than you can.

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As others have pointed out, simply changing the tires on your current bike would probably be the most budget friendly solution. Putting a slick or inverted tread tire on your mountain bike should improve the rolling resistance without breaking the bank.

Alternatively, have you thought about a cyclo-cross bike as a second bike? That'd give you a nice mix of features present in road (lighter frame), touring (wider tires, cantilever breaks) and mountain bikes (overall "beefy" build, lower gearing).

You can improve your pedal stroke without buying a special bike. If you want a fixie because they're trendy, consider buying a used one from a recovering hipster.

I also recommend the clipless pedals. If you are concerned about wearing "normal" shoes, you should check out the commuter style SPD compatible shoes as many of these can be comfortably worn while off the bike (and won't make you walk like a penguin)

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If you intend to do loaded touring, I'd suggest you stay away from a fixie unless you're a real gorilla. When you hit a long climb into your stop after 5-6 hours on the road it's really nice to be able to just drop down a couple of gears rather that having to struggle. (Not that I haven't seen a few gorillas touring on fixies -- though none loaded that I've ever noticed.)

Actually, your current bike, if it can be rigged to carry the required baggage, may not be a bad choice for touring, if you just install smoother tires and carry a higher pressure -- it all depends on what's comfortable for you to ride a long distance.

Clipless pedals are nice for touring, as they eliminate the need to exert effort to keep your feet on the pedals, and this, in turn, can increase foot comfort after several hours in the saddle. Several styles take shoes that are "walkable" (though I wouldn't recommend a 20 mile hike in any of them). At the very least you should have toe clips.

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I've commuted on 26" MTBs and I made one a bit hybrid style by not chopping the fork tube down and had a much easier time on it. My other MTB I didn't get an extended stem for and I found it less comfortable. Both bikes I outfitted with full sized fenders, rear racks and handle bar bags.

I would start with getting to know SPD pedals and shop around for a second bike. SPD pedals take some getting used to, and if your ergonomics are not tuned in, you might be exposing yourself to lower back strain and visiting a chiropractor. You don't want a tour cut in half for back problems...or clipless might just not suit your style. (Clipless pedals sell quickly if you decide you don't like them.) Also consider buying a small pocket metronome if you don't already know what 90rpm feels like.

Building a bike up or rebuilding a used one is great, it will make you very familiar with how to fix it and tune its ergonomics as you go extend your riding range. I second the recommendation for a cyclocross style bike if you don't like the idea of a touring bike. Keep the ultimate tour route in mind: doing lots of hills? Get a gearing suited for hills. Credit card touring and not carrying much? Then you might not want to go for a bike with fork brazeons. If you're going to be carrying full panniers on the trip, consider sturdy wheels. There's no reason you couldn't tour on a 26" cromoly MTB, so long as you've adjusted the ergonomics to suit long rides. 26" wheels are often sturdier than 700c wheels, on a properly built wheel, shorter spokes break less often. (BTW, I don't want to get into a flame over wheels, there are many factors I'm omitting.)

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For monitoring your cadence I recommend a cycle "computer" with cadence feature. (Unfortunately, the cadence feature is hard to find these days, with heart rate and other features being sexier.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 7 '12 at 13:31
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Cyclocross would be my answer for your need...home, work, road race, etc. Cyclocross is constantly becoming the most ideal candidate for everyday + slightly hardcore jobs.

Road bikes are really rubbish as there is no road in this entire universe (except the ones maintained all the year because of cycle sports) that supports road bike tyres. A lot of people might hate me for this (even downvote me), but a road bike is not ideal for a daily life commute, no way. You should be able feel that no matter what happens my bike will take any road cracks, potholes, etc. that may come. Road bikes are phenomenally rubbish and don't tick any boxes. In other words, if you are not racing on a "Silky Smooth" road, forget about them.

I am a firm believer in MTBs as they are like Toyota Land Cruiser (i.e. takes anything that you can throw at them). Additionally, MTBs are very good if you are doing long-range commutes over different tarmacs (i.e. you will care about NO surprises on road surface). The only negative thing about MTBs are when it comes to really steeper roads (appx. 40 degrees uphill), you will work really hard to go up. Road bikes, only in this one area, outruns MTBs. The reason is the overall weight of the bike (a Road bike is quite light compared to an MTB)

The other options are Hybrids. Budgetwise, it depends on you (but don't buy road bikes). I would suggest get an MTB or hybrid (good for money, and won't disappoint you).

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Yeah, I'm going to downvote you for the "rubbish" remarks. Millions of people happily cycle millions of miles every year on bikes you label rubbish. Dismissing their bikes as rubbish is, well, rubbish. –  Carey Gregory May 27 '13 at 16:32
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"if you are not racing on a "Silky Smooth" road, forget about them" - Tell that to the guys riding in the Paris-Roubaix. Also, you seem to be of the impression that there are only 2, or possibly 3 kinds of bikes (if you include hybrid). You leave out the touring and cyclocross bikes, which are shaped mostly like road bikes (to the undiscerning eye) yet are built to be much more comfortable, and handle rougher roads. –  Kibbee May 27 '13 at 18:09
    
@Kibbee Yeah my bad! Forgot about touring bikes. But I only missed touring, not others (Cyclocross, road, MTB, and hybrid). I own a hybrid, saw road bikes getting all cranked up, damaged, and screwed because of the road condition. I live in the UK and none of the UK roads are really road bike friendly. Only a few cities in Europe (including Paris) are good for road bikes. I have never cycled in the US, so can't comment (heard it's good). For users who have used road bikes for decades, I think they used nicer roads compared to what I have used in the UK (even cycle lanes have potholes). –  hagubear May 27 '13 at 18:20
    
Yeah, realized you mentioned Cyclocross at the top of the answer, but forgot about that by the time I got to the end. From reading the answer, it seems like MTB is the only option to consider, even though you state that Cyclocross would be the best option. I think the major problem with cyclocross and touring bikes is that they are usually somewhat mid-high end. It's had to find either for under $1000. It's even easier to find a cheap road bike than a touring or cross bike. Mountain bikes and hybrids seem to be the only ones with cheap and expensive models, with everything in between. –  Kibbee May 27 '13 at 18:59
    
@Kibbee This is where I get really confused. When you say mid-high end, it is also relative to what roads you are riding on, isn't it? Every bike shop I have been to, they never actually say anything clearly. They simply recommend road bikes because they are lighter. I have only heard from one really clever bike repairman who told me to just "Watch the road surface" if I am going to use a road bike as the tyre pressure in those are really really high (about 120 psi). So hitting a pothole won't bring good results in the future. My Jamis Allegro 2012 costed about $500 (UK £330) –  hagubear May 27 '13 at 19:04
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