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  • In the market for a bike
  • Novice/Beginner skillset
  • Looking to spend a decent chunk of money on one bike that can be used for commuting, fire roads, and standard road riding
  • Riding location would be Marin County/Mount Tam/Fairfax if that provides more clarity on the terrain type
  • Won't be in any competitions with this bike. Mostly after comfort and rideability verse speed based on my skill level.
  • I'm open to spending additional funds for running multiple wheelsets/tires but would prefer to run a single wheelset/tire
  • That being said, I'd prefer a kit verse a custom build out due to supply chain delays
  • 40 Miles of Road/Week Commuting + 25 to 50 Miles of Gravel/Fire Roads/Road + Dirt Routes

I've looked at Cyclocross (Canyon Inflite), Gravel (Evil Chamois), and Endurance Bikes (Canyon Endurance).

  • Cyclocross looks the most appealing but I'd have to pick my fire roads a little more wisely. Riding a ton of miles also might catch up to my body due to the geometry
  • Gravel looks to be the best all-around fit but might be a little slower than I'd like on the road/would need to get a road wheelset which isn't time friendly
  • Endurance most likely wouldn't be able to take the fire roads / heavy gravel I'd be riding

Thank you in advance.

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  • 3
    You might find it confusing that none of the answers below compare the specific models mentioned. Both excellent answers are focused on a "generic" answer so their points remain relevant for a long time, rather than until those models are replaced.
    – Criggie
    Feb 14 at 8:39
  • 1
    TIL what a fire road is. But looking at pictures, these look really off-road, not even like a trail or so.
    – MPS
    Feb 15 at 1:14
  • 3
    Hi, welcom to bicycles.SE. As this is an international site, could you edit to clarify what a "fire road" is in your area - that does not exist in every country, and details vary.
    – sleske
    Feb 15 at 10:10
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    I suggest to try recumbent bikes. On my daily commuting recumbent I am on eye level with car drivers and I feel super safe in almost all traffic situations. Also, I am much more comfy and slightly faster than on an excellent MTB.
    – Gogowitsch
    Feb 16 at 7:08
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    @Gogowitsch A recumbent may not be as enjoyable on gravel roads and trails. They are indeed very fast (faster than a road bike, let alone a lousy MTB!), but not really well suited for off-roading as far as I know.
    – MaplePanda
    Feb 16 at 20:09
24

"a decent chunk of money on one bike" this is a very slippery slope.

If this is your first bike, look for a used hardtail MTB for relatively low cost, and simply store any leftover money. You'll want to buy accessories over time like helmet, tools and lights and so on.

Ideally the fork would have a working "lockout" lever, to disable the bounce while on-road.

Something with unfashionable 26" wheels might be perfect, when combined with a new pair of slick 26" road tyres.


Once you get 6-12 months of riding in, (and the associated fitness improvements!) then you'll have a better idea of what you want. At that point you can spend the remaining money on a more targetted bike, whether that be for road, or a full-squish MTB for whatever you find most appealing.

Upshot, you're a beginner, and could go either way. Don't commit all your money to something you might not like.

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  • 2
    @ChrisH 29ers are out of fashion? What?
    – MaplePanda
    Feb 14 at 18:03
  • 2
    @MaplePanda that shows how far behind the times I am!
    – Chris H
    Feb 14 at 21:09
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    @ChrisH I know a guy who rides 32" a tyre so he's ahead of everyone else. its also a unicycle - what does he know that we don't ??
    – Criggie
    Feb 14 at 22:58
  • 2
    @Criggie Trek is in fact working on 32” and 36” wheeled normal bikes.
    – MaplePanda
    Feb 15 at 0:45
  • 3
    What @MaplePanda about 29ers is correct. Availability to purchase aside, there are very few short- to -mid-travel new MTBs models being released with 650b wheels these days. The pandemic-induced supply issues only make that worse.
    – Paul H
    Feb 15 at 18:12
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A few considerations:

  • You have two competing characteristics here:

    • You want a bike that excels at the niche you enjoy the most.
    • You also want the bike to be capable of handing the other niches to an extent you’re happy with.

    For example, if you enjoy road riding the most and therefore pick a road bike, you won’t be very capable off-road even though you picked a bike that excels at your favorite niche. Conversely, if you pick an aggressive off-road bike, you‘ll have a much more well-rounded machine that unfortunately now isn’t as good at your favorite niche, road riding.

    In short, you want to weigh your riding options and preferences against how much sacrifice you’ll willing to make in the name of catering towards them.

  • It’s easier to make an off-road bike more capable on-road than vice versa. You can fit narrow tires in a wide frame but not vice versa, and a road frame will be less durable and strong (long- vs short-term strength). Doing the opposite only means a bit of extra weight and perhaps decreased ride quality, as the beefier frame is probably not going to ride as lively as the daintier one.

  • Changing wheels isn’t that bad with thru axles, but I agree that it is still extra work. Having one wheelset with ultra-fast road tires and another with nice chunky off-road tires is going to perform better than trying to ride both with one wheelset and a set of jack-of-all-trades-but-master-at-none tires. However, the alternative is also viable. If you find that the extremes of your riding style (road vs off-road) aren’t that dissimilar, you may be able to get away with one wheelset and one set of tires if you’re okay with losing some performance at either end. You could even spend the saved money on a higher quality wheelset, which could be awesome too. Yet another solution is to switch just the tires, which I have had success doing. It is definitely a hassle though and is best done sparingly.

  • Make sure you have a good bicycle storage solution at your workplace. You’re looking at a fairly expensive commuter bike.

  • Finally, ride what you enjoy! If you give any bike a try and really love it, don’t let some stranger on the Internet dissuade you because of some minor considerations.

Personally, I would recommend leaning towards an aggressive gravel bike with one wheelset and multiple sets of tires (by aggressive, I mean clearance for 42-47mm tires). 50 miles per week of gravel/trails is enough that you wouldn’t want to compromise on the bike’s off-road capabilities.

Use the money saved by only having one wheelset to buy a nicer bike, since bikes in this category are not cheap. I’d recommend a set of road tires and a set of suitable off-road tires. The off-road tires should be fairly aggressive, since on-road performance isn’t important (you have another set of tires for that!).

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  • 1
    I have a similar gravel-based setup for gravel and road use, and I’m quite happy with it. One thing I’m wondering now though is whether tubeless is a factor — tubeless is nice for off-road, but makes it much more cumbersome to swap tires regularly IME... Feb 15 at 14:35
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    @Stephen Kitt Yea, it’s again just another compromise. As you said, tubeless will be better off-road, but then you’re effectively sacrificing on-road performance because of the hassle. Depends on OP’s road/trail ratio I guess.
    – MaplePanda
    Feb 15 at 19:48
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    Right, and to start with a single set of wheels with decent pairs of road and off-road tires will be good enough, and provide lots of tire-changing practice ;-). Feb 15 at 21:47
  • 1
    @StephenKitt even with tubes I tend to run tyres for a season, unless there's a special reason to swap them. I really should get a spare 3x9 disc wheelset that would fit the hardtail and tourer, to give me more options for a quick change. If I built it myself with suitable rims the front at least would also do my commuter which is 3x8, rim brakes).
    – Chris H
    Feb 17 at 9:09
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Gravel bikes, with gravel tyres, will indeed be a bit slower, but it is still a perfectly usable bike for road riding as well. I do not really see a meaningful difference between a road bike with cheap tyres and a gravel bike with more expensive tyres. I do most of my road riding on a gravel bike because I have a place for only one bike where I work.

Unless you count minutes (over the whole day!) it will not do much. I even prefer to try road Strava segments on that gravel bike.

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  • 1
    I've known a few people come out on their gravel bikes for group road rides because their road bikes are too good to take to work and they're joining the ride on the way home. Some even like it for training value, if the group isn't very quick by their standards (the quickest group I ride with).
    – Chris H
    Feb 17 at 9:11
4

Any of them would be fine, subject to tyres, and the ranges of geometries for each name overlap anyway, when you consider multiple manufacturers. A further category some manufacturers use is "adventure road". The frame can take a lot, but rough stuff can get quite hard on the rider if the bike isn't appropriate.

I take a (steel) tourer over all that stuff (and some rougher gravel, even a little single-track). In summer our fire roads and equivalent can be ridden on 32mm slicks with puncture protection. In winter I run gravel touring tyres (Marathon Mondial 35s) which are a bit slower than the slicks but adequate even for an occasional long commute (40 miles each way, once a week, weather permitting) or 100+ mile day rides. They have better grip when there's muck on the road, or on unpaved bike paths.

