For some years I’ve been riding a bike to work most days for various reasons: economic, environmental, health and personal contrariness. I have been riding an elderly Specialized mountain bike with street tires, which I got second hand on Trade Me. It has served me well, but I was starting to tire of it for a few reasons:
- it was ugly;
- the frame was a bit small and I couldn’t get the seat and the handlebars into a configuration that was both comfortable and safe;
- every now and then the derailleurs would shit themselves and eat a chain in the middle of town, because emergency manoeuvres are a fact of life in inner-city cycling;
- the cleats and bike shoes that seemed like a good idea for the Mt Vic ascent were a pain.
The Cycling in Wellington blog drew my attention to the fact that there is a whole other kind of bike out there which is intended to be ridden by everyday people at an everyday pace to do everyday things, and that such bikes can be attractive and suitable for a chap in a tweed jacket. I don’t race, I’m not into mountain biking and neither a road bike nor a mountain bike nor any in-between hybrid appeals like a bike that’s meant for utility travel. I’d been thinking about 8 speed internal hubs for a while, but following the trail from Cycling in Wellington to Lovely Bike and Velo Ideale and Mamachari made a few ideas coaelesce in my head.
So, let me present my new pride and joy. It is a Linus Roadster customised for me by David at Velo Ideale. I asked for various features and tweaks which I thought would make it best suited to my needs, and now that I’ve been riding it for a week, I’m pleased to say I feel really good about my choices. It has been a pleasure to deal with David too.
I chose the Roadster as a base because they have the old-school look I was after, they are cheap-ish, and Velo-Ideale had a great picture on their site of an already modified one which inspired me. One day I might drop several grand at once on a Pashley, but not yet. My judgement has been validated because I get unsolicited compliments on my stylish bike.
The Shimano Nexus Red Band 8 speed hub is marvellous. Unless and until something mechanically terrible happens, I cannot see myself ever going back to derailleurs. The gear range is such that I can climb from Cambridge Terrace up to Alexandra Road by way of Marjoribanks, Hawker, Palliser and Thane as easily as I could on the 21 speed mountain bike, but I can crank along Evans Bay parade at high speed. I can shift when stopped. Shifting is very smooth, so smooth in fact that between some gears you can only tell because of the change in resistance to pedalling. Supposedly internal gear hubs are not quite as efficient as derailleurs, but I cannot detect this. And on the other hand, the chain is always perfectly aligned between the chainring and the rear cog, unlike on a derailleur system. Since there’s no front derailleur, the guard plate next to the chainring is big and so while I generally use a reflective trouser clip for visibility, there’s no need to worry about getting my pants caught in the chain any more. The unit is sealed and can’t get crap in it, and probably won’t need servicing for 2 or 3 years. This is probably the most expensive component in the whole bike, and the most unusual one, but it is definitely what makes it well-suited to local conditions.
The big wheels give a smooth ride. White sidewall tyres just look good with a black frame. I’m keeping an eye out for cream ones though.
I asked for toe clips. They have white straps to go with the white sidewalls. They haven’t taken long to get used to, and they really help with a sustained climb like my ride home from work. I’ve discovered that my most formal shoes actually make the best bike shoes, as they have stiff leather soles. It’s very nice to wear proper shoes to work, be secure in the pedals all the way, and not have to change shoes.
The handlebars are flipped because that’s how the cool kids had them in the 80s and I just like it. Generally, I find the grip angle easier on my wrists. I am really appreciating a more upright riding posture. I can see more. My lower back is grateful. The only niggle is that my little handlebar mirror doesn’t have a stalk and I can’t position it usefully on these handlebars, and I haven’t found a mirror that’s stylish and suitable yet. I do miss the mirror. On the other hand, in an upright position it’s easier to turn my head and look over my shoulder.
We all know New Zealand is a pluvial country, so while I’ve escaped riding in the wet so far in the last couple of weeks, it’s bound to happen. I’m looking foward to having proper mudguards protect my trousers.
The Brooks saddle is an extravagance which I chose purely for aesthetic reasons, but it turns out to be comfortable. I expect it will get even better as I wear it in.
As a whole, I’m finding my new bicycle very pleasant to ride. It’s stable – I can go no hands easily. It’s very smooth and quiet, though the mudguards create a little extra noise on a rough surface. It’s especially nice to ride slowly. It is a relaxing bike, and I look forward to taking it out every day. From a feature point of view, I can’t think what I would add to this bike that could make it better for its main job of getting me to work and back. (I already have really good lights from the old bike so adding built in ones would have been taking it too far.) And it cost a bit more than a year’s worth of bus fares.