For the eco-conscious, or those just looking for a conversation starter, Schwinn offers the Vestige, with a frame constructed of flax fiber (90 percent flax, 10 percent carbon). Derived from the same plant that gives us linen, flax fiber maintains a high tensile strength that makes it an alternative to carbon fiber, but possesses a biodegradable attribute that carbon fiber does not. Why not use 100 percent flax, then? Flax alone isn’t stiff enough to meet European standards on its own, so Schwinn adds some carbon for rigidity.Tweet
Bellwether’s Coldfront series of clothing is designed for cold and dry winter conditions. Utilizing their proprietary Coldfront soft shell fabric, Bellwether delivers a wind-resistant, water-resistant and breathable jacket. This stretchable 3-layer fabric is made up of a tightly woven outer layer to turn away moisture, a wind blocking, breathable membrane, and a light fleece backing for a touch of insulation.Tweet
Bianchi is the oldest manufacturer producing bicycles these days, having been started by company namesake Edoardo Bianchi in 1885. That’s nearly 130 years of bicycle production. Though the Bianchi name is often associated with road racing, the company got its start producing bikes for the evolving transportation market in the late nineteenth century. How fitting then we have this opportunity to review Bianchi’s transportation-focused Metropoli Uno.Tweet
The Crosstrail formula is simple: aluminum frame with generous tire clearance plus rack and fender mounts, 60mm-travel SR Suntour NEXi suspension fork, a 3×9 drivetrain, Tektro Draco hydraulic disc brakes, and wheels and tires on the heavy-duty end of the road spectrum. This package delivers a highly versatile bike that can be used for commuting, light touring, road rides, urban and rural exploration, and even some light-duty trail riding.Tweet
By Justin Steiner
Specialized classifies the Crosstrail series of bikes within the “fitness adventure” category, which is an apt description given their aptitude on mixed surfaces. My Crosstrail Sport Disc retails for $830, making it the second least expense disc brake equipped model in the lineup. Only the base Crosstrail Disc is cheaper at $630.
Because I’ve been spoiled by testing dozens of fancy, high-dollar bikes over the years, I have to admit to not being terribly excited about testing this bike. Sure it seemed practical and economical, but there wasn’t much on the spec sheet to excite me. But, that was just me being jaded and spoiled. In reality, the Crosstrail has proven itself a fun and reliable partner over the last two months. More than making up for its lack of sex appeal through an oversized helping of practicality.
I greatly appreciate the Crosstrail’s ability to cruise back and forth to work on pavement while also tackling dirt trails, even light-duty singletrack, without breaking a sweat. The SR Suntour NEXi fork utilizes 60mm of travel to take the edge off of curb hopping and the Specialized Trigger 700x38mm semi-slick tires provide surprising grip offroad, even in snow, while rolling respectably quick on the road. With geometry and that’s on par with many 29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes these days, the Crosstrail’s off-pavement prowess is no surprise. That said, folks looking for a true mountain bike would be better off with Specialized’s Rockhopper 29.
The Crosstrail is versatile too, with rear rack and fender mounts as well as fender mounts on the fork. As you can see, I slapped fenders and rear rack on the Crosstrail and haven’t looked back.
To remain visible this time of year, I’ve been using a Lezyne Mega Drive headlight (look for a review in a future issue of the magazine) and a NiteRider Solas taillight. Both are USB rechargeable, which make be feel OK about utilizing them as daytime running lights.
Overall, the parts spec on this Sport disc model is quite good considering the price point, with nice touches like a quality, house-brand two-bolt seatpost that makes saddle adjustments a breeze. The front and rear Tektro Draco hydraulic disc brakes have performed flawlessly despite temps dipping into the middle-teens and are a welcome addition in sloppy winter weather.
For the ladies in the crowd, Specialized also offers the female-specific version of the Crosstrail called the Ariel. This lineup offers frame, fork, and components designed specifically for women. I give Specialized kudos for not skimping on the women’s-specific products; they offer seven models each for men and women at a range of price points from just shy of $2,000 to $580. Though there’s one potential downside for female customers looking for a blingy parts spec; the high-end Ariel tops out at $1,200.
Thus far, I’m highly satisfied with my Crosstail experience. You’ll have to check out the full review in Issue #22 for the final word. Subscribe by the end of February to have issue #22 delivered straight to your door.
By Justin Steiner,
It’s force of habit; without thinking twice, I hop in my car, start the thing and immediately turn on the headlights. Middle of the night, middle of the day; doesn’t matter.
Why, you ask? The short answer is that I just feel safer being as visible as possible to other road users. Largely this desire to be seen is driven by two experiences. One, years ago, I was hit from behind in broad daylight by an old man who simply “didn’t see” me, despite the fact I was riding in the middle of the lane of travel wearing a BRIGHT yellow jacket. And two, my experience as a motorcyclist has taught me that being seen can be the difference between life and death. Not to get all serious on you, just pointing out the facts.
Anyway, back to the lights. I recently purchased a pair of rechargeable rear lights for my girlfriend and I, in an effort to fend off motorists this winter. Like many mornings on the way to work, it was dreary and overcast today. So, as usual in these conditions, I turned both my front and rear lights to flash mode, hoping to make myself as visible as possible. With rechargeable lights front and rear, I don’t feel guilty burning up batteries in daylight on the way to work. Of course having lights won’t necessarily protect me from having another roadway incident, but the peace of mind is well worth the investment in my opinion.
Over the years, we’ve tested quite a few rechargeable headlights, but comparatively few rechargeable taillights. Below are a few USB rechargeable, lithium ion or lithium polymer powered options that might be of interest.
Blackburn Super Flea – $45
The Super Flea powers three bright LEDs between 15 hours (steady) and 28 hours flashing.
Bontrager Ember USB – $30
Bontrager’s Ember puts the power down through one1/2-watt and one 5mm LED. Burn times range from 7 hours to 35+.
Cateye Rapid 1 – $35
Cateye’s Rapid 1 employs one “high-powered” SMD-LED to provide 2 to 10 hours of run time.
Cygolite Hotshot 2W USB – $40
Cygolite utilizes one two-watt LED in the Hotshot, providing 4:30 to 300+ hours of illumination.
Knog Boomer USB – $40
Knog’s one “super-bright” Boomer LED burns from 3:30 hours to 12 hours.
