BikeCommuters.com

Commuter Bikes

Just Ask Jack — The Need for Speed?

Ben C. sent in the following question:

“I have a 2003 Giant Boulder SE I converted to a commuter bike by slapping on some 26 x 1.6 slick continentals. I have also made a rear bike rack for my luggage.

Anyhow, my problem is that I would like to get more speed out of it. When I leave for work, I go down the hill and coast around 25mph. If I really try, I hit 36mph but I run out of gears and am pedaling very fast. I have to climb the same hill on the way home. My bike is a 21 speed. 3 rings on the crank and 7 on the cassette. I do have a granny gear. I used to mountain bike with RL.

What can I do to increase my speed without sacrificing my ability to ride uphill? I ride 9 miles one way and takes me about 35-40minutes. If I get lots of green light, then it takes me about 30 to 35 minutes. My goal is to be able to shorten my ride to 25 to 30 minutes.”

Here is the bike in question:
Check out that rack!

This bike was featured on our site a while back, and is also featured on PVC Plans.

Anyhow, there are a few things you could do to wring out more speed from your commuter bike. There are some fairly cheap methods, and others that may require a bit more money.

First, the cheap method: find some narrower tires. 26″ x 1.6″ tires are nice and cushy, but they’re just too porky for road use. If you can, find some 1″ or 1.25″ tires and decrease your rolling resistance. An additional benefit of narrower tires is that they tend to be able to hold a higher pressure, allowing you to really pump those tires until they’re hard — thus reducing rolling resistance even more (with the sacrifice of a little comfort).

Second, let’s play with the gearing: after talking with Ben, I learned that he is running a 14-34 7 speed cassette with a triple mountain crank (46T-34T-23T). He also indicated that the cassette’s freehub is slipping — a PERFECT time for an upgrade! I asked Ben about his gearing uses, and he mentioned that he rarely uses the little ring up front. There are several methods to changing up the gearing on this bike. The first could be as simple as finding a bigger big ring…perhaps a 49 or 50 tooth ring for the outermost position. Alternatively, since the little inner ring isn’t used so much, switching to a double like a compact road crankset might make sense. Traditionally, compact road doubles come with a 50T outer and a 36T inner. This kills two birds with one stone — a bigger gear for mashing at high speed, and a smaller ring for hillclimbing.

compact road double

Now, there are also several methods to tinkering with the gearing in back. Since the freehub has gone bad, might as well buy an 8-speed model…it will bolt right onto that existing hub with no other modification. Then, you can choose from a wide variety of pre-made cassettes with 11 or 12 tooth first-position cogs going up to 32 or 34 tooth 8th-position cogs. This will also give a bit more speed on the low end and still leave plenty of ratios for climbing hills. My favorite is to create a “custom” cassette by grinding/punching out the rivets that hold a cassette together and rearranging the stack with cogs of my own choosing…you might even be able to salvage a couple used cassettes from your LBS so that you’ve got plenty of cogs to select from.

The only drawback to upping the cog count in back is that you’ll also have to find another shifter. In this case, Ben is using a 7-speed thumb shifter. I’m not sure if it can be switched to friction-mode…if so, a 7 speed thumb shifter should be able to handle 8 cogs in back. If not, an alternative shift controller might be needed — and there are plenty available like twist shifters, trigger shifters and others.

Playing with your gearing can be fun — there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get some more speed out of your rig and still have gear ratios available for climbing. If you’re interested in tackling something like this, visualizing the gearing choices and ratios on paper can be a good start. Sheldon Brown has an easy-to-use calculator on his site — just plug in the tooth counts front and rear and hit the “calculate” button! Ben, thanks for sending in your question…good luck and have fun out there!

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

Learn how to make your own tire chains for your bike!

Over on MtnBikeRiders.com, I resurrected an article that my brother, Randy wrote a while back. Before getting station to Yuma, Az, Randy was stationed in New Cumberland, PA. It would snow there all the time and even parts of the might Susquehana River would freeze. So when he was there, he decided to try his hand in making some chains for his bike.

Check out the How To right HERE.
tire chains for bicycle

Kids and Christmas

Yesterday I was listening to a radio show and the host was Jilian, the trainer from Big Fat Loser. She was talking about a study she recently read that stated the best presents for kids this season would be fitness equipment such as dumbells and treadmills. She went on about how she disagrees with it and thinks that giving a kid dumbells for Christmas is not only cruel, but it will make them resentful towards fitness in general.

