For you readers in climes where it snows and ices over, I can assure you that you can, indeed, continue bike commuting through the winter. In my last post, you'll recall that I fitted some 35mm studded tires to my Trek Earl. The fit was tight, but I did seem to be able to get the fat tires on the skinny rims.
Last week I refitted the studs and rode the bike a few miles to the Omaha Bikes winter commuting clinic. I felt silly riding studded tires when it was nearly 70 degrees out, but I wanted to do two things:
test ride the Earl with studs
show the studded tires to the clinic participants
I also got a new rack and a waterproof Pacific Outdoor Equipment pannier. I think the pannier is actually supposed to go on a front rack, but it fits pretty well on the rear rack. Even though I am comfortable on my commutes with a Chrome shoulder bag, my theory is that a rear pannier might help keep weight over my rear wheel for better traction. Having a rack also helps for trips to the grocery store.
I had wanted to replace the 17 tooth single speed freewheel with a new 22 tooth freewheel, but I ran out of chain. Simply, the new cog was large enough that there wasn't enough chain to go around it. The larger cog also put the chain up so high that I couldn't keep the chain guard. The 44 tooth chainring on a 22 tooth cog will provide for a 2-to-1 pedaling ratio, which may be easy enough to power through snow on the streets. Since I couldn't fit the chain, I ended up riding the bike with it stock 44 tooth chainring on a 17 tooth freewheel. Talk about slogging up the hills!
Yesterday I got a new chain to use for the winter configuration and took the bike for a spin. Certainly climbing Omaha's hills on the 44x22 was super easy, but all I could do on the downhills and flats was to coast and coast and coast ...
At this point, I think I have everything ready for the first snow. All I need to do is put the studs back on and I'm ready to roll. However, I may trade the cogs again so that I can use the rack for Cranksgiving in a couple of weeks.
Here are some pics of the new configuration.
From this angle, the freewheel looks as large as the chainring.
The Pacific Outdoor Equipment bag features pockets just the right size for my wingtips. None of my other shoes fit, however.
If Fat Tire is a beer, then perhaps Skinny Rim could be an energy drink.
Actually, this post is about trying to winterize my new Trek Earl. My plan is to put Nokian Hakkapeliitta 700c x 35mm studded tires underneath full fenders and a low gearing ratio on its single speed drivetrain so I can pedal out of snow drifts and slowly up steep hills.
When I bought the bike, the shop mechanic assured me that I could fit the 35mm tires on the rims that were sold with 28mm tires. Yesterday, I tried mounting the tire, just to see how it would fit.
The rims are stamped at 14mm. Upon researching tire fit online, I found (you guessed it) that Sheldon had a great chart that shows tire/rim compatibility. This chart delivered a bit of bad news, in that my 14mm rims are not depicted holding a tire much larger than 28mm; a difference of 7mm. However, there's a note that says the dimensions depicted may be conservative.
It took a bit of persuasion with a plastic tire lever to get the snow tire on my rim. As I tried to pump it up with air, I heard an odd creaky noise, followed by a loud pop as the tube herniated through an improperly set bead.
I searched my closet and found, thankfully, another tube with a Schrader valve. I made extra special sure that the bead was set as I remounted the tire, as well as spot checked it as I pumped. Finally I mounted the wheel back on the bike to check for clearance.
It looks good!
My question to any readers: do you have experience in mounting wide tires on narrow rims. Is the 35mm on a 14mm pushing it too far? I won't know how the bike feels until I can get the tires remounted and go for a test spin, though I'd feel silly riding a studded tire around in October while it's still 75 degrees outside.
I may consider a brake upgrade, as the check stock brake has no quick release to facilitate tire changes. I put Tektro brakes on my Schwinn Le Tour II, and I like them, so I may consider a similar brake for the Earl.
My next step is to put on a bigger freewheel. I've got a 22 tooth freewheel on the way.
I'm not in a hurry to see the snow, but I'll be eager to give the Earl a whirl.
The Earl is a new offering from Trek. Without a doubt, the Earl is designed for city riding.
