The Chainlink

An Ode to the Suburban (and the chance to convince me to buy a new bike)

Everybody here on the Chainlink loves an animated discussion, don’t they?

I’m a fan of my Schwinn Suburbans.  My wife picked me one up 3-4 years ago, and it is what got me started cycling again.  I decided early on that I needed to ride at least  a thousand miles before even considering a new bike.  Once the thousand miles was up, I figured I would go for two thousand.  After that, I thought it was a good idea to see how much the ride improved after an overhaul.  Last summer, I picked up a second one, potentially for parts, but it quickly turned into a spare.  By now, I have about 7000 miles on the first one, and 1000 miles on the spare.

My biggest problem?  Convincing bicycle mechanics that I actually do want to spend money on the bike, if I have worn out a part.

 

My favorite things:

1)      Pretty darn bulletproof.  It takes a lot to make one stop running.  In all that riding, I’ve only had one breakdown where I needed to call for the dreaded pickup.  That breakdown was all my fault, and the root causes will never happen again.

2)      Full coverage fenders and dork disc.  I work in semi-casual environment, but the bike has never damaged anything except for previously frayed shoelaces.  I really, really, like the fenders.

3)      Versatility.  I transition from road to trail, without a care.

4)      Very few worries about theft.

5)      A solid, forgiving frame.

6)      I always have a backup lighting system

7)      The vintage, cool, contrarian factor.

8)      Those few opportunities that I can sneak up on a tired group of roadies at the end of their ride, and hang with them for several miles, to their great consternation.

My problems:

1)      Five hours of riding only takes me 50-60 miles.

2)      Difficulty of finding quality replacement components, and then convincing a mechanic that replacing them is what I really want to do.

3)      Sooner or later, my knees, my riding style, and the weight of the bicycle are going to come to an unfortunate intersection.

4)      It is not exactly fun to load on a bus rack, or carry up and down the stairs into the basement of the building.

Really, the only bikes that have been speaking to me to replace the Suburban are steel touring bikes like the Surly LHT, Novara Randonee, and Jamis Aurora.  Or maybe a Schwinn Super Sport…

 

But I am at least tempted at the moment, and willing to carry on animated discussion with anyone who wants to convince me.

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I would go with a Chevy Suburban, myself. Pretty much all same pluses and minuses you mentioned and the gas mileage sucks, too.

I got buzzed by one of those just yesterday-- I would have thought he would have felt more comraderie with me!
 
Joe Guzzardo said:

I would go with a Chevy Suburban, myself. Pretty much all same pluses and minuses you mentioned and the gas mileage sucks, too.

Go with the Surly LHT.

I had the displeasure of fixing my boss' old Schwinn Varsity.

It is headache to find parts for this bombproof ride.

Most of the regrets I've heard from people regarding getting a new (or new to you) bike are that they don't ride it very much. I don't think you would have that problem.

A steel touring bike is a solid choice. I'm sure you can find an LBS with year end stock they can cut you a deal on.

You should upgrade. You can always keep the Suburban for putting around town.

A Long Haul Trucker (or a slightly lighter Cross Check) would be the perfect 'fire and forget' bike that will do everything you already do and have parts available.  And have wider tires so you'll be more comfortable.  Minus the parts your list of problems will be problems no matter what you ride.

I second the idea of trying to get a deal on older stock. If of course you decide to go the new bike route. A buddy of mine just picked up a Salsa Vaya for about $900 off retail which incidentally is a great steel touring bike. 

If you have some flexibility in your budget then check out the All City Space Horse. I just picked up a Macho Man that is begging for miles. 

OLB 0.1 said:

Most of the regrets I've heard from people regarding getting a new (or new to you) bike are that they don't ride it very much. I don't think you would have that problem.

A steel touring bike is a solid choice. I'm sure you can find an LBS with year end stock they can cut you a deal on.

You should upgrade. You can always keep the Suburban for putting around town.

The reason you have a hard time convincing mechanics you want to spend money on that bike is because for the amount you ride it is completely insane to keep riding it.  I could go on forever about how the technology, weight, materials, components and pretty much everything else about the bikeare conspiring to make your riding life less enjoyable but, honestly, it seems like you already know that and just need people to justify your choice for you....

So lets look at your list of Pros:

1)      Pretty darn bulletproof.  It takes a lot to make one stop running.  In all that riding, I’ve only had one breakdown where I needed to call for the dreaded pickup.  That breakdown was all my fault, and the root causes will never happen again. There is a difference between 'not running' and 'riding like horse poop.'  It seems like your bike may not strand you but it still spends enough time in the shop that mechanics are telling you to replace it.  You know what prevents broken axles?  Modern cassette hubs...

2)      Full coverage fenders and dork disc.  I work in semi-casual environment, but the bike has never damaged anything except for previously frayed shoelaces.  I really, really, like the fenders. So buy a bike with fender mounts and buy a nice set of fenders.  SKS Long Boards offer even more coverage than your Schwinn ones do and they weigh a lot less.

3)      Versatility.  I transition from road to trail, without a care. If your Schwinn can do it a touring bike can do it and you have way more tire options in 700c or 26' than you do in 27."

4)      Very few worries about theft. Buy a good lock and don't lock it up outside overnight.

5)      A solid, forgiving frame. Just like any high quality touring bike has; only the frame on those will weigh a lot less...

6)      I always have a backup lighting system Carry an extra light or battery.

7)      The vintage, cool, contrarian factor. So keep it for short rides or relaxed rides and feel all sorts of cool.

8)      Those few opportunities that I can sneak up on a tired group of roadies at the end of their ride, and hang with them for several miles, to their great consternation.  You can do that on a loaded touring bike as well.  I also hate to break it to you but I don't think you are hanging with roadies on any kind of a serious ride; I think you may be the only one 'racing' there.  If not, I suggest you start racing because you're going to kill it.

 

As for your cons...

1)      Five hours of riding only takes me 50-60 miles.  You go faster on bikes that weigh less than a boat anchor so you should cover tons more ground.

2)      Difficulty of finding quality replacement components, and then convincing a mechanic that replacing them is what I really want to do.  There are not very many quality replacement parts for that bike because nobody who is serious about riding is still riding something that stone age.  There is a reason people have moved on...

3)      Sooner or later, my knees, my riding style, and the weight of the bicycle are going to come to an unfortunate intersection.  Yep.  Know what solves that?  A lighter bike!

4)      It is not exactly fun to load on a bus rack, or carry up and down the stairs into the basement of the building. Ditto #3

i'd say keep it going. Maybe not as your full-time ride, but it is a great machine for tooling around town. i still have in my stable my old Schwinn Racer one-speed coaster that was a present for my 10th birthday . My daughter rode it to school when she was 10. It was my first "big" bike and though it's not ridable at  the moment, i can't bring myself to move it along and it's in my repair queue.

Any older Schwinn or ex-Schwinn shop ought to have a goodly supply of those "Schwinn Approved" parts still laying about in their back shops, so it's worth the time and trouble to rummage, plus there's always eBay.

What the bike shop guy said ^^^

I will add that I've had a Cross-Check since I bought the frame/fork new in '05, and although I've gone through many different iterations of parts and setups with it, it's always been a solid, reliable bike (still going strong to this day with thousands of miles on it).  I've commuted on it year-round, I used to ride it on mountain bike trails pretty regularly, and it was also a single speed with drop bars and 700x23's at one point.  It's now my comfy long-distance bike, with 700x38 tires, mountain bike hubs, drivetrain, brakes, and flat handlebars.  Non-quick-release 29er mountain bike wheels and even wider tires would really boost the reliability and strength factor by a large amount.

I have my sentimental bikes too, but those only get ridden on short rides around the neighborhood, or for special events.

My Jamis Nova (cyclocross frame like the Cross-Check) commuter bike just works every time I get on it and has never failed me.  Gravel, pavement, potholes, wet, dry, snow, no big deal.

Darn it, you're being reasonable.  It will be hard to argue with you.

