Troubleshooters.Com Presents

   Steve Litt's Guide
to Transportational Bicycling

Copyright (C) 2004-2005, 2007, 2009 by Steve Litt



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I'm Steve Litt. I created the Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP). I create and license UTP courseware, as well as teaching the UTP onsite. I've written five books on troubleshooting: "Troubleshooting: Tools, Tips and Techniques", "Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist", and "The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting", Troubleshooting: Just the Facts, and Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting. Past professions include software developement, electronic repair, corrosion engineering, and bicycle repair.

I currently ride my bike about 30 miles per week. That probably doesn't sound like much to someone reading this website, but it adds up to 1500 miles per year -- enough to wear out a lot of components and even whole bicycles in a few years. Steve Litt bicycling facts include:
I'm a special kind of bike rider -- a transportational cyclist. We transportational cyclists are sometimes misunderstood...

Bike shops see only two rider categories -- racers/club riders, and once a week recreationists. Most bike shop employees are racers, so they don't understand the person who needs fast, reliable transportation, but doesn't need to spend thousands to eek out the last 1% of performance. They don't understand why anyone would lock their bike, or jump curbs. And they just can't fathom why anyone would't need an ultra light bike.

Bicycle manufacturers don't understand us. They manufacture two categories of bike -- expensive road bikes, and bikes designed to last only the 700 miles that the average bike purchaser puts on his bike.

Drivers don't understand us -- they think we should be on the sidewalk.

Many of us spend hundreds of dollars on replacement parts, and yet few see us as a market.

Politicians think they're doing us a favor by creating bike trails, and then pass laws banning us from whole suburbs.

There are thousands of us.

This website is devoted to transportational cycling. City biking and cross country touring. If you ride a bike for the purpose of actually getting somewhere, this is your website. It even has gearing spreadsheets. It's in a constant state of development, so if you don't see what you need now, check back.


Throughout this document I assume the transportational cyclist does not use a "road bike", meaning a bike designed primarily for speed. The reason is that unless one spends four figures, the necessary durability will not be there. In the 70's and 80's one could buy cheap and durable road bikes from Schwinn, Fuji and other manufacturers, but those days are gone.

Likewise, I assume the transportational cyclist does not use a "comfort bike", which is one of those albatrosses designed so the handlebars come up pretty much to the rider's chin. Such a configuration might be comfortable for 5 miles, but on longer rides it's both uncomfortable and slow.

Throughout this document I generally assume the transportational cyclist uses either a "mountain bike" modified to include road features such as smooth tires and a 48 tooth large front sprocket, or a "hybrid bike" sporting a mountain bike like geometry but 27x11/4 smooth tires for a better experience on pavement.

That being said, the principles enumerated in this document are valid, no matter what kind of bike you start with.

Transportational Bike Requirements

As mentioned, transportational biking has a few basic requirements:
Did you notice that light weight isn't a requirement? We don't need the ultimate in acceleration to stay in a draft line. If it takes us 10% longer to get there, it's no big deal.

Durability in the face of rough handling

The bike racer, triathalete or exercise seeker can plan long rides on smooth roads. He or she plans rides according to his top priority -- training.

How different it is for transportational cyclists. We must get to work, even if it requires curb jumping, gravel roads, railroad tracks and the like. Transportational bikers can't slow down for these obstacles because we have schedules to keep.

Another durability challenge is cars. Especially in the city we contend with drunk drivers, cell phone drivers, tired drivers, old drivers, unaware drivers, stupid drivers and hostile drivers. We get car-doored, right-turned, left-turned, knocked down, and forced off the road. Because we're eternally vigilant, our injuries are usually minor, but standing up to this type of abuse requires a special kind of durability in one's bicycle.

Transportational bike riders come in 2 flavors -- city and cross country (touring). Both need to carry luggage. A cross country bike rider is likely to have 40 pounds of gear over the rear wheel. 18 spokes holding a skinny rim is not an option. In the city it might be worse. I remember carrying an entire bookshelf's worth of lumber on the back of my bike. As a free lance electronic technician I often carried all my tools in rear-mounted saddlebags, and carried the saddlebags into the customer site.

Another duribility issue is mileage. The transportational cyclist is likely to put on 10 miles a day. That's over 3000 miles per year. At one point in my life, having no car, I logged 200 miles a week. That's 10,000 miles per year. Even with all the right maintenance, it takes a strong bike and strong components to handle that kind of mileage.

Certain bike elements are especially vulnerable and need fortification:

As an overweight rider who pushes heavy gears, I start to wear out a Shimano IG-50 chain in about 300 miles. At  600 miles, if I don't replace the chain, it will start grinding down the rear sprockets, necessitating their replacement. The problem is the new chain designs that encourage smooth shifting, but also encourage chain stretch. Modern derailleur chains look something like this:
Modern derailleur chain
Notice that the outer links are curved outward. The strength of this chain is limited by the resistance to bending of those curves, instead of the tensile strength of the metal itself. The bends start straightening, so the chain stretches quickly, and when it does, it begins to wear down your gears, especially the smaller gears on your rear cog.

Derailleur chains from the 1970's looked like this:
Oldschool derailleur chain
Such "straight line" chains stretched only when the materials themselves stretched -- a very slow process. In the 1970's and 1980's I routinely got over a thousand miles on a chain -- sometimes a lot more, and back then I wasn't diligent about chain lubrication.

To maximize the durability of your chain, clean and lubricate it often.
Rear wheel
The geometry of a bike dictates that about 2/3 of the rider's weight falls on the rear wheel. If the rider is 150 lbs, the rear wheel supports 100 lbs. A 240 lb rider would put 160 lbs on the rear wheel. But wait -- there's more -- most heavy luggage is carried on racks, rack mounted baskets, or rack mounted saddlebags over the rear wheel. With typical geometry, every ounce of rack mounted luggage is supported by the rear wheel.

As if that weren't bad enough, it's harder for the rider to protect the rear wheel. When jumping a curb, the rider can easily push down on a pedal, yank up on the handlebars, making the front wheel completely clear the curb. Unless the rider is skilled at stunts and is not carrying rear luggage, the best he can do to protect the rear wheel is to stand on the pedals with his legs bent, and try to have his legs take the impact instead of the rear wheel.

To maximize durability of the rear wheel, do this:
  • Have at least 36 spokes.
  • Rims should be wide and thick. Tubular rims are a plus.
  • Replace spokes as soon as possible after they break.
  • When jumping obstacles, get off the seat and stand. Never jump obstacles unless you can safely do so.
Tire performance has massively improved over the last 40 years. In 1965 only a super skinny sew-up tire could hold 100 pounds per square inch. In 1973 they introduced 90 psi clinchers (non-sew-ups) in the 27x11/8 form factor, but wider tires (26x13/8) were still around the 60 psi, with baloon tire bikes down around 35 psi. Today my rear tire is a 26x1.50 Specialized Nimbus Armadillo sporting a 100 psi max.


Some time around 2005 or 2006, Specialized came out with their "new" Armadillo Nimbus with an 80 psi max rating instead of the 100 psi rating of the "old" Armadillo Nimbus. In my opinion this is a serious step down, but even so it's still the best tire. On all but the smoothest surfaces, I find 80 psi to be faster than 100 psi, because I need the elastic shock absorption.

Unfortunately, tire durability hasn't kept up with tire performance. I've had many tires blow out after less than 500 miles. And because we have more junk on the roadway than in prior years, punctures abound.

If you ride 26" wheels, I strongly recommend Specialized Nimbus Armadillo tires. Yes, they cost $30.00 apiece, but they're worth it. You can ride them with as much as their rated maximum of 100 psi (counterproductive on anything but the smoothest roads), or as little as 60 psi (maybe less, but I've never tried it). They have built in armor protection to prevent punctures from all but the nastiest road hazards. Their smooth tread is fast.

On your front wheel you might be able to fake it with a Wal-Mart $9.00 special, but do yourself a favor -- put a Specialized Nimbus Armadillo tire on your 26" rear wheel.
Frame When I started riding in the late 1960's, all the way through the 1980's, most frames were durable enough to handle anything except a bad crash. In the early 1970's, a guy car-doored me while I was whipping down Chicago's Clark Street at 20mph. The impact knocked his door off the hinges. Damage to my Schwinn -- the front wheel pretzelled and everything else was perfect. They made frames tough back then.