Light and Motion Vis 180 Micro – $49
The Vis 180 Micro powers three LEDs (one rearward facing red, one amber on each side) between 4 and 20 hours.
NiteRider Solas USB – $45
The Solas powers one two-watt LED between 4:30 hours and 36 hours, depending on mode.
Serfas Thunderbolt (UTL-6) – $45
The Thunderbolt stands out from this group by using 30 micro-LEDs to pump out 1:45 to 9:30 hours of light.
Sure, these lights are more expensive than a regular AA- or AAA-powered taillight, but you also have to account for the cost of replacement batteries. On average, a AA- or AAA-powered blinkie of comparable light output retails for right around $30. Add in around $10 for rechargeable batteries, and you’re at a very similar price point to those listed above.
Of course, another viable alternative would be a dedicated hub dynamo setup with front and rear lights. This setup is highly viable if you’re riding the same bike all of the time. That said, it seems most folks who run dynamo lighting systems also supplement those lights with additional lighting.
One way or the other, the moral is the same; be seen to be safe. Ride safely out there.Tweet
Words and photos by Justin Steiner.
The $1,300 Gotham sits atop Novara’s line of Urban bikes designed to travel shorter distances in comfort and style. For those unfamiliar, Novara is the house bike brand of outdoor retailer REI. The Gotham’s burly unisex steel frame is available in three sizes to fit those from roughly 5’ 3” to 6’3”.
Thanks to a host of parts selected for their foul-weather performance, this bike is particularly well-suited to year-round commuting. Front and rear Shimano cable-actuated disc brakes stop firmly and positively in all conditions, while the Gates Carbon Drive belt requires no maintenance, aside from ensuring it’s properly tensioned. The star of this show, however, is NuVinci’s continuously variable N360 hub, offering a broad range of gears and requiring no maintenance throughout its lifecycle.
This bike’s full-coverage, polished aluminum fenders and included rear rack add a lot of commuting utility. Combined with the generator-drive front light and battery-powered rear light, it’s nearly commuting-ready right out of the box. I added another rear blinky and a supplementary headlight for good measure—you can never be too visible.
The Gotham’s riding position is decidedly relaxed, perfect for cruising around town. The comfortable and controlled stance afforded by the swept-back handlebar felt great while pedaling seated, and was equally comfortable while standing to hammer uphill. Once underway, the Gotham’s ride is smooth and stable. This bike’s relaxed steering geometry and long-ish wheelbase provides a predictable ride requiring little thought or attention. I found the handling to be very intuitive and natural, even relaxing.
Much of the smoothness comes from the tag-team combo of the Gates Carbon Drive belt and the N360 hub. Both of these items are very quiet and fluid in practice. I’ve ridden quite a few commuting bikes with the Gates belt, and have been stoked with their cleanliness and hassle-free nature.
This was, however, my first experience aboard the N360 hub and I’m impressed. Shifting is seamless and smooth, whether stopped at a light or mashing hard on the pedals—it never missed a beat. The gearing range is broad: low enough to pedal up the steep hills in my home terrain, yet tall enough to pedal my heart out on the downhill home from work.
For those keeping score, the overall gearing range varies 360% from easiest to hardest, greater than the 308% offered by Shimano’s Alfine 8, but less than the 409% spread of the Alfine 11 hub. The key difference, however, is the continuous variability. There are no “steps” between gears, so you’re able to dial in just the right amount of resistance for any situation. (Click here to learn how the N360 hub works.)
As with most great things, there are downsides. The Gotham’s one detraction is weight—let’s face it, 38.75lbs. is no joke. That’ll only be an issue of you’re regularly lugging it up and down flights of stairs or pedaling up significant hills.
As an out-the-door commuting package, it’s hard to argue with the value presented by the Gotham. There’s a lot of utility here for the asking price. I see this bike being perfect for folks commuting less than ten miles one way, who prioritize a bomb-proof, maintenance-free ride over outright speed and efficiency.
- Age: 29
- Height: 5’7”
- Weight: 165lbs.
- Inseam: 31-inches
- Country of Origin: China
- Price: $1,300
- Weight: 38.8lbs.
- Sizes Available: XS/S, S/M (tested), L/XL
By Justin Steiner
Don’t let those cantilever brakes fool you; this ain’t no ‘cross racin’ bike. All City lumps the Space Horse into its “Road” bike category, and for good reason. The Space Horse’s geometry is more of a road/touring hybrid than a racy cross bike, with slightly longer chainstays and a lower bottom bracket for stability.
For many, the Space Horse’s versatility will be the main appeal. You can run it singlespeed or geared, with the option to mount up full coverage fenders as well as front and rear racks. Frame materials were chosen with light touring loads in mind; 20 lbs up front, 30 lbs. out back.
Thus far, my riding on the Space Horse has been strictly pedestrian compared to All City’s intended use. They say, “This bike was made to get you into and out of trouble, to be your companion on exploration missions and all day benders, and to get you and your stuff around as quickly as possible.” By that token, my mellow commute to and from work sounds just as routine and boring as it has become.
I know a lot of folks are curious about what sets the Space Horse apart from similar bikes like Surly’s Cross Check. In a few words; not a whole lot. That said, the Space Horse does include a few nice details. The internal cable routing for the rear brake is nice and clean, while the lugged fork crown and dropouts offers a nice touch of class.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is the electrodeposition (ED) treatment, which seals this 4130 chromoly steel frame inside and out prior to it being painted. For those riding in wet and potentially corrosive conditions, this rust proofing is a significant advantage. Though, riders in those conditions would also appreciate a disc brake version of the Space Horse. I’d be over the moon about this bike if it was so equipped. As is, it’s a nice riding, reliable, attractive bike that makes me wish it was disc-ready.
My test bike is the 2013 build spec, with the exception of the rims, which will be Alex DA16 instead of the DA20 pictured. The Tiagra group works wonderfully, while the Tektro brakes are adequate in dry conditions. For the $1,450 asking price, there’s a lot of utility in this package.
Read the full review
Look for the complete Space Horse review in issue #20 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by October 15th to have that issue delivered to your mailbox.Tweet
By Justin Steiner
Dreaming about a new bike now that spring is here? You aren’t alone. Buying a bicycle is extremely exciting, but can also be a little nerve-racking. With so many bicycles of varying designs and price points, how do you decide which bike best fits your needs? Bicycle Times is here to help you feel more confident about making a purchase. Think of this as a road map to the process of buying a bike.
