Operation Commuter Bike – A Plan Emerges
We interrupt this self-indulgent vacation report for an important bulletin, brought to you by my Attention Deficit Disorder.
So I went to my nearest LBS last night for a fender. I came back with a project I am so excited about I had to share it with you RIGHT FREAKING NOW.
So awesome, right?
First, let me give you some back up material. Since I started riding my bike to work I have been in commuter bike purgatory – caught somewhere between my ancient and soon-to-be-deceased mountain bike and my cyclocross bike. While this is most certainly a petty first-world problem, truth be told, I don’t really have any other kind.
Riding the mountain bike is slow, heavy, and not much fun. Although I have never actually driven a Sherman tank, I suspect the old girl is not dissimilar. The shifting is temperamental, the rear brake has seized, and the bottom bracket is looser than Lindsay Lohan after four rounds of tequila shots and a couple of quaaludes. On days where the road conditions are wet, snowy, mucky, or otherwise shitty, this is my ride.
On the other three days of the year, I’m on my ‘cross bike. While I do use it for racing, I hesitate to call it a race bike. It’s a third-hand aluminum Cannondale and let’s just say it has seen its fair share of deck. And yet riding it in the spring feels a little like eating spaghetti and meatballs in my wedding dress.Riding and maintaining two commuter bikes is a pain. Choosing which one to ride based on some half-assed prediction of the road conditions is stressful. And the equipment logistics are exhausting: transferring of blinky lights, fender swapping, and footwear changes, just to name a few. Life is complicated enough, thank you very much.
This brings me to last night. My ride home was miserable and wet, made wetter and more miserable because I did not have fenders on the Sherman. I didn’t have fenders on the Sherman because a) when I ride in the winter the temperature is typically such that water stays in its solid form, and b) I think fenders are ugly. Having said that, a wet brown stain running up one’s backside is not exactly attractive either.
When I explained my plight to Adrian at the bike shop, including the important requirement that said fender be easily moved from bike to bike, he looked at me knowingly. Then he told me what I needed.
“What you need” he said, “is a dedicated commuter bike.”
Yes. That is exactly what I need. And a fender. Like right now. But even though I was not there to buy a bike, I was (and am always) willing to spend some time fondling some nice shiny new bikes.
Adrian then spent the next 30 minutes NOT trying to sell me a commuter bike, but rather explaining, piece by piece, what his vision of the perfect commuter bike would be, using his own as an example. His bike (which incidentally was as filthy as my own), including all of its various parts, cost him a grand total $150 – which is approximately the budget I have at my disposal for a bike right now. Unfortunately, as it was pointed out to me later, I may not have the same kind of access to free bike parts that he has. And stealing is wrong.
In any case, it’s got me thinking (ok obsessing) about the advantages of a dedicated commuting bike. Like getting a new bike, for example. When I got home, I drew the bike that Adrian described on a piece of paper.
(I already showed it to you. Remember? Don’t worry, there are medications available for people like us.)
And so begins my quest. I’d like something nice, but not so precious I’m worried about it getting dirty or ripped off – probably a steel road bike, single speed. Maybe Italian. It will most certainly have a free wheel hub, because I am not nearly skilled or cool enough for fixed. Maybe it will even be a step-though ladies’ frame. Because I’m a lady. I’d love to build it myself, but maybe I’ll find something whole. Regardless, the single, most important feature will be something I have never, ever done with any bike I’ve ever owned in my whole life: I will pick the colour myself.
It will also have the most bodacious pair of fenders money can buy.
Huge thanks to Adrian Alphonso at Olympia on Portage for taking the time to teach me a thing or two about commuting safer, cleaner and in style, all for the cost of a seventeen dollar fender.
Perhaps a pair of bodacious wooden fenders? Let’s talk
Super sweet. The turquoise frame with brown saddle, honey leather bar tape and wood or hammered fenders would rock my world!
+1 on wooden fenders. With some nice leather flaps on the bottom. If you think fenders are ugly, it’s probably because you are used to looking at ugly fenders. If wood isn’t your cup of tea, you could get some Honjo or Velo Orange hammered fenders as well…
I am totally down with the idea of wooden fenders. Love, love, love them. But in rain? Winter? How “wood” they “weather” the weather? (see what I did there? snort!)
n+1, it’s better than driving to work, unless you live in freakin’ Canada. Bugger wooden fenders, you will be revarnishing them in two years and cursing your god(s). Something inert like aluminum, hammered, anodized some fantastic color; those would be worthy fenders.
no, wooden fenders would only make sense on a summer bike.
n + 1
Wooden fenders weather the weather quite nicely. 6 or 7 coats of polyurethane essentially make them plastic fenders that can stand up to any sort of weather you’d throw at them.
I don’t mind riding a tank in crappy conditions. I feel I am getting much stronger. The wind was really tough yesterday. I just got a fender on Monday myself. You can start riding your good bike in another week. Good luck on the bike building.
Your “Operation Commuter Bike” has me stoked! For the past couple of years, I’ve dreamed about converting my old Bianchi road bike (mid-80s vintage and in dire need of major “work”) to a commuter bike. Problem: my knowledge of bike mechanics/wrenching is diddly-over-squat. Solution: what better way to learn than hands-on at the Bike Dump. If you get your project underway and wouldn’t mind a fellow chick working alongside, please let me know.
You bet I will! Your bike sounds perfect and absolutely should be made into something you can ride again! What fun. And what better way to learn about the bikes we ride than to embark on a project like this!
