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Dec 15, 2010

Tough Stuff

Winter unofficially arrived a few weeks back with those nasty temperatures and corresponding dump of snow, shocking many of us into the realization that we may be in for a long cold winter, especially considering winter wasn't to officially arrive for at least another month.  Officially or not, winter cycling was now in full effect.

For many people in Calgary the bike of choice (rightly or wrongly) for winter commuting is a mountain bike of some kind with some slight modifications like fenders and perhaps studded tires.  And while a mountain bike might be considered nice for the extra frame clearance for wide tires and extra wide gear range they require an awful lot of maintenance of the drivetrain precisely because of that cluster of cogs in the back, rear derailleur, and skinny chain.  On top of that, with a derailleur system, there is no possibility of protecting the drivetrain with a chaincase like you can with a Internally Geared Hub (IGH).

KMC Z410RB Zinc Coated Chain $20

To be clear, I know lots of people have perfectly good mountain bikes lying around and that these bikes will work, I am just saying that if you are getting tired of the maintenance required, there is another way forward - tougher chains and IGH's.

My Batavus BuB after one powerwash so far this season and not a drop of oil applied to the chain - ever!

IGH's come in many configurations with the most prolific model being the 3-speed Nexus hub from Shimano.  This hub has been in their range forever and is available with a coaster brake, no brake, or a drum brake.  Shimano also makes 7 & 8-speed versions which are amazingly tough, simple to use, and require minimal maintenance.  There are a few other IGH manufacturers out there with excellent product including SRAM, Sturmey-Archer, NuVinci, and Rohloff.

Generally speaking, if your riding has you primarily in the bottom of the river valley (Beltline, Bowness, Bridgeland) a 3-speed will suffice.  However, if your riding takes you out of the valley bottom more gears are in order.  7-speeds at minimum and 8-speeds if you want even more range.  To give you an idea of how the gear range of some of the IGH's compare to a standard derailleur setup, check the comparison chart below -

Check out the comparison to the Nexus 8-speed and a mountain triple - basically the same range with the exception of the ultra-low and ultra-high gears on the mountain triple.  In our view, especially when speaking specifically about commuting, why bother with the complexity/maintenance of a derailleur system if you are rarely in those gears?  How often are you in either your low gear or your high gear on your mountain bike that you commute on?  Do you enjoy dealing with the maintenance required?  Do you like skipping derailleurs?  My guess is you would answer no to the questions above and were simply unaware of the benefits of IGH systems.

If you have a bike with a singlespeed, fixed gear, or IGH - you can look at running a rust resistant chain as they are only available in 1/8" size (chains for derailleur systems use 3/32").  They are relatively cheap at $20, easy to install with their master link, require no lube, and hence - no maintenance.

*** Update - apparently the rust resistant chains are available in 3/32" through one of our new vendors in 7, 8, and 9-speed versions.***

Standard 3\32" chains are thinner and less durable than 1/8" chains resulting in the need to replace them more often because if you don't, you run the risk of wearing out the cogset and/or the chainrings too, which can get very expensive very fast come replacement time.  Sure, if you replace your chain regularly (every 1000kms or so) you might be able to delay the inevitable, but eventually your cogset will wear out and you need to replace the chain at the same time as the cogset.

If you are considering a new bike for commuting you owe it to yourself and your pocketbook to check out bikes that have IGH's and rust resistant chains.  They are purpose made for commuting and are worth every penny - both in durability and reduced maintenance requirements.

Happy Winter!

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