The Chainlink

An Ode to the Suburban (and the chance to convince me to buy a new bike)

Everybody here on the Chainlink loves an animated discussion, don’t they?

I’m a fan of my Schwinn Suburbans.  My wife picked me one up 3-4 years ago, and it is what got me started cycling again.  I decided early on that I needed to ride at least  a thousand miles before even considering a new bike.  Once the thousand miles was up, I figured I would go for two thousand.  After that, I thought it was a good idea to see how much the ride improved after an overhaul.  Last summer, I picked up a second one, potentially for parts, but it quickly turned into a spare.  By now, I have about 7000 miles on the first one, and 1000 miles on the spare.

My biggest problem?  Convincing bicycle mechanics that I actually do want to spend money on the bike, if I have worn out a part.


My favorite things:

1)      Pretty darn bulletproof.  It takes a lot to make one stop running.  In all that riding, I’ve only had one breakdown where I needed to call for the dreaded pickup.  That breakdown was all my fault, and the root causes will never happen again.

2)      Full coverage fenders and dork disc.  I work in semi-casual environment, but the bike has never damaged anything except for previously frayed shoelaces.  I really, really, like the fenders.

3)      Versatility.  I transition from road to trail, without a care.

4)      Very few worries about theft.

5)      A solid, forgiving frame.

6)      I always have a backup lighting system

7)      The vintage, cool, contrarian factor.

8)      Those few opportunities that I can sneak up on a tired group of roadies at the end of their ride, and hang with them for several miles, to their great consternation.

My problems:

1)      Five hours of riding only takes me 50-60 miles.

2)      Difficulty of finding quality replacement components, and then convincing a mechanic that replacing them is what I really want to do.

3)      Sooner or later, my knees, my riding style, and the weight of the bicycle are going to come to an unfortunate intersection.

4)      It is not exactly fun to load on a bus rack, or carry up and down the stairs into the basement of the building.

Really, the only bikes that have been speaking to me to replace the Suburban are steel touring bikes like the Surly LHT, Novara Randonee, and Jamis Aurora.  Or maybe a Schwinn Super Sport…


But I am at least tempted at the moment, and willing to carry on animated discussion with anyone who wants to convince me.

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Solid choice. It should hold up well for your intended use and give you flexibility.

Tim Heckman said:
Pulled the trigger today on a Cross Check from my LBS. It should be in my hands on Wednesday.

Black or green?  I'm a bit miffed Surly didn't have a more interesting color for the LHT frame than gray.

I picked the black. I'm really not a fan of that green. Now just waiting in gleeful anticipation, and planning an epic break-in ride for next weekend.

Tim Heckman said:


True, but not the whole story.  My Suburbans enjoy regular preventative maintenance, and I know the difference between 'riding as designed' and 'riding like horse poop'.  In 8000 miles, I've replaced two sets of tires, one set of wheels, two axles, two cassettes, the original pedals, and two chains.  I'm still due to replace one crankset.  Outside of possibly the axles, that sounds to me like normal wear and tear for any bicycle that has that amount of miles.

2 sets of tires: Varies widely based on tire.  When the rear gets close, you can swap the label side to wear the other side of the center.  When both sides are worn, discard the rear, put the front on the rear, and a new tire on the front.
2 chains: a little low on mileage.  2 cassettes: you definitely are not lubing and checking for "stretch".  Suggestion:  Clean and rust proof frequently with WD-40 spray.  Avoid spraying into the inner links so dirt and WD-40 is not carried into the inside lube.  Don't lube.  Check 12 links being 12 inches, 12 1/16 time to change chains, you might 2-4 chains per cassette.
2 axles: shouldn't occur with free hub and cassette.  Frequently occurs with freewheels (up to 6 speed freewheel and some 7 speed).  Consider switching to free hub and cassette (some 7 speed and all 8 speed cassette and up). Sticking with 27 in is certainly possible, probably will need to cold set the frame to a wider width between the rear dropouts.  Also possible to switch from 27 in wheels (630mm rims) to 700C wheels (622mm rims) with long reach brakes, but is a bit more expensive.

So, how did it go? Pictures?

Tim Heckman said:

I picked the black. I'm really not a fan of that green. Now just waiting in gleeful anticipation, and planning an epic break-in ride for next weekend.
I left Oak Park at about 8 am on Sunday. This picture was taken in Lockport at 11.

Are you trying to tell us that the new bike turned your whole world upside down? Groovy.

Looks nice, Tim!  What do you think of it so far in comparison to your Suburban?  That's a nice long first ride :)

Also - a cable lock?  Eek, I would definitely use at least a u-lock on a brand new bike!

I'd done a ten mile ride the day I picked up, so it wasn't a pure first ride.


  So far, I am happy with both the similarities and the differences.  Steel frame and 38 mm tires, and it is a little smoother of a ride than I was on previously.  It handled the stretch of slightly moist crushed limestone south of 135th Street just fine. It's a faster bike, but I'm not necessarily a faster cyclist.  There's two hills in Hodgkins on East Ave and 75th Street that are much easier to climb.  Certainly less work overall, as that distance was about my outer limit on the Suburban, and still certainly could have done more.  It's also a larger frame than I was used to.  The Suburban was 22", and this is 58 cm.

In some senses, it is an incremental improvement (although a pretty large increment).  Oh, and the cable lock?  I know-- but I wasn't planning on stopping beyond running into a convenience store in the outer suburbs, and my brand new New York style Kryptonite U-Lock is kind of heavy...

So, it's two years later. My Cross Check has close to 6000 miles on it. My well maintained Suburban was stolen last October at a train station, when I locked it poorly. I have another Suburban, which was actually gifted to me by folks that knew I would appreciate it.

I've added a dynamo hub to the Cross Check, and ride it everywhere. I only ride my Suburban if the other is being serviced. I might have to admit that Notorious DUG was correct...
Here is a human enjoying their bike! Also? They are reducing. Re-using. Recycling? Also the absence of any covetousness is just Suspicious!


Count on the chainlink to word avalanche in bold for days about just how wrong is frugality.

At first I didn't like the Schwinn Traveler (ca.1989), I thought it was like riding a stiff camel, but it is a real work horse pulling a trailer.  Recently broke the derailleur (think it was the original) got a new-used one on ebay and local mechanic was happy to replace it; no comments about buying a new bike.

I do have a Sunday bike and I won't attach the trailer to it.




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