steel vs. aluminum wheels
In my last post, I mentioned that I started commuting on my roadbike because of the awesome wheels on it. To explain: the wheels on my 1978 Grand Prix (my roadbike) were in awful condition so we had to replace them. The ’78 Grand Prix now has aluminum wheels on it (pictured right). Meanwhile, my usual commuter bike – a 1967 Raleigh Sports – has the original steel wheels (pictured left). Both bikes have new Continental Kool Stop Salmon brake pads.
As I see it, this is pretty near a controlled experiment. (Ok, not really.) But here it goes: I have two vintage Raleighs, both with new brake pads, one with the original steel wheels and one with new aluminum wheels.
And while on most days the difference doesn’t seem that noticeable, on rainy days, it makes a world of a difference. This is what has brought me to ride the aluminum wheeled Grand Prix to work more often – it can stop quickly and efficiently in the rain. The steel rims do stop, but it sometimes is difficult to come to a complete stop on wet roads, and it feels more like a slowing down than a breaking. I squeeze on the brakes as hard as I can and the bike still rolls forward a little more than it should. The roadbike with the aluminum wheels, by comparison, present no such problem. Breaking with the aluminum wheels on wet roads feels much like it does on dry roads.
Do you ride a vintage bike and have you dealt with problems when braking in the rain? I have cleaned the steel rims on a regular basis and I’m very happy with how the bike rides in dry conditions, but on wet roads, it’s a whole different story. This is a problem when a car decides to cut you off or students jump in front of you on narrow campus roads. And, as I’ve taken to riding the Grand Prix more regularly (even on non-rainy days), I’m finding that I really love it. There is just something very smooth and efficient about it.
Of course, if I’m going to be riding it in the rain, I could really use some fenders on it. Boy, the bike-related spending never stops, does it?
Addendum – I found the difference in breaking to be significant enough that it validated a switch from the steel wheels to aluminum wheels on my Raleigh Sports as well, despite the fact that I could have kept riding that bike ‘as is’. If you live in a rainy climate and ride a bike with vintage steel wheels, I suggest upgrading to aluminum wheels, finances permitting.