Rain Rider

Super LeMans

Centurion Mixte – not prepared for the rain!

Living in Portland, Oregon means that riding in the rain is going to happen, even if unintentionally.  It can rain at any time, it seems.  And, it can rain for a long time (like now!).  After over 30 years of bike commuting through Portland’s winters I have developed my own methods to help ease the transition into winter riding.

First and foremost is to tend to the bicycle itself.  Fenders are a must if you want to arrive at your destination looking moderately decent and relatively dry.  Full coverage fenders are ideal.  Even if your bike lacks eyelets, you can still mount full coverage fenders with P-clamps, but only if you have adequate clearance at the brake bridges to accommodate fenders.  Unfortunately, due to the cycling industry’s recent racing-craze, many regular cyclists ended up purchasing “road bikes” which were really NOT road bikes, but bikes designed for racing, with high gearing, no brake clearance, and no eyelets or rack mounts.  If you lack brake bridge clearance for fenders, then you will be stuck using clip on fenders, UNLESS you convert your bike to a smaller wheel size such as 650c or 650b, which I have fearlessly done.  A conversion will not only give you the option for full coverage fenders, but you will also be able to use fatter tires, which are much better suited for riding through rain and on rough roads strewn with debris.

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Next are brake pads and rims.  A rainy winter can eat up a set of brake pads.  It’s good to check your pads before winter starts, and replace them if they are worn.  I also regularly inspect my pads and clean them with alcohol, and remove any specks of rim material from them using a pick.  Bad or hard brake pads will destroy your rims, so when in doubt, buy some new (soft) pads and get them installed properly.  After especially muddy rides, I hose down my brake pads and rims, using a gentle spray of water, and I also clean everything again with alcohol several times throughout the winter.  So far, I haven’t had to replace any rims due to wear.  That’s a pretty good track record for over 30 years of winter commuting.

The bike’s drive train will need cleaning and lubrication more often during the winter.  Check your chain for wear.  If it is stretched, then replace it.  You may have to replace your cassette at the same time.  I have seen riders break chains, often while climbing or vigorously accelerating, which can cause you to crash.  Chain life can be greatly increased by using a front fender with a long mud flap, which will keep debris off of the chain and crankset.

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Without full coverage fenders, my Terry’s BB gets really dirty.

Riding through the winter can also really mess up your bottom bracket, even if it has sealed bearings.  I recently had to replace a Shimano BB that was only two years old because debris and moisture had made their way past the bearing seals.  When I tried to remove the crank arms, I found that they had rusted to the axle of the bottom bracket!  These were nice aluminum Sugino crank arms.  After that experience, I now remove and check the crank arms at least once a year.  Again, a super long front mud flap helps keep junk off of the BB and cranks.  Many riders make their own out of plastic water bottles, or other suitable found objects.

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With long mud flaps on my winter bike, its bottom bracket stays really clean.

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Panasonic MC 7500 set up as winter commuter, with Jandd Hurricane bag.

Another idea is to simply use a beater bike for winter riding, such as this mid-80’s Panasonic Mountain bike that I have converted to a city commuter.  The Jandd Hurricane bags pictured above are not only waterproof, but can hold just about anything.  A simple 1 x 7 drive train and extra long mudflaps, makes maintaining this winter bike very easy.

If you decide not to ride through the winter, here’s a nice blog post from Georgena Terry explaining what to do to safely get your bike back out on the road again.

Now, you also have to keep yourself relatively dry and comfortable.  I have a number of cycling rain jackets, but my favorites are a newer Shower’s Pass, and an older heavier weight Sugoi for super cold conditions.  I usually wear rain tights for my commute and change clothes at work, but if you want to look less bikey upon arrival, then you’ll need some kind of rain overpants.  The only overpants that I can really tolerate wearing are my ancient Burley rain pants.  They don’t ride up my jeans, they don’t inhibit motion, and they are no more steamy than any other higher end overpants I have tried.  I especially like the zippers at the seams which allow full access to my jeans pockets.  I am curious to try the rain chaps I have seen, but haven’t sprung for them yet, and am waiting to see how other riders like them.  If you are using them, please share your comments.

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Specialized Sub Zero gloves

For gloves, I keep one set of fully lined waterproof gloves in my kit, shown above, but I usually wear my favorite winter gloves – Diamond Mountaineering gloves.  By washing them periodically with Nikwax, the gloves will stay dry in a downpour for about 45 minutes.  They have good wind protection, and keep my hands warm even when it is really cold, yet still provide full dexterity.

I would love to hear other cyclists’ winter riding recommendations and experiences!

Extreme Bike Makeover: 1980’s Guerciotti

rando conversion

I’ve been riding this 1980’s Guerciotti for several years now.  When I first purchased it, as a frame and fork, I converted it to 650c, and turned it in to a city commuter, as shown in the photo below:

When my Nitto city bars were recalled, and the promised replacement bar never arrived, I decided to convert it back to a regular road bike, emphasizing its slightly garish 1980’s color scheme:

1980's Guerciotti

I really enjoy riding this bike – it is fast and a great hill climber.  My theory about its superior performance is that its small diameter seat stays and the short wheelbase make it fly up hills.  I won’t say whether the bike “planes” as I am not convinced of this theory, although I do find it interesting.  Whatever the case, I can ride this bike over hill and dale and not tire out the way I do on my other bikes.  Converting it to 650c made the handling a little more responsive, with more stability a lower speeds due to the lower trail.  It also lowered the bottom bracket which theoretically stabilizes it on descents.  One problem, though was that the bike was built for racing and so it lacks fender and rack mounts.  I was using clip-on fenders, but those really aren’t adequate for riding through Portland’s winter rains.  So, I decided to try installing full coverage fenders, and to take advantage of its relatively low trail by mounting a front rack so that I could use a rando bag.

fender mounts fender zip tie

In order to mount fenders to a frame with no eyelets, p-clamps normally work pretty well.  The fork was fairly slender at the base but I shimmed the clamps and got them to hold.  The rear mounts were more difficult.  The seat stays on this bike are very small diameter, and even with a shim, the p-clamp could not grip the stay.  Instead, I used 3 zip ties and mounted them to the hole in the Gipiemme dropouts,  with one of the ties serving as a block to the open loop of the stays.

Planet Bike fenders

I like these Planet Bike Cascadia fenders.  They have dual stays front and rear which makes for 4 mounting points at the rear and 3 in the front.  Plus, they have nice long mud-flaps which really help keep your feet, drive train, and other riders drafting behind you dry.  Because this bike uses recessed brake nuts, I needed to find a way to mount the fenders to the brake bridge and fork crown.  On the front, I simply mounted the fender in front of the fork crown, but for the rear I needed Sheldon Brown’s “fender nuts“.  I didn’t want to wait around for a shipment, so I made my own by tapping 6 x 1 mm threads into the 5 mm nut head.  I didn’t tap too far down, and used a short bolt, so that I wouldn’t compromise the allen head at the base of the inside of the nut.

made by Wilken inspired by Sheldonfender spacer

Then I needed a pretty big spacer at the chain stays to make the fender line right (the fenders were designed for 700c wheels) and also to allow enough room for the front derailleur to move freely.  This set-up is a bit “spring loaded” with pressure from the rear fender going toward the seat tube.  If it starts to rattle, I’ll try something else.  The chain stay bridge was not drilled so I fashioned a hook to insert from underneath the frame.

Mounting the Nitto front rack was a breeze.  It is fully adjustable and should fit just about any kind of front end.  Good job, Nitto.

cloth bar tapebar end lights

For the rest of the build, I re-taped the bars with more conservative black tape, using the traditional method of starting at the stem and working toward the bar-ends.  In this way, there’s no ugly electrician’s tape, but you need solid bar end plugs to make it work well.  I have these nifty bar end lights, and although they don’t put out a ton of light, they definitely help others see me while riding at night.  Of course I use a head and tail light as well.

Tektro long reach brakes 2013-11-07 001 011 2013-11-07 002 002

I swapped out the white Tektro long reach brakes (Model R556) for some silver ones, but kept the rest of the build the same, including the Campagnolo Record head-set, bottom bracket, and Centaur crankset.  I am using Shimano shifters and derailleurs in friction mode and this bike shifts quicker and more silently than any other bike I own.

700c to 650c conversion

I am pleased with the bike’s new look and new utility.  Being able to use a front bag (Velo-Orange model shown above) will be really nice.  And commuting through the winter on this bike will be much more enjoyable with the full coverage fenders.