Friday, November 13, 2009

A New Bike for My Commute

I started the blog with this premise that, should I get in a routine habit of bike commuting, I would obtain a bike more purpose-built for the job. My aim was 21 bike commute rides to cement my cycling commitment as a habit. So why am I writing about a new bike since I am not even close to reaching my goal? Well, I haven't been riding the past couple weeks, so I need to write about something...

The blog Commute by Bike started a series recently called "A Group Build of Building Your Perfect Commuter Bike" that explores the characteristics of what makes a good commuter bike, and selecting a fantasy build for the writer, BikeShopGirl. Certainly there is no one-size-fits-all bike that will be best for every bike commuter. It is a worthy exercise nonetheless, as there tend to be some characteristics of what makes for a good commuter bike. It is also interesting to read about particular component or gear choices that you may not have known about. I am eager to see what turns up in the posts and comments. Since I started drafting this post, the series is well underway and they're going down the road of selecting a particular "touring" type frame, as voted by readers. You can follow along to see how that goes, but that initial question got me thinking about what I'd like in a new bike...

First, here's a little more background on my current bike...

I made some changes to my Forge Sawback 5xx mountain bike, since "officially" beginning my bike commute, to make the ride safer, more comfortable, a bit faster, and more convenient - more commute friendly.

These changes included:

  • pedals/shoes (Crank Bros Mallet platform/eggbeater pedals, Adidas Minrett shoes)
  • front and rear lights (Planet Bike Blaze 1W, Blinky 3)
  • touring tires with reflective sidewalls (Continental Touring Plus Reflex)
  • a rear-fiitted bike rack (Topeak Explorer Disc)
  • milk crate pannier bags (Novara Transfer)
  • water bottle holder  (Planet Bike)
  • a tune-up (courtesy Bicycle Warehouse)
  • raising my saddle
I've been pretty satisfied with these changes so far. I  could continue to ride the bike as it is, without much need for complaint, but... 

Starting out, I was not concerned with speed. Having done the commute a few times now, on the route that I have (predominantly a fast highway-esque 4-lane road), I would like to be able to ride with a little more speed. Getting passed by senior citizens chips away at your ego, too. I guess I just need to remember, "It's not a race!"

There are a couple major changes I'd like to see in my next bike. The first change is the switch to 700c wheels from 26". People tell me this should help me go a lot faster. Along with that I will probably choose a bike with drop handlebars. If you were to have asked me six months ago if I wanted a drop bar road bike, I would have said no, for sure. Now, I'm pretty convinced this is the way to go for the multiple hand and riding positions this style of bar offers (I think a moustache bar could also work).

I still want to retain the ability to mount a rear rack, and maybe fenders. I'd also like to be have the ability to run larger tires for more comfort. I want to go faster, but I don't think I need to go that fast (maybe that will change, who knows). Fender and tire clearance rule out a lot of road race-type bikes for me. Plus, I can do without the flashy modern race graphics that a lot of these bikes have.

Though I have not had any personal experience yet, I find myself falling toward the "steel is real" camp.  There are quite a handful of new steel road bikes coming on the market. There is also the "vintage" route, which is intriguing, but I have some reservations buying an old(er) bike. A couple aluminum-framed bikes are still on my radar, though.

In another post, I'll get to a few of the bikes I have been looking at lately.


    1. Hi Juan,

      I've been very happy with my Trek 1000, an entry-level all-around road bike, that won Bicycle magazine's "Best $500 bike" award one year. It's got the ability to add paniers and racks. No flats since my bike shop put on Serfas Seca 700x23 tires.

      REI also carries some nice bikes more set up for touring/commuting, with fenders, but you've probably seen those already.

      I've got an XtraCycle on my Specialized CrossTrail (a 700c hybrid bike). It didn't turn out to be the best bike to mount an XtraCycle on -- your MTB will probably work better. VeloCult is known as an X-friendly shop. I don't think I'd recommend my shop for this purpose, though they're good with other stuff.

      I don't commute to work (since I work at home) but I do shop for groceries with the bike as often as I can.

      Keep at the bike thing -- it's certainly possible to build up a habit slowly. It's always hard when the car is right there, but the more you practice the more taking the bike will become automatic.

      My best comparison is taking my son to Tae Kwon Do. It's only a mile round trip, but we used to take the car if he was running late (which I'm pretty shocked at now!). Now even if he's late, the rule is the car is out, we'll walk, scooter or bike, and he can just be late for class. (Can't really do that with work, of course!)

      Good luck with your commute project!

    2. Thanks for the suggestions, Larry.

      We've been pretty good about trying to walk to places in our neighborhood (and lucky that there are actually places to walk to). But the car is so easy - you're right. Always makes me smile when we go to load up in the car, and my son says he wants to walk (even if I know our destination truly warrants the drive).

    3. I just stumbled upon your blog and I commend your goal. I live in Mission Beach and work in Kearny Mesa (26 mile round-trip), and I have only been able to bike to work about twice a month for the last couple of years. I have a 3-month old at home and sleep has become so precious that it's hard to get up sometimes, but when I get home after a day of bike commuting I feel like I've actually accomplished something other than just working.

      In terms of commuter bikes,

      I have a Surly cross-check that was built up for me by Bob at REI. We hand-picked all the parts and he even built some nice custom wheels for me. It ended up costing just a little more than the stock cross-check build, but it was definitely worth it. I have since changed out a few parts and I absolutely love the bike now.

      I am also currently putting together a more around town type bike that will eventually have a bobike child seat attached when the little one is old enough to ride with me.
      I found a nice old steel mountain bike on craigslist and I'm adding some relaxed handlebars, a new stem, new brake levers, new bar-end shifters, a different saddle, and new tires. I'm posting the progress at in the projects section if you care to take a look. My handle is yoshi.

      Keep on commuting!