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Commuter/Touring Bicycle Strategy #5046
Back To Discussion List Written: 2018.04.09 by: Robin Tivy

What is the lowest cost maintenance master plan for someone who loves to commute and tour on bicycles? Should you have one bike or two? Disk brakes? Internal hubs? How many speeds? First of all, the important thing to understand is that when you are deciding what bikes to buy, you are buying an ongoing system, not just a one time purchase. By "system" I mean not just the current parts, but a succession of parts you'll be replacing many times over the years. You'll be replacing wheels, tires, brake pads, chains, rear sprockets, bottom brackets, and all the drive train components many times. You are investing in tools and knowledge as well as the bike. On bicycles, all parts except the frame are from third party manufacturers like Shimano. Availability of parts is not determined by the bike model such as Norco. It is determined by certain interfaces. Most obvious is that your wheel size determines what tires will be available. Other interfaces are the rear dropout width which dermines which wheels you can buy.

What this discussion is about is a strategy that emphasizes long term maintenance and availability of parts. Our mission is to run a bike that is inexpensive, standard and easy to maintain. Unfortunately the market drives the industry to keep changing things. Standard parts and cost reduction are not the main goals. To counter this, you need a strategy to avoid obsolescence. You need to understand certain standards, and then use your knowledge to pick the right bike, tools and spare parts so you have control over your destiny.

The original intro to this discussion is in Original Introduction for Commuter/Touring bike strategy. However after several weeks of research and study, those comments were superceded by Standard Bikes - Buyer's Guide.


#6676 - 2020.03.17 Robin Tivy - Overhaul Article on standard Bikes
In the last couple of days, I overhauled my document Standard Bikes - Buy, Configure, Maintain. Since I wrote the original 2 years ago, I've had to refer to it numerous times when advising various people on bike upgrades and maintenance.

The first change was the first item in the "Major Decisions" chapter. I now think there are 4 major decisions about what kind of system you want to get into. The first decision is choosing the drive train, a discussion I've had with several people. So now the document gets right into talking about typical 3x8 gear systems. My new simple guideline is to quickly check the "cog ratio" of the lowest gear. It should not be greater than 1:1. This means your smallest cog on front should be 32 teeth or less, since 32 teeth is the largest Shimano 8 speed cassette readily available. See website under "cassettes".

Next rewrite was the chapter on "Stems" (for handlebars). This chapter is important because it is probably the most frequently changed item on a bike to get a good fit. I had a lot of trouble with this chapter. There are 4 things you want to know.

 - how to identify what you are looking at on a given bike
 - pros and cons of alternatives
 - how to take them apart
 - how to order a new one

In this chapter and others, I now make more use of YouTube videos and also tables which show the dimensions you need to know. Because ordering and specifying the right parts is a key reqirement to running a bike. Although you can have all this done by a shop, the result is much better if you know what to ask for.

Another thing I did was to go through some of the Park Tools videos and reconcile what I was saying with their terminology.

#6256 - 2018.05.10 Robin Tivy - New "Standard Bikes" Article
After a huge effort looking at the details of how various parts fit together, I have written a separate document called Standard Bikes - Buyer's Guide. I'm not sure if that is the best name, but "standard" is a big word. The document has got a big list of things you should know about your bike or any bike you buy. What is the dropout width? What type of handlebar stem do you have? Once you understand what you've got, the parts section lays the groundwork for being able to improve your bike and do your own maintenance. I used a separate document so I could organize the important facts component by component. So it's easy to use as a reference. It starts off with some major decisions regarding the overall bike, and then gets into the detailed specs and standards of each component.

I bought a little luggage weighing tool, and measured the weights of dozens of bikes. I was surprised to find that my Rocky mountain was on 1 km heavier than my road bike. And was surprised to find that the modern aluminum frame hybrids are not lighter. All bikes seem to be between 12 and 14 kg.

The biggest change from my studies was to realize that my old mountain bike was actually a better urban bike than my faithful old ten speed. The ten speed required too many changes to bring it up to standard, and the ride isn't as solid. So now I'm riding my Rocky Mountain every day.

Just writing this document forced me to look at stuff I had never looked at before. This lead to several big improvements to my own bikes. You will probably do the same if you study the matter. For example, once I started examining seat posts, I realized that new ones had a better method of adjusting the angle of the seat. So for a new $24 post, I got a much more comfortable seat. And by swapping out the cassette and chain on my mountain bike ($12+$16), I solved a mysterious shifting problem I've had for years in my 3rd largest cog on the back.