With each issue of Bicycle Times, we review three or four interesting bikes to keep our experienced readers abreast of the performance and aptitude of the latest technology and trends. This article, however, is geared toward riders who are newer to our lovely sport, or re-entering the scene after a hiatus. If you know someone who’s hoping to buy a bike in the near future, pass this article along to help him or her make a more informed decision.
Buying a new bicycle is just like any other project—you first need to define your needs and the desired outcome. Start by realistically assessing your goals and ambitions for the next few seasons of riding, since this new bike will hopefully be with you for quite a while. Here is a list of questions to keep in mind; writing down the answers may help solidify your thoughts (again, be realistic):
- How often, and for what duration, am I riding now, and what do I have in mind for the future?
- What will be the main function of this bike?
- Transportation and utility, fitness and recreation, looking good, racing?
- What do I prioritize in this new bike?
- Style, cargo capacity, all-weather capability, light weight, durability, or the ability to fold for storage or travel.
- Where do I enjoy riding the most, and what do I enjoy about these locales?
- Do I care about country of origin (where it’s made)?
With needs defined, it’s time to talk budget. In the bicycle world, as with most anything, you get what you pay for. Spending more will buy better performance—less weight, higher precision components, and increased durability—but not everyone really needs top-shelf stuff. Keep in mind that a new bike will set you back at least $300 regardless of its intended use. If you’d like to buy a bike made in the good ol’ U.S. of A., it will add to the cost as well, possibly by as much as an extra zero on the price tag.
So, what’s your budget? How much cash do you have to play with? Whatever number you come up with, subtract $200–$400 (even budget shoppers should set aside at least $150) to arrive at your target price point. Why? Because you now have a cushion to purchase clothing, comfort, and safety items that will enhance your riding experience. It can be argued that these clothing and comfort items are every bit as important as the bicycle itself. (More on this later.)
At the bike shop
OK, now you have a better idea of what your needs are, and you know how much money you’re comfortable spending. Time to start shopping. Make a list of all the bike shops in your area, and note the brands each store stocks, the store hours, and locations. Then devise a plan to visit all of them. Bonus points if you can shop on a weekday, as salespeople will likely have a great deal more time to spend with you. Sure, it’d be nice if the dealer you end up choosing is close to your home, but don’t place too much value on proximity. Finding a shop where you can form a trusting relationship, and maybe even a friendship, with the staff is far more important.
As you are shopping, pay attention to the vibe and feel of each store you visit. How do the employees treat you? Did someone offer you assistance, or did you have to seek help? When you’ve connected with a salesperson, relay your answers to the assessment questions. Armed with that information and your budget constraints, the salesperson will be able to recommend the bike, or bikes, that best fit your needs and budget. Be open-minded about the style of bike the salesperson might be suggesting—don’t let your preconceived notions get in the way of good advice. Do ask the salesperson to explain why he/she has recommended particular bikes. Be sure to take notes on manufacturer names, models, and pricing.
Take time to inquire about the fitting process at each store, as this will be a large part of the deciding factor for where you should make your purchase. First, how do they determine which size is best for you? And second, how do they fine-tune the fit of the chosen size? Hope- fully they will include the store’s policy, and rates, for swapping stems, saddles, and other parts as needed to personalize your fit. The answers to these questions will begin to shine light on the great stores—the people who truly care about your fit and comfort. I cannot emphasize enough how important fit is to cycling. Comfort on your bicycle will keep you riding, while pain and discomfort will likely stop you dead in your tracks.
As you shop down through your list of stores, the experiences you have will vary drastically. Some of the encounters will make you want to go back and others most certainly will not. Scratch the shops off the list where you had less than satisfactory experiences and make note of the shops where you felt comfortable and received sound advice. Now it’s time to go back for a test ride. These folks will set you up with a fitted bike for a spin. Be sure to take notes about your impressions of the bike(s) you are able to ride—it’s hard to keep track of all the subtleties of different bikes if you don’t.
Also inquire about the store’s service policies. All reputable dealers will include a post-break-in tune-up with the purchase of the bike. Additionally, some shops offer extended service and/or insurance plans that could save you money in the long run, but make sure you clearly understand the terms. Many stores will even offer a discount on gear purchased with the bike.
Thank the salesperson and explain that you’re doing some comparative shopping and will be making a decision soon. From here on the decision should be fairly easy. Most likely, one of the bikes you ride will feel markedly better than the others. Congratulations! You just found your new bike.
Shop where you can form a trusting relationship, and maybe even a friendship, with the staff is far more important.
Why haven’t I even mentioned the importance of parts and specifications? I intentionally left out these details because, in my opinion, they are the least important aspect of buying a new bike. Since you’re looking at bikes made for a particular riding style and within a small price window, all of the models will offer similar parts packages. Sure, one bike will have widget X instead of widget Y, where the other has widget W instead of widget Y, but who cares? Of course, there are certain spec characteristics worth considering such as internal vs. external gearing, belt or chain drive, and handlebar type.
The salesperson you’re working with should be able to shed light on the advantages and disadvantages of each style of bike and why it might be well-suited or not to your specific needs. But the specifics of each component are not worth worrying about. The cycling marketplace is highly competitive and the overall package at any price point will be comparable. Staring cross-eyed at spec sheets will take your focus away from the overall fit and feel of the bicycle and which store has earned your money, both of which are far more important.
What about the extra $200–$400 you’ve stashed away? Now it’s time to invest in your comfort and safety. Pony up for a new helmet if you’ve had that old one for five years or lon- ger; helmet materials break down over time, rendering older helmets less effective. If you don’t have some form of protective eyewear, buy some stylin’ shades. Pick up some nice gloves to protect your hands for longer rides. If you will be riding in cold and/or wet weather, prepare yourself accordingly. Depending on your needs, a few nice pairs of cycling shorts may be in order, too. The guys and gals at the shop will be able to help you select clothing to fit your needs. (From my experience, you can’t go wrong with wool.)
You will also need a way to carry water, spare tubes, tire levers, a pump, multi tool, and patch kit. If you don’t know how to change a flat tire, ask a knowledgeable friend to show you how, offer to pay the shop to teach you, or find a local how-to class—community bike shops are a fabulous resource for knowledge. There are few things that kill the buzz of a nice ride quicker than having to call someone to pick you up, or worse yet, a 10-mile walk home, and a flat tire certainly won’t get you off the hook for being late to work.
