First Impressions: Swobo Otis

By Stephen Haynes

In my first month or so on the Swobo Otis, I’ve come to enjoy this bike’s understated aesthetics and ride. This aluminum bike has a lot of functionality and a compliment of modern conveniences at a price ($800) that makes it easy to love.

Smaller, 26-inch wheels make for quick acceleration and nimble handling in traffic or on crowded mix-use trails. A Shimano Nexus 3-Speed hub provides enough range to get up and go from a standstill and stay at a respectable cadence before spinning out.

Rear rack mounts have come in handy and have made the Otis an easy choice for mid-week grocery getting. While I haven’t yet had two fully loaded panniers on the back, the bike hasn’t lost any zeal or handling ability with small loads.

The Otis gets up and over most hills in my neighborhood really easily. I could say something about wider bars, or more gears, but I think that would be silly. This bike provides enough of a low gear to be more than capable in most uphill situations, even with a case of beer tied to the back.

A simple, silver paint job and lack of flashy graphics will appeal to those who wish to remain incognito while out and about, yet will inspire the sticker whores of the world to go berserk. Look closely at the Otis though, and the Swobo branded items become clear, tastefully gracing a few select parts.


I’m enjoying my time on the Swobo Otis and I look forward to the rest of my review period. Check out the full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.

First Look: New Raleigh Tamland

By Karen Brooks

One of the cooler things I’ve seen at DealerCamp is a new bike from Raleigh, the Tamland, designed for gravel racing (or just riding) and as a “killer commuter.” 

Its frame is Reynolds 631 steel, recommended for its toughness by Reynolds and custom-butted to be lighter than the standard tubeset. The chainstays are svelte and the fork has a nice rake to it for added compliance.

The geometry was developed specifically for rough roads, with a lower bottom bracket, longer wheelbase, slacker seat tube angle and slightly taller head tube as compared to their road or cyclocross models. Sounds like they got it right. 

The Tamland will come stock with TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes and Clement Xplor MSO 40mm tires, with plenty of room for even bigger ones. The rims are 24mm wide give those tires a maximum footprint. The brakes felt great just squeezing them on the stationary bike—I’ll be eager to try some in motion.


There are two models to start with, the 1 and the 2. Pictured here is the 2, with a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain; it will go for $2,400. The Tamland 1 will be $1,600.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to ride this bike, as the Raleigh crew just barely got this one sample in time to bring to the show. But apparently one of their lucky employees raced it in Raleigh’s Midsummer Nights Cross race on Thursday.

If you’re wondering about the name, Raleigh has been naming its commuter bikes after characters from TV shows and movies. Do you recognize this one? 

First Impression: Lynskey Viale

By Adam Newman

Titanium occupies a rarified field in the world of cycling: it’s at once both old-fashioned and high-tech. Bikes built from the lightweight metal strike a classic silhouette and earn allocates for their unique ride quality. But it’s cutting edge as well, with modern methods of forming bringing about ever lighter and stiffer frames.

Lynskey has been on the forefront of titanium for more than three decades. The family-run contract business didn’t even make bicycles until one was built as a side project. Fast-forward a few decades and Lynskey‘s Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory is the largest builder of titanium bicycle frames in the US, both under their own label and for several other brands.

Titanium is, of course, an expensive material to work with, not only for the cost of raw tubing but for the additional time and tooling it takes to turn those tubes into bicycles. Bending, butting and shaping the tubing is all exponentially more difficult with titanium than steel, thus adding to the cost. (See how advanced it can get in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.)

Lynskey’s latest bikes attempt to level that playing field. The Silver Series uses straight-gauge tubing, without any fancy bends or shaping, to keep costs down, but they are still "Made in Tennessee, Built To Go Fast.". The three road and two mountain bike models are just $1,299 for a frame. That’s less than many American-made steel frames.

The Viale is the commuter or light tour model that can handle a little of everything. The frame is built with a little extra room for larger tires (700x30c) and fenders, and even has rack mounts. The brakes are mid-reach calipers, and mount to a Bontrager Switchblade carbon fork out front. For $2,600 you get a Shimano 105 build kit with Shimano wheels, a compact crankset and an FSA cockpit.

Pictured here are a set of one-off, prototype titanium fenders and a rack that are not included, but Lynskey wanted us to give them a good thrashing to see if they work in the real world (so far so good). Want a set? Sorry, no word yet on if they’ll make it to production.

Anyway, the Viale has all the attributes I look for in a good workhorse bike. The geometry is relaxed enough for all-day rides or randonneuring and the larger tires and geometry make it far more versatile. If you want to jump into your weekly paceline ride, ditch the rack and don your lycra, it’s ready to go.

The ride quality reminds me of classic steel: not too stiff, not too soft. The frame feels a bit more lively than I expected as well—none of the muted vibe you get from chromoly but instead with a zing more like an aluminum frame. 

Look for my long-term review after some long-range rides in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now if you want to read it.

Salsa unveils carbon fat bike and updates Fargo

By Karen Brooks

Between their excursions to “adventure by bike,” the folks at Salsa have been busy making improvements to their stable. We recently covered the 2014 Horsethief and Spearfish, which both got the Split Pivot treatment. At SaddleDrive in Snowbasin, Utah, they also unveiled a host of other changes to the 2014 model lineup.


