I started riding my ‘new’ commuter bike a full 12 months ago, having enjoyed / suffered snow, hail, salted roads and around 6,500 miles (a little over 10,000 kilometres) in the intervening 12 months. I have a relatively long commute into London, a round trip of approximately 45 miles (72km), which I do three times a week. You learn a lot about a bike (and yourself) when you get to the end of a long week of sub-zero temperatures, headwinds, and a heavy ruck sack, and you have to fold yourself back onto your bike. Especially when your new born child has decided that sleeping is for wimps. So, I thought that I’d write down my thoughts on what has worked and which parts of the bike have really delivered, just in case anyone else finds it useful. I should just say that I’m not a bike tester, so I don’t have a massive back catalogue of experience riding lots of other bikes to compare this one with. Therefore I can’t say with any authority that any of my kit is the best, just how well it has served me. Below I have looked at a few key parts that have stood out, for good or bad.
Frame – Pinnacle Arkose SS
Starting with the heart of the bike, the frame has done everything asked of it without fuss. One of my biggest worries about the whole bike was the eccentric bottom bracket. I had read reports about incessant creaky, and never having had one before (just frames with horizontal and sliding dropouts) I was a little apprehensive. I gave it a head start in life by applying a generous helping of marine grease (the sort of stuff normally reserved for the wheel bearings on boat trailers, designed to be submerged in salt water) and it has received no more love than that. However, it turns out that I needn’t have worried as it hasn’t made a peep and has been a doddle to adjust. My only word of warning is that if you are particularly fussy about saddle height then please be aware that it will change ever so slightly ever time you adjust the chain.
The rest of the frame has quietly got on with its thing. The geometry is definitely more steady than racy, but that’s exactly what I want. The paint job has been very hard-wearing and still looks like new with the splatter affect doing a decent job of hiding dirt. The full carbon fork has also helped in keeping the overall weight down. Initially I had some issues trying to mount the front light as the fork doesn’t have the usual hole through the front of the fork (despite the Evans website stating that it does). But other than this minor headache I’ve got no real complaints.
Mudguards – Dia Compe Ene / SKS Chromoplastics
This was one of those decisions that I knew deep down was the wrong one, but I let my heart rule my head and paid the price. They didn’t even make the first ride before I had decided that they had to go. I wanted a set of mudguards that looked sleek and simple, and on that front they met the brief perfectly. But they wobbled and rubbed (no doubt due to the elegant single stays) as well as pinged and rattle with every stone I rode over (as they are made of aluminium). After that initial ride the first thing I did was exactly what I and every seasoned commuter knows I should have done from the outset, and ordered a set of SKS Chromoplastics. They have done they’re thing pretty much perfectly – the only exception being that the plastic end cap on the front mudguard fell off early on.
Saddle – Brooks Cambium C15 Carved
Prior to the C15 I had tried the slightly wider C17. While I found the C17 to be the comfiest saddle I had ever sat on for the first 45 minutes of a ride, past this point I started to get an odd aching on the insides of my upper thighs. No idea why and I’ve never had it with any other saddle, and it was a real shame given the fantastic first impression. For me the C15 starts off just as comfy as the C17 and just stays that way. Anyone that commutes a relatively long way in all weathers with a heavy rucksack (laptop, clothes, tools, etc.) already knows that this can be a tough test for a saddle, but the C15 Carved has been forgettably brilliant. Definitely worth a try if you’re still hunting for your perfect match.
Lighting – SP Dynamo PD-8 Hub & Supernova E3 Lights
This was probably my second biggest worry about the bike. Spinning magnetics, electrical connections and capacitors on a bike ridden all year seemed like a recipe for reliability woes. But I am very happy to report that the lights and hub have performed perfectly. I don’t really need them to see where I’m going as the roads I ride on are well lit. They’re only job is to make sure that I’ve been seen by other road users. For this they seem plenty bright enough (and possibly even sufficient for riding in the pitch black, I just haven’t done it). In fact, I couldn’t imagine ever choosing to go back to batteries. Never having to think about rotating rechargeable batteries is really quite liberating. They’re not even particularly expensive when compared to other top end bike lights and the quality of the Supernova stuff in particular is first rate. Highly recommended.
Rims – H Plus Son Archetype
I’m happy to admit that I’m a bit of a magpie – I’m a sucker for a shiny piece of machined aluminium. So these polished rims were one of the first items on my shopping list when putting the bike together. I was interested to see how they would cope with salty roads and while I can’t fault they’re functionality (they built-up easily into wheels that have stayed resolutely true) they are now showing some blemishes. To some it will be ugly while to others it is the charming patina of age. I fall into the latter camp, but it’s worth being aware of.
Brakes – TRP Hylex
It’s starting to become old news now, but, just in case you’re still not convinced, hydraulic disc brakes are just fantastic for this type of riding. I have recently changed the pads for the first time after a year of riding, I haven’t had to bleed them, the lever feel is still the same as the day I got them, they provide consistent, reliable stopping in all weather and they haven’t ground my rims to dust. TRP have now replaced these brakes in their range with an updated version, but I’ve had no complaints. Obviously, if you are running a derailleur set-up with STI shifters then you’ll need to look elsewhere, but for single speed use or with a bar-end shifter like mine they are a great choice.
Cockpit – Thomson Elite X2 Stem, 3T Ergonova ‘Bars, Widget Grip Wrap Tape & Bike Ribbon Gel Pads
While I can’t grumlbe about the performance of the original Thomson stem, ultimately it was just too long and low for me. I sort of new this before I bought it, but I wanted to give it a go as I think that they are simply a great piece of kit, plus it matches the equally lovely seat post. Unfortunately, after a month of trying to get my aching back to cooperate it was clear that it needed to go. Thomson don’t make a stem in the length and rise that I need so it has been replaced with a less beautiful (but no less functional and far cheaper) item from Planet-X.
As for the bar, bar tape and gel pads, they are a combination that have done the best job yet of keeping the numbness at bay that my hands often suffer from. The egg-shaped tops of the Ergonovas in particular are a very pleasant place to rest your palms.
Rear Hub – Modified Sturmey Archer S-RK3
Finally, to the rear hub. This is the second hub that I’ve had modified – the main reason being that I just don’t get the time to go out on my mountain bike as much as I would like, so this gives me another opportunity to test the hubs robustness. And other than a bit of initial cable adjustment as everything bedded in as well as the steel end of the hub shell and the cheap cable stop corroding, the hub hasn’t been touched and hasn’t missed a beat. My commute is relatively flat, so I only tend to use direct drive and over-drive, but I have ventured into the Surrey Hills on a number of occasions and the gearing has even got me up the 20% gradient of White Down hill (to my legs surprise). I’m now interested to see just how far the hub can go before needing to be touched. The challenge is on!