Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Heavy Duty Cycling

Today I repeated some of Sunday's ride, only on the enormous and heavy Roadster instead of the lightweight Grand Prix. I rode it because I had seen a kickstand in a shop on Sunday that I thought might fit it, and wanted to take it there to find out. 
I live uphill from my destination (indeed uphill from a lot of Arlington) so the ride there was easy. I rode along Columbia Pike, through Crystal City and picked up the Mount Vernon trail at the airport. There is a connection through a tunnel from Crystal City to the trail. This is one of many places in which a bike can take a shorter route than a car. 
Soon after I got on the trail, I heard a little bell ringing and was soon passed by a guy on a modern road bike. I responded with the Roadster's massive, loud bell, and picked up my pace to stick to the guy who had passed. I kept seeing him glance back at me, probably wondering how I was keeping up with him. The secret: once you get 41 pounds of bicycle moving, it wants to continue moving, especially if the grade is favorable. I stayed with him until I heard my phone ringing and stopped to answer the call. Then I continued on to Old Town and the bike shop. The kickstand didn't fit; I haven't found one for sale yet that would (I've seen some on other roadster bikes). Then I had to pedal back home. 
The river trail is nearly level, in either direction, as far as the airport; the work is getting from it over the Arlington ridge that bisects the county from Rosslyn to Arlandria. It's not much hill as hills go, but it's a lot for me at the start of Spring riding--my limited winter riding having maintained some basic conditioning so it's not quite like starting from scratch and way better than it was a couple of years ago. What I noticed--and what is the real point of this story--was the difference made by the greater weight and higher gearing of the Roadster. 
This is obvious--else why do we go to the trouble to make bikes light. But after riding heavy bikes a while (my commuting bike weighs about 35 pounds) it's easy to downplay the importance of bike weight, especially if the bike has some really low gears on it, as my commuter has. I routinely climbed a 2-mile hill on that bike. But having also done that ride on the Roadster and on my Surly Cross-Check, yes, there is a difference! 
The Sturmey-Archer AW hub on my Roadster (the most common SA hub, used on many different bikes) has a classic planetary reciprocal gear combination of direct in the middle (second), low 75% of second, and high 133% of second. With the typical 46-tooth chainring and 18-tooth sprocket, this makes low about the equivalent of a 46-24 combination--but in this case it's attached to an extra-large wheel which makes it effectively higher. 
What I was aware of was that it took a lot of work to propel it up the hill, and for the first time in a couple of years, I had to stop and rest a minute. I got home all right, but it was not a ride I would care to make often in my present state of tune. 
It's possible to put a bigger sprocket on the back, to lower the overall gearing, but more than that can't be done without replacing significant parts of the bike. Raleighs had, for most of their history, 40 spokes in back and 32 in front. So new hubs means new rims, and then the rod brakes probably won't fit, so those have to be replaced, until the bike is quite different from the original. I might try this if I happened to get a frame without usable components, but I want to keep this bike original. All those features are simply part of its charm. 

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