First up is a bike that is truly fat, yet weighs less than its brethren: the Beargrease Carbon.

The geometry has been tweaked to essentially “feel more like a mountain bike” and also shift the rider’s weight rearward, via shorter chainstays and a new Whiteout carbon fat fork with 51mm offset. Salsa says this also serves to get a better steering response in snow, keeping the front wheel from pushing sideways and allowing it to be guided around a turn.

It will come in an XX1 or X9 versions. The XX1 is pictured here, with sweet graphics in bright green on matte black. It will also sport the Alternator dropouts (pictured below with the Fargo). The Beargrease’s path is diverging further from that of the Mukluk — becoming even more of a dedicated snow racer, while the Mukluk is for exploring at your own pace.

Mike Riemer, Salsa’s marketing manager, let it be known that the bike is suspension-corrected for a 100mm travel, 51mm offset suspension fork for fat wheels, something that doesn’t exist — yet. A full-suspension version could also possibly appear someday…

The complete bike weighs around 26lbs., pretty darn light for something that looks so… substantial. I got a chance to ride it a bit on singletrack, and really appreciated its weight savings over other fat bikes — between that and its improved handling, it felt kind of like it was filled with helium. If I had one, I’d love to set it up tubeless for ultimate float.


Next is a bike that started with a cool concept and just keeps getting better: the Fargo. The new version looks and feels like a cohesive package.

The Alternator dropouts are a rocking type that give 17mm fore-aft adjustment. Different plates will be available to accept a standard quick-release, 142x12mm thru-axles, or Rohloff hubs, and also for dedicated singlespeeding. Note that the non-drive side has just two bolts—the top one is also one of the brake caliper bolts.


The fork is a new carbon one, called the Firestarter, and the frame is corrected for a 100mm suspension fork.


The Woodchipper handlebars felt natural and right on this bike, as did the Cane Creek Thudbuster seatpost. I didn’t get to ride it nearly as much as I wanted to (right on across the state and beyond), but the little bit of dirt and gravel I did experience left me impressed.


First look: 2014 Kona urban bikes

By Eric McKeegan

Kona is well known for burly mountain bikes, but it would not be wise to pigeonhole them as just an off road bike company. With the recent release of Kona’s 2014 bikes, the pavement side of the line-up deserves as much attention as the dirt bikes.

Kona’s endurance road bikes, Zone, need to be inspected closely to understand what makes them standout in the crowd. All three models feature fender mounts, long reach brakes for tires up to 32mm(!) and carbon forks


The basic Zone model has an aluminum frame; the Zone One and Two have a carbon fiber frame. Geometry is relaxed without being anything like casual. These look like fast, comfortable bikes capable of long days on bad roads. Prices are $1,500 for the mostly Shimano 105 Zone, $2,900 for the also 105 equipped Zone One, and $3,900 for the Ultegra-level Zone One.

Steel is still a popular frame material at Kona, and the as evidenced by the Honky Tonk and Paddy Wagon. The Honky Tonk is a semi compact, but still traditional Reynolds 520 butted steel road bike, with similar tire clearance as the Zone models. A blend of Sora and Tiagra drivetrain parts and Conti Ultra Sport Tires round out the $1,100 package .

Those looking to keep it simple can have their wish on the $750 Paddy Wagon. Similar frame and clearances as the Honky Tonk, but with track ends and one gear. The Paddy Wagon comes stock with a flip-flop hub with fixed and freewheel options in a 42-16 ratio.

Cyclocross is nothing new for Kona. Entering the wee little cyclocross market in 1997, Kona now makes four models, all with disc brakes for 2014. The Jake model is probably most interesting to our readers, with its fender and rack mounts and wide range compact double gearing. While it may be able to play the part of a practical mount, it has a racing pedigree at heart. A Tiagra drivetrain, Tektro mechanical discs and a host of sturdy parts are reasonably priced at $1,200.

On the touring end of the spectrum, the Rove adventure bike returns mostly unchanged for 2014, and the fully outfitted Sutra touring bike now uses the same frame as the Rove.

Those looking for something lighter than the sturdy and hefty Rove frame can throw down for a Rove in titanium flavor. It’s a roll-your-own model, however, since it’s only available as a frame. Built in the U.S.A. by Lynskey, pricing isn’t set yet, but somewhere around $2,000 isn’t going to be far off.

The Ute cargo longtail is still going strong, but the little brother MinUte seems to be gone for 2014. The Ute is still sturdy and practical, and well appointed at $1,300. That buys you two big bags, a center stand and steering stabilizer.

There is a host of 700c commuter bikes from $500 to $1,000, and even a kids’ cyclocross bike, the $850 Jake 24. All in all, it seems Kona is offering a simplified road line up that deserves a solid look from fans of practical and fun bikes.


Review: Lynskey Cooper CX


By Adam Newman

Make no mistake about it, I’ve logged more miles and more hours on this bike in my review period than any other bike I’ve ridden for this magazine—maybe more than any bike I’ve ever ridden in the same amount of time. I’ve ridden it to work, ridden it on back roads both paved and unpaved, ridden it from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. in three days, ridden it from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in two days (ouch) and over hill and dale—and it has never batted an eye.

