One Bike to Ride Them All

If you read my previous posts you can review the on-going evolution of my hybridized mountain bike. I decided that I want just one bike for local errands and recreation. I live in Seattle and the region has many rail trails and local governments that promote cycling.  So my bike needs to handle city streets and the obstacles as well as asphalt and gravel trails. Comfort, maneuverability, and load-carrying take precedent over speed.

I went through a couple bikes, all found at thrift stores or yard sales and upgraded with parts from the same as well as some local recycled bike stores. I’ve ended up with the bike below and can use it for grocery shopping, trips to the post office, or bikepacking on the gravel and dirt paths in the region.

bike on rock wall


I started with a $40 REI Novara Bonita mountain bike from Goodwill. I have a short inseam and long torso, so fitting a bike is a challenge. This is a women’s model and works well for me, with a workable stand-over height and a short top tube. It has decent quality drivetrain components and disc brakes.

But I didn’t want a mountain bike so much as one bike to do it all, so I made the following upgrades and adaptations:

  • I removed the suspension fork and replaced it with a rigid steel fork from Nashbar. If I had to do it again, I would have paid a bit more and got one with more braze-ons to make fitting racks and fenders easier. It does ride well an is several pounds lighter than the suspension option.
  • The current tires are 26 x 2.0 Schwalbe Marathon GreenGuard HS420. I’ve had a chance to try them on pavement and packed gravel and they work well for me. I was able to slip the back wheel a bit when standing on the pedals to climb on gravel, but that was with a full 70 PSI inflation. I tried some 26 x 2.15 Schwalbe Big Ben tires which worked well, but they didn’t allow enough clearance for a kickstand, which is a useful accessory for me. I think they also had too much sidewall flex and I wanted more puncture resistance too. I tried a pair of 26 x 1.75 Continental Country Plus tires and they were okay. They have good puncture protection and a softer rubber compound, so they won’t last as long as the Schwalbe tires. My choice was based more on price and I wanted a little more volume. The Marathons have a 3mm internal layer for puncture resistance, a high mileage rubber compound and I can run the pressure up to 70 PSI for urban use and drop it down a low as 30 PSI if I need more traction.  The Marathon line is a favorite for long distance touring and commuting. They are heavy, but very tough. I was surprised by how much tire volume varies between models and sizes. The 2.0 tires are much taller as well as wider than the 1.75′ and the 2.15’s are marketed as balloon tires, so the increased volume there is no surprise.
  • And yes, a kickstand. I find them useful for day to day riding and very handy when dealing with poorly designed bike racks. Clearance was a problem and the chainstays on this bike are very asymmetrical, as well as having the disc brakes, so a rear-mounted stand wouldn’t work. Tire clearance was close too (see the above) I found that Greenfield makes a version of their very universal kickstand that has the bolt going from the bottom up to the clamp and that clears my front derailleur hardware. That is a model KS2S of you need one. I just found out that Greenfield makes an accessory rubber foot for their stands, which will help on dirt and grass. Another little trick I use is to make a small ring of elastic shock cord put on my brake lever as a parking brake. That is very handy when parking on a slope with a load. It doesn’t need to be super tight to work. I leave it looped around my headlight mount for storage.
  • I recently needed to replace the brake pads. The bike came with Hayes calipers and I had no issues with them, but I wanted to replace the rotors at the same time and after adding up pads and rotors, I found I could get a whole new Avid BB7 kit from Hong Kong for just a few dollars more. The kit included levers, rotors, calipers and hardware— everything but the cables. The BB7’s are super easy to adjust in the field and a highly regarded mechanical disc brake. If you do a conversion like this, look for the SRAM/Avid how-to videos on YouTube. I found them very helpful, particularly with aligning the calipers.
  • For lighting I am running a NightRider Lumina 350 headlight and a PDW Spaceship 5 tail light. The NightRider is more than bright enough for my use. I’m not a performance rider (I’m SLOW) and I got the light with a thrift store bike I built up for my son (a $50 light with a $50 bike!!). The PDW tail light, was in a recycled bike store bin for a few dollars. I like the mode where theLED’s  chase back and forth. My wife and I have NightRider lights on both our bikes and I bought a couple Mako 200 models for backup if the rechargeable Lumina models run down.    The Mako model uses AA batteries that can be replaced in the middle of nowhere. The handlebar bag on my bike crowds the headlamp mount and I found a helmet mount for the NightRider. I like having it follow my head rather than the handlebars, allowing my to look deep into a turn before I get there. It improves visibility in traffic too. I try to keep it pointed down a bit in the city, so I don’t blind on-coming traffic.
  • For hydration I am using a couple Purist bottles with one mount on the handlebar and another on the downtube. I like the handlebar mount, which is much easier to deal with while moving.
  • Racks and luggage:
    • Sunlite Gold Tec front rack. This racks was ridiculously cheap and it is light. It is a couple inches too short for mounting a typical rack top bag. Sunlit makes bags and they should make one for this rack. My front fork has unused caliper brake mounts, so the install was quick and easy. It’s enough rack for a stuff sack with my sleeping bag and pad, or I can fit a small 6-pack sized cooler on it with a bungee cord. I can also mount a basket using zip ties. I found a plastic shopping basket in a thrift store that fits well and is fairly light too. In an urban setting, a front basket with a small backpack makes for quick in-and-out, with the backpack carrying tools, electrics I don’t want to leave on the bike while parked, spare clothing, snacks, etc. Rather than undoing panniers or a rack trunk bag, I can grab the backpack and go. A bike can save time for local errands, but all the “phaff” of locks, bags and the rest annoys me. Simple is good!
    • This winter I changed the rear rack to a Blackburn TRX-2 model. It has high and low pannier rails and the top deck is fairly wide. The only failing is weight at about 2.5 pounds. It does provide the heel clearance I need and mounts around my disc brakes.
    • I use an REI Novara “grocery” pannier around town. I can just drop my chain lock in it and it has room for a bag of groceries or a couple packages to go the post office. It can fold flat to the frame when empty. I can pop i off and take it into the store with me for a shopping basket and I can haul my helmet in there too. I’d like to find another for balanced loads.
    • My latest bike packing rig is to use a pair of Arkel Dry-Lites panniers with a 20 liter dry bag on top (see the photo above). The panniers mount with Velcro straps on top and typical bungee cords with hooks on the bottom. They are very light and have a dry bag style roll top design and sealed seams for water resistance. The dry bag is a generic tarpaulin fabric model from China but I looked far and wide and found this one with D-ring mounts for pack straps. I made up a couple bungee cords and can securely lash the dry bag to the top of the rear rack using the D-rings. That gives me some top storage for rain gear or poles tucked under the bungee cords. The total volume is 48 liters and I can mount my sleeping bag and pad on the front rack, giving me as much volume as I use for multi-day backpacking. I did a test run with a load on a gravel trail and the bike balanced well, with no shimmy at 15-16mph. I need to do a test run on asphalt on up to 20-22mph, which is as fast as I go.
    • I added an Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Compact handlebar bag this winter. I tried a couple handlebar bags and found them too large and I wanted a waterproof model. I use it for quick access and fragile items: glasses, light, cell phone and camera. It uses a large Velcro swatch on the front flap and it has worked fine, but I would like to see one with a side-release buckle for more secure closing. It does give immediate access. It can be locked to the mount and has a shoulder strap option too. I tilted it back a bit so I can see the whole interior and that gives more clearance for cables and the small Sunlite rack under.
    • I found a small Blackburn frame bag on eBay for $10 and couldn’t resist. My bike has little room in the frame triangle and I would rather have the water bottle cage there. This small bag can hold a short pump and tools. It is in thw way when using my car rack and I think I’ll remove it for town use.
  • The computer is a Sigma BC 5.12. This wired computer has a one-button control and gives me all the info I need: current speed, trip and total distance and the time of day. Simple and good.
  • I have issues with my neck and find a mirror very useful. I have a Mirrycle mountain model bar-end mirror and an Incredibell warning bell from the same company.
  • Handlebars. I’ve tried a few and with my neck issues, an upright position is necessary. I can’t ride drop bars for more than a few minutes and flat bars don’t work well for me either. There is a style of handlebars known as North Road bars, that are basically the same as my old Raleigh 3-speed from the 1960’s: they have a couple inches of rise and sweep back towards the rider. I found the Origin8 City Classic bars to be a bargain. They have the ergonomics I need, light weight and are a better price than Nitto and other “premium” brands. I use a stem that has about 40° rise with the bars. I use Origin8 Pulsion locking grips. Locking grips are great when you want to fiddle with a bike, changing bars, shifters brake levers and other bar-mounted hardware. They save the wresting match of getting slip-on grips off the bars. I prefer simple round grips over the ergonomic versions.
  • Pedals. I tried the toothed style pedals and platform pedals with traction screws. They are hard on shins! I don’t want toe cages or clipless pedals either: I want to jump on the bike with whatever shoes I’m wearing. In the summer I wear Keen sandals and Keen oxfords in other seasons. If I’m going a long ways out on a gravel rail trail, I might wear light hiking boots for side trips or the possibility of a long walk back. I found the MKS RMX “sneaker” pedals very kind to my shins and no issues with slipping. Again, I am not a performance-oriented rider,  so these simple and good pedals allow me to make the wheels go round.
  • Saddle. I’ve tried a few and like the WTB Laser V. Saddles are a personal fit like shoes and you may have to try a couple. I love the look of Brooks saddles, but they don’t work for me. Avoid overly soft saddles: at first thought, a big cushion should be comfortable, but a good firm saddle that fits your sit bones is the way to go. Study up on adjusting your saddle. Many riders have their saddles far too low, which will hurt your knees and make for less efficient pedaling.
  • Fenders: SKS Velo 65 fenders work with the 2.0 tire width and I was able to adapt them to my bike. I used a brace and the top/center bracket to the fork for the front fender and the rear is mounted with the forward frame clip to seat tube, the brake bridge bracket, and the rear is mounted to the rack tail light mount with a zip tie and a couple small holes drilled in the fender. I think they are good looking with a fat tire and quite inexpensive.

