Thursday Morning Commute Free Association

A few random thoughts triggered by this morning’s commute photo:

  1. Bike commuting beats the heck out of sitting on the freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
  2. The new bars and saddle really changed the character of this bike. I didn’t think the below-the-saddle bar height was going to work for me at all, but it’s nice having my weight distributed a little more evenly between the bars and saddle.
  3. Speaking of saddles, the Selle An-Atomica beats the heck out of the Brooks it replaced for sheer comfort. BTW – does anyone know the status of S-A with Tom Milton’s passing?
  4. The Pass & Stow porteur rack with matching Freight Baggage Rack Bag make a super front catch-all carrier.
  5. I realized the other day that I’ve probably shifted to the granny ring on this bike all of 3 times over the past two years, and then only to test a shifter. With that in mind, I have in the works to turn this into a 1×9 drivetrain. More on this later.
  6. At the right of the photo is an intersection where one of our bike trails meets one of our bike lanes. Notice the stop sign and the generous width of the the bike lanes going in either direction perpendicular to the path. The same type of on-street lanes connect with the off-street path on the other end as well. It’s not a bad system.
  7. That Arkel Bug is a tough bag. It’s seen a ton of abuse and it looks like new.
  8. Surly needs to put kickstand plates on their LHTs.
  9. The Canon G10 is a sweet little on-bike camera.
  10. The best thing in this photo is the little highlight on the top tube.

Have a super day and a safe commute!

36 Responses to “Thursday Morning Commute Free Association”

  • Brian C says:

    Love your photos (funny, you get much better photos than we do with our G10) – and your comments on biking.

    I am seriously thinking of changing my road bike from a 3 ring to a 2 ring (sadly we have some serious hills here) – the number of times I have to go to the granny gear on that bike are very few (probably because it is not my “freight bike”).

    And someday I would love to convert our recumbent trike over to the new 11 speed shimano internal hub.

  • Grateful says:


    After asking you about the S-A saddle last week, and with the help of others who commented here, I have changed the height of my handlebars, done a couple of 30 mile rides and can report that it is MUCH more comfortable.

    Thanks all. :- )

  • Pete says:

    I think most people have fewer gears than they think, and use even fewer than they have. How many you “need” is a different question!
    I took the high and low ring off my old 21 speed mountain bike because my commute works just fine with the 7 ratios I have on the middle ring. (and I could always add them back on in the future if I needed to.)
    On the bike I just built with a 3×9 drivetrain, I did the math and realized I only have 14 unique gear ratios out of the 27 possible combinations, but if you want a super-low in the low 20’s (gear inches) and a high around 100, you need a 500% range. The trick with any single-ring setup, however, is the range. Now, the Rohloff 500/14 will give you exactly that, but it’s way out of my price range! With conventional 1×9 equipment, the biggest range you can get in the rear is approx 11-34, or just a bit over 300%.
    This will probably work for most people, most of the time, if you use a small enough ring to get a good low gear, and give up pedaling down the big hills….

  • Alan says:


    That’s super! I’m glad to hear it’s working out well for you.


  • Alan says:


    “This will probably work for most people, most of the time, if you use a small enough ring to get a good low gear, and give up pedaling down the big hills….”

    That last part is important. For utility riding, who needs a 53×11?

    I gave up my big ring a couple of years ago. Since I live in a relatively flat area, the granny is next. There’s no real reason I couldn’t just leave the derailleur, shifters, and triple crank in place, but I like the idea of removing the unnecessary parts to make the bike as clean and simple as possible.