If that’s not praise, I don’t know what is.

Titanium bikes have had a hard time keeping up with the whiz-bang market share of carbon fiber and the swoopy tube shapes that dominate the modern bike scene. Once saddled with the dreaded “dentist’s bike” reputation, the material is making a comeback of sorts, with major brands once again offering high-performance titanium frames.


Lynskey, on the other hand, has never built anything but Ti bikes since the Lynskey family—founders and former owners of Litespeed— founded its eponymous brand in 2006. Though the Tennessee-based company can produce a wide range of styles, from conservative to custom, the Cooper line features stock geometry with more traditional tube shapes—all round in the case of the Cooper CX. The frame is designed around disc brakes with a 135mm rear spacing, so a set of quick-release mountain bike hubs will slide right in.

The frame I rode was finished in a standard brushed titanium look, and different brushed, blasted, polished, and painted versions are available for an extra charge, as are S&S couplers for traveling or custom braze-ons.


Though the bike shipped with 32mm-wide cyclocross tires, my initial use was as a winter road bike with slick road tires. The Ti frame meant I never had to worry about rusting, and the finish just shrugged off road grime and winter nastiness. You certainly wouldn’t confuse it with a full-blown road race bike, but it is more than stiff and responsive enough to serve as a regular road bike in the cyclocross off-season. A full set of rack and fender eyelets make it year-round versatile.


Being my first extended time on a titanium frame, I was surprised by the balance of the frame’s stiffness—comparable to aluminum— with the smoothness of a high-end steel frame. Out-of-the-saddle climbing was solid and stable, and even with the slightly higher bottom bracket, the bike never felt too tall or tippy. It may sound like hyperbole, but I’m really impressed with the ride. I knew it would hold up to the worst of my (ab)use. I loaded it up with 10-20lbs. of bikepacking gear and didn’t feel any extra frame flex like I have with loaded steel bikes.

Disc brakes are finally hitting the mainstream for road and city bikes, and I’ve been converted 100 percent. Having used the Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes with SRAM, Campagnolo, and Shimano levers in the past year, I think the first two give a superior lever feel than the latter, but they are all light years ahead of even the nicest rim brakes.


In all, the Cooper comes very, very close to checking all the boxes on my One-Bike-To-Rule-Them-All dream bike list. The only thing I would need to add is a 44mm head tube to run tapered steerer forks, as I predict high-quality, carbon forks for disc brakes with straight steerer tubes probably won’t be around for long. Then again, Lynskey’s more expensive model, the ProCross, includes this feature. If the knobby tires on the Cooper CX aren’t your style, the same frame is available with as the Cooper CMT with a more road and commuter oriented build kit with a rack and fenders.

If you’re looking for a solid bike that’s going to give you years—maybe decades—of reliable use, the Cooper CX is a bargain.


Vital Stats

  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Price: $1,895 frame, $5,139 as built
  • Weight: 20.75lbs.
  • Sizes available: XS, S, M, L (TESTED), XL

Get comfy this summer with BananaHama bike

One of the biggest hurdles to getting more butts on bikes is well… the butts, mainly that the bikes’ seats are just too uncomfortable for most people. BananaHama hopes to change that with this wild cruiser.

We don’t cover a lot of cruiser bikes here at Bicycle Times, but this one struck me as being creative enough to make the cut. The “hama” seat uses front and rear sliders to adjust the height and tension and it provides a natural amount of shock absorption. The recumbent-style position means you can put both feet down easily as well.

The start-up company is launching three models: a beach cruiser, an urban model, and a mini stroller/trike for kids. A fourth, the three-wheeled adult trike is on its way as well. The 2-wheeled versions should start at about $750.

Check out Carson Daly taking one for a (very) short spin on the Today Show.

What do you think? Is a hammock bike in your future?

Review: FirstBike Big Apple

By Trina Haynes

Balance bikes are a great way to introduce your toddler to two wheels. Basically, your child can throw a leg over the frame and start walking/gliding along, taking “baby steps” on learning how to ride a bike, eventually going straight to pedals. I will be finding out very soon if this method was effective with my four-year-old, Odin, when he upgrades to his “big boy” pedal bike.


Odin has had experience on balance bikes and quickly took to the First Bike Big Apple, calling it his “race bike.” With reflective stickers and an ego boosting #1 sticker on the front, I could see why. This is his first experience on pneumatic tires—the smooth-rolling Schwalbe Big Apple tires gave him the confidence to push the limits of speed and terrain with great success.

The 8lb. Big Apple includes a steering inhibitor, which stops the handlebars from being turned too far inward. The saddle is ergonomic rubber and the bike includes front and rear mini-fenders, which deterred a bit of backsplash when he decided mud puddles were worth going through. A rear drum brake with a hand lever came in handy a few times when too much speed resulted in Dukes of Hazard-like skids.

