Friday, February 14, 2014

Bike Talk: Winter Commuter Bike Considerations

Kenney writes:

I don't know if you're still offering up cycling insight, but I do have a question.

Bicycle commuting and salty roads.

I've been riding my ultegra friction shifting, don't ask, commuting bike on the salty roads of the Midwest.  I clean and lube the chain and derailer more frequently, spray the drive train down with a hand pump squirt bottle and plain water after every salty ride, and I also ordered Chain-L which is on the way.  So far so good.  I was just wondering if there is anything else you think I should be doing?

I used to ride fixed which is almost zero maintenance, but my commute gained miles and hill climbs so I switched to gears.

Research on the internet states:

-Get a winter specific commuting bike. Which I don't want to do.

-Get a cheap drive train that you'll replace after every couple winter seasons. Again no.

-Drive a car and wait until spring.

I don't know if you have already written on this subject or not, I couldn't find anything on your blog.

Thanks Kent.

-Kenney from the Arctic state of Indiana.


I reply:

Hi Kenney,

Well, you've already ruled out a several of the most cost effective solutions for winter riding (a fixed gear, a serviceable but inexpensive bike and less expensive drive-train components), but let's see what you can do.

First off, it sounds like you're doing the right things cleaning-wise. Pay particular attention to rims and brake pads, BTW, I've found KoolStop Salmon pads to be the best for winter & wet riding.

Keep an eye on chain wear. Be real proactive on changing chains to prolong the life of your cassette & chain rings. I know you like the Ultegra stuff, but I've never found any usable difference between it and 105 level stuff. And I run SRAM chains with their quick-link instead of Shimano chains. Works fine & saves money.

Even if you do everything right, you may wear out rims. Around here, it just takes a couple of wet years of hilly commuting to wear through a set of rims.

You probably don't want to hear this, but think again about the fixie. Years ago my friend Peter came into the shop with his lovely Ultegra-equipped titanium Davidson for a tune-up. It was his do-everything (brevets & commuting bike). While I had it in the stand so I could do an estimate on what all it needed I pointed him to a Bianchi San Jose (single speed/fixed gear). "Take this for a spin while I do tally up the estimate." Peter test rode the bike and liked it but "it's not as good as my Davidson." "No, it's not," I countered, "but it's $600 and you've worn through that much in chain-rings, cassette, rims, brake pads and the labor you'll spend for me to fix up your Davidson." Peter got his Davidson all fixed up AND bought the Bianchi. He still logs more miles on that fixie.

Of course, you knew I'd tell you something like this. I'm not exactly the guy to listen when someone says it's too far or too hilly for a fixie!

Ooh, one other thing, make sure you blast some lube like TriFlo into your cable housings.

BTW, the best winter bike I ever had was an old Schwinn American with a Bendix 2-speed kick back hub and a coaster brake. No cables to freeze and super-wide cruiser bars which gave me great leverage for coping with snow and ice-ruts.

I don't know if I've been much help, but that's my 2 cents.

And for gosh sakes don't get a car. That's just crazy talk!



Kenney replies:

Thanks Kent, always appreciate your input.  

My goal was to get rid of bikes and not have a designated "winter" bike.  I wanted to get by with just one road bike, mountain bike, and folder.  It may be time to re-think this.  

I'm not dedicated to Ultegra, it's just what I had in the tool box when I built my most recent bicycle.  I may be the only person that has a friction shifting Ultregra groupset.  

 I have an old Fuji 12 speed and a track rear wheel lying around, I'll build a new commuting fixie this weekend.  This is probably my best option.  My current commuter gets covered in salt and it makes me cringe.

I work nights so my bike sits outside in the elements for 10 hours.  The other morning it was -2degF when I hopped on my bike, it didn't take long to realize that all of my cables were frozen.  I didn't have brakes or shifting. Why have them when you can't use them?

A couple years ago I was looking into the kick back shifting hubs, but from my research it seems the new ones aren't reliable, so I never pulled the trigger. 

Thanks again Kent, looks like fixed it is.    



I reply:

Cool. If you get a chance,send me a picture of your fixie commuter.

BTW is it OK if I post our email exchange on my blog? I'll cut out your email info and just refer to you in the "no last names" way like Tom & Ray do on Car Talk.



Kenney replies:

I'm always happy to share a picture of a bicycle.

Of course you can post our email exchange on your blog.  

Now off to scrap the salt off of my bike.  



He also adds:

You didn't ask, but here's a recent picture of my current commuter. 1st year using studded tires and they're working great.  



Here is a picture of my new 30 year old fixed gear commuter.  I was only able to commute on it two days this week.  My first day of work the bike wasn't complete and the second day we had a bad ice storm so I chose not to ride.  Even though I didn't get a full week of commuting on the bike I feel I have had enough ride time to give an accurate review.

After two days and 44 miles the bike worked out very well.  Gear ratio is 42:16 and so far I think this is a good choice.

The climbs are tough but not bad.  Momentum is your friend.

Of course the main advantage and the reason for the bike build was the ease of cleaning and maintenance. Two days of snow, slush, mud, and salt proves it.

I forgot how beautiful a simple fixed gear bike ride is. I'm pretty sure when the snow and salt are gone I'll still be on this bike.

Thanks Kent for the little nudge back to the fixed gear side.


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