Sugino XD cranks:
Most road bikes are equipped with gear ratios that are too high. The gearing that is ideal for pro riders in the Tour de France, probably isn't so great for the average rider, yet many entry-level road bikes come with pro-level gearing.
If you've ever found yourself laboring up a hill, your agonized legs unable to keep a brisk cadence, your mental toughness on the brink of defeat, then you should probably think about lower gearing; you'll be surprised what you can accomplish.
A standard road crankset has a 39-tooth small chainring. A compact crankset has a 34-tooth chainring. A road triple goes a bit further with a 30-tooth ring. My Sugino cranks have a 26-tooth small ring. This is very rare for a road crank. Fortunately, Sugino's XD cranks are all you need and they are among the most affordable cranksets you can buy. I run different versions of these cranks on three of my bikes (yes, I have more than three bikes) and on my wife's bicycle (yes, I'm in charge of my wife's bike).
My work bike runs the Sugino XD600, a triple crankset with a 26-36-46 tooth configuration. My rear cassette has a 32-tooth large cog. This is an essential touring (or coffee delivery) setup and is sensible for average riders who climb hills on occasion and don't always want to "race" their way up. To compare how low your gears are, divide your small chainring by your large rear cog to get your gear ratio. Mine is 26/32=0.8125.
When I climb long or steep hills there is no substitute for simply having really, really low gears. Many people are surprised at the hills I routinely climb while carrying heavy loads because they find them so challenging without loads, but often I think they're missing the immense benefit of low gears. Many riders have gears that are so high that they could only possibly use them on super fast descents. Why not trade those useless high gears for more gears on the lower end?
On my commuting bike I recently installed the Sugino XD2 wide/low double crankset. This has a 26/40 tooth set-up. I don't like shifting across a gap as large as 14 teeth but I am able to do about 95% of my riding in the large chainring. Only when confronting a large hill do a need to shift down. For me, this is a really useful approach to commuter-bike gearing. Granted, it lacks some useful larger gears. A Sugino triple would give me a 46-tooth big ring and any other road bike would have a 50-tooth ring or bigger but on the rare instance when I might like to have that I can simply let the bike coast downhill instead. In my high gear I can still spin comfortably at 25mph but in normal commuting it is very rare for me to go over 20mph.
One last quirky bonus available to you from Sugino is that they sell a triple crankset with extra small crankarms (152mm). There are many compelling arguments for the merits of short crankarms, which I won't delve into here. Standard cranks have arm lengths of 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm, and sometimes up to 180mm. Sugino is the only company I know to make a high quality and affordable crankset with arms smaller than 165mm. This was useful on my Surly Cross Check bike because it had severe toe-overlap (i.e. the front wheel overlaps with your pedal stroke when turning). The 152mm cranks completely eliminate the toe-overlap problem. You're probably thinking that short crankarms would make you slower. It does reduce your leverage, but leverage is something you constantly mediate by shifting gears anyway. The question is how much power your legs can generate by spinning in a smaller circle compared to a bigger circle. Suffice to say that I really enjoy riding with these small cranks (for reference, I'm 5' 7"). You definitely notice the difference compared to 165mm or 170mm arms but you will still be plenty fast, maybe even faster (controlled experiments pending).
This is one of my favorite articles of clothing and I wear it nearly every day on the bike between October and April. Part of its appeal is that it functions equally well as performance wear and as a casual style.
The jersey is100% merino wool, a fabric that seems to be making a come-back. Merino wool is alleged to have the following advantages: (1) it doesn't retain odor like most other fabrics and (2) it is comfortable in a wider range of temperatures. I will heartily swear by the first point. I'm an environmentalist (also I'm lazy with chores), which both mean I do laundry as infrequently as possible. I value having clothes that can be worn more than once before washing. I generally wear this jersey for a few weeks at a time, whereas a polyester jersey would reek after one ride.
I agree with the notion that wool is comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. Perhaps more important is that it can handle light rain. Sometimes donning a jacket causes me to quickly overheat and this jersey is my ticket to comfort when it's warm and sprinkling. However, short of doing some hard-core controlled experimentation, I have a hard time saying that this is a significant advantage of wool over polyester jerseys. Don't kid yourself into thinking that you can't overheat in a medium-weight jersey like this. Fortunately, Surly makes this with a full zipper. Every day on my bike is a gambit with temperature control. Head out overdressed and I'll overheat within minutes, underdressed and I could be clenching my teeth for hours. I like to be able to modify my gear as much as possible to control temperature without dismounting the bike. Any bike jersey that has less than full zip is just needlessly reducing your options.
A few years ago I invested in the Shutter Precision PV-8 generator hub (aka dynamo hub or dynohub). The hub laces to a front wheel and wires to a front and rear light; when it spins it generates electricity to power the lights. I absolutely love it.
You never have to worry if your lights are in good working order with a generator hub. Before I got mine, I had gone through numerous battery-powered lights that eventually wore out or began working only intermittently. Over time as the batteries would fade so would the light output. When was the light too faded to be useful anymore? I was tired of playing the game of getting the most of a battery at the expense of good lighting and I was tired of going through batteries (and lights). Now I ride with front and rear lights always on day or night and I never have to change a battery.
Generator hubs allow you to ride away from lighted streets if equipped with a proper headlight. Generator powered lights are usually designed to cast light onto the road so that you can ride in the dark. The ubiquitous blinky lights that most cyclists are familiar with are “be seen” lights: rather than help you see, they help you be seen. These lights are quite powerful but the light flashes indiscriminately in all directions instead of onto the road where you want it. They make you highly visible but, counter-purposefully, can actually be somewhat blinding or disorienting for oncoming motorists. By using well-engineered optics to direct the light onto the road, a good light can enhance your vision of the road and keep you visible to motorists without blinding them. With the limitless power of a generator hub, you could bike through the night on dark roads without fear of losing your lighting.
