Some bike musings

Back in 2011 I decided to invest in a decent bike, and got myself a Trek FX 7.2. This is a hybrid or fitness style bike that has flat handlebars, a 3x front chainring, and decent but basic components. In the past 8 years I’ve put almost 3,700 miles on that bike. I’ve been increasing the yearly total a lot over the past couple years, and it started to get me thinking about if it’s time to invest in something new.

IMG_0249.JPGI did purchase a used fat bike this winter, but that’s a very specific purpose, and I don’t use it as a daily rider most of the time. What I’m considering is if it’s time to move up to something more akin to a road or gravel bike. I know that a little bit of what holds back my power output is the general design of a hybrid bike. They’re meant to be all-purpose, which means that they don’t excel at any single use. For the most part that works when I’m doing general riding around to breweries, or running errands, but for any longer rides that get upwards of 30 miles, I feel like I could be doing better.

My friend Abe asked why I don’t just modify my hybrid into something else, but there are a few key things that I want to change that would just be too cost prohibitive on this bike. Also, at the end of the day, my Trek FX 7.2 is a $600 bicycle, and trying to ask it to be something more, just doesn’t seem fair given it’s price point. So what am I looking for? A few key things.

  1. I’d like to move over to a drop bar style bike, that puts my hands in a better position for longer rides. It’s more natural for your hands to sit in the relaxed position on a drop bar handle than typical flat bar style.
  2. Moving over to a 2x chainring and drive set seems like something that would fit my riding style better. I tend to hang out in one gear on the front all the time anyway. In fact, my fat bike has only 1 chainring, and I can still manage to climb most hills with it just fine. A 2x would give be some chainring sizes that might be better for power transfer, especially over longer distances.
  3. Curiosity about a different style of geometry, and it can affect my riding. I need to do more research into frame geometry, but I know that moving from a hybrid to a road or gravel is going to give me a different riding experience.
  4. A upgraded experience. Most gravel bikes start in the $1,200-1,500 price range, which is a big step up from where I’m at, and often includes nice disc brakes.

I did do some test riding a few weeks ago at one bike shop, and started getting a feel for what the different bikes ride like, but I wanted to put the question out to the internet at large.

What’s your go-to bike style? Why did you choose it? Did you move away from one style to another? What else should I be thinking about in all of this?

Gear Review: Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack

Every since getting my pop-up trailer, I’ve had one niggling issue. I have no where to attach my bikes for traveling. My primary bike rack is a Yakima HoldUp, which is a great way to transport bikes. However, with the secondary receiver hitch that I purchased, it sticks out too far, and would impact the turning radius of the trailer. I needed something that would hold the bikes closer to the car.

A simple hanging bike rack might be a good option, but I wanted to avoid spending many hundreds of dollars for something I would only be using a few times a year. In my search I found the Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack. This is a really unique trailer bike rack that clamps on to the actual hitch, and then acts like a standard hanging rack. It clamps on close to the vehicle, which keeps the bikes close and away from the turning radius of the camper. To top it off, I got it for less than $80.

img_2929What I liked

The rack is light, and super easy to assemble. It’s easy to store on a shelf in my garage when not in use. Sliding my bike on to it was very easy, once you realized how to rotate the mounting points to the side first, and then rotating them into place. The rubber straps that attach the bike seem sturdy, and are relatively easy to attach.

The general construction of the rack is solid, and nothing felt “cheap” in any way. The straps that attach from the sides to the car, felt strong and they secured the rack solidly. The addition of little reflective ends to the bike mounting arms is a nice touch. In general the rack is what it says it is, and feels durable.

img_2928What I didn’t like

There are a couple of issues with this rack, which may actually prevent you from being able to use it. First, in order to extend the rack and secure the clamp, you have to press down in the locking mechanism. I can’t overstate this enough; this requires a great deal of downward pressure and strength. Every time I had to do this, it took all my upper body ‘oomph’ to get it to attach and click in to place. I feel like some form of screw, similar to a scissor jack, would be a lot easier to work with.

Along the same lines, removing the rack is downright scary. To release the crossbar, you need to pull out the pin securing it in place, and then pull up on a release handle. When you do, the stored energy causes the rack to slam closed, like a bear trap. It’s truly frightening and feels dangerous. Again, I feel like this is a design aspect that should be re-thought. I’ve seen pics online of people who have been scratched or poked by the slamming components.

Finally, the biggest issue with this rack is that, even without bikes on it, you had to give up access to your trunk. To get into the trunk of your car requires removing the rack completely. With how difficult and scary it is to do this, it means that you do it as infrequently as possible. This past weekend I found myself using the seat fold-down feature from inside my car to get access to gear. It was just a lot easier than having the mess with the rack.

Final thoughts

My feelings on this rack are somewhat mixed. I love the concept, and it allows me to use it with my trailer easily. It accomplishes what it says it will, despite being imperfect. I think with a couple small design tweaks, this could be a really cool rack. However, it does serve my purposes, and at less than $80, it’s what I was willing to invest in. I feel like it’s probably a good buy for situations like mine, but I wouldn’t want to use it as my only bike rack. It’s just not easy enough to work around for day-to-day use.