So there you have it—bike buying made simple. Of course there are situations I simply can’t cover within the scope of this article. What I hope you take away is the general process and approach to purchasing a new bicycle. Trust yourself and your judgment; if things don’t make sense, ask questions—be analytical. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; this might not be the last bicycle you ever buy, but rather the first step on the never-ending ladder toward cycling enlightenment.
Key things to remember
- Be honest about what you intend to do with your new bike.
- Set a budget and make sure it includes $200-$400 for accessories.
- Visit as many bike shops as you can and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
- Spend your money at the bike shop that you feel has earned your business.
By Justin Steiner
In a past issue of Bicycle Times, I gave some pointers on planning a cost-effective, single-day adventure ride (“Rambling Around God’s Country,” issue #3). Now we’re going to build on that planning to take your adventure to the next level in the form of an overnight trip. One of my favorite aspects of a bikepacking trip is the ability to ride for a whole day without having to worry about getting back to your starting point. The freedom afforded by knowing that I have everything I need to spend a comfortable night, or two, in the woods just about anyplace (legal) I fancy is quite liberating. For many people, overnight bikepacking will involve acquiring some camping gear that is packable, not to mention a reliable method for carrying equipment. Most of this gear doesn’t come cheap, but I’ll shed some light on how to maximize affordability.
Having Salsa’s new adventure touring bike, the Fargo, in for test naturally required going for a true adventure, in the name of product testing of course. For this springtime long-weekend trip, I headed just an hour and a half outside of Pittsburgh to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, home of some excellent whitewater boating on the Youghiogheny River, not to mention two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing homes, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. This area also contains thousands of acres of PA State Forest land, which is ripe with singletrack, forest roads, and dirt roads just begging to be explored.
Like most of my adventures, this trip was a result of poring over maps, linking together various points of interest via interesting routes. I used a combination of my Delorme Atlas & Gazetteer and Google Maps discussed in issue #3, supplemented with a Forbes State Forest map (free in Pennsylvania) for the singletrack and forest road sections. See last issue’s article for tips on using these cost-effective routemapping strategies.
On the Road
One last check of the weather before leaving work Friday showed no more than a 60% chance of rain through Saturday with an improving forecast for Sunday and Monday—little did I know. A low-hanging misty fog and temps in the middle 50’s made for a serene, almost dream-like start to my ride. The fast and flowing Forest roads, in surprisingly good condition considering the previous week’s rain, were just technical enough to keep things interesting with a fully loaded bike. Swinging off the road at one point for a break and a bite to eat, I stumbled upon an amazing waterfall, followed by some bomber singletrack, and a cold, swift, knee-deep stream crossing. After a few more hours of long, winding climbs and ripping gravel descents, it was time to find shelter before nightfall. I made my way over to a group of shelters built along a local hiking trail only to discover one is supposed to reserve shelters ahead of time—something that hadn’t turned up in my research. These three-sided hiking lean-tos are simply awesome, especially in adverse conditions, and they even had hammock hooks! Despite soaking wet wood, I was eventually able to coax a fire to a dull roar, and establish a system for drying wood near the fire.
After waking to a steady rain on day two, I decided that unless the rain quit before I finished breakfast, I’d bag the next phase of my plan to visit a nearby State Park and simply spend the day lounging in my hammock, alternately reading and napping, since there was nowhere else I had to be. The rain never let up, but an abundance of great food and a good book made for a super-relaxing and comfortable day. The cool, damp weather and my sloth-like activity level meant I was wearing nearly everything I brought, but I remained comfy by the fire. The group of shelters in which I was staying did have a water pump, but the liquid coming out looked more like a rusty-orange sport drink, wholly justifying my decision to bring a water filter.
On day three I again woke to rain, which didn’t let up after breakfast as I was hoping. After waiting until noon for the day’s temp to get above 50°F, I had little choice but to ride back to the car in the steady rain, which took me roughly four hours via the most direct route on tarmac and dirt roads, at which point I was soaked—claims of waterproof and breathable clothing don’t hold up to such sustained exposure.
Despite the damp weather, this trip was truly enjoyable. My day spent reading and napping in the hammock was one of the most relaxing days in recent memory—certainly my kind of adventure. Experiences like this make me truly believe that you should approach a trip with a solid plan, but don’t be too eager to stick to it—modifying your itinerary in conjunction with changes in the weather will maximize your enjoyment.
As usual, I did come away from this experience with a few nuggets of wisdom. First, always bring rain gear with you, and if you want to ensure that you’ll stay dry in an all-day rain, go for a non-breathable plastic or rubberized rain outfit. As a bonus, these old-school rain outfits are significantly cheaper than today’s wonder fabrics. Also on the water theme, don’t forget to bring heavy-duty freezer bags for any electronic gizmos. Gastronomically speaking, always carry extra food, as bringing home extra food is better than going hungry. Also, always remember your flask with liquor of choice; mine was sorely missed on this trip.
Finally, when going solo, keep stupidity and risk-taking to a minimum. Always inform a friend or family member of your plans with an itinerary and a timeline, including deadline to call in the appropriate authorities if you don’t show. Devices such as SPOT’s Personal Tracker provide peace of mind for both adventurer and family.
You’ll need to invest in a fair amount of gear eventually, but you can slowly acquire items over time. Buying used gear will cut the price of outfitting yourself in half. Don’t forget that the holiday gift-giving season is right around the corner, too. Asking for some items you’ll put to good use is far better than getting another pair of underwear.
Let’s start with bike set-up. Your touring rig will obviously need to be up for the demands of your ride. Road bikes make OK light touring rigs, but their quick handling and lightweight frames don’t make for the most confident loaded touring ride. Cyclocross bikes, mountain bikes, and everything in between generally work pretty well for touring, as long as you’re able to mount racks to carry your stuff. Obviously true touring bikes work well unless you’re planning to ride singletrack or extremely rough forest roads.
After your bike and rack situation is sorted, you’ll need bags to haul your gear. There are plenty of options available, from fancy waterproof bags to basic saddlebags. If you can’t spring for a fully waterproof setup, simply pack your gear in heavy-duty plastic bags to keep water out. If your bags require some sort of proprietary plastic clips to fasten the bags to your rack, you might want to carry a set of spares. Handlebar bags add accessibility and organization for smaller items.My set-up:
- Salsa Fargo reviewed in issue #143 of Dirt Rag
- Jandd Saddle Bags out back, Jandd Mountain Pannier on a lowrider front rack, and Jandd Handle Pack II on the handlebars. Used a SealLine dry bag to store raingear on top of the rear rack. Camera gear carried in a backpack.
- Jeff Jones H-bar (personal preference)
- Tool kit: multi-tool, chain tool, spoke wrench, zip ties, needle-nose pliers, stainless steel safety wire, small bottle of chain lube, duct tape.
- Two tubes, plus patch kit, and C02 for emergency situation (in seatbag)
- Frame pump
Your sleeping system can be as simple or complex as your comfort needs demand. Shelter options are many: tarp, bivy sack, tent, or hammock. Sleeping pads are recommended if you’ll be sleeping on terra firma, but not necessary. My preferred setup is a camping hammock due to its small pack size, sleeping comfort, and good availability of trees in my usual haunts.
- Hennessy Hammock Expedition Asym – Weighs just 2.75lbs., and allows me to leave my sleeping pad at home. Quick to set up and quite comfy, this is my choice for solo trips. A rain fly keeps you dry and the hammock doubles as a lounge chair.
- Mountain Hardware 20° synthetic sleeping bag – More than a decade old, this bag is more like a 35° bag these days, but is still going strong. Something lighter and smaller would be nice, but I’m too cheap.
- Emergency space blanket – One of the downfalls of hammock camping is the lack of insulation between you and the outside air. Great in the summer, but gets cold quickly. A space blanket between the hammock and sleeping bag reflects heat and provides a wind barrier if temps drop unexpectedly.
- Therm-a-Rest seat – Comfort around camp.
Again, kitchen options are many, ranging from hobo—can of beans in the fire—to gourmet. I’m on the gourmet end of things, preferring to carry the additional weight of good food and the ability to heat it up. I simply love sitting by the fire in the morning drinking a good cup’o joe.
- MSR Whisperlite International Multi Fuel Stove – Nice highend stove, good heat control and will simmer nicely. Ability to burn just about any liquid fuel (including unleaded gasoline) was the selling point for me.
- MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot – Got this cheap used. Nice and tough, not terribly light. My kitchen accessories store inside: stove, fork, spoon, can opener, matches, Lightload towel, olive oil, soap, and abrasive pad for the dishes.
- Titanium coffee mug with MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea filter.
- MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter – For water filtration. Filters out everything down to 0.2 microns in diameter. Doesn’t filter viruses, so bring sterilization (iodine or chlorine) in any area were you’re worried about viruses. For the most part, we don’t have to worry about viruses in North America, but nothing is guaranteed
- Orikaso folding bowl – Highly functional space saver.
- Nylon cord (50ft.) for hanging food away from critters, and a shorter section for miscellaneous use.
- Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight .5 First Aid kit –Supplemented with Ibuprofin and medical tape.
- Matches, both regular and REI brand storm-proof, along with newspaper
- Pocket knife
- Breakfast: instant oatmeal with trail mix added for additional calories, coffee. Nutritious and hearty breakfast with a minimum of preparation—simply add hot water.
- Lunch & Dinner: pouches of pre-made Indian food, rice, and garlic naan from Trader Joe’s. These meals are quick, delicious, and calorie dense. Simply heat up the sealed pouches in hot water on your cookstove and pour them into a bowl. Since these dishes are hydrated they are heavier than dehydrated foods, but they’re so tasty I’m more than happy to carry around the extra weight. I also took macaroni and cheese as a lightweight spare meal.
- Trail food: Clif Bars, Lära Bars, granola bars, three varieties of trail mix (savory and sweet), beef jerky, and of course, chocolate.
[Ed notes: This article originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #4. Photos by Justin Steiner. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]
By Justin Steiner
The Electra Bicycle Company believes a bike should be more than just a tool for transportation; it should be a fun and functional extension of your personal style. As a result, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves as purveyors of posh and pleasurable cycles.
Electra’s Amsterdam line represents the company’s take on the iconic Dutch city bike. The modus operandi of the Dutch bike is to provide comfort and utility with minimal fuss. An upright riding position, full coverage fenders, internally geared hubs, drum brakes, enclosed drivetrain, and a generally indestructible demeanor make this type of bike an ideal choice for daily utility. Electra recommends the Amsterdam for those blessed with flat topography and commuting distances less than ten miles.
Two differences from traditional Dutch bikes stand out: a lightweight aluminum frame and Electra’s signature Flat Foot Technology (FFT); designed so you can put your feet flat on the ground while seated and still achieve proper leg extension when pedaling. To achieve this, Electra moves the cranks further forward relative to a traditional bike, and lowers the seat accordingly.
The Amsterdam line is geared toward the urban commuter, ranging in price from $580 for the Original 3i (the base model three-speed), to $1,150 for the Royal 8i (tested). They are available in two sizes, split by sex. The men’s version fits riders from five-foot-five to six-foot-three, while the ladies’ step-through model fits riders from five-foot-two to six feet.
Swing a leg over an Amsterdam for the first time and your perception of the riding position will likely depend on your level of experience as a cyclist. It’ll feel a bit foreign to seasoned riders, but those new to, or re-entering, the sport will find it quite confidence inspiring. Both will find it supremely comfortable. The high, rear-swept handlebars reach back to greet you, providing a very upright stance. So, sit your butt down on that huge tractor-style seat and bask in the glory—no cycling shorts needed on this rig.
Once underway, the Amsterdam provides a ride that’s a nice compromise of stability and agility. FFT requires a slacker-than-normal steering geometry with increased fork offset. The resulting steering feel is different than a traditional bike, but quickly becomes second nature.
As is often the case, comfort comes at the sacrifice of out- right pedaling efficiency. Within the scope of the Amsterdam’s intended use, you’ll not feel any worse for the wear, but greater distances and/or climbing hills are not the Amsterdam’s strong suits. That said, a slow, deliberate spin will get you up just about any hill within reason. Once up to speed on flat ground, the Amsterdam cruises gracefully and efficiently.
