Sunday, January 25, 2009

My 2009 Winter Bike / The Slush Slicer 1.0

I like riding a bicycle in the winter. When I used to commute three miles to work each day, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to make it even under the worst possible conditions. Over the years I developed a good sense of what kind of bicycle works best for the urban winter environment. A lot of people assume that you would want a mountain bike for winter riding, this is not true. Fat knobby tires are useless in 90% of the conditions that you commonly encounter. Most of the time you are better off with a thinner tire that can cut through the snow to the pavement. And in situations where it is icy, knobby tires don't offer any additional traction. The other problem with mountain bikes, is that derailleurs quickly get clogged with slush and ice and stop working. non-disk brakes also stop working in such conditions. In really cold temperatures you're also more likely to have cables snap. In the past I found that Raleigh Sports three speeds worked well, because the gearing is inside the hub. But the breaking was still a problem, since the brakes on the Sports weren't that great to start with.

As a side note, I have an attic full of Raleigh Sports in various states of disrepair. My taste in bikes has moved on in recent years, but I still think they're cool. Check out this fantastic ad for the Sports from the May 1969 issue of Esquire:

Anyway, to get back to the main point, I think my latest winter bike has resolved the problems I had with the Sports. I stripped down an old ten speed Raleigh Sprite (probably made around 1976) and put a coaster brake on it. This is basically as good as it gets as far as stopping, plus there are no cables that can snap or get in the way. I was going to put a front hand brake on, but so far it has seemed unnecessary. The chain is on the smaller front cog so the gearing is about right, for riding through heavy snow or into a head wind. It is a little frustrating to not be able to go as fast as I am used to, but this is probably for the best given the winter conditions. I also use the largest BMX pedals I can find so that my big winter boots have plenty of traction. I really like the frame geometry of the Raleighs of the 60's and 70's, so I'm glad to be able to give this bike a second a second life. Hoepfully the rust won't be too terrible and I can use it again next winter.

Single speed with a coaster brake, the next craze after fixed?

The handle bars are the style that originally would have been on a Sports or Sprite, but flipped upside down. The metal fenders are the original to the Sprite.

The classic Raleigh head badge

Another side note:
While I don't have any desire to get into riding
fixed gear bikes, I do like what the trend has done for bike design in the last few years. There seems to be an appreciation for the classic geometry. Many people are turning old bikes into fixies. On the site people post images of their converted bikes, some of them are really great.


mark said...

That is really cool.

What about signaling during snow storms?

How do you keep safe out there? Most car drivers are not used to seeing bikers in the winter....

Julian Montague said...

I have my blinking red tail light, which helps. The rest is defensive riding.

mail said...

Great bike, I'm actually into building something very similar (coaster brake, single speed). My plan is to use an old road bike frame (28"), and put 27" wheels of an old raleigh into it (which would give me some more width on the tire, but maybe this is just not necessary, as you wrote). I'll have to think about this again.

ride safe!
cheers from Switzerland,