Hybrid - The evolution of a light touring bike (or bikes)

This case study was provide by Jerry and Jeanette. They have been rding bikes for many years although they did take a break for awhile to recover from a knee injury. In addition to the bikes described in this page they also tour using a tandem.

A photo of Jeanette, Jerry and their grand daughter Roxcie.

A photo of Jeanette, Jerry and their grand daughter, Roxcie, in the Burgundy region of France during their summer 2004 bike tour.

Jerry and Jeanette are on the tandem while Roxcie is riding Jeanette's touring bike. The two girls actually traded off between the tandem and the single.
Click to enlarge.

Back in the saddle again

It had been a long time since I had ridden a bike, close to 20 years. I was a lot chunkier than I was then. I had stopped riding because of knee pain so when I finally got the urge to try riding again, I thought, “I going to look for a nice comfortable bike, not one that I’m going to try to go flat our on.” My rotund shape did not favor bending over so an upright riding position was favored. Even so, the bike had to be light and sporty and capable of doing some light touring. The, “hybrid” bike seemed like the exact match.

Hybrid bikes

A hybrid bike has straight handlebars, mountain bike style, a compact frame with a slanting rather than horizontal top tube, lightweight construction, and appears to look like a mountain bike but without the front suspension. It has lighter, narrower tires and lighter, narrower wheels. The bike represents the marriage of the traditional road bike and mountain bike and hopes to combine the best features of both.

Dealer modifications at delivery

Trek, Cannondale, and Specialized, as well as a host of other companies, all made hybrid bikes. I compared equipment and prices and settled on a Specialized Sirrus Expert. The bike had a carbon fork, straight, mountain bike style handlebars, and an aluminum frame. The dealer agreed to swap out the rear derailleur for a long cage derailleur and swap the 11-25, 8-speed cassette for one with a 30-tooth sprocket. The basic bike was ready to ride home

Bolt-ons

The addition of some SPD pedals, a Blackburn rear rack, Cateye Mity III computer, a discount store headlight and rear flasher, and an under the seat tool bag with a small tool kit completed the basic bike. The bike had a beautiful padded leather, Italian saddle but it was just too hard for extended riding. It was changed to a vinyl covered, padded Serfas gel seat. It was now comfortable to stay in the saddle for extended time periods..

The two bikes next to St. Mary's church in Rye, England.

The two bikes next to St. Mary's church in Rye, England.
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A bike for a wife, or: More money is not always best

My wife was also interested in cycling. She wanted a bike as well and wanted something similar to mine. I had ordered mine before the bikes were in the stores and it was delivered as an advance model. When the models were actually released for 2002, we found that a less expensive model, the standard Sirrus, was actually better equipped for touring. We ordered that model for her. The bike had two 32 spoke wheels, mine had a 32 spoke rear wheel but had a 28 spoke radial front wheel. The standard bike had 700-37 tires, mine were 700-26. The standard bike came with a steel fork with rack braze-ons, I had a carbon fork, no braze-ons. Finally, the chain rings on the standard bike were mountain bike rings, topping out at 44 teeth, my big ring was 52. At purchase, the dealer swapped the rear derailleur for a long cage derailleur and the smaller cassette for one with a 30 tooth large sprocket. To finish out the bike, I bought some of the same bolt-ons that I had for my bike, including a bigger, softer Serfas seat. However, instead of a Blackburn rack, we bought a Trek. It appeared to be of about the same quality. And instead of a Mity III cyclo-computer, we bolted on a Nashbar wireless.

Trunks, panniers and handlebar bags

The next consideration was storage for all our stuff while on tour. We’d done the camping thing for many years and had no desire to extend that hobby to bikes. The idea of setting up a camp after a long day’s ride, possibly hot and sweaty, and a nights rest with no chance of a shower before climbing into a cold sleeping bag inside a tiny tent did nothing for us. That attitude made things a lot easier. We’d only have to haul our clothes, personal items and a few maps.

The lighter load meant that we could get by with handlebar bags, small rear panniers and trunks. I had already ordered a trunk for my bike from Nashbar. We found another, nicer one for the other bike at REI. Jandd mini-mountain panniers seemed to be exactly the size necessary for the rear panniers. They are about ¾ the size of full sized panniers and have only two pockets per bag. They have an expandable zipper at the bottom should some extra space be necessary while on tour. Once assembled, we hung them on the bikes and found, (hallelujah!) that they fit and that our heels did not hit them as we pedaled.

The final consideration was the handlebar bags. We wanted something that would hold lots but didn’t have a fancy fastening system. We bought some large canvas cooler bags and using carabineer hooks, were able to hang them on the brake levers. We were ready to go touring.

This is our current choice in handlebar bags.

This is our current choice in handlebar bags. The bag holds just enough and is easily transferable from bike to bike with no special attaching hardware. The shoulder carrying strap is stowed inside the bag.

The yellow attachment on the bars is an inclinometer.
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Four thousand touring miles and ten thousand road miles later

Since our bikes were equipped for touring we’ve taken two European tours of a month each and two U.S. tours of a week each. In addition, we’ve put another six thousand miles in just riding locally. The road is a good teacher. Some things on the bikes are the same as when we started. Some have been changed, sometimes because things have broken, but mostly because of comfort or convenience.