Then they started making bikes with thinner tubing. The stated reason was to make the bikes lighter, but I think it was to save money. I recently had a brand new, brand name bike frame rust through in just three years.

Shock absorbers are another problem area. Just like their cousins on cars, these wear out long before the frame, but are very expensive to replace.

The bottom line is that when you budget for a new bike, do not expect the frame to last 10,000 miles like frames of yore. This is especially true if you pay less than $800.00 for the bike. Don't use 10,000 miles in your calculations of how much to spend -- you just might get only half of that.

Another option is to consider using an old frame. They're being thrown out all the time, and even if you don't find one in the dumpster, you can buy old bikes cheap. This requires A LOT more work on your part, especially due to the lack of part interchangability in the last 10 years, but if you get overly frustrated with having the frame of a $300.00 bike go bad after only 3 years, old bikes should enter into your calculations.

Old or new, to enhance frame durability, clean your bike's tubing every ride or every few rides, maybe using wax. Try to prevent scratches, and touch them up when you get them. This is not aesthetics -- it's corrosion protection on modern frames that aren't much thicker than a tin can. Try not to crash.

Ability to carry luggage

The racer or exercise enthusiast can ride 100 miles with just a frame pump, water bottle, and seat mounted bag carrying basic tools and a spare tube. Life is a little different for the transportational rider.

The city biker carries laundry and groceries. At various times I've carried some pretty strange things:
A very strong rear rack is essential. The best were the tubular steel Schwinn racks from the 70's and 80's -- I carried people on those. Today's lighter weight aluminum racks are sufficient for most city schlepping, but be sure to get the kind that bolts to your rear stays -- not just to your seat post. When bolting them on your bike, try to use locking nuts, double nuts or thread locking glue -- anything to keep it from coming unscrewed while carrying 50 lbs of stuff.

Carried items can be attached to the rack with bungee cords. Often you can mount a box on top of the rack, but try not to put much weight in it, as that will raise your center of gravity, possibly to the point of instability. Saddle bags are VERY convenient -- just throw them over, tie a couple things to prevent sliding, lash on some horizontal braces to prevent them tangling in your spokes, and off you go. When you get to your destination you can bring them inside.

Consider rear mounted baskets. Some just hook on to an existing rack, but the stronger models include their own integrated rack. Baskets eliminate the need for time consuming fastening to a rack, although I'd recommend a bungee cord to prevent your possessions bouncing out of the rear mounted baskets. The one problem with baskets is they make rear flat changing, derailleur and brake adjusting, and most other work on the rear wheel much more time consuming.

A front basket is very convenient, especially with a 1 speed bike or internal hub multispeed with coaster brake. Front baskets can interfere with cabling, but depending on your handlebars, you can probably mount the front basket in such a way that such interference is minimal, especially if you're willing to use different hardware than the hardware included with the basket. Try not to carry anything heavy in your front basket, as it makes your steering slow, oscillatory and dangerous. Keep it under 10 pounds in front, unless you really know what you're doing.

The cross country tourist needs a VERY heavy duty rear rack, a large pair of saddlebags draped over the rack, and a sleeping bag mounted on top of the rack. The sleeping bag is rolled, and might contain bluejeans or other clothes not needed until night. I always wrapped my tent material around the sleeping bag so that the sleeping bag stayed dry, and also to conserve space in my saddlebags. The cross country biker needs at least two large water bottles -- one to drink and one for the dogs.

Proper fit and riding position

As mentioned before, many transportational riders often go 10 or more miles per day, and they have schedules to meet. The riding position must be both fast and comfortable.

For city bikers, that precludes the turned-down handlebars so prevalent on road bikes. The city biker needs to easily look up, scanning the road for potential car door throwers, left turners, right turners, the cellphone-centric, dogs, potholes, and other "challenges".

The cross country rider might want turn down handlebars for greater speed, but many cross country riders consider the down position too tiring 10 hours a day for days on end.

Any transportational biker needs the handlebars low enough that he or she's leaning forward. The rider's center of gravity must be approximately over the forward pedal -- not over the bottom bracket. The latter would cause the rider to be pushed backwards every time he or she pushes hard, requiring a forward pull on the handlebars. In addition, it's usually a good idea to have the handlebars forward enough so as not to be "hunched up", but not so forward as to sacrifice control or lose the ability to pull up on the handlebars while accellerating to beat a bus.

Handlebar positioning adjustment is accomplished:
  1. Raising or lowering the handlebar stem on expander/wedge type stems.
  2. Raising or lowering the clamp-on stem, assuming the fork's steering tube has not been sawed off.
  3. Obtain an adjustable angle stem, either expander/wedge or clamp on.
  4. You can get a special adjustable do-hicky that goes between the fork and the clamp-on stem.
#1 is pretty much what we've done since eternity. #2 is a hack -- leaving the steering tube full length means that in a crash your face can go right into the top of that tube -- not pretty. #3 would be great except my experience is that when you yank up hard while accellerating, the adjustment gives out and the handlebars pull up. Ughhh! #4 sounds nice but I've never tried it (I've always had expander/wedge stems).

The seatpost should be adjusted so that if the rider were to pedal with his arches, his legs would straighten on the downstroke. Fine adjust from there. Lower riding positions accommodate faster pedal cadences, while higher riding positions accomodate endurance. There's probably an inch area where this tradeoff occurs -- everything below that is so low as to cause muscle cramping after a moderate ride, everything above that range is so high that the rider will rock back and forth, losing power and irritating his bottom.

Now here's one more thing. Unless you weigh 90 pounds, jacking up the seat really high will likely cause the seatpost to bend. This is exacerbated by the new "compact frames":

traditional frame This is a traditional frame. The top tube is parallel to the ground, so by definition the bottom of the seat post and the bottom of the handlebar stem are the same height. If you raise the seat post 4 inches and raise the handlebars 2 inches, you have a nice racing position with drop bars. Or if you prefer straight bars, don't raise the handlebars at all, and you'll still have a reasonably down and forward riding position suitable for fast city commuting.

Traditional frames are no longer available except in used bikes, expensive "road bikes" and special orders.

Compact frame
This is the modern, ubiquitous compact frame. Here the seat tube is shortened, resulting in the top tube sloping back toward the seat tube. In order to achieve the correct leg extension with this shortened seat tube, you'll need to jack up the seat post. A lot. Maybe as much as an extra foot.

The trouble with that is seat posts are not as strong as frame tubes, nor are they supported by the entire frame structure. They bend. Bend them enough and they'll break. If you can get a long seat post that is both heavy duty and fits your frame, it will probably cost $30.00.

Large compact frame
If you can't raise the seatpost, why not just get a bigger frame? To the left is a larger compact frame. Notice that the bottom of the handlebar stem is much higher than the bottom of the seat post. This means even if you lower the handlebar stem all the way, your handlebars will still be much too high. This is tolerable for the person who takes a 2 mile cruise once a month, but it's intolerable for the city commuter with schedules to keep, and it's obviously intolerable for the cross country rider who must ride 8 hours a day and make some significant mileage.

If you're buying a new bike, you can either buy a semi-custom non-road bike with a traditional frame, go the dumpster or garage sale route and get a traditional frame, or buy a new compact frame bike and get yourself a looooonnnnngggg seatpost that's built to take a lot of torque.

If you buy new, you have three choices:
  1. Traditional Bike Shop
  2. Warehouse store (Costco or Sams Club)
  3. Bargain basement (Walmart/Roadmaster)
Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Low energy consumption

This material will be covered more in the section on diminishing returns. When you ride a bicycle, you push forward with a force proportional to your strength and power. If it weren't for forces pushing the other way, you'd accellerate to the speed of light. But other forces do indeed push back:
  1. Hub and brake drag
  2. Bottom bracket drag
  3. Chain friction
  4. Frame/wheel energy loss
  5. Tire drag
  6. Hills
  7. Air resistance
On a well maintained bike, the first four should be so small that they're completely masked by the other three. On a well maintained bike, tire drag should be so small that it shouldn't make more than a 1 MPH difference when cruising at 14 MPH, and should be almost negligable when cranking out 20 MPH in neutral conditions (no wind, no hills).

