Monday, March 30, 2009

Bike Snobbery

To you bike commuters out there (Cath, Dr. J, anyone else?) - I am considering doing the same for my internship, I think it will be eminently bikeable (~6 miles each way?) and good for me. However, I have a SWEET road bike which I do not think should ever be "locked up" anywhere but always kept inside unless I am riding her many many miles.

So the plan is to get a commuter bike. However, my perspective is skewed in terms of what is ok or not ok to commute with since I generally road bike with probably excessive snobbery. These are things I have learned from my bike snob friends which I think are probably not true for commuting, please correct me if I am wrong, plus a few random questions.

1) "It is never ok to ride a bike with Sora components".

That may be true if one is planning to ride 60-70 miles at a time, regularly, on hilly terrain, and race. However I realize that may not be true for a commuter bike. Does your bike have good drivetrain components or do you find entry level just fine?

2) "Don't get a bike without a carbon fork."

Again, probably true if you are planning to ride century rides all summer, but probably not so if you're going to ride an hour a day commuting? Or maybe it would be nice to have a carbon fork if you're in a pothole-y area. I don't know. What about a CroMoly fork? That seems ok. Or maybe even a steel bike in general? That would be sexy, retro, and old school.

3) Do you ride a double or a triple front crank?

My inclination is to get a double because I don't plan to bring a ton of bike tools (or any, even) with me and won't be able to maintain my bike. The less can go wrong, the better. I am not a good enough biker to go single-speed.

4) Recommendations on panniers? I've never had one, and I think I should get one if I am going to use my bike to carry more than just a spare tube and a multitool.

5) Am I just being a total ridiculous snob and you just got your bike for free from a neighbor who didn't want it anymore and you don't know anything about it but it's fine?

In that case, I am overthinking this. Like I over think....lots of things :).


Eugenie said...

If anyone can suggest a good pannier, I'm also looking for one...

I have this exact bike, but got it way cheaper at my hometown bike store. So far it's been very good to me! (I can't wait until it gets a little warmer so I can get some nice long rides here!)

Eugenie said...

wait i lied, I have this but in black. My bad.

Mrs. CH said...

Wow - I didn't understand any of that! LOL Good on you for wanting to bike to work though! I do the same in the summer, but I just have a cheap-o bike from Zellers or something! LOL

Jenn, PhD said...

In PhD City bike commuting is very common. So is bike theft. Therefore the cheapest, crappiest bike that still works is usually the commuter's choice. How is the route? Hilly? Pretty flat? Will you also ride in the rain? Is riding with a backpack an acceptable alternative to a pannier?

Ambivalent Academic said...

I second Jenn. Reverse snobbery is the name of the game for commuter bikes. Make sure that bike theives want someone else's bike more than they want yours.

I have a decent (but not over-the-top) mountain bike for commuting. I would love a road bike BUT between the potholes, off-road shortcuts and curb-hopping that I do on my commute the mt bike is far more sensible. The fat tires have also prevented any tacos or need for mid-commute tube-change.

1) Components. Get the low-end of your fav snob brand. You want something that will stand up to some abuse so the ultra-cheapo ones are out. But you don't want super-nice ones that scream "steal me!" I have mid-range shimano components (came with the decent mt. bike - I didn't upgrade anything but the brakes).

2) Carbon forks? Pffft! But then, I've got hydraulic front suspension on the mt bike.

3) I've got a triple front crank but it's totally unnecessary for my route (PhD city is super flat so it never ever comes out of third gear). If there were any such things as hills here I might be able to offer a more informed opinion but alas, I cannot.

4) I don't have one because it's one more thing that can be stolen or have stuff stolen out of it. I commute with a small backpack - That's where my mini-tool lives and it's all I carry.

5) No, you're not being ridiculous. If you like cycling, get a commuter that you will enjoy...that way you are much more likely to enjoy your commute.

Final thoughts: two most important things are a comfortable saddle (unless you plan on commuting in your chamois), and a really, really good lock. Get the most expensive U-lock you can buy. You won't regret it. I also recommend buying the slightly longer U-lock so that you can lock both your frame and your front wheel to the rack. It won't fit on the nifty little frame clip which makes it somewhat awkward to carry on your commute. I get around thins by locking the lock to the bike rack when I leave (the bike lives indoors at home).

How's that for over-thinking?

Candid Engineer said...

