Path Racer: Sturmey-Archer Two-Speed September 08 2017
I may be the only one to admit this but winter commuting has become my favourite type of riding. Since I no longer have the time and opportunity for extended summer tours, riding to and from work has become my solace.
The last few years has seen the demise of my 1994 Deore LX equipped mountain bike which has long been my commuter and favourite bike to ride. Despite regular maintenance, the salt and snow has really taken its toll. I wanted its replacement to be a fun, snazzy, reliable, simple, economical bicycle for all year riding about town. This list of adjectives defines a bicycle known as a “path racer”. A quick Pinterest or internet search will give you the back story to this style of bicycle and all the eye candy your two-wheeled desires can handle. This is the story of my path racer.
In the beginning I was trying to decide if I wanted a really good frame as the foundation for this bicycle or something everyday, inexpensive and reclaimed. Since it will be ridden all winter I didn’t want to ruin a good steel frame and the later was consistent with the mission of FreeLander Bicycles. So I chose a department store mountain bike frame from the 80s. Although original path racers would not have cantilever bosses/brakes, I felt this was the best brake option for my style of riding and the look I was aiming for. I needed the eyelets for fenders and a rack, proper hub spacing for the rear hub, and not much else beyond that.
The frame was stripped to bare metal. A rust neutralizing compound was used to neutralize any unseen rust. Two coats of metal etch primer followed by two coats of filler primer were applied. Then several coats of Ivy Bronze Green and clear coat finished the job. It came out great! I refer to this green as “Raleigh” green since it was originally mixed to restore and repair vintage Canadian Raleighs of this colour. It is similar to “British Racing Green”. The other option was matte black, which I plan on using for my next build. Both classic colours.
I have always been partial to cantilever brakes. They are simple, rugged and provide ample braking power. Road grime, ice and snow don’t usually affect their performance much. These are low end Chang Star alloy cantis modelled after the common DiaCompe 980 brake of the 1980s. Although the quality is not there, they function well. In fact, for a year-round commuter, they may the perfect blend of simplicity, economy and performance.
The steering is a large part of what makes a bike a path racer. The “flipped” North Roads are sporty, offer a semi-aggressive riding position and are luxurious to hold; not a description typically associated with a generic steel chromed bar. It is not the brand or materials that make them great but the riding position afforded. It places my arms perfectly shoulder-with apart with a slight bend in the elbow, wrists in line with forearms and very little weight on my hands: perfect! It all adds up to comfort, control and the ability to aggressively ride out of the saddle which = FUN!
The exact height and reach is determined by the stem. This is an alloy bar clamp with a steel 1” post, nothing fancy. It has a 10 cm (4”) reach and a large positive rake. It just works. Its like finding the right belt for your trousers.
I used a vintage steel chrome headset. Largely for looks. I suspect it will show some corrosion over the winter. I didn’t want to invest in a lot of new parts, not knowing how this build would turn out. I will likely swap it out in the spring for a quality alloy one.
The steering (coupled with the gearing) is what I love most about this bike. I’ve never ridden out of the saddle more. Every corner reveals another opportunity for short sprint ending with a leaned-in turn around that corner and another sprint.
Wheels & Tires
Since I was using a new, moderately priced hub I wanted to use a decent rim and spokes. I had two factory built Alex DM18 double walled 26” (559) wheels in inventory from a previous buy-out. I used the front as is (laced to a formula alloy hub). I de-spoked the rear wheel and laced it to the hub with 254mm Sapim Leader Spokes. It was an easy build for a relatively new wheel builder. It tensioned up nice and even. Both wheels are staying true even under the many quick accelerations, short climbs and sprints it has seen in a relatively short period.
Path Racers need cream tires like James Bond needs a tux; it wouldn’t look right any other way. These are Rubena City Hoppers. They are plush and have good traction which is all I need and wanted for these tires. They have a cool reflective stripe adding an element of safety.
The two-speed Sturmey-Archer SC2 was the focus of this build from the very beginning. After a winter of poor shifting on my trusty 21 Speed Deore LX equipped mountain bike, I wanted something simpler. The idea of only two gears, one for the hills and one for the flats, was very appealing. No shifter, no derailleur, no cassette and no lateral chain movement. The crank is a Sugino Maxy double with the big ring removed and the 40T ring in the outer position. A 22T rear cog gives me 47 gear inches in low and 65 in high (an increase of x1.38). This is perfect for the short hills and descents and flats I find on my commute. A new cartridge bottom bracket was installed giving a perfect front to rear chain-line. This is one item I would strongly recommend for winter riding. Most cup and cone bottom brackets just don’t have the weather resistance of a sealed cartridge. Although the front ring is 3/32” the chain is 1/8” as is the rear cog. The TAYA brand chain runs very smooth.
