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January 2014

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I'm currently involved in one of the most frustrating shopping experiences I've ever had.

After riding my Trek 930 mountain bike to work for a while, I've decided that I should just plop down the cash on a nice touring bike. I hope (some day) to be able to trek across the country on bike - it's a very cool idea and one I want to persue.

Touring bikes are an interesting breed. They're designed to be rugged and smooth over long distances, with the ability to carry a bunch of weight comfortably. For just pure commuting they're overkill, but they're about the best possible choice if you're willing to pay.

The problem? Nobody carries touring bikes, because apparently almost nobody does touring. I think a big reason for touring's lack of popularity is that it's not perceived as being "extreme" enough. You aren't fighting the terrain as on a mountain bike, and you aren't pushing your limits for speed as on a road racer. Touring isn't a "sport" in either the X-Games or traditional sense of the word - it's recreation.

I've got a mountain bike for the trails, and that's fun and all, but I've always loved just... driving. I used to take my car everywhere I could, heading down back roads and exploring the countryside. I think the bike is a logical extension of that - I want to experience the trip in a way that just can't be replicated in a car. When you're zipping along at 55+ mph, you really just don't stop and smell the roses very often.

But finding the bike... my God, what a pain. You go into some places and ask for a touring bike, and the sales kid just looks at you like you're crazy. Other places try to sell you a hybrid or a cyclocross bike. Some places have some recommendations they can order, but of course they don't actually carry them - so it's not like you can actually test ride them or anything.

And then, there are a very few places that actually have touring bikes.

The first one I found was a Trek 520 at Franklin Street Cycles, in Chapel Hill. I headed over there one afternoon and checked the bike out. It had a steel frame, which most seem to regard as a plus for a touring bike. Barend shifters, not my favorite but also favored by many tourers. On the downside, the stock rack seemed flimsy and the gearing is probably too high. The sales guy tried to sell me the one they had on the floor (21"), but I remain unconvinced that it's the right size (my mountain bike is 21", but I've heard road bikes should be larger). I haven't ruled the Trek 520 out yet, but I'm weighing options.

Next, I check all the local Cary bike shops. One tries to sell me a Sirrius, which seemed to me more like a hybrid than a touring bike. It did have the braze-ons for racks, but without drop bars I wasn't very interested. Another shop pointed me to the Lemond Poprad (cyclocross), which actually rode pretty well. The frame was nice and light, still steel though. Too bad for the Poprad was that it only had 2 chainrings on the front, which lead to gearing that was just too high for me.

The next day I tracked down a shop with a Giant OCR Touring, which I liked well enough. It was a medium to my large, but it was within the realm of adjustment and I took it for a spin. Aluminum frame, STI shifters (frowned upon by hardcore tourers, but I do like them)... it was certainly an OK bike. The Giant moved to the top of my list.

Yesterday I found a Cannondale T800 - in my size, no less - and I loved it. It was geared lower than the others which is more suitable for long treks up mountains and hills, though it would tend to reduce my top speed. Aluminum frame and STI shifters may be negatives, but the fork was Cromo which would smooth out the ride some. I slammed it into a couple of small potholes and didn't feel much worse for the wear.

There are a few bikes left that I'd really like to try, but am having a bitch of a time tracking down:

Fuji Touring/World. I've never heard anything but good about Fuji bikes, but I can't find any.

Bianci Volpe. Also supposedly a nice bike, one shop can order this for me but I'd hate to buy sight unseen.

Cannondale T2000 - the big brother of the T800 with better components.

So, the journey continues. Right now, the Cannondale T800 is at the top of my list, but I haven't given up looking just yet...

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