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  1. #1
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    Need help with bike choice

    Ok, so, I'm new to using a bicycle for commuting. I live in alaska, in a hilly region. My bike path to work (10 miles) encompases gravel roads with tons of bumps to well paved bike paths. I've been at it for about a month now, and have come to love traveling this way. I recently purchased a hiking backpack to transport goods from the grocery store, but its turning out to be a bigger problem than I had expected.
    My truck recently broke down, spurring my interest in biking.

    I am currently borrowing a bike, and am looking for a decent bike which will transport me year round. Here's the hitch; I live in fairbanks alaska and winter is about 7 months long, with two months or so reaching -40F/-50F (-40C/ -45C) at the coldest.

    I have looked through threads here and my situation is a little different than other posts so I decided to start a new one.

    What kind of bike would make it easiest to travel to and fro work, but also have the capability of attaching a trailer to it to haul two to four 5-gallon jugs of water when I need to? (I live in a dry cabin, without running water, which is common up here, so hauling water is a must).

    Also, I'm 5-6 140 lb male and I'd be willing to spend, AT MOST, $1500 on a total setup that will do everything for me, al year round. This includes me building a trailer myself (I've got access to tools, etc) Bike, tools, and riding gear (I assume I'll need really good gear for the cold days?)

    Are standard road bikes my best choice, or is there something else to look at?

    Thanks in advance for responding!

  2. #2
    Senior Member MNBikeguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slee85 View Post
    Ok, so, I'm new to using a bicycle for commuting. I live in alaska, in a hilly region. My bike path to work (10 miles) encompases gravel roads with tons of bumps to well paved bike paths. I've been at it for about a month now, and have come to love traveling this way. I recently purchased a hiking backpack to transport goods from the grocery store, but its turning out to be a bigger problem than I had expected.
    My truck recently broke down, spurring my interest in biking.

    I am currently borrowing a bike, and am looking for a decent bike which will transport me year round. Here's the hitch; I live in fairbanks alaska and winter is about 7 months long, with two months or so reaching -40F/-50F (-40C/ -45C) at the coldest.

    I have looked through threads here and my situation is a little different than other posts so I decided to start a new one.

    What kind of bike would make it easiest to travel to and fro work, but also have the capability of attaching a trailer to it to haul two to four 5-gallon jugs of water when I need to? (I live in a dry cabin, without running water, which is common up here, so hauling water is a must).

    Also, I'm 5-6 140 lb male and I'd be willing to spend, AT MOST, $1500 on a total setup that will do everything for me, al year round. This includes me building a trailer myself (I've got access to tools, etc) Bike, tools, and riding gear (I assume I'll need really good gear for the cold days?)

    Are standard road bikes my best choice, or is there something else to look at?

    Thanks in advance for responding!
    A 10 mile commute that includes gravel and very bumpy roads and hills would suggest a mountain bike frame including front suspension.
    5 gallons of water weights 43 pounds x 4 = 172 pounds. You'll need a BOB (or similar) trailer for this. You seem handy and have the tools, so you may try to duplicate the hardware. OTOH, once you price out the needed material, trailers may not be that expensive.
    MN has it's share of extreme weather, however I'm not familiar with what day-after-day minus 40-50 temperatures can do to components. You may want to research this or perhaps someone here can point you in the right direction.
    $1,500 should be more than adequate for your needs.
    Goodluck.
    "I thought of that while riding my bike."
    - Albert Einstein on the theory of relativity

  3. #3
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    Check out some local bike shops. They must have a pretty good idea what it takes to survive those conditions.

  4. #4
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    check out http://www.icebike.org/ for a start if you're thinking about serious winter riding. Also try the forums thread here: http://www.bikeforums.net/archive/in.../t-500565.html

  5. #5
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    A "standard road bike" is not going to do it for you. Check out Wordbiker's 2008 Pugsley. Maybe he'll negotiate on the price?

  6. #6
    Senior Member bellweatherman's Avatar
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    Hmm, tough choices. $1500 is a lot to spend. I'm sure that you can find something nice for a lot less. I'm of the opinion that a commuter bike should be as cheap as possible, but good enough to offer a decent ride. For me, that is around the $500 price point give or take a little bit. I like mountain bikes really, and switch out the tires to something less knobby. Then, you have a versatile bike that you can still rider on the trails.
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    Armstrong. The man without integrity, no care for the sport, and no problem with testing positive for EPO and making donations to cover it up.

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    Member blxm's Avatar
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    My commute is similar (except I have running water) - 2 miles of gravelly, muddy, potholed farm track then 5 miles on the road.

