Let’s list some of the characteristics that define a good touring bicycle:
It should be comfortable
It should be reliable and tough
It should be able to carry heavy loads
It should have sufficiently wide range gearing
It should have sufficient clearance for robust tires and fenders
It should have numerous braze-ons for mounting racks, fenders, water bottles, and lights
It should have long chainstays to prevent pedal-to-pannier conflicts
It should be made from a frame material that is simultaneously tough and compliant (not fragile and rigid)
Perhaps I’ve left a thing or two off of the list, but any bike that meets the above criteria would make a nice touring bike. And guess what? That’s exactly the same list I’d compile for a good commuting/utility bike.
It’s wonderful that we’re seeing more-and-more commuter-specific bikes coming to the market. It’s an indication that bicycling for transportation is growing and that the bicycle industry has taken notice. Certainly, the more and better commuter/utility bikes we have available, the more likely it is that newcomers will give bike commuting a serious look.
There is also an entire range of bicycles labeled as “touring bikes” that are extremely well-appointed for commuting and utility bicycling. These bikes are the beneficiaries of a long lineage going back to the 1980’s and beyond. In some cases, they represent the most refined cargo hauling bikes on the market.
Following are just a few touring bikes that double quite well as commuting/utility bikes:
Of course, if touring bikes make good commuting/utility bikes, it follows that at least some commuting bikes function well as touring bikes. For example, the new Kingfield and Prospect commuting bikes from Civia should work very well for light touring.
The take away is that touring and commuting bikes are essentially cut from the same cloth. There’s a tremendous amount of crossover among these two categories and, in fact, some of the best commuting/utility bikes on the market don’t have the words “commute” or “cargo” in either their name or their description.
Here’s a pretty bike from our friends at Traffic Cycle Design. This is their stock model dubbed the Realster, which is available now as part of a short production run of 5 frames. From Traffic:
I believe in minimizing the degree to which my customers need to reorganize their lives in order to ride their bikes. On this project – a short production run of five framesets – I wanted to design a fixed gear bike that would be easy to use on a daily basis. The bike needed fenders, a rack, a comfortable riding position and a bell. It also needed good brakes, generous tire clearance and a reasonable pricetag. It should reward, not punish, you for riding it.
Enter the Realster. It’s an upright, practical fixed gear for urban use. The stock version, shown above, sports swept-back handlebars, natural contact points (cork grips and a leather saddle) and a custom made porteur rack with salvaged cross-sawn hard maple slats.
View details and more photos of this bike at the Traffic website and in their Flickr photostream.
For the uninitiated, Flickr is a free photo sharing site where members upload photos to their “photostream” (a photostream is simply a chronologically arranged collection of photos), and if they so choose, submit their photos to Flickr groups to share their photos with others. Flickr groups are topical collections of photos submitted to the group by group members who share a common interest. Multiple photos from each group member can be included in a group, and an individual photo can be included in many groups.
We administer an EcoVelo Flickr Group for EcoVelo readers or, for that matter, anyone who is interested in submitting photos related to our topic of transportational bicycling. We currently have 317 members and 4,172 photos in the pool. The above slideshow is a sampling of the latest photos submitted to the group. If you’re already on Flickr, please join our group and add your photos to the group pool. If you’re not on Flickr, but you enjoy mixing bicycling with photography, consider signing up with Flickr and joining our group (it’s free).
For grocery getting and everyday utility riding I prefer a bike that can carry a full set of panniers in back and at least one small grocery bag or a change of clothes and a lunch up front. Having the option of throwing extra items on a front cargo/porteur rack is one of the handiest features a utility bike can have. Plus, most bikes will tend to ride better with a balanced load.
People talk about the need for low trail geometry for carrying loads on the front fork, and perhaps for touring or randonneurring that’s true, but I haven’t found it necessary for utility riding. Much more important is a good center stand that lifts the rear wheel off the ground so the front wheel stays planted when the load is distributed between the front and rear racks. A centering spring or strap to hold the wheel straight during loading helps as well. When we’re talking about short trips to the store or library, ease of loading and overall carrying capacity are much more important than light steering that mitigates for fatigue over a long day in the saddle.
So, if you’ve considered a porteur/cargo rack for your grocery getter, but you’ve hesitated because your bike’s geometry isn’t optimized for carrying a front load, I’d encourage you to give it a try; personally I feel it’s a non-issue for the typically short distances most people travel for grocery shopping and errands. More important is a set-up that’s optimized for the loading process with a good, double-legged centerstand and a front wheel stabilizer. Once the bike is loaded and rolling, you’ll quickly adapt to the steering and you’ll be glad for the extra carrying capacity.
Here’s a quick look at the 2011 Detour Deluxe I just received from Raleigh. It’s only been out of the box one day, but so far I’m quite impressed with the ride quality, construction, and component mix, particularly for a bike that retails for under $900. I’ll have a full review for you after the first of the year. Raleigh →
Velo Orange just received the first batch of their new Grand Cru Ti saddles:
The Grand Cru saddle has a titanium frame and rails. The shape of the top is like our very popular VO Model #3 saddle, but with a cutaway skirt to save weight. The skirt is laced to prevent flaring as the saddle ages. The leather is extra thick and there is an anti-stretch layer laminated onto the bottom to further increase longevity.
Weight is about 420g, length is 285mm, and width is 170mm. This is a particularly good saddle for those who like their handlebars at or above saddle height. The rails are extra long and it does have bag loops.
Great looking saddle. At $195, it’s not for the budget conscious, but it’s significantly less than the equivalent Brooks.