Readers’ Commuter Bikes

Velos for Everyman: A selection of VeloWeb readers’ commuting bicycles and their travelling tales

Shane Kapcala

“I believe cargo bikes are going to become more and more popular….”

shanes-surly
Shane Kapcala’s Big Dummy (Click to enlarge)

Artist Shane Kapcala has been an avid cyclist all his life and has worked in the bicycle industry for 21 years, mostly as a mechanic, a trade he now plies at Victoria’s Fairfield Bicycle Shop. He recently built himself the ultimate cargo bike, based on a Surly Big Dummy, with a BionX electric-assist kit.

I decided to go with a cargo bike first and foremost, so I could carry groceries with ease.

I had been using an old Raleigh 3-speed bike for years with panniers and milk crate front basket to haul loads. This was fairly efficient, however it was always a nuisance, when loading the bike. Each time I would have to unpack my grocery bags, then reload my panniers.

With this rack system I can now just simply take my grocery bags and plunk them straight into the Xtracycle bags.

I also chose this bike setup to use for weekend camping trips and excursions. I realize people have been using regular bikes to do these kinds of trips for years—I’m not unfamiliar with touring bikes—but the touring bike idea seemed a little specific and would require the need for another bike for casual riding. With the Big Dummy, I can be casual and practical at the same time. I can use this bike to carry stuff long distances.

The motor assist kit was a bit of an embellishment. I’ll be the first to say I am very reluctant to use motor kits for every application.

I have plenty of experience dealing with motor kits, since I am a mechanic/tech at Fairfield Bicycle Shop, and have seen many over the years. I believe if you can ride, then ride. If there are good reasons—disabilities or perhaps aging—then, yeah, great, go for a motor kit. But to simply use the kit because you find getting up hills hard, well buck-up. I rationalized a motor kit for a cargo bike, because this application of the technology, in my opinion, made sense. To carry heavy loads, a motor system helps, so why not?

I chose a BionX kit so I could get some personal feedback on the system. I am a certified BionX tech and regularly deal with the problems these kits can have. I felt this would give me a better understanding of the troubles customers might experience.

I am in process of building and setting up an art-studio with a colleague, however the property is 40km out of town, which is not that far of a ride, but when you are carrying art supplies—not just paint-brushes, but lumber and tools—this cargo bike with motor kit fits the bill.

I believe cargo bikes are going to become more and more popular, especially in areas like Victoria where using a car to get around and shop is nearly ludicrous.

I would like to thank Ray for choosing to feature this bicycle; there is a huge variety of cargo bikes out there and I encourage anyone looking to carry lots of stuff easily to consider checking them out.

Happy Riding! Shane Kapcala

Details
Build
  • Frame: Surly Big Dummy 2012
  • Rack System: Xtracycle Trucker Kit with Xtracycle Kickback Kickstand
  • Motor Kit: BionX SL 350 HT XT 2012 (100 km range approx.)
  • Drive/Shift System: Shimano Deore Front & Rear Derailleurs,
    Shimano HG50 7 Speed 11-28T Freewheel
    Shimano SLX 22-32-44 Crank-Set
    Shimano SL-M310 Shift Pods (cheap but good)
  • Lighting System: SON Schmit Nabendynamo Hub
    Busch-Muller Lumotec IQ Light 24 Front Light
    Busch-Muller Toplight Rear Light
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 Mechanical Disc
  • Nigel Press

    “Pushing a 30lb fixed gear into headwinds … keeps me in pretty good shape.”

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Nigel Press’s Sekine (Click to enlarge)

    An old steel frame and an eclectic mix of components equals a reliable bike for Nigel Press

    I picked up the old Sekine frame from Henry Hulbert, B.C. Randonneur #7, at Bike Works (49 E. Hastings) and built it up as a fixed gear commuter with new and used parts from the bins there.

    My commute to work in Vancouver is around 10km: Down Adanac Street, over to Lougheed Highway via Douglas @ Boundary, following Lougheed all the way to Lake City Way.

    Heading east in the morning and west in the afternoon gives me headwinds both ways 90% of the time. Pushing a 30lb fixed gear into headwinds every day, plus the hills on Adanac, keeps me in pretty good shape.

    Build:
    • Frame: very old Sekine, late ’70’s early ’80’s? Down tube 62cm c-c, top tube 56cm c-c
    • Headset: old Shimano 600 with the funny shaped nut
    • Handle Bar: Nitto moustache
    • Stem: Nitto Dynamic 11cm
    • BB: Phil Wood
    • Crank: 175mm, Shimano taken from my Myata 1000
    • Pedals: Shimano SPD MTB
    • Rear wheel: fixed IRO hub with cheap Alex 32h rim
    • Front wheel: from Rivendell Quickebeam
    • Tires: Pasela 32mm
    • Fenders: front Velo-Orange, rear Honjo.
    • Chain guard: Velo-Orange
    • Rear rack: Nitto R10
    • Rear bag: Rivendell ”Little Joe”
    • Front Basket: picked up cheap at Dream Cycle

    Craig Premack

    “My commute—48km round trip, 4 times a week—accounts for more than half of my training.”

    craig-premack-commuter
    Craig Premack’s Iron Horse
    (click to enlarge)

    Neither rain, ice or hurricane deter year-round Vancouver commuter Craig Premack.

    This ‘IronHorse’ has lived up to its name—6 years of gritty, wet commuting, half of that in the dark.

    My ride is from Burnaby Mountain to Tilbury Industrial Park in Delta. I’ve been at it for 15 years now. I started off using the Alex Fraser Bridge, but the corrugated steel bike path is just asinine. It’s always the first bit to freeze and even wet it was lethal before they coated it. I use the Patullo now.

    My commute—48km round trip, 4 times a week—accounts for more than half of my training.

    My most notable ride has to be in the late 90’s, during a wicked wind storm. I was able to stop pedalling and coast up the bridge with a gusting 90 km/hr tailwind. Things got a little sketchy at the summit. I had to hug a lamp post and wait for a few minutes.

    Susanna Grimes

    ” I flew along, liberated by the lightness, extra gears and reduced tire friction.”

    susanna-grimes-commuter
    Susanna Grimes’ Mikado
    (click to enlarge)

    Bicycle advocate Susanna Grimes has left the car behind for the gift of two-wheel freedom.

    In my early days of bicycle commuting, I believed that it was meant to be work. It was about sweating and grunting, brow furrowed—serious business. It was like an awful-tasting medicine that was supposed to be good for me.

    I had an old blue Raleigh mountain bike—heavy, slow and knobby, with a somewhat uncomfortable seat, 24 inch wheels and 14 gears. One day, the fatigued chainstay broke. With financial constraints (and loyalty to my trusty bike) weighing upon my thoughts, I took it to my local store, Fairfield Bicycle Shop, to get the frame welded.

    As the days passed, I realized just how dependent I had actually become on the easy mobility, exercise and the feeling of freedom (despite the grunting and sweating). My car even started to seem redundant.

    When I went to pick up my bike, the manager took me outside and presented me with a gift: a beautiful pearl-coloured Mikado Odissee hybrid, with a steel frame, 24 gears, suspension seat post and forks, worth over a grand. WooHOO!

    I was the Victoria Bike to Work Week Coordinator by that point, and [as sponsors] I think they felt sorry for me with my broken Raleigh tank.

    I couldn’t get over how much fun riding a bike could be! I flew along, liberated by the lightness, extra gears and reduced tire friction. Bumps were absorbed by springs in the seatpost and forks. And it was q-u-i-e-t. I could go faster, farther, longer. What a revelation!

    Many who have long been enlightened might think this a no-brainer, but just look around at all the other ill-suited, ill-fitting bicycles out there. These people need help!

    Ten years later, I still have my beautiful Mikado and I ride it everywhere, all the time. It was—and still is—the best gift I have ever received.

    Gary Baker

    “… my trusty Metro serves as a daily commuter, winter beater, and weekend tourer.”

    garry-baker-commuter
    Gary Baker’s Rocky Mountain
    (click to enlarge)

    Gary Baker may be seen escorting several bikes, but it’s clear from this story that his heart belongs only to one.

    This bike, which started its life as a flat bar Rocky Mountain Metro, was my steed of choice from 1995 to 2005.

    In early 1995, I planned a solo ride across Canada and after considerable research had a vision of the perfect bike for the job. Except I couldn’t find one that matched.

    Then, one day I saw it leaning against the back wall of Rocky Cycle in Surrey, BC. It was a Metro dressed with racks, fenders, 35mm tires and low gearing (22/34/44 X 11-30)—the perfect bike for carrying a heavy load and riding any road surface. The problem was, it belonged to the shop mechanic who was unwilling to part with it.

    Happily, the shop had a Metro frame in my size collecting dust in the storage room and for $100 it could be mine. I built it up as an exact copy of the mechanic’s bike.

    Shortly after, I found myself unemployed. What better excuse to take that solo cross-Canada trek! Yet fate intervened with a great job and I terminated the ride in Marguette, Michigan.

    For the next several years, this was my only bike and served as a commuter and touring companion. In the late 1990s it was completely rebuilt and repainted, changed from a wonderful, but badly marked up English auto racing green to safety yellow. In 2000, I returned to Marquette and completed the ride to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    In the hybrid configuration, I rode it through my first year of Randonneuring, completing the qualifying series, with just a move to lighter (28mm) tires.

    Then, I completely rebuilt the bike again—new everything, including a beautiful yellow powder coating. The big change was converting the bike to a sport road configuration with drop bars, in preparation for the 2004 Rocky Mountain 1200.

    These days, my trusty Metro serves as daily commuter, winter beater, and weekend tourer. It is still my most comfortable bike and my favorite to ride.

    From August ’95 to September 2000, I worked for North Island College, on Vancouver Island. Although my job required a fair bit of driving, I’d often commute from my home on Sproat Lake the 14km into town. With a little ingenuity, I could stretch this up to 20km one-way. Deer and bear sighting were common on quiet country roads.

    In October 2000, I moved to Cultus Lake, on the Mainland. As I am now retired, most of my commuting is to go shopping. The three major shopping areas are 7km, 12km, and 15km from our house. My favorite bike store (Pedalsport) is at the 15 km point. I often throw the panniers on the bike and head off to get that jug of milk, bananas, or bike part. To get a little extra mileage, I may go by way of Yarrow and Majuba Hill, then climb over Chilliwack Mountain, making for a pleasant 50km round trip. Trying to sprint up the hill into Cultus Lake on the way home with four loaded panniers is always good to get the heart rate up!

    Patrick Wright

    “… it’s the most horrible bicycle I have ever ridden. The frame is as resilient as a concrete bridge abutment.”

    patricks-tankbike
    Patrick Wright’s “TankBike”
    (click to enlarge)

    Obeying the maxim “waste not, want not,” Patrick Wright took a curbside castoff and turned it into a serviceable, short-run commuting bike. Though “TankBike” doesn’t perform like his road bikes, he doesn’t have to sit in the university lecture hall worrying about its security all day.

    My commuting bicycle is something I put together from a “free” frame I found on the side of the road. By the time I’d bought a fork, handlebars, chain, rear derailleur and hanger it’s freeness quotient had diminished.

    This bike has two functions: the first is to not get stolen and the second is to take me from home to the university, which is about 5km.

    Apart from that, it’s the most horrible bicycle I have ever ridden. The frame is as resilient as a concrete bridge abutment. For those who read Bicycle Quarterly magazine, it most emphatically does not “plane.”

    Only one of the seat stay rack attachments is functional, which means the rack can twist. I can ride no hands with a pannier on one side of the bike but if I put the pannier on the other side I have to hold onto the bars with extra force. Needless to say, I always put the pannier on the side that makes the bike track straight.

    The Q-factor [width between outside cranks] is about 185mm. Most of my other bikes are around 40mm less so it feels like riding a horse. And forget about spinning smoothly up hills.

    Some of it’s other horrible features are my own fault: everyone is on at me about cutting down the steerer tube. The handlebar stem uses a wedge clamp to grip the steerer, but it bottoms out, so over time the headset becomes loose. The front fender is too short and the geometry makes changing your line mid-corner impossible.

    Although there is a rear derailleur on the bike, it’s just a chain tensioner. I opted to forego a front derailleur entirely. The cranks are cheap Shimano units that had a plastic decoration on the outside which I took great delight in smashing, to remove it. Mostly I use the middle ring; I tried the big ring but it was too hard on the hill up to the university. Occasionally I’ll hit a bump and find myself in the granny gear—automatic transmission.

    I have an old, almost straight block 12-19, 7-speed freewheel from a friend’s time trial bike on the back, which looks pretty funny to me. I use the 16 cog. The back wheel cost $35 from Our Community Bikes in Vancouveer.

    On the front is a used wheel with a Suzue hub and an Araya rim. Seatpost is a Kalloy freebee and the saddle is a WTB SST ($5 at Sport Junkies). The brakes are Avid single digit that another friend donated. I stole the City Slicker tires from my wife’s MTB. Planet Bike fenders ready the bike for rain.

