Anatomy of an Adventure Bike

Anatomy of an Adventure Bike
My original adventure bike - 1978 Schwinn Traveler III

Every ride is an adventure.

Each time I throw a leg over my bike, clip into the pedals, and start rolling forward, I never really know what I may encounter. It’s been like this since my early teen years and I rather enjoy the consistency of this inconsistency…

In those early riding days, my trusty ten-speed was always at the ready for whatever opportunity presented itself. My friends and I would cruise up and down every block of our mile-square rural Michigan town, talking smack and itching for something – anything – to distract us from our humdrum surroundings. Our bikes represented liberty – the freedom to escape where we were and explore where we would rather be.

We rode everywhere on a whim. One mention of a cute girl and the next minute we’re riding out into the country in the hope that she’ll be standing outside when we nonchalantly pass her farmhouse. A single dare and we’re riding a footpath along the muddy river bank.  A rumor of anything remotely interesting, happening anywhere within a ten-mile radius, and we were speeding off to witness it for ourselves.

It didn’t matter to us if the object of our affections led us down a gravel road. Mountain bikes had yet to be popularized so we had no misgivings whatsoever about having the ideal bike for a specific terrain. If the route got a little bumpy, we downshifted and rode slower. If an obstacle was too large to ride over or around, we portaged our bikes like canoes. While I doubt any of us cared enough about history to romanticize ourselves as a modern Lewis or Clark, we certainly recounted our exploration as every bit the epic adventure upon our return to civilization.

I try to carry that curiosity with me on every ride. Whether I’ve devoted an afternoon to a long rail trail excursion, running errands near my suburban home, or just riding from bike shop to bike shop on the streets of Chicago, I like to think of myself as always poised to chase down that next adventure.

Up until this season, I’ve been a multi-bike rider. I have my road bike with thin, smooth tires for zipping along the pavement and tackling all-day supported rides like RAGBRAI. I have my mountain bike for single-track, off-road outings. I have my sport hybrid for riding trails and running errands. I’ve even done a few self-supported rail trail tours on it. But I’ve never had one bike that could do it all. Until now, that is.

The cycling world is abuzz with a seemingly new classification known as the adventure bike. Heralded by some as an all-purpose, all-terrain cross between a racing road bike and basic mountain bike, the astute cycling enthusiast will recognize it by another name; the cyclocross bike.

If you’re not familiar with cyclocross racing, you’ll have to wait until fall to witness “steeplechase on a bike” for yourself (or you can read my review of Cyclocross Worlds here). It’s a race over varying terrain – pavement, grass, dirt, and mud – and over, around, and through both natural and man-made obstacles – steep hills, barriers, and stairways. Riders must possess speed, bike handling skills, and the judgment to dismount, shoulder their bikes, and run the obstacles in order to prevail. Every course is different and weather, wind, and naturally-affected conditions make each race its own challenge.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a cyclocross racer to enjoy the benefits of such a versatile bike. All you have to do is think about the many paths you’d like to explore and whether or not a cyclocross or adventure bike makes sense for you (and your budget).

Over the next few days, I plan on recapping both my planned and unplanned adventures at the conclusion of 30 Days of Biking. In Part Two of Anatomy of an Adventure Bike, I’ll detail what to look for in your ideal adventure bike.

Keep riding and be safe!

4-21-13 GWT Sycamore Volpe

Bianchi Volpe – ready for this season’s adventures!


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