When I was looking for a bicycle to buy out of my own pocket in 2018 there was one thing I was sure about
I wanted one bicycle that could do everything
Now this concept of owning one bicycle was not borne out the fact that I didn’t have the space to park or the money to afford niche bicycles. But between my projects, work, website, treks, travel, gear testing, bicycling, and dogs, there is only so much time I have for maintaining a bicycle. To own multiple bikes, only to have them lying in a shed unloved and disused is a pretty depressing thought in itself. Back in the day, I have been guilty of owning as many as five bicycles at one time, packed in a tiny studio in the Netherlands, each with its own specific purpose. But in those days I had far more time on my hands.
So here’s my story – of how I finally settled on one bicycle that fits my needs and my budget. And this is also why I recommend a hybrid bicycle for most people living in Indian cities.
Now make no mistake, there is no such thing as a perfect bicycle, just like there’s no such thing as a perfect boyfriend or a perfect trekking shoe. Buying one bicycle (instead of 5) is and will remain a compromise. You need to find one that fits YOU rather than the other way round. Otherwise, most of us just end up vacillating between the different types of bicycles available in the market. If bike sale and purchase on Cyclop are an indicator to go by, then there’s a lot of people who own a fast road bike but want a mountain bike for going a bit beyond the road, or many who own a mountain bike and find it to be too slow to keep up with their road bike friends on the road.
P.S. If you don’t know already Cyclop is the largest community in India for buying and selling bicycle gear in India.
The road to narrowing down to one bicycle starts with making a list of what YOU want a bicycle to do. Because like I said before, it is imperative that you buy a bicycle for your needs rather than conform to a bicycle.
So what was my wish list? It starts with where I live and what I do. As most of you may know, I live in Patnitop, a small hill station situated at an elevation of 2000m in the Himalaya. I spend most of my time in the Himalaya, but for a few months in a year I travel to Delhi or Mumbai for my work. So a bicycle for me has to work in the mountains (most of the time) and in the city (some of the time). Therefore, the bicycle needs to have gearing low enough to get up to Nathatop: a local ridge-top that is a 1000+ metres vertical climb at an average of 10% grade, and yet has gears high enough so I can keep up with my pack of friends in the streets of Delhi. I use my bicycle for endurance and strength training and it has to be fast enough to get me the coveted KOMs around where I live, and it also has to double as a workhorse to get as much as 10-20 kgs of groceries from town – 4 kilometres away. I am an avid bike-packer and I use my bicycle loaded with gear on long 1000+ kilometre tours across India. Moreover since I gravitate to travel by state-run buses & train, the bike has to be robust enough to handle lateral stress which comes from loading it on top of a Himachal Roadways bus or under a sleeper seat in Indian Railways. Since this would be a training bicycle for me, the convenience of flat bars on bad roads, in snow and ice, and on poor terrain outweigh the need to be aerodynamic vis-a-vis drop bars. It needed to be cheap enough because – well I did make a case about non-expensive bikes recently. If you haven’t then I urge you to go read this essay on why I don’t buy expensive bicycles.
When I recognise something as “good enough” – I stop caring. All arguments about upgrading, because it gives me a 5% watt or weight advantage, fall on deaf ears.
My younger brother & I spent the most of the first-half of 2018 having heated discussions on what was the ‘perfect’ bike for me. There was a lot of scouring on Cyclop, but most bicycles missed a certain critical component that I was not willing to compromise on. The closest I came to buying a bicycle was when Psynyde bikes launched its oxygen series of touring bikes. But, it came with rim brakes which I’ve realised to my peril don’t give me enough modulation when I am hurtling down a mountain road at over 60kmph.
In the meantime, Bergamont quietly launched it’s 2018 Sweep 6.0 in India. I found this range of bikes intriguing because it had almost everything I wanted. The right price, no-nonsense aluminium frame, a spectacular olive green paintwork, a good drivetrain, eyelets for mounting racks, double-bottle cage bosses. The geometry was perfect and I knew from my fit calculator that a size 48 would fit me well.
Bergamont Sweep 6 in Olive Green. Tell me is this not an awesome colour to have on a bicycle?
The fit is often relegated to the last when most of us Indians buy bicycles. Whereas it should be the way around. As an analogy most bicycle shops in Europe won’t let you choose a bike; they will first measure your fit and based on your fit will recommend brands and models that suit you. However, since bike fit machines are not common in Indian bicycle retail shops (yet), you can calculate your fit (especially stack and reach) online using something like the excellent calculator on competitive cyclist and then start shortlisting bikes that provide those fit stack and reach measurements.
