Car Less Ohio

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My Snow Bike

Here are a couple of shots of the bike I put together for winter commuting; click on the photos to open the full-sized image in a new window.

It’s based on a Diamondback Zetec Comp mountain bike that I originally bought back in early 2001. Since I’ll mostly be using this bike on the road or bike paths, the suspension fork is not really necessary, but it’s the only fork I had around to use.

Features and components that make it a build more suited to winter riding are:

  • Aluminum frame – no rusting!
  • Studded tires – They work great on snow and ice, but like any knobby tire, they can be noisy and slow on smooth pavement.
  • Disc brakes – I’m a big fan of disc brakes anyway, but they are good on a snow bike, since they provide better stopping power when wet. The downside of cantilever or linear-pull brakes is that they provide a “pinch point” for snow and ice to collect and potentially lock up your wheels.
  • Singlespeed – Simple and quiet, and less to break. Who wants to be stuck on the side of the road making adjustments any time of the year, but especially when it’s below freezing?

For the single speed drive train, I used a Surly Singleator chain tensioner and a bunch of generic plastic cassette spacers to convert my 9-speed rear hub. I’m using a 44-tooth chainring up front, and a 20-tooth cog. That gives me the gearing that I think will be best for road riding in winter conditions; not quite as high a gear as my singlespeed road bike (42×16), but much higher gearing than you’d typically see on a singlespeed mountain bike used for actual off-road riding (e.g. 32×18).

I’m using Crank Brothers Mallet pedals. All of their models have a cleat retention system that continues working well in mud and snow; the Mallet has a large platform that will be good if I want to use them as regular platform pedals with non-cycling shoes, such as warm winter boots.

The handlebar is called the Space Bar, from a company called Origin. It’s got an ergonomic bend to give your hands a more comfortable position, while keeping them at the same distance from your body, so you don’t have to change the length of your stem if you swap this handlebar onto your current bike. I’m trying this bar out, and am not sure if I’m sold on it yet. The one downside I see so far is that with all of the bends, it doesn’t leave you room to mount accessories, such as lights, bells, etc. (notice I used a stem-mounted computer). I tried using this bar on a geared bike previously, and it was a tight squeeze trying to get the grips, brake levers, and shifters all to fit, so it’s ideal for use on a singlespeed, where you only have to worry about your grips and brake levers.

Speaking of the computer, I used the CatEye Micro Wireless, again just because it was a spare one that I happened to have around. I’ve used this computer for a couple of years, and it’s worked flawlessly. When I set it up on this bike, it worked great in the garage, but when I was out on the road, the transmitter conked out on me (and the battery is relatively fresh). I’m guessing the cold air affected it; maybe if I move the magnet and transmitter up higher on the fork leg, I’ll have better luck.

One addition that I need to find is a front fender that can mount in the steerer tube of the front fork. Notice I’m using a seatpost-mounted rear fender. This kind of fender does not provide as good of protection from the muck as a full-coverage fender, but for a winter bike, full-coverage fenders might be a problem, as they’d provide another place for snow and ice to build up.

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It's Snowing!

Alright, so Monday was not the horrendous multiple feet of snow that it could have been, but it did snow enough to make a interesting ride. If you haven’t commuted in cold temperatures, it’s a bit of trial and error when it comes to clothing. You have to be warm enough to stop at lights and on downhills not to freeze, but if you dress too warm, you sweat like a pig while pedaling. I rarely get it right, but I do make it tolerable. I am a huge fan of wool as a base layer. Synthetics are good also, but they tend to get a little smelly. My latest commuting wear has been, Helmet(Duh), wool cycling cap over a balaclava, wool jersey, wool long sleeve, soft shell jacket or rain jacket, cycling shorts, insulated tights, waterproof pants, wool hiking socks, waterproof hiking boots. I run platform pedals and boots, I don’t slip and slide when I go in somewhere, plus it’s just easier and more comfortable.

The ride on Monday was little chilly, the temps were around 36 degrees and it was pretty wet out. The first part of my ride is about 3-3.5 miles of road, then I hop on the Towpath trail. Like I said, the road was wet and no ice. The Towpath was still warm enough that the snow was not sticking, so it was pretty sloppy. I got off at 3:00 pm so the ride home was much of the same, but a little more snow on the surrounding grassy areas. I was a good ride to test out my clothing and winter commuting set up.  Stay tuned for my Tuesday report,  It was an adventure!