It’s almost been a full year since I took ownership of a Miele Svelto RRD road bike. In that short amount of time I went from being a skinny tire skeptic to a real clipped-in convert. Both bike and rider have endured spring showers, sweltering summer heatwaves, and bone-shivering cold snaps. It hasn’t always been easy but the temperatures are finally rising and conditions improv- hey, wait… What’s that?
Ugh. Never underestimate the tenacity of winter. The seemingly perpetual frost shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone living in this part of the world, but there’s an added feeling of disappointment because there were more good motorcycle-riding days in February than there are so far in March! And the forecast for next week isn’t looking so great, either. As big fluffy snowflakes floated to the ground today, covering the landscape, the idea of going for a motorcycle ride got pushed further and further out.
Oh well. Looks like it’s still bicycle season.
A Full Year Of Cycling
5 months after I bought the Svelto I expressed my thoughts about the experience. By then I was riding with clipless pedals, religiously maintaining tire pressure, and getting to work faster than ever before. I had racked up between 2500 and 3000 km as of October and was gearing up for many more winter miles.
November brought with it the end of daylight savings time and the end of double-digit temperatures. This meant that my morning ride was often chilly and my evening ride dark. I began to wear weather-appropriate base layers and rely on bright, blinking lights to stay visible. This month also had its fair share of rain with only trace amounts of snow.
That year’s December was relatively mild so I can’t – and won’t – complain. There were a few good snowy days that gave me a taste of winter cycling, but the majority of the snow and a deep freeze occurred over the Christmas break when I didn’t need to bike into work. However, the arrival of snow meant that the trail I preferred to take became impassable and I had to stick to the roads.
Real Winter Cycling
The new year began on a cold note. A really freaking cold note. These were the low temperatures at the start of January, where an underlined date signifies a work day:
|Min Temp (°C)||-21.3||-13.1||-13.5||-20.5||-23.0||-23.5||-20.9||-2.6||-2.5|
The 4th and 5th were the only days I bailed on biking. With wind gusts of 65 and 50 km/hr respectively the windchill (effective temperature) dipped into the negative thirties. It was time for some reflection.
I love to bike. I feel a bit weird if a day goes by where I don’t find myself on two wheels at some point. Furthermore, I enjoy to some degree the added difficulty introduced by cycling in cold weather and with snow on the ground. People do way crazier things than me, yet throwing a leg over your bike when it’s well below freezing and riding alongside cars in the dark day in and day out, dealing with hidden potholes and slush… it begins to take its toll. I decided I’d prefer to sit those two days out and come back the following week.
And what a start to that week it was. Temperatures jumped up nearly 20°C to just around freezing which meant the snow started to melt. Roads became rivers. My Shimano cycling boots collected grime so quickly that washing them felt futile. The bike needed to be hosed down and cleaned every day to prevent the chain and other steel bits from rusting. I wondered how long this would last?
The entire city empirically found the answer to my question. On January 12 we experienced a high of 12.2°C and a low of -12.6°C. A swing of 25°C isn’t record-breaking but it is still extreme. Road conditions were already terrible which meant that cracks in the pavement turned into potholes, and potholes made way for bicycle-sized craters. This made me wish for my full suspension Trek.
Riding It Out
After that the temperatures gradually but steadily began to rise. Although some days were above freezing and the sun was strong, it was never enough to clear the trail of its stubborn ice. February did finally change those conditions as by the middle of the month the weather was relatively mild; definitely warmer than most years. My trail opened up and the runoff from the melting snow cleared away the salt from the roads, which produced a few good days for taking the motorcycle out on a rip. But Mother Nature loves to play games and March brought back cooler weather and snow.
The Year In Numbers
My full one year of cycling milestone with the Svelto is just one month away. By then, I will have:
- Ridden between 5600 and 5800 km.
- Replaced my front brakes once and the rear ones twice.
- Replaced the brake cables due to them seizing in cold weather.
- Fixed two flat tires (a surprisingly low number).
- Cleaned and lubricated the chain 20 times.
