Bikes, bikes, bikes.

So, I’ve really gone and done it. After cycling London to Paris last year, I’ve finally signed up to do it again.

I’d put it off long enough, but have now bitten the bullet and am committed. So, first things first: please click here to sponsor me!

[Waits patiently]

Done it yet?

[Taps fingers]

It’s okay, I’ll wait.

[Whistles quietly]

Back from JustGiving now? Okay, I’ll continue. Now, what I really came here to write about was bikes. Last year I did the ride on my trusty old mountain bike (fitted with road tyres to smooth out the ride) but I think the miles really put the final nail in the coffin for its gearing system. (Even before the ride one bike mechanic had a look and deemed it beyond repair.) I’m still pootling round town on it, but I wouldn’t want to push it too far, so the time has come to find a replacement. But what to get? The world of bikes has moved on so much since I last bought one about 18 years ago, and the range seems to have diversified into an unending degree of specialisms.

Most of the riders last year were riding what would best be described as “road bikes”. What I’d call a “racer” when I was young. Lightweight, dropped handlebars, sleek. You know the sort. So should that be what I go for? Well, no. Whatever I get will have to be my only bike, and pure road bikes don’t take kindly to carrying luggage in panniers, or occasionally going on anything less smooth than tarmac (say, a gravelly towpath or an uneven grassy verge) or towing a child trailer – which I do quite regularly. So I need to look for something a bit more versatile. I’m not looking for another mountain bike, I know that.  In 18 years my bike has been off road so few times I can hardly remember.

Hybrids seem the obvious choice, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to find I end up getting one. Shaped like a mountain bike, but sleeker and smoother with higher gear ratios for a life on tarmac. Some lovely bikes out there. But at the moment I’m finding I’m hankering after something a bit more toward the road bike end of the spectrum. I’ve not ridden dropped handlebars for a very long time – over 25 years, certainly – but that’s what attracts at the moment, despite not knowing how I’ll cope with completely different positions for brakes and gear changes than I’m used to.

And this is where I start to get confused. There are cyclo-cross bikes – basically off-road racers – that seem to fit the bill. Then there are Touring bikes: built for distance and strength with a somewhat more upright riding position than a racer. And somewhere in the mix there are Audax bikes; not sure what they are exactly. And I’m getting mixed advise on what gear ratios would suit me.

I’ve a lot to learn about all this stuff befor commiting to a purchase. Here are a couple of things that have caught my eye online – but bear in mind I’ve not ridden anything like this for years.

Specialized Tricross

This seems to be a hugely popular all-rounder. Marketed as a Cyclo-Cross bike, but seems to be considered online as something of a hybrid between cyclo-cross and, erm, something else. A friend has one, and I’m hoping to get a ride on it very soon. The one pictured is the 2010 model, which I can’t find available online anymore (it was last week!) but may still be out there in the shops for a bit of a discount. (The full price 2011 model being a bit over my budget.)

Ribble Audax 7005

Very nice bit of bike, this. But to buy one I think I’d really need to know what I was doing. If you look on the Ribble website you’ll see that you start with a frame and basic set of components and then you can specify just about every damn bit of the bike yourself. Every change you make changes the price. (The one change I’m pretty sure I’d be looking at, to change the double chainset to a triple, adds £103, for example.) Another friend has one of these on order, so again I’m hoping to get a ride on one of these soon.

Any advice warmly welcomed!

Oh, and just to add another dimension to the decision, here’s a picture of on of last year’s Arch to Arc riders, on the bike he rode last year:

He’s just offered to lend my that very bike for this year’s ride. It’s a Dolan alloy frame with carbon forks. Campag 10 speed, 50/34 chainset, 12-25 (he thinks) cassette. Carbon seat post. Currently has mudguards fitted. A fantastic offer, for sure. I’m tempted….

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