pennyfarthingA friend wrote today to tell me he’s selling his truck and buying a bike. Yay! … one less car!

He knows I’m a bike nut, and asked for my opinion about a bike for transportation. Here’s a slightly expanded version of my reply…

Bike reviews tend to be geeky. Real world bike riding has a lot less to do with a few grams here or there, and more to do with comfort. For a transport bike, see my suggestions below, but go for the one that will keep you coming back every day… and don’t forget the rest of the kit, including tools, foul weather gear, storage, safety items and clothing.

Saddles, for example, are very personal. It can take a while to find one that works for you. A good shop that will let you try out a few different ones by actually putting them on your bike and riding around is invaluable. (By the way, make sure that your saddle does not result in any pain or numbness; there are some important arteries and nerves there that you don’t want to mess up!) Handlebars, grips and the sizing and setup of the bike are also critical for comfort. A good, local bike shop can help with each of these elements.

If you are in Victoria, check out my favourite bicycle shop, Fairfield Bicycles.

Guess what I’m trying to say is: get out and test ride, there is no substitute.

My experience with using bikes as transportation is that one very, very rarely is on anything but pavement, so the bikes that fall into categories like urban, transport, road, hybrid, comfort or commuter will be best suited. If you want to do some off road, you can always rent something great at a bike park or get a good deal on a used mountain bike that you reserve for the mud.

The ideal transport bike would be supremely comfortable, lightweight, easy to maintain and adjust, able to carry a variety of sizes and shapes of objects easily and without hassle…. and be ugly enough to avoid being stolen!

I had a bike several years ago that I built up from a bare frame. It was my idea of a great, inexpensive transport bike: steel frame, 26″ wheels, 7 speed internally geared hub, 3 sets of different tires for varying conditions, fenders, racks, lights. It was great, and not that expensive.

Bikes equipped with internally geared rear hubs are great for commuting. The shifting mechanism is protected inside the hub from dirt, impacts and thieves. You can shift at a stop, which is great at stoplights. Very little maintenance is required–in fact they tend to get smoother as they break in. And the modern 7, 8 or 9 speed hubs have a wide enough range for lots of riding. A nice touch is to have 2 or 3 different sized sprockets for different kinds of riding, or for when you get stronger.

If you are feeling really flush, Rholloff makes an incredible 14 speed hub that you can use for just about anything, including touring and mountain biking.

I’ve ridden several recumbents that would be my current choice. They have “easy chair”, all-day comfort. But they are expensive, heavier than uprights, and can be challenging in traffic. Bent Riders Online and are good online sources for more info, if you are curious.

If I was living in the city, or traveling a lot, I’d go for a Dahon folder. They are well priced, and nothing beats being able to put your bike in a bag and take it on the bus, subway, airplane, ferry or in the trunk of a friends car or in your coat closet when you get home. Despite their size and unusual looks, they ride surprisingly well. The top-of-the-line models are very reasonably priced for what you get, and are very well reviewed. I’d suggest the 20″ wheel models, since the larger wheeled models don’t fold down to as manageable a size, and the smaller wheeled models will ride more roughly and less efficiently.

I would take a serious look at Surly bikes. They are no nonsense, versatile, and largely hype-free. Or there are some good brands that are not so expensive, such as Jamis, Giant, Norco, and KHS. Local manufacturers include Rocky Mountain and Norco.

If it’s your first transport bike, or first serious bike in a while, remember that there is a whole kit that goes with it. You will want a good helmet and lock, for sure. I’d want fenders, rack(s) and lighting. A small tool kit, including a bike-specific multi tool, spoke wrench, tire patch kit, tire boot, mini pump, and of course zip ties, is nice to have. A courier bag and/or panniers make a big difference in safety when you want to carry anything of size.

Clothing makes a big difference, too. Cycling specific shoes will change your whole riding experience, giving you more comfort, control and endurance than you would expect, especially when they mate to “clipless” pedals. Shorts and pants made for cycling are very nice. Rain gear that breathes well and packs small in a pannier will be appreciated in this climate. Don’t forget about glasses to keep the bugs and grit out of your eyes. Gloves not only keep your hands warmer, and padded, but are useful when fixing a flat or putting a greasy chain back in place. I appreciate a rear view mirror in traffic.

The list of accessories can seem like a lot, but it’s really a system you design yourself. You can build it up as you go along, or start out with a full kit and refine it, but if you keep with the riding you’ll end with all or most of this stuff sooner or later, so it can be nice to budget for it up front. MEC is a good, quality source for many of these items.

There is a whole subculture to cycling. Connecting with it can be quite an experience. In Vancouver, check out Momentum Magazine.

In any case, I hope you can get out and ride soon! There’s nothing like a great bike ride on a beautiful Spring day!