Shifting is achieved by back pedalling about ten degrees and then forward peddling in the new gear. It takes a little getting used to. If you “miss” the shift by back-pedalling too little or too much, a quick second attempt usually finds the sweet spot. When freewheeling, the hub is either silent or sending out a ratcheting purr. The volume is quite loud relative to other freewheels but distinct and easy to get used too. I wasn’t sure how I would like this set-up during the build process.
The pedals are alloy bear-trap I’ve had since high-school. They are really the only pedals for winter riding. Perfect in all kinds of weather and with all kinds of footwear, including boots.
Now that I have several rides in, I am now thinking about making two- and three-speed path racers the focus of FreeLander Bicycles bicycle offerings. I like it that much.
Saddle & Accessories
The saddle is from my old bike and the seat post alloy. Eventually this perch will be swapped out for a Brooks. Leather Freelander Bicycles grips add a distinguished look and degree of comfort and connection with the bars and bike.
As the bicycle took shape I also began to see it as a “company vehicle”. One that will eventually have a frame sign installed. So I absolutely wanted it to look good too. I had a set of chrome fenders salvaged from a vintage 26 x 1 3/8” wheeled bike. They were a tight fit requiring some flaring of the fender edges, shortening of the front stays and drilling to attach to the front fender fork eyelets. The minimal clearance gives the bicycle a real sporty look.
As winter approaches I’ll need to install a set of lights. I have a couple of options in stock, but none that match the vintage look. Ideally a chrome, dynamo powered headlight would fit the bill. Also the chrome fenders with be replaced with plastic and the creme tires will be replaced with more aggressive treads around mid December.
If you have ever admired those dashing path racers on Pinterest and wondered if they ride as good as they look, the answer is yes. What I love most is how easy it is to rise and ride out of the saddle. The ride quality of this bicycle is reminiscent of barreling over hill and dale on a single speed coaster brake bike as a kid. Now that was fun!
As always, If you have thoughts, questions or suggestions please leave a comment.
Ahhhhh...Winter! January 08 2017
I have discovered that winter riding is really what I love the most. I shouldn’t be surprised since I consider myself a winter person anyway. Most of my childhood leisure time was spent outside with my father during the winter months, while his commercial fishing boat sat idle frozen in ice at the wharf. That and the fact that I find the heat of summer uncomfortable at least. Besides, extended summer touring rides, I prefer the crisp, fresh air and white landscapes for everyday rides.
Of course winter riding comes with its own demands on equipment, preparation and perceptions. I have written about some of my favourite winter riding apparel here and the public perception of the winter riding here. But at the centre of any riding, winter or otherwise, is the bicycle used for the task. Historically winter riding bicycles were beaters; old mountain bikes that no one cared about. This made sense; in many climates road salt and grim will make quick work of any bicycle irrespective of the cost or quality. Lately, fat-tire bicycles have made their way onto the scene as the premier choice for winter riding. These mammoth wheeled velocipedes seem ideally suited for this environment, although I have never ridden one. Their cost however can be a deterrent.
I have always been more of a generalist than a specialist when it comes to my bike choices. My go-to bicycle for the last 20 plus years was a rigid forked, hard tail, Deore LX equipped mountain bike purchased at a “sports store”, not a bicycle shop. It has served me very well. I used it to tour Newfoundland in 1993, do some light mountain biking, teach my kids how to ride and commute to work. The LX components were smooth and reliable and the smaller mountain bike geometry was comfortable. I rode it everywhere.
Sadly however the 21 speed drive train has been giving me increasing difficultly, despite regular maintenance and replacement, and the frame corrosion is causing me some concerns. I think it is time to retire “Blacky”, the name my daughter christened this bicycle. But Blacky has taught me many lessens about winter riding. I know that my next winter bike will have a single ring crank and I’m leaning towards a two-speed kick back Sturmey-Archer internally geared rear hub. Front and rear cantilever or v-brakes, although I am partial to cantis. A used alloy frame with horizontal drop-outs is a must, if I can find one. The bars will have bar extensions for leverage when I need to muscle my way through deep snow. As for tires, I plan to use my current tires. They are not studded but have great traction, making me question the need for studded tires for the majority of riding conditions.
