Friday, March 07, 2008

Which commuting bike?

When I rode to work or to the train station in London, I would always use the Fahrrad - my German city bike with fenders, rack, 7 speed hub gear, dynamo-powered lights, chain guard, and upright bars. I used this bike for most utility trips, actually (as opposed to exercise or distance).

It was the perfect bike for this sort of thing. Very upright, so I could see everywhere and all could see me. It was easy to ride and very stable with or without a load. I had the child seat on that bike, and it was also very easy to take Gemma wherever.

When I first started riding it, the biggest revelation was that I felt like I was really part of the world during my journeys - I was really in touch with my surroundings, and I could stop quite easily, lock up, and investigate a shop, take a break, or whatever. I almost always dressed in normal street clothes, so I didn't have to worry about being dressed inappropriately or bringing a change of clothes.

So when I started riding to work here in Boston, I started with the Fahrrad once again. I didn't quite know how to pack proper work attire, and I was afraid my Thorn would get stolen, so I assumed that I'd just use the Fahrrad like before. I wouldn't have to change clothes, and the bike is pretty unappealling to thieves.

After my first couple tries, it was apparent that this wasn't the ideal solution. For all of its stability and smoothness on the flat, the bike really isn't designed for big hills - it's heavy, upright, and the gearing is pretty high. Which was a problem because I live on top of one of the biggest hills around. And since I wasn't in particularly good shape at that point, this was especially daunting. Also, my commute in London was usually 4 or 5 miles, and here, it's 9 or 10, depending on my route. So the ride rally tired me out, especially on returning home. This also meant that I got sweatier than expected, so I started wishing for a shower and change of clothes.

Then I started riding in on my Thorn, and that's worked really well. It's much more comfortable than the Fahrrad (owing to a better long-distance position, a more forgiving frame and more voluminous tires, I think). I've also attached a hard-shell box on top of the rear rack, which works great for bringing a change of clothes. I've also largely stopped worrying about theft, thanks to a variety of locks and judicious choice of lockup spots. But I really do feel like I need to ride in proper cycling clothes because there's grease to contend with, I do get the odd bit of water splashing up, and my Brooks saddle could potentially discolor light-colored trousers.

So when I had a meeting in Allston yesterday, I dusted off the Fahrrad and rode it in all my business finery. It worked just fine, of course, but I was really surprised at the unforgiving ride, especially over the very poor road conditions. On the way home, I managed to cruise up our hill without too much trouble, though I must admit that I did think about walking at a couple of the steeper points.

This got me thinking about whether there's a better bike for me to commute on. Maybe something a little lighter than both, with drop bars and a rack, a regular transmission (not a hub gear like both of my other bikes), and fenders. Maybe a Surley? Not too sexy, though. I saw a beautiful refurbed Vitus in black and polished aluminium at Alewife today. I'm going to keep my eyes peeled.


blahdiblogger said...

Hi, I saw on an older post that you were considering becoming a dealer for Chistiania. We're about to move to Davis, CA and I'm considering my options bikewise and would love to give one a test ride with my son. Do you have one I could try out or do you know anywhere locally (Camb/Somerville/Boston) I could go? Thanks! Emily

Andrew said...

Emily, you're welcome to have a go on our Christiania at some point. There are still no plans to import them into this country, but there are some interesting alternatives you might consider. Email me at ahconway [at]