Hub and brake drag

Hubs must be properly lubricated and adjusted. With a well maintained hub, you should be able to spin the wheel hard and have it complete at least 20 revolutions before stopping. With cup and cone hubs, proper maintenance is a tradeoff between free spinning and minimization of sideways play in the wheel. Because you can not straighten (true) a wheel to tighter tolerances than the wheel's sideways play, sideways play should be no more than 1/16 inch. If adjusting the hub to that tolerance produces significant drag (wheel spins only 2 or 3 times on a hard spin), you need to replace the bearings, cones, or (hopefully not) the cups, which are usually integral with the hub itself.


Brand new wheels are adjusted tight, because in the first 50 miles they'll loosen up. If a new wheel seems a little too tight, don't adjust it, but instead ride it 50 miles or so.

Similarly, after rebuilding/repacking a hub, set it a little too tight, as over the first few miles it will loosen up.

If an overly hub tight makes grinding sounds or doesn't loosen up in 50 miles, feel free to loosen it a little.

Other bicycle websites have wonderful info on how to adjust hubs, so that info isn't repeated here.

Brake drag happens when your caliper brakes (the kind that rub the wheel rims to stop the bike) rub on the wheel rim even when you're not pressing the brakes. There are four usual causes for brake drag:
  1. Bent/warped wheel
  2. Uncentered brake
  3. Uncenterable brake
  4. Brake tolerances too tight

Bent/warped wheel

A warped wheel will drag on one side of the brake or the other, or possibly both sides. This drag isn't enough to stop you, but it's enough to slow you down 2 to 4 miles per hour, and nobody wants that. Straighten the wheel, recenter the brake, and everything will be fine.

Uncentered brake

Even with a straight wheel, if the brakes are not centered such that both brake pads are approximately the same distance to the rim, the brakes will drag. Center the brake. Different brakes have different centering methods. DO NOT bang on the springs to center the brakes. That's just sooooo 70's, and sooner or later it wrecks the brakes. There's always a better method.

Uncenterable brake

You can't center a brake that comes to rest in a different position each time it's released. Such a brake has friction somewhere in the system, and it's your job to get that friction out. Start with the cables. Grease the cables where they go into and out of cable housing. If you can release the brakes in such a way as to move the cable housing freely up and down the brake cable, grease the whole brake cable. Use good grease. I use synthetic grease from the auto parts store -- $6.00 for a tub that will last you at least a year, and probably a lot more.

If your brakes still come to rest in different postions each time, you need to disassemble, clean, lube and reassemble the caliper mechanisms. Go to a bikeshop unless you really know what you're doing.


Doing the wrong thing while performing brake maintenance can kill or cripple you. For instance, if you were to forget to tighten the front brake where it attaches to the frame, it could come loose at 30 MPH, catch in your front wheel's spokes, and flip your bike, landing you on your head and breaking your neck. If you didn't tighten the brake cable enough, or didn't notice that it became frayed, it could fail you just before coming to a stop sign where cross traffic goes 60MPH.

When your brakes were assembled at the factory, a thread locking compound was used. I suggest you use a thread locking compound when you refurbish your brakes, even though doing so makes future disassembly more difficult.

Unless you feel confident in repairing your brakes, why not let a good bike shop do it.

Brake tolerances too tight

It's my opinion that no real-world bike wheels can be expected to wobble less than 1/16 inch. If you ride real roads with real potholes and real railroad tracks, by the time you've gone 30 miles your wheel will be 1/16 inch out of true, unless you have some type of super expensive wheels and baby them.

That means you should have at least 1/16 inch clearance from each brake pad to the rim. I don't true my wheels often, so I maintain those clearances at 1/8 inch in front and 1/4 inch in back. My inexpensive brakes are good enough that those clearances stop me nicely in dry weather.

Bottom bracket drag

If your bottom bracket doesn't spin freely, and you have a cup and cone type arrangement in your bottom bracket, adjust it. If your bottom bracket is the "sealed bearing" type, replace it.

Always remember to check that your pedals spin freely. Friction in your pedals slows you down too.

Chain friction

Your chain is under constant tension, and constantly rubbing against gears. The more efficiently it transmits energy, the faster you'll go. There are 2 factors in this efficiency:
  1. Lubrication
  2. Nature of the chain to gear contact
The chain should be well lubricated, but not so wet that it picks up voluminous dust and dirt. The details are in the Chain Cleaning and Lubrication section. It's easy.

Suffice it to say, if you EVER hear your chain squeaking, it's time for lubrication. If you ever hear your chain crunching, either you need to clean it or replace it. If your chain looks more like black grease than metal, it's time to clean it.

Frame/wheel energy loss

Be sure your spokes are reasonbly tight. Your wheel should behave as a single entity, not as something loosely strung together. If your spokes are loose you'll lose speed accelerating, and if they're loose enough, you'll lose speed even while coasting.

Your wheels should be as true as practical. 1/16 inch is nice, 1/8 is tolerable. When you get a wobble of 1/4 or more, then even if your brakes don't rub you're needlessly losing energy that could be used to go faster. The wobbles I'm referring to are side to side. Radial wobble should NEVER exceed 1/16 inch, and furthermore, make sure your tires are mounted so there's no "hop".

Your frame is your frame, and there's not a lot you can do about it. Soft frames compress when you hit the pedal hard, delaying acceleration and costing a slight amount of energy. Stiff frames deliver all your energy to the road. Fortunately, most bike frames are stiff enough that this is not a problem.

Tire drag

Every day I see people riding around on squished down tires. They probably wonder why they're so slow. Buy a hand pump (less than $10.00 from Walmart) and properly inflate your tires before every ride.

What's proper inflation? On the top edge, it's the maximum inflation printed on the tire. If you have a high quality tire such as the older model, 100psi, Specialized Nimbus Armadillo, that might be too much pressure. Here's why...

The purpose of a tire is to absorb shock without absorbing energy. If a tire is underinflated, the excessive rolling resistance absorbs energy that otherwise would have been used for propulsion. If the tire is properly inflated, it rolls over road imperfections without transmitting the shock to your body. If the tires are inflated too much for the surface, the tires absorb no appreciable energy (which is good), but also absorb no shock. What absorbs the shock? Your body. And unfortunately, unlike the tire, your body absorbs energy big time. So you're losing energy and losing speed by overinflating your tires on a rough road. That's why even though the older model Specialized Armadillo Nimbus tires maxed out at 100psi, I inflated the back to 70-80 psi, and the front to about 60psi.

Another component of tire drag is the tire design. Listen to a cruising bike with knobby tires. Here that buzz coming from its tires? That's energy that could have been used for propusion. Worse yet, that constant bumping is sending precious energy to the rider's body to be absorbed. Knobby tires are great on sand dunes, but go smooth for the street. Some knobby tires have a thin, smooth ridge in the middle. This is a nice compromise for those of us who spend most of our time on the road, but occasionally do some rough riding.

The argument rages about fat tires vs. skinny tires. Most believe that skinny tires are consistently faster. I'm not so sure. At any given inflation and rider weight, a certain area of the tire must be on the ground. For instance, at 100psi, if bike plus rider weigh 180 lbs, then the rear wheel must support 120 pounds, so 1.2 square inches of the rear tire must touch the ground. If the rear tire is 1 inch wide, that means that 1.2 tangential inch must touch the ground. This 1.2 inches long flat spot creates friction as the edges of the flat spot try to spin faster than the middle. On the other hand, if you had a 2 inch wide tire with the same inflation (good luck finding such a tire), it would need only 0.6 tangential inch on the ground, which I believe would save more than enough energy to make up for the fact that the flat spot is now 2 inches wide instead of 1 inch.

The one area where tire size DOES make a difference, and a large one, is accelleration. Large tires with large rims and large tubes have big rotational inertia that is harder to accelerate and decelerate. The need to beat busses and traffic lights favors skinny tires. But then again, the need to jump potholes and railroad tracks favors wide ones.

Personally, I don't think tire width means all that much if the tire is properly inflated and has a smooth tread. Perhaps a wider wheel would cause more wind resistance, but even that wouldn't be too significant compared to your luggage and clothes.


It takes 200 pounds of force to lift 200 pounds of bike and rider straight up. It takes half of that to lift bike and rider up a 30 degree slope. It takes 6% of 200 pounds, or 12 pounds, to lift the rider up a 6% slope -- you know, a pass with truck lanes. 12 pounds doesn't seem like much, but consider that the cranks are 170mm, or 6.7 inches, so that if you had 1 to 1 gearing 50 pounds of pedal pressure produces only 50x6.7/26, or 12.9 pounds. What's worse, you can only deliver the 50 pounds through a small segment of your pedal cycle, but the hill fights back throughout the entire pedal cycle. Unless the rider is a monster, the 6% grade consumes almost 100% of his power. Given the need for 1 to 1 gearing, a cadence of 60 would propel him at about 4mph, a 90 cadence at 6mph. When climbing steep hills like this, the hill consumes all the power, so the difficulty is proportional to the weight.

How different it is with the slighter grades like we find in many cities and throughout most of the midwest. For a 0.5% grade it takes only 0.5%, or 1 pounds, to propel the biker up the hill. With only 30 pounds on the pedal, the rider could produce 3.22 pounds of thrust while using a 2.5 to 1 gear ratio (65 inches, or 48 teeth in front, 19 in back, for instance). If he pedaled with a 90 cadence, he'd go 17.5 miles an hour, with 1 pound going to the hill, and 2.86 going to wind resistance. Even if he reduced his weight to 0, it would increase available power to the ground only 34 %. Here a weight decrease provides only 1/3 the benefit it would have on a 6% incline.

Steep hills are about weight, but remember it's combined bike/rider weight, so tweaking your bike's weight helps only so much. The gentler the hill, the less power is consumed by the hill, and the less weight matters.

If you want to be good on hills, get stronger and learn good hillclimbing techniques.

Wind resistance

Wind resistance increases roughly as the square of the speed relative to the wind. It's also directly proportional to how "sticky" you are in the wind. Things that make you "stickier" are:
There's a reason racers and group riders wear nylon, spandex and the like. At 15-25MPH, wind resistance is by far the greatest impedance to further speed. Every bit of wind resistance they eliminate translates to speed.

We're transportational riders, you and I. We might not want to walk into the store looking like a yellow and red advertisement. We might not want to spend that much money on riding clothes. We might need to do construction work or play football when we reach our destination.

Nevertheless, there are many ways we can limit wind resistance.

First is body positioning. The same forward and down position that gives us power also reduces wind resistance. Try not to have wide handlebars.

No shirts or jackets flapping in the breeze. If it's too warm to button or zip it, it's too warm to wear it. Take it off. When you take it off, roll it in a ball and put it with the rest of your luggage so that it doesn't add to wind resistance. Don't wear overly loose clothes. If your zipped up jacket is so loose that you look like a Shar Pei dog, the wrinkles will flap in the breeze, slowing you down.

In the winter, layers are a good thing. What is especially good would be a nylon jacket over the other stuff. Then just keep taking off the inner stuff as you start to overheat. I remember some days riding from the North to the South side of Chicago in December, by the time I got there I'd be wearing just jeans and a light shirt, and I'd still be way overheated.

In the summer, if you can find strong enough sunscreen, the fastest way to go is with no shirt.

Use only the baskets you normally need. Having no baskets is even faster. With a collection of bungee cords, you can firmly attach voluminous "stuff" to your rear carrier. The rear carrier is great because it rides in your wake and therefore creates very little further wind resistance.

Reasonable gearing

I see road riders with what looks like 14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21 and 52,40 in the back. They carry little luggage, they ride in specific places, and they stand up every hill. No problem.

We city cycling people are a little different. We carry luggage, so steep hills are a little tougher. Also, we don't do a tough workout and then rest for a day -- many of us ride every day, so we can't wear ourselves out to the same degree as road riders. And sometimes we're just not motivated to scoot up a hill -- it's transportation, we'll take our time.

For all these reasons, city cyclers need lower gears, while still retaining most of the high gears to take advantage of downhills and tailwinds.

This goes double for cross country cyclists. Once I went over Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road. 12,183 feet, with 30 pounds of luggage. The cars on the road were sputtering from lack of oxygen. I wasn't a bit ashamed to use my "granny gears". Going back down I actually ran out of gear, even though my 27" bike had 52 teeth in the front and 14 in the back. If you're touring, having 26 teeth in front and 39 in the back isn't overkill, or wimpy -- it makes sense. Cross country tourists need wide ranging gears.

Fortunately, most mountain and hybrid bikes sold today have wide gear ranges. Unfortunately, many have too few choices in the sweet spot between 70 inches and 90 inches. Oh well.

Powerful brakes

Cell phone drivers. Drunk drivers. Old drivers. Blind drivers. It's not their problem. They just don't care.

So you get car-doored. And right-turned by cars going in your direction. And left turned by cars going the other direction (what WERE they looking at?). You need to be able to haul your bike to a stop. Like right now.

Riding my Niko Marina one day, a lady threw her car door open 5 feet in front of me. Luckily I had my modified Weinmann centerpulls. I slammed on the brakes, flipped the bike, and gently tumbled OVER her door. If I'd had lesser brakes I would have gone through her window glass, or flipped over her door at 20 miles per hour.

If you ride the city, you need top notch brakes. What that really means is a top notch front brake, because the back can only stop you so much before your tire slides. When choosing a bike, look for good brakes. Hitting the front brake hard should at least start to lift the back wheel. While this sounds dangerous, you'll learn to control it, and as my story of the car door lady illustrates, flipping the bike is often better than the alternative. In addition, a front brake that can flip the bike while perfectly adjusted in dry weather still stands a chance of stopping you when out of adjustment in wet weather. In wet weather, lesser brakes would simply slow down your coast.

NEVER use steel sidepulls, at least if you weigh more than 100 pounds. They barely stop, and when you hit them hard, they have a tendency to bend. They're OK as a back brake, but never the front.

Reasonable cost

There are people whose bike is a hobby. They take it out of their house, down long deserted roads, and never let the bike out of their sight. If they stop for lunch, they watch the bike the whole time. They won't go into a store unless the store lets them wheel their bike with them. They ride with friends so drivers know not to mess with them. They seldom crash or get hit by cars. They can buy a $5000.00 bike with the expectation of keeping it five years.

They're not like us.  We bike to stores on a daily basis, and have no time to discuss store bicycle rules with the manager. We lock it outside. In the city we ride the mean streets, with the car doors on one side, busses on the other, and potholes in front of us. Hostile drives deliberately run us off the road. Our bikes aren't investments, they're consumables.

All but the wealthiest transportational cyclists must consider their budget. It's nuts to pay $2000.00 for a bike to ride around the city. Heck, even $400.00 is pushing it -- the bike might be gone in a year.

One way to budget yourself is to have multiple bikes. For instance, I have a trashy 1 speed that I ride around the neighborhood and to go shopping, and a 12 speed I ride for distance. This saves wear and tear on the 12 speed's chain. If I ever got into a group of road riders, maybe I'd buy a road bike just for that non-transportation use.

The point is, don't subject your expensive machine to the brutality and risks of the city.

Inclement Weather

Transportational cyclists can't choose their weather, but must ride in whatever comes their way. This subject has its own article.

Inclement Weather

A distinctive attribute of transportational cyclists is that they ride in inclement weather. The thunderstorm cancelling a cruise around the park or a 75 mile club ride doesn't phase the no-car cyclist needing to get to work. The resourcefulness of transportational cyclists is nothing short of amazing.


Go on a club ride and it's doubtful you'll see a bike with fenders. Who needs fenders when you can choose your riding day?

How different it is if you're riding to work, or to a social event. Go fenderless on a wet day and you'll have a dirty stripe up the back and front of your shirt. Fenders are essential when you need to ride, but they're not so easy to get.

SKS fenders are advertised in a wide variety of places. These appear to have a mount clip to mount where the back brake on an old-style bike would mount, and two sets of stays to support the middle and back:

Front Fender
Rear Fender
front fender
Rear fender

There exist clip-on fenders that are a foot long. Those are silly. Water flings tangentially off the tires, meaning the fender must extend almost from the road in back of each wheel to well below horizontal in back.

SKS fenders seem to be available online from $30.00 and $50.00 a pair, not including tax or shipping. To find your fenders, insert the phrase "bicycle fenders" into the search engine of your choice.