At $205, the Big Apple is a bit pricier than other balance bikes on the market, but it’s the only one to have the combination of a hand brake, pneumatic tires, fenders, a lifetime warranty, and a cool-looking truss style frame made from unbreakable nylon composite. FirstBike offers no-brake models for a lower price, as well as several wheel and tire options to hone in on what type of cycling you hope your little one favors. All models accommodate riders from two to five years of age; the seat can be adjusted from 13.8–17.8 inches and the bike supports up to 50lbs. Made in Taiwan.

More balance bikes

We also reviewed the Strider PREBike in Issue #9 and the Glide Bike in Issue #13.

The “All Powerful Bike Lobby” ruffling feathers in New York

The latest round of Blue (bikes) vs. (seeing) Red came last week when Wall Street Journal editoral board member Dorothy Rabinowitz cited the "all-powerful bike lobby" and a government "before which you are helpless" as simply the worst thing that has ever happened ever.

Naturally the video went viral. Jon Steward picked it up on the Daily Show with a segment "Full Pedal Racket."

And Rabinowitz responded to the "hysteria" with a second video, claiming that the city’s police are unable to respond to the “torrent of complains and helpless screams,” and that city leaders are “terrorized by this thing that really exists, the bike lobby.”

Are you a member of the Bike Lobby? Where do I sign up?


Looks like Politico has taken a crack at investigating this so-called bike lobby. "All-powerful the bike lobby is not. Cars — and the infrastructure needed to accommodate them — still receive the overwhelming percentage of federal, state and local transportation dollars. But a scrappy band of bicycle manufacturers, smart-growth advocates and cycling nonprofits is increasingly fighting — and winning — battles at all levels of government."

Gravel racing: A look at my Dirty Kanza 200 weapon

Editor’s note: This story is a cross-post from our sister magazine, Dirt Rag. This weekend riders from across the country will converge on the Flint Hills of Kansas to tackle the Dirty Kanza 200, one of the premiere events in the burgeoning gravel racing scene. 

By Mike Cushionbury

Gravel road racing is filled with innovations and inventions. Bikes range from road to cyclocross to full-on Frankenbikes cobbled together from a mix of road, cross, touring and mountain bike parts. As a mountain bike racer and first-time DK200 competitor I momentarily considered setting up my 29er cross-country race bike for the task late last year but further consideration led me towards my cyclocross bike—namely a 2013 Cannondale SuperX Disc—with the goal of keeping it as simple and familiar as possible.

I knew for sure a Frankenbike was not the answer. I didn’t want to gamble with a cumbersome bike I wasn’t used to. I also wanted something I could consistently train on, making sure my position was completely dialed. In February, after ‘cross season, I set up my SuperX with the exact same measurements as my road bike, a professionally fitted position I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My saddle height, reach and stem length are all exactly the same on both bikes.

I also chose the same model Fizik Areone saddle (that’s well broken in by now) and same crank arm lengths (being a mountain biker I use long-ish 175mm on the road for consistency.) Once everything was set I put road tires on and used this rig as my road bike, compiling as many miles as I could to make sure the bike and my position was deeply burned into my muscle memory and as comfortable as possible.


The SuperX’s carbon frame is lighter than many road bike frames and with SAVE seat and chain stays it’s compliant and forgiving over rough terrain. It is truly an elite level ‘cross bike that performs like a refined road bike with snappy acceleration and geometry suited to longer road races opposed to crit-style racing—just the ticket for DK. Front and rear disc brakes insure precise stopping will never be an issue.



Nothing too radical for parts save for some drivetrain adjustments. I choose a short reach Ritchey WCS Curve carbon fiber handlebar and WCS 4-Axis stem for ultra lightweight and reliability. I also went with a bump absorbing Ritchey WCS Carbon Flexlogic Link seatpost. The post’s carbon layup provides a claimed 15-percent increase in vertical compliancy compared to standard posts without giving up any lateral or torsional stiffness. For a little extra comfort I double wrapped the top of the bars since this is where I will mostly be, not down in the drops.

Shifters and front derailleur are standard SRAM Force. For the road I used a Force rear derailleur, SRAM Red 11/26 cassette and Cannondale Si 53/39 crankset. Because 200 miles is, well, 200 miles, I wanted extra low gearing for the later hours of the race. I switched out the rear derailleur for a SRAM XX mountain unit and matched that to an XX 11/32 cassette. I also geared down the front with an FSA K-Force compact crank and 50/34-chainring combo.

This is a set-up I successfully used at last year’s Iron Cross race so I’m already comfortable with it. I’ll be using Shimano XTR Race pedals and mountain bike shoes because I believe top-level mountain bike shoes, though they do have very stiff carbon soles, vibrate less over such harsh roads. Super stiff road shoes could lead to early foot numbness and fatigue.

Wheels and tires

Wheel selection was simple; I’m using the same NoTubes Alpha 340 Team road wheelset I’ve been on all winter—simple, light and ultra reliable. Initially I was going to use a NoTubes ZTR Crest mountain bike wheelset to widen the tire’s contact patch but tire installation proved difficult due to the increased rim width (something I didn’t want to deal with in Kansas.)

My tire choice was simple as well: Challenge Almanzo’s. These super-durable, 360-gram, 700x30mm tires are specifically designed for gravel road racing. They roll very fast and utilize a special Puncture Protection System belt between the casing and belt—perfect for the spiky rocks on the roads around the Flint Hills.


