One of my many Portland Craigslist bicycle listings pet peeves is the term “rain bike”. A rain bike implies that the specific bicycle would be good in rainy weather. This descriptor gets applied to older bikes that came with fenders, like Chicago-era Schwinns or 3-speed Raleighs. While fenders are all well and good for rain (all of my bikes have ’em), the problem is that these older fendered bikes have steel wheels. Unless there’s a coaster brake involved, these bikes use caliper brakes. Caliper brakes on steel rims have little stopping power when wet, meaning that they are not safe for riding in rain. They only engage after the rim has been dried off by the brakes, which can take a few seconds depending on conditions.
SHAWN’S NOTE 11/14/11: Originally this entry was photo-filled. The photos came from Keith, linked to his website. Then his website got corrupted by Russian malware. Not only were the photos not working, but every time you went to this page you got one of those “YOU MIGHT RUIN YOUR COMPUTER IF YOU PROCEED” type of warnings. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the photos back up soon.
When I bought the Raleigh Wayfarer in December, it was solely with the idea it would be a fun restoration project and a “sunny day” ride. I knew it would have steel rims, so using it on rain days wasn’t something I wanted to do. Then I started to stress out that my wheels were going to explode or something on my first ride, recounted on an earlier blog post. So Mr. Keith Raving Bike Fiend from Calgar-er, Edmonton offered to build me new wheels for the bike. Even though I should be saving up my cash for other things, the offer was too good to pass up.
At first I was going to get both wheels rebuilt, but then opted for the saner (and cheaper, well, sort of) option of getting a new front wheel. The reasoning behind that decision is that most braking is done with the front wheel, so if I got an alloy (read: aluminum*) rimmed front, my stopping power would significantly increase, so much that I could safely ride in the rain. Plus, this gave me the excuse to get a dynamo generator hub for the front so I can use generator lighting. So no more batteries to worry about!
Last week I got the parts to make the wheel: a Sun Rims CR18 rim in the British 26″ x 1 3/8″ size (aka: EA3, or 650A, or ISO 590**) from North Portland Bikeworks, the spokes from A Better Cycle since Bikeworks was out, and the dynohub, a V-O supplid Novatech, from Ed.*** I brought the raw materials to Keith R.B.F. on Saturday. Over the weekend he built it up, and on Monday I came by the compound to get it installed.
There were a few minor adjustments needed to install the wheel. The front dropout wasn’t wide enough to fit the modern axle, so Keith filed it down until it fit. (Compatibility issues with modernizing old Raleighs are detailed on Sheldon Brown’s site.) Also, the fork itself was a bit narrow, so the fork blades had to be stretched out to fit. This should do for now, but it would be wise for me to get the blades spread more professionally at some point in the future.
And now, the moment of truth: how well will the bike do in the rain?
Thankfully it started to rain good right after Keith installed the wheel,**** so I would get the true test on the way home. And it works! The braking power on the alloy rim to the old steel rim is like night and day. I didn’t have to anticipate all my stops so far in advance, as I had to with the steel rims. I felt confident that I could stop relatively fast in these conditions. Sure, the Raleigh front caliper isn’t as strong as the one on my Centurion, but it gets the job done. (Maybe I’ll upgrade someday?)
So now the “sunny day” bike is becoming a true daily bike/utility bike/commuter bike/what-have-you. I still need to do a few minor things, touch up the paint and all that. Oh yeah, I do need the generator lights! They are on order and should be at the Urban Adventure League HQ soon. When that’s done, well…there’s no stopping me!
*I guess if I wanted to be thematically correct, it should be aluminium.
***No, I didn’t intend to get everything from different places.
****I can almost see the look of horror in the eyes of people from SoCal