Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Message Board General Discussion › Options for new bad-weather commuter

Options for new bad-weather commuter

John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,994
My Giant internal-hub bike is receiving a new life at the Community Bicycle Center, after the hub gave out and I decided the frame was getting too old. My local bike shop, Ernie's, brought in some models they thought I might be interested in, and I'm down to the following two. I don't think I'd regret either one, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

This bike will be my "bad weather commuter", the one used whenever it rains, or possibly light snow. Both of the following 2012 close-out models have internal hubs and disk brakes, good for easy maintenance in bad weather, and both have vertical dropouts, which I prefer. Neither comes with fenders or chainguard, but that’s easily remedied. Both are aluminum frame. I’ve test ridden both and like the feel of both.

Schwinn 4 One One 1




Differences from GT (below):

  • Vertical dropouts enabled using chain tensioner
  • Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub with easy release gear cable
  • Built-in front basket
  • Smooth unpretentious silver/gray color



GT Traffic IG8




Differences from Schwinn (above):

  • Vertical dropouts enabled using eccentric bottom bracket
  • Nexus-Shimano 7-speed hub (despite the “8” in the name, at least the one the shop got)
  • Glossy black with green highlights

john b.
AsshatOrganizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 488
Both the 7 speed Nexus and (ANY) Sturmey hubs are not the best quality. I really don't like my Nexus 7. If I were to buy a brand new IGH bike I'd make sure it came with Shimano Alfine 8. Huge difference in quality. The newer Sturmey hubs are widely reputed to fail, make lots of noise and/ or need constant service.

I'd also be interested to know what kind of disc brakes your new potential bike(s) come with. The whole "service-free" aspect of disc brakes is not at all true - especially in commuter applications. Are you opting for hydraulic or mechanical? Shimano disc brakes seem to require less adjustment. Some models of Tektro disc brakes also behave well.
Derek P.
dpellet
Portland, ME
Post #: 64
I went through this process a few years ago and I'm amazed at how many more options there are now than 3 years ago. After several seasons, the most persistent complaint that I have about it is actually the aluminum frame (it's a trek). I never realized what people meant when they complained about the stiffness of aluminum. It can be jarring on certain roads.
It also came with a Nexus 8-speed hub and I've been reasonably happy with it. No major issues with it, yet (knock on wood) but I've heard the same praise for the alfines from several folks. My brother has a bike with a Sturmey 5-speed hub and has not been happy with it at all. He said it is very finnicky. My wife has a bike with their 3-speed and that one seems to be much more reliable.
john b.
AsshatOrganizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 489
There are a LOT more options lately. Some bikes that larger manufacturers only made available in Europe in previous years are now available to U.S. vendors. Some of them are applicable, some of them look like some industrial designer's fever dream.
Specialized makes this line called "Source" of all-weather, hydraulic disc, dynamo lighting equipped commuter bikes now (racks and fenders standard). Unfortunately, only the top of the line, $2.7k model uses an IGH drive, the WAY overpriced Alfine 11, belt-drive, no less. The bike looks like it belongs in Epcot Center.
Slightly more reasonable, Giant continues to make their Seek line, the top of which, as in years past, features a $1.2k bike with Shimano Alfine 8 and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes.

I agree, aluminum frames (beer can bikes) tend to feel like they're going to throw you over the handlebars in heartier terrain. I like having one aluminum frame for the brunt of the winter punishment, though. I love my steel bikes and I want to keep them alive for a very long time.
John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,996
Thanks for mentioning the disc brakes. That reminds me that one of them DOES have hydraulic disk brakes, I think the GT. Hydraulic is better? That's the impression I got from Bruce, at least in that the hydraulic fluid does not freeze as easily as moisture around a cable does. (Although really, I've never had that problem as much with the brake cables as the gear cable, which frequently comes routed underneath the bottom bracket and back up to the hub, forming a little valley that moisture can easily collect in. Bruce routes those cables a different way to avoid that.)

On the Sturmy-Archer, I like that the cable is easier to disconnect; it just screws off like the traditional 3-speeds. I still have a hard time with the ring lock on the 7 & 8-speed Shimanos, such that I've learned to change the tube without disconnecting the cable. BUT, of course shifting issues would be a concern. In fact, when I was test-riding the Schwinn with that hub, I did notice that 3rd gear was really missing, sort of catching constantly, multiple times on every pedal rotation, so that would definitely require some work before I would accept that bike.
john b.
AsshatOrganizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 490
Yep, hydraulic is better for several reasons: The pressure or brake grab will not fade if set up and adjusted properly and maintained (pad replacement and system bleed) as needed (for commuting, every 2-3 thousand miles, to throw out a number). Mechanical (cable operated) disc brakes succumb to cable stretch and often need adjustment much more often, regardless of how well the bike was set up.
Hydraulic brakes also have the advantage in that they center themselves; that is the pistons behind the brake pad on either side of the rotor space themselves equally when they rebound away from the rotor. Mechanical brakes are spaced so the inner pad is as close to the rotor as possible while the outer pad pulls toward the rotor when you brake. Because you have to place the inner pad so close to the pad there's a lot more chance for the brake rubbing when not engaged.
Hydraulic brakes don't freeze - at least I've never come across that problem or even heard of it. The fluid used in most hydraulic brakes is DOT 5.1 brake fluid (Shimano uses mineral oil). Mechanical brakes, as you said, can freeze when the cables/ housing rust.
Both systems stop extremely well; fast, controllable, (usually) noise-free. Hydraulic disc brakes function that much better. The feel is effortless, yet, you can ease into braking. You'll enjoy a whole new level of control, consistent, predictable braking and overall system reliability. They put these on better mountain bikes for a reason.
Another thing to consider about either type of disc brake: keep them inside when you're not riding. Disc rotors are thin, stamped steel that, if cold for several hours and then used (heated up) can become warped. With bike commuting, this might not be as much of a concern because you're not riding the brakes as much as in mountain biking applications. But, still, it's a concern.
Another, 'nother thing: keep ANYTHING away from your brake pads/ rotors. Especially chain lube or anything other that pure isopropyl alcohol. Dirt, water and road grime invariably gets in there, that's not a problem. Lubes and other unnatural contaminants will ruin your pads, though, and your brakes will not work.

If you're after ease of shift cable removal when you're shopping for an IGH, you should check out SRAM. Easily the simplest cable/ hub join. For my money/ desired use, I wouldn't buy anything other than Shimano IGH's because they're far and away the best enclosed system with the best range of gears and are among the most reliable. The only arguably better IGH's for my desired use are Nuvinchi and Rohloff. SRAM and Sturmey Archer leave a LOT of exposed cable flapping in the elements. SRAM IGH's perform consistently well, have excellent small parts availability, incredible supplier to vendor service - but, their cable join, for all the ease of use, is way too exposed - regardless of how you route it. Sturmey has the same problem as SRAM and they have none of the plusses of SRAM.

Over ease of shift cable/ rear wheel removal - I'd go with performance and reliability and get some REALLY good tires that will likely never catch a flat (a MUST for any IGH bike).

I picked up an IGH bike several years ago for the same reason you did/ are going to: less maintenance, cold/ sloppy weather reliability. I'm more than capable of working on my own bikes but, I do that for a 9-5, so I'm not always as into it when I'm off the clock. I've found my IGH to require less maintenance, not zero or even close. What's more, when work is needed, it's usually much more involved than an externally geared bike. Still, to me, the logistics of less (if sometimes more involved) maintenance and less tiny moving parts outside of the bike and in the weather trumps chucking the bike altogether.
Brian E.
user 13760096
Raymond, ME
Post #: 199
Thanks for the primer on hydraulic brakes. I've got them on my mountain bike and had figured out a lot of what you said but now it's been confirmed.
Derek P.
dpellet
Portland, ME
Post #: 65
I've found my IGH to require less maintenance, not zero or even close.

I fear I've been sorely neglecting my IGH over the past 3 years. What maintenance should I be doing on it?
john b.
AsshatOrganizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 491
Brian, you're welcome for the long hydraulic brake rant.

I've found my IGH to require less maintenance, not zero or even close.

I fear I've been sorely neglecting my IGH over the past 3 years. What maintenance should I be doing on it?

I've taken apart several of my Nexus, SRAM and Sturmey Archer IGH hubs and those of customers/ friends for a bi-annual (or thereabouts) tear-down, re-greasing and re-assembly. I even got to work on a Rohloff 14 Speed once. It improves shifting performance and ensures the myriad of tiny pawls and teeth stay happy for many years to come.
Every couple of years you will want to bring your hub to a shop that has a practiced, qualified internally geared hub mechanic so it can undergo an inspection and possible overhaul.
More often than not, it's a cable adjustment, cable/ housing replacement or a faulty shifter. Still, bring it to someone who knows what to look and feel for.
john b.
AsshatOrganizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 492
I've found my IGH to require less maintenance, not zero or even close.

I'm also referring to any of these "new" "maintenance-free" technologies on OEM commuter bikes. They're actually maintenance light. And, when you DO need to attend to something totally normal like a punctured tube or a wheel slightly out of true, it's a much bigger task at hand than with a standard externally geared bicycle.

The maintenance light aspect is good for commuters who are total trashers. They'll ride any bike into the ground and never bring it to a professional for service. More likely than not, they'll never even recognize the scores of issues the bike has developed over the course of their everyday, all-conditions punishment. When something renders the bike completely unusable so they HAVE to get it serviced there's no way one of these "maintenance free" bikes can be worked on by the consumer. They have to bring it to a shop. IGH/ belt/shaft-drive/ disc brake equipped bikes are a lot like cars in that way.
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