Commuter Bikes and the Trek Soho Deluxe

Health

trek soho deluxe

My friend Tony asked if I’d have a look at this bike.  Tony lives in DC and commutes by bike, escorting his wonderful daughter to school every morning, all by DC bike share.  He’s become a bike-share-system savant — the hackles on his neck rise the closer he gets to the thirty-minute bike-share quota.  But his daughter is graduating to middle school this year, where there isn’t a convenient bike-share station to switch bikes.

So Tony needs to buy a new bike.  His commuting needs neatly mark out the boundaries of the no-maintenance bicycle market — namely, internal gear hubs (IGH) and carbon belt-drives.  So it’s no surprise he’s put his finger on the Trek Soho Deluxe.

In researching this bike, I’ve done my usual eval, all the while not realizing the model has been discontinued.  So I’ve also done a quick and dirty search for “city bike,” “belt drive,” and “disc brakes.”  That’s turned up a decent list of some drool-worthy machines for 2014-15.

My evaluation of the discontinued Soho Deluxe is still relevant, though.  Not only are the components of bikes in this narrow market segment very similar.  There are probably a number of Soho Deluxe’s still in showrooms in every major city, and at closeout prices, to boot.  So I’ll just include that here, while adding the list of current-model bikes at the end.

MISC. NOTES Re. the TREK SOHO DELUXE

1) If you find a “new” model, it’ll likely be a great deal, with “closeout” pricing.  (The model was discontinued for 2014.)  But what year is the specimen you’ve found, 2012 or 2013?

Consider the following:

a) Normally a year or two sitting in a showroom makes no difference.  But with internal gearing, lubrication can leak out or settle in ways detrimental to the parts.  So if you find a 2012 Soho Deluxe, ask if the bike shop will re-lube the hub upon purchase.  Sheldon Brown discusses lubrication issues, here:  http://sheldonbrown.com/nexus-mech.html

b) Internal gearing has come a long way in recent years, and the different iterations of the Nexus 8-spd. hub are no exception.  I don’t have the specifics on whether or not the 2013 is significantly better than the 2012.  Might be something to research further.

c) Similarly, the newer Gates belt drives are reported to be much better than older versions.  I’m not sure what the timeline is, so that’s something to look into, as well.

2) No quick release rear wheel.

a) Much more difficult to change a flat on the fly.  Here’s a somewhat daunting tutorial.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCREx_q55mw

b) I’d recommend upgrading to a flat-resistant tire, at least on the rear.  (May as well do both.)  Ask dealer for if you can trade out the tires for some credit towards the purchase.  Kevlar is good (though more expensive).   I haven’t had a flat on Kevlar tires in 4 years, riding 300 days/year.

3) Test drive it:  how’s the lowest gear on your local terrain?

a) Find a decently steep hill.  My wife rides internal gearing, the Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub, and here on the modest yet significant hills of Madison, Wisconsin, her lowest gear is perfectly doable.

b) Note:  one mustn’t shift internal gearing under load.  That’s something the LBS might forget to tell you.  This is certainly not a deal-breaker.  It just takes some dexterity to let up the force when shifting.  Definitely don’t want to stand up pedaling when shifting an IGH.  Some user reviews claim the NuVinci N360 hub is the exception to this rule.  (See the Novara Gotham, below.)

4) Misc. questions:  Rack mounts, front and rear?

One reviewer called the Soho Deluxe a “thief magnet” because it has a “flashy appearance.”  I think it’s the opposite.  It’s got a low-key, even stealthy, paint job.  Plus, theoretically, it may be even less likely to be stolen, for the fact of the belt-drive.  Rational bike thieves avoid specialty bikes because pawn shops may balk at buying such easily identifiable items.

