Here's my story about how I just got started commuting to work. If it's long-winded and boring, I apologize in advance. It should be noted that I really know very little about bikes. I don't know the technical lingo, read the magazines, wear "bike gear." In short, I'm not very serious about it, but I like to bike nonetheless.
I started a bit of bike riding a little over a year ago via inheriting an old 17" Specialized Crossroads hybrid. Fixed it up and started riding it around town (Pacifica, CA) only to find that it was way too small for me. In addition, because I was only riding for fun and excercise I was finding myself taking trails more and more.
So I did some research and decided to buy a 2005 Giant Rainier mountain bike last summer. Here I am with it after a muddy ride this winter:
It's a really nice bike for what I need. Nice front shocks, hardtail, sturdy and light. It lets me do what I want to do which is moderate mountain biking -- nothing very serious. I think it ran me around $850 or so at the time. I recommend it, but I think Giant has drastically changed the design of it for 2006 and you'd hardly recognize that it was the same model.
The Rainier was really fun to ride around town too. I loved the geometry of it -- it was very comfortable and I found myself riding it for errands and stuff as an after-work commute-about-town bike. My tires wore down and I was sick of slipping on hills, so I got some really knobby tires and soon found out what people were talking about with regards to rolling resistance! While I could take any hill without spinning out, it was getting a bit tough to push that sucker around on the pavement.
I toyed with the idea of just swapping out for slicks when I needed to, but in the end I thought it would be more practical to buy a dedicated street commuter. I commenced with the online research to see what kind of bikes were out there. I knew I wanted a hybrid and after owning the Giant Rainier, I was a fan of disc brakes. $1000 was about the max I wanted to spend.
This narrowed my options considerably and I was looking at:
* Marin Point Reyes
* Novara Big Buzz
* Kona Dr. Dew
I heard excellent things about the Marin and was willing to accept the 26" wheels on it, but I couldn't find a dealer around the SF Bay Area that carried it! Odd, because Marin County is just north of SF. Some shops claimed it wasn't even being made anymore even though it's listed on Marin's website as part of the 2006 line. I should mention that I wasn't going to buy a bike sight unseen. I wanted to try it out for fit, etc.
The Novara Big Buzz was carried at the local REI. It had the 700c wheels and disc brakes, but unfortunately it only had two chain rings which was the deal breaker for me. I need a granny gear for the very steep hills by my apartment. I wasn't going to buy a bike only to have to walk it every time I took it out.
The Kona Dr. Dew was the last bike I looked at and brother, was it ever hard to locate one to try out. Using Kona's website, I did a search on all Kona dealers within 100 miles of my apartment. Only two shops had them in stock -- one each. The one had a 62cm frame -- much to big for me. The other, up in San Anselmo -- a 45 minute drive -- had one in my size, but it was the 2005 model. The 2005 model basically had the same frame, but the components had been upgraded a bit and some tweaks made to the gearing for 2006. But I thought, c'mon, it's gonna be a nice bike regardless and I shouldn't be so anal about this stuff -- being a newbie I wouldn't have a clue anyways. Besides, the guy I talked to said he'd knock $175 off the price due to it being a 2005.
I drove up on a Saturday two weeks ago and check out the bike and rode it for a bit. At first I thought the frame was too small for me. I was used to my Giant which is kind of a large bike for me at 19" although it doesn't feel unsafe due to the slant of the crossbar. I think the "small" feeling I got from the Dr. Dew was because of it's nimbleness, lightness and responsiveness as compared to the beefier Giant with it's wide-set handlebars. Let's not forget that I wasn't used to the slimmer tires as well on the Dr. Dew.
There was nothing about it that was a particular deal-breaker, so I bought it. While I was looking at it in the shop I noticed that although it was supposed to be a 2005 model, it looked like it had all the 2006 components on it. I specifically asked the guy who eventually sold me the bike, "This is a 2005 model, right?" He again said yes. I thought they must have rec'd a late 2005 model or something. Whatever.
I bought the bike and had the shop put on two water bottle cages and I swapped the clipless pedals for ones with toe clips. I was going to be going places where I needed to wear my normal shoes. I bought a few tubes, a nice floor pump and some other gear from the shop too. After riding it a couple of trips, I didn't care for the stock seat, so I bought a cheapie Planet Biker gel model that I had on my mountain bike that was very comfortable.
When I got the Dr. Dew home I still wasn't sure what model year I had bought so I looked it up and very carefully examined the frames from the 2005 and 2006 years. I had been sold a 2006 model.
