Gear Guy

Can you help a septuagenarian find a worthy road bike?

What is the best road bike for under $1,500—I 70 years old and ride about 150 miles a week on secondary roads. I currently own a 15-year-old Trek. Jack Wisconsin

A: Good on you, Jack. We should all be riding 150 miles a week at any age, let alone at 70. However, if your faithful Trek is 15 years old, then a new bike probably is due. Bicycle technology has changed tremendously in the past decade alone, with lighter bikes, sturdier wheels, higher-pressure tires, and easier gear shifting, to name but a few improvements.

Marin Verona

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Probably the biggest decision will be frame material, and in the sub-$1,500 market you'll have two choices: Steel or aluminum, with aluminum appearing on most bikes in this range. It's a choice that may matter—while steel will weigh more than aluminum, it's also apt to ride a little better if you're on roads that aren't very smooth. Any metallurgists in the crowd will protest that there's nothing in aluminum that makes its ride "stiffer," but that's the nature of the metal and the way it's assembled in mid-priced frames. Where I ride we're plagued with chip-sealed roads—gravel is dumped on the road, sprayed with oil, then tamped down. It's gawd-awful stuff to ride on. But my steel bike, an old Merckx, clearly rides better than my aluminum Cannondale, a "cross" bike I use as a rain bike.

Anyway, here's my shortlist for you:

  • Marin Verona ($1,400; This is a beaut; a real classic aluminum bike with nice touches such as a carbon front fork (saves weight) and seat stays. The running gear is Shimano 105 throughout, and that stuff brakes, shifts, and otherwise performs wonderfully for the money.
  • Giant OCR Elite ($1,500; Giant really puts together a good-value bike, and the OCR Elite is no exception. Its aluminum and carbon frame is light and responsive, while the running gear is Shimano's excellent Ultegra group. This is a great buy. The only caveat is that Giant sizes its bikes small, medium, large, and so on, unlike the finer two-centimeter increments of other brands. That saves money, but make sure the bike fits before buying.
  • Bianchi Axis ($1,300; This is technically a cyclo-cross bike, but it's also a perfect all-around road bike. And, it has a triple crankset, which could come in very handy if you have hilly terrain. Aluminum frame, a mix of Shimano 105 and XT (mountain-bike) components, and a dash of Italian panache. Really, this is a nice bike.

  • So there you go. I'd be very hard-pressed to make a choice among these bikes. The Marin is a classic, the Giant a best buy, the Bianchi the most versatile.

    For a guide to more spectacular road rigs, read "The Road to Lanceville" from the March 2004 issue of Outside.

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    Lead Photo: courtesy, Marin Bikes
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