One bike to rule them all…

…and in the something something.  I can’t think of anything catchy.

Over at Singularity there’s a little challenge to do some thinking and come up with one bike that would fit every possible need.  A mental exercise in minimalism without sacrificing functionality.  I can do this.  A while back I came to the conclusion that 3 bikes is plenty – just put different handlebars on each one.  Paring it down to one should be easy.  In theory.  Let’s take a look at the rules.  (My thoughts about each rule look like this.)

  1. One frame-set only.  We’ll save this one for last.
  2. Multiple wheel-sets are permitted.  This is what makes one bike possible.
  3. Multiples of a given component are permitted.  Not as necessary as #2, but awfully convenient.
  4. Cost is not a factor.  ORLY?
  5. As few variations as possible.  Not a problem.
  6. As little hassle as possible.  I really don’t ever try to build in hassle.  It just happens.
  7. Call your shot.
  8. Justify.  7 and 8 kinda go together.  e.g. I need a trailer hitch because I tow the kids around in the trailer.

Let’s get started with 8, shall we?

Let’s.

I do some utility riding.  A lot of this is stuff most people would do in their car.  We’re fortunate to live in a suburb with lots of services nearby.

Getting both kids to school is a 2.5 mile round trip.  3 miles if the little one isn’t ready to go and I have to come back after dropping off the big one.  The big one rides her own bike.  The little one can ride her own bike in the mornings, but traffic is too heavy after school.  When the weather is nice enough she rides an Adams Trail-a-bike.  When it’s not she lounges in a Wike trailer.  I need hitches for both of these.  I still haven’t found a really good way to get her bike home if she rides it in the morning.  A utility trailer with a bike rack would work.  Let’s add that to the list.

Let’s.

Stop that.

A grocery run is about 3 miles round trip.  I’ve used the Wike trailer for this, but typically a set of panniers gets the nod.  I only have touring bags.  They work in the sense that they can be stuffed full of groceries, but I usually end up re-bagging everything to make it all fit just right for the ride home.  I’ve had a Wald Giant Delivery Basket on a couple bikes at one time or another.  Simply dropping the grocery bags into it is super easy, but it’s big, heavy, and makes the bike steer for crap.  Grocery panniers might be nice.  Racks, of course, are a given.  Most of the grocery runs are at night.  I like dynamo lighting.  Battery lights are for suckers.  We’ll put a dynamo wheel on the list.

Currently, those are the two big utility requirements.  I’ll do local errands on the bike, too.  If I ever rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed this bike will probably be put to use as a commuting machine at least some of the time.

Did you notice how I never said “unless it’s raining”?  Fenders are required.

Recreational rides include the local bike club, JRA, S24O and the occasional weekend “long” ride.  I did a mini-tour last year with Doc.  Three days.

Bike club rides are not of the pace-line variety.  Our club classifies the ride pace as A, B, C or D.  A-rides are generally treated as training rides for the racers and wannabe racers.  B-rides have pace-lines, too.  I go on the C and D rides, where the pace-line is less line and more amoeba.  And there’s no pace, either.  Any bike will work for these rides.

JRA means “just riding around”.  Any bike will work for JRA.  In bike shop jargon it also means “just riding along”.  This is a reference to numb skull customers who think the mechanic can’t tell how a fork got bent.  “I was just riding along and it bent back like that when I hit the brakes.”  

S240 means sub-24-hour-overnight.  This, by itself, is reason enough to ride a bike.  There are few activities as fun or as cheap as going bike camping.  “Cheap” is relative.  You gotta buy a bike and some camping gear.  But once those are accounted for it’s pretty close to free.  Food and maybe camping fees.  The bike needs some way to carry camping gear.  Racks, panniers, saddle bag, small front basket, etc.  Same stuff I’d use for grocery getting. These bits are also useful for the 3-day mini tour.  I’d just need to bring more food and a few extra changes of clothing.

I think that covers rule #8 and sorta touches on #7.  Let’s get more specific.

I really like 7-speed cassettes.  There’s nothing wrong with 8 or 9 or 15 cogs, but I like 7.  All the parts are less expensive and more durable.  Derailers and shifters are easier to keep in proper adjustment.  If an indexed shifter stops indexing, friction is perfectly usable.  I can get the range I want, from about 20 gear inches up to about 100, with readily available parts without having to fuss with silly things like half-step gearing or close range triples.  2 of my 6 bicycles are currently set up with a 7-speed cassette.  One of my bikes has a 7-speed freewheel.  One of those 3 even has indexed shifting.  7 is the sweet spot.  Everything since then has been good for racers and those strange people who want the latest and greatest.  The problem with 7 is that the currently available parts are on the low end of the quality spectrum.  This means that I’d have to track down high quality old stuff, or put up with the new cheap bits.  At this point, I believe that for my purposes either of those options is better than going with 9 or 10 or 11 speed cassettes.  So that’s how I’d build both of my rear wheels.  A 135mm hub with a 7-speed body could be nearly dishless.  One should have a K-cassette (13-34) and the other could be geared a little higher.  Maybe 11-28.  Add touring rims and 36 stainless spokes.

There should be two identical front wheels.  Both should have the same rims as the rear wheels, 36 stainless spokes and mid-range dynamo hubs.  I currently have an Alfine dynamo on one bike and a SRAM D7 on another.  Either of those would be fine.

I’ve had good luck with Alex Adventurer rims.  So those are cool.

Having two sets of identical wheels goes a long way toward rules 5 and 6.  Easy wheel swaps, simple redundancy.  Multiple wheel-sets make the one bike thing possible.  Wheel and tire damage is probably the number one reason a bike gets sidelined in favor of another.  “Got a flat, ride a different bike” becomes “put on the other wheel”.

I’d need 3 pairs of tires.  The first pair should be a bullet proof (ok, flat resistant), durable commuter/touring tire.  Schwalbe Marathon Supreme, 700c x 40.  These tires would be the daily use tires.  I don’t have time to fix flats when I’m taking the girls to school.  I don’t want to fix flats at 1am when it’s 20F outside and I’m on my way home with groceries.

The second pair of tires is the fun pair.  Panaracer Pasela.  At least 32mm wides, preferably 37mm.  These would live on the higher geared wheels and be used for club rides and JRA.  I’d move them to the low-geared wheels for S24O and touring.

The third pair would be studded.  Nokian A10 or something like that.  These would replace the Marathons from the first snowfall until the end of February.

Two saddles and two seat posts.  One saddle should be made of thick leather.  I like my Velo-Orange Model 1.  A Brooks Pro or a Berthoud would work, too.  The leather saddle should be attached to a really nice seat post, like a Nitto Crystal Fellow.  This is the fun ride/S24O/touring saddle.

The second saddle should be plastic and attached to a cheaper post, like a Kalloy.  The Trail-a-bike hitch goes with the second one.  This is the utility, all weather, day to day saddle.

7-speed bar-end shifters.  I have a pair of Shimano 600 shifters that index.  They’re ancient and they still work perfectly.  Rivendell Silver Shifters on bar-end pods are my second choice

Sugino XD-2 crank.  26/36/48.  SKF bottom bracket.  MKS RMX Sneaker pedals.

I’m indifferent about derailers.  Long cage for the rear and a road triple for the front.  Something mid-range or better.

A slightly flared drop bar.  I’m not entirely sure which one.  After trying quite a few I’ve found that I really like both the Nitto B115 and the Salsa Cowbell.  I do like some variety in handlebars.  Having a second, different bar with its own levers and cables would make the occasional swap fairly painless.  I’m undecided on the specific second handlebar.

Shimano Dura-Ace brake levers for the drop bars.  Update:  I’ve changed my mind.  Tektro or Cane Creek levers.  They have a quick release button that really helps open up the brakes.

Fenders.  Berthoud stainless or Planet Bike Cascadia.  No SKS, no VO, no Honjo.

Lights for the dynamo.  B&M has a new super bright headlight with a USB charging port.  It should be available soon.  I want one.  This would be great for keeping the GPS and phone charged while on an S24O or tour.  The Toplight Line Plus is the most perfect dynamo taillight ever designed.  Fact.  I’d like a switch to turn it off independent of the headlight, so as to not blind the little one while she’s being towed.

Nitto Big Back Rack and some sort of top rack for the front that can hold a basket or handlebar bag.

That pretty much covers all of the rules except #1 – the frame-set.  It has to take racks and handle a camping load.  It has to pull a trailer.  It need clearance for 40mm tires and fenders.  It must be steel.  I prefer vertical drop-outs.  There’s a big, big list of bikes that will do this.  I can already hear a bunch of you saying “don’t be an idiot, get a Long Haul Trucker!”

I want side-pull caliper brakes.

WTF, Sloth?

That narrowed the list down a bit, didn’t it?

As far as I know, there is only one non-janky long reach brake that will handle 40mm tires and a fender.  It’s made by Tektro.  R559.

The only production frame I’m aware of that will do all of this is the Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen.  So there it is.  My one bike to tow them all.

