When I was looking for a bicycle to buy out of my pocket in 2018 there was one thing I was sure about
I wanted one bicycle that could do everything.
One bike to rule them all
Owning “just” 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 setting up a mountain home, work, website, treks, travel, gear testing, bicycling, and dogs, there was only so much time I have to maintain a bicycle. To own multiple bikes, only to have them lying in a shed unloved and disused is a pretty depressing thought. Back in the day, I have been guilty of owning as many as five bicycles together, packed in a tiny studio in the Rotterdam, each with its own specific purpose. But those days I had far more time on my hands.
My bicycle purchase wish list
So here’s my story – of how I finally settled on one bicycle that fits my needs and my budget. And this is also the reason why I recommend a rigid, hybrid bicycle for most people living in Indian towns and cities. Make no mistake though, there is no such thing as a perfect bicycle. Just like the fact that there’s no such thing as a perfect boy/girl-friend 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 that are available on the market. If bike sale and purchase on Cyclop Facebook Group 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.
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 to suit your needs rather than conform to a certain type of bicycle.
So what was my wish list?
- Well, it starts with where I live and what I do. 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 mountains, 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, it needs to have gearing low enough to get me up to Nathatop: a local ridge-top that has a 1000 metres of elevation gain in 15 kms, and yet have gears high enough so I can keep up with a pack of cyclists 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 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, I gravitate towards 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 HRTC Bus or under a sleeper seat in Indian Railways.
- Since this would be a training (rather than a dedicated touring) 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.
My Bergamont Sweep 4 purchase story
My younger brother & I spent 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. I’ve realised to my peril that rim brakes 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 48-49 would fit me well.
The fit is often relegated to the last thing in India. Whereas it should be the way around. As an analogy most bicycle shops in Netherlands won’t let you choose a bike; they will first measure you, calculate your fit and will then recommend brands and models that suit your fit and purpose. 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 Jenson and then start shortlisting bikes that fit those stack and reach figures.
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 1:1 gearing and a lowest gear ratio of 27.0 inches. On a touring bike, something around 18 inches is good to have. Because 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.
CyclingAbout has the best explanation on touring bike gearing.
But since the Sweep 6 is marketed primarily as an Urban Bike, I ignored it - I reckoned I am not an urban dweller and what would I do with an urban bike? I would kick myself in the shin now because I never bothered to check that the Sweep 6.0 had a younger sibling. And when my brother pointed me to the Sweep 4, I knew I had found the perfect bicycle. Why? Here are a few reason why the Sweep 4 checked all the right boxes for me -
- Shimano Hollowtech II bottom bracket. While a square taper is fine, a hollowtec is simply better (lighter, stiffer) and far more important - it is easier to change at home. Remeber I live in a small place with no bike shop.
- 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 because most of them came with a cheaper and heavier groupset.
- A tapered head tube and fork. Simply because there are more options in a tapered fork than there are for a non-tapered fork.
- Decent quality trigger shifters. No cost cutting by using an off brand trigger shifters.
- 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 due to 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 house brand hubs.
- Clearance for 38c tyres in the rear and even a 52c 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. I have been using Schwalbe since 2008 in Netherlands, usually on mountain bikes and their marathon series for touring.
Reasons the Bergamont 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 small town India and the Himalayas.
- A 22t crank upfront 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 INR 7,000 (₹ 42,100 vs 49,300 in 2018)
Now if I lived in, say Delhi, Mumbai, or any area that is 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, I know from experience that 1:1 gearing ratio just doesn’t work in the Himalaya. After having put more than 5000 kilometres on my Sweep 4, I am glad I picked this model (the 4) over the Sweep 6.
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 - despite not having a clutch, the chain on the Sweep does not hit the chainstay in any gear over gravel roads and small-ish potholes. Now that may seem trivial, but to me, it means that someone at Bergamont calculated the chainstay drop to precision. The fact that someone was thinking over these mundane details gives me the confidence that the bigger more obvious bits will be just as well-engineered.
So is this bicycle perfect? No! But, it is exactly what I wanted in 2018 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 –
Don’t believe everything the marketing brochure tells you and don’t take my opinion as the gospel truth.
- 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.
If you can afford to keep one bicycle, the Bergamont Sweep 4 or 6 (hills vs plains) makes a compelling case for itself.
Contact Bergamont India on Facebook for local dealers. And speaking of compromises – Why is there no Olive Green colour in the Sweep 4? Damn it Bergamont!