Justin Steiner

Justin Steiner


General Manager

Yeah, but what do you ACTUALLY do around here?

[quizzical look]

What do you think about when you're riding your bike?

[awkward silence]

How would you rate your coffee consumption on a scale of 8-10?

What's up with a scale from 8 to 10? Who does that? Nine: couple of cups in the morning, but rarely any caffeine after noon.

Complete this sentence: "My other bike is …"

... a motorbike! Two wheels, one love. The only thing as fun as pedaling two wheels is twisting a throttle.

What are you eating, drinking, reading, or fearing these days?

I'm fearing the slow, global radioactive poisoning of the globe post Fukushima. We're all screwed. This is a game changer and we're choosing to not to address the issue.

Elvis or the Beatles?


Say something profound and meaningful in exactly seven words…

Pedal as though your life depends on it.

I like your answers. How can I get in touch with you?

412.767.9910 x106

Email me

First Impression: Electra Amsterdam Royal 8i

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?



Review: FSA Metropolis Patterson transmission

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.

Weight: 1,763g.

Interbike mini-review: Raleigh Cadent

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.

More: www.raleighusa.com

Keep reading

See all our coverage from Interbike 2011.



Review: Chrome Kursk Pro shoes

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.


Keep reading

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.

Review: Jamis Commuter 4

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.

The bike

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.

The ride

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.

Tester stats

  • Age: 28
  • Height: 5’7"
  • Weight: 165lbs.
  • Inseam: 31”

Bike stats

  • Country of Origin: Taiwan
  • Price: $800
  • Weight: 27.0lbs.
  • Sizes available: 15", 17", 19" (tested), 21", 23"

Keep reading

This review originally appeared in Issue #10. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store or order a subscription to get our reviews as soon as they’re published.


Behind the scene at NAHBS


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.


Dirt Bag Remedy for Cold Hands

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!

Dirt Bag Remedy for Cold Hands

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!

In For Test: Jamis Commuter 4

Shortly after receiving Jamis’ Commuter 4 for review the weather around these parts turned awfully cold and snowy. In fact, I had to swap out the brand new stock tires for some knobbies due to snowy roads on my mayden voyage. Not only that, but temps droppd down to 12-15 degrees Farenheight, which made for quite a frozen beard by the time I made it into work.

The Commuter 4 sits at the top of Jamis’ 4-bike commuter lineup, retailing for $800, while the base model Commuter 1 goes for just $390.

The Commuter 4 comes outfitted with most everything you need and want in a commuting machine: fenders with ample clearance for 35mm-wide tires, an 8-speed Nexus internal hub with a chain guide protecting your pant legs, a dynamo driven headlight and a nice, comfy and upright riding position.


Keep an eye out for the full review of this bike in the next issue (Issue 10) of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by February 17th to have this issue delivered to you door!

Bicycle Times is looking for a talented Art Director

Bicycle Times magazine is seeking a motivated Art Director to help communicate the message of a passionate international cycling community. The Art Director will be in charge of the layout of the magazine and related materials, and will help to evolve and enhance the look and feel of the magazine. This is an in-house position at our Pittsburgh office, relocation is required.

Bicycle Times is a celebration of everyday cycling for all cyclists with the goal of unifying, inspiring, and integrating cycling culture by providing an entertaining and informative resource while striving for the highest journalistic and artistic standards.

There may also be opporutnities to work on our sister publication, Dirt Rag.

Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Field: Graphic Designer, Art Director
Job Functions: Design, Page Layout, Art Direction, Merchandise, Branding, Events
Experience: 2-5 years as a Graphic Designer preferred
Specific Skills: Mac OS, Abobe CS5, Knowledge in production and printing, Passion for all things cycling

How to Apply: Email a cover letter, resume and work samples to jobs@dirtragmag.com. Or by mail: 3483 Saxonburg Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15238.

Bicycle Culture in Europe

It’s no secret that western European countries have developed some pretty amazing bicycle infrustructure. During a recent trip to Europe, Belgium, Holland, and France in particular, I was once again blown away by the extent to which people uses bicycle as a part of their everyday life, without thinking twice about doing so. I’m sure part of that is cultural, that’s just always how people have operated. Another significant part of the equation is infrastructure. To the Americans in the crowd, when was the last time you saw a traffic light for bicycles?

Belgian bicycle traffic light.

The biggest difference between European cities and US cities is the conscious decision to integrate cycling infrastructure into every roadway project undertaken. If you’ve not had the opportunity to experience this extensive infrastructure, just picture bicycle utopia. Dedicated bicycle lanes and paths throughout cities, dedicated bicycle paths paralelling roadways throughout the country, and, at a minimum, most roadways will have a bike lane painted on the shoulder. This infrastructure makes getting just about anywhere by bike extremely easy.

Cyclists waiting a red light

Gary Fisher and I happened to fly home from the Trek mountain bike launch on the same connecting flight, so we had a chance to chat over breakfast at the airport. Gary relayed a story to me about how the city of Amsterdam was forced to make a decision to embrace automobile culture and infrastructure or stick with bicycle transportation in the ’70’s. The decision to stick with the trusty bicycle came down to just one vote. To Gary, the moral of this story is that bicycle friendly cities don’t just happen organically. There must be a conscious decision made to embrace the bicycle and provide the proper infrastructure to facilitate its use.

This also means that any city, even US cities, could decide to transform themselves into highly bicycle friendly communities in just a couple of decades. Fortunately, we have advocacy groups fighting the good fight so that we’re all able to uses our bikes more, and in a more safe way. If you’re not already a member/supporter of your local advocacy group, please consider doing so. If you’re not sure how to get in touch with your local advocacy group, go the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s website to find out how to do so. These organizations are working hard so we see more of this on our local bike paths and streets:

cyclists in belgium



Issue #6 Candy Store: Trek Soho

Everyone’s commute varies, from 40-mile epic rides to work to 10-block cruises down the bike path. As such, one’s commuting bike needs vary, too, running the gamut from fast and sleek to beach cruiser. For those of us in the middle, Trek designed the Soho with commutes from 6 to 15 miles in mind, though you shouldn’t necessarily rule out this bike for anything shorter or longer.

The Soho’s frame is constructed from Trek’s Alpha Black 6000 series aluminum alloy, with nice detail features like the rubber top tube bumper (to protect the frame when locking it in public), integrated headset, and sliding dropouts. Said dropouts connect the seatstays and chainstays, which are not otherwise connected, enabling the installation of the Gates Carbon Belt (more on that later) into the rear triangle. There are rack mounts out back and low-rider rack mounts on the fork for portaging duties.

Trek wanted the Soho to be a dependable, all-weather commuting bike, so they choose a Nexus 8-speed hub (Red Label—the higher end of the two Nexus offerings), Nexus roller cam brakes front and rear, fenders, and a Gates Carbon Belt Drive system. All of these parts make the Soho exceptionally well suited for year-round commuting in less-than-ideal conditions. The Nexus internal hubs have service intervals measured in years and the Gates Carbon Belt Drive requires zero maintenance, will not rust, and is said to last many times longer than a traditional chain. As such, the Soho is an interesting blend of modern materials and tried-and-true internally geared hubs, feeling like a modern take on an old idea.

Technical stuff aside, Trek did a great job of making the Soho look good. The “Rainy Day Gray” paint with subtle graphics and paint-matched aluminum fenders really come together in an understated and, dare I say, classy package. Not only that, but it comes stock with a bottle-mount coffee mug—nothing like sipping a warm cup’o joe on a cold winter pedal into work.

The Soho’s user interface is equally well done. The Urban handlebar has a nice, comfy sweep, which splits the difference between traditional flat bars and some of the aggressively swept bars on the market, placing your hands in a very natural position. Bontrager’s H1 saddle worked fine for me, though riding major distances would make me want to swap it out for one of my stand-by saddles.

My size medium (20″) test bike offered a nice, upright and comfortable position that had a decidedly mountain bike-ish vibe. The long-ish head tube and steerer tube kept the handlebar height up where it was comfortable, and allowed height adjustment via the headset spacers.


The Soho’s handling is stable and predictable without being boring, actually riding more like a 29″-wheeled mountain bike with 32mm-wide tires than a road bike. The Soho is a great partner for relaxed rides to and from work, and cruises around the city, though the aluminum frame is nice and stiff for a post-pub sprint home. This bike was great fun for spirited rides around the city, too, like a comfortable and functional café racer.

The Nexus roller cam brakes are a little underwhelming compared to today’s disk brakes, but the power is perfectly adequate so long as you’re mindful of the brake’s stopping potential. As with any bike, it’s a good idea to practice a few panic stops to get a feel for how your bike and brakes are going to react.

The 8-speed Nexus hub, with a 300% gearing range, offers a low gear roughly equal to 32tx27t and a high gear equivalent to 44tx12t. So, imagine yourself riding with the larger two chainrings of a mountain bike crankset and a 12-27t 9-speed road cassette out back. Said combo would give you the same overall gearing range but with 18 ratio possibilities, compared to the eight ratios on the Soho. As you’d expect, I often found myself between gears on gentle uphill grades and the occasional false flat. No big deal—either relax in the lower gear, or man/woman up and get on top of the larger gear, depending on your mood. First gear is low enough for most climbs, but you’ll find yourself standing to climb steep grades.

The Gates Belt performed flawlessly throughout the test. No lubing, tensioning, or any attention needed and I had zero issues with debris getting caught in the belt. Not only that, but it’s eerily quiet, too.

The stock Bontrager H2 Hard-Case tires are a good fit for the Soho, offering a reasonably comfortable ride and substantial flat protection. Good thing, because changing tires or repairing flats is more difficult than most of us are used to, due to the internal hubs. Removing the front wheel requires only a 15mm wrench and that you unhook the front brake cable with your hands. The rear wheel, however, requires a 3mm Allen key to assist with unhooking the shift cable, two 10mm wrenches to unbolt the brake arm, a 15mm wrench to unbolt the axle, and you unhook the brake cable by hand. Unless you’re a handy individual, I would advise you to hire your mechanic to teach you how to properly remove and install the wheels so that you’re prepared with the tools and knowledge to fix a flat on the road.

Overall, I’d say Trek is on the money with the Soho. There’s a great deal of functionality and durability built into this $1050 package, not to mention the near zero-maintenance aspect of this bike. During the test period, I simply aired up the tires and rode away, no chain to lube and clean, and no greasy chain to soil your clothes. Not only that, but it’s a good-looking, comfortable, and functional package. This tester gives the Soho two thumbs up; in fact, I don’t really want to send it back to Trek…

Review: Kona Ute

Of all the bikes I’ve tested in my tenure at Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times, no bike has attracted as much attention as the Ute. Pedestrians may gawk and point, but everyone seems to relate to the Ute’s functionality as the bicycle version of a pickup truck.

Kona first introduced the Ute as a 2008 model with the intention of creating an affordable high-capacity commuter, large-volume city bike, or a highly capable runner of errands.

The Ute falls into the long-tail category of cargo bikes, arguably popularized by Xtracycle, which brought the idea of a long-tail cargo bike to the masses in 1998.


The Bike
The Ute’s 7005 series aluminum frame is available in two sizes, 18" (23.1" top tube length) and 20" (24.1" TT) to fit most within reasonable limits. Those shorter than about 5′ 4" may be out of luck, while those taller than, say, 6′ may require swapping cockpit components to ensure proper fit. Consult your local Kona dealer concerning your fit needs.

Parts spec on the Ute is all business and pretty impressive considering the $900 price tag, which remains unchanged in spite of some upgrades for 2010. One waterproof, oversized Kona vinyl pannier is included with the bike, and a second can be purchased for $100. Bite the bullet and buy a second bag straight away if you’re planning to purchase a Ute—you’ll definitely want it for the extra cargo capacity and for the ability to balance your load.

The mostly Shimano Deore drivetrain works well and doesn’t break the bank, while the Avid BB-5 disc brakes were a good choice for this bike—they’re affordable and offer adequate braking power when fully loaded. The Ute is set up stock with a 2×8 drivetrain, with 26- and 36-tooth chainings and a bash guard (to keep your pants out of the drivetrain) up front, teamed with an 8-speed cassette out back. This range of gearing proved adequate for nearly everything, but I did occasionally spin out the tallest gear on downhills. You can install a big ring should you want, as both shifter and derailleur are triple-ring compatible.

For the 2010 model year, the Ute has received a host of improvements, which addressed all of the issues I had with my 2009 test bike (pictured) in one fell swoop. The Ute now has a rear disc brake, a full-coverage rear fender, and the front fender stays will better clear the front disc brake. Frame color for the 2010 model is Metallic Dark Grey.

_In Use
The Ute’s riding position is decidedly relaxed and upright in stock trim thanks to the 45 degree rearward sweep of the handlebar, which works well for casual around-town errands, and is wide enough to provide the necessary leverage when carrying heavy loads. I swapped out the 90mm stock stem on my 20" tester for a 120mm to achieve a bit more aggressive position that worked better for me on longer rides and for powering up Pittsburgh’s hills with a full load.

Speaking of hauling stuff, Kona’s panniers are extremely convenient to install and remove from the bike. These bags hang from hooks on the Ute’s integrated cargo rack, while the bottom is fastened by hooked bungees via loops integrated into the frame. The bags sit well aft of the rider; I never had issue with my heels hitting the bags. With two Kona panniers I could easily haul four large grocery bags with room to spare. Anything larger can be lashed onto the Ute’s wooden deck. Loading is made easier thanks to the dual-leg kickstand. Just make sure you’re loading both sides equally or everything will tip over and smash your eggs—ask me how I know.

One hundred pounds is the maximum recommended load, but I’ve shuttled fully grown humans on back of the Ute that weighed nearly 50% more without complaint (from the bike, that is). When loaded to this extreme, the Ute does begin to flex a bit in protest—simply takes some adjustment on the part of the rider, as smooth handling minimizes the bike’s flexing. Not a huge deal.

The Ute’s ride reminds me of the way a school bus turns as the front end swings wide around the rear wheel. Due to the long wheelbase and 24.6" chainstays, cornering with the Ute requires less leaning and more steering than a traditional bike. At first everything feels out of the ordinary, but after some time to acclimate, your body adjusts and the Ute begins to feel natural.

The Ute certainly could be someone’s only bike, but it isn’t exactly sporting. This bike is all business in a relaxed "we’ll get there when we get there" sort of fashion.

Is it for you?
The answer to this question depends entirely on your use and needs. I see the Ute being best for folks looking for an affordable bike to pick up a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four, drop off packages at the Post Office, or generally carry anything that will fit inside the large Kona bags. If you’re looking to haul larger items such as lumber, surf boards, ladders, a second bicycle, etc., the Ute will require some DIY ingenuity to get the job done as you’ll have to engineer, construct and implement your own carrying device in order do so, which may be part of the appeal.

In the world of pickups, you have the big, heavy, large-cargo-hauling full-size trucks and the small, lighter, more efficient mid-sized trucks with less overall cargo capacity. Given that analogy, I think it’s best to look at the Ute as the mid-sized cargo bike in the line-up; it’s lighter and quicker than some of the other options out there, yet hauls much more than a traditional bike. Kona’s betting it’ll be the perfect middle ground for many folks looking for a balance of affordability, functionality, and cargo capacity.

I’m just left wishing I had had a Ute during my car-free days. Life would have been so much easier…

New Test Bike: Globe Live 3

I’ve been interested in trying a front rack equiped bike for some time now. I know quite a few people who swear by carrying weight on the front wheel, and my touring experience has shed some light on the benefits of loading the front of a bike.

globe live 3

So, when the kind folks at Globe offered to send us a test bike, I jumped all over the Live 3. For those unfamiliar with the Globe brand, this company is a recent standalone spin-off of Specialized Bicycles.

The Live series of bikes are modeled after the Porteur Bikes first developed by French newspaper couriers in the 1950’s. These bikes have steep headtube angles and forks with large amounts of offset in order to shorten trail. This setup keeps the bike handling quickly when loaded and minimizes wheel flop due to the weight on the front rack. The Live 3 I’m testing has a 74 degree headtube angle and 59mm of fork offset resulting in a trail of roughly 38mm. As such, the front end of this bike handles QUICKLY, both loaded and unloaded. The handling is unlike anything I’ve ever ridden and took me one full ride to come to terms with the delicate steering input the Live 3 prefers. Even with the rack loaded, the Live 3 maintains its quick handling.

specialized globe live 3

Parts wise the $1550 Live 3 offers a solid build, including an 8-speed Alfine internally geared rear hub, and Tektro Auriga Comp disc brakes.

specialized globe live 3

specialized globe live 3

specialized globe live 3

That’s all for now. I’ll be logging commuting miles on the Live 3 and penning a full review in issue #7 of Bicycle Times. To have this issue delivered to your door, call 866.523.9653 to subscribe by July 30th, 2010.

Bike Test Update: Trek Soho

Thought I’d give y’all a quick progress update on the Trek Soho I’m currently testing. I’m really excited about this bike, as you might have guessed from my previous Soho post.

So far, the Gates Belt Drive has performed flawlessly, with no need for any maintenance–haven’t even had to tension the belt during the test period. Just look how clean this thing is despite being ridden through a salty, sloppy winter and a muddy spring thaw. I’d much rather spend my time riding bikes than cleaning them, so this lack of maintenance has been wonderful.

I’m getting along pretty well with the Soho’s handlebar, too. Haven’t been able to find any concrete specs on this bar, but it must be in the 15º sweep area, which is a nice middle ground between more aggressively swept alt bar and a traditional flat bar. I slid the controls inboard to better align the brake lever with my index finger, then used a bit of bar tape to fill the void.

I’m pretty picky about bike setup, and tend to swap parts around a lot on test bikes, but haven’t felt the need to do much with the Soho. Aside from swapping to a zero-offset seatpost and correspondly installing a longer stem, I’ve felt little need to swap parts. Even the stock Bontrager saddle has worked OK for me.

The full review of this bike is scheduled to appear in print in Bicycle Time #6. To receive your very own BT #6, subscribe by calling toll free 1-866-523-9653 on or before April 28th, 2010.

New Test Bike: Trek Soho

trek soho with pittsburgh backdrop

I’ve had Trek’s Soho in-house for a little over a month at this point. About time for a proper introduction, eh? Things have been a bit snowy around here lately, but the white stuff is melting, and we’re getting back to the business of riding bikes. Due to the snow, I’ve swapped the stock Bontrager H2 tires for my favorite winter-time knobby: Kenda’s Kross Supreme.

trek soho on 33rd st in pittsburgh

The older I get the more I hate hauling heavy stuff around on my back, hence the rack, which is a really nice Portland Design Works piece called The Payload. Look for a full review of the rack in a future issue of Bicycle Times.

Bags are Jandd‘s Saddle Bags, which I’ve used for commuting and touring for years.

So far I’m really digging the Soho. There’s a lot to be said for a commuting bike which requires only that you air up the tires on a regular basis. The Gates Carbon Belt Drive is super quite and requires no maintenance, while the Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub and drum brakes also require very little maintenance. I could be very into having a bike like this that requires minimal fuss, even in our sometimes brutal snow, salty winter conditions. 

Look for the full Soho review in issue #6 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by April 30th to have issue #6 mailed directly to your door.

Introducing the Kona Ute

kona uteThere was a six-year period through my college years, and after, where I lived car-free. I stayed fit, had fun, and saved a lot of money by doing so. Lets be honest, going to college while working at a bike shop pay scale simply didn’t leave much financial wiggle-room for things like automobiles.

My car-free years certainly would have been much easier, and more productive, with a cargo bike in my fleet of bicycles. In days past i would ride my "track" bike to the grocery store and fill my XL messenger bag to the brim with heavy groceries and then punish my shoulder, back and prostate on the short ride home. Took me longer than I care to admit to realize that I could haul more stuff with far less pain when I allowed my bicycle to carry the weight of my loads. Never claimed to be a quick learner.

Many of you are familiar with the different genres of cargo bikes, but here’s some interesting Wikipedia reading on the subject.

My current test ride, Kona’s Ute, falls into the long-tail category of cargo bikes recently popularized by Xtracycle. Just like a pickup truck, these long-tail bikes carry their junk behind the pilot rather than in front. As such these long-tails look and handle much like a stretched version of a traditional bike and use traditional 26" or 700c wheels.

Kona Ute

The 2010 Kona Ute (my test bike is actually a 2009) retails for $900 which includes one of the large panniers pictured and an second can be purchased for and additional $110. I talked Kona into sending me a 2nd pannier for the review and I feel strongly that most owners will want the 2nd bag in order to balance you load.

Kona Ute rear view

I’ve been riding the Ute for urban missions and fun rides around town for quite some time now, and I can say that I really dig this bike. Being able to cruise over to the grocery store and pick up 4 large bags of groceries without thinking twice is a liberating feeling.

Look for the full review of the Ute in issue #5 of Bicycle Times. Be sure to subscribe by January 27th to begin your subscription with issue #5, or pick up issue #5 on the newsstand after March 10th.

Lounging in The Laurel Highlands

lounging in the laurel highlandsIn the last issue of Bicycle Times, I gave some pointers on planning a cost-effective, single-day adventure ride (“Rambling Around God’s Country,” issue #3). In this issue, 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.

lounging in the laurel highlands

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.

lounging in the laurel highlands

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)


Bike Repair

  • Tool kit: multi-tool, chain tool, spoke wrench, zip ties, needle-nose pliers, stainless steel safety wire, small bottle of chain lube, duct tape. (1)
  • Two tubes, plus patch kit, and C02 for emergency situation (in seatbag) (2)
  • Frame pump (3)

lounging in the laurel highlands

Sleeping accommodations
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. (4)
  • 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. (5)
  • 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. (6)

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. (7)
  • 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. (8)
  • Titanium coffee mug with MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea filter. (9)
  • 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 (10)
  • Orikaso folding bowl – Highly functional space saver. (11)
  • Nylon cord (50ft.) for hanging food away from critters, and a shorter section for miscellaneous use. (12)
  • Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight .5 First Aid kit –Supplemented with Ibuprofin and medical tape. (13)
  • Maps (14)
  • Matches, both regular and REI brand storm-proof, along with newspaper (15)
  • Pocket knife (16)


  • 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 by Justin Steiner originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #4. Photos by Justin Steiner. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]

Interbike Mini-Review: Spot Highline

Spot Highline Commuter

We first spied Spot’s Highline commuter bike at Interbike last year, info here.

In marketing the Highline, Spot encourages you to ditch your car payment in favor of pedaling, going so far as to state that if you aren’t already riding everyday, you will be after life on the Highline. Let’s take a spin, shall we?

I have a growing fondness for bikes like the Highline; simple bikes that encourage you to hop on and go, without thought to what outfit you have on, or where your cycling specific footwear might be hiding.

The Bike

The Highline’s 4130 chromoly frame is all business, no frills, utilitarian, with a few nice touches such as the seatstay brace to manage disc brake forces, and the sloping top tube offers ample stand-over clearance, and mountain bike-ish profile.

Perhaps the most commuter friendly aspect of the Highline is its Gates Carbon Drive belt system. The advantages of this belt drive system for commuting are many; the belt and aluminum cogs will not rust, do not require any lubrication or maintenance (no dirty, greasy chain), and are said to last nearly twice as long as the average chain-drive system. We’ll need to get a long-term tester in to evaluate the durability claims, but keep in mind that belts like these are used with great success on motorcycles. The Carbon Drive system does require a split drive-side dropout in order to install the continuous belt in the frame.

Also adding to the low maintenance vibe of the Highline is the 3-speed SRAM internally geared hub (Gates Carbon Drive is designed for single speed use only, so you’ll need an internally geared hub, or crankset, if you want multiple speeds. Hayes Stroker hydraulic disc brakes also contribute greatly to the all-weather, low maintenance aspect of the Highline.

The Highline comes complete with fenders and sensibly wide 38mm Kenda Kwick Roller Holiday tires.

The Ride

The Highline’s riding position is decidedly racey with "moustache" bars in their stock, "drop" position. As such, I felt this position was too aggressive considering the vibe of the rest of the bike, and the fact that I was wearing a 40+ lb photo backpack while riding.  So, I took a few minutes to flip the bars 180º to their rise position (as pictured) and, viola, all was right in the world. The decidedly upright position felt worlds better given my use, and seemed to match the overall vibe of the bike better. In most situations, commuting bike’s handlebars should be higher than the saddle, in my humble opinion, affording a nice comfortable position.

Handling-wise the Highline is fairly conservative; not too quick, not too slow, but displaying stable, comfortable and relaxing handling that’s ideal for a commuting bike.

In my younger and far more foolish days, I wasn’t terribly excited about internally geared hubs, but I have since seen the low-maintenance light and I am thinking I need an internally geared commuting bike. Being able to shift gears while stopped at a traffic light brings me more joy than it really should. The SRAM 3-speed Dual Drive hub on the Highline felt great on the flat streets of Vegas, but might have riders in hilly areas wishing for a wider range of gearing.

The only real issue I can see folks having with the Highline involves mounting front or rear racks. Since there are no low-rider mounts on the fork, you’ll be resigned to using band-clamps should you need to run a front rack. Out back there is only a single rack/fender mount per side. In order to install a rear rack, that one rear mount will have to share duty with both rack and fender, while working around the rear disc brake. While this is certainly possible, it will take a bit of creativity.

Overall, the $1299 Highline could make a fantastic commuter, depending on your needs, terrain, and riding style. Its low-maintenance build will certainly make a lot of folks happy, and keep them on the road.

[Ed notes: During Interbike week, we borrowed a variety of bikes from companies to ride from our rental house to the indoor show, plus to parties and happenings around town after dark. Not only did this make our experience much more enjoyable, it allowed us a closer look at some of the latest offerings in the realm of transportation and utility bikes. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be presenting our impressions of our time with these bikes as mini-reviews.]

Norco 2010 Commuting, Touring, and City Bikes

vestaFor many of us in the States, Norco is a name closely associated with the burly mountain biking of Vancouver’s North Shore. Given that, you might be surprised to learn about the nearly 50 city/touring/urban models Norco will be offering for the 2010 model year. Recently, I was fortunate to make the trip to Vancouver, BC for the recent press launch of Norco’s 2010 products. If you’re interested, check out Norco’s 46 year history, here on their website.

As tough as the economic climate may have been in recent history, Norco is reporting 6% growth over the first nine months of their 2009 fiscal year, as well as projecting small growth through the 2010 model year. Additionally, Norco is promising to donate $1 to cycling advocacy for each adult bike sold in 2010, which they hope will exceed $100,000.

One of the most interesting aspects of attending a press camp is the opportunity to get to know the people behind the scenes of a given company. I came away from Norco’s camp extremely impressed with the honesty and integrity with which Norco not only operates, but fosters throughout the company, from employees to team riders. Not only that, but the folks at Norco are just like you and I: they’re passionate cyclists–they walk the talk.

A major portion of Norco’s success, and their ability to stay on top of changing trends in the market come from the strong relationships formed with their dealer network. This relationship building theme extend throughout the Norco Philosophy, here’s a quote from their website: “We are dedicated to building rewarding, long-term relationships with our Employees, our Customers, and our Suppliers.” A lot of companies make statements such as this, but very few seem to put their money where their mouth is, as evidenced by the fact that many of Norco’s key employees have been with the company for ~30 years.

Us jornos joined 60 of Norco’s top dealers for the product launch this year. The partnership between dealer and distributor soon because apparent in the form of focus groups where dealers were asked to provide input and feedback to Norco about previous models, trends within the industry, and day-to-day business concerns.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the models of interest to the Bicycle Times reader.

New for 2010 is the City Glide series of stylish, practical urban bikes. Available in step through or traditional frames in three different configurations, at three different price points: City Glide 8 with internal 8-spd Shimano hub ($699), City Glide 3 with internal 3-spd Shimano hub ($529), and 21-speed external drivetrain ($399) configurations. Bonus points for the included center stand and Shimano roller cam brakes on the City Glide 8, and optional faux wicker basket.

city glide city glide city glide

The Corsa line of urban bikes continues over for 2010 as a comfortable and stylish commuting and around town kind of ride. Suspension forks and seatposts, as well as adjustable stems will make for a comfortable ride, while the paint matched fenders and rear rack hold their own in the style department. Like the City Glide, the Corsa frames are available as a traditional or step-through frame, but this time with only 8-speed internal hubs ($665), or traditional 21-speed drivetrains ($465).

Corsa Corsa

In the touring world, two models have replaced the 2009 Kwest model. The Cabot and Fraser, aptly named after Canadian explorers John Cabot and Simon Fraser, offer affordable steel touring bikes in a pretty classy package.

Here’s a look at the $795 Fraser, complete with Sora level group including STI shifters, and 36-hole wheels. Love the look of that traditional-bend bar and the leather hub cleaner.

Fraser Fraser Fraser

The $1,325 Cabot sports a Reynolds 525 frame and convenient details such as the pump pegs, disc brake tabs, and chainstay mounted spoke holders, in addition to the rack and fender mounts. You’ll find three water bottle mounts, too. The Cabot also comes with 36-hole wheels and a Tiagra level group, including STI shifters.

Cabot Cabot Cabot

And for the Hipsters out there, Norco has introduced the 2010 Spade, complete with all the necessary touches; narrow riser bar, metal toe clips with leather straps, aero rims with necessary dept, and finally the cohesive white/blue/chrome motif. Fortunately these fashion accessories are also moderately functional. The Spade will set you back $865.

Spade Spade

Also of interest for 2010 is the use of the Gates belt drive system on two road/commuting bikes. The Vestal is a Reynolds 525 framed, drop bar, disc brake, singlespeed cross-style bike. Seems like this $915 bike could make a fantastic foul-weather commuting bike.


In that same vein, the 8-speed Nexus belt drive Ceres will also likely make a great commuting bike with its flat bar, disc brake setup and a $1,050 price tag.


We’re going to have to get a belt-drive commuting bike in for test, to see if these systems hold up to market claims, but these two Norco models seem to put the system to good use.

Another interesting note is Norco’s refinement of their “hybrid” categories. For 2010, Norco has divided their workhorse bikes into two separate genres, if you will. They now offer the Indie (700c wheels) and Scene (26″ wheels) series of bikes for the commuter looking for a nice bike that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb when locked to the bike rack. These bikes are offered with only subdued colors, and you won’t find any frills like suspension bits. These bikes are all function over form, and I really dig this direction. Here’s the $495 Indy SS:


On the other side of the hybrid coin are the XFR (multi-surface, with suspension forks) and VFR (more of a flat bar road bike now) series of bikes with more colorful graphics and features that will appeal more to the recreational rider. Here’s the $950 VFR 1:


For the Ladies, Norco will be offering women’s versions, from their Forma line, of both the VFR and XFR models, which are different from the unisex models in many ways. Frame tubes are lighter in order to give a more compliant ride for lighter users, in addition to shorter headtubes to reduce bar height, shorter top tube lengths for shorter torsos, and lower bottom brackets for lower center of gravity. All Forma models also receive adjustable reach brake levers for smaller hands, thinner grips, and women’s specific saddles. Here’s the $585 XFR Forma:

XFR Forma

And the $625 VFR Forma:

VFR Forma

Seems to me Norco did a nice job of giving these bikes a feminine looks without going over the top.

All in all, Norco impressed me with their road-oriented offerings. They have a bike for just about every possible application, and it is obvious that a great deal of love and effort has been put in the design and spec of each.

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