Since I’m not much of a water pack wearer, I plan on going with two bottles on the bike and one in my pocket—three bottles per 50 miles to each checkpoint where I’ll have a drop bag loaded with supplies including real food like sardines, pepperoni sandwiches, black licorice and of course drink mix and bottles. If I stay on point of not using a water pack I’ll add a large seat bag with three tubes, a multi tool with a chain breaker, two quick links, a few links of chain, electrical tape and a tire boot. I also have a Lezyne mini-pump secured to the bike. As a precaution, I’ll have a full water pack in my drop bag at the midpoint checkpoint.

Veterans of the race may think I’m gambling by going minimalist but when I built up my bike for this mammoth event I went with what I know and am comfortable with. It’s a roll of the dice I’m willing to take.

Dirty Kanza is Saturday, June 1 in the Flint Hills region of east-central Kansas. Go to for more info.

Keep reading

For more on the Dirty Kanza 200, check out our race report from last year, and see how other riders set up their rigs





NYC CitiBike bike share system is up and running

New York City’s long-awaited bike share program, CitiBike, took to the streets over the weekend and is now officially up and running. The largest bike share system in the U.S., CitiBike says riders clocked more than 13,000 miles in the first day.

The most popular starting stations were:

  • E 17 St & Broadway: 113
  • Broadway & W 57: 109
  • Broadway & E 14 St: 98

And the most popular ending stations were:

  • E 17 St & Broadway: 108
  • Broadway & W 57: 103
  • University Pl & E 14 St: 78

Also on Monday, 772 riders signed up for annual memberships, bringing the total to more than 16,000.

The launch has generated a TON of press, and as you can imagine, there were some hiccups. The New York Post reported that one of the bikes was stolen just as it was being unloaded and installed. Some members had trouble picking up their keys and countless people have made their displeasure heard about the locations of the bike racks.

The Village Voice took a sunnier outlook with a headline “CitiBike Happened Yesterday—and the World Did Not End.” Also worth noting, Gothamist has a roundup of some ways to fight germs from the bikes, since who knows what the person using it before you was doing.

Finally, the CitiBike program graced the cover of the June 3, issue of the New Yorker. “I’ve only been doored twice,” artist Marcellus Hall told the New Yorker. “I’m not one of those hard-core bike freaks; it’s just a good way for me to get around in the city.”

Are you in New York? Have you used the new CitiBike program? What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

First Impression: Jones diamond frame touring bike

By Adam Newman

Jeff Jones isn’t afraid to think outside the box. In fact, it’s safe to say he probably isn’t concerned about the box at all. He has been designing and building his own unique brand of non-suspended mountain bikes that have made the pages (and pixels) of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, for years.

In recent years, Jones has brought a production version of his bike to market and after we reviewed it as a mountain bike, he pointed out that it is just as versatile on the road as on the trail. Since a couple of the staff use 29er mountain bikes with slick tires as all-purpose commuters and touring bikes, the idea struck a chord.

The $850 Jones diamond frame and fork feature everything a touring cyclist could need: rack and fender mounts; room for fat, comfy tires; three water bottle cage mounts; a shorter effective top tube and high, comfortable handlebars. Those handlebars are another of Jones’ original creations, a loop shape that puts your hands at a relaxed 45 degrees and creates a platform for carrying gear.

One of the key elements of what makes the bike unique in mountain bike mode is the ability to use a 29er front wheel or a 26×4.8 fat bike front wheel. As such, the fork is a specially designed unit that uses a 135mm fat bike front hub. When laced to a 29er/700c rim, it creates an especially strong front wheel that tracks straight, even when loaded. The rims are Velocity’s Blunt 35 that measure a huge 35mm wide and give the 29×2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple balloon tires even more cushion. Propulsion is provided by a Shimano 2×10 XT group that is geared low enough for even the steepest hills.

I packed up the panniers and the specially-designed frame bag that Jones sent us to try and had a great weekend riding and camping along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. While I wasn’t setting any speed records, the big tires and relaxed fit kept me cruising in comfort.

We’ll be putting the Jones through its paces all summer as we explore the countryside. One thing we’ll be paying close attention to is how the Jones fits a variety of riders, as it is only available in one size. The setup you see here is for my 6-foot-2 self.

Watch for it to make more appearances on and for a long-term review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss an issue! 

First Impression: Specialized TriCross Elite Steel Disc Triple

By Karen Brooks

Quite a long name, eh? But it tells you what you’re getting, pretty much.

This was to be the bike for my second annual trip to and/or from the National Bike Summit, along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails, back in March. Alas, it was not to be. We got extremely lucky with the weather last year, but this year we got cold temps and snow before the Bike Summit, and yet more snow—heavy, wet snow, and lots of it—afterward. Bummer. Still, I’ve been having a good time on this bike just doing my normal commute plus some extra-curricular riding around.

It’s nice to see that a big company like Specialized has not totally abandoned steel as a frame material, especially for an all-rounder bike like this. Some of the other current TriCross models, as well as past versions, rely on Zertz vibration-damping inserts at key points to soften the ride of their aluminum frames. But to me, and a lot of other classic aficionados (or retro-grouches, if you prefer), steel makes sense for smoothing out the ride, in a refined and comprehensive way.

Indeed, this bike is smooth and unflappable. As you can tell from the dust and splashes in the photos, I’ve been riding it in some dirt and gravel. The Body Geometry bar tape with gel padding helps keep that smooth feeling without being too fat. I dig the integrated bell on the top brake lever. I also dig the no-nonsense graphics — the bike looks sleek and serious.

It’s been a while since I rode a bike with a triple crank, mountain or road. I had to really concentrate not to end up in the big/big gear combo. Funny how quickly we forget… But the granny ring has come in handy for traversing my local park via singletrack trails as well as the wider gravel paths.

The bike’s Avid BB5 brakes were doing a weird pulsing thing for a while. It almost felt as though the rotors were of uneven thickness, or as though I’d gotten a wad of gum stuck to one. But the pads looked fine, and so did the rotors — I went so far as to measure them with calipers. (Any excuse to get out the more esoteric tools!) After consulting with Specialized and with Avid, I’m gonna chalk it up to contamination of some sort. I swapped pads and rotors and have had no trouble since.

It looks like I’m going to go on a long ride with this bike after all, at least for a day—from our HQ in Pittsburgh to Raystown Lake for the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, 130 miles. This is the kind of bike that encourages such impromptu adventures.

Check out the full review coming up in issue #23.

First Impression: Trek Domane 4.5

By Adam Newman

Trek’s pedigree of high quality road bikes was firmly established years ago under the effort of a certain now-disgraced cyclist with the Madone platform. But as with most of aspects of cycling technology, the one-road-bike-to-suit-all model has been tossed aside in favor of machines that specialize in their respective disciplines. Some bikes put a priority on feathery weight, or all-out stiffness. Others borrow designs from time trial bikes to cheat the wind. Some, like the Domane, put rider comfort out front. After all, a comfortable rider is a fast rider.

When creating the Domane, Trek sought out the expertise of one of the most powerful riders of this generation, Fabian Cancellara. The winner of Tour de France stages, World Time Trial Championships, and handfuls of single-day Classics races. Cancellara is something of a freight train in the pro peloton—a big rider with an even bigger motor—and he excels when the conditions are difficult. The Domane is designed to give the rider a distinct advantage under those difficult conditions.


The most crucial piece of this carbon-fiber puzzle is the IsoSpeed “de-coupler” between the top tube and the seat tube. The two tubes are joined by a small bearing that allows the seat post to flex fore and aft to smooth out the ride. Make no mistake—this is no suspension system but it does do a marvelous job of isolating large hits and high-frequency vibrations. This video demonstrates how it works:

The rest of the carbon fiber frame abounds with high-tech features like the integrated DuoTrap computer sensor attachment point, the integrated chain keeper, a massive BB90 bottom bracket shell, and a tapered head and steerer tube that is wider than it is deep, front to back, for a more compliant ride. My favorite feature though is the amount of tire clearance and the hidden, removable fender mounts. Three cheers for a dry behind.

The $2,730 Domane 4.5 model I’m riding differs from the more expensive models with a standard, round, 27.2mm seatpost rather than Trek’s integrated seatmast, external cable routing rather than internal. I actually prefer both these features as they keep things simple and don’t seem to hinder performance very little.


So how does the IsoSpeed system work? In my first few rides I’d say seamlessly and flawlessly. I can’t feel it actively working, but when I hit a pothole or railroad crossing my behind stays planted in the saddle rather than being bounced off. That contact is what allows the rider to stay on the gas over irregularities, and I can say this comfortable rider certainly feels faster.

Want to read the full review? You’ll have to watch for it in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and never miss an issue.

Review: Soma Fabrications San Marcos

By Matt Kasprzyk

I’ve been a Soma Fabrications owner for a few years—I have a Double Cross DC that has thousands of commuting miles on it—so I was eager to ride something new from a company that specializes in versatile, tough, and long-lasting frames and accessories.

This bike is Soma’s love child with Rivendell, meaning it was designed for Soma as a “sport touring bike” by Rivendell’s Grant Petersen, using Rivendell lugs, geometry, and design details. The San Marcos is “the bike any road rider who doesn’t race but rides mainly on the road ought to be riding,” according to Petersen.

So what are these design details? Well, it’s mainly about handlebar height and retro geometry to increase comfort. The concept is simple and time-tested: raise the handlebars to get weight off your hands, crane your neck less, and relieve stress on your lower back. The San Marcos’ top tube slopes up about 6o, raising the stem’s exit point from the head tube. The bike’s 1-inch threaded fork uses a quill stem that you can easily raise or lower to get the perfect height.

In addition to this main point of Rivendell geometry, you also get some bonuses to versatility that are on par with other Soma models. On the functional side, the bike will accommodate up to a 37mm-wide tire, or 32mm with fenders. The frame sports a pump peg on the head tube and two sets of water-bottle bosses. There are two sets of eyelets in the back for a rack and fenders, but only one set on the fork, meaning no front rack. Soma says light loads are fine, but this isn’t meant as a heavy touring bike.

