Monday, August 29, 2011

From Junkyard to Perfect Commuting Bike

The main purpose of this piece of writing is to provide some pointers in choosing the right bike for you. The main objective is very simple, to get the most efficient bike one can get with the budget allowed. There is a threshold one has to reach to be able to get a reliable and efficient bicycle.

The bike best suited for commuting is still the basic steel diamond frame fitted preferably with smaller tires.

The picture below is one classic example…

The above bicycle may not look much but it sure runs smooth & fast with little pedalling effort required. The frame design is an epitome of maximum efficiency with minimal use of material that yield a bike that is light and slick.

If you are buying a bike from a bikeshop, please refrain from buying the cheapest available. The components fitted to that kind of bike simply cannot stand the rigor of daily use. Low quality materials and components used will lead to early failure and inefficiency. Many bicycles are grounded because of this reason. We just cannot afford cheap things. Maintaining a cheap bike cost more than buying a new one! It is better to buy a decent bike that can last for a few years with little maintenance.

Steer clear of bike with full suspension because having them means that a lot of energy is wasted in those suspensions. The picture below is a classic example…

Unless of course if you want to do some off-roading.

A basic 18-speed or 21-speed is good enough for daily commuting. For that matter even a single speed bike is sufficient if your regular route does not include any steep gradient. With a 21-speed drive system one can tackle practically any gradient and that is when the fun starts…


First find a frame that suits you. Generally for the average height a size 16 or 17 is nice. There are a couple of options to find frame. First look in your neighborhood, you may find people idle their bikes and just parked under their porch or in the compound. Those with flat tires are signs that the bike been grounded. Offer the owner to buy it. The price to be agreed is subjective. Generally the range is from RM50 – RM150 depending on the make of the bike and its quality. Look at the brakepads closely, they can tell you about the mileage of that bike. If the pads are only slightly worn it means the bike has low mileage. But worn pads may also tells you that he bike is good and the owner uses it often.

The other option is to look for decent frame at a junkyard (kedai besi buruk). Many people junk old bikes that no longer works. In many case the frames are quite OK. Remember to look for basic diamond frames. Building a bike from these frames may cost a lot but by doing that you will practically get a new bike. I can promise you with a RM1,000 or so outlay you will get a far better than new RM2,000 bikes that are available in the market currently.

Here are a few example of decent frames…

Generally LeRun makes good frames. The older it is the better generally. The most recent ones are not so good, especially those with fancy tubings.

If the components on the bike is still good and usable have it serviced to bring it back to life. Normally it will require a couple of inner tubes, a chain and maybe some cabling works. Then you can try the bike to gauge how the ride is like. Mind to adjust the saddle height to proper height first before you do because riding with low saddle takes so much effort you will get tired after one or two kilometers only. This familiarisation normally takes a few rides over a week or so. The more distance done the better. After pedaling a few kilometers you will know whether the bike suits you or not. if it does then time to decide whether to make it better or just use it as it is. My suggestion is, if you only wish to ride a few kilometer a day, what you have is already good enough. When you have done some rides after a month or so you will notice that you will want a better bike with better performance that can give greater range.

Basically upgrading works can be divided into three parts :-

1. Wheelset & drivetrain
2. Shifting mechanism & brake system
3. The rest

It is best to upgrade the wheelset and the drive train in one go. They all work together and by doing the upgrade at one time one is avoiding one worn part affecting the new ones.



The Crankset

All the above will make your bike rides like a dream. Don’t forget to pick a decent chain for the drivetrain. KMC makes good chains. Avoid the cheaper ones because the chain is the link that transfer power from the crankset in front to the rear wheel.

The above pictures show products that are no longer being produced by shimano but they represent great value and they are more durable than the more modern components that are widely available in the market currently. They are slightly heavier than modern stuffs but they last longer due to more material used.

Here is a picture showing an old bike that has been upgraded…

The rest of the bike are all originals. The owner is a happy rider and he clocks miles everyday! Total cost….RM700.

The next upgrade, if you want to do is for the shifting mechs and brake. But they really are not necessary ifyou can live with what you already have. If a friction shifter works for you then it is not necessary to upgrade to an indexed one. Brake system is just to stop your bike. If it works then it is doing its intended job.

Note: Article contributed by Hisham Mohd Mukhtar. He is running a bicycle shop in UPM at Gate 5 - Black Cup. He specializes in rebuilding bike from junkyard to bring it back to life.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bicycle for transportation purposes

I was being asked recently during a radio interview (BFM 89.9 fm) what would be the suitable bike for commuting to work? Well, it can be any bike. You can go for road bike, mountain bike, folding bike, City bike, Mini bike, Fixed Gear bike, etc. It all depends on your preference and situation. The most important thing is you need to enjoy your ride with the bike. Or else in no time, you will quit riding! From my observation, most of us bought a bike that is not practical for commuting and utility purposes. What being sold in the market was mainly focusing on cycling as a sport or leisure. You need to establish your scenario so that you can select the suitable bike.

There are a few simple rules that you need to observe:

1. Safe Parking
If you need a bike that you can safely parked without worrying much, then you should consider buying used bike. I would highly recommend steel bike e.g the old Lerun diamond shape steel bike. As long as you don't find any major fault like cracked frame, or required extensive repair, the bike would be good for your commuting purpose. You could also consider buying Japanese recondition bike. A folding bike is another good option as you can carry it wherever you go.

2. Ability to hold luggage
If you do not want to burden your shoulder with backpack or with messenger bag, then you should consider fixing basket on your handle bar or a rear carrier. A Japanese recondition bike is the best for this purpose. Most of the old steel bike also have the braze-ons for you to fix the carrier and basket.

3. Riding position
If you prefer an upright riding position which is more relax and would be willing to go for slower speed, then a Japanese recondition bike or folding bike would be a good option. A steel mountain bike riding position is normally slightly forward, so you could go faster.

What would be my pick?
If you need a practical bike for commuting and utility use, I personally favour the used steel diamond shape mountain bike (Lerun or other reputable brand). It is an excellent multipurpose bike. Throw in a rack and panniers, and it can become a very reliable touring bike. Try to look around at the junkyard, your neighborhood for grounded bike, or at your local bike shop. If you are lucky enough you could get a brand new old stock Lerun for a very good bargain price. Make sure it's the older generation if it's Lerun bike. The new generation is not so good. Do minimum repairs to bring it back to life. Try it out for a few rides to see whether it suits you or not. If the components is still in acceptable conditions, then just leave it as it is, till it really worn out.

The Japanese recondition bike is also a good option. Even though it's a used bike, it's built is very sturdy as it's meant for day to day use. It it much more durable compared to the cheap bike being sold in market that are of comparable price as the latter bike is normally fitted with low quality materials and components. The price range of the Japanese recondition bike would be between RM 200 - RM450 depending on the design and components fitted to the bike.

Folding bike is also a great option because of it's ability to fold. It is allowed in the LRT. I would recommend either 16" or 20" model. The biggest advantage of folding bike is the ability to integrate your commute into alternative transport. Since you can fold the bike and carry it with you, it is virtually thief-proof.

If you don't carry much stuff and prefer to carry it on your shoulder, then you could opt for fixed gear bike or fixie. A reasonable quality and nice looking fixed bike is normally around RM500-RM800.

Choose the bike that fit into your scenario and start replacing all those driving trips to riding your bike.