By Justin Steiner
This article appeared in Bicycle Times Issue 7
Specialized Bicycles launched their Globe line of bikes in 2009 as a stand-alone brand focused on building fashionable and functional bicycles for the urban and commuting market. Given the opportunity to test a Globe, I was immediately intrigued by the Live series of bikes, which feature a fork-mounted front rack designed for light cargo duty, such as fetching groceries. From my touring experience, I’ve found that I like the way a bike rides with weight on the front wheel, so I thought the Live might be right up my alley.
The Live models are far more than your average bikes with a fork-mounted rack bolted on. For inspiration, Globe engineer Amber Lucas studied the French porteur bikes of the 1950s and ‘60s. These bikes were designed to haul 100lbs. or more of newspapers, day in and day out, on a fork-mounted rack. The Globe team didn’t simply copy this porteur geometry though; they experimented with different geometry options by doing blind tests with the Globe staff. Surprisingly, these experiments found that nearly everyone picked the same geometry numbers, which happen to be a very non-traditional 74˚ head tube angle and a fork with 59mm of offset. This yields a very short 38mm of trail (by my calculations), which helps the bike handle quickly when loaded, and keeps the front wheel from wanting to flop to the side, too.
For comparison’s sake, my last test bike, Trek’s Soho, had 67mm of trail. (For more on rake and trail measurements and their effects, check out www.phred.org/~josh/bike/trail.html.) Having just spent a day in Amsterdam, I can say the Live 3 would fit right in with the sophisticated, understated look of the European city bikes after which it appears to be styled. The classy paint-matched metal fenders, chain guard, and front rack give the bike an extremely cohesive look, particularly with the matching tan Specialized brand grips, saddle, and 32mm-wide Armadillo tires (which never went flat on me during the test). The wooden rack deck offers a nice touch of class, too, though it will take a beating over the lifespan of the bike, so don’t expect it to look good forever.
Under the surface, the Globe is all about functionality with Tektro hydraulic disc brakes (extremely welcome on a cargo bike), teamed with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed rear hub driven by a Gates Carbon Belt. This combo requires very little maintenance, and should prove very durable. The Live 3 hits the mark with the gearing range provided by the 50x24t gearing of the Gates system, which was, once again, a flawless performer for me during this test, working perfectly with a minimum of fuss. Tensioning and belt installation/removal is made easy via an eccentric bottom bracket and split dropouts, respectively.
The folks at Globe designed this bike primarily for in-town use, within a radius of 5-6 miles. As such, the upright position provided by the upright and swept-back bars is spot on for casual trips around town and running errands. These are the trips where the Live really excelled—just hop on in your casual clothing and go, thanks to the wonderfully comfy Specialized saddle. At 7.5 miles, my commute falls outside the intended mileage range, so it’s no surprise that the upright position was a bit of a hindrance in this situation. I swapped out the stock bar for a mountain-bike riser bar with great success—this bike is simply a handlebar swap away from being functional for significantly longer distances.
In terms of hauling stuff, the Live certainly delivers. The large front rack offers plenty of room for a case of beer, two to three bags of groceries, or a duffle bag with your day’s necessities, along with ample weight capacity at a recommended max of 55lbs. Between the tubular sides of the rack and the holes drilled in the wooden deck, there are plenty of points for you to lash/bungee your load securely. In addition to the front rack, the Live also has mounting points for a rear rack to haul even more stuff, if needed.
In order to make the rack more user-friendly, Globe ships each Live bike with a Pletcher double-leg kickstand and a spring that attaches to the down tube on one end and the fork crown on the other. This spring ensures the front wheel does not flop to the side when you’ve just loaded it with your precious cargo, which is a really nice touch when installed. That said, I preferred the ride of the bike without the spring attached, as the spring’s feedback threw me for a loop when combined with the Live’s quick steering. The double-leg kickstand was a very nice addition and greatly increases utility.
For most people, the ride of the Live 3 is unlike anything you’ve experienced to date. The super-short trail certainly makes for a quick-steering bicycle. I found it difficult to pilot the Live in a straight line for the first couple hundred yards of my maiden voyage, but was eventually able to get into a groove after coming to terms with the light and subtle handlebar inputs this bike prefers. As your load on the front rack increases, so too does the stability of the steering—the more you haul, the better this bike feels.
Despite being initially highly skeptical of the aggressive steering geometry, I eventually came to terms with the Live, but was never able to completely forget about it. It’s constantly reminding you to pay attention, and I was never able to comfortably ride the Live without hands, loaded or unloaded. I feel this bike will be best suited for fairly skilled riders who haul a lot of stuff a majority of the time. If you’re simply looking for a bike to haul small amounts of stuff occasionally, there may be better options on the market. Having said all that, the Live may be just the ticket for folks who frequently carry heavy objects, but only a test ride will illustrate whether or not this bike will suit your needs.
Tester: Justin Steiner
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Weight: 33.5lbs. (w/ pedals)
Sizes Available: S, M, L (tested), XL