Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bike Maintenance

Compared to last winter, this winter has been extremely mild--I never used the snow tires! But I’ve also ridden a little less frequently after running into some maintenance trouble with both of my bikes.

The Tudek bike path this past winter

At some point, I broke something in the Superba’s hub, but we’re not sure exactly how I did it. I noticed a scraping noise going up one of the big hills, and the next time I rode I noticed that each pedal stroke felt like it wasn’t engaging from the top of the stroke (12 o’clock) through a quarter of the rotation (about 3 or 4 o’clock). Then I noticed that the coaster brake didn’t always work. (I took it in to the shop and they said it needed a new pinion.) It wouldn’t take to long to get fixed, but the part had to be shipped. In the meantime, I rode the Peugeot.

At the time, there was snow on the ground and along the paths, and for some reason I didn’t think twice about riding right through it. The problem was that the Peugeot lacks a chain case and an internal hub, leaving those moving parts exposed to the elements. Normally this isn’t a problem, but I noticed that some snow adheres to these parts if you ride through it. Unfortunately, after about a week of this, I couldn’t shift anymore, and I think its because rust built up in the derailleur or in the cable housing.  So both bikes were out of commission, and I was getting a ride to and from campus for about three weeks this winter.

My winter gear including waterproof pants and waterproof overshoes, which a rarely had to use this season

Now that both bikes are fixed, and there is (currently) no snow on the ground, I’m really excited about spring! Last year, spring was probably my favorite season.

Picture from last spring

Also, I made a change to the Superba. On flat surfaces and moderate hills, the Superba is fantastic: it is stable, comfortable and easy to ride. But two hills on my commute were really difficult with the current gearing and setup. Not only was it really, really hard to pedal up those hills, but standing up on the Superba is really uncomfortable for some reason. Fortunately, the local bike shop was able to solve this problem. Freeze Thaw put a new larger cassette on the Sturmey Archer hub, which made the lowest gear easier. Now it is much easier to ride every day.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Comparing Bicycles

After almost a month on the Superba, I spent a few days on the Peugeot, and I was shocked by how different they feel. I noticed things about the setup of both bikes that I hadn't noticed before. For instance, as soon as I got on the Peugeot, I had to text my housemate and asked her if she raised the stem. (The handlebars couldn't have possibly always been that high!) Of course, there was nothing different about the Peugeot, I'd just been so used to the Superba. It's so weird to me how quickly I got used to the Superba, and how I assumed the setup was identical.

Another feature that I'd assumed was identical between the bikes was the front- and seat-tube angle. When I got the Superba, they'd looked so similar to me; now I can't believe I didn't immediately see how different they are. On the Peugeot, both tubes are much more vertical compared with the Superba. This has two effects. First, the Superba is much more comfortable (is that why they mean when they say "relaxed angles?"). Second, the Peugeot is vastly better at getting up "the big hill" and other hills generally. I keep thinking, how could I not have noticed how different these rides are?

In addition to a different geometry on the Peugeot, I was reintroduced to its problems and deficiencies, which made me further appreciate many of the Superba's features. I'll mention just a few here. The friction shifters are located on the stem just above the front tube.  The location feels less convenient compared with the shifters on the Superba, which are on the handlebars. I also have to worry about the chain slipping off whenever I shift, especially when it rains. Additionally, I immediately realized that I missed the coaster break. I can't explain why I like it so much, it just feels so natural. Finally, I have a Velo Orange saddle on the Peugeot that I've been using for almost a year, and it isn't as comfortable as the Brooks, which I've been using for only three weeks.
Apple-obstacle course
Because the Superba is so much better than the Peugeot for commuting--more comfortable, more reliable--I'm trying to find a different route home, one that avoids the steepness of the big hills. In the meantime, I'm alternating the bikes. I'm using the Superba on most days, and on some (non-rainy) days, I'm using the Peugeot to save my knees.

