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Improving efficiency for a converted mountain bike commuter

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Improving efficiency for a converted mountain bike commuter

Old 01-28-12, 04:20 AM
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jlam
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Improving efficiency for a converted mountain bike commuter

So I've been lurking around these forums for quite a while now (sans account), and I've gotten an adequate sense from looking through archived threads about what makes a good commuter bike, as well as the pros and cons of using a mountain bike as a commuter. Unfortunately, I've reached a saturation point where, to gain more knowledge, I need to become an active member!

Here's the deal:

I have a 12-13 mile commute to university each way, which I've been doing a few times per week since September (weather permitting). My morning route is along the road (as it's the most direct) which takes around 45mins, as there are hardly any cars at 6:30am. In the afternoon/evening however, I take the bike roads home which are much more hilly, bumping the time up to 55-60mins. All roads are well paved.

I've also looked deeply into the long-heated debate of panniers vs backpack, and eventually decided on simply strapping my pack to the top of the rack, which allows me to use my backpack as, well, a backpack when I'm walking from class to class. I bring my lunch, clothes to change out of my biking gear, laptop and a few small notebooks. I will be renting a locker soon for storing my bike gear, but showers are not an option.

And now my situation:

I have a Marin Pioneer Trail (model from a number of years back, don't know exact year), front suspension, toe clips, Atlus Shimano shifters, and 26x1.5 Duro City Cavalier Wire Bead tires (from MEC) with Mr. Tuffy liners (which I purchased after getting 4 flats in one and a half days of commuting). I have the seat almost at the maximum height to allow my leg to be at a ~120 degree angle. My bike feels like a tank when I ride it. I would like to somehow change the gear ratios, as I never go into the first gear (front), and I manage to exceed the maximum gears when I'm on the highway. However, I mainly stay on the second gear (front) on the route home throughout the hills.

I feel as if something is holding me back in my commute, whether it be fitness or mechanical related. Simply put, how can I go faster?

1. How's the geometry on my bike? Would drop bars, or even bar ends make a big difference?
2. Would panniers improve the handling since the center of gravity is lower? Or is my current set-up adequate?
3. Would a different gear ratio make a significant difference?
4. How much more efficient are clipless than toe-clip pedals? Worth the investment, or more ideal to upgrade other components?
5. Is there anything else I can do to improve the efficiency of my commute? Or would it be justifiable to simply invest in a quality-used bike? Or do I simply need to get better at biking (eg. increasing cadence)

Sorry for the lengthy post, but thanks for your time! Any feedback and advice would be greatly appreciated

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Old 01-28-12, 06:13 AM
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MichaelW
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The weight/quality of your bike is fine for campus commuting. You could replace the sus forks with cromoly steel and ditch the bike stand for less weight.
Is the bike too small for you in length.?
To get more aerodynamic you can lower the bars, add some clip on aerobars or replace the bars with trekking butterfly style. Drop bar conversions are more trouble and expense than they are worth.
Toe clips are fine for your non-racing utility use.
You can fit larger rings and turn your bike into a double chainring setup but I would only do this when the rings are worn out. You will have issues with chainline and front mech alignment but these are solvable.
Panniers would reduce the pendulum effect of your bag swaying from side to side but if that isnt an issue, you should be OK. I find that bulky but lightweight items are OK on my back but heavy items are better on the rack. You can split your load.
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Old 01-28-12, 07:17 AM
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The weight/quality of your bike is fine for campus commuting. You could replace the sus forks with cromoly steel and ditch the bike stand for less weight.
Is the bike too small for you in length.?
To get more aerodynamic you can lower the bars, add some clip on aerobars or replace the bars with trekking butterfly style. Drop bar conversions are more trouble and expense than they are worth.
Toe clips are fine for your non-racing utility use.
You can fit larger rings and turn your bike into a double chainring setup but I would only do this when the rings are worn out. You will have issues with chainline and front mech alignment but these are solvable.
Panniers would reduce the pendulum effect of your bag swaying from side to side but if that isnt an issue, you should be OK. I find that bulky but lightweight items are OK on my back but heavy items are better on the rack. You can split your load.
+1 to everything here, except swapping the fork. That looks like a very good commuter bike to me -- decent sized tires, v-brakes, and probably clearance for full fenders if you wanted. I wouldn't change anything, because it will probably cost quite a bit and you won't get that much more from the bike by doing it.

several things:

1. That rear rack looks pretty crappy. If you invest in a nicer one, it will more easily mount level, and if it's level you can attach panniers more easily or do what I do on my daily rider -- do not attach pannies to this rack -- you need more legs to support the side loads from going into the spokes. Attach side baskets if they don't offend your style too much. I love mine. My touring bike has panniers, and those work great too.