  • BB says:

    Sigh! The LHT soooo needs a kickstand plate! I’m still propping because I’m not happy with any of the options I’ve tried. Maybe we need to petition Surly or something. :D

  • Alan says:


    “Maybe we need to petition Surly or something. :D”

    I’ve sent notes, chimed in on message boards, and griped about it ad nauseum here on the blog. I’ve yet to hear a reasonable explanation for why they won’t do it. The frames are made by the same people who make the Riv Sam H. (with its oh-so-lovely kstand plate), so I know it’s doable…


  • Willis says:

    Last night I went out for some “training” to get better prepared for cross season coming up this year and I also want to improve my randonneuring. This included some intervals on one of the steepest hills near my house, straight up from the James River to the top of what is known as Forest Hill park. I decided to run a compact double on my dedicated randonneur bike I am building up now but for the utility bike I have got to keep the granny. I could do the hills with a double (I run an 11-32 in the rear) but with 29 year old knees (I know I shouldn’t be complaining) that spent teenage years being smashed around skateboarding I would rather sit and spin than have a knee explosion. For utility bikes I think a Mountain triple is simply the way to go (you are right, who does need a 53×11 for around town?)…I run mine with friction dia-compe bar ends and consider it impossible to part with if I wish to utilize my bike for all of the purposes I have it for. If I want to ride a double I’ll pull out the bike with that crank on it for that purpose but normally that dosen’t involve work clothes or ferrying supplies around town. I think the single speed thing is fun to ride but that for most people it will end up being like brakes were to fixed gear riders, when they realized that form follows function and that these things have a legitimate purpose they all started running brakes again….unless you live in Kansas or Florida where an overpass is a “hill” having enough gear ratios to move your equipment around is essential to a pleasurable riding experience.

  • Mark Rainey says:

    I agree with the need for a kickstand plate on the Surly LHT. If ever I build another touring bike I am strongly leaning towards the Soma Fabrications Saga. It appears to have everything the LHT has and the kickstand plate.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I like the handlebar and saddle setup. I was sad to read earlier about Tom Milton. Have been considering a S-A for a while, but don’t know whether it as good for women as it is for men; never heard any feedback from female cyclists.

  • don in portland says:

    I just put on a low range double, 46/34, crankset and a wide range 9-speed Shimano cassette, 12-36, on my son’s bike. This gives him a range of 25-102 gear-inches, or just over 400%. This replaced a road triple 50-40-30 and 11-30 cassette and it only lost the two ridiculously high gears that are used but a couple of times a year on steeper downhills. I have had a similar setup(46/33, 13-32) on my sport-touring bike for the last 6 years and it’s handled all the hills where I live (next to foothills of the Cascades in Oregon). With the compact double cranksets and the wide range freewheels and cassettes available now, a triple is really overkill unless you’re hauling loads uphill or going on a self contained tour.

  • Bob Baxter says:

    I just got a Dahon folder with a single chainwheel and an Sram 3X8 rear hub. So far it works fine and hopefully lasts a long time. Being an OF I need the granny to get up the hills.

  • Pete says:

    OK, so here’s a question…
    What’s the tallest gear you really need? Assuming it’s preferable to “spin” rather than “push” gears, and you are going to coast down hills with your load of groceries or whatever anyway, what do you really need? 100 inches? 90? 80?
    Maybe if we can liberate our transportation bikes from the “tyranny of the big gear” we can all have simpler, low-favored drivetrains.
    I’m all for it!

  • David says:

    When I first got back on my bike to commute after a 3 year hiatus, I found that I needed both of the larger chainrings on my 42/32/20 x 11-24 seven cog cassette drivetrain. After about a month of getting my strength back, I realized I wasn’t using my 32 tooth ring anymore and never needed the 20, so I stripped off the front derailler and moved the 42 to the middle position of the triple to minimize chain flex over the range of the cassette. I flipped the 42 ring over to use the unworn side of the teeth, replaced my chain and cassette, and lubed it all up with White Lighting. Now it’s silent running and a joy to behold.

    When I retire this old girl next year, her replacement will have the Shimano 11 speed IGH and belt drive, which will hopefully meet any need I have on the commute or a tour.