The bike was lightweight, and with good urban tyres it meant that it would be fast. However, it had one Achilles heel for me living in the mountains. It had road bike gearing, which means it is limited to 34t crank in the front and 34t cog in the rear. This gives the bike a lower gear ratio of 27.0″. On a touring bike, 18″ is a great low gear.
This is one of the best explanation about touring bike gearing.
In fact, if you’ve ever toured in the mountains (Ghats or Himalaya), you will realise that you cannot ever have a low enough gearing. At the end of a long day with 10-12 kg gear on the bike, you want a low gear to spin in to save those knees from permanent damage.
But since the Sweep is marketed primarily as an Urban Bike, I let it slide. I reckoned I am not an urban dweller and what would I do with an urban bike. I kick myself now because I never bothered to check that the Sweep 6.0 had a younger sibling. And when my sibling pointed me to the Sweep 4, I knew I had found the perfect bicycle.
My Bergamont Sweep 4 in the Himalaya
Reasons (in no particular order) that endears the Sweep series to me:
- Shimano Hollowtech II bottom bracket. It is simply better (lighter, stiffer, and easier to change at home) than a square taper Bottom Bracket.
- Aluminium butted tubing. Butting means the frame has more material and it is stronger at stress areas while the rest of it can have less material and hence weigh less.
- A weight of 11.2 kilos (lighter than similar bikes from Giant/Trek, etc).
- A tapered head tube and fork. Simply because there are more options in a tapered fork than there are for a non-tapered fork.
- Trigger shifters, which I find easier and more intuitive than brake+shifters (brifters) found on road bikes.
- Shimano hydraulic disc brake. Even if they are from the bottom of Shimano’s stack, they offer much better modulation than cheap mechanical disks. Plus the disk rotors are centre lock, which is a better engineering design as it means fewer changes of disk warp.
- Shimano Hubs. This is one place where manufacturers save bucks; even though the Sweep has Shimano Tourney hubs, still branded hubs are way better than most non-branded hubs.
- Clearance for fitting 38c tyres in the rear and even a 42c in the front. Essential to me as one bike means you will be swapping tyres to make it do different things.
- Twin bottle racks and eyelets for racks and fenders (essential for touring).
- Schwalbe tyres, my favourite bicycle tyre brand. I have been using this brand since 2008.
Reasons (for me) the Sweep 4 scores over Sweep 6
- A 32-spoke wheel instead of 28-spokes on the Sweep 6. More spokes mean more strength, given the spate of roads here in rural India.
- A 22t crank up front which gives me a low gear of 18.6 gear inches (compared to 27 on Sweep 6). Essential for Himalayan bikepacking!
- A nine speed rear cassette compared to 8 speed on Sweep 6 (more cog options in 9 speed)
- A saving of INR7,000 (INR42,100 vs 49,300)
Now if I lived in, say Delhi, Mumbai, or any area that was not hilly, I would pick a Sweep 6 without batting an eyelid. The Olive Green colour looks rad and the higher top end, thanks to its larger crank (50t vs 40t), makes for a compelling (and much faster) city bike. But just a 1:1 gearing ratio doesn’t work in the Himalaya. After putting more than 1000 kilometres on my Sweep 4, I am glad I picked this model for my use.
Before I go any further, let me reiterate that I am not paid by Bergamont and I’m not trying to inject a bias with my preference. I have owned bicycles that cost 4-5 times than this bicycle does, but for now this bike does everything I want out of it. Every time I take this bike out for a spin, I am pleasantly amazed at how well engineered it is. To give you a small example, the chain on the Sweep does not hit the chainstay in any gear over the bad roads. Now that may seem trivial, but to me it shows that some engineer at Bergamont calculated the chain stay drop to precision. The fact that someone was thinking over these mundane details gives me the confidence that the bigger more obvious bits will just be as well-engineered.
So is this bicycle perfect? Well, it is exactly what I wanted and I am glad I did not compromise on my requirements or rush into buying just any cycle. However, your requirements are not mine and your mileage may vary. But I will say this –
If you can afford to keep one bicycle, the Bergamont Sweep 4 or 6 (hills vs plains) makes a compelling case for itself.
But, don’t get swayed by the marketing brochure of a company or my opinion. Make a list of features that YOU want, pick a bicycle that satisfies most if not all of YOUR criteria, and do not compromise. After all, it is your hard earned money.
And speaking of compromises – Why is there no Olive Green colour in the Sweep 4? Damn it Bergamont!