My previous bike having been stolen, and Trek having discontinued that model, I got a new black bike for my daily commute. This was an unsual experience for me: not only did I have to order the bike specially, I also got to specify how it would be customized for my requirements. I've now been riding it for a couple of weeks, and I'm really pleased with it.
Off the Peg?
When I went to Beeline Bicycles I had one important criterion: 7-speed hub gears. My old bike had a Shimano Nexus 7, which I prefer to a derailleur for several reasons (over and above the trouble I have spelling it): the gear ratios are more evenly spaced and suited to urban cycling, the chain cannot come off, it needs nearly no regular maintenence, and so on.
Sadly, for reasons that must bewilder European visitors, hub-geared bikes are virtually unknown in British bike shops; instead people struggle about town in knobbly-tired mountain bikes with rusty gears and no mudgards, because somehow that's more sporty. Trek have discontinued their token hub model, so we looked through the catalogues in the shop for an alternative.
What we found was the Specialized Crossroads Hu8 (more statistics at BikeScene). For £399 you get an aluminium frame, V-brakes, puncture-resistent wheels, a stylish black paint job, and an 8-speed Nexus. Annoyingly, their stockist had none in my size of frame (XL), so I had to wait a few extra weeks for it to be ordered.
The frame, brakes, and wheels are an upgrade relative to the Trek 745T, but the Crossroads is missing mudguards and rear rack, so I had to order those at the same time. I also ordered a lock.
While I was at it, I also specified something I'd been toying with for my old bike before it was stolen: a hub dynamo. Because I was ordering at the same time as the bike itself, the shop were willing to buy back the front wheel that would be displaced by the new wheel with dynamo hub, which saves me a little cash. The lights come with a 'standlight' feature: they contain a capaciter that charges as the wheels turn, which they use to stay lit when stopping at junctions. This eliminates one of the old disadvantages of dynamo lights, that you vanish when you stop.
By the time I'd specified all this, I had spent an hour or so in the shop talking bikes, something I don't get to do very often. It is also rather unusual for me to order something built to my specifications. It made me feel rather grand.
Finally the thing arrived, and after a week or so in the shop, they had finished setting up the dynamo and other mods. I have now been commuting on it for a couple of weeks, and I am really pleased with it.
Compared to my old bike, it is lighter and slightly taller. There are other differences that won't surprise someone who has bought a bike more recently than five years ago: the handle-bar grips are oval and soft and grippy instead of being hard cyclinders of plastic; the saddle has a furrow to spare my perineum (and collect rainwater); the pedals are neater and a little more cleverly engineered, and so on. Gear changes work through two thumb-operated buttons, rather than the twist-shift I was used to. The new gears feel faster: I can easily turn the top gear on the long, downward, straight part of my morning commute, but it would mean going faster than I feel is safe when there are bus stops and pedestrian crossings to consider. There is a general temptation to ride faster.
Having dynamo lights is great fun. When I get home I get of the bike, lock it, and then go to unclip the lights and remember I don't have to any more. It is rather odd at first, walking off and leaving the bike locked up with the lights glowing, thanks to the built-in capaciters. The front light is bright enough to cast light on to the road and walls ahead of me. So far as I can tell, the rear light is pretty bright too. And unlike battery lights, I do not expect them to be a bit dim half the time.
Even the lock is pleasingly designed. Apart from using a flat key rather than the notoriously pickable round locks of yesteryear, the way it clips to the bike when not is use is clever: the shackle fits in to a cup attached to the frame of my bike, and the U locks in to place through a hole in the side of the cup, holding the lock rock-steady.
After a month spent walking 45 minutes to and from work each day, I am very pleased with my new commuting machine. I can't wait for the towpath repairs to be complete so I can switch to cycling to work along the river!