The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Being Prepared for Cycling in Nasty Weather and having the Right Bikes
I have my blogging “career” to thank for having a rain bike. In my first months of owning a road bike I noticed that many of the bloggers I read had a secondary bike reserved for nasty weather. A bike that could be abused(ish). A bike that could be ridden guilt free, or as close as one dares come to that, in crappy conditions.
Beyond the simplicity of N+1 or S-1, whichever the case happens to be whereby a simple notion, that you don’t have enough bicycles, can have one in a poor house or “just one more bike” away from separation from one’s spouse, is just a little too much. I say this tongue in cheek, of course, but only kinda.
That said, for a person of fair means, what is the minimum number of bikes necessary? Four.
Better, are there any shortcuts? Absolutely, we can get that total down to two. Read on…
Now technically I own five or six, depending on your point of view… my tandem being one and my wife’s Cannondale being another, but let’s not confuse this more than is necessary.
Four. The “A” Road Bike, a Rain Bike, an “A” Mountain Bike and a Muck Bike.
One could make a fair case for a Cross Bike or a Gravel Bike – or you can simply pump up the tires to 45 psi and pedal a little harder on the mountain bike. Again, let’s refrain from veering this bus into the ditch, eh?
The A Road Bike is not a necessity as much as it is a viciously grand luxury. Now that I have one, I need one. The A Bike can be ridden in the rain but only if absolutely necessary. You can beat the snot 0ut of it and as long as you replace parts often, you’ll be fine. That’s really the point of a rain bike though. Replacing parts on the A Bike is really freaking expensive – likely more expensive than owning a second beater bike…
The rain bike, if one has the means, is the most important bike in the stable. It protects The A Bike from crappy conditions. Presumably, the rain bike will have cheaper components making it less egregious to replace excessively expensive parts (e.g. $275 for a couple of chain rings for the A Bike vs. $50 for the Rain Bike, etc.). The rain bike should be sized appropriately and the setup should match the A Bike as closely as possible, though one may choose to play with the rain bike setup in advance of making changes on the A Bike.
Repeat for the mountain bikes or cross bikes. Mountain bikes are an essential piece of cycling equipment, on par with, oh just for example, oxygen. Well, perhaps that’s slightly overzealous… but not by much. I think.
If one happens to be a roadie, as I clearly am, think of mountain biking as “crosstraining”. If one prefers getting dirty (heh), think of road cycling as crosstraining on the cycling equivalent of an F1 race car.
The point being, I have a beater bike for each discipline to protect the good bike so it lasts longer. Riding in the rain in Michigan is a dirty, gritty thing. Grit tends to find its way into places that don’t do well to have grit in them. Grit it chains grinds down chain rings. Grit in bottom brackets affects the bottom bracket bearings. Grit in wheels will eventually affect how the wheels spin. Etc., etc., etc….
I promised earlier we could get this down to two bikes though, so let’s get right to it, because this is doable. My wife is an excellent example for why it can be important to just go with one road bike. I bought her a very special road bike that takes all of the best of a Time Trial/Triathlon bike and puts a drop bar and aero bars on it:
This is the Specialized Alias Comp. It’s a really nice bike and I paid something like $2,600 for it. Unfortunately, she loves the geometry so much, she has a tough time readjusting to a normal road bike which is much more stretched out because the seat post angle is significantly less steep – so much so that we gave her rain bike to our daughter. My only option for a rain bike is to buy her another, more expensive, Alias so that she can use her A Bike as her rain bike. Eventually that will happen but we don’t have the cash right now, so I went with a nuclear option…
If I keep the bike’s pieces clean and replace bearings as necessary, the bike will last. The chain will have to be cleaned more often, after every rain ride, to keep the grit from killing the chain rings and the bearings will have to be changed much more frequently. Fortunately, the bearings aren’t too ridiculous and cleaning the chain and drivetrain only takes ten minutes. Other than that, the only other big item is replacing the cables every year instead of every other year. Not a huge deal.
The wheels are an issue though. The wheels that came on my wife’s bike are okay but they aren’t great (same with my original wheels). With extended use in the rain though, they’re going to deteriorate more rapidly, so I got her a new set of A Wheels for her birthday. How nice? Well they’re not $2,000 carbon clinchers but they’re as nice as the wheels on my Venge. Same cassette, same tires… So when my wife is faced with other than optimal road conditions, all she has to do is switch her wheels. It’ll take, if she takes her time, two minutes.
Do the same thing for the mountain bike and you’re down to two bikes. In fairness though a Muck Bike is significantly less expensive than a second set of wheels so in this case, a third bike could be arguably less expensive).
In my experience, and let’s be honest and clear, this is the experience of a cycling enthusiast, not a casual cyclist, it’s best to have a decent rain bike (or two) that I don’t mind getting a little mucky. I’m not thinking about how much I’m killing my bike if I get stuck out in the rain – just on having a good time while I’m out there.