I should mention in the way of a quick review that I really enjoy the ride of the Dr. Dew. I was really worried about the harshness of the ride due to the rigid forks thinking I was going to shake the teeth out of my head and feel every crack on the pavement. I was spoiled by big, fat, knobby tires and front shocks. Pleasantly, this was not the case! The Dr. Dew rides very smoothly and off course it rolls very easily with it's 700x35 tires. Not a road racer to be sure, but a far cry from my 26x2.25 monsters.
Because I intend to do as much of my in-town commuting as possible with the Dr. Dew, I put a Topeak rack on the back (the disc version) and it went on with no probs. I also bought the Topeak rack bag that is designed to slide into their rack and click in easily. It works as advertised. It's a nice system. I think they call it their "MTX" line.
I have a front rack on order with Old Man Mountain because it's tough finding something that will work with disc brakes and a fork with no brake mounts on it. That should be arriving in a week or so. For lighting, I bought two cheapie Cat Eye led white lights for the front and a standard blinkie red rear. I'm not planning on doing too much riding at night and I can see fine so the headlights are to stay street legal and make sure people can see me. I have another rear blinkie on order.
Here are some pictures of my bike that I just took tonight:
As I alluded to, for a number of months I had commuted around town after work fairly regularly, putting in around 12-18 miles each time. On weekend "fun" rides I'd do more. When I got my new Dr. Dew I started riding around town as much as I could -- almost every day -- and I decided I'd try commuting to work one day to see how that went. I have to say I was inspired by these very forums, so thank you all for that!
A word about my work commute. It's a bit lengthy at 24.75 miles one way with a killer hill to start things off. There are two signs on the hill that indicate that it's a 17% and 19% grade in spots. It's not fun, that's for sure. But thankfully it's relatively short in length. Anyhow, I did a trial run of the route last Saturday to make sure I knew the route and see how long it would take.
Here is the route, should you be so inclined:
It took me 1:50 getting there, which works out to something like 13.5 mph by my unscientific wristwatch calculations. Coming home against a headwind took 2:02, putting me at 11.88 mph. That was kind of discouraging, because I thought I'd make faster time, but there were quite a number of deceptively long, gradual inclines throughout the route.
Today was my first attempt at biking to work for real. I ate a big breakfast of egg whites, toast and oatmeal and mixed my water bottles with 1/3 gatorade and 2/3 water. I packed two tubes, a patch kit, a few tools, a pump and some additional clothes to take with me. Oh, and a cell phone in case of emergency.
I left at 6 am (I have to start at 8:30) and it was an awesome morning for a ride. The rising sun sent my silhouette off to the side and my shadow accompanied me for much of the way. The route itself is lightly traveled by cars with wide shoulders were there isn't a dedicated bike lane. I didn't spot many riders going my way, but crossed paths with a few others heading the opposite way. Most of the times we waved to each other or nodded -- a comradarie you don't get while in a car!
I had brought in work clothes and food in to work the night before, so I was able to shower, change and snack quickly before my workday started. I felt fine throughout the day.
Coming home was a slightly different tale. It was pretty warm starting out, though it cooled off a bit by the end of the trip. The way back is slightly more uphill and as is typical during this time of year, a heavy wind blows up over the mountains from off the ocean. Yep, I got to battle a major headwind on the way home. It took me 2:13 getting home tonight. Ugh. I was okay with the ride until about the half-way point returning when it wasn't much fun anymore and came down to me just grinding through it.
I'm a little stiff in my neck, but other than that no worse for wear. At 49.5 miles round trip though, I doubt it's something I'm inclined to do more than once a week, but we'll see. I wonder too, what my motivation will be like when the weather starts acting up a bit. I also have the option of biking one-way and catching CalTrain, but that still involves about 5 miles of riding to the station. We'll see how it goes.
Well, that's my story. If you made it this far thanks for reading. I appreciate all the tips and general info I've gleaned from this and other sites.
Maybe I'll post an update or another thread with further commuting thoughts as I do it a couple more weeks and get my panniers installed on my bike. I guess I'll post about outfitting the Dr. Dew with panniers and racks in case anyone is thinking about buying the bike. There's not much in the way of personal comments about the bike and fitting stuff out on it that I've found on the net. One thing I'm concerned about is possible heel-strikes on rear bags due to the compact frame. I'm not going to worry about that right now as I'm still having a lot of fun riding this bike around -- I've put about 200 miles on it so far.