- Used 30 L of water and 4 microfibre cloths to wash the bike.
- Nearly run over 4 errant squirrels (fortunately no animals were actually hurt).
The Miele is holding up pretty well, considering it’s been through quite a lot. Like any vehicle that gets driven in the winter it required proper maintenance to keep running smoothly. Above I mentioned the technique I used to wash it after particularly dirty rides: a pump sprayer often used for gardening, water with a tiny bit of soap, and cloths or rags. Aside from preserving the look of the bike, I focused on keeping the drivetrain and brakes free of dirt. Next year I will look into adding some additional fenders to help with the effort.
In wet weather the chain needed to be cleaned regularly. Surface rust would form, creating an orange tinge on the links even after a single day of riding. Degreasing and lubricating was a task I performed at least once a week throughout December and January. I also once removed the chain to thoroughly pick away all the dirt and rinse it down with automotive brake cleaner. Although I wasn’t able to make it look brand new I eventually saw hints of silver and grey peering through the caked on grime.
My current chain will have to last until I deem the cycling conditions to be ‘good’, at which point I’ll probably replace it with a brand new one that’s lined up.
Brakes and Cables
Other maintenance tasks included replacing the disc brake pads, which the LBS did for me once and I did the other two times. On the same note, my LBS took care of brake cables that literally froze in cold weather. It was a very weird experience: you have use of your brakes for the first 5 minutes and then, suddenly, you’re no longer able to stop. Of the few faults with the bike I’d rank this one as being the most egregious as it created unsafe riding conditions.
Lastly I can mention the shifting mechanism. As is expected the cables will stretch over time and with use. Throw in the wild temperature variations we’ve experienced and naturally some of the shifting falls out of spec. The LBS adjusted them once and I had a go recently, but I’ll definitely leave this job to the pros (it also doesn’t hurt that the work comes at no cost to me as it’s part of my service warranty).
Fortunately I managed to keep my bike rubber-side-down so no components got badly hurt. However, I was a bit miffed to find that the front fork was prone to having small circular patches of paint just go missing. This happened 3 times and I could not pinpoint the reason. Rocks, debris, vengeful squirrels? I hope it’s just cosmetic, but it’s somewhat unnerving that this could happen so soon on a brand new bike.
Other than the pedals getting scraped up – a non-life threatening offence – the only other complaint I have stems from a peculiar metallic noise that emanates from the front wheel whenever I hit a bump or crack. I can even replicate the noise just by picking the front of the bike up an inch and letting go. Mechanical gremlins like this are frustrating to troubleshoot so I will ask the LBS to look over it during my next service. Preliminary online research says it may be the bearings in the hub.
So, what did it cost me to use my bike to commute a total distance slightly greater than travelling nearly across the entire country? Not that much.
- I performed all the service (tune-ups) at my LBS which was included in the price of the bike.
- 2 inner tubes to fix my flats cost under $20. Fortunately neither of the incidents permanently damaged a tire.
- The Continental winter tires I put on in November were $120 for the pair. I will use these tires next winter and the one after that, so the effective yearly cost is $40 or $30, depending on longevity.
- 3 sets of brake pads totalled $90.
- A new chain was $45.
Estimating the annual cost of the bike and gear is more difficult. As it stands the Svelto RRD is an excellent commuter which is feature-filled but not too expensive. Unless it suffers some catastrophic frame failure I will do what I can to keep it running and can easily live with it in my possession for 10 or more years as I’ve done with my Specialized Rockhopper. For that length of time it will work out to $100/year.
A quick calculation, and extrapolating for the cost of gear, results in a tidy sum of $300 for the year. That is 4 times cheaper than paying for gas (not to mention insurance and maintenance on a car) and 6 times cheaper than taking public transit! But, personally, even more important than money is the fact that I’m able to hop on a machine that transports me to work faster than either of those two other methods with the added benefit of contributing to my health and sanity.
I’ll finish this post with my favourite comic from my favourite online series, Cyanide & Happiness: