Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Quest For The Perfect Winter Commuter Bicycle

The pink bike, above, was my first attempt at a dedicated winter/icy road commuter. It had SnowCat 50mm rims, studded tires (not shown in this picture), and an ENO eccentric hub so that I could run fixed gear on the vertical-drop Gary Fisher frame. The Eno continually rotated in the dropouts, though, and I often dropped the chain. This led me to eventually sell the wheels, and move on.

This bike was a variation on the theme, with a horizontal-drop 1980s mtb frame. It worked fine, but I found myself desiring disc brakes, and more wheel clearance.

I picked up a Raleigh XXIX frame (a 29" fixed gear specific frame). I ran 26" wheels on it, to maximize tire clearance under the fenders. It rode nice, but I had issues with the set-screws (4mm Allen bolts) on the eccentric bottom bracket. They would seize up, due t the wintertime chemicals on the streets.  So, I bought a Soma 415.

This Soma was a 26" wheel dedicated  singlespeed mtb frame. I eventually ended up running 700c wheels on it, and it worked okay. But, I wanted better.

That started my fatbike experimentation, initially with a Fat Sand Terrain Destroyer. (What a name!) I should have kept this one, as it was a really nice commuter. The long wheelbase made it less than optimal for off-road use, though, so I moved on to the...

Salsa Mukluk. I ended up studding the tires (Origin8) on this one. It was a good effort, but the frame, itself, was not a good/comfortable fit. I ended up selling it to pay for a Les Paul guitar.

So, I returned to the old reliable 1988 Specialized RockHopper with fixed gear and studded tires. It's a nice-riding bike, but the relatively skinny tires can be less than ideal for steering in deep snow, or when there is rutted ice under the snow. (In a related note,  non-studded fat tires do no good on ice, so the combination of ice and heavy snow is a killer.) A recent commute where I was struggling with both of these problems inspired me to build up a bike, the likes of which I had never ridden: a "Fat Front".

My plan was to build up a bike with a fork that has clearance for 26x3" tire on a skinny rim. I figured I could stud one of the 3" tires I had lying about, and steal parts from the RockHopper. As I tried to pull everything together, it became apparent that I really didn't have what I needed to do the build right. Then, I saw a bike on eBay...

I bid a ridiculously low amount on it, then realized that it was a Local Pick-up Only auction ... in Virginia. I contacted the seller and told him the mistake I had made, and he told me that, if I won the auction, he would ship it to me (as long as I paid for it, of course).

Long story short, I won the auction.

The bike is a Surly 1x1 (2nd Generation), in Cash Black, with a Pugsley 100mm fork (takes a standard front hub, but clears 4" tires), a Rolling Darryl-rimmed wheel and a single disc brake on the rear. (of course, it was no problem for me to install a second disc on the front, once the bike arrived.)

Here is the bike, as it arrived, except for the disc rotor I had already installed on the front wheel before thinking about taking a "Before" picture.

The hub on the front was a Chub Hub, from The Hive ($179, on Amazon, right now, on its own). The bearings in it disintegrated on my first commute, and I had no luck with the manufacturer when I asked what bearings were spec'd, so that I could replace them. I was not impressed with either the company, or the the hub, so I just laced the rim to Shimano hub I had in another wheel.

The Shimano hub in the wheel, along with the most expensive bicycle tire I have ever bought.

I swapped the fixed 26x2.2' tired fixed gear wheel from the RockHopper to the 1x1, installed the Surly Open Bars from my Mongoose fat bike, installed fenders, etc. 

The fenders are 29er sized, with a rear fender on both the rear and the front, for more coverage. I will, eventually, widen the front fender to cover more of the tire. Surprisingly, it works pretty well, even in the narrow form, since it covers the part of the tire which runs on the road most, as I ride through slush or meltwater. 

I commuted on it for 3 days, last week, and I everything worked well. There was not a lot of snow and ice, but we are supposed to get a pretty good amount of snow over the next two days, so I figure i will get to actually test out the fat front theory in the real world, soon.
The bike rides really nice, and it's a lot less work to push only one fat, studded tire, that it was to roll two on the Mukluk. Plus, the 1x1 has a standard-width bottom bracket, so I don't feel the strain in my hip flexors that I did on the fat bike. The gearing is purposefully low, for pushing through snow, so i don't get in a hurry. A cadence of 105 rpm yields 14.5 mph.

When summertime rolls around, the bike will get my other fixed gear mtb wheel, with 2.7" tires. I received the stock 1x1 fork with the bike, but I don't imagine that I will bother to swap the forks. Heck, I might even put a non-studded fat tire on the front, and ride it like that, for some trails.

I love riding this thing, and I have had fun on my commutes.

So far, I am thinking I might have finally gotten to the bike I have been seeking. Time will tell.



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