Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

35F and Sunny

We finally got some snow in eastern Massachusetts. There is still not enough to use the cross-country skis, but enough to prompt me to mount a studded tire on front of the Green Queen (aka my green Cielo by Chris King). It has been amazingly mild this year and this is definitely the latest I have have ridden into winter without studs.

The Green Queen is my nominal commuting bike. John calls it my 50 year old hammer - with two new handles and three new heads.  I've had the bike for 18 years, and over the years I have replaced almost everything except the Phil Wood Fixed hub.  Yes, even the frame has been replaced.

My commuter bike started life as custom Ted Wojcik cyclocross frame spec'd to get clearance for fat studded tires, with rack and fender eyelets. Sadly when I mounted the fat studded tire and fender, I discovered a bit of toe overlap. I put up with this for many years until, after all those years of abuse from winter salt and such,  I noticed a bit of paint bubbling near the bottom bracket (a sure sign of internal rust). I used this as an excuse to replace the frame with one that didn't have TCO.

I spotted the Cielo frame a few years ago in Richmond at NAHBS. One of the big appeals was the lack of TCO in the small frame size. It also had all the features I look for in a commuting bike, like horizontal dropouts and fender and rack eyelets. You may not realize that horizontal (front facing) dropouts work better than track-ends (rear facing) for a fixed gear bike with fenders, until the first time you try to take out your rear wheel to repair a flat tire. I practically had to remove a fender once on a bike with track-ends, so if I want fenders with a fixie, I either go for front facing horizontal dropouts or use an eccentric hub like the ENO with vertical dropouts.

As I mentioned above, I have a vintage Phil Wood flip-flop hub, which is currently laced to a Sun CR18. I'm trying hard to wear this rim out, so I can replace it with one that is easier for mounting/removing tires. You may be getting the idea that I have a lot of punctures on this bike, but that is not really the case, thanks to the big cushy tires that I can fit into the frame. But as a commuting bike that gets used lots in foul weather, when I do have a flat, I like it to be as little hassle as possible. Currently I use an ancient Avocet 32mm tire on the rear and a Schwalbe 37mm studded tire on the front. 

The front wheel has a Schmidt generator hub, proving an endless source of power for my Supernova headlight and taillight. I also have a B+M D-Toplight battery taillight and plenty of reflective stuff on the bike, rims and spokes.

The bike sports ancient SKS gold colored chromoplast fenders. I love the gold color. They have some rockin' Angel of the Highway mudflaps from Buddy Flaps, which often gets me a cheery greeting from passing motorists.

I recently installed a very elegant Middleburn crank, with a single splined chainring.

The brakes are old Paul's NeoRetro cantilevers mated to short reach Cane Creek levers, with a handy quick release in the lever. The bars are my favorite narrow TTT Morphe bars - no longer made, but I stockpiled a few when I could.

A Tubus Fly rack enables me to carry an Ortlieb pannier (or panniers) full of gear, like work clothes and laptop. I also have a Topeak Morph pump, along with a couple of spare tubes, a quick patch kit, tire levers, allen keys and screwdriver.

I've commuted on this bike for many years. I did get a Bike Friday Tikit when I worked downtown, but this is really my preferred and most used commuter. I love the simple maintenance of a fixed gear, especially for all the mucky conditions that I ride in. And the fat tires are great for Metro-Boston's less than pristine roads. 

Today was our first real snow, but the roads were clear (of snow but still wet) when I headed out. Thanks to my worth-their-weight-in-gold-fenders, I stayed comfy all day. The sun even came out and made a lovely shadow!


  1. Fascinating that there is no TCO on this bike with a 35mm tire plus fender. Could you share what size frame this is and which model?

    Whenever I mention not wanting TCO on my bikes I get a chorus of people telling me (a) that it's because I am inexperienced and just need to get used to it - despite the fact that I like TCO less and less the more I ride, or (b) that the only way to avoid TCO on a bike my size is to mess up the handling. Your TCO-free bikes give me hope.

  2. V,

    It's a Cielo Cross frame (http://cielo.chrisking.com/bikes/cross-details/) in their women's 47cm size. The front centre figures aren't given on the website, but, for the 47cm frame, it is 59.6cm (that number from Chris King themselves). Of note, the front end geometry changes as you up a size to the women's 49cm frame, on which the front centre measures a substantially shorter 58.2 cm.

  3. Thanks John for looking up the numbers from the old emails.

    Risking my credibility here, I'll admit the initial attraction was pure aesthetics. I liked the color combinations - frame, decals and headset/hubs. Oh, and the box - they had designed a very clever box to hold the frame and wheels securely for shipping. That got me into the booth. But what got me talking seriously was the attention to detail and the sizing. I think they said they had 17 *stock* sizes. So while they didn't make custom frames, they had enough sizes that it was almost like custom. We had a couple of email exchanges to get the actual front center measurements for various different sizes, compared them to my old frame and determined that I would get a vast improvement with this frame. I had recently taken a job in Cambridge that included a little section of bike path where I had a 90 degree turn that I could not do on the old bike - with the big studded tires and fenders and big winter shoes. Now we must keep in mind that this is an extreme. Not just fat tires, but fat with knobs and studs, meaning the fender needed even more space, and now add a clunky winter shoe to the mix. Then factor in fixed, where you can't coast and therefore can't really control where your foot will be for a turn, and TCO becomes very important. Finding a frame that worked for this somewhat non-standard use was great.

    I will mention that my Bike Friday Tikit (with 16" wheels) has absolutely no issue with TCO, but it's not nearly as comfortable/cushy on pothole filled roads or bumpy bike paths as a bike with bigger wheels, and no one makes studded tires in that size :-)

  4. Thanks for looking up the specs and for the additional feedback. I am surprised that a 47cm frame has these dimensions and I am sure many women looking for small bikes would love to know this! And no, it doesn't hurt that the bike is beautiful : )