Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

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LittleGreyCat
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Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby LittleGreyCat » 18 Oct 2018, 12:42pm

I've searched the forum, but can't seem to get a definitive answer.

I am tentatively looking for a long distance bike which can also carry a medium load. My thought was that this would be a touring bike. There is the prospect of a 160+ mile ride on the continent next year spread over 3 or 4 days. Dunwich Dynamo is a possible dream but 200k in one go is a lot more than I have ever attempted.

My current (working) steed is a steel no-suspension mountain bike from around 1995 with fat road tyres. On this I cycle locally, usually on road but with some excursions onto bridle ways (where the fat tyres are invaluable, although other riders with skinny tyres seem to cope). Distance of ride is usually around 20 miles but in the past I have been cycling a regular 50k/30 miles without too much discomfort. Flat bars with good bar ends - fitted a long time ago to allow me to change wrist positions to avoid the dreaded wrist ache and also give something extra to pull on going up steep hills. I like the low mountain bike gearing (because going up hills) but would like a higher top gear (because hills going down and flat bits with a tail wind). When I was fitter I used to be frustrated because I was spinning out in the top gear.

I went for a wander in a new branch of Evans which has opened up locally and was introduced to the concept of an adventure bike, which helped to complicate the whole thing.

So can I solicit some advice on the differences between the current fashionable trends:

    Cyclo Cross
    Adventure/gravel bike (are these the same?)
    Traditional touring bike

Also I have an alloy framed hybrid which is lighter, faster and with better brakes but which does not fit me. [Threads passim.] The difference in frame weight tempts me towards aluminium as long as it is strong enough for a decent touring load but still significantly lighter than steel.

My requirement list is roughly
    Circular rides of 25 miles +
    Occasional longer distance rides
    Occasional touring rides with luggage
    Mild off road ability
    Very low gearing for wimping out on steep hills (especially if laden)
    Reasonably high top end gears for comfortable and speedy long distance rides
    I suspect a traditional tripe chainset might be best - somewhere around 3 * 9 - because the singles and doubles with 10 or 11 cogs at the rear seem worryingly skinny to get all the cogs to fit the rear wheel which makes the chain very skinny as well
    At least V brakes - disc preferred

The biggest issue is deciding on the type of frame/bike - after that it is just restraining myself with the accessories.

All advice most welcome.
I feel the urge to visit Spa Cycles because I have relatives not that far away. However I would like to be informed as possible before undertaking an expensive weekend away.

peetee
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby peetee » 18 Oct 2018, 12:48pm

Steel is springy. Aluminium isn't. 'Nuff said. 8)
Current status report:
Latter side of fifty and feeling less than nifty.
Too many bikes on pegs and too few miles in the legs.

mattsccm
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby mattsccm » 18 Oct 2018, 1:01pm

Weight can be an issue. Unless you are spending big money modern steel bikes are very often not much more than gas pipe with fancy names. This in itself isn't always an issue but if you are trying to keep the weight down then it's worth thinking about. The same frames very often don't have that apparent comfort of traditional steel bikes being hefty tubes with minimal or not butting. Just do your research.
I suspect that this is to do with both economy of production and modern rules which over engineer mass produced items. A custom frame won't have these issues but will be pricey.
Good luck in finding a disc braked bike with a triple chainset. They are few and far between. Fashion has condemned the triple sadly.

Bonefishblues
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby Bonefishblues » 18 Oct 2018, 1:52pm

Renovate the mountain bike - seriously. Mid 90's were a sweet spot in terms of quality of metal frame, and it would be well able to cope with this journey. Several threads along these lines on here.

PH
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby PH » 18 Oct 2018, 1:58pm

mattsccm wrote:Good luck in finding a disc braked bike with a triple chainset. They are few and far between. Fashion has condemned the triple sadly.

Indeed, but they'll be heading in the right direction with a visit to Spa who offer several such options.
Steel vs Aluminium - I've had both and prefer steel. But I've also had some pretty rubbish steel bikes and a couple of excellent aluminium ones. Weight differences between decent bikes built for the same purpose isn't going to be that much, my aluminium Cannondale tourer was less than a full water bottle lighter than my Steel one.
The differences between the types is pretty blurred with a lot of overlap and many of those can be merged when picking components. A Gravel/Adventure type bike is more likely to have less relaxed geometry and is unlikely to be designed to carry as much luggage as a Tourer. But there won't be many things you can do on one that you can't on another.
Looking at your intended use, I can't see anything on it you couldn't do on your current bike (EDIT - as Bonefishblues says), maybe with a change of gearing. Plenty of people on all sorts of bikes complete the Dunwich Dynamo each year and older rigid MTBs can make excellent tourers. That's not to persuade you out of the pleasure of a new bike, just keep the expectations realistic. I think many of us on here (If we're honest) will have spent big chunks of money for things that turned out to have little benefit over what we already had, I've done so more than once :oops:

hamster
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby hamster » 18 Oct 2018, 2:08pm

Bonefishblues wrote:Renovate the mountain bike - seriously. Mid 90's were a sweet spot in terms of quality of metal frame, and it would be well able to cope with this journey. Several threads along these lines on here.


