Commuter Bike Build Tips
Posted: 26th January 2010 | Eddie Allen
More: Daily Commuting Tips
There are no hard and fast rules on the subject of what makes the ideal commuter bike. For some it's the minimalism of the fixed. For others it's the lock-it-and-leave-it lure of a Dutch bike. For some it's a slicked up mountain bike. My personal weapon of choice is steel framed, drop barred commuter/tourer. So, while I can't give you a definitive ‘do this and you'll be right' fit-all solution, I can share with you what works for me and what doesn't, concentrating on key component choices that make my life easier and my ride peachier. These component choices also work great on a general all-rounder bike.
Shimano DX style pedals
We're talking about those cast aluminium, parallelogram, concave topped jobbies with the grip pins. They're a flat pedal with very few compromises, a flat pedal that SPD die-hards could warm to. Their big platform, shape, and grip pins mean than you're losing precious little pedalling efficiency, plus you can wear any shoes you like (apart from your leather soled brogues - the grip pins scratch.)
Road Triple Chainset/Chainguard combo
This is a killer trick. Take a standard road triple chainset. Remove the outer ring and fit a chainguard ring in its place. This will leave a Chainguard/42T/30T combo which will be ideal for most commuting scenarios, and a good deal more. If you want to expand you're gearing further, you can fit a ring as small as a 24T on your triple spider, giving you close-to-MTB gear range, without the pointless overlap and gear duplication of an MTB triple. The chainguard will mean that you can deploy your regular trouserage without the fear and embarrassment of ripped hems, as well as guarding against bent chainrings when you take your commuter/allrounder bike on an impromptu off road short-cut.
Luggage - Carradice Saddlebag with SQR bracket
I run the Camper Longflap version - the daddy of the range, with 24 litres of space, which swallows up a laptop, lunch, tools, jacket and plenty of other daily paraphernalia, with room to spare. The ‘SQR' bit is a quick release, seatpost mounted system specifically designed for the Carradice bags, which supports a huge load yet releases in a cinch. Why is this setup better than a rack and panniers? Because you don't need a rack, cutting down on the unladen weight of the bike. Also, the bag is out of the way of road spray and drivetrain gunk and it's tucked-in behind you, out of the wind. In every way a winner, if you can live with the old school looks.
This is one which may define a cycling generation gap. Basically, the gear systems all bikes produced today (bar a few notable exceptions) are known as ‘Indexed' systems - meaning that you click from one gear to the next. This is great if the gears are perfectly adjusted (which is rare). Pre 1985, most bikes used ‘friction' shifting, where the rider, using (gasp!) skill, eased the chain from gear to gear. The advantage of this system is that you can forget about fiddly, regular gear adjustments and just concentrate on riding, developing a greater understanding of your gear system in the process. Friction shifters are still available in the form of bar end shifters. (Shimano make Ultegra and Dura Ace versions which can switch between indexed and friction, while Dia Compe make true-blue friction only versions). These can be adapted for flat bar usage using Pauls Thumbies or similar devices.
Drop bars Mounted High
Many favour flat bars for city riding, but for a bike that earns its crust as an all-rounder, the drop bar offers more riding positions and is narrower, meaning easier traffic negotiations. The trick is to mount the bar much higher than a hardcore racer would, high enough so that you tend to use the drops more than the tops (that's why they're there after all). This will make the tops high and mighty, giving you a better view of the city traffic when you need it. As a starting point, try getting the tops of your drops level with your saddle. You may need an angled stem or a longer steerer to achieve this, but it's worth it.
Fit and Forget Lights
Reelight battery free LED lights are the place to go - they attach permanently so you never forget them. They don't use batteries, as they're powered by magnets, plus they're not finicky prima donnas like dynamo systems. Get the version which stays illuminated at the traffic lights, and you're sorted.
Low key, durable, future-proof kit
Pulling back from the specifics, the rest of the bike is assembled from honest-to-goodness, good quality stuff which is durable enough for enjoyable day-in-day-out riding but low key enough to leave outside the supermarket when you pop in for a quick grocery stop. This often means largely unbranded parts, no flashy logos and low key colours. I've peeled off decals, polished out itched logos and stuck on stickers to foil the thieves - obfuscation is the name of the game.