Another possibility is to cannibalize fenders off of a dumpster or garage sale bike. These will typically be pure metal instead of the metal/plastic hybrid, and will likely need to be straightened and "tweaked" into fitting right.  You could also buy a cheap new "bargain store bike" with fenders, and transfer the fenders to your real bike while either cannibalizing, riding or selling the rest of the new bike. Before attempting such a project, make sure the fenders on the new bike will fit your bike.

Speaking about fitting, fenders often don't. For instance, if the forks don't have brake holes you might need to jury rig something with sheet steel and radiator hose clamps. In doing so, be aware that you could possibly compromise the corrosion defenses or even structural integrity of the bike. Putting electrical tape between the stay and the radiator hose clamp may or may not help the situation.

That being said, I regularly use radiator hose clamps.

Rain or Wet Pavement

Raincoats works well, panchos don't. Fenders protect your clothes from mud stripes. To protect your feet from splashoff from the front wheel, consider  a mudflap attached to the bottom of your front fender. The mudflap should be flexible enough to take a hit from a curb, and should extend down to an inch or so from the pavement.

Raincoats don't breath out moisture, so they can cause overheating in warm weather. In cold weather a raincoat plus a flannel shirt works well, although on long rides you'll sweat so much as to soak the flannel shirt.

Watch out for algae when the pavement is wet. It's as slick as ice but much less expected. Wet algae has caused me some nasty crashes. In a rainfall preceded by a long dry spell, the rain will pull oil out of the road, creating very slick conditions. These can not only cause you to fall, but can cause cars to lose control. Practice defensive driving.

The road surfaces of some bridges consist of a metal grating. These become incredibly slick when wet, and if you fall on these, you're very likely to break a bone. I get off and walk in such situations.

After every wet ride, wipe off your chain and relubricate it. Otherwise you'll wear out your chain very quickly -- possibly in less than 100 miles.

Ice and Snow

Growing up in Chicago, I rode in ice and snow every winter. It has its challenges. Snow usually isn't slippery enough to crash you, but the ice underneath it might be. Be VERY careful taking curves. Snow often has ruts that your bike gets stuck in. You can't maneuver, so slow down anticipating the need to quickly stop.

Your mileage may vary, but my experience is that using the rear brake is the kiss of death on ice. The minute that rear wheel slides, the bike shoots out from under me. With the front brake, if it starts to slide I lose control but stay up, so I can back off the brake.

Consider using a 1 speed or 3 speed in snowy weather. Deep snow and freezing slush freeze onto the chain, causing skipping on derailleur bikes that in extreme cases stops all propulsion. The snow and salt they throw down to melt it take a terrible toll on your chain, and the chains of derailleur bikes are much more sensitive to damage. No matter what you use in winter, lubricate your chain heavily and often, and wipe it down after rides and before rides (it probably snowed on the bike in the interrum).


In December 1969 I road my bike between Chicago's El train and my factory job. 2 miles each way doesn't sound like much. But when I got off work at 4:20am, the temperature was -17 Farenheit. That's not wind chill, that's temperature. Quick frostbite is a real possibility.

I dressed for it. Obviously, I used a heavy coat. Not one of these shorty jackets a skier would use, but a coat long enough to keep the wind from blowing up under the coat onto my belly. At those temperatures, air blowing in can give you a nasty stomach ache fast. For the same reason, I never used button coats, but always zipper coats. The ideal coat has a flap that buttons over the zipper so that air doesn't blow in between the zipper teeth.

Double socks are often a good idea, along with leather shoes that resist water intrusion. The socks should ride high on your calves so that air doesn't blow on your bare legs. You might want to tie the legs of your jeans (jeans are a great wind block) so that there's no room for cold air to blow up them. Speaking of jeans, if it's REALLY cold, long underwear helps, but it reduces your flexibility even more and can cause an overheat with exertion.

Hand protection is a challenge. How do you protect your hands from cold while still keeping your fingers nimble enough to operate shifters and brakes? I used those cheap yellow work gloves (they used to be called "Handy Andy" gloves). Yes, your hands will get very cold on longer rides, but I never got frostbitten. Gloves have separate fingers, whereas mittens have one compartment for your four non-thumb fingers. I would never try to ride a multispeed bike with mittens.

Your wrists are a huge challenge. An efficient riding position guarantees that your forearms will be pointing into the wind, meaning that cold air will blow right up your coatsleeves, meaning quick frostbite. Wristsocks to the rescue. Take a pair of thick socks, hopefully tube socks without a significant bend at the heel. Cut a small thumb hole next to a larger hole for your four fingers. Slip them on, then put on your gloves and your coat. The wristsocks will cover your wrists well past the point where air ceases to blow into your coatsleaves. When it's below zero, consider two wristsocks on each wrist.

What about your face? Your face takes a huge beating in icy weather. Here's what I do...

Start with a good set of oversized earmuffs. My experience is that my ears freeze up quicker than any other part of my body, and a good set of earmuffs reduce that effect significantly.

Your forward leaning position means cold air blowing right down your neck. Obtain a long, thick and wide scarf that you can wrap twice around your neck, then tie, and stuff into your collar. This protects your neck and also prevents wind from coming down and hitting your chest. Such scarves are not easy to find. Have someone knit you one, or knit it yourself, or spend the money to buy one, or perhaps rig one from several smaller scarves. A huge percentage of your blood supply flows through your neck, close to the surface. This can chill you fast. Always use a scarf.

My experience is that in the daytime, above 10 degrees farenheit, the scarf and gloves are enough for your face. But come nightfall (use front and rear lights) or below zero weather, you need to add head protection. A stocking cap over your earmuffs is a good start. In my -17 excursions from the factory, I wrapped up with one of those ski masks like bank robbers use, followed by earmuffs and scarf, and finally a thick flannel shirt wrapped around every part of my face except my eyes. The cold still hurt me plenty, but I escaped frostbite.

Hot Weather

I live in Orlando, Florida now. 90+ heat for 6 straight months, combined with drenching humitity and a white hot sun. It's very hard to ride.

Of all the inclement weather conditions, hot weather is the most challenging. You have nothing to take off without becoming unsafe or illegal. Use minimal clothing, like a tshirt and shorts, or maybe just shorts (if you're a guy). Wear appropriate sun protection, such as SPF 45 sunscreen. Helmets are an absolute must, even in boiling hot weather, but some helmets have more cooling holes than others. Hot climates are no place to skimp on helmets -- buy the coolest one that protects you fully.

Have at least 2 water bottles, and drink often. Sometimes you can get 10 minutes relief by drenching yourself with your water bottle, but make sure you're in a place where you can refill it.

Try to ride in the early morning or just before dusk. In the early morning it's not yet into the 90's, and in the late afternoon the sun isn't as direct. Pace yourself when you ride in the heat, and be aware of your body. If you stop sweating, go inside and drink lots of water immediately. If you get dizzy, stop in the shade or go inside, and if you don't get better soon seek medical help.


Don't ride in tornados or hurricanes. You don't need that kind of excitement. I know -- I took a quick walk in hurricane Frances and that was enough for me.

Even in Chicago, a wind gust once instantly moved my bike about a foot to the left. If a car had been passing me, I wouldn't be writing this today. If the wind ruins your manuverability, take public transporation or drive your car.

If it's safe, riding in the wind is wonderful or terrible depending on its direction. In a tailwind it feels like you have a motor. I once averaged 35 MPH for over 100 miles, aided by a huge tailwind (probably 25 MPH). In a substantial tailwind, put it in your highest gear and go as fast as safety dictates. Be careful -- the bruises and road rash you suffer from a 15 MPH crash could be magnified to death or permanent injury at 40 MPH.

In a severe headwind, HAVE PATIENCE. Trying to make time in a headwind could totally wear you out. Put your bike in a low gear, and spin so you're getting exercise, but not wearing yourself out.

My experience is that side winds have the properties of headwinds, which is why some days it seems like the wind is against you no matter what direction you go. In addition, side winds tend to make it harder to steer accurately, especially quick side gusts. Be careful.

Where to Get Your Transportational Bike

There's a wide range of opportunities to obtain transportational bikes. This article discusses several, all of which I've done at one time or another:
Much of your choice depends on finances. If you're a multimillionaire, why not just go to the bike shop, plunk down $1500.00 for their best mountain bike and another $500.00 to have them change the front chainrings and derailleurs to accommodate the higher gear ratios used by transportational cyclists, and be done with it?