If you see anything that I've got wrong I would really appreciate hearing about it. I'm trying to make it a reference document for all time.

#6243 - 2018.04.20 Steve Grant - Belt drives
I posed this question to a friend who I regard as the person most knowlegeable in western Canada, about bicycles. He said belt drives appear to be the best for people who commute year-round on their bikes. There are drawbacks, as listed in Wikipedia's excellent entry on "Belt-Drive Bicycles". To describe belt drives would simply be to repeat the article.

Efficiency appears to not be one of the drawbacks. Belt drives are used with car engines despite the strong motivation for mileage gains.

#6241 - 2018.04.19 Robin Tivy - All About Chains for commuter bikes
Today I put a new chain onto my main commuter bike. It currently has a Shimano 7 speed cassette on the back. The chain I bought is a KMC X8.93. Cost was $14.00 at MEC. The previous chain has been worn out for a year, and I should have done this last year to avoid excess wear on the cogs. The experts always say you should replace the chain more often than the cassette, but many of us just wait till we have to replace everything. I admit that was my previous policy. But with these inexpensive yet high quality $14 chains, I think it might make more sense to replace chains more frequently. I've got one of those Park Tools chain wear gauge which tells you when the chain is stretched.

I also bought a new Shamanio 7 speed cassette for 16.95, but I don't need that yet. For now, I just cleaned up the old cassette. I easily removed it while I was changing the chain and cleaned it in soapy water. With these inexpensive chains, I estimate the cost of maintaining your own drive train for a Vancouver winter should drop from $350 to about $50. Just a couple of $14/year KMC chains and perhaps a rear cassette should get you through a winter (providing you have a 7 or 8 speed bike and fenders). $14+14+16 = $44/year. If you've got a more expensive drive train or get it done in the shop, you're looking at $350/year or more.

Leading up to my chain replacement, I just completed 2 days of chain research. Actually I bought 3 different models of chains, and also a couple more cassettes so I could measure and research everything for this article, and so I'd have every kind of spare part and tool. And I had to buy master link pliers to get the old chain off. The tool is Park MLP-1.2 which cost $25.

As I have already told you, the chains and cassettes for 7 and 8 speeds are considerably less expensive than 9, 10, or 11 speeds. Below are some typical MEC prices, which you can verify on their website.

 10 speed Shimano HG95 $49
  9 speed SRAM PC 991 $42 //this is what you pay for 9 speeds
  8 Speed SRAM PC 870 $28
  8 speed KMC Z51 $12
  7 speed KMCX8.93 $14

From the KMC and SRAM websites, I finally pinned down how chain widths relate to number of sprockets on your rear cassette. The thing that you want to know is the "pin width". There are a lot of sloppy specs on the web. The KMC Z51 box says pin width is 7.1mm and the KMCX8.93 is 7.3mm. When I measured the width with my vernier caliber it was .1 mm wider, the 7.1 measured 7.2 and the 7.3 measured 7.4.

The boxes specify three things: Pitch 1/2 inch, roller width 3/16, and pin width 7.1mm.

Below is a table summarizing the specs given on the KMC website.

  Sprockets Pin Length Weight 116) ---------------------------------------
 6,7,8 Speed 7 mm 330g
 9 speed 6 mm 272g
 10 speed 5 mm 257g
 11 speed 5 mm 243g

From the above, you can clearly see that the more sprockets you have, the narrower the chain. A chain for an 11 sprocket cassette is only 5mm wide. Each increase in number of speeds increases the price by 50% or so. And above 8 speed, you can't reuse the master link. So you can't just take off your chain to clean it.

What about SRAM chains:
 I bought the PC870 for $28, but then I was wondering why the SRAM PC730 that looked the same that I bought at bike doctor was only 15.95. The answer is on the SRAM website: cheap ones are grey and expensive ones are nickel plated, and with chrome hardened pins.

To get the chain page, use google "SRAM Chains" and go to, then scroll down to the 8 speed, then click on "Specs".

Comparison Table

Model     USD          Outer plate   Inner plate  Pin Treatment
  PC 830 10.00 grey grey Standard
  PC 850 14.00 grey grey Chrome Hardened
  PC 870 19.00 nickel grey Chrome Hardened
  PC 890 33.00 nickel nickel Chrome Hardened