Monday, October 19, 2009

Winter Commuting Decisions

I’ve been doing some thinking lately, and I’m questioning some of my approach to winter cycling. After recently building up the MUTT, I wondered if this is the correct approach. As I ride that bike, there is much of it that I question, much that I’m not too fond of, and it kind of got me to thinking…….is it better to keep your “good” bikes nice, un-ridden and make them last forever. Or is it best just to ride your bikes and if they wear out, replace them with new bikes?

Obviously I’m not talking about super high end, racing bikes. My “good” bikes are pretty plain, simple, steel bicycles. Ie: Surly Long Haul Trucker, Surly Karate Monkey, my Xtracycle and my Fixie.

Now, I have giving the fixie a pretty hard smattering of nasties and slop. I could re-install the brake, and add some studded tires, and this might be a great option for a winter commuter. I’ve got a Paul rear flip-flop hub that I don’t want to waste; but then again, wouldn’t a Paul hub stand up better to being used in real life than a less expensive hub?

My LHT; this bike would probably not be my first option as a winter commuter. It’s got some serious gearing, most of which is un-used while commuting, and the more gears, the more damage caused by salt and grime. The dynamo head light would be nice, but this bike is one that I actually don’t know if I would want to ride in the snow. It’s a touring bike, not one that would be conducive to riding with both feet out to break a fall if things get hairy.

My Karate Monkey; here’s one that I’m seriously thinking about using for winter. The single speed drive train is what’s wanted for grime and muck, the disc brakes also will save heavy rim wear that happens with the salt and dirt used in the winter, and the big tires would be a huge benefit. Planet Bike Cascadia fenders are available in 29er size, and I am a huge fan of these fenders since putting them on the Xtracycle.

Part of this is also driven by the idea of simplifying every aspect of my life. First of all, I’ve got 3 bikes that are kind of junk bikes, but for some reason I keep them. I could save space in the garage and basement if I just got rid of them. Also, I spend time and money (while it may not be much, a little on each bike adds up over time) and all these bikes. I think about the money and time I spend on “junk” bikes, and wonder what I could be upgrading or tweaking on a bike that’s half decent to begin with. Sure, my bikes won’t last as long if they’re exposed to salt, and dirt, sand and all the rest that comes with winter commuting; but, how much time are we talking? Would a Surly steel framed bike last 5 years with proper maintenance and care? Would I mind upgrading and buying a new bike when anyone of mine actually wears out? No, not at all. These are not collectors pieces, they are real, practical, and tough bikes that are meant to be ridden and could be bought over again if needed.

Here is what I’m thinking for my commuter setup:
· My fixie with studs, a front brake and a basket, and full fenders for the icy and sloppy conditions.
· My Karate Monkey with fenders, leave the stock 29” X 2.3” tires on there, and ride this on days when there’s snow melting, or when there is deep snow to contend with.
· My Xtracycle with the snow studs off of MUTT, for days when I need to haul stuff. Well, maybe for most days. I just like riding the Xtracycle for some reason.

The idea being that between the fixie and the KM I’d be covered for the “bad’ winter conditions. I’d have my Xtra for hauling in any weather and I’d still have my LHT for days when all is dry.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you have any insight you could share about using good bikes for bad weather, or if you think it’s worth just using beater bikes like the MUTT? What’s your winter setup?



JPTwins said...

Whew, quite a post. Got me thinking a bit too! First of all, I live in Boston, and while we get snow, I'm not really outfitted for a snow bike... yet! That said, I can totally relate to your conundrum.

I like the idea that it's worth riding a better more comfortable bike and wearing it down rather than waiting for the nicer weather. If you still try to wash it off and take care of it a bit, I'm sure the karate Monkey would easily last more than 5 years, and that's still only $200 a year. keep in mind the rest of the non-snowing year, you'll be riding your other ones even more.

if downsizing is another goal, then trash the junk. your second to last paragraph sums it up pretty well! it sounds like that will make you happier in many regards!

Hughie said...

If you're going to get rid of stuff let me know! Maybe we can work something out :)

As for your commuting situation, I think not riding the LHT is definitely a good idea, but I have no experience with single speed. Using a single speed or fixie as a long distance commuter in St. Johns would be crazy I think, too hilly and too not bike friendly.

I think using the KM and Xtra accordingly sounds like a plan.

Jerome said...

Thanks for the feed back guys.

Hughie, my bro-in-law asked if I could put a bike together for him, and if he wants the Mutt, I’m going to put some different tires on it and give it to him, but, that’s not to say that I don’t have a bunch of other stuff you might be interested in.

I’ll send you an email about some of the stuff that I’ve got. A lot of it is stuff that I find at a local recycling facility, so I paid nothing for it, and I’d give it to you for free. The one thing that would cost you would be shipping, which may or may not be too bad. Within Canada should keep it half reasonable. Maybe we could even greyhound it or something? Anyway, I’ll let you know what I’ve got as I start to go through everything.


Christopher Johnson said...

We don't have horrible winter conditions here, so my suggestions are merely academic. Questions like these should be handled with proven principles...

1. Use the bike you like.
2. Saving is wasting.
3. Simplification takes effort, but complexity just happens.
4. Simplification forces focus (see 1 above).
5. Simplification is prudent, but having a backup is prudent-er.

Keep us informed.

Doug said...

I like to keep a few bikes away from all the winter crud. My LHT will not see winter duty unless my other bikes have major problems. I ride my Cross Check with studs, fenders and Nexus IGH. It sees all of the nasty stuff. The Pugsley gets the call only when it is sub zero and the roads are dry or if we have a snow event that guarantees we have snow on the roads all day long. Since the Pug is lacking fenders, it doesn't get used in the sloppy stuff.

Anonymous said...

Commuting? Use the Monkey. Save the LHT.

Deb said...

I guess I'm the lone dissenting voice: I'd say use the LHT if you like riding it.

But then, of course I'd give that advice because that's what I do myself. I am in the DC area, and the bad conditions tend to be wet and road grime rather than salt. We get more ice than snow, but they don't salt much. The places that have the most ice are the mixed use paths, and they don't take care of those at all, so definitely no ice/sand there. Thankfully I don't have to ride more than half a mile on the mup. I rode my LHT all year, even (somewhat ill-advisedly) on a day we got 7" of snow.

I feel like the LHT can handle pretty much everything. Touring bikes aren't really designed to be babied, after all. I need lots of gears on my commute, I'd be walking five or six hills each way if I was on a SS, so that's just never been something I consider.

My only other bike is a little road bike that I don't tend to bother to ever ride, and it doesn't have a rack in any case, so it wouldn't work for me as a commuter. Thus I never think about it, I just grab the LHT and head out.

I actually got a bad weather bike last winter...and never used it. So I donated it this year.

Ride whatever makes you happy. If you'd worry too much about the LHT, then ride something else, but there's no sense in not riding something you like.

Jerome said...

Thanks everyone for the great comments and advice. I appreciate it. Lots of good stuff on the facebook page too. I think the Trucker shall remain clean and away from the salt and sludge. This post from one of my bikes in the past shows why:

Now, start sorting out and getting rid of the junk, and tweaking the good bikes to a slightly different usefullness.....good times ahead!