Road bike or folder?

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Anonymous's picture

Everything is set for my trip to Bordeaux Friday night--except which bike to take.

My mileage each day will be short (30 to 40ish) with about 18 pounds extra weight from the rack and panniers. Two-day stopovers in three towns will give me a chance to ride around without baggage. (My experience is: when you're carrying baggage and want to do some sightseeing, 30 miles a day is plenty--unless, of course, you're a tough guy like John Barnard who can climb hills fully loaded until 10 at night.)

The choices are:

1) Aluminum road bike (18 lbs). I would rather ride this bike. Air France does not require you to box bikes, and if you have only one other bag, it's free. (Yet another reason to fly Air France!) But riding it with panniers is wobbly from the high center of gravity. And I'm not sure what kind of mechanical shape it's in--cables and all that. Certainly it is dirty. I could get last-minute repairs done Thursday night.

2) Swift Folder. 25-pound steel frame, hybrid handlebars with short bar ends. Sporty, sturdy bike with thick tires and low center of gravity that's good for carrying bags. (Once held up in 60 mph winds.) Lots of low speeds for getting up hills. Fits into hardshell suitcase so is unlikely to be damaged; hotel in Bordeaux will store the suitcase for me. Downside: it's hard to make it go much more than 18 mph, and distances seem longer than on a road bike.

So many bikes, so little time!

As always, I will appreciate any advice.



Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Last-minute repairs w/o a shakedown ride?

Take the folder.

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)

"Evan--Order of priority in ""power-trip planning"" (cheap, self-guided travel arranged on short notice) is: 1) Buy ticket 2) plan route 3) book hotels 4) pack 5) prepare bike 6) shakedown ride. I have accomplished only Nos. 1-3 so far this week. No. 6 probably isn't going to happen.

For us 9-to-5ers, Saturday is a better departure day for a bike tour, since it guarantees you at least a morning spin around the block with the bike packed. With only nine days off, I decided it was better to leave on a Friday night to make the most of it.

Hank--I know the road bike is slightly unstable because I took it on a 16 day tour two years ago. (Of course, I was slightly unstable then, too.) Skinny tires, high center of gravity, and panniers that weigh as much as the bike--despite extreme measures of economy.

Mark--the idea of buying a new bike occurred to me too! Though I think you all are right in suggesting the more practical alternative. The Folder it is.

Thanks again for helping me out of this quandary."

Anonymous's picture
<a href="">Peter O'Reilly</a> (not verified)

If the bike feels unstable, just drink more wine. If it really is unstable, just buy more bottles of Bordeaux to even out the weight distribution.

Owning both a folder and road bike, my advice would be to take the folder. Did you not have great success with the folder touring Ireland?

Your Swift Folder is more than adequate for that type of touring. The folding advantage is big plus for convenience and security. The places you patronize such as hotels and restaurants will be more inclined to allow you to bring your bike with you into your room, into a coat check, discretely by your side, etc.

Anonymous's picture
Anthony Poole (not verified)
Take the folder!

I would definitely take the folder. But, if you decide to take the road bike, I would advise against taking it on the plane without a box. While most of the transatlantic airlines do not require them to be boxed and will take them for free - counting them as one piece of baggage in your allowance - taking them without being boxed or bagged is asking for trouble.

Things do occasionally get dropped, and I've seen a friend check in a perfectly good aluminium road bike at one end, unboxed, only to be handed back a bike with a buckled chain stay at the other end, due to rough handling. I think aluminium frames are particularly vulnerable and can crack when trying to bend them back.

If you value the bike and want it to be around for a long time, the $300 cost for a bike box is not that great. I'd be happy to lend you mine, other than the fact it is in storage in upstate NY. If you don't intend to fly very often with the bike, then consider renting a bike box. It's a lot cheaper than having to replace a frame.

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Bikes can fly unboxed?

You're positive about that? I flew to Nice last September on Air France and although my bike was definitely free I never heard anything about it not having to be boxed or in a case.

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Yes, free & unboxed

I traveled this way two years ago. Rode to JFK from Jamaica station, unloaded panniers at Air France terminal, turned handlebars, removed pedals, deflated tires. The counter clerk gave me a little trouble, but relented when I informed him that I'd called the AF customer service beforehand for these instructions.