I do agree with her and I wish I could find the study she was talking about to read more about it. What sucks to me is the fact that bicycles are not being marketed enough as “this season’s hottest gift!” Usually it’s the Wii or a new laptop or anything technology related.

Here’s the deal, if you have kids and are dead set on getting a Wii, well first of all, good luck! Those things are harder to find than a Leprechaun. If you still can’t find the Wii by next week, consider going to your LBS. What kid wouldn’t want a brand new bicycle for Christmas? That has to be one of the best presents any kid could get! Sure the Wii or any tech gadget would be cool, but a bike can literally change a child’s life. You know all the health benefits as well as the confidence they get from riding a bike. But think about grooming the next generation of riders that will eventually be the people that will be leading our current bicycle companies.

Take for example gOrk Barette, He works for Seattle Bicycle Supply, the parent company of Redline Bicycles, Torker and La Pierre. Gork got into bikes as a kid. He raced BMX most of his life, and look at him now, he’s the Marketing Director for SBS. Talk about cultivating kids to take over!

So what’s my point? Well, it’s simple really: rather than getting something that is technology related as a present, get something that will be more rewarding than going to the next level of a video game….get your kid on a bicycle!

Company Profile: Nirve Bicycles

Nirve Bicycles became one of our friends a few months ago. They supplied us with a super cool Ultraliner to review and ever since then we’ve been best buds.

Under the leadership of Dan Bon, who I may add is probably the tallest guy I know in the bicycle industry, Nirve is known to be the premiere bicycle company that specializes in designer,quality beach cruisers, choppers and bicycle components. You may have seen some of their bikes that have some great designs such as Hello Kitty, Paul Frank, John Deere, Pink Panther and many more.

This past Friday our very own Khoa N.(our own Sports Photographer), headed down to Fountain Valley, Ca.to meet up with Dan Bon to pick up the newest bike to hit our testing grounds, the Night Owl.
nirve night owl

nirve night owl
Photos by Khoa N.

While Khoa was at the Nirve headquarters, Dan gave him a tour of their showroom floor and Khoa was able to take some great photos of some of the most unique bikes that I’ve seen. Check out the photo below — they actually have a bike rack in the front…which means they encourage bike commuting!

As you walk through the Nirve doors, you’re greeted with display cases that show off their goods as well as a hall of fame that has photos, posters, magazine articles and other memorabilia that makes Nirve so popular. During one of my visits there, I saw a collage where Nirve presented some of the stars of the hit TV show The OC with some tricked out chopper cruisers.
nirve bicycles lobby
Nirve Hall of Fame

One of the best things that I think makes Nirve better than some of the other cruiser brands out there is the detail that they put into their bikes. Check out the “mural” they have on this Lahaina cruiser.

Nirve carries a whole slew of beach cruisers in so many different styles that they pretty much boast that anyone can find the cruiser that will fit their personality to the tee.

There were two cruisers/choppers that caught my attention form Khoa’s collection of photos. The first one is called the Cannibal.

I love this bare metal look. Look at that welding…now that’s nice! I hate bikes that have weld jobs that look like someone just squeezed out a tube of toothpaste onto the metal…but not Nirve…it basically looks clean.

Another attention to detail was found on this bike. I mean c’mon — Firmstrong, Giant, Trek or other cruiser makers has nothing on Nirve when it comes to the details…

So you’re probably wondering why we did a company profile on a beach cruiser company. Well it actually came about because I have yet to see anyone commute on a beach cruiser. So I wanted to break into something new with commuting and possibly crack the stereotype that beach cruisers are not long haul commuters. But in reality, ANY bike can be a commuter! I’m just grateful for Dan Bon and Nirve to allow us to use their bike to help introduce cruisers as commuters.

What’s great about the Nirve Night Owl that we’re reviewing is that it has mounts for a rear rack if I wanted to install one. Plus, it has a chain guard to protect my slacks from grease. But if you’re not a rack kinda person, you can also use those mounting tabs for a set of fenders. But since we’re testing this in Southern California…there’s no need. We’re basically in a drought and only really see a few weeks of rain a year.

So for the folks who are bike commuting with multi-geared bikes, fixies, mountain bikes, utilitarian bikes and road bikes, my goal is to give you insight that you can easily commute to work or anywhere with the use of a beach cruiser.

I do want to thank Khoa for taking the day to spend with Nirve Bicycles and thanks again to Dan Bon for providing us the Night Owl for the review.

To see more of Khoa’s Nirve visit photos, click HERE.