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

ice storm

Food and Drink, Health

ice storm

We came out of Karaoke Kid and I had to ride home on my frozen bike.  For the two hours we were karaokiing, my bike was outside on a pole, getting sleeted to death.  On my way home, nothing worked.  Not my brakes, not my shifters.  Couldn’t hear the usual zippy-hum of my studded tires — they were encased in ice.