COMMUTER-BIKE ALTERNATIVES for 2014-15

The market for low-maintenance commuter bikes (belt drive, internal gearing) seems to be shrinking in the middle ($1000 – $1400), while growing at the lower end ($600-900) and higher end ($1500 – $2500).  Back in 2012-13 there were many more models in the middle price range.  I had to really hunt for these:

Raleigh Misceo 4.0 2013

Great closeout deals

— Alfine hub (an upgrade over the Nexus hub of the Soho Deluxe)

$1100 closeout

http://www.rei.com/product/848626/raleigh-misceo-trail-i11-bike-2013

Raleigh City Sport DLX

$1100

http://www.bicycling.com/gearfinderProductDetail?gfid=78254

Breezer Beltway 8

$1500

http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/best-urban-bike-breezer-beltway-infinity

Novara Gotham

$1400

http://www.rei.com/product/857590/novara-gotham-bike-2014

— NuVinci N360 hub

Scott SUB 10

$1300

http://www.rei.com/product/865741/scott-sub-speed-10-bike-2014

Focus Planet 2.0

$1400 (not widely avail. in US)

http://www.paragonsports.com/shop/en/Paragon/focus-bicycles-usa–inc-belt-drive

New Panniers Even Better Than I Thought

Health

IMG_3532

 

I’ve actually been using this pair of panniers for almost a year.  I got caught in a downpour last night, which was fine since the bags are waterproof to their interior volumes.  However, the zippers are not water resistant.  The zippered pockets can get pretty damp in heavy rain.  So I’ve never kept anything water sensitive in the pockets.

Until now.

Last night after that torrent of rain, I discovered a hidden feature of the bags:  each bag has a rain “poncho” to cover itself when needed.

2-IMG_3533See that bulge towards the bottom?  That’s the poncho tucked away in a zipper pocket of its own.

3-IMG_3534Not only does the poncho keep the zippered pockets dry.  It also keeps the outer fabric of the bag from getting soaked.

4-IMG_3535

5-IMG_3536These bags are the Bontrager Interchange Urban Commuter Panniers. They’re sold as a set of two, $179. (Bontrager has been one of Trek’s component & accessory divisions since 1995.)   Each bag contains the volume of a paper grocery sack.   http://store.trekbikes.com/product/bontrager+interchange+urban+commuter+pannier.do

How Madison Healed an Ailing Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship, Health

awesome pup(photo credit needed)

Madison has made me whole again.  A phoenix rising from the ashes?  Check.  And not a moment too soon.

I was recovering from a serious loss:  grieving the death of my first beloved small business to the cancer of the Great Recession. Obstructing the grieving process was the insane work schedule of my new small business, a nighthawk radiology service.  Nighthawk radiology is third-shift work, 7 PM to 7 AM, seven days on and seven days off.  Each night my two-man team would process (receive, read, and report on) the ER imaging of 130 patients per night from nine regional hospitals.  Then we’d sleep the day long, eat “breakfast” at 5 PM, and do it all over again.  Needless to say, the intensity and Sysiphian nature of my work week allowed for little reflection or meditation.

But at the end of workday seven, I would fly from Houston to Madison to spend my off-week with my wife, who had just gone back to school for graduate studies in public health at UW Madison.  I was greeted each week by the magical sight of Tenney Park (below; photo credit needed), which is essentially the gateway to Madison coming from the airport.

Tenney Park

We lived in UW married student housing, called Eagle Heights.  Each Monday morning I would have the cab stop short of the complex and let me off at the bottom of the hill for a nice stroll up the bike path (below).
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Eagle Heights was a throwback to mid-century institutional community design, with 1200 units housing over 3000 people essentially off in the woods.  It was separated from the main UW campus by a mile-and-a-half of the lake shore, which insulated us from the famously hard-partying undergrads.

It was a quiet hideaway, shaded in summer by 150-foot white pines and old oaks of ten-foot girth.  Summer mornings could get a bit rowdy, as hundreds of the children of grad students ran wild in this bubble of safety and open space.  Summers in Eagle Heights demonstrate the occupation of little kids to be the playtime mimicry of working adults.

eagle heights sandbox

The adults spent a lot of time in the dirt, as well:  Eagle Heights has the largest community garden in the United States (below).
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Our two-bedroom unit was “cozy.” We had brought our king size platform bed with us from Houston, and we were lucky to assemble it with the bedroom door open because, once the platform was screwed together, it blocked the door. Tiny, yes, but the 650 square-feet of space had been laid out so well that we had all we needed.

