Saturday, 14 May 2011

Keeping Your Bike Outdoors

Last week I finally turned my Gazelle into an outdoor bicycle. It has become clear to me over time that parking a transportation bike where it is easily accessible - instead of maneuvering it in and out of doors and up and down stairs every time I need to go somewhere - increases its utility tremendously. Dutch transport bikes in particular were simply not designed to be kept inside apartments. They are heavy, unwieldy and also durable - with all their delicate parts covered from the elements. And while theft is a concern, I think that our fear of it - when it comes to heavy transportation bikes - is disproportional to its actual risk. Bike theft in the US is not nearly as bad as in places like the Netherlands and Denmark, yet in those places bikes are kept outdoors 24/7. Plus, I seriously doubt that a 45lb clunker would be on a bicycle thief's priority list. Why chose fear over convenience when statistics are on our side?

That is not to say that precautions should not be taken: My first order of business was to get one of those huge, heavy chains. I deliberated over Abus vs. Kryptonite and received feedback both for and against each of them. In the end, I think that either chain is sufficient. I chose Kryptonite because a local bike shop had them in stock. The chain is thick and the system is easy to use.

I keep the chain wrapped around an iron rail in a convenient spot at the back of our house. When the bike is parked there, I chain it up. When I use the bike, I leave the chain behind. The key to the little U-Lock that connects the chain is attached to my housekeys, and we have spares at home.

The space next to the railing is cramped, making it impossible to wrap the chain around the frame. So instead, I wrap it around the bicycle's rear wheel. If you are familiar with classic Dutch bikes (full chaincase, dressguards, bolted rear triangle), you will know that removing a rear wheel on these babies requires tools and takes about a half hour - so locking up this way is not much riskier than chaining it through the frame. I also put a cable lock through the frame and front wheel (the cable lock goes with me when I take the bike out). While no lock-up method is 100% secure, I feel comfortable with mine. I weighed the utility of this arrangement against what I perceive to be the risk of theft, and to me it's worth it.

One thing I still need to get is a heavy-duty waterproof saddle cover; ideally something that doesn't look expensive. I have a bunch from Brooks and Rivendell, but they either do not fit the huge saddle properly or are not entirely waterproof. Any saddle cover suggestions for a Brooks B66?

It is not my intent to suggest that everyone ought to keep their bike outdoors. Judge for yourself based on how much extra utility you think you would get from that, as well as how comfortable you are with leaving it out. If you do decide to go that route, I suggest a good chain, a plan for saddle protection (it will rain if you leave it uncovered overnight!), and a lock-up ritual that does not end up being too fussy and time consuming. Do you lock your bike outdoors?


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