To start, I haven’t been dependent on a car to get me to my necessary daily activity for 6 years. In school, I lived close enough to campus that a long walk or quick bike ride was enough to get me to all of my classes. In school though hours are flexible and shorter, and everything is easier. Since I took a real job, I have lived in two locations. The first of these was within a mile of my office, so I generally just walked to work, riding my bike sometimes when I felt like it. You could almost say this was easier than school, except that I worked longer hours. Over the last 9 months though, I have lived a few miles from the office, making it just a bit too far to walk and still have free time left in my day. And so I have been bike commuting nearly every day since then.
The most important part of bike commuting, to me, is the ability to no longer rely on my car to get me to the single most common task in my life – work. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that bike commuting decreases my carbon footprint in many ways, but that is not the reason I started doing it. If my car starts making a weird noise, I have two choices: ignore it or take it to the shop. If my bike makes a weird noise, I have three options: ignore it, take it to the shop, or just fix it myself. The ability to fix my bike myself is so freeing in our world of job specialization based on increased technology. For most of the maintenance on a bike, I don’t have to be a bike mechanic to do it. I just need to look up a couple of youtube videos and read a forum. I could of course do the same thing on my car, but then I am risking an object that cost me over $10k to purchase on me understanding what I am doing. And anyone into MYOG knows, we normally don’t really know what we are doing.
With all this in mind, bike commuting goes hand in hand with backpacking and MYOG. I am self-powered in my capability to get to work, and I am self-reliant in making sure everything works properly. This is exactly what I do when I make gear and go into the backcountry.
Recently, I decided I wanted to kick my bike use up a notch and start doing more errands, such as grocery shopping, using a bike. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of leaving my Salsa Fargo locked up outside of stores. Most of my neighborhood is wealthier than I am, so my bike anxiety is mostly based around the misguided kid who decides to come by and screw with my bike just for fun more than I fear it being stolen. This led to the decision to rebuild my old bike from college. It was a Sekai 400 that I got (very) used for about $100, and so after a few years of riding it, the derailleur was a bit off, both wheels were starting to taco, and the fit in general wasn’t amazing for me. There was a lot of work to do, and I just finished it.
Every part of this bike is new except the frame, brake calipers and bottom bracket. To be honest, the brakes are so much less smooth than the disc brakes on the Fargo, that I may need to upgrade them to some new calipers just to get a bit smoother action from them. I went with an On One Midge to test out a new off road dropbar, since the Woodchipper has been a great success. I also bought a threaded to threadless adaptor so I could use the original 15 degree stem from the Fargo, putting me in a much higher, more comfortable riding position for commuting. The major cost on this endeavor was the levers, where I decided to go with some Microshift STI levers from Nashbar instead of bar end shifters. I found that running the cable along the bottom of the drops really hurt/bothered my hands when I would pull on them climbing big hills. Plus, I didn’t like having to move my hands to reach the bar ends while shifting on a hill. The hand movement I think could have been alleviate by the shorter length of the drops on the the Midge bars, but it this has been beautifully resolved regardless using the STI levers instead. For drivetrain, I have moved to a 1×10 system, with a 44t Surly chainring made specifically to work on its on up front and an 11-27 in the back. The final major touch I made was adding a rear rack and panniers. I’m excited about the opportunity to take everything off my back and still carry more.
I’ve done a half a week of work commutes and a trip to the store so far, and I am loving the capabilities of the bike. It rides smoothly and accomplishes the goals set before it. All told, the bike cost about $600, which is about half the cost of the Fargo. I’m sure I could have found a pre-made bike that fit the bill pretty well at the same or lower cost, but just going cheap really wasn’t the point of the project. It never is. Selecting the parts and building this bike has all been a learning experience for me. Much like the first backpack I built, I’m sure I did several things flat out wrong. Still, I know this bike. I know all of the parts and how they went together, and that is a great feeling to have.