Bicycle Commuter Profile: Jake Dean

Bicycle Commuter Profile

Name: Jake Dean
Location: Misawa, Japan
Started bike commuting: 2010
Commute distance (one way): 4 mi.

Describe your commute: I live and work on base, so its a fairly quick ride (15-20 min) ride on either the road or the multi-use path that parallels it. Being a military base, the path is almost always being used by people running for morning PT, so I generally stick to the roads.

Describe your bike and accessories: My commuter is a 2009 Marin Hamilton 29er, WTB saddle, Planet Bike headlamp and tail light. I recently added the rear rack and fashioned panniers out of a couple of attache bags so I didn’t have to carry everything in a backpack. This bike is the complete opposite of the shiny Soma Stanyan/Velo Orange bike I’ve just built, but it’s 90% utility and 10% looks.

What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?: If you can, change up your route to avoid getting bored with your commute. Unfortunately, I don’t have this option and I wish that I did, Other than that, park your bike where you can see it throughout the workday – it serves as a reminder that there are more fun things to look forward to.

[Visit our Bicycle Commuter Profiles page to add your profile to the collection. —ed.]

Monday Morning Commute

Tuesday Morning Commute

Gates / NAHBS Design Contest

Gates Contest

Gates Carbon Drive has entered a three-year sponsorship deal with the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. As part of the partnership, Gates is hosting a design contest at NAHBS 2012 in Sacramento, CA. From Gates:

The Innovative Belt Drive Bike Design Contest will award $8,750 in cash and prizes to qualified independent frame builders who create the most innovative bicycles with Gates Carbon Drive for display at the Sacramento show. The NAHBS website features a link to the contest rules and entry information.

Contest entries will be judged on their sliding dropouts, belt tensioning systems, frame splits and other design factors. First prize is $5,000 in cash and prizes ($2,500 cash, 10 Carbon Drives valued at $2,500). Second prize is 10 Carbon Drives worth $2,500. Third prize is five Carbon Drives worth $1,250. Winning bikes will be displayed on the main awards stage on Saturday, March 3, and shown in the Gates booth on March 4.

Official Rules

L.A. County Bike Plan

LA County Bike Plan

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Master Plan is now available for download.

L.A. County Bicycle Master Plan

Thoughts on Drivetrains

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time riding at least six different drivetrains over the past year including a reversible single speed/fixed gear hub; a 1×9 with a track crank and 9-speed cassette; a touring triple with an 8-speed cassette; a chain-driven SRAM i-Motion 9 internal gear hub; a chain-driven Shimano Alfine 8 internal gear hub; and, a belt-driven Shimano Alfine 11 internal gear hub.* The following is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of the myriad drivetrains on the market; these are just my thoughts and impressions regarding these particular set-ups.

Track Crank

Single Speed / Fixed Gear Drivetrain
I think the main attraction of single speed and fixed gear drivetrains is that they’re simple and bullet-proof. There’s an appeal to stripping a bike down to its bare essentials, eliminating the need for shifting and fussing with derailleur trim, etc. Eliminating a geared drivetrain is a weight savings as well. The obvious downside to single speed drivetrains is that you’re stuck with only one gain ratio, which may not work for people who live in hilly areas or for those who have physical limitations such as bad knees (which includes many of us over 40 who played sports or rode bikes their entire lives).

1×9 Derailleur Drivetrain
A 1×9 derailleur drivetrain uses a single, track-style crank up front and 9-speed cassette in the rear. I really enjoyed the 1×9 on my old Surly. It was clean and simple, and the linear shifting was similar to the internal gear hubs on my other bikes. Certainly, if a person needs a wider range of gears, a double or triple makes more sense, but for city riding in relatively flat areas, the 1×9 is a good compromise that offers at least some of the advantages of single speed and IGH drivetrains.

Shimano 8-speed Cassette
Touring Triple

Touring Triple Drivetrain
For versatility it’s hard to beat a touring triple drivetrain. A triple provides the widest range of gears while still remaining relatively lightweight and simple to set-up and repair. With three chainrings up front and 7-10 sprockets in the rear, there is great potential for customization within the range of the system. Disadvantages include the need for relatively high maintenance (due to exposure to the elements); a steep learning curve for beginners due to the complexity of overlapping ratios and multiple shifters, etc.; susceptibility to damage in public bike racks; and incompatibility with most chain guards.

