I’ve come to see the loss of my Merida TFS100D 29er as a positive because it’s forced me to really think about what I want from a bike. While I was offered a replacement frame for $120, the bike shop ordered the wrong size so I had to send the replacement back. They offered to order the correct size but I’ve decided I don’t want it because I can’t really justify riding a frame that can be broken merely by the chain coming off; I’d always be hesitant to really use it in case it broke again. Also, this is just the latest in a long string of poor customer service that particular bike shop has given me and, unlike many Australians, I refuse to reward poor customer service with continued custom.
So now I’m on the prowl for a new bike. For the first time, I’ve made a wish list of what the bike has to do:
- be suitable for Audax road brevets with a potential annual breakdown being 6-10 x 200km, 3-4 x 300km, 1-2 x 600km and 1x1000km-1200km
- be suitable for exploring gravel roads, and the odd fire trail or single track but I am not an MTB rider as such (I like to go places, not play in MTB terrain park areas)
- 70% of my riding will be on sealed roads and only about 1% will be single track
- be suitable for 2-7 day lightweight tours using bikepacking kit 5-10 times a year
- be able to fit a rack for commuting and the occasional tour where I have to carry Mum’s gear (yes Mum, I’ll get you cycle touring with me 🙂 )
- be compatible with both 29″ MTB and 700c road/CX wheels
- be disc brake ready
- be designed for drop bars but it’d be a bonus if I can also use flat or butterfly bars
- be full rigid
- be high quality steel alloy, such as Reynolds or ChroMoly (aluminum, carbon and “high tensile” steel need not apply).
I’ve been looking online for about a week and have a 3-bike shortlist:
- Rawlands Drakkar – This bike is no longer in production because the one-man building company are focusing on other versions of this bike. It hails from the US and I have been offered a small frame for a good price.
The downsides are that I can’t test ride the bike because it is only ever sold as frame & forks, the bike has a full horizontal track-style rear drop out.
The positives are the price ($US400/$AU460 including shipping), it’s a true go anywhere bike that can take 700c, 29″ or 650b disc brake wheels with touring, CX or MTB tyres (700c to 45mm, 650b to 2.4″ and 29″ to 2.1″), and you can mount touring racks to it. As a novelty, it has a bottle opener in the rear drop, which is pretty good for me because the only alcohol I drink is Swedish cider and you need a bottle opener to open the bottles).
- Vivente World Randonneur – This bike is a tried and tested Australian touring bike. It is available as a complete bike with either touring or drop bars from a bike shop here in Brisbane that is staffed by a fellow Audax club member who is an experienced bike builder himself.
The downsides are that this bike is a dedicated 700c touring bike so, while it will be able to take on gravel roads with the right tyres, it won’t allow me to explore true off-road areas. Therefore, it won’t truly replace my MTB.
The positives are the value for money (around $AU2,500for complete bike including mid-range Shimano dynamo hub). This is a ride-away bike that you can ride out of the shop and just keep going – no building required.
- Salsa Fargo – This bike is a tried and tested US bikepacking bike. It is available as a complete bike from the same bike shop here in Brisbane that is staffed by a fellow Audax club member who is an experienced bike builder himself. He personally owns a Salsa Fargo in my frame size that I can test ride. Note that the link is to the titanium version but I am considering the steel version due to price.
The downsides of this bike are that it is expensive (over $AU2500 with lower grade kit than the Vivente) and that it is a MTB design that can also be ridden on the road (i.e. opposite design principle to the Drakkar). So it might not be as ideal for long road rides (though it is definitely suitable and used for this purpose).
The positives are that this bike is purpose built for long bikepacking trips so will be able to carry everything I would need for my type of riding. It has all the mounting lugs anyone could want.
I have been reading everything I can find about all three bikes and asking everyone who might know anything for their opinions. So far, the recommendations sit with the Drakkar. I might duck to the bike shop next Thursday to test ride the Fargo and Vivente so I can see whether I love either enough to save the money. If they’re not “knock ’em dead” bikes, I will probably go the Drakkar because I would be able to build it for a good price and can add dynamo hub etc later.
I’ve got a 300km overnight Audax ride tonight so that will give me more time to think bikes and also check out what my fellow Audaxians are riding.