There’s nothing to fault of the Amsterdam’s mechanical performance. This bike operated flawlessly throughout the test, requiring just a few post-break-in adjustments. The Shimano roller brakes and internally geared hub are well-suited to this application, and show all signs of performing perfectly for years to come. Future Royal 8i models will feature a dynamo hub in place of the bottle generator on my test bike, which will be a nice upgrade. The included lights, a generator- powered incandescent headlamp and a battery-operated LED tail light, are a nice touch for being seen, but should be supplemented with additional lighting in my opinion.
Having ridden the Amsterdam both within and well outside its intended use (it’s a surprisingly capable bike in rough terrain given the robust 700x40c tires), I’ve walked away impressed with the performance and value. Those of you living in cities with little elevation change would love hopping over to the bar or coffee shop in decadent comfort and posh style.
Overall, I see the Amsterdam bikes being perfectly suited to the task of getting more of us ‘Mericans to use bikes for everyday utility. Its style transcends pure functionality while providing a comfortable and functional vehicle. Within the scope of its intended use, this bike gets a hearty two thumbs up from this tester.
By Justin Steiner
The Gotham sits atop Novara’s lineup of bicycles designed for utilitarian urban cycling. For those not familiar, Novara is the house bicycle brand of outdoor equipment retailer and co-op REI. I’ve been pedaling the Gotham back and forth to work and around town for a couple of months now, and thought I’d weigh in with some initial impressions.
This city bike comes equipped with all the features you’d need to get from point A to point B, including full coverage fenders, a generator powered headlight and battery powered tail light, as well as a nice burly rear rack to haul your goods. The cable-actuated disc brakes are a welcome addition, both for their wet weather performance and the minimal maintenance needed to keep them stopping smooth.
Novara has spec’d some interesting drivetrain parts on this bike. NuVinci’s N360 hub is a continuously variable planetary hub offering infinite gear ratio adjustability within its 360% ratio range. Essentially, the hub offers a wide range of gear ratios without the concrete ratio steps of a traditional drivetrain, just twist the shifter to increase resistance, twist back for an easier ratio. Though this sounds almost too good to be true, I’ve enjoyed my time aboard the N360 and have found it to work flawlessly. Perhaps one of the best attributes of the N360 is the complete lack of maintenance requird for the life of the hub.
Novara continued the Gotham’s minimal maintenance theme by outfitting a Gates Carbon Drive Belt instead of a chain. These belts require no lubrication throughout their lifespan, and are said to outlast a traditional chain by a significant margin. The only tricky aspect of the Gates system is ensuring proper belt tension. Various folks around the office have had issues with broken or slipping belts, but mostly on more aggressive singlespeed setups, both on and off road. However, I’ve ridden a couple of city/commuting bikes equipped with a Gates Carbon Drive belt with satisfactory results and zero issues. In many ways, this seems like the perfect application for a belt.
All of these design and spec decisions yield a bike that’s extremely easy to hop on and ride to work, or to simply run an errand with the addition of some sort of bag or basket system to haul your goods. The riding position is upright and comfortable with a nice supportive saddle that’s comfortable with or without cycling shorts.
Underway, the Gotham rides with a quietness and fluidity that can only be achieved on a belt drive bike with a NuVinci hub as far as I’ve experienced. Granted, a portion of this smoothness is provided by the Vittoria Randonneur 35mm-wide tires, but the refined feeling provided by the super smooth belt system and the buttery shifting of the N360 add a certain level of refinement.
Handling-wise, the Gotham is spot on for its intended use with a confident stability that’s great for a mindless ride home from work, without handling slow and dull. Speaking of slow, it’s worth mentioning this bike isn’t a rocket ship. Simply put, there’s no getting around this bike’s 38+ lbs weight. This slow and steady demeanor isn’t terribly noticeable around town, but will make itself known on longer or sportier rides.
I’ve enjoyed my time aboard the Gotham. Thus far along in the review, it strikes me as a nice bike for a decent price. The real icing on this cake is the durability and relatively maintenance-free components for those in wet and snowy climates.
Look for the full review in Issue #17 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now to have that issue delivered to your door.
By Justin Steiner
History has a penchant for repeating itself. Fitting then the recent popularity of balance bikes for children mimics the development of the bicycle itself, which began with an adult version of the balance bike. In the summer of 1817, Baron Karl von Drais first introduced the dandy horse in Mannheim, Germany. Lots of strange two-wheeled devices evolved between the dandy and what we now know. Fortunately for our children, they don’t have to experience all of those odd evolutionally steps along the way.
All of this is fresh on my mind thanks to having the opportunity to give the gift of cycling, or in this case shuffling, this holiday season. My girlfriend’s niece will turn two in March, so what better opportunity to get her started early!
Eva took to her Strider like a fish to water. She instantly recognized her little orange bike when we rolled it from out behind the tree, and swung a leg over it before we could even get her to open her helmet.
Seems like helmets can be struggle with kids, who sometimes aren’t stoked to put this odd thing on their head. Eva, on the other hand, loves to wear hats, so she was stoked to put on her helmet. She wore it around the house for hours Christmas day, playing with all of her other toys.
Balance bikes are gaining market traction these days, and I couldn’t be happier to see this trend continue. Seems to me that balance bikes make learning to ride a bike easier by allowing kids to focus on balance first, then learning to pedal when they’re ready. Though there seems to be little scientific research on subject, the logical progression makes good sense to me.
So, next time you have the possibility to give a child a gift, I’d strongly recommend considering giving the gift of cycling.
By Justin Steiner
I have to admit to being a bit skeptical of Electra’s Amsterdam Royal 8i when Karen and Karl asked if I was willing to review said bike. I was more than a little uncertain about how Electra’s Flat Foot Technology (FFT) would work for an experienced rider. As is often the case with my reactionary, knee jerk assessments, I’ve found my initial worry to be unfounded.
First, a bit about FFT. Electra’s mission was to lower the rider’s saddle height enough so that you’re able to fully touch the ground with both feet while seated. I’ve pulled a couple of graphics from Electra’s website to illustrate.
Without making other fit changes, this would result in a less than optimal pedaling position with far too little leg extension. In order to achieve proper leg extension with a lower saddle height, Electra moved the bottom bracket forward to achieve what they call a forward pedaling position.
As you can see in the above diagram, FFT keeps your butt roughly in the same place, but moves your feet further forward than on a normal bike. This geometry also dictates moving the front wheel further forward to accommodate the Forward Pedaling position. To combat this, Electra slackened the headtube angle and increased fork offset to keep handling as traditional feeling as possible.
