While I was riding my 11 day Lands End to John O’Groats a combination of lots and lots of rain/flooding and off-road sections meant that my chain, derailleurs, sprockets and chainrings got very covered in gunk everyday. They looked a right mess and needed a bit more TLC each night than I really wanted to give. Also as I spent much of my time in the middle chainring I kept having to tweak the front derailleur to avoid the chain rubbing it (there is no position where it won’t rub either when in the largest or smallest sprocket and sometimes in the next one in at each end as well). So one decision that has cascading implications is that I have decided that my Bike for Life should use a Gates Carbon Belt Drive and in particular the new CDX CeenterTrack belt. The cleanliness and lack of maintenance are very attractive. However, this decision has lots of implications such as:
- The frame needs a break in it. A place where the rear triangle can be opened so that the belt can be replaced.
- I would not want to buy a frame from anyone who has not built a frame for a belt drive before. They have specific requirements in alignment, rigidity and adjustment that I don’t want to be a guinea pig for.
- The belt drive requires you to use hub gears (well I wanted to anyway for reliability and low maintenance). The obvious choice is the Rohloff Speedhub for unmatched reliability and gear range.
- The Rohloff has implications for the handlebar. While there is now (just) a solution for a twist grip for drop handlebars from Gilles Berthoud it is not possible to have the gears integrated with the brake lever which works so well for derailleur gears. I don’t like the idea of the gear change so far away from the normal handgrip so for me the belt drive implies Rohloff which implies not drop handlebars (in the end I have chosen the Jones Loop H-Bar).
So one decision cascades down into lots of others. This was probably the most extreme example, although even here some of the other decisions support these choices. The same yucky conditions that attacked the drivetrain also attack the rim brakes. As the wheels pick up dirt so the brakes grind away at the rims. The same dirt attacks the brake pads and the result was me standing in the pouring rain at the beginning of day 7 changing all my brake pads that had already worn down to nothing (all new before I started). So moving to disk brakes seems obvious. With many years of disk brake use my clear preference is for hydraulic rather than cable operated and these are still not well supported on drop handlebars. So now both the drivetrain and the brakes support not using drop bars. My own feeling is that while I recognise I am faster with drop handlebars I do struggle with comfort, I rarely use the drops and end up spending more than 90% of my time riding on the brake hoods. By the end of the 11 days I was desperate for some alternative hand positions (which are one of the strengths of the the Jones Loop H-Bar. Obviously both the belt drive and disk brakes require specific frame support. But so do four other things that are important to me in a bike for life.
- Tyres with lots of air. I rode LEJoG on 28mm tyres. They worked well being fast and puncture proof. But our road and cycle track surfaces are so bad that on a Bike for Life I want much larger tyres, specifically at least 40mm for comfort and puncture resistance. This does require the frame to be designed with appropriate clearances.
- Mudguards: My Bike for Life is going to be ridden all year round whatever the weather. It will be ridden in normal clothes and so excellent mudguards are a must. Along with the large volume tyres this requires the frame to be appropriate designed.
- Dynamo: For me this is an obvious feature for an all year round bike that needs to be available all the time. This time I am looking for front and rear dynamo powered lights so will require a way to neatly route the cables to the back light.
- Racks. I’ll write separately about racks because I have some quite detailed requirements that are going to need fittings on the frame. The three main uses (general transportation, longer day rides and touring) all have different needs in this area and the bike needs to work well for them all.