    The Japanese-made bell cost $2, at Mountain Equipment Coop. It has a nice tone and is useful for startling professors on campus. Meanwhile, students are all listening to music or talking on the phone, so you just have to dodge them as best you can.

    I carry all my gear for school—books, clothes, laptop—in an Ortlieb pannier, a wonderful piece of kit. When days are short, I need lights. On the front is a Planet Bike Beamer5, which is good for being seen and useless for seeing with. On the back, I have an old Cateye blinky.

    If not completely utilitarian, I can feel satisfied that this bike is truly reused and recycled.

    Lindsay Martin

    “The main excitement is the 300 metre sprint across the bridge”

    lindsay-martin-commuter
    Lindsay Martin’s Redline
    (click to enlarge)

    Lindsay took an economical Redline 9.2.5 and went crazy. This steel frame friend is his favourite all-round commuter. Can a fork raked for front loads be far off?

    My commute is a short ride through downtown Victoria, BC, across the Johnson Street Bridge, to Victoria West.

    If I make every light (only once in 2-1/2 years of commuting), the trip takes 10 minutes. In reality, it usually takes about 15 minutes or so.

    Riding through the downtown core means riding with traffic in car clogged streets. The main excitement is the 300 metre sprint across the bridge.

    I bought the original Redline 9.2.5 in 2007. I’ve replaced the factory “flip-flop” singlespeed/fixed gearing with a Shimano Nexus 8-speed internally geared hub. There have been some teething problems with the initial conversion, but things are now working smoothly. I highly recommend this gearing system for soggy West Coast commuting as there is very little maintenance required.

    The front rack is a bit of a joke. It is an expensive stainless steel courier rack from Velo Orange. However, the bike is not designed for carrying weight up front, so the rack is a fancy headlamp holder! The lamp is a Schmidt E6 halogen, attached to a Schmidt SON dynohub.

    The final embellishments are a Brooks B-17 saddle and Nitto Randonneur handlebars.

    All this on a bike I swore I wouldn’t upgrade!

    Michael Fisher

    “Cycling to and from work seems to me to be a very pleasurable way to get around. Cyclists talk to others and are at one with nature.”

    m-fisher_commuter
    Michael Fisher’s Raleigh
    (click to enlarge)

    Back in the saddle after a 30 year hiatus, what began as a “cost benefit analysis” has blossomed into long-lost love affair with the bicycle for Michael Fisher, of Victoria, BC. Like VeloWeb’s author, Fisher’s early introduction to cycling began in the English county of Shropshire.

    I would go on long rides into the countryside in the early 1970’s just to explore and enjoy the scenery.  This culminated in a 100 mile one-day trip in North Wales.

    In the mid 1970’s I moved to London and cycled for a short time but became convinced I would not live to see 21, riding my bike in London traffic. The huge roundabout at Swiss Cottage struck me as suicidal and soon after that I gave up cycling for the next 30 years.

    However, with an economics degree and grounding in the theory and practice of cost benefit analysis, on moving from the prairies to balmy Victoria, I applied my vocation to a study of commuting alternatives in my newly-adopted city:

    Cost

    • $400 department store bike
    • $200 clothing
    • $100 extra donuts and snacks (to be honest here)

    Benefits

    • $1800 saved parking costs downtown
    • $450 gas not used
    • $300 saved fitness club fees
    • Improved health and happiness– priceless.

    Net gain: $1,850 per year tax free, assuming a new bike and clothes every year.

    I find myself really looking forward to the ride along Wharf Street and over the Blue Bridge and am pleased to be saving the environment one pedal at a time. My already low mileage in the aging car has dropped to next to nothing now while I add up the mileage on my very ordinary bike.

    As a car driver I used to curse cyclists who dressed in black and carried no lights, so perhaps I have gone overboard with twin lights front and back and a lime green high visibility jacket. This way if someone hits me, I know
    it’s deliberate!

    Another golden rule I recall from my motorcycling days is to assume everyone on the road is trying to kill you. Generally it is safe to assume that that car will run the light, so don’t count on it stopping. This has helped keep me alive.

    I make sure my bike is kept in good shape with excellent brakes and correct tire pressure. I have disassembled the wheel bearings and made sure everything is well lubricated.