If you're commuting, pannier rack mounts might be a good idea. This will restrict your choice a little, but they're more common on CX and endurance road bikes than they were even a few years ago.

Another major point to consider is tyre clearance. Again things have got better but endurance road bikes might still be quite limited, especially if you also want to run mudguards - I'd want to be able to run 38mm with mudguards (though I'd fit 35mm); a little more wouldn't hurt in case you want to swap to gravel tyres for an occasion.

A second wheelset can always be added later, if you find you want something more specific for certain types of riding.

3

If drop handle bars are not your priority, I would also recommend considering hybrids with front suspensions.

Their advantages are the versatility and the price. They are jacks of all trades, master of none. They will be less good on roads than gravel/CX bikes and less capable offroaders than cross country MTBs, but better on road than cross country MTBs and more comfortable on trails than gravel bikes. About the price, I would recommend against taking the "entry level" versions though (they range between 500€/$ and 1500€/$, 800€/$-1200€/$ seems to be a good spot). For a commuter bike, it's good to have something that is good enough, but for which you won't have too much remorse if it's damaged. They can often be ordered 'equipped' with mudguards, racks and lights.

Because the "hybrid" category is so wide/messy, I prefer to give some examples of those bikes: Canyon Pathlite, Ghost Square Cross, Trek Dual Sport and Specialized Sirrus X. The criteria that I considered for this selection are:

  • Tire clearance compatible with 45mm tires (or a bit more): mostly for comfort and have enough clearance to fit knobby tires;
  • big chainring (38/42 teeth, or multiple chain rings): to not penalize too much road performance;
  • gear ratio range of 450% or more: to still have enough development to cope with the hills if you encounter some;
  • hydraulic disc brakes: because :)
  • lockable front suspension: for comfort on trails, and to be able to lock it when it's not necessary (good roads).
  • attachment points for mudguards/racks/kickstand: optionally, it might be important when commuting to arrive clean and be able to carry basic work necessities without a backpack.
  • geometry on the sporty side: I would favour a sportier geometry over an upright one, to minimize the drag.
2
  • Sorry but where are you getting this info about comparing the geometry of hybrids and touring bikes? Touring bikes are designed to be comfortable to ride for hours but I don't think they are more upright than most hybrid bikes I see
    – GageMartin
    Feb 17 at 0:03
  • @GageMartin My point was to enumerate the criteria I used for the selection. My comparison with touring bikes was indeed not necessary, as hybrid bikes as a category is very very wide and there are indeed touring bikes more on the sporty side, and some with very high stems to be upright. Thanks for the remark, I edited my answer.
    – Renaud
    Feb 17 at 6:54
2

With the 'invention' of the gravel bike, i see this as an easy choice. Their whole reason to exist is largely based on the compromises described in the question; the ability to ride gravel tracks without sacrificing much on the tarmac sections that link them up.

However, even within the gravel bike category, there is a very wide range of options, features and frame geometries available. At one end of the spectrum you've got bikes that are effectively drop bar mountain bikes (Evil Chamois Hanger, Open WIDE), and at the other end of the spectrum, what are effectively race bikes with big tyres (Cervelo Aspero, 3T Exploro).

Given the criteria in the original question, somewhere in the middle of this range seems to be ideal. Given that comfort has been specified, i'd be looking for a bike targeted more at the 'adventure' market (loads to choose from) as they'll give a taller head tube and more relaxed geometry. In addition, this type of bike usually includes the extra mounting points required for mudguards and luggage (which are desirable for commuting).

Finally, the most important aspect of any multi surface bike is tyre choice. If you do choose a gravel bike with more of an 'adventure' style, you will likely have a very wide choice of tyres available - many will take a 2.1" MTB tyre in 650b, some will take even more. I would begin with 1 wheelset/tyre setup for everything, and keep an open mind about a 2nd wheelset if you want to optimise your experience more for each surface. My first priority for any tyre that i plan to take off road would always be tubeless compatibility (faster, grippier, more comfortable and very puncture resistant). I think you will find a high quality tubeless gravel tyre will provide a perfectly adequate tyre to commute on and whilst not fast, they won't feel too draggy either.

