What makes a safe bike for commuting
by Howell Jenkins
I've been a bike mechanic for 27 years, and I'd like to share my knowledge to help others more safely commute by bicycle.
I'd like to address bike weight. Generally, light bicycles are less reliable and less safe than heavier bikes. This is especially true with tires and inner tubes. A high performance road tire, which has a small volume of air under very high pressure enclosed in a delicate supple casing, is more prone to catastrophic failure. Larger tires of lower pressure, thicker casing, and heavy-duty inner tubes are many times more reliable and increase a bike's stability. No one wants to lose almost all control of his or her bike when riding in traffic. Thick tires and tubes also hold air longer.
I consider most OEM wheels too light as well. This is very apparent on the rear wheels spec'ed on road bikes. A light 700c rear wheel is suitable for riders under 140lbs on smooth roads with no rear racks. I frequently see rear spoke failure on these lightweight wheels. Even most hybrids come with wimpy rear wheels. To build a stronger wheel, heavier rims go a long way in improving reliability. Aero shaped rims help as well, because they are structurally stronger. More spokes also improve wheels' reliability. Smaller rim diameters are exponentially stronger which is why a light 26" mountain bike wheel is a lot more reliable than slightly larger and heavier 700c wheel.
I know many will not like hearing these arguments. I too have to carry my bike upstairs. By the way, I weighed my commuter bike recently. It weighs 39lbs. That includes a rear rack, panniers, kickstand, and 32 watt halogen lamp and battery pack.
Howell Jenkins, owner of Fresh Air Bicycles at 1943 Divisadero, has been working as bicycle mechanic in bike shops for 27 years.