The San Marcos uses the same steel lugs, bottom bracket shell, and fork crown that other Rivendell bikes do. The frame is made of high-quality Tange Prestige heat-treated, chromoly steel tubes, same as other Soma bikes. What you don’t get are the even higher-end steel and the fancier two-tone paint job of more expensive Rivendell bikes.

The two largest sizes have a double top tube. Since Petersen prefers the classic look of small-diameter tubes and lugs, an extra top tube was added on the 59cm and 63cm frames to maintain the same level of triangulation and stiffness as the smaller sizes, especially in the front end. This design has become one of his trademarks.

I believe bikes have personalities and those personalities are part of the buying decision. Jim Porter of Merry Sales (Soma’s distributor) says their relationship with Rivendell is like the relationship of Elvis to blues or gospel music. Taking his analogy further: if Rivendell is gospel, then Soma is Elvis being played in an old Cadillac.

The San Marcos gets you where you want to go in comfort and style, but it’s not going to be the most racy thing to ride. My test bike was built with 32mm-wide tires and had an incredibly smooth ride, but no tail fins (they aren’t very functional). Rough roads and smooth gravel were less of an issue for sure, as long as you’re not in a hurry.

Riding tall with those high handlebars meant the compact drops are probably at the height of most riders’ brake hoods. This provided several comfortable hand positions. The frame is both tall (in the top tube) and low (in the bottom bracket), which helped make for a very stable ride that carved turns gracefully.

The extra tube certainly seemed to help with front-end stiffness, as intended. I’m not that light, or that slow, but I never detected any lateral flex standing on steep climbs, or front shimmying on fast descents. For those of us used to more modern geometry, the extra top tube looks like overkill. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on a bike intended for heavy touring. But it’s actually a retro solution to preserve frame integrity.

The San Marcos is definitely a comfort road bike that many people could get into as a versatile commuter, or a bike able to cart a light load, or just for getting out on long rides. In terms of goals and execution, I think Soma Fabrications has a winner. The San Marcos looks good and does everything it was meant to. It’s comfortable and versatile, but an inexpensive Rivendell is an expensive Soma. If you’re down with the retro styling and geometry, I’m certain this would provide years of comfortable service and enjoyment.

Vital stats

Price: $900 (frame)

Weight: 25lbs. as built

Sizes available: 47, 51, 54, 59, 63cm (tested) 

First impressions: Cannondale Quick CX3

By Matt Kasprzyk

My commute by bike isn’t too difficult. There aren’t many hills (unless I want there to be), but the route takes me over several surfaces–asphalt, cement, crushed limestone, and a gravel access road. The different surfaces makes finding an appropriate bike challenging. Half of the route is on the road. The rest of my commute is on varying types of rougher surfaces, so I need something that’s as effective on the road as it is on the trail.

Bikes like this Quick CX line from Cannondale might be the right tool for the job. “On-road efficiency meets off-road ruggedness,” says Cannondale. Well it certainly has a suspension fork, disc brakes, and knobbier tires.

I guess that means it’s more rugged than your average commuter.

Efficient, though? The fork has a useful lock out, but the stock tires don’t feel very efficient on the street. It has a tall and short geometry. The toptube is relatively short with a fairly high standover. There is a more upright riding position because of the short toptube, but after adjusting the height of the stem and bars I’ve found a very comfortable riding position.


The frame has all the mounts and eyelets that you’d find useful if you’re considering the Quick CX as your all-season commuter. I’m going to eventually replace Kenda Happy Medium tires with a puncture resistant touring tire. I hope that might quicken the ride on pavement. Aside from that, I don’t see much to change about the bike and plan to put several miles of rough commuting on it before my final judgement.

Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for the complete review, and order a subscription today to make sure you don’t miss it. 


First Impression: Norco Indie Drop 1

By Shannon Mominee

A lot of people immediately associate Norco with gravity and mountain bikes, I know I did until the Indie Drop 1 showed up at the Bicycle Times headquarters. Truth is, Norco has many bicycles designed specifically for commuting and street use.

Double-butted, 4130 chromoly is used for the frame and straight bladed chromoly fork. There are braze-ons for front and rear racks, full coverage fenders, and two bottle cages. Pretty much all you need to accessorize the bike for commuting and errand running.


Reflecting its intended urban use, the parts package consists of Shimano 105 derailleurs and shifters , with less expensive Shimano components filling in the remainder of the 2×10 drivetrain. The wheels are Shimano hubs laced to deep-V WTB Freedom Cruz rims. A set of Hayes CX-5 mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors scrub speed, and though they are a little squeaky up front they have a great amount of stopping power that’s easy to modulate without skidding.

With full coverage fenders a 28c or maybe a 32c tire will fit into the frame, depending on the tire’s height. Without fenders a 35c tire can be used.

The Indie Drop 1 is one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve thrown a leg over. A quick stem swap and everything else lined up perfectly. My size 57cm tester has a 72.5-degree head tube angle that keeps steering at a predictable pace, yet quick enough to maneuver around road debris without being race bike twitchy.

Look for a full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.