The guy at JFK who took my bike didn't look too happy about it, and I said a little prayer for its safety. (I had also covered the derrailleur in bubble wrap.) And when I arrived in Paris, a charming young dark-haired man rolled my unscathed bike off the elevator, handed it to me, and smiled. In fact, everyone in the airport smiled at me afterwards. Regardes, une cyclotouriste!

Last night I phoned Air France to be certain about this policy, and was assured that it was still the case. With regard to shipping the bike uncovered: my feeling is that uncovered is probably better than badly packed, since the airport personnel may be less likely to throw it under a heap of overstuffed suitcases.

Anthony, thanks for the offer; maybe I'll take you up on it another time.

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Group wisdom prevails once again!

"The Swift Folder was indeed the right choice for this trip.

The bike packed up compactly for the bus trip from Bordeaux to Margaux (the conductor was okay with the bike, but one SNCF bureaucrat riding along made a stink about it), took up less room wherever it was stored (some hotels didn't want it in the room, but all made easy storage available), and its low profile held up well against the steady 15mph headwind encountered on several days. Plus, its petite frame was a great conversation starter. I was perfectly comfortable riding it on all occasions, loaded down or not.

I know that some of my pals would have really liked zooming up and down the rolling hills around St. Emilion and in the Entre-deux-mers region (300 feet max). But from my perspective, the slow cinematic pace that I kept, due either to luggage or fatigue, meant more time for the exquisite landscape, both cultivated and wild, to sink into memory, where it has taken root.

What did I forget to bring this time? Uh, laundry soap, and the quick release for the front wheel. (Not quite as absent-minded as Mr. McCarthy, but almost.) Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to put the bike together as soon as I got to my hotel in Bordeaux, at 4:30 pm on a Saturday, so there was still an hour to find and get to a bike shop for a replacement. Everything is closed on Sunday. Whew.

Now I will share with you the find of my trip: an elegant and unpretentious restaurant run by a charming couple in St. Macaire, a medieval village on the north banks of the Garonne, about 50 miles southeast of Bordeaux: L'abricotier, tel. 05 56 76 83 63, fax 05 56 76 28 51. Worth spending a few days in St. Macaire just to eat in their restaurant (they also have an inexpensive B&B; I didn't know about it and stayed in a nearby 15th century hotel, but also run by nice people and had a huge room and an indoor jacuzzi, Les Feuilles d'Acanthe).

Menu (at 35 euros):

--La pyramide de risotte aux cepes sur un veloute de persil (risotto with cepe mushrooms surrounded by parsely sauce)

--Les filets de rouget sur un chutney de tomates aux aubergines (red mullet filet on a sweet-and-sour tomato and eggplant chutney)

--La noisette d'agneau rotie a l'aillet (lamb roasted with garlic, medium rare, light reduction sauce with scallions)

--Le rouleau de fraises sur un sabayon du citron et sorbet au cremant de Bordeaux (a small tower of strawberries encased in a fine pastry with lemon flavored cream and sorbet made with sparkling white Bordeaux wine)

Plus a half-bottle of red Bordeaux (Chateau la Garde, Pessac-Leognan, 1999) and a large snifter of 1982 Armagnac, served in front of a crackling fire in a room full of convivial people. Including a 20% tip (totally optional, since service is included) the total was 73 euros, a little more than you can pay for a mediocre meal in New York. (They also offer a la carte and other menus at 18 and 25 euros, and half-bottles of wine under $10. You can eat there very reasonably, as I did the night before.)

Yep, bike touring is not entirely about the bike. Other meals included one less-than-memorable but significantly more expensive one (Note to self: do not repeat do not order the chef's menu on first visit to restaurant). I spent one fun evening in St. Emilion with a couple whom I met in an oyster bar in Bordeaux. (Where I was greeted with a handshake by the proprietor, a tradition of hospitality, on my second visit.) Also in St. Emilion, I attended an informative two-hour wine-tasting session the Ecole du Vin that's well worth the 20 euros (in English or French;

In front of a fish market in Cadillac, northwest of St. Macaire, a hand-written sign on cardboard read, ""Ici on ouvre les huitres,"" which brought me to a halt. The poissoniere got out her knife and within minutes I was slurping a dozen fresh oysters (six from Normandy, six from the Gironde), for 4 euros 5"

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