2. Without even seeing you, I can tell you that your frame appear to be too small for you. With that much seatpost hanging out of the frame to meet your proper leg height, you may get some flex.....but if it doesn't cause you issues, just keep riding it and get a larger frame later on. Since it isn't a perfect fit for you, I wouldn't put $ into replace the fork with a rigid one. Honestly, it doesn't matter that much. Riding a rigid fork is fine, and riding a suspension one is fine too...yeah the suspension will compress sometimes when not needed, but who cares.

3. Add a set of bar ends for more hand positions! I love flat bars with bar ends....even more than drop bars honestly. Your bars look like risers, but I'd still do it.

4. Don't bother trying to reduce your bike weight. If you want to go faster, do some training instead.
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Old 01-28-12, 08:27 AM
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As other have said, it look like bike fit might be the biggest issue. Is the bike too small? If so I would not spend any more money on it and just keep riding and saving for a proper fitting bike. You could do some things to lighten up this bike, but it's probably not going to be worth the money if it's too small. Sounds like for your commute you would be better of on a more pavement oriented bike, maybe even a cross type of bike. Something that can handle larger tires and fenders if you want to start riding in the rain. You can find both flat bar and drop bar bikes that can work. I'd also avoid front suspension, it just adds more weight.
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Old 01-28-12, 08:28 AM
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Been here done that. Was never satisfied till I swapped to a road bike.
Your bike is geared for off road. Whats the crank? 26/34/42? Road you likely want something along the lines of 28/36/48 if there is hills. Thats a common Touring gear set.

The lack of drops doesn't let you tuck if you are fighting a head wind. You are pushing about 6-8 extra pounds and those that say weight doesn't matter are flat landers, when you are going up hill it does matter especially if the weight is in the wheels. The lighter the wheel combo the easier it is to spin up and keep spun up.

With the distance you travel I'd seriously start looking for a touring bike. Depending on your height you might look at buying a Long Haul trucker. The smaller sizes run 26 inch wheels and you could throw your drive train and wheels on it.

Looked up your tires...lots of reviews say they feel slow.

OMG! they weigh 1k!!! No wonder you feel like you are pedding in sand.

Try a set of panaracer Pasela TG's. They weigh less than half of what you have on there now. Well regarded for flat prevention. Often find sales on them around $20.

Last edited by Grim; 01-28-12 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 01-28-12, 08:59 AM
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I'm not as experinced as the other poster, but what I do to my bikes when I first get them is clean, lube, and adjust the cones. This has improved my average speed and top end. I'm not sure if your bike has sealed bearing/cartridge bearing....which you may be out of luck on lubing and adjustment. I'm not educated on these type of bearing.

Enjoy!

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Old 01-28-12, 09:13 AM
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I started commuting on my mountain bike, I didn't want to invest in a new bike until I knew I was going to stick with it. It wasn't good, the bike was heavy, the gearing was wonky, and the geometry was all wrong.

As others have mentioned above, upgrading to a road bike is really the only way you are going to get rid of that "I feel like I am going really slow" sensation.

A road bike is going to give you skinny tires, a much more aerodynamic posture, a tighter gear cluster, a more comfortable geometry for long distances, and more hand position options. I could keep going.

If you are serious about commuting and believe you are going to stick with it, you really should consider all of you specific needs and find a bike that will satisfy those needs. If this is a temporary commute while you are in college, I would suggest just riding your bike as it is now and try to relax and enjoy the ride
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Old 01-28-12, 09:37 AM
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+1 to most of the above. Wouldn't worry about the toe-clips. I have SPDs on one bike, and they're better, but the toe clips on my commuter work very well. Way, way better than platforms alone.

Sounds like we have a somewhat similar commute, although mine is over the same route both directions and it's hillier on the way out than the way home. Here is what I've found: when I ride my touring bike (a 2009 Jamis Aurora--this is the one with the SPD pedals) to work, it takes me around 55 minutes. When I ride my ancient mountain bike that is my bad-weather commuter (a 1993 Bianchi Ibex with studded snow tires in the winter and an unlockable front suspension--how I bought it and I don't want to go to the trouble of swapping right now), it takes me a little more than 65. I think the bike makes a difference.

