Friday Group Ride #361

Friday Group Ride #361

My buddy Mike is building me a new townie. Road bikes are cool and mountain bikes are great, but there might not be a more bike-nerd-satisfying project than a new errand bike. I’m opting for a steel, OG hipster fixed gear with big front basket and olive drab powder coat. Mike is building me a segmented fork.

I haven’t had a fixie for a few years, and I miss that feeling of controlling the bike with my feet, the slow, deliberate way you have to ride in the city when you can’t freewheel. I’ll run brakes, because I have kids. I’m not going for a cool guy ride as much as I am a big rolling toy, that I can use to get groceries with.

There are a lot of ways to go with a bike like this. Belt-drive, internal hubs, all manner of fenders, generator hub/headlights, racks and panniers, drop and flat bars. You can go electric (I probably should have given the hill I live on).

There is a very real argument to be made that I don’t need this bike. My wife tried to make it. I commute on road and gravel bikes. I don’t do a lot of errands, because I hate them. We live on a tall hill. My knees are too old to be riding fixed. Whatever. That all makes the project more fun.

This week’s Group Ride asks, do you own a town bike? Do you commute on it? What’s cool about it? What’s uncool about it? Do you do errands by bike? If you don’t have a bike for this purpose, what would yours look like?

Image: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

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  1. Lyford

    Well, right now I don’t live in enough of a town to have a town bike, but based on prior experience…..

    Gotta have full fenders.
    I’d be tempted to go with an internally geared hub so I could use a full chainguard or belt drive. I can’t imagine living anywhere flat enough to be happy with a fixie.
    Flat bars, narrow by modern MTB standards.
    Reasonably light wheels to make up for the rugged tires. Riding in traffic means a lot of accelerations.
    A rear rack.
    A good lock and way to carry it.

    Previous town bikes have beeng old rigid mountain bikes. I don’t know what’s out there now for town bikes. If I had to go buy something today I’d probably grab something like a Haanjo, slap fenders on it, and call it good enough.

    If I enjoy riding it, it’s cool.

  2. Miles Archer

    My town bike is a 1980’s mountain bike that I bought brand new. Rigid steel, slick tires, no fenders. If it’s wet, I’m driving. In the SF Bay Area, that’s not much of a problem. I used to commute on it 20 years ago. These days, it’s for going into the little downtown area in my suburb to get a haircut or run some other errand. Parking can be tough so it’s perfect for a bike.

  3. Gordon

    My favorite town bike was an old Philips that I had put 650b single speed wheels on. Super slack angles on the frame and fun to ride. My current town bike is a 1953 Raleigh with an enclosed chain. The biggest problem with town bikes is that we love and improve them to the point that they are too good to be a good town bike anymore and they attract thieves.

  4. Michael

    I hear you, Gordon. I try to keep my townie as simple and unattractive as possible, but want it to have its story too. I ride a 1972 Raleigh Competition, set up with a one-speed freewheel and narrowish flat bars (emulating Lyford). I had a 1969 Comp in the late 70’s early 80’s and rode it all over the west of the US. I loved the bike, so when I saw this mostly stripped Raleigh in a friend’s office, I asked and he gave it to me. I set an arbitrary $20 limit on fixing it up, so used all sorts of old parts (and could not replace the tires, leading to a loud blowout, but then that is maintenance, not build, right?). It has full fenders ($5 at a garage sale) and a bell (gift from my daughter), and the original brakes. I built wheels eventually when the ones I had collapsed, so again an agreement with Lyford – light but strong hand-built wheels with burly Schwalbe Marathons on them. No rack and tiny “cafe” lock – I hope its ugliness deters thieves, and I don’t tend to leave it in places or at times when thievery is most likely. Probably a mistake, but it is what I do.

    We are moving to Dublin this summer – this time we’ll live close to downtown. I will bring only one bike (a steel road bike with couplers) with me and plan to come up with a commuter bike there. I am looking forward to reading other people’s comments for their ideal commuter, as this will be a new opportunity for me to design my own. I won’t have the bank of spare parts there, so will have to get something that works, or very nearly works, already.

