In last week’s post, I talked about the joys of riding a performance bike. In the mainstream, “performance” means a racing bike, despite the limitations that go along with narrow tires, lack of fenders, etc. Unfortunately, many of the “alternatives” don’t offer great performance. I know that if I had to choose a bike in a mainstream bike shop, I’d pick a racing bike over the touring and city bikes that are presented as alternatives.
In the comments of the last blog post, there was some discussion on whether certain bikes qualify as “versatile performance bikes” or not. Rather than discuss bikes that I have not ridden, I’d like to show a test bike from the Summer 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly, because it comes close to my ideal for a “versatile performance” bike.
Performance: Our research has shown that the frame determines the performance of a bike. The frame must work with the rider, allowing them to generate more power with less fatigue. Such a frame will encourage the rider to go faster and ride more.
It appears that the stiffness of the frame, and especially the balance of the frame tubes, is crucial for creating a frame that feels “lively” and eager to go. Based on the preferences of our testers, Jeff Lyon used thinwall tubes in standard diameters for our L’Avecaise test bike. The result one of the fastest bikes we have ridden.
Interestingly, the best carbon frames use a similar balance of the frame tubes – relatively flexible top tube, somewhat stiffer down tube, very stiff chainstays. On the other hand, even small deviations from this formula, for example, an oversize top tube on an otherwise standard-diameter frame, do not seem to work well for many riders. Thinwall oversize tubing can offer great performance, as long as all tubes are increased in diameter, and the balance of the frame is preserved.
Tires: Jeff Lyon designed the L’Avecaise for 42 mm-wide tires. The wide tires not only are more comfortable, they also provide much better traction. As a result, this bike easily outcorners any racing bike.
Judging by the many bikes with zip-tied fenders, clip-on fenders and other make-shift fender solutions, the one accessory that riders wish they had are fenders. Jeff Lyon built the L’Avecaise with proper clearances for fenders.
The word “proper” cannot be stressed enough. Fenders should be at least 8 mm from the tires. Otherwise, they will need frequent adjustment if the fender moves a bit when the bike is leaned against a wall. The extra space between tire and fender also greatly reduces the risk of debris getting jammed and collapsing the fender, causing the wheel to lock up.
Only at the chainstays, the fenders can get a little closer than 8 mm to the tires. The fender is held tightly by the stays and won’t get out of alignment there. Space is at a premium in this spot, where tires, fenders and stiff (round) chainstays must fit between cranks with narrow tread (Q factor).
Fenders: Adequate clearances for fenders are only part of the game when it comes to preparing a frame for fenders. Jeff Lyon also spaced all bridges equidistant from the wheel centers. The bridges also have threaded braze-ons, to which the fenders can be mounted directly. Of course, Jeff Lyon used dropouts with eyelets.
That means that fender mounting will be relatively easy, and the fenders will be quiet even when riding on rough roads. Sliding brackets, spacers and zip ties are OK for retrofitting older bikes that were not intended for fenders, but they have no place on a brand-new bike that claims to be “versatile.” (Would you buy a Lamborghini that had its fenders attached with zip ties?)
Luggage: Jeff Lyon designed the L’Avecaise so that a Grand Bois M-13 rack will bolt right on. The fork crown already is drilled for it, and the rack’s lower supports will fit onto the cantilever pivots. That provides a firm platform for a handlebar bag.
The bike’s geometry is optimized for unloaded riding, but it will handle fine with a front load. If you plan to use a rack all the time, you should ask for a fork with a little more rake.
Have it all!
A bike like this would make a lot of sense for many riders. As shown in the photos, it would outperform most racing bikes thanks to its superlight frame and wider tires. It’s also a bike that encourages riders to seek out backroads with little traffic and great scenery, without worrying about the bumpy pavement that you often encounter on the most scenic roads.
If the rider enjoys this bike in the summer, they may want to keep riding when the weather turns rainy. No problem: Aluminum fenders would be easy to install, and once installed, they would not draw attention by requiring frequent adjustments or by making noise on rough pavement.
As the rider enjoys the performance of the bike, they might go on longer rides and find they need to carry some spare clothes, more food, a camera… A front rack would be easy to install to provide a secure platform for a handlebar bag. All those parts would fit as if the bike had been built with them in the first place. Our second tester Mark called it a “gateway drug to a randonneur bike,” but the appeal of this bike is not about riding huge distances. It’s really just a bike that is able to keep up with a rider who wants to ride more often and further than they originally planned.
Or the rider might just continue to enjoy Jeff Lyon’s bike as a racing bike on sunny days. It would be excellent for that as well. Having all these options makes for a truly versatile bike.