The Search For The Ultimate Commuter Bike

2014 is fast fading into our memories, one thing that I will remember from it though, is the hours of fun on a bike - 815 hours (20,040 km), in absolute terms. Of those hours, around half of them were on my commuting bike: a battered and beaten, but strangely beautiful (to me at least) steel Peugeot - equipped with a vintage 7 speed drivetrain and pannier rack.

With so much time spent on that bike, I find myself constantly thinking about what the 'Ultimate Commuter Bike' would look like. Of course, you can commute on practically anything, from a single speed road bike to a fat bike (there are frequently both of these in the Wiggle bike shed); all you really need is two wheels to get you from A to B. Yet, there are always things that could be more comfortable, more practical and more 'fun'.

I've tried most bikes for commuting: at university, I spent a year commuting 15 miles a day on a single speed steel mountain bike, a real old beater. When I had knackered that, I moved to a geared mountain bike with a pannier rack and disc brakes; that was an improvement, but after a winter of riding through the snow of Warwickshire, the front mech was seized solid and the drivetrain and wheels were pretty much ready for the bin as well.


Moving away from mountain bikes, I switched to using my touring bike for commuting; the steel Peugeot, with its Reynolds tubing and simplistic set-up, has remained in service ever since. It is, probably, the best commuting steed I've used to date, and it has been modified heavily for the role...

Wide (44cm) flat top bars and a fairly short 100mm stem give a comfortable and stable cockpit. A strong Topeak pannier rack sits on the back, which will happily hold two Ortlieb Classic panniers and their contents. The drivetrain, is a seriously wide ranging 3x7 setup, that lets me get up the hills even when I'm completely shattered. The gear cables are fully sealed, so that the winter muck can't interfere with the gear indexing. The wheels are cheap and heavy ProLite Gardas, but they have cartridge bearings for easy servicing and maintenance. The tyres are 28c Vittoria Rubino Pro Techs, which help to aid the weight carrying and deal with rough roads. The SKS Chromoplastic mudguards, provide unparalleled protection from road spray. Even the pedals have been considered, and I opt for basic Shimano M520 mountain bike pedals, which means you can happily walk off-the-bike without clunky cleats. All in all, it is a customised, comfortable and practical bike; despite being made largely of very budget parts. [More photos below].

That said, there is always something that can be tinkered with and improved on a bike. After much thought, I reckon there is one main thing that would make my commute even more interesting and 'fun'. That is, the ability to take the less travelled track; heading off-road on some fire-roads and bridleways on the way home (especially in the summer), could add some great diversity to my rather monotonous commuting route.

In order to make this 'ultimate' commuter, a number of things have floated into my mind as potential requirements and questions...
  1. The mudguard problem: On a commuting bike, full length mudguards are a must for me. The protection from road spray and muck makes things far more bearable in the middle of winter, and keeps components running smooth(er) for longer. The problem, is that going down dirt tracks with 28c tyres squeezed into full length mudguards, is a recipe for coming to a grinding (quite literally) halt - there just isn't enough mud clearance. I need something with more clearance.
  2. The braking problem: It's not just mudguards that suffer from a grinding sensation when heading off-road, so too do rim brakes. Even just riding on the road in winter is hard on rims and brake pads, and I can often get through a set in a month on my commuter bike; I'd hate to think how quick the binning process would happen if I started riding off-road as well. Perhaps, disc brakes would be a good idea.
  3. The weight problem: There is no denying that my current commuting bike weighs a bit. In fact, it weighs over 13kgs; add a full pannier to that, and you're closer to 16kgs. I like having something that is 'bombproof', and the steel frame certainly achieves that; but if I wanted to throw the bike around off-road, then perhaps I need something lighter. Aluminium might be the best bet.
So, what would my ultimate commuter bike look like? 

I reckon I've found it - the GT Grade AL X

The GT Grade is one of the new breed of "Gravel Bikes", built to take you on the 'Road Less Travelled'. The top of the range carbon models have innovative glass fibre seat stays for comfort, which is what first got this bike in the press; the Grade AL X carries a lot of the virtues of its higher spec' brothers though, and it is made of robust and durable (and cheaper) aluminium.

What makes this my 'Ultimate Commuter Bike' then? 

For starters, the frame and its geometry is built for comfort and practicality; the rear triangle will give a bit of flex to absorb the road bumps, whilst the tyre clearance is enough to accommodate cyclocross tyres. Second, there are a lot of features that make this a perfect 'all-weather' bike; for example, there are mounts for full length mudguards, and there are the new Shimano hydraulic road disc brakes to ensure that you can stop, even in the wet and when you're fully loaded. 

Despite the Grade AL X being made of alloy rather than exotic carbon, it's also impressively light. Additionally, the all-alloy construction holds the benefit that you could fit a seatpost panner rack to take panniers. Even the small details on the Grade lend themselves to making this a robust and practical bike; such as the full length cable housing to keep out the muck, or the wide ranging compact chainset and cassette. 

For me at least, this could be the ultimate light load lugging, adventure seeking steed.

What does your ultimate commuter bike look like? 
Leave your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the post.  

A few photos of 'The Tank' (The Peugeot) follow...
The Lezyne Micro Drive is a compact and high powered rear light
The Charge Spoon is a comfortable and durable perch
Full length mudguards and a triple chainset. It's all about practicality rather than looks on the commuting bike.
Pro-Lite Garda wheels, Vittoria Rubino 28c tyres and SKS Mudguards.
She might be heavy, and she's certainly not the best looker; but, the Peugeot does more miles than most carbon bikes.


Comments

  1. I've commuted on my On-One Pompino V2 for about 3 years now. The bike, with a singlespeed, v-brake setup, is so bombproof. I've ridden it off-road on stuff that was frankly stupid. Neglected to service it for over a year at one point other than tightening the brakes and lubing the chain. Ridden 100 miles in a day, done multi-day trips to france on it with a varying assortment of stupid handlebars and all sorts of other fun.

    If I could have the moon on a stick I would probably go for the same bike, with clearance for 32mm tyres, disc brakes, decent front rack with a small bag and a slightly lower front end to compensate for the bikes tendancy to push understeer through corners.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great comment Tom; the Pompino is serious value for money.

    For me, the combination of wide ranging gears and disc brakes would be the real winner; which basically means that it needs to be one of the new generation 'Gravel Bikes' that has been kitted out with the Shimano groupset that contains this combo (or you could retro fit it to a frame with a mech hanger and disc brake mounts). The added clearance for bigger tyres would also be a significant bonus, and effectively you could build up something similar to the GT Grade on a cyclocross platform, and it would do just as well - the Kona cross bike is tempting.

    In reality, I can see myself commuting on the Peugeot for many many more years, before buying the 'Ultimate' commuter. When it comes down to it, it is comfortable, practical and cheap; pretty much the three main drivers for a commuting bike.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just wondering what shifters you have on the Peugeot?
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi George, they're Shimano RSX I think, equivalent of 105 back in their time I believe. A bit clunky, but still going strong.

    ReplyDelete

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