The resulting riding position felt a bit strange to me at first because it’s simply so relaxed and upright. The handlebars are high and swept back to the rider, the seat is low to the ground, with pedals well out in front of your saddle. After a few miles of acclimation, things start to come around and the riding position feels more intuitive.
As you might expect from the non-traditional geometry, the ride quality follows suit. A higher than average percentage of your body weight sits over the rear wheel, making the rear end feel very stable, while the steering geometry feels a touch flighty initially. After some saddle time, get into a groove with the Amsterdam, where it feels snappy and lively but not unstable.
According to Electra, their bikes are best suited for flat terrain, so not surprisingly that where the Electra excels. Despite the not so super efficient riding position, the Amsterdam cruises nicely once up to speed. Not surprisingly, hill climbing is not the Amsterdam’s cup of tea from my experience.
I’m curious to hear from Electra owners. What’s your take on FFT? Where do you live, and what do you feel are the bike’s strengths and weaknesses?
For those who haven’t ridden an Electra, what’s your perception of FFT? Would you consider buying?
By Justin Steiner
Sam Patterson may not be a household name to the average cyclist, but he’s had a great deal of impact on the cycling world. Patterson, namesake of FSA’s Metropolis Patterson Transmission, co-founded SRAM back in 1986, where he designed the ubiquitous Grip Shift shifters. Since leaving SRAM in 2000, Patterson has spent countless hours designing and prototyping fun stuff in his backyard workshop. He now has his sights set on redesigning the bicycle drivetrain as we know it—this transmission is just the first step. Patents are pending on other designs, so keep your eye out for some interesting stuff from Patterson.
Patterson isn’t a fan of front derailleurs, due to their complexity and clutter, so he’s spent the last 20 years brainstorming alternatives. Design sketches of the Metropolis Transmission were first put to paper back in 2006, and from that point Patterson began building rideable prototypes.
The Patterson is a two-speed crankset and bottom bracket unit similar in design and execution to SRAM’s HammerSchmidt and the Schlumpf Speed-Drive. Unlike the HammerSchmidt, which requires frame-mounted ISCG tabs, the Patterson is compatible with any standard 68mm bottom bracket shell. Installation is more straightforward than you might imagine, easily executable by a home mechanic with proper tools and moderate mechanical aptitude.
The Patterson Transmission provides two ratios, a 1:1 ratio and a 1.6:1 ratio (overdrive). The overdrive ratio is provided by four plan- etary gears, which run inside a ring gear, all housed within the drive-side crank. When engaged, these planetary gears drive the ring gear and accompanying chainring, 1.6 times faster than the cranks. In this overdrive mode, the stock 28-tooth chainring becomes equivalent to a 45-tooth ring, so it’s a pretty significant jump in gearing. Other chainring options, as well as Gates Carbon Drive cogs, will be available in the future. Crankarms are available in three lengths: 165, 170, and 175mm.
The Patterson offers a very broad range of gearing as tested with a wide-range 11-32-tooth cassette and would be sufficiently wide with a 12-28-tooth road cassette for most on-road users and commut- ers. During my test, I spent much of my time in the overdrive ratio pedaling to and from work and around the city. Only on significant hills did I feel the need to bump down into low gear.
Shift actuation is performed by any indexed or friction front shifter, so compatibility is open to just about anything from integrated road shifters to thumb shifters. Shift action is swift and positive, up or down.
In many ways, the ultimate use of a transmission like this would be in conjunction with an internally geared rear hub, or even with a singlespeed—you’d have a normal “cruising” gear and a “climbing” ratio. In these applications derailleurs would be eliminated altogether, delivering a clean aesthetic and requiring less maintenance.
There are a few minor drawbacks. In overdrive, a light clicking or freewheeling sound is emitted as the chainring spins faster than the cranks. I didn’t find this annoying, but some users might. Also, there are frictional losses in all of the two-speed cranksets on the market; it’s simply the nature of the beast. That said, FSA worked hard to minimize friction, and I didn’t notice any on the road. Lastly (and sadly), this crankset isn’t designed for the muck and abuse of off-road use.
It’s easy to see this transmission being readily adopted on loads of city and commuting bikes for its high level of functionality, low maintenance, and clean appearance. The $300 price tag isn’t out of line when you consider you’re replacing a crankset, bottom bracket, and front derailleur.
Made in Taiwan.
By Justin Steiner
The Cadent, along with its female counterpart the Alysa, make up the “Performance Hybrid” portion of Raleigh’s on-road lineup. These bikes fit squarely between Raleigh’s road bikes and their more casual, more comfy, less sporty hybrids.
The Cadent line offers two internally-geared bikes, and four derailleur drivetrain bikes varying in price from $460 to $1,050, while the Alysa lineup offers one internally geared bike and three externally geared bikes ranging from $460 to $770.
These bikes are perfectly suited to both casual road riding and commuting alike, nicely balancing a sporting attitude with functional features such as fender mounts and mounts for a rear rack. The I11 model I rode at Interbike featured the new internally geared eleven-speed Alfine rear hub reviewed in issue #13. This versatile and bombproof hub teamed with the Alfine hydraulic disc brakes would make for a stellar all-weather commuting package. MSRP is $1,650.
Commuting through the Las Vegas underbelly aboard the Cadent was a swift and positive experience. Handling is snappy without being too quick, with the flat handlebar offering positive control and a comfortably relaxed riding position. Over rough pavement, the carbon fiber fork provided a touch of vibration damping, while being plenty stiff when hard on the brakes. The aluminum frame offers a lively ride without being harsh, thanks in part to great tire spec. Vittoria’s Randonneur tires in a 700x32c size offer great ride quality and flat protection without weighing a ton.
I was highly impressed with the Alfine 11 hub’s shifting and performance. Shifts were quick and smooth, and as a bonus the trigger shifter now upshifts and downshifts in the same direction as a derailleur equipped bike and allows for multiple shifts up or down.
My one personal quibble stems from the narrow-ish handlebar. I know it’s fashionable to run narrow bars these days, and it’s easier to split lanes that way, but I’d personally swap it for something a bit wider. Simply my preference, YMMV.
Set up with full-coverage fenders and a rear rack, either of the internally geared bikes would make excellent year-round high-speed commuting rigs. Those looking for a solid and affordable bike for sporting weekend roads rides and charity events might consider the externally geared options for their lighter weight and increased performance. Either way, it’s hard to argue with such a solid line of bicycles.
By Justin Steiner
I’m far from fashionable, but the idea of bopping around town while being simultaneously clipped in and sporting hip footwear is almost too good to be true.
One of three “normal”-looking shoes in the group, the Chrome Kursk Pro shoes disguise their SPD-compatibility quite well. The Cordura upper, available in both black and gray, is slightly padded and snugs up comfortably around my foot thanks to ample lace eyelets. Loose laces can be secured with the elastic lace keeper. The sole of the Kursk Pro features a full-length nylon shank, but isn’t overly stiff—priority here tips toward off-the-bike comfort rather than on-the-bike performance.
I found said stiffness perfect for commuting and running errands around town, but would opt for something stiffer for extended touring. Cleats recess into the sole, but you’ll hear them clicking on anything but the smoothest surfaces. As usual, the stock insole isn’t overly supportive, and swapping to my insole of choice upped comfort significantly.
These shoes run at least one half to one full size bigger than “normal,” so factor that into your buying decision. Chrome is happy to allow for sizing exchanges should you misjudge. Width is also greater than their skinny appearance might suggest; my medium-wide forefoot fit nicely, but I found the heel cup to be wider than I’d like—not a frequent problem for me. Overall, the Kursk Pros offer a decent value in a casual-looking SPD-compatible cycling shoe. These shoes will transport me to and from the bar in style for years to come.
Made in China. $95.
This review originally appeared in Issue #11 as part of a group of eight shoe reviews. You can order a copy of this, or any other issue, in our online store. Or you can order a subscription for just $16.96.Tweet
Words and photos by Justin Steiner
The Jamis bicycle company got its start producing cruiser bikes way back in 1979. From there, they quickly capitalized on the mountain bike boom by offering production off-road bikes as early as 1983. Later, in 1991, they combined the riding position of a mountain bike with 700c wheels to create the company’s first town/ city bike.
Like many companies these days, Jamis is well aware of the trend toward stylish and affordable commuting bikes—and for good reason. There’s a ton of room for growth within this segment as we collectively get more people on bikes.
Fortunately for the existing and hopeful commuters out there, it’s awfully convenient to walk into a bike shop and walk out with a ready-for-the-road commuter like Jamis’ Commuter 4.
Jamis launched the Commuter series as we know it in 2007. Since then, the bikes have seen a few revisions, most recently for this 2011 model year. Sitting on the top of the lineup, the $800 Commuter 4 comes complete with full coverage fenders, a rear rack, and a generator hub with LED headlight. The base Commuter 1 retails for $300 thanks to more affordable parts selection and elimination of the generator light and rear rack. The Commuter 2 and Commuter 3 fall in the middle in terms of components and price.
The Commuter 4’s no-frills aluminum frame offers many wellthought- out details: double waterbottle mounts, double eyelets on the rear dropouts for both fenders and the included rear rack, clean cable routing, as well as fender and low-rider rack mounts on the aluminum fork.
Parts are a dependable and affordable mix with the base-model Nexus 8-speed internal hub being the star of the show. This twistshift actuated internal hub provides a wide range of gearing for both climbing and descending. Throughout the test, I never found myself wanting another gear on the higher or lower end of the spectrum. The beauty of this system is the simplicity and durability of an internal hub and corresponding lack of maintenance. Lube your chain as needed, keep your chain properly tensioned, and your drivetrain maintenance will be simple; replace chain, cog, and chainring when you have the Nexus hub in for regular service every three or four years.
This bike’s riding position is upright and forward, with an up-over-the pedals posture that provides an efficient pedaling platform, while the Jamis-brand handlebar provides nice rearward sweep for a natural, comfortable hand position. Jamis spec’d a slick NVO Components height-adjustable stem, which allows for nearly 4” of handlebar height adjustability by loosening one bolt, sliding the stem up and down, then retightening said bolt. A very nice touch on a bike like this.
Handling-wise, the Commuter 4 is fairly neutral—not too quick, not too slow. The steering is snappy without being twitchy, while the long–ish chainstays keep the rear end of the bike well behaved. The low bottom bracket height helps to keep your center of gravity down, which makes the bike corner quite nicely. The sum total is a relaxed ride that’s lively enough for use around town darting in and out of traffic, while being calm and composed on that dark and stormy commute home from work. That said, the Commuter 4 is totally game for weekend joy rides on back roads and rails-to-trails. Even charity rides like the MS 150 would be A-OK so long as you weren’t hoping to finish at the front of the pack.
Powered by the Shimano Dynamo hub, the supplied i-Light LED headlight throws a wide and decently powerful beam when the light automatically turns itself on (with a sensor), but it wasn’t enough light to be used exclusively for this tester. Around town, I supplemented with a flashing headlight, and on dark country roads I still wanted additional light. Sure, I could have gotten away without supplemental lighting, but more is always better, if you ask me.
Rarely is a bike test complete without a few minor points of contention, and this one is no different. The flat-cross-section aluminum fenders on this bike underperform on two levels. Since there’s no curvature to the cross section, there’s little structural rigidity, so they are horrendously noisy until secured with supplemental zip ties. And, since the fenders don’t curve down around the sides of the tires, they do let some overspray reach the rider. Neither is a dealbreaker, but Jamis will be spec’ing a more traditional fender for 2012.
In some ways, the Commuter 4 is one of the more difficult-to-review bikes I’ve had in for a Bicycle Times test. Why? It works great, looks good and is a good value. It doesn’t excel at anything, but does everything decently well. It’s always eager for action, and doesn’t mind being put away wet. Most of all, it’s a bike that performs as expected and is a welcome companion. Of course, all of these are great attributes in a bicycle, but none of them offer much in the way of sex appeal. I guess what I’m saying is that the Commuter 4 is a darn nice commuting bike for the money, even if it is a little dull. Then again, most of us are simply looking to get from point A to point B, which is where the Commuter 4 excels.
- Age: 28
- Height: 5’7"
- Weight: 165lbs.
- Inseam: 31”
- Country of Origin: Taiwan
- Price: $800
- Weight: 27.0lbs.
- Sizes available: 15", 17", 19" (tested), 21", 23"