    Cycling to and from work seems to me to be a very pleasurable way to get around. Cyclists talk to others and are at one with nature. Coming over the hill on Cook Street and seeing the mountains glistening in the sun makes me feel good. It’s just not the same in a steel box, uh, car.

    Deirdre Arscott

    “When I got a new bike for long distance events, my pumpkin was left languishing in the garage.”

    deirdre-arscott-pumpkin
    Deirdre Arscott’s “Pumpkin”
    (click to enlarge)

    Seven-time Paris Brest-Paris ancienne Deirdre Arscot recently reignited her love affair with an old flame. The Orange Pumpkin does her proud as a time-tested commuter.

    If you’ve been to Cambridge, England, you’ll know that there are bicycles everywhere. At the train station there must be a couple of thousand bicycles, parked by commuters. I lived there until I was twelve, so it’s no wonder that I’ve been a bicycle commuter my entire life.

    Here in Vancouver, my commute is only 7 km each way, but on a wet winter’s day that’s far enough. In the summer, I often go for a loop around the University of British Columbia to extend the distance. I ride the designated bike routes as much as possible, using the 10th Avenue and Valley routes for commuting.

    What do I ride to commute? Why, my pumpkin, what else!

    My pumpkin is an orange coloured bike, originally custom made for me at Carlton Cycle by Alex Mann, in 1989. I used it for long distance events with BC Randonneurs until two years ago. It’s done Paris-Brest-Paris a couple of times, ridden across Canada, and generally taken me on many adventures.

    When I got a new bike for long distance events, my pumpkin was left languishing in the garage. I wanted a fat-tired bike for commuting, and it was fellow BCRCC club member Michel Richard who suggested I put 650B wheels on the pumpkin. He even tested the concept by putting his long reach brakes and 650B wheels on my bike. It worked, so I was all set! I’d install the 650B wheels and, if I really wanted to, it would be easy to go back to my 700C wheels and short reach brakes.

    I ordered the 650B rims (Velocity Synergy) and the long reach brakes (Tektro R556) and I took my bicycle frame to Dekerf cycles in Richmond to have it re-painted. It’s now, in my opinion, a gorgeous “electric pumpkin” colour. Dekerf told me that they call it tangerine but I could call whatever I wanted! At the same time, I had Dekerf install S&S couplers, so that the bike now disassembles and fits in a suitcase for travelling. It’s wonderful for commuting and touring, it’s still taking me on adventures, and, it’s beautiful!
    Deirdre Arscott (AKA Pumpkin Rider)

    Harold Bridge

    “On the way, a big explosion behind me had me look back toward home.”

    harold-bridge-ernie-clements
    Harold on his Ernie Clements, The Worthing Road, London, 1960
    (click to enlarge)

    Octogenarian Harold Bridge looks back on a lifetime of commuting. Not that he’s sitting on his laurels. Though the retiree doesn’t need to commute to work these days, his total distance logged in 2009 exceeded 12,000 kilometres!

    In 1941, I started at the Enfield College of Technology, about 3 miles (5 kms) from home. I had been using a 20 inch James Gross Dad bought for me in 1935. When I outgrew that, it was replaced with a Hecules 21 inch sports bike, equipped, as before, with a single fixed gear.

    Easter 1944, I went to work in a radar production facility, about 4 miles (6 kms) from home. Wartime conditions made for an exciting commute. One day, I was reluctant to go to work.

    On the way, a big explosion behind had me look back toward home. A plume of smoke in the vicinity gave the excuse I needed. As it turned out we were safe; it was nowhere near home.

    January 1946, I reported to the Royal Navy @ HMS Royal Arthur. After basic training, I went to RAF Melksham in the West Country for technical training, Ninety-five miles (151 kms) was a rather long commute home, when tackled on a racing bike of doubtful parentage.

    As a civilian again, I got a job in London, a 20 mile (32 km) round trip. I can’t separate commuting distance from recreational or competitive cycling, but for 20 years — 1944 to 1964 — I was averaging about 10,000 miles (16,000 km) annually.

    1948/9, I worked in Ponders End, an eastern enclave of my hometown Enfield. Our factory was just the other side of a level crossing.

    One guy I worked with had bent his handlebars in to about 12 inches wide to give him more chance of getting through the level crossing gates!

    In 1953, I got a job as an electrician in what had been the Royal Gunpowder Factory (This should have been written yesterday [Nov. 5], Guy Fawkes Day, because that was where the explosives came from with which Fawkes would have blown up Parliament in 1605).

