The Rock N' Road Tour was ahead of its time. Sixteen years ago, I rode this strange, do-it-all bike with road bike wheels, knobby off-road tires and a touring rack from the Redondo Beach bike path up 2,000 feet of dirt trails to the Mulholland fire road. I tore past mountain bikers. It was exhilarating to overlook the San Fernando Valley and think, "I did this all on one bike!" Of course, with no suspension and fairly narrow tires, a bike like this was a little dicey on technical descents. But for 99% of riding, this is the bike people ought to have. It tours, road-rides and mountain bikes without taking up all the garage space. Today the Rock N' Road is improved -- and not alone. Do-it-all bikes are gaining in popularity as practical times beckon and acceptance of unorthodox size frames and wheels grows. There's even a website devoted to all-in-one bike adventure called Rough Riders. Here are four bikes that try to do it all.
-- Roy M. Wallack
Bruce Gordon Rock N' Road Tour: Multifunction steel touring bike with changeable handlebars from old-school builder Bruce Gordon.
Likes: Tough and versatile. Gordon, a three-decade institution, is known for hand-built bikes and racks that can carry it all. Designed for heavily loaded touring, this bike has a road bike's tall 700C wheels and enough frame clearance to fit off-road-capable knobby tires. Can be ordered with road or mountain-bike handlebars or both with optional Quick Switch System ($250-$400).
Dislikes: Possibly long delivery time. Fast on fire roads and wide trails, this bike's skinny tires and lack of suspension make rough single-track mountain biking impossible. For that, go to the Rock N' Road Tour-Ex. (The new BLT, with fewer Gordon-built parts, is about $800 less.)
Price: $3,349 ($2,999 without racks). (707) 762-5601; www.bgcycles.com.
Specialized Tricross Comp: Cyclocross bike with unique comfort features and adaptability for touring.
Likes: Fast and cushioned. Primarily designed for cyclocross, it works for touring and long-distance races and benefit rides. The aluminum bike takes the edge off vibration and bumps with a carbon fiber fork, seat post and seat stay, the latter featuring a built-in rubberized joint that flexes to absorb shock. Braze-ons for racks and fenders make it great for touring. Uses standard all-in-one brake/gear shifters and has an additional brake lever that allows for comfy top-of-handlebar riding position.
Dislikes: Trail and gravel-road capability notwithstanding, skinny tires and lack of real suspension make rough single-track riding a no-go.
Price: $2,200. (800) 432-4144; www.specialized.com.
Big knobby express
Diamondback Overdrive 29er: Front-suspension mountain bike with oversized 29-inch tires/wheels, which roll fast on all surfaces.
Likes: Any 29er is a great do-it-all bike because its big wheels roll faster than those of regular mountain bikes on all surfaces. But the Diamondback stands out for price: It's the least-expensive 29er with disc brakes and a suspension lockout, which stiffens the fork and can even amaze roadies with your speed on pavement. Tough and burly, the Overdrive would make a great touring bike or commuter if you clamp on a rack and put on less knobby tires.
Dislikes: No braze-ons for a rack and panniers. But clamping hardware is inexpensive and available. Much heavier than the other bikes, given that it is designed for real mountain biking.
Price: $750. (800) 222-5527, www.diamondback.com.
Any wheel, any time
Rawland Sogn: Lightweight, custom-made do-anything bikes with lots of tire clearance.
Likes: Versatility. Owner Sean Virnig, a small Minnesota custom builder in the mold of Bruce Gordon, has dedicated Rawland solely to the concept of "one bike fits all." His tough Norwegian-themed steel bikes (named to reflect his Nordic heritage) and derivative road-bike drop bars to allow for different hand positions, provide huge clearance for various wheel sizes. So you can swap knobbies and road tires and wheels (700C, 650B and 26-inch) to suit your riding plans. The Sogn, named for a local valley settled by Norwegian immigrants, is designed for touring, commuting and the occasional trial ride. Rack mounts included. Coming this summer: the Drakkar, which has more clearance. Frames include pump pegs and braze-ons for fenders, racks and three water bottles.
Price: $799 frame and fork, full bikes from $1,200 to $4,000. (507) 331-2636 (ask for Ben Witt); www.rawlandcycles.com.
Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." email@example.com