Advanced Commuter Tips

Urban Commuter Expo: Nice Pannier!

We met a nice fella at the expo that showed us his nice home made panniers. It’s a wonderful idea that doesn’t cost more than a bucket of detergent.

He basically took some old detergent buckets (rectangular shaped) and cut the handles bent them and latched it onto the rack.

The lip of the bucket keeps them secure.

The owner said that its pretty easy to remove but it won’t come off when he’s got load in it.

We thought it was a pretty brilliant idea…and he recycled his trash. We even joked with him about painting it to match his bike and get some bullet hole stickers on the side to add some character.

Just Ask Jack — High-Speed Roads?

Shante sent in the following question:

“How do you share the road when the speed limit is 55 mph, there is a low shoulder and cars are going about 70 mph? I live off of a two lane highway.”

I had a quick answer for Shante…in short, there’s not a good answer for that question….while most of us know that bikes are entitled an equal share of the road, some roads are just too unsafe (speed,
narrowness) to exercise that right.

No shoulder
Photo by Robert Raburn of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition

My suggestion was to look for an alternate route — even if it takes you out of your way.
That’s probably not what Shante wanted to hear, but in my experience, roads like she described are just too sketchy for reasonably safe bicycle travel.

I feel that this is an incomplete answer, at best. I’d sure like to hear from other readers what their tactics are for such roads. The gut feeling is that most of us avoid such roads, but I’d particularly like to hear from anyone who is a League Cycling Instructor (Dominic, are you out there?) or anyone else who deals with such poorly-designed and bicycle-unfriendly roadways. Just leave your comments below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

From Single to Nine

A lot of us like to ‘simplify’ our drivetrains by either converting a multi-speed bike to a single speed/fixie or by building them from a bare frame. I built this Ibex X-ray Single Speed back in October of ’05 for commuting purposes.

I’ve been wanting to convert this bike into a 1X9 for a while — this set up is more versatile and allows for my friends to borrow this bike and go ride with me.

Here are the details of my conversion:

First, I began by removing the single speed kit using my trusty Ice Toolz Cassette remover, then I installed the 9 speed cassette on the freehub.

Next was removing the chain by using a chain breaker:

then I installed the rear derailleur, yep, a Dura-ace derailleur that I scored for cheap on Ebay.

I then installed a Soulchain 9 speed chain using a method to size the chain described here.

Although I have a pair of STI Dura-ace shifters, I didn’t want to change my current setup, so I opted to go ‘old school’ by installing a Suntour Friction bar end shifter given to me by our good friend Ghost Rider.

I then had to go to my LBS to purchase the shifter cable, housing, the BB guide and a new bar tape.

Here’s how I guided the cabling:

After removing the old bar tape, I installed the new bar tape so I can conceal the shifter cable. I chose yellow bar tape so it can match the color scheme of the bike and to be more visible to motorists.

I rode the bike around the block, after a few adjustments the bike shifts very smooth and it is ready to ride to work!

I Need Your Advice on Going Car-Free!

Well, I’m really thinking hard about selling my vehicle and going unofficially car-free, but I need some advice…

go away car!

I don’t drive my vehicle much at all, and the money I can get for it will help offset bills and other financial obligations (and allow me to add an Xtracycle to my fleet). I will still have access to another car a couple days a week, so I won’t be totally car-free. The advice I could use from you readers out there who have chosen to free yourselves from the bonds of vehicle ownership is this:

1) What was the decision-making process you used to “let go”?

2) Any potential pitfalls I should think about?

3) What else do I need to know before making this step?

Any insight, personal experiences and other useful information will be greatly appreciated. I guess that technically, I don’t really need advice, per se, but more of a reassuring chat that suggests I’m ready to take this step in my life. So, any help you could provide would be just fantastic! Just leave your thoughts in the comment area, and again, I thank you.

Just Ask Jack — Skewers or Bolts?

Brian from Calgary sent in the following question:

“My current commuter bike has bolt-on wheels, and I’ve never had a wheel stolen, but I’ll need to replace it soon and new bikes all seem to have quick-release hubs, so I’m curious what your take is on this – is it worth getting quick-release locks, or just deal with the hassle of carrying a long cable and U-lock?”

This question brings up two very good points — keeping your wheels and keeping the bike itself. As many people have discovered, the loss of a wheel by theft can be an expensive replacement proposition (and can leave you stranded), so it is crucial to have a locking strategy that defeats all but the most dedicated thief.

While no bike can be rendered entirely theft-proof in most situations, the more you do to protect it by using a variety of locking methods and hardware, the more likely it is that a thief will move on to an easier target.

The first step is to decide on a wheel-retention strategy. Quick-release skewers are common on most bikes these days, and they sure are convenient for tube changes. The trouble with them is that they are also very convenient for even the most casual thief. Just a few seconds is all it takes for someone to flip a lever and walk off with an expensive wheel.

There are a number of “locking” wheel skewers on the market. One of the most popular is the Pitlock system, which uses a unique socket to loosen or tighten the skewers for hubs and seat collars:


Another popular variety is the Hublox system from Delta Cycle, which uses a special wrench to engage the skewer’s locknut:


The drawback to either of the above systems is that if you lose or forget the special tool needed to open them and you get a flat…you’re dead in the water. I know this from bitter experience, as I left my special Hublox key at home and got a flat about 4 miles away. That was a long walk!

My preferred method is a skewer system that takes a standard 5mm hex wrench to loosen or tighten…everyone carries a multitool of some sort, right? This type of skewer can really slow down a casual thief — after all, do thieves come prepared with a pocket full of hex wrenches and other tools? A myriad of companies make such skewers, and they range from totally affordable to frighteningly expensive. Here’s what they look like:

hex skewer

Traditional bolt-on hubs slow down casual thieves for the same reasons as the hex-based skewers…unless said thief has a 15mm socket wrench or an adjustable wrench in his or her possession.

The second part of this equation is “total locking strategy”…and the trick seems to be using two different types of locks to secure your bike. For example, you lock the frame to a bike rack or post with a U-lock and then lock the wheels to the frame and rack with a stout cable and padlock. The theory is that a thief will have tools to defeat a cable, such as a pair of bolt cutters, but not a bottle jack or other device needed to leverage a U-lock (or vice versa, as the case may be). Again, I speak from personal experience: my first week at the library, before I found secure indoor parking for my bike, someone tried to steal my rig. They successfully cut through a heavy 15mm cable, but were unable to cut through my vintage Kryptonite lock…all they did was chew up the vinyl covering with their bolt cutters (thank the stars they didn’t know the Bic Pen trick).

Here’s a photo gleaned from the Web that shows the double-locking method:

double locked

An alternative, especially if you have time and money on your hands, is to absolutely overwhelm even the most hardcore thief:

ulock frenzy

That bike isn’t going anywhere!

Keep your bike safe — because riding a bicycle is much more fun than walking home without it. Brian, thanks for the question!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.