I’ll keep you posted as to the progress I make with this project. Hopefully I’ll be back on the road before winter is over. I may be the only bicyclist to lament winters end…
#mykithasnospandex March 03 2016
I have been meaning to write this blog for a while and today was the perfect day to do it. We have been having some great riding weather in Northeastern Nova Scotia over the past month. No snow, perfectly dry and clear roads; heaven really. But today was a little different. It rained hard and blew strong. Nonetheless, it was another great ride home from work. I credit the experience to the cycling “kit” I have put together over the past several …decades. For me it is the perfect assemblage of winter (spring and fall) cycling apparel I could ask for. It keeps me warm and dry, without any restrictions in movement. It is light, portable and simply perfect. I’ll start with a jacket I purchased at Winners (yes Winners,) about three years ago. I am a thrifty, practical shopper always looking for something great for less. I happened upon this jacket one evening and couldn’t believe my find. It is a Mountain Hardwear and it has been absolutely ideal. It is a little big for me, but that means extra comfort and capacity while riding. With taped seams, large utilitarian pockets, drawstring hood, underarm zippers and superior water proofing, I couldn’t ask for more. The best part: I found it for $100 CDN (Reg. $350). If you are in the market for a new jacket, I can, without reservation, recommend this brand.
I belong to the group of men who washes their hair with a face cloth. So keeping the heat in during cold winter rides is paramount. Up until several year ago I wore a very stretchy, thin, kids, purple polyester hat of a thing under my helmet. It was thin enough and just warm enough to pass as a winter cycling cap. Then I discovered Red Dots Cycling Caps. I ordered a Presta 100% wool winter cycling cap. I LOVE this hat, I mean cap! It is stylish, warm, easy to care for and has the best retractable ear protection. At $52 (USD) I now consider it a bargain. I would recommend contacting Red Dots directly when ordering to discuss size. It was suggested I order a S/M despite measuring as a M/L. The S/M is the right size. I since ordered a summer cap in M/L based on my original order form (before speaking to the sales person) and it is too big.
My kit was lacking leg protection since forever. I absolutely hate (strong word, I know) wearing rain pants. So when I found RainLegs it was like the heavens had granted me a wish. These light weight nylon “chaps” are super easy to put on and take off. They don’t restrict movement in any direction and cover just the front/tops of your legs, where the rain and snow lands. You can’t over heat or sweat in them. Although the material is waterproof, on occasion I get a little wet depending on the angle of the precipitation or the speed at which I put them on (sometimes leaving a spot not covered). For riding pleasure I would give them a 8.5/10 in their current design. By comparison I would rate rain pants as a 0/10 for riding pleasure (…hate them).
|Mountain Hardwear||Red Dots Cycling Cap: Presta||Rainlegs|
Combining RainLegs with gaitors was my next great discovery. Gaitors tuck up nicely underneath the knee flap on my RainLegs and give unparalleled articulation at the knees. I use a pair of MEC gaitors like these that I purchased for hiking some time ago. I really like the construction and quality of materials. The rubber boot strap and stainless buckle are well thought out construction details for this climate. Deep puddles, slush, curb dirt and the great salt lakes of Westville cannot breach these fortresses.
For pants I wear jeans. I ride in what I work in.
Then there is my most favourite foot wear (even if you’re not supposed to have favourites. Oh, that’s your children): Blundstones! I have been wearing these boots year round for two decades now and will likely never buy another brand of boot. I wear them everywhere, for everything. They never let me down. On the bicycle my foot feels safe, protected from injury and the elements. My feet never get cold, hot or uncomfortable. They are true to size always. Once you choose a size you don’t ever need to try them on again. Buying boots now takes me about 60 seconds. “Can I have a 560 or a 500 series in ten and a half please; …Debit;… no bag, thank you;…see you next time”. Done. Some also come with a built in temperature gauge. Whenever the temperature falls below-12C, my soles will click on the floor for the first five minutes after entering a building. Cool, eh!
