Thursday, December 6, 2007


The problem
My daughter and I used to go to work together at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The university has got a pretty campus. The trouble was that we both needed to go to places at both ends that were hard to access at rush hour. A huge hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is nearby and long lines of cars move slowly around every block. Since we do not live very far, we opted for a bike with a back seat for a co-pilot. I am not really a pro biker by any stretch. So we bought a cheap low-riding cruiser and a seat from our local Wal*Mart. Low-riding seemed to be important to keep the center of gravity close to the ground. We had the shortest commute ever and a great time on the way, until it rained ... Boy those caliper breaks don't do very much when they are wet. Though I clamped down on the breaks with all my strength, we slid down the hill almost into traffic and turned away just so before we hit the busy road big time. We both got away with a pretty good fright.

The solution
What's the solution, here? Take the car, whenever there is a droplet in sight? Nope! I thought, it is best to ask people for advice who understand rain: the BRITS. If somebody has got experience with cycling safely drenched, it is got to be the British. They must know a solution to the problem. And certainly, they do! It is the drum break! The break pads are protected from the rain in the sealed hub.

Searching with Google on the net I found Sturmey Archer. Their drum break hubs looked very functional and cool. I found an e-mail order bike shop in the U.S. that carries them (Alfred E Bike) and ordered the X-FD for a front wheel.

The package arrived. The next problem dawned on me right away, when I held the shiny hub in my hand: How do we put this in?
Answer: You have to re-lace the spokes of your wheel. Again, I googled for answers and got them from Sheldon Brown at Harris Cyclery. Though the project seemed fascinating, I decided quickly, it was not going to be me who was going to do this. I did not have the tools, and it seemed to take quite some experience to do it right. I resorted to our local bike store, Cumberland Transit. They did a wonderful job for about $70.-, spokes included. The hub was about $50.-. I managed to install the wheel and connect the actuator to the handle myself. That was not too difficult for someone with average skill.

The picture shows the finished product in use. We had a solution for $120.-, pedaled happily away for another two years rain or shine and took breaks at Harris-Teeter to have Orangina which tastes twice as good from pot-bellied bottles, until my co-pilot grew tall, stepped outside on one chilly winter morning and announced: “It is too cold, Dad. Let's take the car!” Luckily, we had to report to different places then and the traffic was not too bad.

P.S: You may notice, we also installed a Python fork to go with the drum break. It sure makes for a smoother, be it more wobbly ride. If you choose to go down that road, too, make sure that the stem of the fork fits the neck of your frame before you order.

National Bike Registry

  • Today, I discovered the coolest advertising campaign ever, excelling in simplicity and cleverness. Those of legal beer-drinking age may check out the latest Fat Tire sales effort (05/24/10):

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