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I have an rather old road bike, that I'd like to convert to a comfortable commuting bike. The bike should be used for everyday commuting (< 5km) and occasionally day tours. I'd like to keep the old sporty, clean look of the bike, but add some comfort.

Therefore I'm thinking about changing the tires, handlebar and the saddle at first and, if it works out, doing some visual changes later.

Is it possible to use the frame of a road bike build a commuting bike? Or is the posture too different to make a rather good commuting bike out of it?

This is what the old road bike looks: enter image description here

And this is about the direction I'd like to go: enter image description here

  • 1
    Nice bike. Minor quibble - it's not a racing bike (it has guards, generator, pack rack etc). It's currently too small for you (the seat is way low, and is all the way forward), but switching to flat bars may help with that. – andy256 Jun 21 '15 at 11:06
  • I just though it has to be a racing bike because of the handlebar. But maybe the previous owner had it replaced... If it's noe a racebike - what is this type of bike called? – DIF Jun 21 '15 at 12:53
  • Back in the day these were called simply ten-speeds. Though the tires are narrow by modern standards, this could also have been a touring bike... Drop bars are original equipment, they were used because of racing looks even though most of people used only top of the bar and extension brake levers. – ojs Jun 21 '15 at 19:26
  • You may want to consider changing the title. I would guess that many people will see trekking bike and think "bike for riding to <remote place of your choice>." What you seem to be asking about is turning the bike into a comfortable commuter. – dlu Jun 21 '15 at 21:33
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    @andy256 I think you meant "too large for you" rather than too small – if the bike was too small wouldn't the seat be up high? – dlu Jun 21 '15 at 21:36
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That's a nice looking bike, it seems like it would be a great start for your project. The big question is whether or not the bike fits you – if it does it will be worth considering what else you could do to make the bike into a dependable commuter / day touring bike.

Start by trying to get the saddle and handlebars into a position where you are comfortable on the bike – in general this means getting the seat high enough that you're using your legs efficiently and your bars high enough that you have a comfortable posture and a good distribution of weight between your hands, feet, and crotch.

The general approach is to:

  • Get the saddle level and as high as you can and still be able to ride without rocking your hips from side to side. Grant Peterson describes the process in his book Just Ride starting on page 140 (if you're thinking about starting to commute by bike the book is worth the read, see if your library has a copy). Start a little to high and work your way down, maybe half a centimeter at a time. Looking at the photo you may also want to adjust the saddle back towards the center of the rails.
  • Find a comfortable place for your handlebars. Start by putting them at the same height as your seat or even a bit higher. Then as you ride notice where you want your hands to be – notice how you place your hands, test out what it would feel like if the bars were a bit higher or farther back by holding on with the tips of your fingers. As you adjust the bars up be mindful of the location of the "minimum insertion line" on the stem. You may need a stem extender or a long stem.
  • Notice where you want to sit on the saddle. Do you find yourself inching forward on the saddle, or moving towards the back edge? If the movements are small you can accommodate this by sliding the saddle forward or backward on its rails. You don't actually have a lot of latitude here. Your position relative to the pedals is relatively fixed by the ergonomics of pedaling. So if you find that you would really like the saddle closer to the bars, the solution is to move the bars back towards the saddle. This means getting a stem with a shorter reach or possibly a different set of bars. For now you may be able to change your hand position or just notice what you'd like.

You may want to do some reading about bike fit. Here are some good resources:

  • Grant Peterson's articles on fit on the Rivendell Bike Works site.
  • Peter White, whose site is another great resource for bike commuters – he has lots of great information on lighting, tires, wheel building, and gear for commuter bikes, has an article on fitting bikes that you may find useful as well.
  • The Four and a Half Rules of Road Saddles is an article worth reading if you find that you just can't get comfortable on your saddle – the quick summary is to make sure it is level and wide enough, then consider harder and flatter.

So far you goal is to figure out if you can make the frame fit you and to spend as little money as you can in the process. Don't go out and buy a "comfy" saddle or a fancy new stem – just use what you've got and figure out if you can make this frame suit you. Check around to see if there is a bike shop that sells recycled parts – if you need to get a different stem, used is the way to go while you're sorting out what size you want. Also some of the better bike shops will guarantee the comfort of the parts they recommend to you. That can be the way to go if you decide you need a new saddle or some other expensive part.

When you're done here you should have a bike that you can comfortably ride for an extended ride (well more than your 5 KM commute) or clear ideas about what parts you need to change to make the bike fit well.