Broken things

The first thing to quit was the wireless cyclo-computer on my wife’s bike. It packed up at the first rain. It was replaced with a Raleigh wired unit, a tried and true if not so sophisticated tool. The Cateye Mity III on my bike still works fine. I’ve purchased 5 additional Mity III’s for other bikes. All are working.

The Blackburn rack broke after about 500 miles. The welds where the struts attach to the drop-outs gave way on one side. The rack was replaced with a sturdier one, which in turn was replaced with another even sturdier Ascent Horizon rack when the second broke in a similar fashion to the first.

Wheels

Almost every touring guide states that 36 spoke wheels are a must. My wife’s bike has 32 spokes per wheel. The wheels are still perfectly true. My wheels do not have an equal history. I weigh in at 220 pounds, not a lightweight. With gear, my bike is hauling about 250 pounds total. My wheels started going out of alignment after 1000 miles. By 1800 miles the rear wheel had a serious wobble. Any attempts to straighten them did not last long. A veteran of thousands of miles of touring looked at them and diagnosed the problem as inadequate spoke tension. He increased the tension on the rear wheel dramatically and took the wobble out. I did the same for the front. Two thousand miles later, the wheels are still true and the problems seem behind me.

Convenience and handlebar bags

Handlebar bags can be too big. We learned that on our first tour. The large cooler bags worked well at holding things, too well. They made the bikes prone to falling over when leaned against things and when off the bikes, the bags were just too heavy to haul around for hours on end. They also got in the way of the headlights when we were riding at night.

We have new handlebar bags now, smaller ones. They can be found in almost any bike store or catalogue and are the simple two-compartment type with buckle on straps and stow-away shoulder strap that sell for $10-15 dollars. The only change made to the bags is to sew Velcro to the straps so the straps can be threaded through the buckles and folded back on themselves rather than go through the hassle of buckling and unbuckling each time the bag is taken off or mounted to the bike.

Jerry showing different hand positions.

Jerry has a very severe case of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.

"The picture on the left shows the hand parallel to the bars, the fingers are clenched to hold onto the bars and the wrist is cocked. This position brings on CTS very quickly.

The rightmost picture shows the rider's weight on the thumb webbing and the thumb's "ham." The hand is relaxed, fingers open and the wrist is straight. This position provides quite a bit, (but not perfect) relief from CTS."

Jerry
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Handlebars, riding position and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

My wife’s bike is still in the same configuration as when purchased including her Trek rack. However, my hybrid looks a lot more like a conventional touring bike now. The major changes involve the handlebars and shifters. I suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome. Straight handlebars require that my hands are parallel to the tube and my wrists bent. Although I could shift my hands to different positions on the bars including accessory bar ends, they still require that basic parallel, bent wrist position. The hands soon become painfully numb.

Another problem with the hybrid is that the upright position places a large amount of weight on the rider’s rear and the upright body slows the rider in the wind. Leaning forward on straight bars increases the weight carried on the hands and feet but increases CTS symptoms. Both of these problems are addressed by changing the handlebars to regular touring bars with aero style brake levers.

The down turned touring bars encourage riding with thumbs looped over the hoods of the aero brake levers with a relatively relaxed grip. This riding position rotates the hands to a perpendicular position in relation to the bars and straightens the wrists. Riding with straight wrists relieves the CTS and allows more weight to be carried on the palms and also allows riding in a bent forward position, with more weight carried on the feet relieving pressure on the rear. While the position looks uncomfortable to the uninitiated, it allows for many pleasant hours of riding with almost no discomfort and is easy to learn. Time in the saddle has resulted in an even more pronounced bent position with the handlebars 1 ½ inches below the seat height and slightly farther away from the bars than when the bike was first set up.

The change had some added benefits. The bike is equipped with 9 speed STI shifting, (where the brake levers have built in shifters) as part of the modification. While the original Shimano Rapid Fire shifters were wonderful, the Shimano 105 STI system is fabulous. The rear cassette was changed to a 9 speed, 32 tooth, an increase of two teeth and one cluster ring to be compatible with the nine speed shifter. It’s amazing the difference that two teeth can make on a steep hill.

The final benefit is speed. While speed might not seem important at first, it certainly adds to the pleasure of riding, knowing that you have more control over your travel time. With the straight bars, I averaged about 12 mph, with touring bars, my average has increased to almost 16 mph. Over three hours of riding, that’s a difference of 12 miles, another hour’s riding at 12 mph or an hour’s more time at the pub at the end of the road. The lower position is equally advantageous when riding into the wind and will account for additional speed and mileage in that adverse situation.

Jeanette standing next to a constable with the two bikes outside Buckingham Palace, England.

Jeanette standing next to a constable with the two bikes outside Buckingham Palace, England.
Click to enlarge.

Is a bike ever “perfect” for touring?

Nothing’s “perfect” and that includes bikes. Something will always need to be tweaked. Something can always be improved. Right now, I’m sure that my light tourer is just the way I want it. But, then I’ll see another touring bike, with a different arrangement and wonder, would that be better? Would that work for me? Would it be more fun? One of the wonderful things about bikes is that, even in this sophisticated age, they’re relatively simple. Handlebars, seats, racks, cassettes, cranks, chain rings, derailleurs and all kinds of stuff can be swapped, tried, discarded, traded and replaced. The end result is something that is uniquely yours, a virtual magic carpet, ready at your beckoning to take you to adventure.

Submitted by Jerry and Jeanette

 

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