The recent cold snap in most of North America hasn’t kept Mike off the road. He sent me this picture taken before his 19-miles-each-way commute through Madison, Wisconsin. It was -10F (-23.3C) with a stiff wind. Now I have a good answer for people who ask whether Stokemonkey’s good in cold weather:
The fact that people like Mike use Stokemonkey fills me with huge pride — the humble, not complacent kind. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Stokemonkey being compared to other kinds of powered bikes or even scooters, with the frequent implication that motors are only for people who don’t like to bike or aren’t fit to, just as Segways are for people who don’t or can’t walk (or bike, or breathe hard). The fact is that Stokemonkey lets bikers bike more, when most of the “pure” bikers get in cars, or on the bus, or just stay home. My hat’s off to the very few people who ride unassisted regardless of distance, load, or conditions, especially to the vanishingly small number who have families, regular employment, can’t quite remember being 30, and ride by choice. I know you’re out there, all five of you. One of you whittles your own bike parts.
Mike reported some figures in comments elsewhere that are worth rolling into this post:
I spontaneously decided to try time trialing (TT) into work today. I had a drÃ¢â?¬â?¢s appt that went long, and I needed to get into work quickly. I thought I should use the car as I only had 1hr and 15mins to get in. I decided to take the bike. Starting out I felt quite strong, so I put the hammer down, hoping to hold the TT pace for at least 1/2 the ride.
Checking my speedo 10 miles in to the 19 mile ride revealed a 23.3 mph average pace. 23.3 is a blistering average for in-town riding. I was starting to sag before I looked at my speedo, but the high average buoyed my spirit.
The second half of the ride is more uphill than the first,so I expected a bit of a drop-off in speed. I hammered on a few of the hills, and took it easy on a couple. Again Stokemonkey kept the average speed up until I could catch my breath.
Turning the corner into the cooldown stretch, the speedo read 23mph average. Total time to work: 49 minutes. It takes 32 minutes to get here by car travelling at 70mph, and burning 1 gallon of gas. Time difference: 17 minutes. Non-renewable energy consumption difference: ~2 orders of magnitude. Joy factor: Priceless.
One last thing I’d like to point out, though it’s been mentioned in comments: Mike’s bike was designed for 700C wheels, but he’s running 559s (aka 26Ã¢â?¬Â³ or MTB standard). He was able to substitute smaller wheels because he’s got disc brakes. I suggested he try this, and I’m delighted that he did, and that he finds the ride much improved. Why?
When you convert a bike to an Xtracycle, some good and bad things happen: the good things are obvious (cargo!) while many of the bad are more subtle (and controversial–this is an expression of opinion. Substantive disagreements are for the comments, OK?). They include:
- More weight is borne on the front wheel than usual, resulting in a heavier steering feel and an increased tendency for the wheel to “flop” into turns and at walking speeds, like a chopper. People who like this sensation call it “stable,” which is one of those terms like “responsive” that’s a bit too subjective to be useful.
- The bottom bracket (crank axis) is high on mountain bikes for obstacle clearance. but on a (street) cargo bike, you want a low bottom bracket so it’s easy to put a foot down to stabilize the bike while stopped, without having to lean the laden bike over too far.
- A heavily laden bike moving at speed over, say, potholes really can use some suspension, but there’s no way to use mechanical suspension on the rear of an Xtracycle-equipped bike.
There is one way to address all of these things with a single measure: use smaller wheels than the frame is designed for. Using a frame/fork designed for 700C or so-called “29Ã¢â?¬Â³” MTB wheels with disc brakes, and substituting 26Ã¢â?¬Â³ wheels changes the steering geometry to make it feel quicker, lighter, more neutral (item 1). They also lower the whole bike, making it easier to stabilize, mount and dismount (2). And they let you run extra super fat cushy tires like the 2.35Ã¢â?¬Â³ Schwalbe Big Apples that might not clear the frame with the original larger rims. All that extra air smoothes out the bumps without fussy expensive heavy mechanical suspension (3). To boot, smaller wheels are stronger than larger with the same build quality, and the fat tires spare the wheels further stress.
There’s a movement afoot to convert older road bikes to somewhat smaller 650B wheels with fatter tires. It works only because certain rim brakes have enough adjustability to accommodate the smaller rims. This is the same idea, just carried further thanks to disc brakes.