Here's why, in my opinion:
single speed or fixed gear for ultimate simplicity (stock configuration: 44T chainring, 17T freewheel)
chromoly steel construction, while heavy, soaks up the bumps on the road
double top tube that is designed to hold a U-lock while biking to work or running errands
28mm tire with a good tread pattern can handle wet or sandy spots or the occasional gravel road
tall stem with riser bar to sit up high in traffic
flat handlebars make for lots of leverage when navigating city streets, sidewalks, and curbs
long wheel base means no toe clipping when track standing (or trying to) at stop lights
chain guard to keep pant legs from getting dirty or ripped, or having to wear a pant leg strap
bosses and eyelets for mounting a rack and fenders, plus two sets of bosses for bottle cages or other accessories
A Good Value
At $439, the Earl is a fairly inexpensive bike. The simplicity of the bike with its lack of shifters, cabling, and derailleurs probably keeps the cost down. The brakes, levers and tires, while adequate, aren't anything special.
Things I Really Like About Earl
the blue paint job, called "Earl Blue". Sure there's a "Gloss Black" version, but everyone sells a black city bike. The mix of blue with black accents makes for one pretty bike. Nice job, Trek.
frame graphics are a nice touch. The Earl has its own head badge, and a very regal Earl himself, with trucker hat and scruffy beard, makes an appearance on the down tube design. There are also also a few graphics placed here and there that you'll never see unless you're working on or cleaning the bike.
saddle designed just for the Earl features a custom logo impressed into the seat
relatively narrow handlebars go easily up and down my old apartment building's stairwell
cool bend in the frame where the double top tubes become the seat stays. Very interesting looking
fun to ride! The 44x17 makes for pretty quick starts from stop lights. The balance is solid, and the saddle is quite comfortable.
I can open beer bottles on the frame. How cool is that?
Things I Don't Like About Earl
scuffed up the top tubes after carrying a lock just two miles. I've since wrapped several layers of tape around the each end of the barrel of my U-lock, and I secure it tightly with a Velcro strap to keep it from bouncing around
the chain guard clangs against the crank arm when I hit bumps
ugh, it's heavy, but it's a real steel bike... what do I expect?
A Winter Commuter's Dream?
What has me most excited about this bike is the generous clearance between the seat stays and the fork blades. My plan is to use fenders and 35mm studded snow tires to make this one mean winter commuter. No more frozen derailleurs or stiff shifter cables.
Jake at the Trek Omaha store put on some really useful Bontrager quick release fenders. Unlike strap on fenders, these have nifty ball mounts that go into the frame eyelets on the rear dropouts and fork blades. The fender stays have a socket that snaps sturdily on to the balls. Also a clip/guide mounts to the rear brake bridge to hold the top of the rear fender, and a cam lever goes at the top of the fork to secure the top of the fender. Basically, these behave like permanently mounted fenders when they are on, but come off in about 30 seconds, leaving behind very minimal attaching hardware.
I'm pretty sure that the 44x17 gearing is too steep for me in the snow. Riding the bike up and down Leavenworth a couple of times this week actually has me wondering if it's too steep for me in general, but that's another story. I'm thinking that for pedaling through snow and fighting harsh winter winds, an 18, 20, or even 22 tooth cog might fit the bill.
How to open a bottle on the Earl's frame.
The chain guard makes riding in pants a little safer and more comfortable.
The head badge
The aftermarket add-on quick-release fender guide under the brake bridge.
The quick release fender stay ball-and-socket joint
This cam lever binds the fender to the quick release mount
The custom Earl saddle
Two views of the double top tube design
How to carry a U-lock
Single speed freewheel or track cog... take your pick
The custom logo and on the chainring is a nice touch
Two sets of bottle cage bosses
Open beer here
Retro "TREK" design
Earl sports a trucker cap and carries a wrench
The Earl design also hides in places not normally seen
So far, I think I've got the only Earl in town. Does that make me the "Duke of Earl?" I hope to see more of these on the road soon.