On the other hand, if money's tight, the dumpster is your friend. I recently grabbed an 12 speed out of a junkpile, spent a day fixing it up, and turned it into a fairly fast citybike. My only additional expenditure was $60.00 for Specialized Nimbus Armadillo tires (don't leave home without em).

Bike Shop

If you want to buy new, and you're more than 6 feet tall, this is your only option. Also, if you don't know how to repair and maintain a bike, this is your only option, although I'd recommend you learn bike repair as quickly as possible.

In my opinion, when you buy from a bike shop, you're not paying for a better bike or a longer lasting bike -- you're paying for convenience. Unlike a warehouse or bargain store, your bike leaves the shop impecably adjusted. For an extra charge, the bike shop installs any extras you might want, like an extra long, extra heavy duty seat post. No shopping around for this vital component after the fact.

You're also paying for the bike shop's knowledge. The warehouse and bargain stores don't employ such knowledgeable people. But...

It's been my experience that bike shop employees are usually racers or "bike club" type riders, not transportational cyclists. When you tell them you want bolt on wheels for theft deterrence, they won't understand that. When you tell them weight isn't a priority, they REALLY won't understand that. My experience with bike shops is that most bike shop employees believe there are two kinds of bikers -- the kind who average 20 MPH on their luggageless road bikes, and the kind that ride 2 miles, once a month, with their handlebars up near their chin.

So, as a transportational cyclist, when you speak to bike shop personnel, remember that they see very few people like you, and make yourself clear.

When you buy from a bike shop, go to various bike shops, test drive a bunch of bikes, ask about prices and waranties, pick the bike you want, and buy it. Don't take the warranties too seriously -- it's been my experience that bike shops only pass on the manufacturer's warranties, and the manufacturers don't necessarily have the customer's best interests in mind.

Warehouse store (Costco, Sams Club and the like)

If you want the best new bicycle for your dollar, this is where you get it. For between $100.00 and $250.00, you typically get a nice, aluminum framed bike with excellent components. How can they give you such a great deal? Look at all you don't pay for -- you don't pay for expertise, you don't pay for mechanics, you don't pay for customization, you don't pay for widely varied inventory, and you don't pay for multiple frame sizes.

Oops! The warehouse store has the perfect bike, as long as you can ride a small frame size. While in the store, raise the seat to the safety marking, and see if it fits you. If not, you'll need to buy an extra long, extra heavy duty seatpost for the bike. It might take some time to find one that fits.

If you're under 5'7" and know how to repair or maintain a bike, the warehouse store is a way to get a spectacular transportational bike for very little money.

Bargain Basement (Walmart/Roadmaster)

Until recently, my son rode a Roadmaster Mt. Sport. 18 speeds, V brakes, even a front shock absorber. $65.00 at Walmart.

It takes a different philosophy to ride a bike like this. You know it will be utterly worn out within 2000 miles (my son wore it out after a few hundered). No problem, you just buy another one. I probably spend $150.00 to $300.00 per year on parts for bicycle maintenance, excluding tires and tubes, so $65.00 every 9 months isn't really so bad.

The other thing is, when you buy a bike like this, you're not getting the bike of your dreams. The twist grip shifter is slow, and often requires additional diddling to get in gear right. It needs frequent adjustments. The brakes need frequent adjustments, although once adjusted they stop very well. It comes with rather rough tires that won't be as fast as, let's say, Specialized Nimbus Armadillos. And of course, it comes only in one small size, so unless you're short you'll need to purchase an extra long, extra heavy duty seat post.

Constitutionally, this is a good bike. The one piece "Ashtabula" crank is sturdy, with straight steel chainrings. The chain is the old school type without the stretch-encouraging curved outer links. Although manufactured to a price point and definitely not Shimano, the derailleurs and brakes function adequately and get the job done effectively.

This bike has absolutely no status. "Real" cyclists will snicker. And of course, thieves will haughtily ignore your bike if there are other bikes around.

If your financial priorities preclude spending hundreds of dollars, yet you don't want the hassle of fixing up a used bike, this is something to consider.

Upscale Bargain Basement (Walmart/Schwinn)

After wearing out his Roadmaster Mt. Sport, my son got a Schwinn 21 speed from Target for about $150.00. The gears shift accurately every time, the brakes stay adjusted and can stop him very efficiently. He's put about 300 miles on his Schwinn during the two months he's owned it. Aside from truing his wheel's (he's fourteen and crazy, so he tweaks wheels), tightening stretched cables, fixing flats, and replacing a brake lever adjusting barrel broken when he crashed, this bike has required no maintenance. He rides to school daily with a heavy backpack in a rear mounted basket.

If you're under six feet, know how to work on your own bike, and want a decent bike at a low price, consider purchasing one of the better bikes from your local discount store.


These are nice because you can find the bikes that suit you, look at them, and then buy them. If you don't want a compact frame, this is a good place to look. If you want a 27x11/4 transportational bike that can be used both in the city and interstate, look for a Schwinn Continental and be ready to fix it up.

People running classified ads generally overvalue the things they're selling, but sometimes you get a good deal.

Garage sales

Want a bargain? Garage sales are where to get it. The stuff at a garage sale is headed for the dumpster if it doesn't sell this weekend, everybody knows it, so the merchandise is priced appropriately.

I bought my daughter a late-70's Raleigh 10 speed for $32.50 at a garage sale. I wanted to have replacement parts ready for this bike, so later, when I saw a broken 27x11/4 10 speed in garage sale, I argued the lady down to $2.00 on the basis that the derailleur was bent over double, making the bike unrideable. I took it home, removed the wheels, tires, handlebars, stem, and brakes, then threw the rest by the curb for the garbage man or a dumpster diver, which ever came first.

When you buy a bike at a garage sale, be prepared to spend lots of time and some money getting it back in shape.

Be very careful you don't accidentally get a bike that's previously been stolen. Call the police before spending any time or money on the bike. Be sure to get a receipt from the seller, including the serial number. If the seller isn't willing to do that, pass it up.

Dumpster diving

About a year ago I was taking a walk when I saw it. A black 12 speed with a traditional (non-compact) frame. It was a Montgomery Ward Open Road MT 1800. I asked the homeowner if they really meant to throw it out, and if so, could I please take it. They said yes to both questions.

It was a mess. Everything was loose, rusty, and inoperable. But it had the basics: Traditional frame, Shimano derailleurs, 12 speed, mountain bike brakes, and even the old-school chain without curved outer links. I spent the next day disassembling, lubricating and reassembling. It turned out to be a nice, fast, reliable bike, without spending an additional cent, although I did need to replace the rear derailleur a couple months later.

If you're good at repair, you save parts, and you know how to make parts fit where they're theoretically not interchangable, dumpster diving just might be for you. You can either have a so-so bike for free, or get a bike custom made to your wishes for a reasonable amount.

Be very careful you don't accidentally get a bike that's previously been stolen. Call the police before spending any time or money on the bike.

Making the choice

With all these fine places to procure a bike, which do you choose? A few questions come to mind:
If you've allocated $300.00 to $1000.00 for a bike, a bike shop is probably the easiest and most convenient choice. Bear in mind that when you buy a $300.00 bike, and wear out chains, freewheels, bottom brackets and hubs within the first 2 years, they'll tell you:
  1. You're riding way more than normal
  2. A $300.00 bike is an "entry level" bike (what would that make a Roadmaster :-)
Nevertheless, if you want to ride more and repair less, and you want a bike that stops on a dime and shifts like a dream from the day you get it, a bike shop is the way to go.

One more thing about a bike shop -- they can special order special bikes. If you're willing to pay top dollar for exactly what you want, you can get it. You can get a touring bike that's made specifically to be a touring bike. You can get a city bike, with fenders, sturdy wheels and frame, lights and baskets. If you're willing to spend the money, you needn't settle for yet another compact frame clone.

If money is a real issue, consider dumpsters or garage sales. Each can provide you with a functional, and possibly an excellent, transportational bike. Prepare to spend a lot of time, and at least a little money, upgrading such a bike to your expectations.

If money is a real issue but you don't want to go used, consider the bargain store bike. It's not the bike of your dreams, but equipped with a long, strong seatpost it will get you around town just fine, and it's cheap enough to replace every year. If money is REALLY an issue, you could sell last year's bike for $25.00 and recoup 1/3 of your investment.