Coming back down to reality, I can’t afford an A. Homer Hilsen.  With the current price of $2, 000 (that’s just the frame and fork, folks) set to increase in a few days to $2,300, it’s way out of the budget.  I could have a TIG-welded custom made for less if I kept it simple. If any of you are aware of another current production bike, complete or frame-set, that meets the requirements listed above, lemme know, because this little exercise really has me thinking.  The wife-type probably wouldn’t be thrilled with the initial expenditure, but I bet she’d be ecstatic about the reduction in clutter.

Another update:  The current batch of Sam Hillborne bikes also meet my needs.  It turns out the old ones had cantilever brakes.  The new ones have calipers.  Whee!  Civia had a bike in 2011 called the Prospect.  Looking at the pictures it should be able to handle a 38mm tire with fenders.  If I could track down one of those it would be even more affordable than the Sam, leaving more cash for the wheels and other do-dads.

Yet another update:  The Civia Prospect has horizontal dropouts.  I’m not sure how I missed that, but it’s a deal killer.  So we’re back to the two bikes I can’t afford.

Peace out, yo, and go ride your bike.

This entry was posted in Bicycle, Cycling Blogs, Dynamo, S24O, Wife. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to One bike to rule them all…

  1. Steve Wagner says:

    I like where you’re going with this, especially the 7spd drivetrains (I use 8spd on several of my bikes for the same reason) and the side-pull brake calipers, which remain my favorite of all types (and which I only discarded reluctantly in order to be able to use some truly fat tires).

    And, thanks for contributing to the one bike exercise.

    -s

  2. bone says:

    Why sidepull? You did that just to make things tricksy.

  3. doc says:

    I was going to mention the run of Hillbornes with calipers, but I see you found it. If you were willing to go back to the dark side (650B), you could look for a Bleriot.

    • the sloth says:

      I think the one bike needs to be 700c. Nothing against 650b, and the current tire selection would meet my needs, but the 700c selection is way better and available everywhere. It makes the one bike more hassle-free. Now if there were two bikes to rule them all…

  4. There was another Civia model a few years ago that used the Tektro R556 caliper to good effect… I think it was the Bryant with the Tiagra build kit option. If you get any other calipered 700c leads that DON’T feature Grant Petersen lugs (don’t get me started), I’d love to hear about them. My ’09 Raleigh Clubman (designed for 57mm brakes) has a little more clearance with 556s but not as much as I’d ideally like in a “do it all” bike. (It also has horizontal dropouts, which I dislike for fendering.)

    I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that if I ever go back to a “one to rule them all” mentality, it will have cantilevers — most likely an off-the-shelf steel cyclocrosser. Kinda drawn to the All City Macho Man these days.

  5. Pondero says:

    My hope is that you can find a deal on a used Hilsen. You convinced me. Now convince yourself, and (no excuses) make it happen… :)

  6. Wilson says:

    Wow. I am going to put this post into my Readability app and save it for coffee on a Saturday morning!

  7. Pingback: Reality bites… | fivetoedsloth

  8. Josh says:

    I have a Civia Prospect 2011 which I use a geared fast-commuter and light tourer. I run 700×25 on them and the specs say 700×38 max and x32 max with fenders. So that rules it out potentially.

    However, the dropouts are “semi-horizontal” I think and include a screw mechanism to help you line it up and move the position of the wheel exactly. I’m curious as to why you’re not a fan of horizontal? As a learning point for me more than anything else!

    • the sloth says:

      Josh, I’m sorry I didn’t reply to you way back in October. I don’t like horizontal dropout because they’re a pain when it comes to fenders. Often, depending on the tire, either the fender has to be disconnected at the bottom braket or dropouts, or the tire has to be deflated to get the wheel in and out. This isn’t necessarily the case with skinny tires, but with 38s it’s a given.

  9. Paul says:

    Buy once, cry once (maybe more from the smack upside the head from the wife than the price). Save and get the Riv.

    One other thought is some older 27″ frames. I have an 83 Trek that currently has Pasela 32′s. Not sure about 40′s fitting, though. I also like the center pull brakes, which I don’t need to deflate big tires to mount the wheel.

    Ok, last thought is a Rawland Nordavinden. Specs say 35 clearance, but the Prospect says that, too. Maybe you can convince Sean to spec the next batch for bigger tires.

  10. Jim says:

    An older Raleigh Royal seems to fit most of your wants. I tour on a 90s one and also use it for club rides. 531 frame and forks. It has rack braze-ons front and rear plus mudguard braze-ons. Will take wide tyres as it has canti fittings. I do like sidepulls though and stick to 28c tyres so I’ve drilled out the front and rear fork to accommadate sidepulls but still retain the canti option. Simples. Pics on my blog.

  11. Phil says:

    May also want to look into a Surly Pacer. I had a Steamroller (same tire clearance as Pacer) and fit 35 cross tires and 38 slicks easily in there.

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