Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bike Commuting Friday - On a Bike Friday!

This winter has been brutal. Frigid temperatures, plus lots of snow and ice have put a major dent in my bicycle commuting this year. At the end of November, I had a bike-to-work average of 75%. As of yesterday, that average had plummeted to 44%.

Yesterday, we had a bit of a reprieve, and the early morning temperature was above 20º for the first time in months (I think it was about 22º actually). With a nearly hour-long ride to work, I just can't keep my fingers and toes warm if it's below 20º. So, finally, I was able to ride to work. The freezing-cold air was enough to make my eyes hurt for the first mile or two -- which brought tears until my blood got pumping enough to get me acclimated. Otherwise, it felt good to get on the bike. Still, it was obvious to me, by the time I arrived at work, that I haven't ridden to work with any regularity since December. The ride really kicked me.

The afternoon ride home was great -- temperatures had risen to nearly 50º by that time. The roads were a mess with all the melting snow and ice, so I was getting a constant spray, even with fenders. But the sun was out, and it was a real relief. Again, I could really feel it in my legs and back by the time I arrived home -- and a hot shower felt awfully good.

The new Bike Friday -- set up for full-on commuter duty.
Don't mind the really ugly stem -- that's a temporary "fit" stem
that will serve as a template for a custom-made one-piece
unit. It's really ugly so you're not tempted to keep it.
I was trying out a new bike for the ride. I recently took delivery of a Bike Friday folding/travel bike. The Bike Friday takes some "getting used to" visually with its little 20-in. wheels -- but the bar-saddle-pedal relationship is almost exactly like my favorite "regular" bike. In terms of handling, it doesn't actually feel that different from larger-wheeled bike. The little wheels change direction more readily than larger ones, so I'd describe the handling as "zippy," but it isn't hard to get acclimated.

People might wonder about gearing with such small wheels. It's true that smaller wheels inherently have lower gearing (all other things being equal, that is), but I had my wheels built with Bike Friday's very nice hubs and a Shimano Capreo cassette. The Capreo cassette is specially designed for small-wheeled bikes, like Bike Friday or Brompton, and the smallest cog is a diminutive 9 teeth. Combined with the 53 tooth chainring, I get a high gear of 110 inches! In the 39 x 26 combination, my lowest gear is 28 inches -- only my mountain bike, with its triple crank and a tiny granny gear has a lower low gear.

The Bike Friday has a few options for handlebar stems. One is an extra long steerer-tube extender with a normal threadless-type stem bolted on. With that option, making changes in bar height and reach is easy, as the stem can be raised or lowered on the steerer, and different length stems, available from any bike shop, can be installed. The option I chose is to have a custom one-piece stem made. It's the strongest and lightest option, and to my mind, the nicest-looking. But once the stem is made, there's no adjusting it -- so what they do is ship the bike with a temporary "fit-stem." The customer rides for a while with the fully-adjustable stem, getting the fit dialed in exactly where they want it. Then they ship the fit-stem back to Bike Friday (in a return postage-paid box) and they use it as a template to make the new one-piece stem. The temporary fit-stem is pretty ugly -- so you're not tempted to keep it.

I'll get some more miles on the Bike Friday and post more information later. I know it's not exactly a "retrogrouch" kind of bike -- but I'll write a bit about why I chose it, and how I equipped it.

Till then, let's hope for more spring-like riding conditions!

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