Ten ideas for a Commuter Bike

  1. 8-speed IGH
  2. One chainring
  3. narrow handlebars
  4. Interruptor brakes
  5. 32+ tires
  6. Fenders
  7. Rack
  8. Flat grippy pedals
  9. Cambium saddle
  10. Ortlieb Office bag (waterproof and reasonably light)
  11. rear and front light
  12. One water bottle cage
  13. Bar end shifters not a fucking grip shift
  14. Not too good so you are not distraught if it gets wrecked or stolen
  15. Probably two locks just in case
  16. Needs to go fast enough you can haul ass through crap neighborhoods
  17. Needs to be able the get through crap on road/trails
  18. Schwalbe tires to get through the crap on the road

Baltimore Bike Commuting Challenges

A colleague of mine and I commute by bike from Catonsville to Locust Point 2-3 times a week. With the state’s current level of construction surrounding Baltimore, most days the bike commute is a faster commute. It is 45 minutes in (almost all downhill), about an hour home and almost perfectly 9 miles door-to-door. But there are challenges…

There is a bike trail that covers over three miles of it but we avoid it. There was a spate of bike jackings there in June. In fact, the guy who discovered that the city of Baltimore was closing their police stations at night was bike jacked [Link].  Also during July, there was  week the city was pumping water in theory into the Gywnns Falls but most of it was on the trail. The fellows doing the work seemed very unconcerned that their work was wrecking the trail.  We had been using the trail in the morning with the idea that most bike jackers would still be in bed at 7:30 am.  I have been commuting on my Atlantis Rivendell and I have no desire to lose it. So we have been riding Frederick to Wilkins to Pigtown to Federall Hill to Locust Point and the reverse.  Until last Wednesday, this has worked great. Last Wednesday, I was hit head on by a teenager in Pigtown on a BMX bike. I flatted, wrecked my Wald basket and apparently bent my front fork. Personally, I got a small amount of road rash and a minor concussion. The Uber ride home is a bit of a blur… The teen rode off without a word of concern. 

I love the idea of the commute. I get energized on the way into work and unwind on the way home. But I am beginning to wonder if it is worth the hassle. The cops are not arresting murderers so the chances they care about bike safety is probably a negative number. Politically, Baltimore is probably on the way to being the murder capital of the US for 2015. Bike safety is probably lower on the mayor’s priorities than the cop’s. I get that a runaway murder rate and a currently ineffective police force should be the top priorities. I am not asking for a task force but a bike cop on the Gywnns Falls trail during morning and evening rush hour would go a long way to making Baltimore a better place. 

Sweet Soma Buena Vista For Sale

If you’ve read John’s most recent post, you know we’re the very pleased owners of new Bilenky bikes, and we’ve been logging some miles on them in preparation for plans to do the Civil War Century  metric in September and the Seagull Century in October.

Acquiring a new bike has over-filled our bike storage space. Options are a) build a new shed, b) sell a bike, or build one of these:


We’re going with (b). I’m selling the Soma. It’s quite a beauty, a 42 cm Soma Buena Vista mixte. It fits me (5″1″) well. Great for local rides, road rides long and short, light touring and general fun. Here’s the Craig’s List ad. This price listed doesn’t include shipping. Contact me here or via Craig’s List. It’s going for $1200 (plus shipping) – a big savings over the cost of the build and a perfect bike for your upcoming adventures!




Bilenky Ti-Coupled Travel Bike

As we have noted here before, Nancy and I purchased new bikes from Bilenky Cycle Works back in December. We got titanium coupled travel bikes that break down to fit into a suitcase. These are both all-road bikes in that they are built like road bikes but they have fat tires (I have 42mm Hetres on my bike).

The Build (John’s Bike)

On my bike, I was aiming to go as much “Made in the USA” as I could in the build. Here is my list of USA-supplied parts:
– Paul Racer Brakes
– White Industries hubs
– Velocity rims
– SRAM Force drivetrain/shifters. Not really made in the US but of the three big choices the closest I could get.
– Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals (see above)
– Compass Cycles Hetre tires. Again not made in the US but the company is based in the US.
– Porcelain Rocket rear bag (Canada – close enough)
– Oveja Negra top tub bag
– Swift Industries front rack bag

Parts not made in the US include
– Nitto stem, handlebars (randonneur type), and seat post
– Berthoud saddle
– Brooks handlebar tape

So Tell Me About the Ride

The ride is pretty close to perfect. By that I mean, it is as perfect as I have ever ridden but hey maybe just maybe there is a more perfect I am unaware of. It is possible I suppose. The Bilenky team nailed it. I am comfortable for long stretches and a bit faster. The tires just eat up rotten pavement and I have discovered rotten pavement pretty much every ride I have lately. Whether it be Mid-Maryland, Baltimore, or upstate New York.