If you like old school bikes, know what you want, and are willing to wait, the classifieds might be an option.

If you're a good mechanic, short, and want an outstanding bike for a very reasonable price, it's off to the warehouse store!

Diminishing Returns

I was a bicycle mechanic in 1972. I had a Sears 3 speed with coaster brakes (Torpedo hub), festooned with racks and baskets. I regularly transported people on the back. And man, I sure got static about that bike from the shop's customers...

"Why do you ride that funky bike? You work in a bike shop -- you can get an employee discount. If you replaced your 40 pound bike with a 20 pound Bob Jackson, you'd go twice as fast".

Why, oh why don't they require everyone to pass high school algebra?

I explained to the man that the total weight of my 40 pound bike plus my 160 pound (at the time) body was 200 pounds. With a 20 pound bike, the total would have been 180 -- a 10% savings. But wait, there's more. Weight matters only when accelerating or going uphill. In Chicago, I figure that was maybe 20% of the time. So now I'm down to a 2% savings. Such a deal. Spend $400.00, and improve my speed by 2%. Back in those days, $400.00 was 3 months rent.


Before someone points it out to me, I'm aware that the preceding analysis is based only on weight. A stiffer frame, stiffer wheels and quality chain mean more of my power actually gets to the road, especially when accellerating. Better tires mean less tire drag. More gears mean a more efficient matching of my legs to the job at hand. But above 15 MPH, all these factors will be less than the main factor, wind resistance. My 3 speed's riding position was low and forward.

A person pedals with a certain amount of energy per unit of time. If that energy is not consumed by opposing forces and energy wasters, then the person would accelerate all the way up to the speed of light. Here's a list of the common counterforces and energy wasters:
  1. Hub and brake drag
  2. Bottom bracket drag
  3. Chain friction
  4. Frame/wheel energy loss
  5. Tire drag
  6. Hills
  7. Wind resistance
On a well maintained bike, ANY well maintained bike, whether a $68.00 Walmart special (equipped with smooth tires) or a $2500.00 Tour de Encino, hills and wind resistance are the major counterforces above 15 miles per hour.

Weight counts on hills and while accelerating, but it's the combined weight of bike and rider, not just the bike. Also, the shallower the hill, the less weight counts.

As far as wind resistence, road bikes tend to have better riding positions, but remember, you can adapt a Walmart special to have a pretty good riding position too. Of course, if your Walmart special has baskets, bags, and other gegaws, that will slow you down. But if you're a transportational biker and need baskets and bags, then you'd need to install them on your Tour de Encino too. :-)

As far as a stiff frame and tight chain and wheels, yeah, that matters some. Some of my bikes felt like stepping on a plum when I hit the pedals hard to beat a red light. On the other hand, I had an aluminum Mangusta with tight wheels and chain that seemed to jump forward when I hit the pedals. But we're talking acceleration here. That's a major component of bike racing, where the racers need to keep the draft no matter what, but in the city it's important only to beat lights and busses, and in cross country touring it's not important at all.

There's a simple solution to tire drag, whether your bike costs $60.00 or $6000.00 -- use smooth tires and run the right pressure. On really smooth pavement, the right pressure is the maximum the tire will hold. On rougher pavements high pressures can actually slow you down because little bumps will be aborbed by your energy aborbing body instead of the resiliant tires that push back on the far side of the bump, thereby "giving back" the energy.

Remember I said "well maintained bike". On any bike you ride, the hubs should turn freely, the brakes should not rub when not applied, and the bottom bracket and pedals should spin freely. The chain should not be excessively stretched, and should be reasonably clean and well lubricated.

So the bottom line is this -- yeah, you'll go faster on a $2500.00 bike than on a $250.00 bike or a $25.00 garage sale special. But how much faster? If you maintain the cheaper bike right, use the right tires and set the riding position correctly, I'd bet no more than 20%. So if you ride 15 MPH on your well maintained cheapie, you can spend $2500.00 and go 18. Or if you ride 20 MPH on your cheap bike, the costly bike will up that figure to 24 MPH.

If it takes you 30 minutes to get to work on your Walmart special, the Tour de Encino will get you there in 24 minutes. Is it really worth it?

Before answering that question, consider one more factor -- how much time do you save on your beater bike by jumping curbs and not slowing down for railroad tracks? How much time do you save by locking your bike to the lamppost outside your office instead of bringing it down to that special bike parking area in the underground parking lot? I bet it's more than 6 minutes.

Caliper Brakes

Basically, bikes have one of four types of caliper brakes:
In general, "mountain bikes" require either cantilever brakes or V brakes because the extra spacing for huge tires means the brake pads would need to be down so low that no sidepull or centerpull of reasonable geometry would fit. Some of the very cheapest bargain store mountain bikes have stamped steel side pulls, but these feature arms so long that stopping power is minimal, and I've found that if I do pull hard enough to stop quickly, the stamped steel arms bend. Just say no to stamped steel sidepulls on mountain bikes.

Road bikes usually have sidepulls or centerpulls due to their close geometry, although some modern road bikes have V brakes.

The following section briefly describes the four types of caliper brakes:

Side pull brake
This is a side pull brake. I hate them because all but the best are very difficult to center and keep centered. All but the best of them have limited braking power.

The side pull has one pivot in the middle, and each of its arms extend out such that when the brake lever pulls cable, the cable and housing move toward each other, bringing the brake pads together.

These were popular on cheap bikes of the 60's and 70's. Somewhere in the late 70's someone decided that because sidepulls were lighter than centerpulls, the best bikes should have sidepulls, and all of a sudden they switched places so that sidepulls came on the top of the line road bikes, centerpulls came on midpriced ($200) road bikes, and bargain store bikes continued to have cheapo stamped steel side pulls.

Throughout the years a few sidepulls have had added features, especially multiple pivots to help with centering. The 1970's "Altenberger Synchron" and some current Shimano sidepulls are examples.

Side pulls do not need special pivot attachments on the fork blades.

Center pull brake
This is the centerpull brake. It has a mounting plate that mounts to the center hole in the fork. Each brake arm mounts to the mounting plate, and each arm is pulled by a transverse cable, which in turn is pulled by a triangular "yoke" pulled by the brake cable.

In theory this looks inefficient. The transverse cable stretches when pulled, reducing braking efficiency. The two pivots connecting the arms to the mounting plate spread under tension, again reducing braking efficiency.

Nevertheless, these are good brakes, easily centered and lubricated, and capable of fairly powerful braking. The Weinmann brand centerpulls had a little red button to keep the arms synchronized, so return to center was assured. If one used thick cables and connected the front of the two pivots with a thin strip of metal to prevent spread, a Weinmann front centerpull could easily stand the bike up, and could stop efficiently with wet rims.

With the advent of forkarm mounted brakes (V brakes, etc) and the demise of the midpriced ($200) road bike, center pull brakes ceased to be used. They are, however, quite available on dumpstered bikes from the 70's and 80's.

Center pulls do not need special pivot attachments on the fork blades. If you have a bicycle whose fork doesn't have pivots, try mounting a centerpull. If the brakepads don't reach the rim, you might consider replacing the 26" wheel with a 27" in order to move the rim up. 27" wheels are widely available on old dumpster bikes and garage sale special. Remember that front wheels don't need to be as heavy duty as rear wheels.

Mountain bike brakes
These are cantilever brakes, sometimes known as "mountain bike brakes". The brake arms are bolted to pivots built into the fork blades. The fork blades bend much less than the pivots on center pulls, so there's more braking efficiency. Unfortunately, these brakes use the stretchy transverse cable that centerpulls use. These are centered using little tension screws, so it's fairly easy.

These are reasonably good brakes that stop about as well as the cheaper center pulls of the 70's and 80's, and much better than most side pulls.

These brakes can only be used on forks with pivots in the right place, or on shock absorber forks with special mounting hardware.

V brakes
These are V brakes. I'd like to shake the hand of the man or woman who invented them, because they're simple, minimize brake cable stretch, have amazing braking power, and thanks to spring/screw adjustments, center fairly well.

The cable and housing come in from the side, where the housing is stopped by a thin stainless steel tube with a teflon sleeve inside. The steel tube is curved 90 degrees so that cable pull is horizontal. The steel tube is stopped by a bracket mounted on the left (in this picture) arm, and the cable extends to a bolt on the other arm. When the brakes are applied, the housing and steel tubing push in on the left, while the cable pulls in on the right. The brakepads squeeze together like a nutcracker.

