A Bike for Leaving the Beaten Path

So last fall I bought a Trek 7100 hybrid bicycle (right), which has served me very, very well over the last year or so. I’ve put quite a few miles on that bike and have enjoyed [pretty much] each one of them. There’s just one small problem.

The Trek is a hybrid, which means it has elements of a mountain bike and elements of a road bike. Its geometry, tuning, and tires (300c) are all designed for traveling primarily on pavement—roads and paved trails—and very, very limited off-road use when absolutely necessary. That makes it similar to a road bike. The main difference between a ‘hybrid’ and a road bike is that the general shape is more like a mountain bike and you sit more upright—helpful if you have back problems, like my scoliosis. That makes it slower than a road bike, but much more comfortable.

Anyway, you don’t want to be riding very far off-pavement on a hybrid with its smooth, narrow tires and comfort-oriented geometry. That rules out some of the major unpaved bike trails in the area: many segments of the Cross County Trail and the entire C&O Canal Towpath are two prime examples.

So yesterday I bought a relatively inexpensive low-end mountain bike—the Schwinn Mesa (right)—for when I feel like a shorter, rougher ride than the on-trail excursions I’ve been doing on my Trek. I rode about 5 miles on the Cross County Trail yesterday (the northernmost segment) successfully, though my mountain biking reflexes are a little rusty and I did manage to take one impressive spill (you should see the colorful bruise on my knee). All-in-all, it was fun. I’ll probably aim for about 70 percent road/trail riding on my Trek, and about 30 percent off-road on my Schwinn.

I also figure the Schwinn, being quite a bit less expensive than the Trek, can be my project bike for learning how to do all my hard-core bicycle maintenance and make sure it works before touching the Trek ;-). If I can avoid taking either to the bike shops, I figure it will cover its own cost within a year or two of heavy riding and regular maintenance/repairs.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.