My route is a combination of pathway and roads, flats and hills, and at this time of year means riding on some roads covered in winter gravel. It also means that on my rides I’m alternatively being buffeted by insane winds, bashed by ice pellets, soaked with rain or scorched by the sun.
Gravel is a pretty significant concern here. Most of the road shoulders are still covered in gravel and other debris left over from the snowy winter season. Road cleaning hasn’t really begun and little pointy bits of rock are on the lookout for nice vulnerable bike tires. So far, the Hutchinson Urban Tour tires have held up admirably. I’ve usually had at least one flat by now but it’s been smooth sailing this past month. The tires have also performed fairly well in the sudden snow and slush surprises we’ve had. I’ve switched to the studded tires a couple of times, but for the most part have ridden safely and successfully with the stock tires.
Comfort and fit-wise, the medium size seems to perfectly fit my 6′.
The hydraulic brakes have worked well. Response is significantly different than the non-hydraulic disc brakes I have on my Kona and Cannondale and whether that’s in a good way or a bad way depends on what you expect. Personally, I prefer non-hydraulic disc brakes. I find them less finnicky in the winter, and good luck trying to do a field repair on your hydraulics… I have Avid BB7s on my Kona and Cannondale and have to say the stopping power is greater than on the Hold Steady. That’s not to say you can’t lock the Hold Steady’s brakes up easily, but there’s a noticeable difference between the two kinds of brakes.
Now to the gearing, which is probably what most of you will be curious about.
The Hold Steady comes with the Shimano Alfine internal 8 speed hub on the rear with a 45 tooth chainring on the front.
I’m not quite sure about the gearing ratios yet. The lowest gear feels like the equivalent of being in the middle chainring and about two down from the lowest on the rear on my Kona. While the hills are certainly doable, I wouldn’t mind some lower gearing on this bike. I really don’t think the gearing is going to be sufficiently low enough for any real winter riding, as you need a good low gear to churn through deep snow or make your way safely through lakes of frozen ice or polished intersections. (Well, I do, anyway…)
In terms of shiftability, this hub works like a charm. I haven’t had any mis-shifts or surprise shifts. Sudden stop / starts don’t pose much of a problem because you can switch into any gear from any gear while stopped.
Fine-tuning the hub is also very simple, and you’ll have to do this eventually if only to accomodate cable stretch. There are two little white pointer lines on the hub. Shifting into fourth gear and turning the barrel adjuster to align the two lines is all it takes — much easier that fiddling with the tuning screws on a derailleur.
Since I started writing this review, I decided to switch the front 45T chainring for a smaller one — a 39T. It’s made a noticeable difference, and in a good way. I did have to lose a link or two off the chain to accomodate the smaller chainring; there’s not quite enough room on the rear dropouts to just slide the rear wheel back. I also had to lose the inner plastic chainring guard which hasn’t caused any problems.
Tool-wise, the only thing I added to my kit was a 15mm wrench for the rear wheel. Because it’s a horizontal dropout for the rear wheel to keep the chain tension tight, a quick release isn’t installed.
I added a rear rack to the bike for those days when the backpack just won’t fit everything (darn work stuff…) and any rear-disc-compatible rack should work. A standard rack won’t fit, because of the width of the rear wheel’s hub.
While the bike certainly doesn’t fit in the “touring bike” category, all the mounting brazeons are great. The bike has brazeons for a rear rack and mounting points for fenders. The three water bottle cage mounts come in very handy if you’re riding with a little person; after all, they don’t like carrying their own water if dad can carry it for them…
I’ve seen several Hold Steady bikes out and about on my rides to work, including at least two others that park at the bike racks at work. For a good functional, easily maintainable and affordable commuting bike, the MEC Hold Steady seems to be a solid pick.