Assuming this bike fits you tolerably well, you might want to hang onto it, make it a little more comfortable (the bar ends are a good idea), and save for a decent cross or touring bike. I consider my Jamis either fun-but-practical or practical-but-fun, based on how I have it loaded. Its geometry is fast enough for me to enjoy long recreational rides but it's not a racer. It's on the heavy side and sturdy, but it moves. My mountain bike is a reliable mule for slush, snow and ice, and if I want to, I can take it on some trails and bang it around a bit.

Given that, according to the "how many bikes equations" (n+1 when n=the number of bikes you now have or s+1 when s=the number of bikes it will take for your spouse to leave you), I now can have two bikes, I like both of mine. They're "in-between" bikes. A true roadie might scoff at my Jamis. A true mountain biker would think my Bianchi is relatively useless antique. As a commuter and general lover of being on two wheels with no pretensions to racing or daredevilry (beyond the courageous act of riding in traffic), I love them both.

Happy trails.

PS--If you decide your current frame is too small but are still open to the two bike suggestion, try Craigslist. You could probably sell your current bike and then buy comparable quality MTB that's a little bigger for about the same price. You'd come out even, have a sturdy commuter that fits you a bit better, and still save for that fun-but-practical/practical-but-fun bike to speed your trip to work on all but the bad days. I'll say this: The one way I know to make an $800 steel touring bike feel like a $5000 carbon-framed racer is to ride a 20 year-old $100 used steel mountain bike on studded tires for three weeks and then ride the touring bike on the first dry, above-freezing day. You'll feel like you're in a freakin' time trial!

Last edited by ultimattfrisbee; 01-28-12 at 09:43 AM. Reason: punctuation, addition
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Old 01-28-12, 10:37 AM
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If you're measuring the angle at the back of your knee, it should be between 145 an 155 degrees at the bottom of your pedal stroke. Your saddle is too low. This alone will slow you down. It also sounds like it's about as high as it can go, - meaning you need a different bike. ;-)

Having a saddle that's too low not only slows you down, it's tough on the knees. Youth might keep you from feeling it now, but you may be doing some damage none the less.

It's also hard to get a good measurement so if we were to assume for the moment that the saddle height is OK, there are some other things that you can do.

- replace the tires
- replace the suspension fork with a rigid one
- bar ends

All are things that others have suggested. Before changing the gearing you might want to make sure you really need to. When you say you exceed that maximum gear, what do you mean? When you're in the highest gear does your cadence (number of times you spin the pedals per minute) exceed 100? If not, then the gearing is fine for now.

A good cadence for most people is the 80 to 90 range. A lot of folks when starting out ride at a much lower cadence and in too high a gear. If that's the case for you, work on keeping your cadence up and eventually you'll find that you're covering more ground in less time.

Mountain bikes are geared lower than road bikes but they usually have enough at the top to get you moving at a pretty good clip on the flats. It's going downhill where they may not have enough.
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Old 01-28-12, 10:48 AM
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Just another note. A few others have said that your bike is perfectly fine for a commuter but I would suggest that with a 12 to 13 mile hilly commute, it's really not ideal. A touring or cross bike would be preferred. A plain old road bike that you could fit a rack on might work OK too.
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Old 01-28-12, 12:09 PM
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The only thing I could ad to the above is drink more coffee before you ride. That gives me the turbocharged feeling on my commutes.
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Old 01-28-12, 12:30 PM
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45 mins for 12-13 miles is a pretty good pace, regardless. I agree w/t poster who recommended replacing the sus-fork w/a cro-mo. Smaller width tires will help as well. One can find tires as small as 1.25 inches for 26" wheels. That'll help w/one's rolling resistance. Make sure they're flat-resistant, though. You'll save yourself a alot of aggravation. Get yourself some detachable fenders. They'll drag a little, but not as much as the water on the roadways and will keep you from up-spray on rainy days.
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Old 01-28-12, 01:25 PM
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Just another note. A few others have said that your bike is perfectly fine for a commuter but I would suggest that with a 12 to 13 mile hilly commute, it's really not ideal. A touring or cross bike would be preferred. A plain old road bike that you could fit a rack on might work OK too.
Yeah, touring or cross bikes are good for mid-longer distance commutes. However, my touring bike (and many others) with racks, etc. generally weigh as much or more than many hardtails.....my surly LHT is a few pounds heavier than mine for example.

The lack of drops doesn't let you tuck if you are fighting a head wind. You are pushing about 6-8 extra pounds and those that say weight doesn't matter are flat landers, when you are going up hill it does matter especially if the weight is in the wheels. The lighter the wheel combo the easier it is to spin up and keep spun up.
Pfffffff -- a flat bar with bar ends can be more aero than the drops on a drop handlebar, especially since we're not even mentioning the stem height or length.

All of this is kind of just "whatever works for you". Light weight wheels often aren't as durable. It's pointless to recommend a touring bike for a long commute, then talk about trying to reduce weight and ride light wheels.
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Old 01-28-12, 02:15 PM
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Wow you hit the jackpot of good input there new guy! Welcome aboard btw! I have one thing you might want to take into consideration though, if your school offers some sort of morning swim classes you could possibly add that to your schedule and get a dip and a shower after your ride in... keep on riding!
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Old 01-28-12, 02:19 PM
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Bar ends and a closer ratio rear cassette.

Mountain bike cassettes generally are "wide ratio" and have larger jumps between gears and lower ratio top end gears. A road cassette are generally "close ratio" and have gear ratios closer together making it easier to find the most efficient gear available and higher ratio top end gears allowing higher speeds.

On my commuter mountain bikes I run a 11-24 or 12-26 rather than the 13-32 commonly found on lower end and mid range mountain bikes, but you will need to sit down and figure out what you need based on which of your existing gears you are using most and which ones you aren't using at all.
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Old 01-28-12, 02:54 PM
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Originally Posted by TurbineBlade View Post
Yeah, touring or cross bikes are good for mid-longer distance commutes. However, my touring bike (and many others) with racks, etc. generally weigh as much or more than many hardtails.....my surly LHT is a few pounds heavier than mine for example.



Pfffffff -- a flat bar with bar ends can be more aero than the drops on a drop handlebar, especially since we're not even mentioning the stem height or length.

All of this is kind of just "whatever works for you". Light weight wheels often aren't as durable. It's pointless to recommend a touring bike for a long commute, then talk about trying to reduce weight and ride light wheels.
Flatlander argument.

My driveway has more elevation change then you have on your whole commute.

My 63 CM T700 touring bike in commuter trim is almost 5lb lighter then my 22 inch (58cm)M400 set up as a commuter. 2lb+ of that was in wheels/ tires alone and the T700 has CR18's that are stronger then the rims on the M400. The M400 frame is right at 1lb more. 105 vs STX Both with fenders, same model rack on the back, same basic spares. The t700 cut 3-4 minutes off my 4 mile commute and much more comfortable to ride for great distances. In the top of the bar the T700 bars are actually higher when you want to ride upright.


And no I'm not counting the Ulock.



And I can shave another 1-2 minutes off the commute in the summer when I dont need to carry anything by riding this.



Same person, different styles and 14-16lb of difference between the heaviest and the lightest.

Care to explain that its not the weight and style of the bike some more?

Ill give you that flat landers dont notice the weight as much but when its hilly (as the OP said his was) you sure do notice it. I average 2.7 percent grade over my commute and in 3/4 mile stretch on a mile on my way home I have 120ft of climbing alone. I grind up one hill at about 5-8mph that going the other way I regularly tickle 40mph on the touring bike (and that Mountain bike gets squirrelly feeling at those speeds with those big heavy tires). II dont have a computer on the hot rod but I bet I'm over 45 in that stretch with the extra gearing. (48x11 vs 53x12).
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Old 01-28-12, 03:43 PM
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I'm about 5'8, 32" leg length, and my bike frame is 17" (seat tube) by 21.2" (top tube). Seat post is about 9.5-10" out of the tube. My bike is 36 lbs without anything strapped on (so the weight as it is in original picture).

Vancouver weather is always raining, so even if the sky is nice, roads are often still wet (if this makes any difference with respect to equipment). The reason why I don't have a full set of fenders is because I haven't yet come across one that I'd be able to attach to the front fork. Or should I buy a set with mudguards and just use it at the back while I wait to get a bike that could accommodate both front and back fenders?

I would very much like to keep commuting after university, so I would be open to investing in a more suitable bike in the future.

I'll strap on some bar ends to see how that goes in addition to lowering my handlebars. I'll also be conscious of my pedaling to see how many RPMs I'm doing and if I'm spending too much time on the high gears before I start switching gears around. (By the way, how does one find out about the gear ratios on a bike? Would I switch just the front gear set, or the back as well?) A professional tune up would probably do my bike some wonders too.

