Friday, July 26, 2013

Shopping for a touring bicycle (autumn 2012)

It started as wishful thinking... and then quickly escalated.

In the summer of 2012, I borrowed a sturdy purpose built touring bicycle for my hilly and longer-than-usual camping trip. Using a bicycle designed for touring emphasized what I was missing from my beautiful vintage Koga-Miyata (Granny gear, multiple hand positions, clearance for wider tires, longer chainstays, sturdiness, etc.) Basically, the bicycle I had borrowed felt like riding in a tank, and my Koga is more like riding on a nervous horse. For one, you have to spend more time paying attention to the animal and the other, you can relax and watch the surroundings albeit while crushing them.

This made me curious to "test ride" some other touring bicycles... the one I had borrowed was a Santos brand and although I've been envious to own one, I decided it was too tank-like (and expensive). Possibly it was the set up, but it was designed for world-tourers who must be prepared for anything in their travels. It's worth the price if you are going to do that kind of travel.... but I wasn't that adventurous.  Also, most of the Santos line is aluminum and I am irrationally biased against aluminum. They have a steel version but it takes extra long to build to order.

I tried a few other specialists with custom steel frames (Snel, Vittorio) and found the Avaghon from Bike4Travel to be the most pleasing. They also had the best service... but again, it's a bicycle ready for around-the-world travel and I'd feel silly using it to buy milk or go camping once a month. Also, heartbroken if it was stolen.

Next and with some advice and help from friends, I looked into some of the cheaper stock models from non-specialist brands, VSF Randonneur, the Trek 520, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, the Salsa Casseroll (my boyfriend said if I bought a bicycle with that name he'd mock it). had none of these used for sale.

Where to test ride these bicycles? Well, on a trip to Berlin, I found a really cool store that carries only steel and has most of the touring models from major manufacturers. The store is RadSpannerei and they are awesome. If you are in Berlin, check them out.
Luckily, they also carried the Kona Sutra which I had dismissed because of the disc brakes. At the store though, my boyfriend argued their virtues in the realm of physics or whatever and convinced me to reconsider. (He had no objection to the name.) I went for a test ride on one that was slightly too small, but it was quite nice! I looked up the EasyJet policy on transporting bicycles, just in case.

Back in the Netherlands, I found the only Kona Sutra, in the entire country, in my size (not really it turns out), for sale with a huge discount because it was an old model...

Kona Sutra mine!

For my first ride, I took it out for a 200k+ trip to test everything "as is" in Zeeland.
It was great! It was extremely sturdy, good on ramps (no real hills :)) and non-paved paths. No heel strike. The back rack was super strong and good enough for me. It was a pleasure to ride loaded or unloaded and didn't demand extra attention. Also, the brakes are cool.  I am happy that it's not custom or vintage so I don't feel precious about it.  I made changes to the seat, stem and added crossbar brakes and big schwalbe tires. 

I forgot to publish this post last fall... it's been awhile!  I bought the bicycle before I knew I was moving to California!
The bicycle is in California now, still in good shape but sadly missing longer trips. It's too heavy for the hills but otherwise a perfectly extravagant commuter bicycle. I wrote about it earlier this week in an out-of-order posting.
I am hoping for some short loaded trips in the fall!


  1. Hey Alicia,
    I'm glad you're keeping the Kona. Once you have a personal relationship with a bicycle you cannot just abandon it.
    Btw, are all four brake handles connected to the brakes?
    I see you're planning trips for the fall. How will you get over the mountains? Are trains an option?
    I suppose there's a lot to see in CA. Maybe you'll come across this
    or this
    or this
    or one of These
    Anyways, have fun with the Kona Sutra.

    1. If I do run into any of those things, I'll let you know!!
      It's not so unlikely. :) Lots of hippies and celebrities out here.