Saturday, January 23, 2016

Test Riding Possible Step-Through Touring Bicycles - The Beginning

Specialized Vita.

Last summer as I waited for my son's bike repair at a local shop, I began my search for my ideal bicycle, deciding to look at what was available on the shop floor. My basic requirements for a possible touring machine: fork eyelets, rear rack capability, low climbing gears, and clearance for fenders. Beyond that I was open to any type of shifting and braking system.

I test rode the Specialized Vita, climbing Burlington's hills and zipping along the flats. After 20 minutes of experiencing more road vibration than I've felt in years, I headed back to the shop. I'm not enamored with aluminum bikes in general - I know they present a rougher ride - but neither am I opposed to their looks. I don't mind the fatter tubing and they often come in snazzy metallic colors (Cannondale mountain bikes comes to mind). The Vita's gear system was just okay - I needed lower still. I'll give it kudos for a fast ride though. But another deal breaker was the upright posture and I kept wanting to reach about 4" further forward. It was then that I realized where my hunting difficulties would lie - fit will become a major obstacle. Any step-through bike would have to have a more elongated frame geometry (for lack of correct terminology) for me to consider as a possible touring machine.

And just because there was a Raleigh Eva 1 in my size, I took this one out for a spin. It's inexpensive, steel, and classified as a cruiser. After riding a stiff bicycle, the Eva was comfortable, more like my Ross Mt. Saint Helens. It was cushiony, but sluggish on hills. I could live with the fit, but would need to customize the handle bars. After further investigation, it would require major renovations, new fork to handle front panniers, specialized rear rack (frame doesn't have braze-ons), etc. I was excited at first, considered these renovations, but had to admit that drastically altering a bike might only unearth more problems. I was only beginning my search and accepted that this would be a long haul.

But as I'm slowly learning, variety of affordable (1500.00 or less), step through touring bikes available to US consumers is very hard to come by, especially if you want a true step-through* (I'm spoiled with the Ross's 22" step-over height) and not a Mixte, plus the ability to test ride your dream bike before spending money.

The hunt is on. However, I'm jealous of all the options available to Europeans.
*Step-through bike frame construction is supposed to be less stable than their Mixte counterparts, especially for loaded touring, however, with lighter racks and gear choices these days, I believe step-through design is adequate. One can always pack ultralight like this guy...


  1. Good luck with your search. A good step-through touring bike will be hard to find. I'm impressed by how many options there are in Europe. That's amazing!

    I feel like the ideal bikes of my imagination are always just a little off from what the bike industry regards as normal. I'd love to find a bike for transportation and light touring that would be made with light-weight steel tubing and could accommodate disc brakes and 650b or 26-inch wheels. For me, the Cheviot would be just about perfect except for the brakes (I ride in the rain a lot and have had it with slipping rim brakes). Something like the Soma Saga Disc looks great, but it weighs a ton.

    See what I mean? There's always one unalterable thing about a bike that keeps it from ticking all the boxes for me.

    1. Yeah, I was blown away by all the European options too, but saddened that I can't easily try any of them. I would happily test ride about 90% on that list. I love the aesthetic, built in racks and fenders...

      I'd love to try the Clementine, if it is available sometime this year at a MA dealer. I'd plan the 4 hour journey when I know it's available. From what I can tell the step over height and gearing sounds ideal for me. It's the fit that I worry about.

      I'm optimistic that I'll find what I'm looking for in the next 2-3 years.

  2. I am so glad you are starting to pursue this, Annie. I hope you find something you like. Thanks for sharing the European list, topical for me as I am helping/coercing two friends to consider cycle touring with me in the Netherlands later this year. I know what I prefer, but they have no idea where to start. A few Dawes and Ridgeback models are on my list and I will have a good look at your link too.

    Happy bike testing!

  3. I think you just need to go on a European trip and pick up your bike while there. :) Or, perhaps I am just wanting a vacation and hoping to live vicariously through others.

    I agree that finding a step through vs a mixte frame for touring is going to be the biggest challenge, but I have hopes that you'll find the right fit. The Clementine would be an interesting test. I've read a variety on this bike, but it would be a treat to get to read your thoughts if/when it's available for testing closer to you.

    Sizing (or fit) always seems to be the biggest obstacle. For some it's that the bike doesn't come small enough and for others that it isn't available large enough... and sometimes it's just that the fit simply isn't right for our needs.

  4. I toured around Europe for 2 months this summer on an REI Novara Fiona. Turned out fantastic!

    1. Thanks for this tip. I'm looking for a rigid fork so if you spot any bikes of this type that you think might work for a tall lady, let me know.

  5. I am very interested in following your search. I need a step-through frame because I have a leg full of metal bits. I bought my first bike in decades this past November, and I can't get enough of riding it. I have started dreaming of doing a tour. Best of Luck in your search for a step-through tourer. Thanks for sharing with us!

    1. Go lady riders! A tour starts with one overnight...try one this year. Here's a good source of info for you:


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