Local Motion Member Damon Lane
Last fall my office moved from one mile away to two, and my beater commuter bike was falling apart. I began to search for a bike that provided transportation with no fuss. Not a bike for sport, and not for a hobby, for transportation. I’d ridden a bike like that when I lived in Sweden, with a full chaincase that never tore or stained my pants and didn’t require re-lubrication after riding in the rain. The US has a dearth of bikes for transportation. I planned to ride this bike to work year round, generally wearing long nice pants, and I know an exposed and dirty chain is the cause of many of the problems I sought to avoid.
I put the question of a chain-less bike to the Burlington Walk/Bike Council (BWBC) email list and got several good responses. Many people are loyal to Surly for utilitarian bikes, and they definitely have made important innovations in load carrying ability, but they aren’t any different from other bikes when it comes to hopping on and off for months on end with clean pants intact and no maintenance. To get these benefits, it seems the options are: a fully enclosed chaincase, a belt drive, or a shaft drive.
Breezer makes bikes with full chaincases and lots of commuter features and would probably be a good choice, but I like to be different and wanted to fill the early adopter role for a even more unusual bike. I hate to admit this was probably a style choice too. Belt drives are being accepted by manufacturers and shops. Jim Brooking rides a belt driven Trek Soho DLX that he had ridden for 1,000 miles and had no problems with it. He told me the belt gets no dirtier than the rest of the bike, and the 8 gears is enough, but not ideal for waterfront-to-UVM trips. I’d heard that one version of belt drives had trouble with snow causing the belt to slip, but the design was changed to overcome that. It does appear that a belt fulfills my requirements, but the allure of an internal drivetrain proved strong.
With all moving parts of the drivetrain inside, a shaft driven bike should not be able to eat pants, sticks, dirt, or anything else it shouldn’t. And the look of the bike is simplified. I like the clean look of fixies even as I think they are not at all practical. Through my BWBC list inquiry, I was connected with Spencer Taylor, who let me ride his Biomega Copenhagen. This is a gorgeous shaft driven bike that had really caught my eye. The test ride quelled some fears for me: a shaft driven bike is a bike; while you’re riding it, it’s not really any different from a chain bike. Opponents say a chain is more efficient, while proponents say only clean well-lubricated chains are more efficient, and how many commuter bikes have those? The Copenhagen rides well and smoothly, but does not feel fast. Which is a bit of a shame because it looks fast. See below, no chain on this shaft-drive bicycle!
Biomega makes some other shaft driven models, and I selected the Amsterdam because I think it looks the speed it rides, and to avoid treading on Spencer’s turf by getting the second Copenhagen in town. I had asked a couple local shops about shaft driven bikes. Other than the 100 year old ones at the Old Spokes Home, no one carries them, but the people I spoke with were curious. I ordered my Biomega from www.commuterbikestore.com who carries a variety of bikes for transportation.
I’ve ridden it to work nearly everyday for the past seven months and am happy with it. It has an upright riding position that is comfortable and puts my eyes just above the roofs of SUVs. The simple look has caught the eyes of several people, mostly non-cyclists who like the look but don’t know why. The gears do sometimes slip, or fail to engage, which I attribute to the Shimano internal hub as opposed to the shaft. Since I am usually pedaling lightly on my commute, it is not much of a problem. The bike has a rear roller brake (like a car drum) and mechanical disk in front, so both are good in sloppy weather though they may squeal when wet. The rear one has been perfect, while the front always seems to be either too loose or rubs. This is my first disk experience and also with non-quick release hubs so maybe I just don’t know how to adjust it. I had to do some assembly of the bike, so maybe some of the issues are my fault. The final issue is that it sometimes makes an odd noise, almost like a quack, when peddling and I haven’t figured that out. Also it’s heavy, 36 lbs I think. This only affects me when I lift it up my front steps into my hallway, but it would be a factor for people who hang up their commuters or otherwise need to lift them more. In an effort to quell the quack, I’ve put grease at both ends of the shaft, and I’ve also made the simple adjustments to take up the stretch of the new cables. There’s a line across two parts in the hub. You just shift to a certain gear, and use the twist adjustment until the line across the parts is straight. That is maintenance anyone could do and it takes just a couple of minutes. I suspect now that I have it broken in, it won’t require adjustments more than once a year, if that.
Overall the bike is no-nonsense transportation, so much so that I’d forgotten to write this review for a few months. I appreciate the help I got from the Burlington Walk/Bike Council listserve and would be happy to talk with anyone interested in exploring chain-less bicycle options.
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