So yesterday it was unseasonably warm (near 60F) at lower elevations, so I took off for the Iron Horse trail with my aluminum pony 🙂 The Iron Horse State Park /John Wayne Pioneer Trail is the longest rails-to-trails path in the US and with the west end starting at Rattlesnake Lake about 35 miles from Seattle and parallels I-90. In the summer you can ride 100 miles to the Columbia River at Vantage, Washington. The tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass is closed in the winter, but it is still possible to ride 18 miles to the western tunnel entrance, snow aside.

iron horse sign


I loaded up and took off, testing the new tires, brakes and my bikepacking setup with a light load of clothes and gear. It was 58F at the trailhead, but the trail is on the south side of the west-east path and up against the mountains and cliffs, so with the angle of the winter sun at latitude 47N, it is in shadow most of the time. There is what we call the “refrigerator effect” where cold air comes over the pass from Eastern Washington. That can be a good thing for the relatively low altitude alpine ski resorts (3500′-4000′) but I found myself with 20 MPH cold headwinds. This trail into the mountains climbs at a slow steady slope, so it is a constant treadmill with no opportunities for coasting. That makes for a great training run, but with the strong cold headwind and the constant slope, I wussed out after ten miles. I’m at my winter worst for conditioning and felt it. I need to get back on the bike several days a week before summer comes! Coming back was a treat, with a gentle 10 mile downhill run I could coast at 12 MPH or better. I added warmer gloves and a soft shell for that part. Of course when I got back to the trailhead, it was spring like and little wind.


john wayne trail

Gravel, shadows, teasing sunlight, and tall peaks with snow.


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