Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What Has It Got In Its Pocketssss Part 1: Non-Bike Specific Multitools

I was recently talking with somebody about multitools for bicycling (if my previous post on multitools didn't clue you in, I've got a habit of accumulating the things), and the idea of carrying a Leatherman or similar tool for cycling came up.

After a bit of thought, I had to say that I didn't think a pliers-based multitool, while great in many situations, was all that useful for a cyclist, for a few reasons.

First off, weight. Not in the sense of "making your bike heavy and slowing you down." For the commuting cyclist I've said before that's a non-issue, but the fact that most Leatherman type tools are fairly heavy and bulky and don't ride in your front pants pocket too comfortably, especially when you're pedaling a bicycle. Of course, many folks who carry one keep it in a bag or belt pouch, which would negate that.

Cost is another issue. A well-made mutitool of this type generally costs anywhere from $50 to $100, which makes them a bit of a stretch for those on a budget, and means I personally would be a bit uncomfortable leaving it in a seat bag while I locked my bike outside.

Finally, pliers aren't actually all that useful for roadside bicycle repairs. You may occasionally find them useful enough to MacGyver something together every now and then, but for most of the nuts and bolts on a bike, you mostly just risk rounding them out and stripping them if they're at all tight, and you'd be hard pressed to securely tighten the nuts of a bolt-on rear wheel with multitool pliers. You'd do better carrying a small adjustable wrench, or even a few single crescent wrenches in the sizes you need.

However, while I haven't found pliers and bulky pocket tools all that useful, I do find myself reaching for a non-bike specific tool all the time, whether at work or on commutes, to make minor tweaks and adjustments. Specificaly, this:
No, not the can opener (I can't actually remember the last time I used the can opener on that thing), but the little flat screwdriver at the end. It turns out that the small screwdriver on most Swiss Army knives is perfect for adjusting derailleur limit screws and brake centering screws. When I tune up a bike, I always take it for a test ride afterwards, just to make sure it's working right, and often I have to make a few fine adjustments. Brake and derailleur cable adjustments can be made by barrel adjuster, but those two things in particular require a small screwdriver, so it's easier to pop out this than to have a screwdriver poking a hole in my pocket.

The rest of the tools come in handy too (this is the Pioneer model, for you fellow tool geeks out there), and a basic Swiss-Army knife is relatively inexpensive, durable and far less bulky in your pocket than a Leatherman tool (unless you get one of the big deluxe models that are four inches thick and contain a miniaturized hardware store).

On most modern bicycles, a Swiss Army knife combined with a 4,5,6 mm Allen wrench set will actually cover almost all your roadside repairs for commuting. Add a pump, spare tube and tire levers and you're good to go. No need to buy fancy, expensive multitools at all (no need, I say, but I still love buying fancy multitools for their own sake).

Speaking of fancy multitools, I'll be reviewing the Reductivist Ringtool for part two of "What Has It Got In Its Pocketssss" later this week. Yes, I'm on a weird Tolkein kick with my titles. No, there's no particular reason, but if anyone wants to treat it as a hint and buy me a Rivendell for my birthday, feel free! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

One Bike to Rule Them All

While casual riders or those who are strictly into the utility of cycling are perfectly content with only a single bike, most of us who like bicycles develop a habit of accumulating them, as we find one bike is suited to one type of riding more than another. In spite of this, we sometimes discuss the perfect "do it all" bike, like we'd ever be content with just a single toy. 

I know from long experience there is no ideal bike for every situation, but I also know that with the right bike you can get by just about anywhere, even if "ideal" isn't in the mix. It's a bit like a Swiss-Army knife or Leatherman, it's not so much about having the perfect tool for every job, but having a good-enough tool handy. 

This kind of thing is on my mind now because I'm about to make a move from my New Jersey base of operations to the snow-and-cheese-bound cycling paradise of Madison, Wisconsin. The thing is, as I move to one of the most bicycle-friendly areas I've ever seen, I'm only going to be able to bring one full-size bicycle for the time being (I will be putting others in storage and getting them later) so I've had to think hard about which one of my "fleet" will be coming with me. 

Of course, me being me, I had to overthink the whole thing, but I eventually decided on my Van Dessel "Country Road Bob" for a number of reasons. 
First off, Madison is not super-hilly, so a singlespeed drivetrail won't put me at a big disadvantage in getting around. After the move, I'm hoping to find a job working at a bicycle shop, but things will be up in the air and for the time being I won't have access to a full shop's worth of tools, so a basic, low-maintenance drivetrain will be easy to keep in good working order. With it's cyclocross frame and Mountain Bike style brakes, the Bob also has plenty of clearance for wider, knobby tires for winter riding, and with the hub flipped to the fixed-gear side, gives me plenty of control on slippery surfaces. Its fairly unique frame design and bright paint scheme makes it easy to spot from a distance and therefore a bit (not a lot) more theft resistant, and finally, if I'm going to be leaving my native turf, I'm bringing a bike from a New Jersey company with me. 

I did make some modifications to the bike, in preparation for it being my Number One ride again. The biggest of which was to replace the 12-year-old carbon fork with a steel one (All City Nature Boy, for those playing the home game). While I've never had trouble with the super-rugged Van Dessel fork, it's old, I'm heavy, and I expect to be putting a lot more mileage on the bike than I have been. But more so, this gave me the opportunity to use a longer steerer tube and raise the stem a bit. The Country Road Bob has a very short head tube, and with my seat height I had the handlebars about six inches below saddle level. This would be fine if I were trying to be athletic, or actually capable of riding fast, but for commuting in traffic I found it put a lot of strain on my neck and shoulders, so I now have a more comfortable, but swill sporty four-inch drop. The new fork also has braze-ons which will let me add a front fender if I feel the need (the old fork had no eyelets at all, even for a clip-on fender like I have on the rear). I chose this particular fork because it was nearly as light as the carbon one it replaced, had a rustproof treatment inside and out, and looked cooler than the other options. 

Otherwise I've installed one of my favorite all-around saddles on the bike, the Terry Liberator Y, and added a Minnehaha large saddlebag for tools and small items. With a couple of clip-on lights, I should be ready to hit the (new) town!