  5. Zvi Wolf

    I had a 3 speed internal hub Raleigh that I used to ride to the train station. It had full fenders and a chain guard, all necessary because I wore a suit to work. It was perfect. It was stolen.

    I still smile when I recall the times I pedaled home on it in the rain with one hand on the bars and the other holding an umbrella while dressed in full regalia.

  6. Ray

    I have a old Raleigh Grand Prix or equivalent (Its powder coated) and old enough that the derailleur hanger bolts on and can be removed to make it single speed. It is in its SS avatar now, with old center pull Mafac Racer brakes, Campy brake levers and Campy Track hubs with a Campy Single Speed freewheel screwed on. Brooks pro saddle, ITM bar and a old ControlTech Quill stem from my parts bin.

  7. Toddster

    I finally converted my 1989 Stumpjumper to 1x. Put a riser bar on it, ripped all the gears off and installed a sweet set of Michelin low profile Country tires. Perfect for errands or noodling through the neighborhood with the kids. I am now in the process of converting an early 80s Austro-Daimler to fixie. Now that will be a fun project pulling out the old headset and bb tools. It’s as much fun building these townie bikes as it is riding them!

  8. Hoshie99

    All my bikes could be town bikes because I tend to hang on to ones for a long time. The closest are:

    1) An early 80’s Colnago Super salvaged from on old colleagues garage with Nitto swept back bars and a single speed. It’s dented and has some old random wheels and the chain is tensioned improperly so it can fall off occassionally but I always smile when riding it. It has character is what I can say with a straight face.

    2) An old Bridgestone MB-3 mtn bike with rigid fork (currently on loan to my daughter’s swim coach). Powder coated mint green, mostly original parts but with Nitto swept back bars, cork grips and looks really nice because of the powder coating. I think people would buy a new version of this for a lot of money given what I have seen – fits fat tires and rolls fantastic.


  9. Girl

    Like many of you, my townie is an old 80’s bike. I have a 1989 Schwinn Sierra, steel mountain bike 26er (as they all were, back then). I rode it through Annadel State Park, back in the day, before shocks were commonplace. It became my “college bike” which means it was junky enough to be left alone by thieves, but nice enough that no one robbed it for parts. It was recently reconditioned by my local mechanic; shifts well, with the same old Shimano shifters and has fenders and a luggage rack. Funny thing, I just saw the same bike (with better paint) for sale in San Francisco by a local bike shop for $199. I paid $245 back in the day. I must have made a decent investment.

  10. Brian Ogilvie

    I don’t live in a town, but I have a townie for my 3-mile mostly rural commute to a college campus. (The campus is the urban-ish part.) It’s a Breezer Uptown8 with a step-through frame, 8-speed IGH, enclosed chaincase, fenders, and dynamo lighting. It came nearly complete. All I had to do was add a Wald folding basket on one side, secured with hose clamps and UV-resistant zip ties. I put a grocery pannier on the other side. I mostly ride it to and around campus, though I’ll also run errands into town on it, too. Three miles is too short to bother changing clothes, so I ride slowly and avoid breaking a sweat if I can. If I were starting from scratch I’d probably build a low-trail bike with a porteur rack for my briefcase.

  11. pedalingscience

    Just bought a 100 lb bakfiets cargo bike to haul my little kids to school and then fill it up with groceries on the way home. That definitely scratched my bike nerd itch. I’ll probably part with it in a year or two as my 3 year old daughter is just finding her center on her 14″ pedal bike and soon she’ll have the stamina and road sense to cover the distance to school on her own. But for now, I love the feeling of sitting bolt upright on a wood-boxed cargo bike and pretending I’m in Amsterdam.

  12. Pat O'Brien

    A townie or commuter bike has always been attractive to me. Maybe I would start doing more errands and shopping trip by bike. But, it would be a mixte frame with a 7 speed Shimano hub and belt drive. I want my knees to last as long as the rest of me. It would have baskets front and rear.

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