My commuter bike design explained.


The harbor should be completely frozen over this time of year.

Forty degrees above normal. That’s how warm it was yesterday. My thermometer was reading 46degF/8degC when I left for a ride. The next week is statistically the coldest of the year for us. Yesterday’s weather was more akin to mid-April.

Our weather is typically arctic in nature this time of year. What snow we have stays on the ground until a warm-up that usually happens from the middle of March until the middle of April. Snowfall can start as early in the winter as the last week of October. For every snow event the road crews spread sand on the city streets for traction. Depending on temperature it can be mixed with salt.

Conditions we have right now are very reminiscent of the Spring thaw.  These are freeze-thaw cycles we don’t usually see this time of year. What I’m getting at is these current conditions are what this bike was designed for.  This is my A-train Cycles Ultimate Commuter. Maybe not “ultimate” for what you ride, but a design maximized for the conditions we have in Duluth. Maximized to handle the high volume of grit and crud on the streets, the rough road conditions, and provides dependable braking on the hilly terrain the city of Duluth occupies.

The problems I experienced with other bikes led to this design. I experimented with many drivetrains over a decade to reach this design. A chain with some type of lube applied in these conditions creates a high maintenance system. As the snow melts over a period of a month or more, we have wet roads daily. The wet roads compound the nastiness of a winters worth of sandy crud on the streets. The crud gathers at the edges of the roads. The lube on the chain then attracts this crud to it. To keep a chain working in these conditions requires daily cleanings of the drivetrain. Sure you can just ride it and deal with a barely functioning derailleur system. But that is maddening when it spans several months of these conditions. Specially if you live in a hilly area like I do where you shift frequently. Sure, I tried single-speed and fixed gear set-ups. But they were less than ideal for our hilly terrain. I won’t get into those reasons in this post.

My solution is an internally geared hub with a Gates Belt Drive. I use a 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub. All gears are sealed inside the hub. Gear range is from 19 gear inches up to 101 gear inches. The same as an older 27 speed mountain bike. The belt drive runs dry so it doesn’t attract any dirt. It repels the crud. This drivetrain, even in these conditions is maintenance free. It always shifts and never corrodes. I don’t need to clean or lube it. I might get 1,000 miles on a chain in these conditions. The belt lasts 10,000 miles and never stretches like a chain will.

Rim brakes are another issue. In this daily slop and crud, the rims needs a daily cleaning to keep brakes working. The sandy grit wears down the rims like sandpaper. Riding everyday, I have rarely gotten more than 2 years out of a set of rims. That’s with frequent cleanings. There is a stop sign or stop light at the bottom of every hill. After about a week of build up of nasty stuff on your rim braking surface, the brakes barely work. I can’t count how many times I’ve done a Fred Flintstone (both feet on the ground) to come to a stop at the bottom of a hill when the brakes weren’t working sufficiently. This bike uses disc brakes. The stopping power can be counted on in any conditions. And no more worn out rims.


Wide tires. This bike is designed to accommodate wide tires. In the summer I use a 26 x 2.0 sized tire. In the winter I use a 26 x 1.75 sized studded tire which is about the same width as the summer 2.0 tire. Our roads are crumbling, not unlike the roads in many other cities. The late winter/spring freeze-thaw cycle compounds the severity of our roads. The wider tires give a plusher ride over all those road imperfections. And I honestly think they help keep my attention on other road users rather than on dodging holes and tire grabbing cracks. The wider tires are more forgiving than thin tires.

The stainless steel tubing used on this frame is unpainted and corrosion resistant. It is American made KVA MS3 tubing. The tag-line for MS3 is: “Stronger than steel, stiffer than titanium, and a better feel than both“.  It is lighter than traditional steel and nearly as light as titanium. It provides a ride better than any steel frame I’ve ever owned. It’s capable of the snappy acceleration of a stiff performance bike combined with the comfort of a touring bike.

Here’s another look from my Cycliq Fly6. It’s from yesterday’s ride. This segment is mostly downhill after the first four minutes. At 5:00 minutes I hit some rougher streets. It illustrates the sloppy, cruddy conditions I described and the roughness of the streets.

Happy riding.



9 thoughts on “My commuter bike design explained.

  1. adventurepdx January 31, 2016 / 1:10 pm

    Y’know, I’m digging the disc brakes as well on my custom build. When I initially thought of the build, I assumed that I would just go with cantis. Then on one winter day, when cleaning the very dirty rims on my Crested Butte, I was all “y’know, maybe disc brakes for the build.” 😀 We don’t get as much “crud buildup” on rims in the NW, but lots of brake dust crap on the rims instead. Still kills the rim eventually.


    • fourseasoncycling February 1, 2016 / 9:29 pm

      I only came around to even considering disc brakes as recent as 2013 when I put money down on this bike. I was very stubborn at resisting the arguments for disc brakes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joan February 1, 2016 / 3:33 pm

    Thanks for the explanation. Don’t know anyone else with that set-up so was interested in learning a bit more of how and why it works so well. Makes me wonder why everyone doesn’t have that on their bikes – at least those of us who live with winter.


    • fourseasoncycling February 1, 2016 / 9:30 pm

      It doesn’t come cheaply. But I don’t own a car. So I can justify the expenditure since this is my main form of transportation.


  3. bribikes February 1, 2016 / 5:46 pm

    Oh man, I am jealous. I try to clean my bike every day and I still can’t seem to stay on top of the grit and constantly eroding power of salt. The good thing is that I am getting really fast at washing my bike 🙂 Thanks for sharing your setup, it will come in handy when I decide I need a new winter bike!


    • fourseasoncycling February 1, 2016 / 9:26 pm

      Yeah, I got really good at the nightly cleanings. I definitely had a routine. I always felt the reward was starting everyday with a clean bike that was operating as it should.


      • bribikes February 2, 2016 / 7:03 am

        It is so true, waking up and seeing my bike gleam like (somewhat) new always get me excited about riding it.


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