Utilitarian cycling in Northern NJ, going car-free
I want to go car-free(again) and I want a new bicycle. But since in the region and in the actual country in general there is almost no utilitarian cycling culture, I have no idea where to find the type of bicycle I would want, to test ride before I buy.
I am leaning toward getting a cyclo-cross like the Surly Cross-check but lighter(and more expensive, higher end), since I want it also for recreational road rides and don't have the space and cash to pony up for another and dedicated road bike. Maybe something like the Specialized Tricross. Or maybe even a sport touring bike or something like the Trek Soho Deluxe(but higher end).
Is there any actual bike store in the region that is geared to the commuting, grocery hauling demographic that would stock a decent amount of the type of bike I am interested in? Also are there are any regional forums dedicated to utilitarian cycling?
Those models you all described are about it until you hit custom builds. Also, you are describing mutually exclusive uses for a bike. 'Lightweight' and 'touring' don't go together, as the name of the game is reliability and repair-ability, not gram saving. If you actually want to ride 'higher-end' bicycles for that kind of use, you're almost better off doing your shopping in NYC.
But, before you do that, really plan out what you want. How much groceries are you planning on carrying in a single trip? Are you going to (or want to) do heavy hauling?
My two cents? Stay away from 10 speed anything. It sounds nice on paper, but the parts, from a maintenance perspective, cost 50-75% more for a comparable quality part. An IGH can be a good trade-off in terms of maintenance costs, but has a more expensive start-up price (also, research thoroughly that the one you settle on can handle the torque input from pulling a heavy load) and are heavier rotationally. You may consider, instead of a fully kitted commuting bike (which believe me, the fenders and rack never come off, despite me telling people I could if I wanted to--too much extra work) a trailer. It is removable, and anything extra bolted onto your bike is reduced to a skewer or hitch. Decent trailers run in the $2-600 range, depending on the use you are looking for.
Now other than that, what do you want to bolt onto your bike? Fenders? Surely, you'll be riding rain or shine. A rack? Two racks? Either way, make sure that the bike you are looking at can fit the tires you want, fenders that will cover them, and racks...not all bikes do. Handlebar bags? You'll want something with bar-end shifters, as a bag will interfere with integrated levers.
Now, all that said, there are a couple of pre-built bikes that stand out. One of them would be the Cross-Check (not as heavy or ungainly as you might think--I regularly do group rides on a single-speed version, and have no problem keeping a 20mph pace) or the Kona Sutra. Of the two, the Sutra is probably the least fuss; it comes out of the box equipped with fenders and racks, uses bar end shifters, and comes standard with disc brakes, not that I've ever wanted for discs commuting in NJ.
Maybe look more towards a road-oriented hauler; like the Sutra above, touring bikes are meant to carry heavier loads and run racks/fenders/larger tires. Other than that, they tend to be a bit more upright, and have a longer rake to the fork, resulting in a more stable fast descent, and stabler control over-all.
There aren't very many bike-free people in NJ, compared to some other states/cities, but there are a few of us (and some of us even work at bike shops!). That said, I'm sure each of us has our own opinion as to what makes a good jack-of-all-trades (heck, I know a guy who rides recumbents almost exclusively)...mine happens to be light-touring (aka, most cyclocross) bikes, and failing that, the mountain bike, the cruiser, the city bike, and the rest of the garage.
Recently I have been listening to the Cycling 360 Podcast, which is geared mostly toward road racing, which I am not interested in, but I am interested in getting faster by following some type of structured training and other advice they offer. I also demoed a ridiculously expensive $11,000+ Specialized road bike with RED 22 & Force 22 components and Zipp Firecrest wheels at a local 2013 SRAM Road Ride experience event. That one hour demo ride made me realize that weight really matters, there was very little penalty to get up to speed after a stop and climbing was far easier than my mtb with knobbies, far less fatigue, and I could go much faster and sustaining speed was much easier. Also I really love the SRAM doubletap.
Now that makes me want my next bike to be a cyclocross that is light as possible so I can do structured training but which also has a rear rack, since I want to go car-free also and I don't have room for a stable full of bikes for several different discrete separated purposes. So far my preference is the 2013 Trek Ion CX Pro which retails for $2,099.99 and weighs 19.8 lbs(9 kg) according to road.cc.
-- Does anyone know something that fits my needs and/or is lighter than the Ion CX? I honestly am willing to pay significantly more about $2,500, maybe even $3,000.
-- As I understand it, cyclocross season is just about starting up soon, when new models will be released. How does this work to my advantage or disadvantage? No local bike shops have much cyclocross bikes in stock, but do Trek and other manufacturers have their own inventory of 2013 bikes which I can maybe get for cheaper, since the new models are coming out?
-- Is it dumb to buy a bicycle blind without a test ride? I don't see how I could possibly test ride an Ion CX, unless Trek actually keeps tab on the inventories of local bike stores and I do some serious driving.
I can see that there is little car-free culture in the area as there are no panniers and rear-racks to be seen on the roads, let alone bicyclists at all in most areas of the region. The biggest car-free demographic I see are Latino migrants who used rusted department store bikes, walk up the hills and hang plastic shopping bags from the handlebars.
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