The obvious drawback of dynohubs is that they steal energy from your pedaling strokes to create electricity. That's energy that could have gone into propelling you forward. The reality is that modern generator hubs are very efficient and you're unlikely to notice that it's making you any slower. Different hubs claim different efficiency levels. I don't know if there's been any objective scientific testing to compare generator hubs to each other or to regular hubs, but I've read that the resistance created by a typical generator hub is about the equivalent of adding five feet of elevation gain per mile.
The gold standard for generator hubs has long been the German made line of SON hubs. They usually cost over $200. If you have the money and you want to be classy, or make a statement, or just be sure that your getting a reliable time-tested product, then that is probably the hub you will buy. Fortunately, many new options for generator hubs have come on the market that are more affordable and offer competitive performance. I read a lot of reviews before buying the Shutter Precision PV-8 hub a few years ago. Some testing showed that it outperformed the SON hubs and it cost less at $125. Shutter Precision is a small Taiwanese company that was making camera parts and decided to make a foray into generator hubs. I don't know of any bike shops that stock SP products but you can buy them on ebay from a licensed seller with the handle “idc1947.” The product ships from Taiwan, so it takes a couple weeks. I bought several items this way and it is reliable. Once they shipped me a hub that was designed for disc-brakes (not what I ordered) but they quickly sent the correct hub and paid for the return shipping on the disc-brake hub. My work bike and my wife's commuting bike both use this hub and it works great.
Some time after purchasing those hubs I wanted one for my commuter bike. The same ebay seller had added a cheaper option, the Sanyo NH-27 Chinese-made hub, which comes already laced to a rim. They sell it as the “IDC Stout Dynohub” and it ships out of California. It's only $95 (shipping included). The deal seemed to good to be true, but I bought it and it's been giving me reliable service for almost two years now.
Idc1947 has two rear lights on ebay right now: the Spanninga Pixeo and the Herrmans H-track. I have both and prefer the Herrmans H-track. I bought front lights from them in the past but they are not showing any for sale currently. There are others available on ebay but unfortunately I can't give advice on those. Another dynohub dealer who's webpage I've run across a lot is “Peter White Cycles.” They sell both the top of the line SON hubs and the cheap Sanyo hub, as well as several light options. I suspect it's a trustworthy place to get outfitted with a dynohub lighting system.
Leather saddles are an excellent choice for serious cyclists. New leather saddles are very firm (and not too comfortable), but the idea is to break them in until the leather stretches in all the right places and conforms to your body. In the long-run you end up with a saddle that is perfect for you and the comfort can't be beat.
There are a range of strategies for breaking in leather saddles, calling for more or less treatment. Heavy treatment with a liquid oil (such as neatsfoot oil) will help the saddle soften and break in fast but could also lead to a saddle that sags too much. “Brooks Proofide” is a solid leather dressing that will help break in the saddle but not as quickly as a liquid oil. I never used any product on the Brooks I have on my work bike. It's about six years old with over 15,000 miles under it and is in the prime of its life. It took a couple thousand miles to get truly comfortable, so I don't exactly recommend the “no treatment” method, but it does work (eventually).
This is not explicitly branded as cycling apparel. I got mine at Salem Summit Company and I love it for winter cycling.
These are designed to be worn in a variety of configurations. During Salem's coldest winter weather, I wear it strictly on my neck, occasionally pulling it up to cover my mouth and nose, while wearing a separate skullcap for head and ear warmth. In slightly warmer winter conditions I may wear it looped from my neck over my head and ears (looks kind of like a hijab). If it's warmer yet, I will wear it in place of a skullcap, such that it goes over my head and ears, draping down my back. Yeah, I'm sure it looks silly, but I just avoid mirrors. I prefer it to my skull cap because it's wool (so it doesn't retain odors so much) and it's really lightweight (I often overheat in my skullcap). Furthermore, if I do start to overheat I can easily grab the draping end off my back and slide the whole thing right off from under my helmet without so much as slowing my pedal stroke.
The most popular shirt in town is also my favorite summer cycling shirt. Most serious cyclists bike around in tight-fitting polyester jerseys. Tight clothing is meant to improve your aerodynamics. I don't doubt that this is the case but there's a trade-off with comfort, in my opinion. Clothing with a slightly loose fit is more comfortable on hot days because it allows for air to circulate onto your skin. The more comfortable you are, the faster you will be.
Polyester clothing is usually promoted for moisture-wicking ability. I like moisture-wicking fabrics in the winter. If you are wearing a cotton base layer and rain seeps through your jacket, the cotton will hold the moisture against your skin, making you very cold. Polyester will wick the moisture away. I think we've been duped into believing that moisture-wicking is a good thing in the summertime. In heat, you want that moisture on your skin to cool you down. Don't fight your body: if you're sweating, there's a reason.
The Salem Summit shirts are half cotton, half polyester. I often ride in 100% cotton shirts, which I like in the summer. In spite of what I just said about polyester, the 50/50 shirt is just awesome. It is really lightweight, which I suspect is made possible by the polyester. It doesn't retain odors as bad as my 100% polyester jerseys. And it seems to strike the right balance of keeping moisture on your skin without getting grossly drenched in sweat.
I have one in green that I love. I special-ordered a yellow one, just so I could have one to bike in that would keep me more visible. I'm sure a third one is in my future.
If you live in Salem then you probably already have a Salem Summit shirt and are probably trying to justify buying another one. Make it your go-to summer cycling shirt.