I'm hesitant in buying new tires as I just bought these ones a few months ago, so not much wear in them just yet. Also, if I'm going to be buying a new bike, I wouldn't want to have purchased a good set of tires for my current set up and then find a good commuter bike with a skinnier and larger diameter wheels.

Does anyone ride with panniers as well as a backpack for lighter stuff? I'm finding that my 25L backpack becomes maxed out in volume when I bring it to school, but maybe it's just because of the colder weather forcing me to pack thicker clothes. When the weather gets warmer though, there's no way I'm putting my loaded pack on my back, as I did that when I just started commuting and it was too uncomfortable to make for an enjoyable bike ride.

Thanks again for all the feedback! I've already learned a lot from all you experienced riders
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Old 01-28-12, 04:05 PM
  #18  
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Originally Posted by jlam View Post
The reason why I don't have a full set of fenders is because I haven't yet come across one that I'd be able to attach to the front fork. Or should I buy a set with mudguards and just use it at the back while I wait to get a bike that could accommodate both front and back fenders?
I can't tell from the picture, does it have just a disc mount on one fork leg and nothing on the other? You can use zip-ties to attach stays from full fenders down to the dropouts.

I'll also be conscious of my pedaling to see how many RPMs I'm doing and if I'm spending too much time on the high gears before I start switching gears around. (By the way, how does one find out about the gear ratios on a bike? Would I switch just the front gear set, or the back as well?) A professional tune up would probably do my bike some wonders too.
You could switch both. This calculator is ground-zero for gear-ratio exploration:

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gears/

if you have 44/11 you are probably as topped out as you should really expect to be. It's a rare person who can do a loaded commute pushing that high a gear at any kind of cadence anywhere but downhill.
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Old 01-28-12, 04:56 PM
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1. based on the setup, I'd venture to say your bike's too small for you. Try for a fit more like this:



2. I find clipless pedals improve efficiency over clips & straps.

3. If conditions permit, try this hand position when you're up to an airspeed where air drag begins to dominate:



At 20mph this is worth over 1mph for free. It channels air around your body instead of scooping it in like a wide hand position does. You may not see as much benefit if your bike's forcing you to sit upright. A bike with more top-tube length will let you stretch out and use your back muscles (how many racing rowers do you see who pull on the oars while sitting bolt-upright?).

4. You can get higher road gears with a new crankset that has larger rings, something with a 48-tooth ring would be good. If you need to stay economical, Shimano has Tourney models with non-replacable chainrings. I use my 48 x 11 every day on my mountain-commuter when winding up for the dash across the bridge.

Last edited by mechBgon; 01-28-12 at 05:05 PM.
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Old 01-28-12, 04:58 PM
  #20  
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Yawn.

OP: There are legions of commuting cyclists using bikes nearly identical to yours in hilly areas. You have a triple crankset, which is well-suited to hills, wind, and carrying weight on your commute. The only reason I would change anything other than bar ends is if you have issues with fit and find a bike that fits you better ==
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Old 01-28-12, 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by no motor? View Post
The only thing I could ad to the above is drink more coffee before you ride. That gives me the turbocharged feeling on my commutes.
What you gain in turbocharging you lose in the pee-stop!
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Old 01-28-12, 06:21 PM
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WOW Vancouver goes from one extreme to the other. Your CL lists either high end road bikes our Mountains or absolute junk and not much in between.
Did see this pannier set ...interesting.
http://vancouver.en.craigslist.ca/va...777431093.html
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Old 01-28-12, 06:32 PM
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What you gain in turbocharging you lose in the pee-stop!
Pee if you're lucky .
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Old 01-28-12, 06:38 PM
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All that seatpost, ugh... I think the best option for efficiency would be to find a used road bike. In your size.
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Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
Originally Posted by noglider
People in this forum are not typical.
RUSA #7498
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Old 01-28-12, 08:09 PM
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I'm assuming your largest ring is a 42T and your largest cog is a 14T?
I'm also assuming your bike has a Freewheel?

That only gives you a gear ratio of 3 to 1, which is about 75 gear inches.
There are 13 tooth FW's available, which would gear you up about 7%, or 81 gear inches.

IF your bike actually has a Free Hub, you have a lot more choices in cassettes, down to 11T top cogs.
http://sheldonbrown.com/free-k7.html
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