As I discuss the differences between two awesome bikes, I realize I can't believe I've been commuting by bike for over a year! It was only August last year when I sold my car, and I decided to start blogging (documenting) in November. Maybe its because I've been outside a lot more, but the fall has never been so beautiful! If I could advocate commuting by bicycle in State College for one reason, it would be simply to experience the beauty of central Pennsylvania. I think riding to work forces you slow down, and if you take a route that is better for bikes--through neighborhoods, rather than along major roadways--you are more likely to get a chance to enjoy the colorful foliage.

For the past couple of weeks, its been wonderfully crisp in the mornings. I was wearing gloves every morning, and I confirmed a predicted benefit of of the coaster break: While going downhill, I can keep my fingers curled into my hands, safe from the wind. (It probably sounds silly if you don't ride, or only ride in the warmer weather ;).) I hope other bike commuters are enjoying this weather!

Dew from the fog
Finally, I want to respond to a couple of comments, and I apologize for the untimeliness.  First, before I can post pictures of me on the Superba, I need to actually ride with someone! I am very interested to see the difference in body position on both bikes, especially since the ride feels so different now. Second, Jim, I will definitely not try riding with an umbrella again any time soon. Third, I have not named the Superba yet. I don't know if I can come up with a name as good as "Superba." I welcome suggestions!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Under my Umbrella-ella-ella...I got soaked

Superba with my umbrella and poncho, the day I got soaked
Over the past few weeks, it has rained a lot (!). I have been getting reacquainted with my "gear." Over the past year, I've acquired several rain-related items. The first items I'll mention won't help most people because for most people, I assume, purchasing all new pants just isn't reasonable--the Outlier pants. I have two pairs, and I wear either one or the other basically every day. The Outliers have two benefits that make them good for commuting in the rain: They are water resistant, and they dry quickly. These make a huge difference when you compare wearing these to wearing cotton fabrics, like jeans, which I wore in the pouring rain three weeks ago. (I got about 1/4 mile and then had to turn back to change out of the jeans and into Outliers.) I also have rain-proof pants. They are large enough to fit over "regular" pants and have an elastic waist band. Recently, it has been too hot to wear them, but they any other time of the year, they so practical.

Waterproof jackets: I have a calves-length, hooded black water-proof jacket, which is awesome! It was expensive (about $200), but when you don't spend any money on fuel or bus tokens, this is reasonable. This jacket was my favorite thing for riding in the rain during the spring, but over the summer and for the past few weeks, it has been too warm to wear it comfortably. In its place, I've been using a $5 poncho, which I described over the summer. Unfortunately, neither the jacket or the poncho provide much rain protection for my feet. This means I need to wear boots, or have wet feet. When it is hot, boots are not ideal, so I just wear my regular shoes if it isn't raining too hard.

By far, the most important rain gear I have is built onto all of my bicycles: fenders and chainguards. My friend just started commuting by bike and hasn't had the opportunity to add fenders. She says her front wheel "spits water into her face." If you have ridden in the rain without fenders, you know what this is like. I don't know if this is true for everyone, but for me, rain makes my dirty chain more likely to contaminate my clothes. Fortunately, the Superba has a full chaincase, and my boots will not be speckled further with chain grease.

For some reason, last week, I thought it was a good idea to try to bike with an umbrella. I think it is because I saw Velouria link to this blog post on The Julie Blog. (Plus, those Europeans make it look so easy! ) I thought, I have a foot break (coaster break), so I can use one hand to hold the umbrella... The reason I tried it was because a) it was pouring, b) it was too hot for the rain jacket, and c) my poncho was still wet from the night before. My first problem was getting into the saddle with one hand. I guess I could practice and perfect this, but at the time, I just rested the umbrella on my shoulder while hugging it with my chin. This was super-cool-looking, I'm sure. My second problem, the rain fell from my umbrella onto the back of my shirt, onto and slightly into my pants, and onto my arms. This completely defeated the purpose of the umbrella. By the time I relinquished my style-noble but misguided aspiration, I was completely soaked. So, I put away the umbrella, and donned the poncho so I didn't look completely crazy biking in a rain storm. (...I had my first exam of graduate school when I arrived on campus. Fortunately, I had enough time to dry my hair with paper towels in the restroom, but I'm pretty sure my shoes made a squish-squish sound as I retrieved an exam from the head of my department and walked to my seat.)