I have started doing small jobs on the bicycle. Texas is not like Chicago, New York, or any other place that builds vertically. Out here, land is not a premium, so we build out. Honestly, it makes no sense to me. Houston is a place where I think we should have built vertically a bit more, then it would not take a couple of hours to just get across the city.
Each city is different in that respect. Luckily for me, I live in a section where there are quite a few stores around me. I have two hobby stores, an office supply store, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, a pet store, a couple of grocery stores, and more all around me (less than 3.5 miles). My LBS (local bike shop) is 7-miles away from me.
I even have a huge park mere minutes from my house by bicycle. It is a rather nice location. I have, on more than one occasion, taken a bicycle to run errands. The biggest problem I have encountered with the bike is lack of storage space. Since I am a guy, I think like guys think: I have a problem, so I must fix the problem. First things first, I had to decide which bicycle to use. I have a Trek 1.5 road bike, a Specialized Langster fixed gear/single speed, a Gary Fisher HiFi Plus, and a Specialized Hardrock Sport. I was going to use the Langster since it does not see much riding time anymore, but it just did not make sense. A commuter should be quite comfortable to ride. Plus you cannot be in a rush to get to where you are going. I find on the Langster I rush around and I want to get to where I am going as fast as I can. It is fun to ride, but I want something more laid back. So count that off the list.
The Trek 1.5? I could use that, but that bike is my go-to for long distance rides. It is my pride and joy. The first big bike purchase I have ever made. I have owned that bike for a long time it seems (if you call 2-years a long time), and we have done so many rides together. I just could not set that bike on commuting duty. Scratch that one off.
The Gary Fisher? No way. This is my baby for mountain bike trails. I sold my motorcycle to fund the purchase of this $2000 machine. It glides all over the root-covered trails near me. Also, it is a full suspension mountain bike. I think that is a bit overkill for commuting duties.
That leaves the Hardrock Sport Disc. It was an easy decision actually. I had two mountain bikes, they weighed nearly the same amount. Normally hard tail (HT) mountain bikes are much lighter than their full suspension (FS) counterparts, not so in this case. The HT was only a pound or so lighter than the FS. Since it does not present me a good enough weight difference, I figured the HiFi would be the only mountain bike and the Hardrock would be my commuter.
To start off, I had to make it more road worthy. To do this, I had to upgrade the tires. Running 2.25 knobbies is not the way to roll around town. They do not cut through the wind and they do not get good traction. Pondering tire changes I remembered reading that the 29-er wheel is almost identical to a 700c wheel used on road bikes, just a little wider. I headed off to the LBS to talk to the mechanic there. I mentioned what I had and he gave me a tire recommendation. So out I walked with the cheapest set of 700×35’s they had ($20-ea).
I went home and swapped the tires. Wow, the bike looks totally different. All of a sudden I went from a mountain bike to a hybrid. I took it for a ride and the comfort level over rough and uneven surfaces increased dramatically over my road bike. It is not as peppy as my road bike, but the tires made a huge difference in speed and traction. I could maintain a higher average speed with less effort than I could with the stock tires. That is a plus!
I did notice after a few rides on it that my hands did not like the riser bars much. I had already installed a set of TruVativ carbon risers. They are called risers because there is a rise in between where it mounts to the stem and where your hands go (while flat bars have no rise). These bars, like flat bars, give you very few hand positions. Over the course of a longer ride, this can cause your hands to really hurt and reduces blood flow. I went and snagged a pair of bar ends. These bolt onto the end of the bars, allowing you to have more hand positions. Took the bike for another ride, much better! My hands had several more positions which drastically improved my comfort level.
Shortly after I realized a rack would do me good. I priced several and found a cheap, but nice Topeak rack for my disc setup. It offsets the rack slightly to allow clearance for the disc calipers. I installed that and instantly felt like I had a true commuter on my hands. Yeah, racks are not eye appealing, but they are functional. I already had a Topeak trunk bag with a clamp-on style seatpost mount for my road bike. This rack will allow a more robust setup and also allow me to carry more than 15lbs (or whatever the weight limit was). The trunk bag is nice, but it is quite useless on a commuting trip. The reason being is that the trunk bag that I have is rather small. It can hold all the tools I need, spare tubes, CO2 inflation system, sunblock, zip-ties, cell phone, wallet and some other stuff. That is fine if I am just going from here to there. If I actually want to shop, I need more storage. I do have a messenger bag that has some good storage, but that puts all the weight on my back and shoulders. Not exactly a comfortable setup, especially during the Texas summer. Now I am looking at cheap saddle bag/pannier setups for my new commuter.
I did find some larger bags that run pretty cheap online. They are made my Avenir and only run $30. How can I pass that up? I also will need to swap pedals off my fixed gear and put them on the Hardrock. I have a set of Power Grips pedals. These are full metal bodied platform pedals with a leather strap that runs over the top side. This gives you added torque since you can not only push down on the pedals, but also pull up. Yet you do not need a specific shoe, unlike clipless pedals. Wearing comfortable footwear is nice when you are shopping around at different stores.
Once I get the panniers and the pedals on the bike, I will be set. I can not wait. Hopefully I will get to the point where I can ride my bike to work one day a week. Having that extra storage space will be nice in that I can carry my shower gear, clothes and lunch to work with me. I am actually looking forward to it. I will keep you posted.