The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Can a commuter morph into a roadie?

I ride my bike nearly everyday, although I don't log very many miles. I live about 2 miles from my work, so my daily mileage is around 7-10 miles, depending on how many errands I run, or if I decide to take the 'long way home'. Every once in a while I have to go to a meeting in a neighboring town, if that's the case I may ride up to 25 miles round trip. I do this on my commuter bike. I don't own a road bike, however, I may soon.

During the hubbub of the Tour de France and the STP my brother threw out an idea: "Why don't we try and do the STP next year or the year after". You see, he recently inherited our child bike seat and has been biking all over Renton with his almost two year old. He's been bitten by the bike bug and I couldn't be happier.

I thought about his challenge, the STP, huh? Well, the furthest I've ridden in one day is 30 miles, and that was to go to work meetings, so it was split up. Also, like I said above, I don't own a road bike. As much as the idea of doing a LONG ride (60+ miles) on Fred, my Big Dummy Complete intrigues me, I'm pretty sure my body would be happier with an actual road bike. Not to mention the skinny tires, it'd be so much easier, well as easy as 60+ miles can be.

So now I'm in the conundrum of buying another bike. But I'm a commuter, not a roadie. I don't know the first thing about road bikes. If you've read the book Bike Snob, you can laugh with me about the different types of bicyclists and how they may or may not get along. If you haven't read it, you should, it's hilarious!

A trip to my local bike shop was educational, I learned a lot about road bikes and the different components. I'm still not sold yet, I'll admit. While I can justify spending a lot of money on my commuter bike, we only own one car, I'm getting exercise, it's awesome, I use it every day, etc. It's harder for me to justify spending a lot on a road bike that I will ride a couple times a week. So to answer the question, can a commuter morph into a roadie? I honestly don't know. I like the idea of doing a century, I'm just not so sure about the the spandex and $800+ price tag of a new bike.

What do you think? Can you convince me to do it? Do you have a similar story to share? Do you have tips on buying a road bike?


  1. You don't need a road bike. I did 50+ miles with no training when I was 13 years old (many ages ago) on a steel, heavy bike.

    I have also converted my old mountain bike for less than $100 to a commuter with skinny high pressure tires using the same rims. Skinny high pressure tires make all the difference in rolling resistance.

    The weight of the bike doesn't matter that much, it's more the weight of the rider and gearing that makes such a big difference in hill climbing ease.

  2. I use to own a very heavy Raleigh "mountain bike". One year I rode that bike in an STP. After that long ride I decided I needed something lighter and quicker. So 15 years ago I bought a aluminum frame Scott road bike for all my future STPs. I quickly found that I was only riding my road bike so I ended up selling my old Raleigh, and never looked back. Just this year I bought my first new bike in 15 years, another road bike.

  3. I'm a roadie morphed into a commuter. I have a road bike that I cobbled on fenders and a rack and I ride 30 miles rt every day. I dream of a fast "Sunday bike" for those hot summer days when I can shed those lbs of commuter stuff and ride a 100 miles. With bicycle commuting vs driving I figure I can justify a second bike in the stable. And Seriously, you're riding a big dummy for a 30 mile trip? ugh. A road bike is the sports car of the bicycle world. If you get a pretty light one that fits, it sort of just disappears under you. Even long hills don't seem that bad.

    Well worth the cash. IMO. (and the one day STP is a blast!)

  4. You don't need so much spandex, just some bike shorts, but after you've been putting in miles on a Big Dummy, you're gonna fly on something that's meant to go further and faster!

    You don't necessarily need skinny tires either, but something a little bit lighter and with more hand positions available to you for the long haul will help you out a lot.

    I'd say go for it! You never know where it'll end up taking you.

  5. A cyclist for the last forty years and 19 Stp's and counting.
    I summer commute on a Ti racing bike with a small rucksack, winter on a fendered 28 year old Raleigh.
    You can ride Stp on your commuter. The hills will be hard just because of the weight. The biggest issue with the bike is the fit, Stp is either one or two very long days in the saddle.If it doesn't fit you well, that nagging pain will turn into a major pain.
    Having said that, a road racing (or wannabe racer) is just pure fun, going fast under your own power is really what cycling is all about.
    If you can spare the money, yes. (remember I'm an obcessed cyclist so of course I'm telling you to buy it)
    Consider it your mid-life fling, it's the cyclists version of getting a Italian sports car.If you don't get it now, you just be older when you do- NO REGRETS! RIDE!

  6. Of course you don't need spandex or a "road" bike for the STP, and more importantly you don't need them to enjoy the act of performing on a bike, centuries or otherwise. The real beauty of cycling is not about going FAST under your own power but just GOING under your own power.

    "Fast" is a relative and dubious term when referring to the design, construction, and performance of a bike. For a ride like the STP I think "fast" misses the point. If you have a competitive nature and feel you'll continue to do so beyond the STP then just understand what you're in for as you pursue the roadie prescription: you'll sacrifice comfort for speed and regurgitate for years industry-perpetuated advice until you gain enough experience to (hopefully) sort some of the issues out for yourself.

    A "road" bike... I cringe at the thought of what that term has come to mean and caution you about buying something that may seem whippy and spirited (because it's new to you) at first but will be dated, uncomfortable, and ultimately disposable over time. A "road" bike doesn't have to be these things but if your approach to acquiring one is from the perspective of categorizing yourself as a commuter or roadie it's hard to imagine it won't be.

    If you're just up for a challenge, go on a few training/longer rides on the Big Dummy in preparation for the STP. See what that's like. Wear bike shorts or not. Of course the bike is heavier and relatively slower but you'll be challenging yourself in ways far more interesting than by simply following a short laundry list of roadie rules. You'll gain experience, fitness, and save a chunk of cash.

  7. Just rent!
    I commute 40 miles a day on a single-speed 29er. But I did the Tour de Blast (82 miles) and the RAMROD (150 miles) on a Trek Madone I rented from Gregs. Rental was about $35/day for a sweet carbon fiber, skinny-tire raching machine. Just my price tag.
    Just be sure to take good measurements on your commuter so you get the right size rental and adjust it so that it's not wildly different from the basic geometry you've been riding.

  8. I did a century ride on a bike that I did some serious upgrading on. It all started with a Montague folding bike that I inherited. I really liked the design, but I wanted to make it more of a high-speed bike than a commuter. So I swapped out a bunch of parts, most notably lower spoke count wheels and drop bars for the risers, and before you know it, I had a pretty sweet (and light!) bike that I could also put in my trunk.