Friday Group Ride #90

After flogging my road bikes around town all summer and early fall, the change in the weather has me thinking about the perfect everyday bike. Of course, where you live has a lot to do with what you ride.

I live in Boston. It snowed here last night shortly after it finished raining daggers. I was on my road bike with a stupid, clipped-on fender, and I got soaked and spent too much ride time wondering what hypothermia actually feels like. You start to feel warm, don’t you?

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

My challenges are: 1) I like to go fast. I do not have the patience to ride an upright bike with fat tires, fenders, panniers, etc. 2) I live at the top of a steep hill. The end of every ride features a kilometer that varies between 6% and 14%. It’s not a back breaker at all, but it’s always there whether I feel strong…or not. 3) We get a lot of rain, snow and in between slop.

So how do I go fast, keep a gear small enough to climb a real hill and keep the weather off me, all at the same time?

My current thinking is to build out a titanium cross bike with an internally geared rear hub. I’d run mini V-brakes for better stopping power. I’d put 28mm or 30mm tires on it and a good pair of fenders.

The titanium will resist the rust that comes from so much water and salt being sprayed at the frame for so many months out of the year. The internal hub will also add to weatherproofness and simplicity. I need my everyday bike to need less tuning. Simplicity is good. The mini Vs will stop when they’re wet. I have never run a pair of cantis that had that ability. In Boston’s winter rush hour, you want to be able to stop. Your life depends on it. Finally, the slightly wider tires give me stability in bad conditions, but still stay skinny enough to make time across town. I hate fenders, but they’re a no-brainer.

I think I will build this bike. Given my time constraints, I should have it ready for the first sunny day of Spring.

Anyway…this week’s Group Ride asks the question: What is your perfect everyday bike? Build it out for us. Explain your choices.

Do you live in the flats where a single-speed demon will do the trick? Do you live in a warm, dry place, where you can ride your carbon race bike 360 days a year? Do you live in the Yukon and have designs on a snow bike with 4inch tires? I cling to the perhaps foolish belief that there really is a perfect bike out there, and that if I listen to those who know better, and think as hard as I can, I will eventually build that bike and ride it all the way to the grave.


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  1. Ransom

    My everyday bike is my ‘cross bike (aluminum). We don’t get much slush here, just plenty of rain. ‘Cross tires for ‘cross, 23c road tires for road. It’s not perfect, but quick-release mounts on the fork and adapted to the rear mean that clipping one zip-tie and undoing one bolt removes the fenders for ‘cross duty. It’s about five minutes to mount them, and about two to pull them off.

    In Portland, I do not hate fenders. I love to have them off, and it looks like I may make it to October before putting them on, but easy or no, there probably won’t be any reason to pull them again between Kruger’s Crossing and next Spring.

    My other most-days bike is a Raleigh 3-speed. Steel rims and ancient steel sidepulls. Flimsy, worn, and in many ways ill-suited to the climate (remember the brakes), despite coming from a similar one. It is still the perfect bike to ride to the pub, any day.

  2. James

    Another Portlander here and I have to say that I just leave the fenders on my daily rider all year. I took them off once and it looked really funny… Since they don’t use salt out here, my ideal daily rider would be steel (because it has to be bomb-proof on the roads here especially at night), ideally with disc brakes (because I can’t stand canti’s), a rack (I don’t like wearing bags or packs because I get too hot) and a wide gear selection for the hills. I look forward to the day they have hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes.

  3. Finn

    I live in Vancouver, BC and have been pondering this a lot.

    My dream commuting/town bike will have a steel or titanium ‘cross-ish frame, drop bars, road disc brakes, extra brake levers for the tops, one of the new center track belt drives from Gates mated to a Alfine 11 speed hub (why specifically that one in a sec), full fenders, rear pannier racks, 28 to 32mm tires with bomb-proof 32 spoke rims, and blinky lights.

    The big wrinkle in my dream set up is getting STI like shifter for the internal geared hub. One company in the UK makes them, but they have limited availability and are pretty pricey. I’m surprised Shimano doesn’t see enough demand for that…

    It’d be simple, quiet, fast and handle well in our mucky PNW rainy winters…

  4. Champs

    Another Portlander, and I’m still trying to figure out why fenders are so hated. Rain isn’t limited to the rainy season, why not be a Boy Scout about it?

