Thursday, February 3, 2011

Evolution of My Fast Commuter/ Rain Bike

1991 Miyata 1400A aluminum bonded frame road bike, a rare bird

(Google analytics tells me that this post is my all-time most popular.  Hmmm.  So I've added some additional thoughts which will appear in red.  Flash 9/5/11)

You've probably noticed my Miyata coyly appearing in recent Oakland bike shop photos, and usually these have been gray or wet days. As my Number 2 ride, I've set this bike up for wet conditions, but also for long, faster commutes and or/errands. Its not a hit or miss thing, it's an evolution that has taken a few years to come to fruition. I'd like to share some insights with you.

I feel it is almost imperative for a serious cyclist to own a rain bike. Wet roads throw up huge amounts of grit and debris that cover your chain, make glass stick to your tires causing numerous flats, cause your brakes to create black grime on your wheels and rims, seize your headset bearings, throw dirty muddy water up your back and into your expensive shoes, and sometimes you find your frame tubes actually fill with water. Do you really want to sandpaper your nice expensive road bike with all this dirt--- the true enemy of all machinery?

A good rain bike should be a bike that is nice enough to want to ride, but also one you don't care all that much about getting dirty. If it's a crap bike to start with, then you won't want to ride it, rain or shine. The bike is a personal choice, some folks want upright steeds they can wear their street clothes on, others, like myself want to retain a road racing bike- like feel and performance. I have a Dutch bike ( see last Autumn's Flashblogs) and have ridden it over 20 mile rides and it is just not fun over more than 10 miles. It is stout, slow, with one very dignified upright position. It basically has one appropriate flat gear and even that is not right, it is a tooth or two too high, and the low gear is just too low. The high gear? Only useful on downhills. The slow ride, the ride position, the lack of proper cadence rules the Dutch bike out as a long commuter. Around town it is a nice bike indeed, but for distance work I choose a road bike as the handling, gearing and speed satisfy my needs.

This Miyata has the nice feature of being aluminum, so I don't have to worry about frame rust, but even if you get a steel ride, it would take many years for the frame to rust out so don't worry about it too much. Just make sure you like the way the bike fits and rides.

First thing to do is to get some fenders. Fenders are simple devices that do one thing: keep gritty, grimy water off of you and your drivetrain. The difference in the rain is a godsend. Your butt and back stay clean, your chain stays clean, your shoes stay clean, your riding buddy behind you stays clean. Your wheels get the brunt of it and they get really dirty. Notice that I took my black Planet Bike fenders and painted them yellow. I personally like the purple and yellow color mix, but more importantly, I did it for safety, so on a rainy day the bike will be seen by motorists. I also put white reflective tape on the fenders, even on the rear. Why white? Because it is much brighter than red---I want them to see me.  I remove the fenders after the rainy season for aesthetics, I like the racing bike look without them.  It takes me all of 15 minutes to remount them in the autumn, so its not a big deal at all.

Second, get some kevlar tires. You can pay a lot for these, such as Specialized Armadillos at $50 per, or you can go cheap like I did and pay $10 for Performance City K tires. They have two minuses and one plus. They are a bitch to put on, and they are harsh rollers. The good thing is they never flat. Ok, in several thousand miles, one time I had a wire penetrate and make a slow leak. These things are bombproof and that is just what you want in the rain, because you don't want to be fixing a flat on the side of the road in the rain, you just don't.  I'd like to again emphasis that the ride is rougher with these tires.  Partly due to my old design frame which lacks vertical compliancy, but more due to the stiff rubber.  I don't even notice it on the flats, but on faster downhills the harshness is amplified.

Third, get some lights, front and rear. In rain conditions lights will make you more obvious, and at night they are mandatory. Lights these days are small and bright, put them into flashing mode for more obviousness. Is that a word----obviousness?  The more lights the better.

U-lock detail. This is a good mounting position that keeps the lock free of pedaling rotations. I tried mounting it on the top tube but my thighs rubbed the mount which was quite uncomfortable. A piece of velcro tape keeps the lock from swinging out.

Once your bike is setup for rain, then you are just a few steps away from automatically having an all around commuter. Sure, almost any bike can become a commuter, but do you want to ride your Dutch bike to Berkeley and back everyday? My Kaptein Dutch bike weighs in at 42lbs without a lock or water bottle, it only has 3 speeds, none of which ever seems like the right speed, and goes like a tugboat. The Miyata, as outfitted with full water bottle, weighs in at an even 30 lbs. A lot of that weight is water and U-lock, loaded tool bag, and fenders.  The difference between 20lbs and 30lbs is not felt nearly as much as the difference between 30lbs and 50lbs!  Keep this in mind when choosing your rain bike.

I tried hauling the U-lock in a backpack. along with other stuff. It didn't feel good on my neck at all, especially after 20 miles or so. Much better to let the bike carry it.  On that note, you could easily install a rear rack to carry the lock and that day's load.  Put a box or pannier on the rack and you are set.  I use a backpack on this bike for aesthetics I suppose.  My Dutchie has full rack and panniers on the rear and they are very useful.

My concept of a fast commuter or errand getter is that you must be willing to park it outside in full public view. Just a fact of life, if you are going to have an all around bike there are times you cannot park it in your office or protected space. So thus you need a U-lock. A cable will not cut it. Or should I say, they will cut your cable, count on it. The other day I pedaled an errand over to Best Buy in Emeryville, where there is a bike rack out front of the store. I selected an end position, took off the front wheel and moved it to center position, put helmet strap there too, locked the whole thing together, and felt good about it. I did not remove the computer, pump, or lights, so those could have been ripped, but they weren't this day. They could have taken my quick release skewers, and I would have been screwed, or more precisely, skewered, so I need to focus on that security issue as well, but the main thing is not to lose the bike.

The cockpit view, light, bell, computer, map clip. The bell comes is very useful on bike paths.

The Miyata as outfitted for spring and summer without all this stuff, and with good tires, handles like a dream, is super fun to ride, and is a good climber when my legs are in condition for its bigger gears. With all the extra equipment it does ride heavier, but the nice handling still comes through and the fun is still there.

This is what the tool bag carries: 2 tubes, patch kit, tire levers, 2 kinds of boots, Arnica tablets for injuries, a paper clip, and the Park MB3 Rescue Tool

I know what you are thinking..."Hey Flash, if your tires are so bulletproof, then why are you carrying 2 extra tubes, boots and a patch kit?" They are for you, when you ride beside me, my friends.

The Park Rescue tool features 3 detachable sections including a chain tool! Everything a Wheelman needs to fix his machine...Allen wrenches, box end wrenches, slot and Phillips drivers, knife, tire tool, spoke tool, Torx driver, chopsticks, and brass knuckles

So there you have it...only 8 additional pounds of accessories and fluids can make all the difference in how you plan your daily commute or errand running. You can jump in the car and fight traffic to go get that wireless router, or you can swing your leg over your bike and get some healthy benefit from an otherwise tedious errand. My 15 mile round trip to Best Buy only took an hour and fifteen minutes of pedal time, only 25 minutes more than a car trip, and I felt a good sense of accomplishment having covered all my bases, whatever comes my way.  I recently rode this bike on a 25 mile tour of San Francisco, many hills including Twin Peaks, fully outfitted as described except for the fenders, and had a great day.  Proof of concept.

Ride On,

1 comment:

  1. Very educational Flash. And, so thoughtful of you to carry extra equipment in the event "other people" get a flat. Thanks for sharing.