Finally, my gloves. I don’t remember where, when or why I bought these gloves. But I can’t imagine being without them. Discovering I no longer have them with me when out and about puts me into an immediate state of panic about where I might have left them. Everything stops and rewinds until I recover them. I am not sure if Activa is the brand or model but that is all I have to go on. They have been with me for a while and continue to impress me. No less than seven materials are listed on the tag with synthetic leather coming in at 55%. Made in China, these gloves have kept my hands warm on all but the coldest of day and even when wet! The fit is perfect and the feel is uncompromised. Sadly they are near the end of their life. But I think I have found the Holy Grail of Cycling Gloves through another blog.
Oh and Finally (the sequel) is my wool sweater. Everything about wool is amazing. It is warm, flexible, wears well and doesn’t trap odours. I found this one at Frenchy’s (second hand clothing chain). It cost about $7 CDN. and came with a few holes (included in the price). I never leave home without it. I have grown a little, it has shrunk a little, but we are unstoppable together. Go find yerself a wool sweater!
|Gaiters and Blundstones||"Activa"? Gloves||My Cosy wool sweater - Kiah!|
So after many years of cycling and sparing you from many unwritten reviews of less than great apparel, I give you the all-stars. I wish you to know that I make no claims about these being the right items for you. I am sure they would rank highly in any objective evaluation nonetheless. The point I am trying to make is that they are perfect for me. So the message to you is to keep your eyes, ears and wallets open for the gear that is perfect for you.
Oh and #mykithasnospandex
Take care, Daryl
Other Options? January 24 2015
I am one of two riders I know of who lives in Pictou County that commutes to their daily commitments. I am sure there is probably one or two more but we haven’t met yet. This is probably consistent with other small towns in Nova Scotia and increasing bicycle ridership is something both individuals and municipalities would benefit from greatly. A search for the “benefits of bicycle riding/commuting” will keep you reading for days!
Now there are many reasons why someone may choose not to ride their bike to work, but the most common reason I read about and hear is rider safety. Fair enough. However, most of the studies seem to come from urban centres where traffic congestion, limited routes or the shear pace of life are significant factors in our perception, and the reality, of being safe.
Safety is always a concern in everything we do but in small town Nova Scotia, the threats to rider safety may be different. I seldom encounter any amount of traffic on my ride into work even at the busiest times and on the busiest streets. My route is divided between residential streets and main avenues (that connect adjacent towns) of which I have several routes to choose from. And in my communities no one seems to be in a rush, likely because they generally do not have far to travel. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that along the route I travel, drivers are very courteous. So many urban concerns don’t seem as applicable in small town.
To get more people riding their bicycles, most advocacy groups lobby for the creation of bicycle infrastructure that separates bicycles from car lanes, with European cities being the ones to follow when it comes to designing more safe places and ways for riders to get around. That would be nice but isn’t realistic here for one main reason: cost. Small towns have little money to redesign or create bicycle transportation routes.
Even though bicycles share the same rights and responsibilities as cars, the reality is the bigger vehicle often intimidates the smaller. Regardless of how safe or unsafe riding with traffic is, it is one’s perception of being safe that is the deciding factor as to whether someone rides their bicycle over extended distances for a purpose. Now I may be way off in suggesting this option, but there might be a partial solution in: Sidewalks! We all know that riding your bicycle on the sidewalk is not permitted; that they are designed for pedestrian traffic. However, the reality is that they are often under-utilized “big-time”. Most sidewalks (with the exception of “main street” business districts) see very few if any pedestrians throughout the day. It likely differs from town to town, but here in Pictou County it is surely the case. And in Pictou County there are sidewalks that connect the municipalities along many of the main routes through non-residential areas where there is no foot traffic anyway.
The goal is of course, is to get more people riding their bicycles with a purpose, such as commuting to work, running errands, etc., rather than just on occasion for recreation. Having access to the safety of sidewalks, removed from direct contact with traffic, may be an answer to the question “how can we get more people riding their bicycles?”
So to begin the conversation, here is a few points to consider:
- Pedestrians would still retain the right of way
- Bicyclists would be required to use a bell to notify pedestrians when approaching
- Bylaws may have to be amended
- Signage and education would be paramount to success
- Only specific sidewalks may be designated as “shared”.
- The more a person rides, the more likely they will become comfortable with riding in traffic
The biggest concern I see with using sidewalks, even only if it is along certain corridors, is forfeiting the gains made in being accepted by motorists as riding in our rightful place along side them on roadways. I am sure however that with the right approach, this too can be avoided.
So what do you think? Could it work? Would you ride your bike more and further if you could legally use sidewalks for a part of your journey? Let me know!