0

The bike style most suitable for your use is a reasonable drop bar bike.

Some time ago, the only reasonable drop bar bikes one could find were cyclocross and touring bikes. If you made the mistake of purchasing a "road" bike thinking you ride on roads and thus a "road" bike is optimal, you'll find the frame is reduced to such light weight that it won't withstand anything more than 70 kg rider, or any road other than a perfectly smooth road. Furthermore, the "road" bike would have tire clearance for approximately 25mm tires which are arguably too thin, and the riding position would make it clear it is only useful for racing.

However, today a lot of reasonable drop bar bikes have appeared under the category of gravel bikes.

My advice is to compare many bikes from all of these categories (gravel, touring, cyclocross) and pick a choice most suitable for you. Pay especial attention to the ability to attach accessories and the riding position. You'll probably need fenders (unless you never ride on wet roads), pannier rack (unless you never carry any cargo), kickstand (for commuting), light (preferably hub dynamo powered; unless you never ride in the dark), bell, reflectors and lock (for commuting). You might also prefer to use a cyclocomputer. Some of these can be added to any bike, but for example a bike could lack fender and pannier rack mounts and some bikes are hard to fit a kickstand to.

As reasonable drop bar bikes don't have suspension but rather rely on the inherent suspension on the rider's arms and legs, sometimes you might hit a bump unprepared. Thus the frame and fork should be robust enough to take that bump. I would prefer frame and fork built from butted chromium molybdenum steel. Carbon fiber? Forget it! If you for example crash on a bike with carbon fiber frame or fork, the crash could damage the carbon fiber in an invisible way, and then the carbon fiber could fail "just riding along". Note that even aluminum is somewhat questionable material, because it has a finite fatigue life and is thus prone to cracking. Steel has an infinite fatigue life.

If you might ride in the rain, you might find disc brakes better than rim brakes. Fortunately, today most reasonable drop bar bikes are sold with disc brakes.

Then there's the question of what tires to use. If the main riding is commuting or other riding on regular roads, put 32mm Continental Grand Prix 5000 (or similar), but if the main riding is on fire roads and the commuting is only occasional, you might prefer wider tires. Which tires would be optimal then I don't know. You can at least find rolling resistance data from https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/ but I don't think you find a decent low rolling resistance tire wider than 32mm.

1
  • Low rolling resistance isn’t the end-be-all for gravel riding. I’ve seen gravel bikes that run more aggressive tires than my XC hardtail.
    – MaplePanda
    Feb 17 at 16:16
0

Do yourself a favor and look at the problem with a different perspective. Spend a small amount of money on an aluminum front suspension bicycle - see "Note 2" at end. Make sure it has a mid range gear system and a good set of rims for example touring rims; I'm very happy with my AlexRims G3000 after heavy use (125+kg weight with gear, forest roads at night hitting tree roots etc). Check the model doesn't have known problems by searching online - in my youth I cracked a Specialized downhill bicycle (expensive bike) and the manufacturer gave me a new frame because they said it had a known weakness. Choose a standard thing so you can put standard racks etc on it. Make sure it has a standard Shimano cartridge style bottom bracket because this will save you a lot of maintenance. The price:performance ratio of Shimano mid-range products is excellent. Japanese companies tend to make very good small precision things. I would say initially that cup and cone wheel hubs will be fine. If you want something more fancy you can always upgrade after a year of use.

Then buy some basic maintenance tools for your bicycle (basic hex tools and tire changing tools, as well as a cheap spoke tension gauge and the relevant spoke spanner; you don't need a truing stand, only patience and a marker pen or chalk) so that you can change the brake pads and keep the thing running straight. This knowledge combined with the tools will save you a lot of hassle and money in the long run.

There is not going to be a massive difference between an expensive aluminum frame hardtail and a mid-range aluminum frame hardtail, at least not a difference which a non-pro will need and sometimes the expensive frames are weaker because they are aimed at more specialist riders who apparently won't ride into tree roots so the manufacturers shave off material to save weight (grams). Also buy 5 bottles of the cheapest household oil you can get from the hardware store and hide these bottles around your daily locations; then use them to oil your chain very often.