    FWIW I have my perfect daily driver. It’s a Litespeed touring bike, equipped with drop bars, a rack, triple crank, carbon disc fork, fat slicks, dynamo lighting, locking skewers, carbon this/that, etc. It rides just about everything you’d want to take on without a full-face helmet.

    And sometimes it’s too nice. So the “N + 1” was the fixed gear bike I built up to ride places where I *ahem* may not be in shape to ride home and feel OK about leaving overnight. And boy, it sure would be nice to have a super-durable cargo bike

  5. Author

    @ Champs – It’s not that I hate fenders, so much as I don’t like riding with them when I don’t need them. It’s part of that wanting to be fast thing that I should probably just let go of.

    Also, I said I’d run mini V brakes, which is stupid. THose suggesting disc are spot on.

    Maybe also a Gruber Assist and a laser cannon…as long as it doesn’t weigh too much.

  6. Souleur

    Souleur is no Portlander, although I would love to be, I ride in the midwest, rolling hills of the Ozarks.

    My daily ride is steel, Bianchi Boron steel, bought and used after Pantani won the TdF. It has served me well for years, and lately was just a bare frame hanging on the wall, and after I realized I needed to ride her everyday, decked it out w/parts that I had left over, and I went w/8 spd goodies. Mostly for practicality, and some for budget reasons. I don’t believe my daily commuter must be titanium, so please forgive me Robot, pentance I will pay. I decked my girl out w/a Dura ace rear end, and ebayed some ultegra 600 shifters, 53/42 Rouleur crank, Ritchey bar and stem and some older delta look 396 pedals.. I had some Mavic Open Pro’s, brass nipples/3x laced up to some zip hubs laying in the garage that came into great use. No fenders here, it rained almost none this year. She somes in at a svelte 19 lbs and for a daily ride, performs magnificantly.

  7. Jimbo

    My daily commuter is my titanium cross. An ebay buy of unknown origin. Built up with Campy Centaur 10 speed(buy it in Europe and smuggle it back, lots cheaper)and Mavic open pros. Centaur is no way as fragile as I get the impression people think. The bike has done the last 4 winters here in Calgary with no problems. No fenders, I’ve always hated them. And mini V’s are on the Christmas wish list to replace the crap quality shorty sixes on it now.

  8. Ben

    Fun topic. My daily commuter (1990ish Italian roadie) definitely leaves me wanting some days. In Denver…snow & ice days often have me driving b/c I don’t have the clearance for ice-tires or anything more than the 700×28 city tires I have now. So I’d pick a singlespeed steel (Indedpendent Fabrications?) CX bike for easy maintenance and there aren’t any big hills in Denver that a SS can’t handle. Fenders for the winter months and monsoon season. There are some really dandy fenders out there these days! Drop bars. Brakes…I might stick w/ mini-Vs over discs just b/c I don’t like how discs look and the weather here is usually sunny so they’re really over-kill for my needs. Rack? Perhaps. I don’t have much need for it on most days but some commutes and grocery runs would make that a nice feature.
    One component I like now and would keep are my total-dork pedals that have SPD clips on one side and are a steel-cage platform on the other. Cheap and functional as I often make beer runs, BBQs, or head to the bar & don’t want to wear the bike shoes.

  9. dutchmegently

    My daily rider is/was my dream bike. It’s based on a 10 year old Surely Cross-Check (i live beside the sea – steel is real, rust is not a problem) with two sets of Easton EA70 wheels – one with 37mm Duranos (road) and one set with 35 Smart Sams (dirt). I have a single-ring up front with a 10-speed Campy Chorus back-end (even in the Netherlands gearing options are nice to have; we may not have hills, but we do have 40+kph winds). I use Avid Shorty Ultimate brakes, Tubus rack out back and Ortlieb bags.

  10. Bikelink

    You are overthinking it. I have a Jamis Coda that’s been converted to a road drop bar bike…cheap inexpensive steel frame, but has eyelets for fenders and racks. Doesn’t have to be titanium or a ‘cross’ bike. Vittoria Randonneur tires are awesome (28-32ish..tried a bunch of others before setting on these), switching to carbide studded ‘snow tires’ for the winter when the prolonged snow/ice hits for 1-2 weeks at a time (I live in Philadelphia). Bad hills? The coda has a triple. I can commute alone, but also pull my now 7 year old on a trail a long behind it (have had front and rear child seat and bike trailer over the years).