    I use a rigid aluminium mtb with Specialized Nimbus 1.5 tyres. Can be sketchy in wet gravel and mud but makes up for it on the tar. As I am doing more distance on road than off, I wanted a slicker tyre and more rigid frame for most of the time. I think my bike handling skills have improved by not having suspension too but a road frame just wouldn't feel strong enough on my route.

    Out of respect for our miserable Scottish winter, I will fit studded tyres later in the year.

    I agree, a good LBS not staffed by DH wanabees is a good place to start.

  8. #8
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    Thanks for all the input!

    I stumbled across a website that is hosted up here in fairbanks, which gives the rundown on the gear Simon @ allweathersports suggests for winter riding.
    http://www.allweathersports.com/winter/winter.html
    I found this to be very useful, and hope it will help others in extreme arctic climates.

    Yes, $1500 does seem like alot.... maybe I should shoot for $1000. I was hoping to include EVERYTHING from winter gear (big gloves mounted on the bike, heat packs, front and rear flashers, trailer capable of winter riding, double wide rims, studded tires, one or two super thin clothing layers, winter riding boots, riding hat, emergency tool kit, rear wheel mounted backpack). When all is said and done I hope to put together a gear guide for year-round extreme climate riding, as well as what any fairbanksian would need to live in a dry cabin year round without a car (its really hard to live here without a car when it gets to the dead of winter).

  9. #9
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    Normally people say things like "I need a mountain bike because I want to be able ride across a little grass and there's a crushed gravel bike trail I might use" and I feel like telling them to stop being such a pansy-ass - saying they need a mountain bike for that stuff is like claiming they need to drive a Hummer because there's a dirt road they drive down sometimes. If they're not driving through brush offroad, their sedan (aka road bike) is perfectly capable of doing the job.

    However, it sounds like you have some genuinely challenging conditions that genuinely warrant a more heavy duty bike.

    Just from your need to ride on a dirt road alone I would not recommend a pure road bike. If you're riding on a dirt road (the kind cars ride on with rocks, rather than the small crushed stone they use on bike trails) you need a bigger tire than more modern road bikes can physically fit.

    If you were just riding on a just dirt road with some winter riding, I'd suggest a cyclocross bike.

    But with the load you're hauling, plus the addition of hills, you're going to need a big tire with a lot of traction. Do you still need to haul water when there's snow on the ground in the winter? If you don't a cyclocross bike might do it, though you might do just as well with a mountain bike style bike which would be cheaper.

    Either way I disagree with the need for a front shock - front shocks are usually tuned (and only affective) for really big stuff like jumping logs. The kind of suspension you need for rocks and rough trail usually comes from riding with a large tire at medium pressure. Front shocks are simply not effective vs rocks and bumps in the road. Opinions vary I guess, but that's been my limited experience + what other people have written on this forum.

    If you need to haul that kind of weight with the water when it's winter and there's a bunch of snow on the ground, I honestly don't know if it's even possible on a bike. I know I would get something with super huge clearance and super huge tires like a Surly Pugsley -
    http://www.surlybikes.com/pugsley.html

    That way you can run a smaller tire of a ridiculously huge tire - you might be one of the few people who actually has a *need* for a tire that big.

    Oh, and also - if you need to be able to stop with that large of a load, especially since you have hills, you really *need* disc brakes. Disc brakes are way better for that kind of weight - rim brakes can heat up and blow a tire while descending under the right conditions. This is normally not a big issue as all you have on the bike is the rider and the frame - but if you're carrying 172 pounds of water that's going to be a real issue you should consider. I would consider getting "downhill" disc brakes myself, as they have a somewhat larger rotor and more stopping power.

    If you don't need to carry that kind of water on your bike when there's a lot of snow on the ground, what you're suggesting is certainly possible. And you can likely get by with a cheaper bike - even towing that kind of weight on dry ground is certainly possible.

    But attempting to tow that kind of weight uphill in snow on a bike...that's difficult. It may not even be possible.


    Also, winter gear for biking isn't cheap. You should keep that in mind. While you can get away with certain kinds of clothing while you're doing low exertion activity - like walking, riding a snowmobile, or hiking, if you bike you'll work up a sweat, and if the clothing you're wearing doesn't "breathe" the sweat will stay trapped in your jacket, your skin will end up covered in water, and you'll freeze your arse off.

    Just...trying to list all the things I know about. If I had to carry that kind of water over snow, I would seriously consider buying a bike for part of your riding and a snowmobile for carrying a heavy load of water when the road is covered in snow.

    BUT I don't live where you do, hopefully someone else under similar conditions could give more personal experience.

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