Sunday, March 4, 2012

Winter's toll. And a winter bike?

Winter is far from over here in Montreal. But because of a snapped gear cable I decided to do a spring tune-up on Wolfgang, my all-purpose, all-year bike. A lot of people have "winter beaters," but to me that never made too much sense: I really like my bike and don't see the point of riding an inferior quality bike at a time that places the highest demands on bike and rider. Especially, I wouldn't want to give up on my hub generator and LED lighting at the darkest time of the year. So far, this has worked well for me and the wear and tear of components didn't seem to be particularly bad. But somehow this winter seems to have been worse than previous, if not in weather but in damage to parts. My rear rim was destroyed a couple of weeks ago, after less than 10 000 km.
Busted rim
And during my tune-up today I discovered a whole bunch of other issues:
  • my bottom bracket feels noticeably grindy
  • the front brakes, Avid Single Digit 7, didn't turn that well around the brake bosses
  • the Tiagra front derailleur is sticky and doesn't want to go to the smallest chainring any more
  • all the cables and housing are in miserable condition and have to be replaced
  • a lot of the bolts, despite being made of stainless steel, show a lot of surface corrosion
  • one of the Shimano M424 pedals feels crunchy in the bearings
I'm not quite sure why this winter has been worse than others. I might have ridden more (last year I didn't ride between mid-January and the end of March because of a broken wrist), Montreal winters might be somewhat harder than those in Ithaca, and in some cases it is probably just accumulative damage.

This can't be good for your bike, can it?
It seems tempting to add a dedicated winter bike to the stable, and if I had the resources (and permission from the accomplice) I would probably get a bike with the following features:
  • dynohub and lower quality LED lighting (e.g. the B&M Lyt): As stated above, I wouldn't want to give up on my dynohub-powered lighting system. However, for riding in the city I don't need a B&M Cyo or Philips SafeRide light. It's more about being seen than about seeing.
  • frame with upright position: A frame that allows me to ride in a more upright position would help in snowy and icy conditions.
  • SPD-compatible pedals: I also wouldn't want to give up on SPD pedals and I'm happy with my Lake winter cycling boots.
  • plastic saddle: Whereas for long rides a leather saddle is an absolute requirement, for commuting a plastic saddle will do and also take care of the issue of having to cover your saddle---this season I managed to lose 3(!) saddle covers.
  • drop bars: A lot of people prefer straight, Albatross, or North road bars for a winter bike; this makes sense from a balance and control perspective; however, my wrists are not built for any kind of non-drop bar, even on reasonably short rides.
  • good and wide studded tires: Wheel size is not particularly important for me but good studded tires are a must. And some wideness helps with floating over snow.
  • disc brakes (at least in the front): Rim brakes with drop bar levers can be pretty problematic in wet conditions, and most of the time winter means wet roads. Therefore I want disc brakes, probably mechanical ones like the Avid BB7 because of the drop bars. In addition, rim wear is not an issue with disc brakes.
  • Not a good studded tire
  • 2-speed Sturmey Archer Duomatic kickback hub with low gearing: I'm not a single-speed or fixed gear person because my knees don't like me mashing up hills (and hills I like!); at the same time, derailleur systems don't particularly like road salt and constant wetness. A 2-speed Sturmey Archer kickback hub thus would be perfect: no cables, allows to use a 1/8" chain, and has more than one gear. I've never ridden a Duomatic hub so maybe it's not as good as I think.
I don't really see me building up this bike any time soon. But one may dream while wainting for spring...


  1. When I lived in snow country I really liked using Power Grips, mostly because I could wear the gnarliest snow boots I could get a hold of.

    1. Yeah, I've considered going that route. But currently I don't have any really warm winter boots anyway. My Lakes are the best I got. Otherwise I would indeed also go for Power Grips.