Return to Raleigh

17Feb10

Snow morning

Back on the Raleigh today after nearly a week breaking in the bakfiets. Riding to work felt like I’d stepped out of the on-deck circle and slipped the donuts off my bat. The old steel of the Raleigh rode like it was built for the Tour in comparison.

I like to talk about frame weight as a non-issue in order to emphasize how low on the list of priorities it should be when choosing a practical bike. Nobody commutes for speed, so if you’re talking about frames, you should be talking about what will last. What can I park outside all day in the rain, ride home through salty slush, and still have ticking thirty years later? (There’s a side conversation here when people ask, “how do I carry that bike up stairs?” which I’ll eventually write about. For now, the short answer is: start thinking like the Dutch. They use expensive locks and they keep their bikes outside, day and night.)

That’s not to say, however, that frame weight doesn’t ever make any difference. Compare the bakfiets to, well, anything, and you’re going to have a quicker, more nimble riding experience. Nor is that to say a given frame material necessarily dictates how a bike will ride. My road bike is also steel, but it’s built with modern tubing which hardly compares to the tubing of the 70’s on my Raleigh. I’ll take a picture sometime to show you the difference; steel forging has evolved to the point at which modern tube walls are many times thinner and the butting stronger than on the old tubes. That means a steel road bike can feel as quick and nimble as a carbon fiber frame while being only slightly heavier but many times more durable.

Still, if you want a bike for utility, this conversation should be at the periphery. Don’t worry about what it weighs. Worry about whether you feel comfortable on it and whether it will last as long as you ride (which is hopefully forever!)

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