A Not-Quite-Perfect Commute

A Lonely Bike Commuter

I had a fantastic ride home last night. It was crisp and clear, probably in the low 50’s, not a cloud in the sky and not a leaf moving. The sunset was spectacular and the full moon was rising just as twilight set in. Traffic was light and I mapped a route that takes advantage of our lovely bike lanes and off-street cycle paths. The only thing that would’ve made it better is a few more bike riders on the road. It seems when the temperature drops this time of year, ridership plummets right along with it. The good news is that there’s plenty of wonderful riding available right on through the year (at least here in sunny NorCal); all it takes is a little preparation and a few cold weather clothing items you probably already have in your closet.

Traffic was light and I mapped a route that takes advantage of our lovely bike lanes and off-street cycle paths. The only thing that would’ve made it better is a few more bike riders on the road.

Around here, winter is the best time of year to wear street clothes while biking because you don’t perspire so much. I commute in my work clothes all winter and just add a couple of layers on top when the temps drop below 45F or so. Fleece vests are great for this approach because they keep your core toasty without restricting your upper body and arm movement. I’ll often add a full fleece jacket or a breathable wind shell on top of the vest if needed. And if it’s really cold, I’ll add a wool base layer under my dress shirt. The idea is to remain flexible and adjust your layers based upon the specific day’s weather conditions.

Along with adding layers, I also wear a wool cap with ear flaps under my helmet. If it gets down below freezing I’ll replace the wool cap with a full balaclava. And though I don’t normally wear cycling-specific gloves, a nice pair of wool gloves are a must-have item this time of year. In our relatively mild conditions here in Northern California, I don’t find it necessary to wear anything special on the lower half of my body; a stout pair of khakis or cords provide plenty of warmth for our conditions (I’m showing my middle-aged geekiness here).

Obviously, for those who live in less temperate climates, serious cold weather gear is in order. And there may often be conditions where it’s just not practical to ride a bike (snow and ice come to mind). But even here in California, with our unusually mild conditions, the weather seems to have a dramatic effect on the number of bike commuters on the road. So I’m here to remind my local bike commuting cohorts that, with a little bit of effort, it’s not difficult to keep riding comfortably and enjoying the many benefits of riding a bicycle for transportation throughout the year!

Fall Colors

We had a doozy of a wind storm the other day that spread the fall colors all around.

A Rolling Interview with TA’s Paul Steely White

Directed by Daniel Leeb, Cinecycle. Produced by Marin Tockman. Edited by Mike Heffron.

Transportation Alternatives

Road Test: Raleigh Alley Way

Introduction

The Alley Way is an exciting new commuter/city bike from Raleigh for 2010. The commuter segment of the market is really heating up this year and the Alley Way looks perfectly outfitted to do well among the fast growing and increasingly more sophisticated pool of transportation riders. Features include a butted Reynolds 520 chromoly compact frame; matching integrated bar/stem; matching alloy fenders and chainguard; Shimano Alfine/Gates Carbon Drive drivetrain; Shimano Alfine generator hub; Shimano mechanical disc brakes; Brooks B17 saddle; and Vittoria Randonneur Cross tires. All of that at a retail price of $1425.

Construction

The Alley Way’s frame is made from Reynolds 520 chromoly tubing. 520 is a mid-level steel tubing; good quality but with a lower strength-to-weight ratio than Reynold’s more expensive tubesets. As is true for nearly all bikes in this price range, the frame is manufactured in the far east. The TIG welds look sufficiently clean and the general workmanship is on par with competing models. The Bianchi-esque celeste green powder coat is particularly striking and elicits comments wherever the bike is ridden. The matching integrated bar/stem, fenders, and chain guard give the Alley Way an attractive, boutiquey look.

The most noticeable characteristic of the frame is the dramatically sloping top tube. Traditionalists may be put-off by such a steeply sloping top tube, but many people I talk with find the look very appealing. Practical advantages of sloping top tubes include weight savings (less frame material); added stiffness (smaller triangles); wider fit range (long seat tubes and lower standover height); and clearance at the top tube for wearing dresses/skirts (similar to step-throughs or mixtes).

