One day when we were visiting our local bike shop, Everybody Bikes, I was complaining that it was getting increasingly difficult to get up hills as our kids gained weight every month. My Breezer Uptown 8 handles hills well with reasonable loads (like a single rider and a preschooler) but it was getting to be a slog with a 6.5 year old on the back. The shop owner suggested I gear the bike down. But it has an internal hub, I said. Oh, you can still change out the rear cog for a larger one, he said, and that would give you the equivalent of two extra low gears (at the cost of losing the two highest gears, which I never used: whatever). The cost? About $20. Whoa. Sign me up!
What’s more, the brakes were getting soft, again. This issue seems to crop up every couple of months. The Breezer’s brakes aren’t as bad as the original brakes on the Kona MinUte, but San Francisco does seem to eat through bicycle stopping power.
I also wanted to be able to carry more cargo on the bike. They suggested a front basket. Putting one on would require rewiring the front dynamo light, but they could do that with some time.
And my kids wanted a cargo kickstand. They hated my little stock one-legged kickstand; they thought it was too wobbly, which was true. And that would argue for a front wheel stabilizer, for basically the same reason.
Finally, we wanted to attach the custom rear rack for our new trailer-bike. And that meant rewiring the rear dynamo light, which attached to the stock rack.
This had all turned into a kind of major project, but upon reflection it seemed worth it. Two weeks ago the Breezer went into the shop for all these changes at once. For much of last week I came back for tweaks (the front light stopped working, then started again, the kickstand wasn’t in, then it came in, we had to fit the adjustable trailer-bike handlebars to our son, ad infinitum). Now the Breezer is back in action, and while some of the modifications are a bit kludgy—there was no pretty way to attach a stabilizer on my big fat down tube, and a trailer-bike always looks ad hoc—they all make the bike work better. The gearing change alone would have been worth it.
Lowering the gears turned out to be the cheapest adjustment I have ever made to my bike, and the most practical. The rear cog original to the Breezer has 18 teeth, while my new rear cog has 22 teeth. It didn’t seem to me like four teeth would make a difference, but ignorance like that is why I don’t work at a bike shop. It makes a massive difference. I have had to completely relearn my gears, but the un-laden Breezer now cruises up serious hills like they’re barely there, and that’s without my first gear making much of an appearance—I’m almost always able to keep the granny gear in reserve. Laden up with a kid on the back or the trailer-bike (a bonus 30 pounds) or a heavy bag in the front basket, going up hills is significantly more challenging, so no worries: this bike will still keep me honest.
The dynamo lights had to be rearranged to fit around the front rack, but this has actually increased my visibility. And the front cargo rack, a Soma Gamoh, is large enough to hold two grocery bags. It’s not frame-mounted, but it can take a lot of weight with the fork-mount. Combined with my two panniers I doubt that I’ll ever have to shuttle home after a grocery run again, especially now that the bike is geared to take the extra weight up hills. And the improved brakes will now stop me on the way back down.
Because I’m ignorant, I’d never realized it was possible to make these kinds of changes to a bike. Apparently some bikes aren’t worth upgrading, and last week I overheard a conversation with another customer in which our shop told him exactly that. Nevertheless: I used to get frustrated by the limitations of our bikes. Now I don’t bother getting annoyed until I’ve asked whether it’s something that can be changed. It’s been enlightening for me to realize that having a local bike shop hanging with us through the last several months means that we can often remake our bikes into the rides that we need them to be.