Since joining the Elbow Valley Cycling Club in 2010, there has been a great deal to learn while working my way up from a beginner to a reasonably strong cyclist. As an avid reader, I've read about 30 books on cycling covering everything from bicycles to fitness and cycling techniques. Over the last year only 8,000 kilometers were put on the car in 13 months so it probably is no surprise to find myself wondering whether it is possible to cycle through most of the winter and what kind of bicycle I'd need for the task.
A month ago I took the plunge and bought the same bicycle my wife had purchased in the summer. She had purchased a Trek Navigator 2.0 because of the very low first gear and because of the sturdy frame, strong 36 spoke wheels with double walled rims and a comfortable ride with shock absorbers on the seat and forks. This sturdy little bike seemed very capable at handling curb jumping with us heavier cyclists and the gear range from 21.4 gear inches to 88.9 was just what she needed to get over hills. I specifically talked her into buying this bike because it seemed to have the lowest gearing of the bicycles we looked over at Ridley's Cycle and my wife spends most of her cycling in the low gear range anyways. As you may have guessed, Vicky is a Trek fanatic when it comes to bicycles.
A few months later I test rode a very nice Coda Comp at Eurotech while looking to undertake my next cycling endeavor... lots of touring next year. After reading an article on the web at: http://www.bicycletouring101.com/BikeGearing.htm I realized the Coda had far too high a gearing for carrying heavy loads even though it was well equipped with mounting points for front and rear racks with panniers. With a high gear of about 127 gear inches, it was more of a light touring/racing bicycle than a heavy load carrying touring bicycle because of its narrow racing tires. Eventually I came full circle and bought the Trek with its wide 26X2.125 tires as a commuter/touring bicycle.
At 36 lbs, the Trek weighs the same amount as the weight I've lost since starting to cycle indoors in the winter of 2009. One could say my bike weighs nothing if we assume I didn't lose any weight struggling to catch the fast guys on club rides, but I did lose that much weight while sweating bullets so I'm not pushing any more weight with the bicycle than when I started cycling two years ago.
The reason I opted for the Trek instead of a lighter and faster bicycle is because of the winter. Ridley's already had studded winter tires in stock for the Trek along with huge fenders for its wide tires. Wider tires stood a better chance of finding more grip in snowy conditions and not sliding around on every narrow rut on my daily commute. Next year I'll have to buy racks and panniers because the Mrs and I are gonna do some more cycling around Calgary and hopefully we'll have time to do a few touring rides while learning to pack the bikes with essential stuff only. The first week in April may be our first week of riding on bicycles and getting into shape for the summer. (I get more holidays at my new job... Oh, Yeah!)
I once rode a 70cc motorcycle from Kelowna to Toronto one summer so I know how to pack for that kind of riding. In fact, my tent was so large that I parked the Honda motorcycle inside at night. For cycling however, I think we better aim for a smaller and lighter tent while learning the basics of touring. My main concern is being able to carry enough water (10 lbs/gallon) between refueling points.
So far I've never had any problem with traction on snowy roads but it does take a little getting used to the loud gritty noise of the studs on pavement. The tires grip the snow as if riding on bare summer pavement. Since my new job requires me to work outside all winter, cycling 10 miles round trip every work day was a no-brainer and by dressing properly I sometimes get a little too warm on the ride home. Except for really cold temperatures or when fatigued from all the heavy lifting at work, I'm still riding to and from work most days which says a lot about how addictive cycling can be once you start getting into shape.
The highest gear on the Trek (88.9 gear inches) is a challenge to maintain with its wide tires, especially with all the energy inefficient knobbies and studs on the tires to absorb all the power I put into turning those big wheels on winter commutes. Going slower on winter rides is a good idea anyway because this is usually the time of year cyclists work on endurance training until spring comes. Come touring time, I'll be spending more time in lower gears with extra weight on the bicycle anyway. I do find the top gear is very nicely balanced in terms of speed and effort. The amount of power required to stay in top gear is just high enough to pleasantly force me to build up stronger legs by next year which are pretty strong already with carrying 50+ pound hoses up and down ladders all day and dragging heavier 250 pound hoses across the ground at least a dozen times a shift. Sometimes I do wish the job was a little easier so I'd have more energy to burn on the daily commute. Adaption to heavier exercise takes time, better nutrition, and loads of patience. Occasionally I'll thrill myself by turning 30 kph on my resistance trainer in the basement for 5 or 10 minutes at a time which was a real challenge to maintain for more than a few minutes last winter as I trained to get into better shape. My 1UPUSA trainer provides up to 2,000 watts resistance and this year I can easily hit 40 kph for short bursts of 30 seconds or so. This translated into 30 mph on the Trek in top gear on a few commuting occasions when I just had to see what the Trek was capable of.
A few other things I really like about this Trek is having the cranks further forward on the bike so I can really push back into the saddle when climbing hills. The handle bars easily adjust to suit the cyclist's physic and will take little time and effort to find the exact adjustment for the most comfort. The bicycle still tends to do wheelies up short and steep grass hills in low gear which is why I really need to put heavy panniers over the front wheel for extra ballast (the stock front end is noticeably heavier than the rear when lifting the bike). Having such a low gear is far too tempting however, since I often try to ride up crazy steep hills just for the fun of it. Next year I'm looking forward to climbing Scott's Hill near Cochrane with Vicky.
Come spring, the original road tires will go back on the bike for a super smooth ride. The original tires do not have an aggressive tread on them and at 65 psi should roll along very quietly without losing a lot of power due to tire flexing which is common with lower pressure tires.
The most important feature in a touring bicycle for me is comfort and load carrying ability with appropriate mountain bike gearing. Nearly every article I read on the internet says anything over 100 gear inches is way too high for a touring bike and not having a low gear around 17-19 gear inches just isn't low enough. Fortunately, it should be fairly easy to change the gearing to a slightly lower gear range if it really does become necessary since the bike does come with a huge 34 tooth gear on the back wheel anyways. For now, I'll just laugh myself silly doing wheelies up the steep hills in snow storms or powering over curbs like Evil Knievel until summer returns... Guess I will need a speedometer after all.