The frame and fork are peppered with numerous braze-ons including rear rack mounts; a pair of water bottle mounts; front and rear fender eyelets; and mid-fork front rack mounts. Disc brake mounts are integrated into the frame and the right rear dropout breaks apart for installing the Carbon Drive belt. The bottom bracket shell is oversized for housing the eccentric bottom bracket, a necessary component for tensioning the drive belt. The matching fenders are attractive, though the front fender is too short to be fully effective without the addition of a mud flap. The one missing item is a kickstand plate, something I consider a must-have on any purpose-built commuter bike.

Components

The Alley Way features a nice group of predominately Shimano components with a few Tektro and generic parts mixed in. Most notable are the Alfine internal gear and dynamo hubs. These hubs are quickly becoming the de facto standard for mid-to-upper-level commuter bikes; both the Civia Hyland and Breezer Finesse we reviewed earlier this year were outfitted with these hubs. The Alfine IGH is smooth, quiet, and trouble-free. It is arguably the smoothest shifting IGH on the market and when combined with the Alfine Rapid-Fire shifter, it’s a joy to use. The Alfine dynamo is the best in its price category with Ultegra-level bearings and drag numbers approaching, but not quite matching, the more expensive SON hubs from Germany. The two together represent the best front/rear hub set designed specifically for commuters.

Some might question Raleigh’s choice to supply a dynamo hub on a bike with no lights, but I fully agree with the decision. Most headlights supplied on production bikes are woefully inadequate, and each rider’s lighting needs are unique based upon their local conditions. I’d rather the manufacturer supply the dynamo and let me choose my own headlight/tail light combination based upon my particular needs.

The internal gear and dynamo hubs do much to define the character of this bike, but the Gates Carbon Drive is the star of the show. When combined with the Alfine IGH, you have what may be the smoothest, quietest drivetrain on the market. It feels like an over-oiled fixed-gear drivetrain, but with 8 speeds and no grease stains; completely clean, smooth, crisp, and quiet. From all reports the bugs are pretty much worked out of this system and it’s ready for prime time. My experience during the test period bears this out. A few benefits of the Carbon Drive System include special sprockets that shed all types of debris including mud and snow; zero maintenance over the life of the belt; at least twice the life span of a traditional bike chain; and reduced weight when compared to a conventional chain/sprocket combination.

The Shimano mechanical disc brakes are reasonably functional if not that exciting. I’m accustomed to hydraulic discs and the Shimano mechanicals feel somewhat vague and underpowered when compared to their Alfine counterparts. They’re certainly safe and provide plenty of braking power, but they lack the sensitivity and snap I’ve come to expect from disc brakes. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the Alfine hydraulics I’ve been using on other bikes this past year.

The rise, reach, and bend of the integrated bar/stem is right on the money, which is a good thing because if the bar position doesn’t suit you there is no way to make any adjustments. The key is to take a good, long test ride and be sure to purchase the frame size that places the bars in the proper relation to the saddle when adjusted to your normal saddle height. Doing so should prevent any potential fit issues.

The Brooks B17 “Narrow” saddle is an unexpected and welcome addition on a production commuter bike, though I found it to be too narrow for this bike’s upright geometry. Saddle preferences are highly personal, but a standard-width B17 would be a better choice for most people on this bike. My test bike is a pre-production model, so it may be that the final production version will come outfitted with the more popular standard-width B17.

Ride Quality

The Alley Way is stable and novice-friendly. It likes to go straight and it takes little thought or effort to keep it on track (riding no-hands on the Alley Way is a cinch). All of that stability comes at the price of some quickness and maneuverability, but many people will find the undemanding geometry a plus, particularly those transitioning from cruisers and hybrids to their first purpose-built commuter. The frame is plenty stiff at the bottom bracket and it has that characteristic lively, shock absorbing quality found in many chromoly steel bikes. As I mentioned above, the Alfine IGH/Gates Carbon Drive combo is completely silent, and when combined with the steel frame and 35mm Vittoria Randonneur Cross tires, the overall impression is one of smoothness and stability when ridden at commuting speeds.