Nice Bike Rack

Nancy and I have a Thule hitch rack that we have used for about three years. It is a very good 1 1/4-inch hitch rack where the bikes hang from a top cradle. This works great with a regular bike but is a complete pain-in-the-ass with Nancy’s mixte frames. You need to get a bar that attaches to the stem and the seat post to hang the bike from. It works but I was consistently underwhelmed by the solution.

Swagman Semi 2

So I began the typical search for a new rack. There was a review on RKP for the Swagman Semi 2 rack that holds two bikes from the bottom. I found said rack on eTrailer. The rack came quickly — about a week and was a snap to assemble. This rack is amazing. It is a breeze to fold up, fold down, put a bike of any type on or off the rack. This rack is a major keeper. I could not recommend this rack more. If you have different kinds of bikes, this is your rack. 

There is one lever to fold the rack up close — but not too close — to the car. You can easily open my Impreza hatch with the rack folded. It takes me longer to get the bikes to the car than it does to put them on. Seriously. You can even tilt the rack with bikes further away from the car with the same lever.

Putting the bikes on the rack is a simple as putting the bike into the two well-made ‘slots’ to hold each wheel and bring down a bar that holds the front end of the bike stable. Then you strap in the rear wheel like you do on a roof rack. Viola! You are done and ready to roll to your ride.

The rack is very well made with solid welds that are nicely done. Unlike the Thule, I have not had to use a rubber mallet to get the damn rack into or out of the car hitch.


This was my first experience with eTrailer and I could not say enough positive things about them! They were great to work with. They have excellent videos on assembly and mounting. They have excellent videos showing the rack on different types of cars. They will be the place I go in the future to get another rack in a decade when I need another one. Everything about the experience including a follow-up email from a person asking how the experience was.


It is not often that I have not one but two very positive reviews in one post. However, this one breaks all the rules. eTrailer was an awesome company selling an awesome product!

Made in America or I Lost My Taillight

On a cold and crappy — but not rainy at least — Saturday, Nancy and I went on a 18-mile ride near BWI. I was trying out my new Tailrider bag and had put my Light and Motion 180 Taillight on the bag. As noted in the heading of this post, the light leaped off the bag and out of my life.

The L&M light is a great taillight. Bright, decent battery life, made in America, and better looking than your average rear light. I got it directly from L&M after I sent back my third L&M 180 Micro when the On/Off switch broke yet again. As a set of quick side notes, L&M’s Micro has a faulty on/off switch design. If you review the reviews on Amazon, this is a pretty common complaint. I would heavily recommend taking a pass on this light. However, L&M has great customer service. Each time it broke, they sent me a new one and I shipped back the broken one. I cannot say enough positive things about their customer service. So when I contacted them about the third death, they offered me the regular 180 at a decent upgrade pricing. I pulled the trigger and lived happily ever after. Until Saturday, that is.

So I have this thing where I try to buy American if given the opportunity and the price difference is not substantial. I buy American jeans, socks, shirts, sweaters/wool, and bike parts and bags. So I fire up Amazon when I get home and look for the L&M 180 light. There it is. It is a great light as I said, but is it worth a 3x markup ($89.99)? It gave me pause. So then I go to Bike Light Database and The Sweet Home. Neither recommend the L&M 180. They like it but they note its price and that there are other lights that are just as good for a lot less. As another side note, both of these sites were extremely helpful in my search.

It saddens me that an American company cannot make a great, high quality taillight in this case that is not at least somewhat competitive in price. I am not saying lose money on the deal but I should not suffer a degree of sticker shock that I felt. I ended up picking the Cyclolite Hotshot for $28.48. This is over $60 cheaper and gets as good of reviews.

I will review more adequately once I have received it from Amazon and used it a few times.

The Wait

Back in December, Nancy and I went up to Bilenky Bikes. It was a great trip and they are great guys. Since then we have exchanged a couple of emails and phone calls and we received drawings of the bikes and specs/final pricing. This part was wrapped up by mid-February. Then came the hardest part, waiting… We are in line with the rest of Bilenky’s customers waiting our turn in the line to come up. Currently, we believe we should have our bikes by 22 May at the latest. This means we are under 30 days. Torches should be getting fired up soon for our bikes. I cannot wait to see them.