I commuted on a bike for years and years and always road a crappy-ass bike that I had bought new for $130. The issue was theft and the fact that I couldn't store my bike inside. I never commuted more than 3-4 miles, though, so longer distances you might be better off with a nicer bike. Risk vs. reward, my friend!

chall said...

I second the "not too fancy bike" but a really comfy saddle and two locks. One for the front wheel and frame, the other for the back wheel so you can lock both essential parts to the "lock part"(paranoid? me? nah, just experience).

I biked to and from uni during my undergrad/grad years and it was about 5 miles one way. I always had a "regular" bike, but a bit fatter tires since I tended to get ice and wanting to go when it was muddy as well.

Other than that, something that doesn't cream "kick me and destroy me" (yep, had that happen too).

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Yes, you're overthinking ;:

The only one of your comments I know how to answer is that yes, you might want to look at panniers - I made the switch a few years ago and it's just so much better to have the weight on the frame rather than on your back and shoulders, plus you don't get the dreaded sweaty back.

For 6 miles each way (I do 6 km each way), all you need is something reliable, safe and comfortable.

Professor in Training said...

From one bike snob to another, I agree with everyone else. If you have to lock your bike up outside, make sure you have something that can withstand bumps and scratches and that you won't lose your junk over if it gets stolen.

Unless you are planning to use this bike indefinitely, my suggestion would be to get a used bike that's in good condition. During grad school, I spent a semester in the US and bought a much older used version of the bike that Eugenie linked to - I rode that poor old thing into the ground around College Town and it was perfect except when a spoke blew on the way to the lab one day. Bought the bike for $100, sold it plus the helmet and pump for $100 5 months later - figured that was a damned good deal.

If you don't have any/many hills, Sora components and a double chain ring is fine and you don't want to blow too much cash on carbon forks if you're just belting it into work and back ... and you want something that can withstand potholes, traffic etc. And unless you're planning to wear padded knicks on your commute, consider getting a regular, padded seat - your lady bits will thank you :)

Toaster Sunshine said...

I've done the single gear bike thing on hilly terrain -- more out of necessity than choice, I don't particularly recommend it. I bought a $40 3-speed old bike when I came to college and put a basket on front. I used it to get around the very large campus and to the food stores a couple of miles away. It stopped shifting gears after 3 months, but it still worked until it got stolen (I guess the fenders were still too shiny).

I'm considering buying a bike to get back and forth at work. It's about 5km each way with lots of hills and I'm thinking I'd be better off getting a cheap bike with fat tires than blowing lots of money on a bike that I will never utilize completely.

ScientistMother said...

I so did not understand any of that.

ScienceGirl said...

All that may be a little over my head :) But I think I am starting to understand the people that bring their bikes several flights of stairs and into their offices!

The lab pixie said...

Ummm, I understood so little of that, my first question was going to be were you taking pedal bike or motor bike. I've deduced you are talking pedals here...

I live a half hours walk from college (don't know what the distance is, a few K?) but I cycle most of the time. I got the sister's old bike, about fifteen years old, a Raleigh mountain bike (I think). It has five gears, of which three work. I didn't clean the moss off the mudguards properly when it came to my possession. If you were going to steal a bike, I don't think you'd pick mine first...So I am the anti-snob. However, I do lust after the gorgeous bike in the rack next to me in my block. It's one of those ones with the wide hadlebars that you sit straight up. Really retro looking. Sigh. When I have a real job perhaps...

I recently got a basket. Takes a bit of pressure off the back and shoulders.

I much prefer cycling to walking. Especially if I have to bring my laptop.

A personal note-please wear a helmet. Some people don't and I just don't get it.

PhizzleDizzle said...

Thanks everyone. I think the route will be generally not TOO hilly...i.e. there will be inclines and declines but nothing unmanageable.

So...I still haven't totally decided to craigslist it or get a cheeeeeep bike from, but I am excited at the prospect of bike commuting!

And Pixie - I most definitely will wear my helmet :). I do value my brains after all! ;)

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

SM, I don't either, and I've commuted by bike almost every day for over 11 years ;)

The lab pixie said...

Phizz, you're a good helmet wearing girl in that case!

My brother communted much further than me by bike, and for love nor money, I could not get him to put a helmet on. I see people all the time with no helmet. Mental!!

Hermitage said...


I understood NONE of that. You are truly an impressive bike geek indeed.