Conclusion

The Alley Way is a highly competent city bike that has something to offer for commuters of all experience levels. Its relatively relaxed frame geometry should make it particularly appealing to less experienced riders who might be intimidated by quicker handling bikes. The cutting edge Gates Carbon Drive/Alfine IGH drivetrain dramatically reduces the need for maintenance while providing a uniquely quiet and smooth riding/shifting experience. The matching celeste green frame, fenders, chainguard, and integrated bar/stem add the finishing touches to a functional and attractive package that turns heads wherever it goes.

Specifications

Sizes: S, M, L
Frame: Reynolds 520 Butted Chromo w/CNC Dropouts
Fork: 4130 Chromo Cross w/Disc Mounts
Handlebar: Custom Chromo 1pc with integrated stem
Seatpost: Alloy Micro Adjust 27.2x400mm
Saddle: Brooks B17
Headset: Ahead 1-1/8″ w/Alloy Cup/Sealed Cartridge Bearing
Cranks: 2pc Forged w/External BB and Gates Belt Drive Chainwheel w/Guard 50t
Rear Cog: Gates Belt Drive 24t
Shifter: Shimano Alfine
Brake Levers: Tektro Comfort
Brakes: Shimano BR-M416 Disc
Hubs: (F) Shimano Alfine Dynamo 32h (R) Shimano Alfine Internal 8spd 32h
Rims: Weinmann XM260 Disc
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur Cross w/Reflective Side 700x35c
Weight as Tested: Approximately 32 lbs.
Retail Price: $1425

Raleigh USA

Disclosure

Raleigh is a sponsor of this website and supplied the Alley Way used for this road test.

Rivendell News

News from Rivendell on upcoming changes and availability:

We’re nearly out of Sams, except in the 48s and 52s. We’ll have more in February, and you can reserve one with a non-refundable (to ensure sincerity, not to bum you out, and we’ve never not given back “non-refundable deposits in the past, and it’s never a tussle) $100 deposit. They’ll be orange again, and this time there will be a 64, too. Both the 60 and 64 will have double top tubes, which—we could’ve done without on the 60, but the 64 benefits for sure. Hey, in four years every big bike will have double toppers…

You understand what the second top tube does, right? It re-triangulates the frame so the frame resists twisting better. On a bike with a tall head tube, it matters. Tall riders tend to weigh more and so on, so it makes sense.

We got lugs made just for the second top tube. It’s what you do when you claim, as we do, to be Home of the Lugged Steel Frame.

The Simpleone will replace the Quickbeam, and it too will come in Spring. Some as frames, maybe some as bikes. Exactly the same geometry as the QB, and in sizes 54-56-58-60-62-64. The smaller and taller QBs didn’t sell well, so we’re going with these. Not sure of the price, but they’ll cost less than the Quickers and be as good. Made in Taiwan, not Japan.

We have a dwindling number of what seems to be the last of the Japanese-built Atlantis frames. They are stratospherically expensive to buy, and your price, $2,000 for frame-fork-headset, counts only if you buy a complete Atlantis from us. Frame only is now $2,300. Sometimes next year we’ll likely bring in a Taiwan-built Atlantis, also built under the guidance of Tetsu Ishigaki; and the fork will be made in the old Toyo shop, in Japan. There may be some changes. Fewer sizes, more upslope on the TT. It will be a good, good bike.

We’re getting Betty Foy frames in the usual 52cm and 58cm 650-B wheels sizes, plus two new sizes: 47cm (26-inch wheels), and 62cm (700c). These will also be available as Yves Gomez for guys who don’t want to ride a “Betty Foy.”

