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