Alfine 8
Alfine 8

Shimano Alfine 8-speed IGH
It’s no secret that I very much like the Alfine internal gear hubs. A number of commuting bikes that I tested over the past two years were spec’d with the Alfine 8 including the Breezer Finesse, the Raleigh Alley Way, and a pair of Civias. At this point the Alfine IGH is a mature product with low failure rates and superb performance when used for its intended purpose (commuting). When combined with the Rapid-Fire shifter, shifts are clean, quick, and accurate. One major advantage of this and other high-quality internal gear hubs is that they can be shifted while stopped, coasting, or under power. Disadvantages include a limited gear range when compared to a touring triple; the need for either horizontal dropouts, an eccentric bottom bracket, or a chain tensioner to tension the chain; and added weight when compared to single speed or derailleur drivetrains.

SRAM i-Motion 9-speed IGH
The i-Motion 9 is an internal gear hub from SRAM that competes directly with the Shimano Alfine 8. I’ve enjoyed using this hub on my Civia Loring. Besides the obvious advantage of having one extra gear, the i-Motion also covers a wider range and has more evenly spaced ratios than the Alfine 8. The smaller, more even steps between gears are a real advantage over the Alfine’s somewhat inconsistent spacing. The i-Motion is also easier to remove and re-install in the event of a roadside flat. Disadvantages include shifting performance that is not quite as smooth as the Alfine’s, and a limited selection of shifters, all of which are twist-type.

Alfine 11
Alfine 11 / Gates CenterTrack Belt

Belt-driven Shimano Alfine 11-speed IGH
The only difference between a belt-driven and chain-driven Alfine IGH is the sprocket; the internal parts and shifting performance are identical. The new Alfine 11 IGH is a major step up from the 8-speed in performance (and unfortunately, cost); it’s smoother, quieter, and the gear ratios are more evenly spaced over a wider range. The 11-speed runs in an oil bath which makes it easier to service and should result in longer life and fewer failures when compared to the grease-lubed 8-speed. When combined with Gates’ new CenterTrack belt drive, the result is buttery smooth and nearly silent, almost like riding a well-oiled single speed drivetrain. If you’re already on-board with internal gear hubs, this is the next step that really completes the package. Disadvantages include those mentioned above, as well as the need for a frame specifically designed to allow installation of a one-piece drive belt.

*I’m currently evaluating a NuVinci N360 CVP; I’ll provide a detailed report on that hub at a later date.

Starting Slow

Bike Trail

When approaching others about taking up bike commuting and utility riding, it’s important to remember that hopping on a bicycle and sharing the road with motorists can be quite intimidating to those who haven’t previously ridden bicycles as an adult. Those who are already riding bikes for sport or recreation may find it easy to make the transition to riding for transportation, but those with less experience need time and positive experiences to build their confidence as riders.

When talking with potential newcomers, suggesting an occasional short trip to a local grocery store or coffee shop might be better than suggesting they immediately jump into a full-fledged commute. In the case of my wife, she took short rides on backstreets and trails long before venturing out onto main arterials. Over time, she extended the length of her rides, and as those rides became longer, she also moved onto larger, busier streets. This slow building process enabled her to improve her skills and build her confidence at a rate that matched the conditions in which she was riding.

A number of studies have shown that the number one reason more people don’t ride bicycles is the fear of sharing the road with cars. The U.S. is sorely lacking in subjectively safe infrastructure in the form of separated bike lanes and trails, and unfortunately this is not likely to change in the near future. In the meantime, it’s important to remember how intimidating our roads can sometimes be. We should encourage newcomers by suggesting that it’s OK to start slow and small before eventually stepping up to the larger challenges when they’re ready.

Bicycle Commuter Profile: Nate

Bicycle Commuter Profile

Name: Nate
Location: Gainesville, FL, USA
Started bike commuting: 7 year ago
Commute distance (one way): 5 miles

Describe your commute: My commute includes bike trails, bike lanes, as well as residential streets. Currently, I am taking a one mile detour on a forest path to avoid road construction that has obstructed the bike lanes on my normal route. I am fortunate to be able to park my bike indoors both at home and at work.

Describe your bike and accessories: I ride a Stevens City Flyer. I purchased the bike in Germany in 2006 while living in Europe. I had intended to buy a very different sort of bike, but when I saw the City Flyer on the wall in the bike shop I was intrigued because of the 8-gear Shimano Nexus hub. I had not previously heard of internally geared hubs with more than three gears. I took the bike for a test ride and was sold. I have since added fenders and a rack and carry my computer and papers in an Ortlieb Office Bag.

What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?: Bicycle commuting is a great way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors while getting to and from work. Like all vehicles, bicycles require maintenance. A well-maintained bike will make your commute more enjoyable. I just got my bike back from the shop yesterday after a complete overhaul and now it glides silently down the road with much less effort. I spend a fair bit of money keeping my bike maintained. However, I don’t mind because I don’t have to pay for fuel or for parking at work.

[Visit our Bicycle Commuter Profiles page to add your profile to the collection. —ed.]

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