Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making Your Bike YOURS (part 2)

Well, let's start by using my own 1985 Miyata 210 as an example of what I have started talking about in the previous post. To begin with, a little about the bike... I picked it up used, a few years ago, with the intent of making it over into an all-weather commuting bike. It began life as a low-end touring bike, with similar design but less expensive parts than my Miyata 1000 (which is a story in and of itself, for another day). I neglected to get photos of it when I first bought it, but here's a clipping from the 1985 Miyata catalog:

As the catalog indicates, it was designed as a "budget" touring bike. Long wheelbase, clearance for wide tires, fittings for racks, etc. All of which also made it a great candidate for a commuter, although I knew there were things I was going to want to change.

First off, I decided drop handlebars were not what I wanted for this bike. For commuting purposes, I wanted a bit more upright posture, both for comfort and for ease of looking around in traffic. So I opted for a set of Nitto "Albatross" bars, a variation on the old classic three speed bars, with more sweep back. To go with the more upright posture, I decided on a Brooks B.67 saddle... wider than my B.17s and with springs for comfort. Next, because I ride at night as well as in daylight, I built a wheel around a Shimano Nexus dynohub and installed a Basta halogen head light and simple tail light run from the hub. In addition, I like to have redundancy in a lighting system for a transportation bike, so I installed a battery powered head and tail light as backups. Fenders were a necessity, to allow riding in all weather. In the photo you'll also notice perhaps that I had installed studded tires for winter use, figuring I'd swap them out for conventional tires in spring. Finally, since I wasn't planning extended rides over varied terrain, I wanted to simplify the drivetrain, so I went with two chain rings instead of three, with seven sprockets in the rear.

I rode the bike in this configuration for most of the first winter I had it. But a few things just didn't work for me... notably the handlebars. I found that the very upright position was less than ideal on my 6 mile ride into work, which often featured a headwind. I tried lowering the bars a bit, but it only helped a little. A bigger issue was that I found the front end of the bike felt a little too "light"... which proved a bigger problem on ice and snow. It became obvious to me that I needed bars that put more of my weight over the front wheel, so I went back to an option I'd used previously on a couple of bikes and liked... the Nitto "Moustache" bar. This gave me a wider range of possible hand positions and had the benefit of letting get a bit more weight over the front wheel AND be more aerodynamic. I quickly found I liked the bike a lot more this way.

Over time, I made a few more refinements to the bike that have helped make it a better, more utilitarian transportation bike. The biggest change was in the drive train. If you look closely at the photo to the right, you'll see that I've installed a Shimano Nexus 8 speed internally geared hub. Unlike a derailleur system, the internal hub has all of the major moving parts completely enclosed and protected from the elements. In addition, you can change gears while standing still, which is nice when you're riding in traffic. If you remember the old English three speeds, this is basically a more modern version of that with more gears. Eight is honestly plenty for a utility bike like this. I kept the double chain ring setup, with 34 and 38 tooth chain rings, figuring I'd use the lower range in winter with the studs and higher with lighter tires in spring, summer and fall. Honestly though, I never went to the trouble to reposition the chain when the seasons changed.

Other changes you'll note... a narrower saddle to go with the more forward-leaning position of the moustache bars... a better quality headlight... and most importantly, baskets front and rear. While panniers can work for shopping, it's much handier to just have baskets permanently mounted. The front is a basic Wald wire basket, mounted on a cheap front "mini rack" from Bike Nashbar, and the rear is the classic Wald folding grocery baskets, sized to take a standard paper grocery bag, and tucking out of the way when not needed. Those are attached to the classic Blackburn rack, one of the great workhorses in bike racks. A final detail is the Pletscher two-leg kickstand... heavy, but gosh it's nice to have when you have a load of groceries.

Oh, one more thing to note... in both pictures of my bike you can see several stickers plastered here and there. I tend to do that with my "utility" bikes.... it makes them uniquely mine, and perhaps less appealing to thieves. No idea if that last part works, but it can't hurt. And it's an opportunity to express some opinions, such as "If you were riding you'd be happy by now" and " Books and bikes undermine the aspirations of dictators". You'll also notice a fair number of pieces of reflective silver tape strategically placed around the bike, to help make me more visible at night. Kind of ugly, but it's a safety thing.

So that's one example... more to come. And not just my bikes, I promise!


beth h said...

Need any more quirky bike stickers? We're getting in a batch from our friends at Mircocosm. Lemme know.
Nice updating on that Miyata.

Tim said...

I can always use more quirky bike stickers!

So Microcosm does sell to shops, wholesale? Might have to see if John will pick some up in spring.

beth h said...

Microcosm does sell wholesale to shops. They also recently opened a retail store for their stickers and zines in Portland: