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 Print
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"
Taking it over the top in 2011
One of the most rewarding things about shooting bikes and builders at NAHBS is having a couple of minutes away from the bustle of the show floor to chat with individuals behind the bikes. The builders seem to appreciate a brief respite from the constant barrage of questions and talking points—it’s nice to see everyone relax just a bit and take a deep breath.
A few builders this year pushed details of their show bikes a little beyond a level that might be considered, well, practical. We’ll call these “stories of great ideas, likely never to be executed again.”
Keep in mind there are dozens of similar stories at any given handmade bike show. These are just the stories I was lucky enough to hear, and fortunate enough to be able to pass on.
Sean Chaney from Vertigo showed us his 29er mountain bike with a Ti hydraulic brake line running internally through the downtube, and out to through the chainstays. Using banjo fittings to connect the hydraulic line on either end makes for a super clean and seemingly robust setup.
This was one of my favorite functional details from the show. Unfortunately, we may never see this again as this process was simply too expensive and time consuming for Sean to consider doing again. The raw materials for this project alone were a couple hundred dollars, and required two days of his time to execute.
All that said, maybe you could twist Sean’s arm with enough dough to convince him to do it again, just don’t tell him I sent you…
Wade Beauchamp from Vulture Cycles showed this beautiful red “Skirt Bike” for his wife. We’ll be featuring this bike in Bicycle Times Issue #11, so subscribe here by April 20 to be sure not to miss the coverage.
Wade has wanted to hand-hammer some fenders for years, and these puppies are simply gorgeous in an organic, rough-around-the-edges sort of way. Will he ever do something like this again? Not likely, based on his description of the process. Imagine hammering the underside of the fenders first for shape, then working back around the outside to finish aesthetically. Each of those beautiful little dimples is the result of a loving strike with a ball-peen hammer. Yikes….I can’t imagine.
Bonus point for anyone who can convince Wade to do that again…
Rody Walter from Groovy is known for his wild and intricate paint jobs, but his description of the process for this “dinosaur skin” paint job left me speechless. 27 hours of painting and multiple thousands of individual masking dots—painstakingly installed, and painstakingly removed—went into this masterpiece.
If you’ve ever looked at the underside of a lizard, you know their skin gets lighter on their belly. Look at the underside of the tubes on this Groovy, and you’ll see the same fade to lighter skin under all of the tubes. Unfortunately, your half-wit photographer didn’t get a good photo of the underbelly of the tubes.
Rody, you’re a much more patient (and talented) man than I’ll ever be… So much so, I can even see him tackling another project like this again.
Maybe I have poor circulation, but cold hands are something I’ve always struggled with during winter riding. No matter what gloves I’m wearing, my hands end up cold when the temperature dips below about 15º. Sure, I could buy some lobster-claw-style gloves or mittens, but I don’t like the idea of having to use more than one finger to brake.
During a recent cold snap I went searching for a quick, inexpensive pogie-style solution. Fortunately, I had a cheap plastic rain jacket like this one sitting around. Simply cut off the sleeves, thread over your handlebars, then trim to the desired length. Sure it’s not as classy as purpose built pogies, but it is a whole lot let expensive.
Most of us have jackets sitting around that have seen better days, why not cut them up and recycle. I bet you could make a pretty a pretty nice pair of pogies out of that softshell you melted by the fire this fall.
If any of you have made pogies, please post a link in the comments section below!