I quite agree. My tourer for the past 25 years is a steel MTB frame, from a very ordinary Marin Palisades. WIth some moderately nice bits it is on-par in weight with a Dawes Galaxy yet has the advantage of taking any tyre imaginable from 1" to 2.2". £400 would buy some very nice wheels and decent drivetrain, even assuming the existing one is worn out and unsalvageable.

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RickH
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby RickH » 18 Oct 2018, 2:24pm

mattsccm wrote:Good luck in finding a disc braked bike with a triple chainset. They are few and far between. Fashion has condemned the triple sadly.

Kona Sutra
Image

I bought the 2016 version of the Sutra Ltd (1x11 Hydraulic discs) early last year & have been really pleased with it. I bought it mainly as an upgrade/replacement for a 1980s rigid mountainbike (I ummed & ahhed about upgrading the old bike but in the end went for a new bike - the frame went to someone for a tourer project & the useable parts are gradually being recycled onto other bikes). It seems to handle the off road just as well as the Muddy Fox did but I found that with slick tyres (the much discussed but now becoming hard to get, Vittoria Voyager Hypers) it is not appreciably slower on the road (I log all my rides onto Strava & have backloaded rides back to 2014 so far - privately unless I choose to share them - and, although I haven't a clue where almost all of them are, I am continually finding I've set "personal bests" on segments both up & down hill.) It has become just my bike, adding of removing carrying capacity as required. The off road capability has meant I've discovered new paths - whereas before I would have passed a bridleway sign on my road bike & thought "maybe I'll come back & try it with my MTB" now I'm more likely to just head off road & see what happens. :D

This is the most loaded I've travelled with it
DSC_0407 (Custom).JPG

This would be more day to day use
IMG_7305_e (Small).jpg

Even the 1x system seems to be performing pretty much faultlessly (quick link on the OEM KMC chain failed at about 700 miles & damaged the links either side, the replacement SRAM chain has been much more robust). The frame has loads of braze-ons - rear rack, front rack or cages (3 separate mounts), mudguards, 3 bottle cages.

slowster
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby slowster » 18 Oct 2018, 2:28pm

A true cyclocross bike is a racing bike, made for short distance racing on a specific type of course, with restrictions on the bike design/components imposed by the governing body to preserve the unique character of that type of racing. So in a cyclocross race the maximum permitted tyre width is 32mm, even though the optimal tyre for such a course might be much wider (and consequently the frames may not have clearance for wider tyres and/or mudguards might not easily be fitted). A cyclocross bike would not be a good choice for the type of riding you describe.

Adventure/gravel bikes are arguably simply a variation on touring bikes, but with a more fashionable marketing label. Some will say that they are different because they have a more racey geometry/handling than a tourer and are used for 'adventure racing' events, but 'touring bikes' has always been a category that has covered a wide range from fast and lightweight, to heavy load lugger, to roughstuffer; and IMO adventure/gravel is just another variation on the theme.

With regard to an aluminium framed bike are you basing your perception of aluminium = light and steel = heavy on the difference between your hybrid and your MTB? If so that is not comparing like with like, because an MTB is always going to be heavier than a similarly priced hybrid. The available choice of aluminium framed bikes for the sort of riding you are doing is much less than steel frames. Moreover, in the overall scheme of things any extra weight of a steel frame over an equivalent aluminium frame is likely to be trivial when you factor in the weight of the rest of the bike, what you are carrying, and your own weight.

From what you describe, it sounds to me like your top priority and requirement in the bike is comfort, and in that regard possibly the most important decision for you to begin with is whether you want flat bars or drops. Spa's website shows its steel tourer set up both with drops and flat bars, and I guess it's possible that you might be able to request a test ride on both (it would not surprise me if they said no, because it's a lot more trouble to switch a demonstrator bike between drops and flat bars compared with just changing the position on a bike by changing the stem, adding spacers to raise the bars, raising/lowering the saddle etc., but you can only ask).

I think another important question to ask yourself is what is the maximum tyre size you want to be able to use. You say you've found the fat tyres of your MTB invaluable when tackling off road sections, and that you want to be able to do mild off road. I think the crucial point is whether you know with a high degree of confidence what is the maximum tyre width you would ever want to be able to use. If you do, then you can choose a bike designed with clearances for that width and no more. If not, then I would suggest you consider a bike that could take wider tyres if you ever felt the need for them or just wanted to try them.

The Spa steel tourer standard specification includes 32mm tyres, and it might be able to take slightly wider tyres. I do a lot of my riding on tracks, and consequently the bike that I keep looking at is Spa's new Wayfarer model, which comes with 32mm tyres as standard but can take 40mm tyres with mudguards. 531Colin, who designs Spa's frames, said here viewtopic.php?f=5&t=123787&start=75#p1283643:

In all fairness, Wayfarer won't be an exciting bike to ride unloaded, but it is the sort of undemanding ride which will look after you on farm tracks rather than try to put you in the hedge, and bring you safely back home when you are shattered.


That is exactly what I would want in such a bike. The Spa tourer doubtless offers a similar ride, and it sounds to me like one of those two bikes, depending your particular preferences for tyre width and disc vs rim brake, would suit the sort of riding you want to do.
Last edited by slowster on 18 Oct 2018, 3:20pm, edited 1 time in total.

LittleGreyCat
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby LittleGreyCat » 18 Oct 2018, 2:44pm

Thanks for all the responses so far.

An additional note on frame weight - I cycle with a U3A group which is geographically dispersed so we tend to drive to somebody's home location and then ride a local circular route with them. I currently have bike racks on the roof of my tall vehicle, so lifting a bike up on the roof requires effort and careful planning. Comparing the alloy hybrid with the steel mountain bike was illuminating.

I intend to retain the mountain bike as an alternative hack and for sentimental reasons. It still works well locally but I think I might like a slightly different (but relaxed) frame geometry as an alternative.

My aim is to end up with a flat bar local hack and a drop bar long ride tourer. If I end up only using one bike then I may donate the steel bike {sniff}.

whoof
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby whoof » 18 Oct 2018, 3:49pm

I have no experience of this bike just that it fits your spec.
https://www.stows.co.uk/8742/products/g ... -bike.aspx
Rutland Cycles did have the 2017 model at £530 but they are sold out but it might be worth doing some further searching.

slowster
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby slowster » 18 Oct 2018, 4:08pm

LittleGreyCat wrote: we tend to drive to somebody's home location and then ride a local circular route with them. I currently have bike racks on the roof of my tall vehicle, so lifting a bike up on the roof requires effort and careful planning. Comparing the alloy hybrid with the steel mountain bike was illuminating.


As I said, the significance of steel vs aluminium on the overall weight of a bike is almost meaningless if one is an MTB and the other a hybrid. You need to compare the weight of bikes with similar intended usage.

Given the importance of being able to put the bike on the roof rack, a few thoughts occur to me:

- The frame accounts for only part of the overall bike weight. You may need to think about the weight of all the components, not just the frame, e.g. lighter wheels, a titanium seatpost, titanium rack etc.

- Is the bike stripped of all extraneous weight when you put it on the car? If your rack is the type that holds a complete bike, maybe think about switching to one that takes the bike with the front wheel removed.

- Aluminium is not a widely available choice for touring type bikes. Generally if you want a touring bike with a frame lighter than steel, the most commonly available alternatives are titanium with carbon forks, such as Spa's Elan model (https://www.spacycles.co.uk/m1b0s21p3552/SPA-CYCLES-Elan-%28105-triple%29 - very, very nice and possibly perfect for your requirements, but a lot more expensive than the Dawes Galaxy which you mentioned in your earlier thread).

I suggest that whatever bikes you look at, you actually try lifting them as if you were putting them on a roof rack, and try to factor in how lifting that weight might feel after a long tiring day in the saddle.

PH
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby PH » 18 Oct 2018, 4:19pm

LittleGreyCat wrote:An additional note on frame weight - I cycle with a U3A group which is geographically dispersed so we tend to drive to somebody's home location and then ride a local circular route with them. I currently have bike racks on the roof of my tall vehicle, so lifting a bike up on the roof requires effort and careful planning. Comparing the alloy hybrid with the steel mountain bike was illuminating.

If weight is going to be important to you, it would be a good idea to weigh what you already have to set a benchmark. I'd start from the other end, get the bike that's best for the cycling, then work out how you're going to transport it. As I said earlier, bikes that are designed for the same purpose are going to have similar weights whatever the frame material. I think I've read there's 300g between Spa's identical steel and Ti tourers. The Wayfarer model mentioned above isn't going to vary much from you MTB if kitted out in a similar way.
I've had some lightweight bikes, then decided I'd like to use them in the ran and fitted guards, use them at night and fitted a dynamo, carry a bit of luggage and add a rack... then they're not so light...

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Si
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby Si » 18 Oct 2018, 4:44pm

"Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?"
Has anyone been a pendent yet and pointed out that steel is an alloy :lol:

I would be inclined to choose the bike on the bike's individual characteristics rather than what it was made from - i.e. go test a few and choose the one you like the most, whatever it's made from.

Although from the requirements you describe I'd avoid some true cycle cross bikes as mounting mudguards, racks, bottles, etc may be problematic, which I'm sure someone will have said already.

You might like to test a genesis cdf along with the others suggested.

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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby Bonefishblues » 18 Oct 2018, 4:55pm

https://www.alpkit.com/sonder/sonder-camino-alloy

They will build it to your spec on request.

LittleGreyCat
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Re: Cyclo cross/gravel/adventure/touring - steel or alloy?

Postby LittleGreyCat » 18 Oct 2018, 10:15pm

Bonefishblues wrote:https://www.alpkit.com/sonder/sonder-camino-alloy

They will build it to your spec on request.


Interesting. I think I need a week in Leeds as all the specialist bike shops seem about 50 miles away.