My bike commuting started last week with my Specialized Sirrus Sport. The Sirrus is a sweet bike, but just not what I'm after for a commuter/utility bike. It's a fun evening ride through the hills of the Hudson River valley, but not an appropriate beast of burden. It just feels a little too twitchy and unstable with loaded panniers, and it transmits tons of road vibration.
I picked up a Craigslist cheapo over the weekend, in the form of an old steel framed Diamondback Topanga mountain bike. The bike is suffering from a fair amount of neglect, but I'm bringing it back to shape a bit every night. The bike's first commute today was quite eventful on the ride in, as the rear derailer turned out to be a total disaster. The bike was shifting on it's own, shifting late, shifting 2 or 3 gears at a time, etc. Fifteen miles of the derailer nightmare was enough for a lifetime. I did some reading on the Sheldon Brown website at lunch time, and did a bit of adjusting. The front derailer still needs work, but the rear derailer is working flawlessly now.
Today's ride home was a revelation to me. My previous four commutes were fun, but the rides home had me dragging a bit. I had two route options. One route had a ton of traffic and no shoulder in some spots. The other route was pothole and glass city. The rough road of option number two was too much for the Sirrus, which is basically a flat bar road bike, so I'd stuck with the stressful traffic of option number one. Today was completely different. I was able to take the Diamondback through the rough rode route, bypassing the majority of the tight traffic areas, and just let the mountain bike cruise over the potholes. The nimble 26” tires made navigating the abundant shoulder debris soooooooo much easier.
The long commute home gave me a lot of time to consider the quality of today's ride on a steel bike. It was just a totally different experience than my last few commutes. Sure, the route options afforded by the mountain bike made the ride easier, but there was so much more going on. Riding the steel bike was something I hadn't experienced since childhood. It was like riding a big old Cadillac instead of a sports car. Sure, you had to put a bit more gas into that heavy vehicle, but the ride was so much more comfortable. There was almost zero road vibration, and the occasional bumps were perfectly manageable. I hadn't realized just how much all of the vibration transmitted to the Sirrus had effected my mindset during the previous commutes. I always got home feeling mentally and physically exhausted. In contrast, even with today's 94 degree heat advisory and air quality advisory, and my lack of a second water bottle, I arrived home feeling great. A bit hot, but I was perfectly relaxed and in a great frame of mind. The stress of my commute home had completely disappeared.
The ride home today was also less “busy”, for lack of a better word. The Sirrus had me shifting constantly, speeding up and slowing down like crazy, trying to maintain a comfortable cadence. The Diamondback was a stark contrast. I probably shifted about a third as much as previous commutes. The momentum of the bike just kind of carried me along through the short stretches where I'd normally have to shift a couple of times. Hills were more of a challenge, but the other 95% of my commute seemed much easier. I wasn't constantly trying to alter the speed of my commute. I just sort of let the bike decide the speed. The total commute took an extra five or ten minutes maybe, but if that's the price of less stress, worry and work, I can live with that.