These brakes can only be used on forks with pivots in the right place, or on shock absorber forks with special mounting hardware.

V brakes have a very high mechanical advantage, so they must be set very close to the rim, so they must be used with true wheels. Also, some cheapo V brakes have so much pivot friction that, no matter how you adjust them, they never return to the same position twice, making them uncenterable. My Son's former Roadmaster Mt. Sport and my Daughter's current Mt. Sport have uncenterable V brakes, and I will soon replace my daughters brakes with V brakes cannibalized from a high end polo bike.

Chain Cleaning and Lubrication

This is about as controversial as you can get, so I'll give you my opinions and you can take them with a grain of salt. Your first decision is whether you want to protect your clothes, carpeting, walls, and car appolstery from chain grime. Basically, do you keep your bike in your white carpeted living room, and do you wear a suit or light pants while riding your bike?

If the answer is yes, you have no choice but to use one of the parifin based lubricants such as "White Lightning". I used White Lightning for years -- it's good. It's a reasonable chain lubricant, and assuming you wipe your chain with a rag when returning from a ride, it's much less likely to stain your walls, carpeting, clothes and the like.

When you use White Lightning, just follow the directions. Like I said, White Lightning's a good chain lubricant, but my experience is that it's not the best...

The best, if you're willing to have a chain that can stain what it touches, is synthetic motor oil such as Mobil One. You can buy a year's supply (a quart) for $5.00 at the auto parts store. You must also buy an oilcan to put it on the chain, or else apply it with a clean rag (have a large supply of clean rags).

Apply the Mobil One with the oil can, saturating the links while turning the pedals backward. If oil starts to drip, or little tiny droplets start to splatter, you've put on too much so stop. Continue turning the pedals backwards to work the Mobil One into each link and barrel. Then, and this is very important, WIPE THE EXCESS OFF THE CHAIN! Excess oil can collect voluminous grime, and that grime can actually make microscopic cuts in your chain.

My experience is that one application of Mobil One lasts about hundred miles -- your mileage may vary. After completing each ride, wipe your chain with a rag. The grime from the ride will come off, but plenty of Mobil One will be left behind. After some but not all rides, try to wipe off your chainwheels and derailleurs too. Such wiping doesn't need to be rigorous -- just try to take off some of the grime. When you get to the point where, after wiping off the grime, the chain seems a little dry, reapply the Mobil One.

My experience is that your chain lasts a little longer with Mobil One than it does with White Lightning. But just remember, if you use Mobil One, be SURE to roll up your pants and be careful of your carpet.

Reconditioning a Rusty Chain

Mobil One is also wonderful for reconditioning a rusty chain. When my daughter was 9, we spent $32.00 at a garage sale for a circa 1978 Raleigh 10 speed. 27x11/4, Suntour derailleurs, turned down handlebars -- this bike was fast. But it had 10 years of rust on the chain and cogs. Tight links galore, it skipped 2 or 3 times for every revolution of the pedals.

Mobil One to the rescue. I loaded up the chain with Mobil One, and didn't wipe off the excess. I told her to ride it often. Every couple days I wiped off the rust and reloaded it with Mobil One. Gradually the skipping diminished, until a month after purchase,  it didn't skip at all. To this day the chain (and the bike) works perfectly.

Stretching is a reason to replace a chain. Rust is not.

Spoke Replacement

This article will be written at a later date.

The Joy of a 1 Speed Bike

Bikes parts are becoming less and less interchangeable. Bike prices are like most economies of the world -- the expensive are getting more expensive, the cheap are getting cheaper, and the middle class has disappeared. The bottom line is you're left with the choice of spending big bucks every year maintaining the components on an expensive bike, or spending tons of time finding the right parts to maintain your oldschool bike.

Yeah, some bikeshops will tell you today's expensive bikes don't need much maintenance, but I dare anyone to go 2000 miles between chain replacements, and unless you baby the wheels they'll be just about ready for the glue factory too. When chains are $50.00 and wheels are hundreds of dollars, that's not a fun prospect. Plus the fact that if your $1500 bike gets run over or stolen...

I got tired of constant wheel truing, brake refurbishing, chain, freewheel and chainwheel replacing. So I went to Bicycle Revolution, and for $32.00 I bought a 1 speed wheel with a coaster brake. I put it on an old, beater frame that didn't seem to match up with any components I could find -- a bike I couldn't find caliper brakes for. I bought a coaster brake chain from Walmart ($5.00), and bought a paperboy basket from David's World Cycle. I replaced the old 10 speed front chainwheel with a 1 speed cannibalized from a 20 inch bike my son outgrew.

So now I have a low geared 1 speed. 43 teeth in front, 18 in back, 26 inch wheels for a 62 inch gear ratio. I can't go too fast, but very few hills stop me.

This is the perfect bike for a trip less than 10 miles. I jump on it and it just goes. No worrying about a wobbly rear wheel -- so what if it's wobbly -- there are no brakepads to rub. No adjusting and readjusting the derailleurs. And it's so undesirable that if I go into 7-11 to fill my water bottle, I don't feel too bad about leaving it unlocked for a couple minutes.

I still have my 12 speed for when I actually have to get somewhere, but the 1 speed is perfect for bank and grocery store runs.


I once knew a cyclist who was bitten by a dog, got her tendons ripped, and had a several month recuperation. After that she started riding with a pistol, and shot the next dog that attacked her.


The techniques listed in this article are techniques I've used with at least some success to ward off dogs. Every one of these techniques is dangerous -- some more than others. For that matter, dogs are dangerous. I take no responsibility for the outcome should you try one of these techniques. If that is not acceptable to you, do not read this material.

I've tried the following:

A swift kick in the jaw
I've found this to be effective on most dogs. Your kick lands, you hear the dog's mouth snap shut, and somehow the dog finds other things to be interested in. If you're going to kick a dog, you must kick him very hard and very fast, or he'll bite your foot. He might bite your foot anyway. You could easily lose control of your bike during this maneuver.
Outrun him
This works great on downhills or with a strong tailwind. Sure, a dog can run 30mph, but not very long. Typically, when he gets a couple hundred feet in beyond his property line, he figures he showed you who was boss and goes on to whatever dogs do when they're not chasing bike riders. Unfortunately, the excessive speed you attain outrunning the dog is sometimes more dangerous than the dog itself.
Back in the 1970's I bought some mace to spray at dogs when they attacked. Sometimes it worked, if I sprayed it just right. Sometimes it drifted back and hit me. Sometimes it missed and the dog kept attacking.  It's not worth it.
In my humble opinion, this is the best way to deal with dogs. Not perfect, not entirely safe, but the best there is. In my opinion.

The dog runs toward me. I pull my water bottle out with whichever hand is closest to the dog. I keep riding, and wait until he's less than a foot from my ankle. Then I put the water bottle right in his face, and squeeze, so that the dog gets a face full of water. I've found three kinds of dogs:

  1. One squirt dogs: These are dogs that are just going through the motions of being mean. After the first squirt they go away.
  2. Two squirt dogs: These back off for a second when you squirt them, then get madder than ever and come back at you. You squirt them a second time and they understand that they can't get you without discomfort, so they go away.
  3. Three squirt dogs: I've found only one of these in my life, a huge, mean St. Bernard that made Cujo look like the Taco Bell dog. This 150 pound behamoth charged me from the side at 20mph, so I squirted him. He got REALLY mad and came at me again. I squirted him again. Now furious, this raging reservoir of rabies came at me a third time. Oh oh! I tried to think of another technique to use, but I had no mace, I couldn't outrun him, and kicking him was a sure way to lose a foot. Praying hard, I put the bottle back in his face and squeezed. That was enough for Cujo II -- he walked away, dripping.
The trick is to get the bottle so close to his face you drench his face, but not so close as to get your hand bitten off. This method loses its effectiveness when attacked by two dogs simultaneously, unless you kick to the left and squirt to the right.

Gearing Spreadsheets

Here are a couple spreadsheets for you to use. Note that the Gnumeric files are much smaller, so if you have the Gnumeric spreadsheet that is probably the better choice:

Gearing chart



Gear, speed and force calculator



Links: Tire mounting

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