I will definitely let you know when the Operation get underway. It may start after the police auction in a couple of weeks (April 27/28 at Varsity View Sports Complex).
Sounds like a great plan. Let me know if you need any parts as I seem to have a garage with stuff too precious to throw away but not precious enough to use, you know? Seats, drop bars, mountain bike pedals, stuff like that.
That is awesome Grant! Thanks so much, I may take you up on that.
The perfect commuter bike is a bike that has enormous value! (but only to you) Preferably one that you pieced together from scraps, and always always has fenders! All of us at the shop commute and all our bikes have tons of “originality”
You totally nailed it Scott. What I want is something original – some thing I didn’t just buy or inherit. Very excited about this project!
I recently picked up a dedicated commuter. It’s an old Sekine that someone has converted into a single-speed. It’s a hipster-wannabe bike, but the paint job is so unbelievably garish that I don’t mind since absolutely nobody would want to steal it. He put more thought into the paint job than the conversion as I’ve had to overhaul the headset and wheels, but it was kind of fun. All said and done, I think I’m just over $150 into it, a few hours work, and in sore need of some fenders (the brown streak is becoming permanent).
Wow Christopher, that sounds awesomely perfect!!
I think you’ve nailed all the essential commuter bike requirements. I’m currently pedaling a Raleigh 1972 Super Course II mixte, with fenders, rack and panniers. She replaced a similarly-equipped Peugeot that was a little too small for 5’8″ me. We added a Sturmey Archer 8-speed hub to reduce maintenance for winter riding and I wanted a mountain bike handlebar instead of drop bars, since I am more comfortable that way in snowy weather. Mixtes are lovely, because they give you that step-through frame with more style. I saw several on Craigslist today here in Minneapolis. VO fenders are stunning, if SKS bores you. Have fun building up your ride!
Sweet. Thanks Chick. Your ride sounds most radical. I love the idea of a mixte – if I can find one. And a Peugeot would rock. Looking into getting a good frame as a starting point. Thankfully for tall gals like us there are more available. Cheers!
Peugeots rock only as long as they work! They are french so all the sizes are french and very specific. There are now a few options for french bottom brackets to replace old cottered cranks. But seatposts, stems, handlebars etc,can make people cry when trying to upgrade.
But a raleigh supercourse mixte, that is what I really really would like to find! Lightweight reynolds 531 tubing…sigh!
I made up a commuter bike shoppers checklist in response to the common questions friends were asking me about getting a bike for the daily commute. It’s useful if one is comparison shopping and looking for some basic advice on safety and comfort options. Download a print-friendly PDF here: http://www.chriskeam.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Commuter-Bike-Checklist.pdf
That is an awesome list with great pointers! Thanks for sharing it!
natural cycle is having their annual cruiser (read: commuter) bike sale right now… cheap stuff is super sweet sometimes. Then you can turn the renegade into the polo bike!
You read my mind Luc. Me and the Renegade were made for bike polo. No doubt about it! Thanks for the tip about NaturalCycle. I had a look at the blog and kind of like this CCM, although I’m still not sure about the step through frame. Anyway, I might go check it out. Or there’s the police auction in a couple of weeks. That could be fun!
After going through various bikes for commuting, and years of mountain bikes in the past, I finally have my dream an old ladies bronze green raleigh sports that was donated to me. I had been collecting parts for my dream commuter bike for a few years. Sturmey Archer front drum brakes and a rear Sturmey Archer 5 speed internal geared hub with drum brakes. I had to have new wheels built which cost a bit, but otherwise, cheap. The bike is as heavy as hell, but I love it! It does not have a fully enclosed chaincase, but it’s on the dream list to make it completely maintenance free. Drum brakes are amazingly strong, and internally geared hubs are great! The 5 speed would be plenty for a prairie city, not so good where I live. It’s a great bike, but was initially meant for shorter distances without too many hills and for the worst of weather. However, because it is so sturdy and comfortable, I can take it on long rides, and handles dirt trails very well. They were designed for riding on anything. It is the only working bike I have besides my precious vintage raleigh that only goes out in fine summer weather, so I have no choice but to ride it everywhere. I have plans for another bad season/all season commuter bike that is built around a vintage lightweight touring frame, which is sitting upstairs. I have a dynamo hub and 8 speed internal geared hub which require heaps of money to build onto wheels, and oh all other parts… It will be my longer distance winter bike, 650b dream date, and all season road or off road ride. Ideally I would also have a lightweight road ish bike(that frame is in another closet) that can carry stuff in case I commute on it or buy groceries in the summer. Quite frankly, at this point all I want is a glorious italian lightweight columbus tubing bike!
Be careful to sacrifice a beautiful italian road bike for winter salt and grime! One one hand it is a good idea to have the best possible bike for the bike you are going to ride every day, another to see something get trashed. My husband has a beautiful vintage bianchi columbus for summer rides, and a cheapish older japanese made bianchi for commuting. Yes a well maintained high end road bike with eyelets for fenders and racks would be a blissful ride.
Don’t be embarrassed if your bike count goes up even if you intended to just have one commuter bike.
Oh you are wise, madame! Yes, the trick is skating the line between preciousness and utility. Ideally, if I’m going to ride this bike everyday I want to love it. And love to ride it. But at the same time I know it will take a beating on our crappy, salty, sandy roads that, in the spring are so full of potholes they look (as a friend said) like they have been through a shelling.
The Italian beauty should still happen, but perhaps not be subjected to the indignity of the winter commute.
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