Monday, September 22, 2008


I took my wife's Electra Townie 3S to work today as an experiment. I haven't actually ridden her bike more than just around the parking lot to make sure it's adjusted right and working properly. The rack holds my panniers nicely. The geometry is awkward coming from traditional flat-bar bikes and my road bike, but all in all it's a nice ride. I think her "lightweight aluminum" frame actually weighs more than my steel Diamondback Sorrento, but the long wheelbase frame takes a lot of metal to make.

On with the experiment. No, it wasn't to see how many people would get a chuckle from me riding a "girl's" bike with a step-through frame. It was more to see how the 3-speed gets around my bus-assisted commute routes. It works about as well as I figured it would. In low gear, the Quivira viaduct and the climb from Main to Central on 11th St are do-able. On flat land, 20 MPH or so is attainable. On downhills... well, you can always coast. You won't get much faster than 20 or so with the gear ratios on this bike.

I'm pondering throwing an internal-greared hub on the Sorrento for winter beater duty. My initial reaction was to try fixed gear for winter but I've never had a hub freeze up on me. The Sorrento is going to need at the bare minimum a new rear wheel and cassette, chain, chainrings and front derailleur to be ready for winter. I could forgo the front derailleur and just leave it in the middle chainring, but the chainrings are all worn and I'd be wise to go ahead and replace the whole crank anyways.

I'm sure some would rather have a NuVinci or Rohloff SpeedHub, or even a Nexus 7 or 8 but since this is going to be my winter beater, the Nexus 3 makes the most sense. This bike will be mostly used for getting to and from the bus, riding around downtown and for running errands close to home. It will be exposed to snow, slush, sand, salt, and other crimes against bike parts. When it's nice, I'll probably be on my road bike anyways, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to throw expensive parts onto this bike when they're likely going to be abused and ridden for short-distance rides.

Given the trouble snow has given me in the past, I may go with a relatively small chainring or larger rear cog for an even lower gear ratio than the Townie came with. I don't need the bike to go fast, I just need it to get me there. Heck, I might even like the 3-speed on the novice-level singletrack trails that I like to ride if the gear ratios are low enough for the climbs.

I'm still not ruling out a fixie or singlespeed mountain bike, though...

I might end up taking the Townie out on the Monday Night ride. Heck, I might even try riding this thing all the way back home from downtown. The top-end of my road bike would be missed but I can only think of one hill that will give me any trouble: just south of 75th, either via Switzer or through the industrial park off Wedd Road... it's an unavoidable climb.

More to come. This is a fun bike to ride, but definitely more in its element as a short-distance urban commuter and recreational cruiser bike.

For those of you who have used fixies, single speeds and internal-geared hubs for winter commuting, do you have any suggestions?


Dave Lloyd said...

I've had super luck with my Nexus 8 on my Trek L200. It does have a full chaincase, but maintenance is pretty much lube it when I remember. Still no chain stretch that I can tell and it's been probably close to 5k miles on it by now.

Works super in sloppy crap and shifting at stoplights is priceless.

Hills are no problem with the gearing here in STL, so I think it'll be doable in KC since the geography is roughly similar (never rode a bike much around KC so my memory might be foggy here).

My advice: Do it!

Anonymous said...

I have commuting for the past 4 1/2 years and have had a fixie (that sees roughly 2/3rds of my commuting miles) for the past 3 years.

I live outside of Charlottesville, VA and ride roughly 35-40 miles each day I commute (I managed to ride both directions ~85% of the days I worked last year).

I love riding my fixie and can cruise on it pretty darn well week in and week out. On average, I'm cruising at about 17.5mph and usually hit around 30mph on the downhills on the average commute. When I'm feeling frisky, I can crank up the RPMs and get going even faster - 188 rpms and 40.4 mph is my record so far.

The two things I'm glad I did was to find a frame I really liked (fit-wise) and spent a bunch of time finding what gear ratio was going to work for me.

Around here there are lots of rolling hills so there's no way I can manage a flat commute. On each ride I end up with about 1,750 feet worth of ascent and about the same amount of decending. Each direction has me tackling at least two hills - one up & one down - that are at least 3/4 of a mile or more in length.

Finding that sweet spot - not to hard for the climbing and not too easily spun-out for the descents - took a little bit of trial and error. First by riding the entire route in one gear on my geared bike and then dialing it in by swapping cogs/chainrings (I've got a flip-flop hub that I run two different fixed cogs on - one a tooth bigger than the other for the super rare bale-out gear).

Maintenance is pretty easy - keeping the chain clean & lubed and wiping the bike down every so often is about it.

All in all, I love having a fixie in my stable - especially for those foul weather days.

Chuong Doan said...

I've been commuting on my wife's Townie Electra for the past year. Three speed hub and weighs a ton. Its only 2.5 miles each way for me so its not that bad. Throw in some hills and distance and it becomes a chore though. The lowest gear isn't quite enough to get you up some of the steeper grades around here like up Main street from Union Station without standing. The highest gear is too high unless you are going downhill. I would've preferred lower gearing overall with less of a ratio change between the gears.
The great part is that it requires zero maintenance and I can wear whatever I want on it plus people look at me funny sometimes.

Noah said...

The funny looks have nothing to do with the Townie, Chuong! :P

By the way, I did ride to the bus in my work clothes, without an ankle strap or fred sock-trick. Chainguards absolutely rule!

Apertome said...

Sounds like a fun experiment. Good idea, thinking ahead to winter riding, I need to start thinking that way soon. I have no first-hand experience with internal or fixed gears, so I can't help you there.

Doug said...

I originally set-up my fixed gear for winter commuting. But I couldn't get up some of the hills and maintain traction in slippery conditions with the bigger gear. Switched to a Surly Dingle Cog last year. Two fixed gears to pick from. I liked it, but still not geared low enough for the steeper hills we have here. Finally switched to a Nexus 8-speed and that was the ticket for me. Kept it on all winter. Easy to maintain and clean, jsut like the fixie, but with 8 gears to choose from. In April I switched back to the fixed gear. When the snow starts to fly I'll switch back to the Nexus. However, it all boils down to personal preference. Either set-up makes for a good winter commuter.

Noah said...

Thanks for the ideas so far, guys.

Doug, your setup was partially one reason I'm looking at internal gears. I'm not nearly as hardcore as you from the standpoint of temperature extremes nor car-free-ness. In Winter, things like going to church (8 miles each way) and the hardware store (3 miles each way, on crazy, main arterial roads) usually find me in a car. My bike still gets used for shorter trips to destinations I can get to safely (groceries, pharmacy, post office) so I'm pretty sure a fixie or Nexus 3 will suffice.

Anonymous said...

I use a 1978 Raleigh Sports, with a Sturmey Archer AW 3 Speed hub for commuting. I prefer the Sturmey to the Nexus, but the Nexus is also a great hub. My commute is 5 miles each way.

Internal hubs are great because there are no, or few, exposed parts. So if and when I throw my bike on the bus I don't have to worry about anything. My opinion is that a three speed set up has all of the advantages of a fixed gear set-up (except, of course, the fixed feel) but also has the benefit of additional gear selections.

A non-dished rear wheel means added strength, no chain movement means less likelihood of derailment, and shifting while stopped means an easier commute. Plus, if you live in a hilly area, climbing or descending is just plain easier.

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