    At the end of WW2, the place was to be closed. But the local MP, one Winston Churchill, got it transformed into the Explosives R&D Establishment.

    It was 4.5 miles (7 kms) from home. I was always late. But the ride to work was almost all down hill, with the exception of the climb out of the dip at Forty Hill. My record was around 11 minutes, on a 70 inch fixed. My route passed through 3 counties: Middlesex, Hertfordshire & Essex.

    The biggest gear I ever rode was 135 inch — 60 x12 fixed wheel. I rode to work on that for a laugh. I was quite pleased I managed to turn that up Forty Hill on the way home.

    My last job in UK prior to emigration to Canada was with London Transport as a circuit designer for the Underground system. Northwest London has significant hills and I had a 17 mile (28 km) commute to Earl’s Court in West London from my North London home.

    The Ernie Clements “Super Route” I had built in 1954 lasted through to about 1996. By that time the bottom bracket was rusted out.

    In 1964, I had quit racing, but the ambience at the Bath Road 100 on August Bank Holiday caused me to announce my plan to ride the North Road 24, “For Old Time’s Sake.” I had 3 weeks to prepare.

    I piled on the hilly miles out of London. I think I did 300 (480 kms) a week.

    Under the circumstances, 370 miles (595 km) in the 24 [-hour time trial] was as good as I could expect.

    My final British commute happened October 15, 1964. My wife & I said farewell to my parents, rode round the corner to my old elementary school, voted for Harold Wilson and fled the country!

    In Quebec, a skiing accident in January 1966 put my left leg in a cast. When it came off, the surgeon instructed me to not put any weight on the leg. The 7 mile (12 km) commute to Canadian Aviation Electronics took me over an hour the first day. You can imagine the response when I was seen riding a bike to work, then getting on crutches!

    In British Columbia, I got a job in Prince George. The commute was short, and, suffering from a North American diet, I soon weighed 196 lbs!

    In 1992, I had 3 weeks of computer courses at British Columbia Institute of Technology. The penultimate day, July 9, was my 65th birthday.

    The weather was good and I braved the traffic mayhem of Lougheed Highway on my 1954 “Ernie Clements.” Round trip 31 miles (50 kms). The day after the final class at BCIT was the 600 [kilometre randonée]. I did my fastest 600 — 32hrs:43min — that weekend.

    It says a lot for commuting by bike.

    Ron Penner

    “Some days I just cruise beside the great rolling river and have the occasional view of herons fishing.”

    ron-penner-commuter
    Ron Penner’s IRO
    (click to enlarge)

    Vancouver, BC commuter and randonneur Ron Penner uses his ride to work as training. But, as he tells us, commuting can be a joy in itself.

    The commute:

    I started bike commuting about 15 years ago, summers only, to battle a “pound a year” inflation rate around my mid-section. As equipment and clothing got better, my commute seasons grew to eventually cover the entire year. I do not commute in ice and snow, but they are rare enough that last year I rode my bike to work 200 days (a record for me).

    I started keeping a log in March 1998, and since that date have ridden 81,000 km (probably about half commuting), and ridden to work about 1600 times. The work destinations have been downtown, West Broadway, Simon Fraser University, South Vancouver and, for the last 8 years, East Richmond.

    The companies I’ve worked for have always had showers, but recently my current company added a small area for indoor bike storage (maximum of 6 bikes) which will probably double the life of some of my more rustable components.

    I have three different routes I can take. They are based around the bridge I choose to cross: Knight St. means a 10.5 km route, Oak St. is 15.5 km and Queensborough Bridge makes it 28 kms. The worse the weather or tighter my schedule, the more likely the day will include Knight St. in the morning and Oak St. coming home, for a total of 26 km. In March, I start doing the Queensborough more often in order to build up mileage for the brevet season.

    The best parts of the commute are cool, dry mornings when I have time to take the Queensborough route. There is a stretch along River Road — about 10 km — with no lights or stop signs. In a large metro area, this is pretty rare. Some days I just cruise beside the great rolling river and have the occasional view of herons fishing. This is often a short “time trial,” where I sit just below my lactate threshold and see what speeds I can achieve.