  • Ryan says:

    I agree that the G10 is a great camera

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    My wife likes the S-A, though her everyday saddle is a B-67. It’s my understanding that the top woman finisher in the Race Across America rode on an S-A…


  • Bill Russell says:

    My current (last week) experience with S-A is that it’s still a going concern, building and selling the best long-distance saddles. Still plenty of customer service.

  • Alan says:

    @Bill Russell

    Thanks for the information, Bill; I’m glad to hear that!


  • Dusitn S. says:

    I actually placed an order for a Selle Anatomica saddle the very weekend Tom Milton passed away. They closed down shop (understandably) for a couple of weeks immediately following which resulted in a significant delay in the shipping process, but nevertheless I received the saddle and have been a happy customer since. As far as I know they are back to business as usual. In fact, I noticed recently that Cannondale’s higher end touring model comes stock with an SA saddle.

  • Dustin S. says:

    Whoops! That should have read “Dustin S. says:”

  • brad says:

    My utility bike has just one chainring; it’s a seven-speed. I find the lowest gear just fine for getting up even pretty steep hills; the only time I find myself wanting more gears is actually going downhill when I start spinning. But I’ve learned to enjoy coasting.

    I do find that my chain slips off that ring fairly frequently despite the fact that there’s a stay to keep the chain from dropping off. I’ve heard this is pretty common among single-chainring bikes; Paul’s sells a nice stay to keep your chain on and I’ve seen other solutions from other manufacturers.

    And yes, the Arkel Bug is a great bag. I’ve mostly switched to their new “Switchback” (or Papillon as they call the bag in French, which means “butterfly”), though, which doesn’t hold quite as much and doesn’t have as many pockets, but converts so beautifully to a comfortable daypack that I couldn’t resist it. And it holds quite a bit: on my shopping errand today I filled it with six apples, a large bottle of olive oil, a sandwich, a jar of jam, and a loaf of bread, and still had room for more.

  • don in portland says:

    One cheap way to keep the chain on a single chainring is to use an old front derailleur and set the cage with adjustment screw where you want it.

  • David says:

    I second Don in Portland’s solution. No need to spend $50 with Paul when you can buy a cheap derailler for <$10 or get one for free from your stash. I have found that the problem can be ameliorated by removing a link or two to increase chain tension.

  • Luke says:

    I’ve just recently switched the cainrings on my lht for a single ring, and I’m totally digging the set up. I’m using a 42 tooth surly chainring and it’s treating me just fine.

  • Tim D. says:

    I only run 1 x (7,8, or 9) setups on my derailleur equipped bikes. My commuter/light tourer has a 40t ring and an 11-28 7 speed freewheel. I can still bomb down big hills in the top gear, I just have to spin a bit ;). I find just tensioning (aka shortening) the chain to the max is the best way to keep the chain on. When on my biggest cog, my derailleur is pointing to about 4 o’clock, maybe even between 3 and 4. I do this with my Mountain bike 1×9 setup as well. The only time I drop the chain is if I foolishly shift when bouncing around like crazy. Don’t do that, and you should be fine.

  • kanishka says:

    was just in burlington, vt, north road bars and vintage raleighs everywhere. lots of bike envy.

    i like my klickfix freepack backpack, but i wish the mouth was a little bigger.

    7-9 speeds, sounds like an IGH in a year or two after that.

  • Androo says:

    Regarding the saddle-height conversation, it’s interesting how counter-intuitive that can be, sometimes. I used to have trekking bars on my commuter/tourer, and they had the effect of bringing the controls much closer and higher. As it happened, the more upright position meant that my sitbones would really dig into my Brooks B17 with painful results after long days in the saddle (100+ km). I haven’t gone nearly that far since I traded back to flatbars and bar-ends, but the saddle is noticeably more “right” feeling with the bars at or below the level of the handlebars.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Alan says:
    “My wife likes the S-A, though her everyday saddle is a B-67.”

