November 28, 2011 by Brian Lockhart
For the past few months, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a new commuter bicycle / winter training bike. As much as I dislike riding my bike in the crappy Seattle winter weather, I hate being fat and out of shape even more. And as long as the conditions aren’t so bad they’re dangerous (ex: icy roads) I prefer going out for a ride vs. sitting on an indoor trainer or working out indoors in a gym. But to ride in crappy weather you’ve got to have the right tool for the job, otherwise you’re going to be more cold, wet, and miserable than you need to be.
The search is over, and I’m happy to welcome the latest addition to my stable – the Airborne Delta CX! I’m a little surprised, mostly because prior to this search I hadn’t even heard of Airborne. Turns out they’re a mail-order-only bike company, as opposed to most brands that sell via bicycle shops, department stores, etc. They’re known mostly for their reasonably-priced mountain bikes, and from what I could tell they had a decent reputation online as a provider of “pretty good” bikes. But then I found they were owned by Huffy Bicycles. Uh oh…
Growing up in the 70′s, as I got interested in bicycles for the first time I quickly became educated in some of the more esoteric / fashion aspects of cycling. Not clothing fashion, but “brand fashion” – i.e. which bikes were cool, and which bikes just… weren’t. One of the brands that fell squarely in the “uncool” category was Huffy. The company was never known for making upper end bikes, they were the cheapo department store rigs that many an unsuspecting parent would foist upon their child out of financial necessity, blind ignorance, or both. For their low-end price range, they were more than adequate. But for a budding bike snob such as myself, riding a Huffy was simply unacceptable! Huffy? Moi? Not a chance…
Maybe I’m getting over my bike snobbery in my old age, or (more likely) it’s because I’ve been around the block a few times and understand the dynamics of how products are branded and priced in the marketplace, but these days I’m sometimes able to overlook the “emotional attachment” that often drives brand selection at purchase time. I still lust after higher end products and brands (and still buy them when I convince myself it matters), but I’m also able to realize when it’s just not worth it to pay a premium for a product just because of the branding it carries. The Airborne Delta CX is a prime example of an excellent value at ~ 40% lower price point compared to similar product offerings on the market. It’s not a $6,000, carbon frame, 14 pound cutting edge wonderbike. But it’s certainly not a POS department store bike either. It’s nothing like the Huffy image most cyclists have in their minds. And to be fair, despite the alarmist title of this post, Airborne was acquired by Huffy vs. started up by them, so that means Airborne is an adopted child, not blood related. They can quietly maintain their distance from the parent company, since they’re waaay cooler than their parents are… Right?
Time to find out. So right out of the box, it’s a pretty decent cyclocross bike. (See my earlier search criteria for why I felt this was a good place to start looking for a new commuter bike.) All I had to do was switch the tires out for road tires, add fenders, and wala – instant commuter bike!
For tires, I went with Contental Gatorskins in the 700x28c width. They’re tough, long wearing tires that aren’t quite as supple as a full race tire, but for winter / commuting use, speed isn’t the primary concern. Durability and flat resistance is super important – try changing a flat in the dark in 35 degree rain and you’ll understand. These tires are the best combination of durability and performance that I’ve ever used. To add to that durability even further, I also run Mr. Tuffy ultralight tire liners. They add a bit of weight and make any tire feel a bit more “dead” than I’d prefer otherwise, but again, for this bike it’s all about avoiding flats. Performance be damned!
It’s been many many years since I bought a bike that came with reflectors installed – those things always got torn off a new bike faster than wrapping paper from a child’s birthday present. ”Lameness begone!” I’d cry out, as if I was exorcising the demons of nerdliness from my prized new toy before I took it out for the first ride.
Nowdays? I’m old and scared, and not even remotely cool. If this bike hadn’t come with reflectors on it, I would’ve gone to a bike shop to get some. For commuting at night (or early morning) I want every possible advantage against the distracted / inattentive automobile driver sneaking up behind me in the dark. That means reflectors in the spokes, plus a red blinky light on the seatstay, and a nice fat red reflector on the seatpost.
Up front, it’s a crowded cockpit. Don’t laugh, this is what I consider necessary for riding around here! I run 2 lights – a NiteRider rechargeable to see where I’m going, and a small blinky Planet Bike Spock light left in blinking mode to be seen. Finish up the trifecta of safety with a standard white front reflector, and (combined with the reflectors in the spokes and the reflector I wear around my ankle) I’m a pillar of responsible cycling. If anyone hits me out there and kills me while I’m running this much defensive ordinance, I hope one of my friends finds this posts and gives it to the District Attorney as evidence that I did everything possible to be seen out there, and whomever hit me was clearly under-qualified to drive.
The finishing touch is a Quarq Powermeter SRAM Red crankset. Since this bike is going to be doubling as both a commuter bike and a winter training bike for the upcoming racing season, I want to make sure I can satisfy my geekish need for power and cadence data. My race bike is set up with PowerTap wheels, but since this bike has disc-wheel equipped hubs I can’t swap the wheels between my race bike and this bike. (A sacrifice I was willing to make in order to get disc brakes on this bike.) And before anyone else points it out, yes I’m aware that this crank is worth more money than the whole rest of the bike, by a factor of 2x. I got screaming deals and/or bought used across the board for this project, which takes the sting out of the math. (It makes sense on some levels, trust me.) But yeah, it’s strange thinking that if I were to lock this bike up someplace I’d be wise to run a lock through that crank before securing anything else…
Time to weigh the beast:
Egads! No lightweight, that’s for sure. This rig (in full trim, with all accessories mounted) weighs in at 28 lbs. even. That’s almost 12 pounds heavier than my race bike – I know I could attack this problem with money if I really wanted to get the weight down, but for this bike I really don’t care. It’s not built for speed. So I hereby dub this bike “commute-asaurus”. :)
So now I’m properly equipped, and I’ve managed to hit everything on my checklist for a very reasonable pricetag (far less than I anticipated). I’m now ready to face another $%&#$@ cold, dark, wet Seattle winter on the bike. Best of all, with the money I saved getting the Airborne vs. a more well-known brand, I can more easily afford the inevitable plane tickets I’ll need when I crack up and want to fly the hell out of here to go ride someplace sunny instead.
Thanks to Airborne for my “ultimate commuter bike!” I may not be happy to ride in the rain, but now I have less to whine about. :)
Update: here’s another (much more complete) review of the bike in case you’re considering picking one up: