My official, active bicycle search began a little over midway through the month of December (approximately a week before my self-imposed timeline to purchase my bicycle). It started with an email to my sort-of cousin, sure-of friend; we still haven't figured out how to define our relationship since his dad married my aunt a decade ago. We're sort of extended family, but our friendship is definite. Sometimes friends are just as good as family anyway so titles between us are largely irrelevant; it's just the introductions that become awkward (e.g. "This is my ... what? What are you to me?").
Aside from the awesome lil' tidbit that he is a writer for Sports Illustrated and one of the most sought-after opinion leaders in the golf world (he's been extra busy since Tiger Wood's got into that little fenderbender), he is an avid cyclist without whom I'd be lost in the confusing realm of bicycle shopping. Confusion I can deal with; loss is overwhelming.
His initial response:
There is a good shop in my neighborhood, R&A Cycles (http://www.racycles.com). In Manhattan, you might check out Signature Cycles ( http://signaturecycles.com). A good friend of mine swears by Strictly Bicycles in New Jersey, right over the GWB in Ft. Lee (http://www.strictlybicycles.com). Although I haven’t been to the store, she says he’s the best guy in the area and never rips people off.
The search for my road bike has continued with reliable assistance from my frien-sin per various conversations, emails and one trip to R&A Cycles in Brooklyn, where I had an extremely pleasant and relieving-ly underwhelming first-bike-shop experience with a representative named Tim.
However, I had no idea that online bicycle reviews and in-store cycling shop recommendations would soon have me spinning (no pun intended). I should have begun researching touring bicycles well before December (roughly six months prior to my transcontinental cycling adventure), but I can earnestly insist that my two jobs and early-morning (and sometimes two-a-day) workouts are a valid excuse for my procrastination. A maniac schedule can make 200 days seemly blur into a mere few. Or what am I at now? 165 days left until I cycle due east out of Oregon? Note: Please ignore the fact that my blog countdown is on London time; I don't know how to change it.
I believe I've narrowed down some top choices, based on articles I've read and discussions I've had, but [sigh] I am still open to more suggestions. In no particular order - actually alphabetically - the current contenders include:
Allez Elite MSRP: $1550.00 [specialized E5 aluminum frame, carbon fork and seat stays, Shimano 105 shifters, derailleurs, cassette (12-27), crankset (50/34); Mavic CXP33 rims; specialized hubs and Mondo Sport 700x23 tires]
Defy 1 MSRP: $1400.00 [giant ALUXX SL 6013 double-butted aluminum, advanced-grade composite fork, Shimano 105 STI shift and brake levers, derailleurs, brakes, cassette, chain; FSA Gossamer Mega Exo crankset (50/39/30); Mavic CXP22 rims; Kenda Kriterium 25c tires; giant alloy anatomic-bend handlebar, alloy four-bolt stem, composite seatpost, men's performance road saddle]
Schwinn Le Tour Legacy MSRP: $1200.00 [Reynolds 520 chromoly steel, N'Gauged Gold Label chromoly fork, Shimano 105 derailleurs, brake/ shift levers, 10-speed cassette (12-25); FSA Gossamer triple crankset (50/39/30), Omega Mega Exo bottom bracket; Tektro R 358 brakes; Mavic CXP rims; KT alloy hubs; Continental Ultra Sport 700x28c tires; Schwinn Road Tuned Black Label Carbon seatpost and Bio Tuned saddle and another good review]
TREK 1.5 MSRP: $1099.99 [aluminum frame, carbon fork, Shimano Tiagra drivetrain, Shimano Sora 9-speed shifters and front derailleur, Tiagra rear derailleur; FSA Vero crankset (compact or triple) and an Editor's Choice '09 on bicycling.com]
TREK 2.3 MSRP: $1810.00 [alpha black aluminum w/ TCT carbon stays and fork, Shimano 105 shifters, front derailleur, crankset (50/34), cassette (11-25), Ultegra rear derailleur; Bontrager Race wheels, Race Basic saddle, carbon seatpost, Race VR bar, Race Lite OS stem, Race Lite tires]
The above details would be all well and good if I knew the difference between Shimano 105 and Shimano Tiagra drivetrains or where the specialized hubs are and why they're special. Meanwhile, some reviews recommend steel over aluminum regarding comfort. The cheaper aluminum bikes are reviewed as a harsh ride, but the aluminum combined with carbon frames and seat stays in the more upscale models also seem well-recommended.
The Schwinn Le Tour Legacy is a steel bike and weighs anywhere from 3-7 pounds more than some of the other bikes I've been considering. As I continue to read, I'm less concerned about non-field reparable frame cracks and more concerned about comfort. Some aluminum bicycles have great reviews with regard to comfort, but those that I can actually afford fare lower on the comfort scale. Steel seems to be regarded as comfortable at almost any price - though not always light. Since I'll be "credit card touring" with very little luggage, I'm not as concerned about weight as I would be if I were toting baggage.
Schwinn also has some carbon-fiber models in my price range, and the Trek bicycles and the Giant Defy 1 might be good aluminum choices. There is just so much to consider!
Out of all the research I've sought thus far and the information overload I've received in return, a portion of one particular Schwinn Le Tour Legacy review has currently spoken the most to me:
Buy It If: You wouldn't mind stopping to picnic on a bike ride
Forget It If: You can name any pro racer besides Lance Armstrong
It dropped the Shimano and Tektro lingo and spoke my language, dumbing down the review for confused souls like me. And it nearly defined me as a cyclist since I wouldn't mind picnicking my way across North America and I cannot name any pro racers besides Lance Armstrong. Then I began to worry that I would look like that beginner on her beginner bicycle that seemingly reads the equivalent of a Huffy.
And that's a hung-up that I'm going to get over right now. I've barely survived the label whoring of New York City and came out alive with my wallet and credit score intact. The last thing I need to do is get sucked into the world of bicycle brands.
For now, I'll leave you with Road Bike Anatomy 101, and please leave me any of your comments or suggestions.