    She has the B67 on the Betty Foy? Interesting, I would have thought it is not upright enough for that saddle. I am building up a custom mixte that is “semi-upright” and trying to determine the appropriate width.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    The bars on her Betty are a good 6-8 centimeters above the saddle, which places her in a fairly upright position. It seems to work very well for her on this bike.


  • Phillip says:

    Hi Alan
    I think the 1 x ? concept has a lot of merit. This past spring I rescued an an old Schwinn World Sport from the local thrift store to set up as a full fendered commuter for rainy days.I stripped off most of the offensive stuff and dug into the parts bin for replacements.I live in the western burbs of Chicago, the terrain is pretty much dead flat(we don’t need hills ,we have the wind). My normal commuter ride is a fixed gear. I decided to set the bike up as a 1×7. I couldn’t be happier with it. Simple, minimalist,and low weight. I figured I’ve been doing very well for years now on one gear, so seven gears is an embarrassment of riches. I’m running a single crank up front, so I was a little worried that with no front deraileur the chain might want to hop off on a regular basis. My fears were unfounded, as it hasn’t happened even once. I’m guessing it probably won’t be an issue for bikes that don’t go off road.

  • j. pierce says:

    @ kanishka –

    I think the ubiquitous number of north road bars and vintage Raleighs in Burlington is due in large part to one my favorite local shops; Old Spokes Home ( who specialize in getting old bikes up and running like new and sell quite a few nice older bikes. If you get a chance to stop by, their attic, besides being full of old bikes of all stripes (from the afore-mentioned older three-speeds to decent hardtail MTBs) has a little “museum” that’s quite neat, with velocipedes and penny-farthings, and old track and racing bikes.

    These were a couple of my favorites:

    hope this doesn’t sound like an ad.

    And while I think they’re responsible for more of the repurposed mountain bikes in town, it also doesn’t hurt to have Bike Recycle Vermont, ( ) an offshoot of our local Bike/Ped organization, helping keep use bikes on the road.

    @Alan –

    I’ve got the VO porteur rack, and I’m thinking of having a local welding company that can work on stainless make some modifications to it (I mounted on the front/upper eyelet; but wish I had mounted on the lower/rear eyelet to bring it further back, hopefully improving stability – but now the mounting tabs are too short!) but I’d love to hear a comparision between the VO rack and the pass/stow – as I’m thinking of purchasing the P/S and moving the VO rack to my girlfriends bike. Have you any experience with the VO rack? I’ve yet to see a comparision; (understandable given the price nice of front racks)

  • randomray says:

    Geez , I have no mountains around here but …. Some of these old road roads have a 24 % grade . Seriously . I have old knees and don’t stand on my pedals , I want all those gears . LOL . Great if you don’t need them . I rode up what the organizers of Bicycle Illinois call ” The Hill of Death ” 24 to 26 % grade and started ticking off in my head simaliar clmbsby me and just stopped counting at 7 …. I’m glad their not all like that .

  • Ted S says:

    Yes, Selle An-Atomica is still very much in business selling saddles and other products. The company was taken over by Deb Banks, Tom’s significant other. Please continue to support these excellent products!

  • Alan says:

    @Ted S

    “Please continue to support these excellent products!”

    Thanks, Ted. We will certainly do that!


  • randomray says:

    What’s the usual life expectancy of these saddles ? It’s not easy justifying what ends up being a $ 200.00 saddle to my wife in this economy . You can buy college books for my sons with that . Most of us here know the value of a good bike , but the other95% of people hear more $ 500 for a bike and they choke . Many urban commuters who would do well on a high quality bike like the ones you ride really can’t afford one let alone a car . Myself I have always been fortunate enough to afford a good bike even if I had to save money up for a year .

  • Alan says:


    “What’s the usual life expectancy of these saddles ?”

    I’ve been riding one for a few years and it’s still going strong. Early on they had some trouble with premature stretching, but I don’t think that’s an issue anymore. They’re expensive (though no more than many racing saddles), but with the amount of riding I do, the added comfort is worth the investment.


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