    Basically you need: road frame that has clearance for bigger tires, and optimally eyelets for “full” fenders and rack.

  11. randomactsofcycling

    I’m building a lugged steel commuter for getting around here in Sydney. It will have clearance for fenders, hub-dynamo lighting and I’m currently debating whether to rack or not. My commute will be 27kms, predominantly downhill in the morning but nothing too steep on the way back. I’m a newbie builder so going with conventional road group. Probably Shimano as they offer something that will clear the fenders. 28mm tires, pump pegs and a Brooks Saddle. Sydney winters are mild compared to what I am reading above! Summer is hot and humid with lots of thunderstorms. I could ride my race bike (Cervelo R5) with no problems but this is my little project and I am enjoying the design phase.

  12. Peter Lütken

    At the moment I ride a pretty much stock 2010 Gary Fisher Simple City 8 (just switched out the horrible seat for a Brooks B67 and some matching “leather donut”-grips). At the moment I both live and work in midtown Trondheim and this thing has been spot on for my needs. I have a huge porteur-style basket up front that I use for grocery shopping/carrying all kinds of stuff, a child seat for taking the 3yo. to and from day care, full coverage fenders that can handle all the inclement weather we get all year round. Tires are pretty durable 35c Bontragers (Folks here seem to be dropping glass bottles on the ground all the time here, lots of glass shards to keep you busy swapping inner tubes – not me so far..) An 8 speed Nexus-hub has been just the ticket so far.
    I might switch jobs pretty soon and then I’m looking at a 4mi commute over a pretty hilly route. I’m thinking I need to move more of my luggage towards the back of the bike, make it more rideable in the winter (parking the bike and walking on days with a 3″ snow dump just isn’t a viable option anymore..), the prospect of more hills leave me wanting more options for gearing.
    So far my top candidates are: Civia Bryant, either the stock Tiagra-build or a Alfine 11-spd custom type thing. I really like the looks of the Salsa Casseroll too.

  13. Vandenberg

    Also in Sydney, my commuter is a trusty crosscheck, with LX 9speed, barcons, dynamo hub/light, 32s, fenders, carradice saddle bag etc. Eats up my 65km return trip with ease.
    Dream bike is about to get built. Lightweight steel, clearance for 28s and fenders, Paul racer medium braze-on brakes, current ultegra, lightish 32 spoke wheels. Light/fast enough for bunch rides, comfortable enough for long days in the saddle. Can’t bloody wait.
    Ah, the joys of near-perfect weather all year round…

  14. Turning Circles

    This spring I faced the same decision. I commute 50 km round trip into Toronto. My initial preference was lugged steel but settled for a ti tourer/cross with bottom bracket drop of 7 cm informed by Padraig’s comments some time ago. A steel fork, drop bars, cantis, ultegra hubs with mavic open pros, 8 speed cassette, bar ends, rack and fenders are all part of the package. Whether it is the frame material, longer wheelbase and longer chain stays, or 28 mm tires the ride is very comfortable and runs very straight. Good luck with your build.

  15. Eli Chiasson

    Robot, great topic. I live in Halifax, NS, and so I believe our climates are fairly similar. We haven’t had snow yet, but it was pouring rain and 2° yesterday, so it’s not far away at all.

    The happiest year-round commuting experience I’ve had was 8km (40 min) through the city on a single-speed mountain bike.

    The 26″ wheels are pretty mandatory in my opinion for winter studded-tire riding. I know there are 700x32c studded options, but the mountain bike with 2.0″ tires gave nearly as solid a footing on ice and snow as on dry pavement. The mountain bike frame also gives tons of clearance for full-coverage fenders, another necessity for coastal riding. In the other three seasons I ran 26×1.5 slicks at 80psi and hardly felt slower than my road bike.