With that done, here's what I'd look at next:

  • Wider tires: the wider the tire the lower the pressure you can run and the more comfortable and stable the ride. Look at the clearances around your tires – the top of the fork for the front and the front of the chain stays for the rear. You probably want at least 10 mm on the sides and you'll need at least 10 mm between the fork and the chain stay bridge to fit fenders. You may have to change your fenders to use bigger tires. Also, consider "puncture proof" tires like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus.
  • Effective lights: if you need or want to be able to ride at night you may want to upgrade the lights. Modern LED lights are amazing, they light up the road evenly and make you look like a formidable obstacle to cars. I highly recommend Peter White's site as a source of information about bike lights.
  • Handlebars & brake levers: depending on how and where you ride you may want to consider different bars. There are tons of options, Sheldon Brown has a useful article on handlebar types which also goes into the some of the problems you may encounter in the process. But don't change bars until you have the bike fitting well. One of the nice things about dropped (racing) bars is that the lower hand position can help you "get out of the wind" when riding into a headwind, and with the bars up higher the position will not be so awkward. If you find yourself wanting to use the brake lever extensions on the top of your bars, consider switching to cross or interrupter levers such as the Tektro RL720. They are much more positive than the lever extensions. Also consider getting a set of primary levers with a quick release to make it easy to remove your wheels.

If you need them fender and rack upgrades would be on the list. Looks like you already have a kickstand, so nothing to do there. Get a basic tool kit and a way to carry it and make sure you can lock up your bike. Have fun! Commuting by bike changes your relationship with your community – almost always for the better.

  • Thanks a lot for your answer! I will experiment a litte with how comfortable I can get with what I got this evening. – DIF Jun 22 '15 at 6:29
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I did a similar conversion of a woman's road bike (1975 Peugeot UE18) to a commuter. The main changes were switching out the handlebars from drop bars to porteur style bars, 700c wheels and contemporary hubs, the inclusion of a dynohub, upgrading the rear derailleur, and the addition of a two-legged kickstand for stability. My Peugeot already had a nice saddle but in your case I'd add a good Brook's saddle since your current saddle looks uncomfortable.

More info is in my answer here: How can I learn to take care of an old (70s era) road bike/get it back to working condition?

But from that answer, here is the bill of materials / notes from my repair notebook:

Front wheel
700c  vuelta rim  622x18
Stainless steel spokes 36h
Sanyo 6vac hub dynamo NH27

Rear wheel
SRAM PG950 9-speed Cassette  SR-PG950-34      11X34 $18.39
2012.11.21  Dimension Road Rear Wheel 700c 36h Shimano 2200 Silver / Freedom Ryder 23 (622-17)Black 

Front sprocket (original), crankset original, pedals original
52-38

Rear Sprocket 
SRAM PG950 9-speed Cassette  SR-PG950-34 (was 14-26) 382g
11-13-15-17-20-23-26-30-34

Derailleur
Campagnolo Mirage (used/vintage)
Chain wrap  = (52-38) + (34-11) = 14 + 23 = 37

Stem and bars
Velo Orange Threadless Stem Adapter ST-0001 $16
VO Porteur Handlebar $32

Upgrade Schedule
2012.09.26: Front Suntour derailler. Put new chain on (7.96mm outside width)
2012.10.09: Replaced front wheel with Dynohub + 700c 622x18 (36h) $85
2012.10.09:  Continental Gator Hardshell Urban Bicycle Tire with Duraskin (700x28, Wire Beaded) $48.79                  
2012.10.18: Rear Campagnolo (8-9) derailler  
2012.10.24: All new brake lines and derailleur lines (Jagwire L3)
2012.10.24: 15.6kg w rack and dynohub and lights, front sun tour derailleur, rear campy derailleur.
2012.11.28 sks mud guards     
2012.11.21  SRAM PG950 9-speed Cassette  SR-PG950-34      11X34 $18.39
2012.11.21  Dimension Road Rear Wheel 700c 36h Shimano 2200 Silver / Freedom Ryder 23 (622-17)Black
2012.12.01  Rear wheel => Continental Gatorskin ($49.99) 
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Having spent years figuring out that I was riding bikes too big for me, I'd have to agree with commenters above about the frame size. A crappy bike that's the right size, or even a little too small, is way easier and more fun to ride than a sweet bike that's too big.

Also, in my town -- Vancouver, BC -- that's already a commuting bike. Different handlebars would be nice.

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