    The worst part of my commute is definitely No. 6 Road, in Richmond. There’s no shoulder, but mostly there are many drivers in a hurry. About 80% of the “close calls” that are a part of any rush hour ride happen on that 2 km stretch. I’ve only been hit 5 times over those 81 million meters of riding, and most have been minor. On two occasions, the drivers stopped, asked if I was OK, and offered to fix what they had bent, so on the whole I’ve been lucky.

    The bike:

    The IRO Rob Roy was purchased around Christmas 2005, so it is entering its 3rd winter of service. It is supposed to be a single speed cyclocross frame and comes with cantilever brake studs and heavy straight gauge tubing. It’s light, graceful, flexible, maneuverable, just like a tank. It started life with a 7-speed Shimano internal hub, but that did not last long. I quickly tired of spending all those calories warming up the hub — efficiency was poorer than expected. Since then the bike has been fixed gear, usually around 68 or 69 gear inches. A bit low for the flats, but it enables me to drag my body up the Ontario and Knight St. hills, even in February, when most of the muscles I coaxed into existence last summer are a distant memory.

    I put “cowhorn” bars on because I find them very useful on fixed gear climbs—the hand position is good for pulling. I run 25 or 28mm tires, usually with some sort of kevlar belt to minimize flats. I am very fond of LED lights in winter. The long life and reliability are so good, and most streets are at least partially lit, so high beams are not required.

    Luis Bernhardt

    ” I think riding on snow and ice has made me a much better bike handler, since I don’t like riding off-road.”

    luis-commuter
    Luis Bernhardt’s Benotto
    (click to enlarge)

    Ex-racer and experienced randonneur Luis Bernhardt is another Vancouver, BC commuter who favours fixed.

    I’ve been commuting by bike ever since I came to Canada in the early 1970’s, on a fixed gear bike for a substantial number of those commutes. This started off as a winter training regimen; I had heard that the European pros rode a fixed gear in the winter, so I did too.

    My first fixed-gear bike was a Gitane Interclub track bike, a medium-price 70’s-style bike made with straight-gauge chrome-moly tubing and equipped with French components. Those who have used older French components know that they have a well-earned reputation for breaking. The Normandy hubs and Stronglight headset and bottom bracket soon packed it in, and the spindle broke on one of the Lyotard pedals.

    I sold that and followed the advice of my track coach and converted my backup road bike, which already had both brakes, to a fixed gear for the winter. I rode fixed gears, usually 42×16, during my four years of winter commutes up Burnaby Mountain to Simon Fraser University. It was much safer with the fixed gear coming down the hill in the winter, often covered in a foot of snow, sliding with rear wheel locked up in the steeper sections.

    The bike pictured is a steel Benotto Modelo 2700. This was their top of the line track frame in the 80’s. I bought it at the Benotto Factory in Mexico City, in 1989. It cost me the equivalent of $235 US dollars for the frame, and I used the money I had just won in a masters’ stage race between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, so I usually tell people I won it at a race.

    I raced the bike between 1990 and 1994, setting most of my personal best times on the track. From 1995, I used the bike as a track backup and for training on the Burnaby Velodrome.

    I drilled a hole in the rear bridge for a brake, and installed a carbon fiber road fork. All I needed to do for the track was remove the handlebar and brakes and install a track handlebar, change the chainring from 42 to 47 teeth, and change the wheels from road clinchers to track tubular. I also had to swap chains, since there was a 2-link difference required by the gearing. I use clip-on fenders to commute, since they don’t require any brake clearance and I enjoy riding in the rain. You have to enjoy the rain if you want to ride in Vancouver.

    The objective now is to use this bike in the 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris. It will then have carried me to my personal bests at distances between 200 meters and 1200 km. Being a track bike, with steep 74-degree angles, high 11” bottom bracket, and the associated quick steering, it is an unlikely bike for long brevets, but that’s part of the attraction – I enjoy being irreverent, plus it is my way of honoring the initial PBP riders who also did the distance on fixed gears.

    My current commute is from my Burnaby Mountain home to downtown Vancouver. Shortest distance one-way is 16 km, but I usually take the 21 km route in, and make a ride of the trip home, going around UBC or through the North Shore in the summer.

    In the winter, the tracks left in the snow by the bike’s 23mm tires are usually one of two or three sets made along the Adanac route by around 7:30 in the morning. I think riding on snow and ice has made me a much better bike handler, since I don’t like riding off-road. The only time I’m reluctant to ride to work is the second or third day after a big snowfall if the snow has thawed and refrozen. Very tricky conditions! I really wish local governments would plow the bike routes.