It’s great to see the response to my posts about connecting the completed pieces of the Coast to Coast Connector. Several people have asked: what’s a good beginning bike to use on this and other Florida bike trails? It’s a good question, but nearly impossible to answer in a few short words. Sandy suggested that I start by telling you about the bikes that I am riding. She said “in 200 words or less,” so here’s my short version.
In our little fleet, there is a wide selection to choose from. So I am going to give you a brief description of what I’m currently riding, and why.
To start, for the C2C research I’ve used three different types of mountain bikes. The first is an older Cannondale CAD3 with no suspension. The second is a hard tail Trek 820 with only front forks suspension. And the third is a fully suspended Cannondale SUPER V-1000. I’ve also used a hybrid TREK X600 Navigator. This model was only produced for two years. Heavily built, it came equipped for touring with front/rear racks, fended and lights.
Here’s how I decide which to use. If I know that the trail I plan to review has long sections of unpaved trail or non-existent trail, where I’m riding on rough surfaces, I ride the fully suspended mountain bike. I’ve used this bike to ride many places where there isn’t a path, just a suggestion of where the trail will go. Between the suspension and the off-road tires, it does the job. There are only a few places where I’ve needed to push or carry the bike through soft sand, dirt, or leaves.
Florida sugar sand is nearly impossible to ride through. I have always tried to build up a good bit of speed and make it across before fully sinking in. This only works on long straight places on the trail. So if you plan to do a lot of riding where there will be soft sand, you might want to use a lightweight bike because you probably will be carrying it often.
Riding through mud is similar to being in soft sand, only much messier. Again, be prepared to carry your bike in places. With mud or sand, a wide tire designed for off-road use is best.
Want worse than sand or mud? Try riding through potato sized rocks! I encountered these on a trail in Big Cypress Preserve. What made it even more terrible was carrying the bike while walking across those same large rocks.
There is a new breed of mountain bike out there that I call “plus size” mountain bikes. I have not ridden any of these, so I can only tell you that they exist. The new 29er mountain bikes, as they are called, are the next big thing and all of the bike manufactures are jumping on the bandwagon. Picture a bicycle with what looks like off-road motorcycle tires. And if that is hard to imagine, the next level of “go anywhere” mountain bike looks like something from a monster truck rally. Some of those tires have to be over six inches across. Perhaps those can handle the rocks.
When the bike path is smooth and paved I have ridden either a non-suspended mountain bike with large smooth road tires, or Sandy’s mountain bike, which only has a fork shock. The shock helps to take the thuds out of the handlebars.
My favorite all-purpose bike is a touring hybrid. It is a cross between a touring bike and a mountain bike, with tire widths in between the the two. It rides well on all paved surfaces, and allows me to also ride on gravel and packed dirt roads. While researching the Rinehart Trail this week, I easily rode on the grassy road shoulders with this bike between the paved sections of the trail.
I have also ridden an Ice Adventure with rear suspension on the local trails. This recumbent trike is the most comfortable bike that I have ever ridden. It is like riding on a lawn chair and it’s easy to take photos as you are riding. Now before you get excited, let me tell you a little more about them. They are not for everyone. You sit much lower to the ground, so if looking up at the vehicles going by upsets you, you will never be comfortable riding anywhere other than on bike paths and trails on one. See this earlier blog where I wrote about what it is like riding a trike.
Those are the bikes I have ridden on portions of the C2C and other paved trails around Florida. There are two more we have that haven’t joined me on these journeys, but could.
There is a pair of two-wheel RANS recumbents, long wheel base bikes, in the collection. Two-wheel recumbents have their following. Most people love them or hate them. People ride them cross-country all the time. I will write a review about our recumbents in the future. It will be a fun comfortable bike for riding the paved trails.
The last bike in our fleet is a road bike. You know the kind, they are the ones you see all the time when large groups of riders, in bright colors, zip along at speeds most of us mortals can only dream of. My road bike is a leftover from my old triathlon days. It is quick, twitchy, and you feel every bump as they go straight to your body. It rides on skinny little tires with well over 100 pounds of air inside. I have kept it all these years just in case I become skinny enough, tough enough, or crazy enough to try doing another triathlon. These are meant for speed, so the 15 mph signs on the bike path mean it’s not worth riding the road bike. It is also less comfortable than the others.
This explanation doesn’t tell you which bike is best for you, because it truly does take trying different bikes out to see what you find most comfortable. That’s how we’ve built a collection over the years. As I continue my research, I will swap bikes around and tell you more about them.