Hey! Bike Shop Guy said:

The reason you have a hard time convincing mechanics you want to spend money on that bike is because for the amount you ride it is completely insane to keep riding it.  I could go on forever about how the technology, weight, materials, components and pretty much everything else about the bikeare conspiring to make your riding life less enjoyable...

My riding life is quite enjoyable, based on the amount of time I spend riding.

So lets look at your list of Pros:

1)      Pretty darn bulletproof.  It takes a lot to make one stop running.  In all that riding, I’ve only had one breakdown where I needed to call for the dreaded pickup.  That breakdown was all my fault, and the root causes will never happen again. There is a difference between 'not running' and 'riding like horse poop.'  It seems like your bike may not strand you but it still spends enough time in the shop that mechanics are telling you to replace it.  You know what prevents broken axles?  Modern cassette hubs.

True, but not the whole story.  My Suburbans enjoy regular preventative maintenance, and I know the difference between 'riding as designed' and 'riding like horse poop'.  In 8000 miles, I've replaced two sets of tires, one set of wheels, two axles, two cassettes, the original pedals, and two chains.  I'm still due to replace one crankset.  Outside of possibly the axles, that sounds to me like normal wear and tear for any bicycle that has that amount of miles.

4)      Very few worries about theft. Buy a good lock and don't lock it up outside overnight.

This one's slightly problematic.  There is no good location at home (vintage small condo) where the bike can be locked to an immovable solid object with a U-lock.  I can improve my habits, but the theft risk would increase...

6)      I always have a backup lighting system Carry an extra light or battery.

 

I tend to lose them. I know myself well enough that carrying spares will probably result in me losing $100 more in lights a year.

7)      The vintage, cool, contrarian factor. So keep it for short rides or relaxed rides and feel all sorts of cool.

Still not as cool as being the only guy insane enough to ride this much on a 40 year old, 40 pound bike.

8)      Those few opportunities that I can sneak up on a tired group of roadies at the end of their ride, and hang with them for several miles, to their great consternation.  You can do that on a loaded touring bike as well.  I also hate to break it to you but I don't think you are hanging with roadies on any kind of a serious ride; I think you may be the only one 'racing' there.  If not, I suggest you start racing because you're going to kill it.

I almost argued this one, then I realized you said loaded touring bike.

I've almost conceded the cons, as points 1,3, and 4 are inarguable.  But for number 2, I would like my mechanics to envision that they were riding the bike 4000 miles a year (yes, I realize that this causes torment similar to evisioning the fires of hell itself), and do the repair/upgrade that they woud do in this circumstance.

As for your cons...

1)      Five hours of riding only takes me 50-60 miles.  You go faster on bikes that weigh less than a boat anchor so you should cover tons more ground.

2)      Difficulty of finding quality replacement components, and then convincing a mechanic that replacing them is what I really want to do.  There are not very many quality replacement parts for that bike because nobody who is serious about riding is still riding something that stone age.  There is a reason people have moved on...

3)      Sooner or later, my knees, my riding style, and the weight of the bicycle are going to come to an unfortunate intersection.  Yep.  Know what solves that?  A lighter bike!

4)      It is not exactly fun to load on a bus rack, or carry up and down the stairs into the basement of the building. Ditto #3

In addition to the great steel upgrades alternatives already recommended -- Surly (LHT, Cross-Check), All-City (Space Horse, Macho Man) -- take a look at Velo Orange (Campeur, Polyvalent).

Mechanics are not going to envision riding that bike 4000 miles a year because it is not made to do that, was never made to do that and will never be the right bike to do that one.

Listen, as long as you have been posting about your Suburban and how much you love it everybody who responds to you basically tells you that as much as you ride you would be better off upgrading your bike.  At what point are you going to realize that all you are doing is justifying a poor decision?  If you are really that emotionally attached to the Schwinn good for you but stop trying to rationalize an irrational emotional decision.  People keep less than ideal bikes for emotional reasons all the time and there is nothing wrong with that but do us a favor and stop asking for advise and then ignoring or arguing with it.

If you are really that nuts for an old Schwinn find a Le Tour III or Super Sport or one of the other fillet brazed Schwinns that were made in Chicago and build it up.

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