I’ve been at my current job for a little over four months now, and one thing from my previous job that I’m still not completely over is the commute. My previous job involved a 5-6 mile commute which could easily be done by bicycle, or train if the weather didn’t cooperate. Now, my commute is by car, and while it isn’t bad in the morning the drive home is usually in quite a bit of traffic. Dealing with traffic every day has had a negative impact on my stress levels as well as my free time, and I seriously wish I could still bike to work.
Well, I can. Sort of.
Last weekend I pulled the bike out, cleaned and re-lubed everything, and went on a ride from my house to my office. The ride has three basic stages. The first five mile stage is the same route as my previous commute, from my house to the Charles River. This is not ideal in many ways, but there are bike lanes and I’m familiar with it. The next ten miles are all on separated bike trails, and is a combination of an older commute route I took when I lived in Newton and some new trails that are part of the Charles River Greenway. It’s flat, peaceful, and easy. The last three miles involve turning onto Main Street in Waltham, and merging with traffic. It’s not so bad, traffic-wise, but it’s also mostly uphill. After getting through the last gauntlet, I’m at the office, mostly in one piece and having already done my morning workout. If I were to leave at the same time I already do when driving, I’d have about half an hour to take a shower before going to my desk.
Seriously considering doing a 35 mile round trip once or twice a week has given me reason to consider my bike. My primary commuting bike (it’s not even worth joking about doing this ride on my single speed) is a 2012 Bianchi Volpe. I’ve been commuting on this bike since a month after I bought it, and it likely has somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-9000 miles on it (not a lot for a car, a fair number for a bicycle). After washing it in preparation for the ride, I could see that the road grime had hidden a fair amount of surface damage, places where the paint had been scraped off and there was surface rust. All only cosmetic, but reminders that the bike has been through a lot. Beyond that, there are certain mechanical things about the bike that are an utter pain. The triple front derailleur has spent more time misaligned than aligned, and gives me gearing range I never, ever use. The cantilever brakes are a pain to change pads for, hard to align correctly, and only work well when it isn’t wet out. And beyond that, there are things intrinsic to the bike, like a relatively high weight and weird fit, that make me seriously think about getting something else.
My main problem with the idea of buying another bike is that my current riding profile would indicate that I purchase something very similar to the Volpe: A cyclocross, touring, or endurance road bike with rack and fender mounts. There are two things I’d like that the Bianchi doesn’t have: first, disc brakes, and second, a compact double crankset in the front instead of a triple. I could even replace the Volpe with another Volpe…in 2014 they started offering a disc Volpe and they’ve since changed the gearing to a compact instead of a triple. That does kind of justify my desires…even Bianchi wanted the bike equipped the same way I do.
I looked at modifying the Volpe and it’s essentially out of the question. Switching to a double would require about $250-300 in the form of a new crank, front derailleur and maybe also a bottom bracket. I can’t put disc brakes on, and switching from cantis to calipers, while not impossible, would require me to find crazy long-reach calipers that can accommodate my tires. So just those two issues would require at least $500, which is both more than the bike’s worth and also a larger chunk of a new bike than just the brakes and cranks.
So I’ve looked a little at new bikes. It’s really tough to justify spending the amount I did on the Volpe (1200-1500) when I already have a working bike, but it’s harder to justify spending less and getting a bike that is less of a bike than the one I already have. I’ve looked a bit at BikesDirect…it’s a good way at getting high-quality parts for not much money, and though I’d need to set the bike up myself that’s a perfect way to save money for a mechanically-inclined person. In contrast, buying even a kit to build a custom bike seems to cost double what the same specced bike does from a major vendor (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, etc.). I’ve looked used, but the selection is very small and I’m also anxious about buying someone else’s stolen bike when looking for relatively new stuff (if you want a steel road bike from the 70s or 80s, though…go Craigslist).
I don’t know what I’d do with the Volpe if I bought a new bike. The bike itself is fine, though it needs a tune-up. There are pieces I may want to grab off of it, like the seat and the rack, but if I were to get rid of it it’d likely be as a whole bike. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Move on to something a little more modern, get the Volpe to someone who wouldn’t have been able to afford it new. Anyone ride a 54cm?
I haven’t made any decisions, but I’m going to keep biking either way. Time to think seriously about whether a better bike will help me spin out more miles. In the meanwhile, I think I’ll try the bike commute for real next week.