    Halifax/Dartmouth is a very hilly place, so it took a couple of weeks to build the legs up, but I thought of it as track riding outdoors. And I was certainly stronger on training rides even when I’d missed a week or two. That said, when I sold the bike to a friend of mine I did put on an Alfine 8-spd hub at his request. It was pretty slick, and I would concede it to be an excellent option in terms of efficiency and durability. I agree that external gears are really just asking for work and money in this climate.

    So, to reply to your proposal, I would say Ti is nice, but in no way necessary. Steel or carbon would work equally well, just spray rust-check in the steel frame before you build it up. Mini-vees are absolutely necessary if you’re running 700c, though discs would be even better (no need to clean the rims, which deteriorate quickly in wet grime, and you probably won’t have to replace your brake pads every 2-3 weeks in the winter, as I did with my v-brakes).

    If you do pick a 700c frame make sure there is a ton of clearance for the combination of fenders, studded tires, and a few pounds of frozen slush.

  16. slappy

    bike dorks unite! well i live in telluride co and wrench on bikes and i can hit my shop with a golf ball so my mileage isn’t much but i sure like utility bikes. The Big Dummy Surly Xtracycle is what i’ve built my lady and it has a shimano drivetrain with a dynamo front hub laced to a 29’r rim and it fits a fender and a studded nokian with track clearance in the stock 26″ front fork. Having that extra weight on the large front wheel means that she never crashes even with the 7 yr old squiriming around on the back and the 4 month old in the papoose. Anyhow in a town where way to many people drive way to short this rig never fails. It just started dumping so i oughta go install that tyre now. The long distance dream for replacing the car with the big dummy is the stoke monkey motor. That thing is sick and were we to end up in VT for example the 30 mi commute in the dark would be a little better at 30 mph. Anyway i ride an old specialized street stomper fixxie with big fenders and a rack. The Donkey box recycled pannier is pretty cool for town commuting, a velcro and plastic affair, which swallows bags you take inside. Then there is the Pugsley which also has racks and a ski rack for hauling nordic skis or my tele’s and then the other xtra cycle has a bigger ski rack for the whole family and a trailer for the CSA and other large items. I have had my niner sir 9 set up with fenders racks and drop bars for when i lived with a longer winter commute but now it just shreds. Long story short, learn to love fenders and racks and maybe you’ll stop taking the pro appearance so seriously and when u sell your car you can get a Firefly with a rohloff.

  17. Chromatic Dramatic

    I haven’t got my ideal every day bike nailed yet. Mainly I because I don’t have time to go on regular big rides, so my commuting doubles as training rides. ie the Roadie is fine.

    It’s when the weather turns nasty I look for something else. And living in Sydney (Australia), when the weather turns nasty it tends to be [email protected] for two to three weeks at a time.

    So my ideal every day bike would be something like this…

    – Steel (with space for 28mm tyres)
    – Fenders (properly fitted around the tyres without those annoying bits poking out)
    – Rack (so I can go shopping / put one of the kids on the back)

    As yet I’m undecided about gears or not. Possibly single speed, but then I’m thinking a 3 speed would be ideal too. I don’t want the maintenance aspect

    But at the same time, I’d also consider a 10 speed with riser bars. I have a single speed already, and after commuting on it for any more than a week I get a bit tired of it.

    The other main thing is that it needs to look crap (but ride well). I want to be able to safely lock it up and not worry too much about it while I go off and do other things.

    But as we know the ideal number of bikes is n + 1, maybe I can just get a quiver of ideal bikes… Now how do I convince my missus to get a 29″ hardtail MTB, and a wet weather every day bike?

  18. Pascal

    My ideal everyday bike is one that would not break my heart if stolen. (in my ideal world, bikes still seem to get stolen- call me a pessimist!) Therefore fully pimped is not an option. I ride an old 80s Norco touring bike (steel) converted to fixed gear. I run smooth 35s in the summer and 32 CX tires in the cold and snowy Ottawa winter. Fenders: always (they don’t seem to slow things down). I replaced the drop bars with a curved flat bar. It’s plenty fast around town and the wide bars help me climb hills and sprint for lights – sorta like an oversized, overgeard BMX. It has a rear rack for panniers or just to hold a lock with one of those bungie nets. Practical, cheap and fast (enough). Ideal? I guess it could be a bit lighter but whatevs. It doesn’t let me down.

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