Rivendell Bicycle Works

NuVinci CVP Hub

Background
The NuVinci Continuously Variable Planetary (CVP) hub is the first and only bicycle drivetrain on the market that offers infinite gear-inch choices within an overall range of 350%. From NuVinci:

NuVinci CVP technology combines continuously variable ratios with the advantages of a conventional planetary gear set. A set of rotating spheres arranged around a central “sun” is used to transfer torque between two “rings.”

Tilting the spheres changes their contact diameters on the rings, permitting an infinite progression of speed ratios. The result is smooth, seamless and continuous transition to any ratio within its range, maximizing overall powertrain efficiency and ride quality.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been riding a Surly Long Haul Tucker outfitted with a NuVinci CVP hub. The LHT was set-up by The Bicycle Business in Sacramento with upright bars, MTB levers, a single chainring, and the NuVinci hub/shifter combo.

Details & Impressions
The NuVinci hub is extremely smooth and quiet, much like a high quality internal gear hub. Its gear range is also similar to internal gear hubs such as the Shimano Alfine 8 and SRAM i-Motion 9 (see chart below). The amount of resistance created by the CVP is insignificant for its intended use on commuters, cruisers, and e- bikes, though subjectively I’d say it introduces slightly more drag than the Alfine or i-Motion.

Low, Medium, High — Infinitely Variable

The twist shifter’s “gear” indicator relates drive ratios to terrain: a flat line indicates level ground (high gear-inches) and a curved line indicates hills (low gear-inches). It takes 1.25 turns of the twist shifter to move through the entire range. The long throw on the shifter is good for fine tuning the ratio, but quick shifts from high to low are difficult to execute; somewhere under one full rotation of the twist grip would probably be better for most people.

Like internal gear and single speed hubs, the NuVinci CVP requires either horizontal dropouts, sliding dropouts, or a chain tensioner (our LHT used for the test was set-up with a chain tensioner). Removing the rear wheel is relatively simple and no more difficult than removing the rear wheel on bikes set up with internal gear hubs.

It took a while to get over the old habit of spinning up before making a shift, something that’s completely unnecessary with the NuVinci. With the CVP there’s no need to hesitate making adjustments because there are actually no “shifts”. In other words, each miniscule adjustment of the shifter results in a minuscule adjustment in gear-inches. Eventually I ended up using the twist shifter almost like a throttle, constantly changing the ratio to match cadence and pedal pressure depending upon the terrain and wind direction.

Conclusion
The NuVinci CVP’s main audience is likely to be newcomers who are intimidated by triple chainrings and derailleurs, or commuters who want a bullet-proof drivetrain with an industry-best 6-year warranty. It may also be a good fit for hybrid electric bikes where the hub’s substantial 8 lb. weight would be mitigated by e-assist. Unfortunately, having 8 lbs. concentrated at the rear axle on a lightweight bicycle is enough to alter the handling and may make it a tough sell on those bikes. Even so, I think CVP is a cool technology with a future, particularly if NuVinci can get the weight down into the 4-5 lb. range and hit a price point that is on par with competing products such as the Shimano and SRAM internal gear hubs.

Pros
User-friendly for novices
Quiet and smooth
Infinite “gear” ratios within a 350% range
Ability to change ratios while stopped, coasting, or under power
Weatherproof
Six-year warranty

Cons
Heavy (approximately 8 lbs.)
Relatively expensive (approximately $450)
Long throw on twist shifter

The LHT used for this review was provided by The Bicycle Business. Stop by their shop in Sacramento to test ride the NuVinci CVP.

The Bicycle Business
Fallbrook NuVinci

Disclosure: The Bicycle Business is a sponsor of this website.

Endless Summer Photos Complete

The contest photos are now 100% uploaded. You can view the full set with captions and photo credits in the Photo Contest category, or you can view the full set as a slideshow on our Zenfolio Site. The judges will soon start work on the difficult process of choosing the winners. Good luck!


 
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