That tiny apartment, with its single entrance and instantly surveyable floorspace, both swaddled me in warmth and encouraged me to spend time outdoors (which I took to include all the quality beer bars in the area). For us coming from a 3000 ft.² house in Houston, Eagle Heights living forced us to pare back. It was a cleansing consolidation, sorting and culling the piles of material possessions one collects over the years. I was astonished to find myself able to let go, even of items from my childhood that had an irrational hold on me, like this model ship which found a very good home in the bedroom of one of our favorite neighbors (below).
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I feel the emblematic patterns of Middle Life–moving out of state, changing careers, gaining weight, losing hair. Yet I feel it’s in Middle Life that one can make certain choices one couldn’t have made years ago. I feel I’ve traded an old sailing vessel that wasn’t doing me any good for a new one. (Have I mentioned I’ve joined the sailing club?)

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Joining the UW Hoofers sailing club  is something I never would’ve done before.  My pre-Madison worldview was that of consumer first.  And what do good consumers do when they want to go sailing?  They buy a boat of their own.  That probably explains why I’d never chosen to sail:  the concept of owning a boat, and a trailer with which to tow it, and rented storage, all presented a barrier to my entering the world of sailing.  The UW Hoofers Sailing Club leverages the resources of the community to provide the boats and infrastructure and volunteer efforts for maintenance.  For a modest $295/year, I can sail any of the 100+ boats (from dinghies to sloops, on up to six different keel boats), windsurfers, and even snow kites in winter.  Perhaps best of all is unlimited instruction at no extra cost, which is how I learned to sail.

terrace

Speaking of winter, I ride my bike year-round.

ebike snow

In fact, when my wife and I moved to Madison, we sold our cars and left them behind in Texas.  Madison is compact enough, we can go nearly everywhere we want on our bikes.  When we do need to go farther, the Metro bus system is superb, with seemingly more lines than one could ever need.  Also nice, there’s no bus stigma.  To see the bus carrying individuals of many different income levels is to see a city that confronts its traffic problem as adults:  rather than ever-widening streets at the expense of all else, the city actually restricts traffic in various ways, chiefly by restricting parking.  Instead of encouraging more cars into the city center, the city provides great public transit and some of North America’s most admired cycling and pedestrian byways.  The true economic elite in this town still of course drive luxury cars to work every morning.  But if they work in the city center, they park at a premium.  Everyone else enjoys free (with any current student ID) or cheap and highly efficient trips by bus, bike, or on foot.  I recently took the heavily used route #70 nine miles to the west side during rush hour, which took twenty-five minutes.  That same trip on a woefully under-funded bus system in Houston used to take me a punishing 45 minutes each way to and from the college campus where I taught.

Rather than prioritize the individual in his or her own car, Madison coaxes individuals out onto the streets, preserving great public spaces for more people to enjoy.  The site of its lively sidewalk culture and busy bicycle commuter paths could be mistaken for one of the nation’s great cityscapes, like Portland or Seattle or Berkeley.  Madison is a small, compact place.  Competing interests collide.  Hard choices must be made.  It’s clear the city is making many of them well.

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There is also Community Car, a car sharing club that rivals the amazing value of the Sailing Club.

CommunityCar logoFor a one time $35 sign up fee, we joined the club and can reserve any of the Priuses, pickup trucks, Honda Fits and Civics, five of them kept in various spots within a mile of our apartment.  The cars are fully insured and fully fueled at no extra cost, save for the hourly fee, which is only $7.50/hour or the $3.75/hour Night Owl rate after 11 PM.  Mileage only costs extra beyond 150 miles in a day.  My wife and I rent Community Car to the tune of $20/month on average. The service hits that sweet spot that’s  triangulated between the bus, the bike, and walking.  The car isn’t the symbol of American individualist freedom for nothing; it can be a real advantage to have a car for certain scenarios.  But not owning a car–not shouldering the financial costs (depreciation, fuel, interest on financing, insurance, sales tax, maintenance, repair; Consumer Reports estimates such costs for a Mini Cooper to be $5,800/year!) or the costs in lost time (dealing with maintenance or breakdowns or flats or dead batteries, researching the purchase, researching the maintenance/repair providers)–now, that’s a freedom in and of itself.  The catchphrase in the Community Car logo is “Own less.  Live more.”  I get that now.

This post is getting way too long.  Besides, by now one can see what I’m getting at about Madison.  Madison has shown us a paradox:  the riches of living modestly but deeply and without fear, in a place that values community.  In this town I feel awake again.  Again?  Or is it really for the first time, ever?