Monday, July 20, 2009

Commuter Bike Makeover

Last weekend, I gave my commuter bike a much needed makeover. Here's the deal: My commuter is a Gary Fisher Mendotta, a flat bar fitness hybrid with mechanical disc brakes, and some other sweet features like a carbon fork and Bontrager paired spoke wheels. When I first got it two years ago, I wanted something that I could use for commuting, cyclo-cross, rainy road rides and maybe one day, some touring. That being said, I needed something with road bars. I figured that I could convert a flat bar hybrid to something resembling a cross bike, for less than an actual cross bike. On top of that, with the Mendotta, I would get the added bonus of mechanical disc brakes. Changes that had to be made included swapping out the flat bars, Avid BB5 brakes, Sram X-5 shifters and X-7 rear derailleur for a drop bar, Avid BB7 road brakes, 105 STI levers and a 105 rear derailleur. Even with the parts swapping, it still worked out to be cheaper than a cross bike.

I ended up with a pretty sweet ride, pictured on the left here. Now, the only catch....the braking SUCKED. Even for a bike with mechanical disc brakes, stopping power was CRAP. A road bike in rainy conditions could stop better (no joke). There was absolutely ZERO power when braking. On top of that, the brakes were super finnicky to set up, and while braking, the levers would almost touch the bar. I put up with this for two years, and decided I had enough.

So I did away with the drop bars and STI levers, put on a flat bar, XT shifters and Speed Dial brake levers. The result is on the left.

So how about the ride and braking?

First off, braking power is 100 TIMES better!!!! The way disc brakes SHOULD feel! I couldn't get over the difference! I can actually modulate while braking (although not really necessary when commuting, but it just FEELS better). The other bonus was the handling of the bike (as a result of the flat bars)...overall a lot quicker and more responsive. This bike is more comfortable and enjoyable to ride, and I'm considering using this setup for cross in the fall, minus the fenders and rack, of course. (NB: Any kind of bike can be used for the cross series in Ottawa, mountain bikes, road bikes, single speeds etc... I'd like to see two people try cross on a tandem!) The braking and handling should make it fun to ride in a cross race.

So, the moral of the story....disc brakes and STI levers don't produce the greatest stopping power. A better alternative might be bar end shifters and a dedicated brake lever, on a setup like this. The real solution of course, is to get a dedicated cross bike, oh, and while I'm at it, a single speed 29er, and a pimped out fixie, a stylin' cruiser, and a.........

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