Mainly what seems to happen is the cheap bikes are steel which makes them very heavy and extremely strong but also prone to rust and you want to avoid that but once you get into the aluminum framing you don't need an expensive thing to have a reliable thing and benefit from the lighter and rustproof aluminum frame - which also happens to be a bit more flexible than steel. The expensive components will break or screw themselves up just as easily as the mid-range components so better to get mid-range and the tools to maintain them along with the knowledge. Also can you explain to me the benefit of an expensive derailleur compared to a mid-range one? Whatever it does better I don't need because the mid-range ones change the gears and as far as I'm concerned that's what I need it for.

I've ridden thousands of kilometers on cheap bicycles with a lot of weight loaded onto them in camping supplies and camera equipment and I can tell you a cheap frame with good straight wheels is going to be a lot easier to ride than an expensive frame with wheels that are not true so focus on the practical side instead of the glitzy side. Tools keep bicycles working well more often than expensive components and you get a real diminishing performance improvement once you start buying stuff above the mid range.

And definitely know how to do basic bike maintenance if you'll be on fire roads.

TLDR buy mid-range aluminum hardtail or trail frame with locking rear suspension. Learn basic bike maintenance tasks and get the necessary tools. Get touring rims. Spend 80% of your money on the right frame and rims. The rest of the stuff can be easily changed.

  1. Rim brakes in freezing temperatures; my experience is quite extensive in sub-zero bicycling and I've only seen my rim brakes freeze once around negative 12 Celsius. The bike was parked in these temperatures for 2 days and when I went to use it I had to pull on the cables with my fingers to loosen them from the frozen water which I assume was in the cable sheath. After that they worked somewhat satisfactorily and didn't freeze up over the hour ride I did - I think they will not freeze as long as they are being used. I had the arm-return springs set at maximum tension beforehand and the pivots Installed at their outer index which helped. I guess pouring hot water onto them would have broken the lockup. Like I said they didn't freeze during use and I think it's unlikely they would freeze during use except in very cold temperatures. I don't know about disc brakes in freezing temperatures but all automotives use hydraulic disc brakes and they don't seem to freeze so maybe that's a better option for the cold - maybe someone who knows can tell me. I prefer rim brakes because of the simplicity of operation and the availability of replacement parts and because I think the disc of the disc brake system is somewhat unfriendly. The hydraulic system also has a weight which is more than the cabling of the rim brake system.

  2. Hardtails are best for commuting. Bikes with rear air suspension are best for trail riding, but cost more. If you have the budget then apply what I wrote but get an aluminium frame with a locking rear air suspension unit and you'll be very happy commuting and on the fire roads. Locking front suspension is probably less critical in your case - a bouncing rear shock really absorbs a lot of your energy on tarmac, not so much with the front suspension because you can shift your weight backwards and it's not aligned with the throw of your legs. You don't need to have the best rear suspension from the start because as long as the frame accommodates a rear suspension unit you'll most likely be able to upgrade it before you realise you want to upgrade it.

  3. consider second hand... But make sure the frame is absolutely straight and bargain like a gypsy (it's only polite).

  4. If you're under 1.8 meter tall then get 26 inch wheels so you can easily reach curbs etc with your feet during a commute and be nice and responsive on trail; smaller diameter wheels turn more easily because they have a lower effective moment of inertia. If you're over 1.8 then get higher wheels.

  5. Fhanging wheelsets. Forget about your reluctance to change wheelsets. With a quick-release skewer it takes under 3 minutes and gives you have a much better (and safer) bike for each terrain. You'll anyway want a set of spare wheels for the day you need to get somewhere quick and realise something deflated overnight.

Poster's own bike
My current thing. The rack is rated to hold 100kg. Front rack small but useful - basically just to strap on a 30 litre drybag or grocery bag. Can lock the eurobox on the back with a combination lock. Reusable cable ties for strapping water bottles etc.

0
-1

Trek Checkpoint ALR period. Is very very capable machine. I ride it to the grocery stores, commute to work and take it on my overnight rides to the woods.

1
  • Hi, welcome to bicycles. As it stands this isn't a great answer, because it's overly specific (that particular model might not be available to the person asking the question, and it might not exist next year) and also because you don't at all explain how this bike meets the requirements of the question.
    – DavidW
    Feb 18 at 18:41

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