Review: Yuba elMundo long-tail e-bike

By Maurice Tierney

The Yuba elMundo is a utilitarian wonderbike, bringing heavy hauling capability at a fair price. We tested Yuba’s Mundo in Issue #7 and found it to be one of the strongest long-tail cargo bike options out there, with its well-buttressed steel frame. (Read that review here) It also boasted huge payload capacity and affordability. In this review we’ll cover Version 4 and its improvements over Version 3, including its electric-ready capability.

Having always been an enthusiastic mountain biker, it was easy for me to scoff at the idea of a motor on my bicycle, but things change quickly when you decide to be a card- and-cargo-carrying Utility Cyclist. A motorized cargo machine has many advantages. I can bust a move quickly into the flow of traffic, even with a heavy load on board. Riding at the same speed as traffic is a heck of a lot safer than being a slow-moving vehicle in a fast-moving world. Plus I can pick up my significant other after work and give her a luxurious ride to our evening’s activities without breaking a sweat. These are just a few of my favorite things…

I have been doing half my riding on this bike since last fall. I can leave the home/office on the elMundo and go wherever I want, as far as I want, and never have to worry about where I am going, or who or what I might pick up along the way. Magazines, lumber, stereo equipment, other bicycles, spare clothing, party supplies, groceries. These are some of the things you can find in my saddlebags at any given moment.

There are numerous improvements in the Yuba Mundo (with and without motor) for Version 4. For starters, Yuba took 8lbs. off the bike. This is significant for the non-electric Mundo, which now weighs 48lbs. The elMundo weighs 61lbs. with motor and battery. Mine is closer to 90 with all the accoutrements I have to bring along. With its huge class-leading 440lb. (plus rider) cargo capacity, the weight of the bike itself is of little consequence. As for sizing, both Mundos fit riders from 5” to 6’ 5”.

Other improvements from Version 3 include a SRAM X3/X5 drivetrain, double-wall rims, and Freedom tires. The quill stem is also gone in favor of a threadless headset set-up. It’s less adjustable yet more modern. The rear wheel now features a 14mm solid axle riding on cartridge bearings for strength and low maintenance. And of course, V.4 is electric-ready, as the place for the battery has been designed into the frame.

The component choices are definitely on the budget side to keep the non-electric Mundo under $1,200. The SRAM 21-speed drivetrain is solid and should remain functional for many years (except for the crank and chainrings, which are not serviceable since they are riveted together). The rear wheel has 48 spokes for strength under abusive conditions, while the front wheel sports a hearty 36. The handlebar, stem, seat, and post are all fairly average and functional. The Mundo ships with Promax V-brakes, while the elMundo adds a generic disc brake for the rear.

I did upgrade the saddle to a Brooks and the brakes to Avid mechanical discs, front and rear, mostly because I plan to keep this bike around a while, and also because I wanted the superior power of the Avids for the steep hills in my ‘hood. A taller stem was also in order; as well as bigger, fatter, burlier tires—Panaracer Uff Da 2.3’s provided curb-slamming capability.

You really need to try an e-bike to see what it’s like. The motor is not burn-rubber, pop-a-wheelie strong, but it opens up with authority. This came in handy the most when get- ting started with a load, getting into traffic and such, but believe me, there is still plenty of pedaling to do if you want to stretch battery life. I tried to make the battery last as long as possible, with most charges lasting well over 20 miles. But I’d venture you’d get a good bit less if you didn’t pedal at all (depending on load and terrain, of course). Cost to recharge is estimated at 3-5 cents per charge, and the battery is good for 500 full cycles. Replacement batteries sell for $690.

The front-drive electric system is by eZee. My bike has a 400-watt brushless motor with a 10ah battery. The motor is activated by a twist of the motorcycle-style throttle, and is independent of pedaling. As mandated bylaw, the motor cuts out above 20mph. I have yet to run out of power climbing some of the steepest hills in the San Francisco area.

Yes, I did have to pedal. I’m still a rider, just trying to get my load around town in the most efficient, car-free way possible. Charging is advertised at six hours; I found it best to charge every night before bedtime, to always be prepared. (Note that current elMundos are shipping with a new 500-watt motor, for more juice!)

One thing that all Yuba’s come with is fenders, and that is a good thing. They are decent, quiet, adjustable plastic fenders that will fit different-size tires if you like. A bell is also standard, as it should be. And as of today, the (I consider essential) center kick- stand and Deflopilator front wheel parking stabilizer are now standard.

Additional accessories on my test machine included two of the Go-Getter waterproof bags for easy grocery hauling ($129/ea), as well as three items for my passenger: a Soft Spot seat cushion ($30), Hold On handlebars ($60), and Running Boards ($60). Parents of small urchins will need a Peanut Shell child seat accessory ($169) or two. And I also en- joyed the benefit of the Bread Basket front rack ($129). It mounts to the frame rather than the front wheel, keeping steering easy and giving me one more place to put stuff.

While perhaps smirked at by many a cycling enthusiast, electric bikes are coming of age as we speak. More people on more bikes means more people making a smaller footprint on the ever-stretching earth. This bike’s combo of huge cargo capacity, effective motor, and reasonable price made a big impression on me. The Yuba elMundo is a game-changer for this cyclist. I’ll be riding this one for a long while.

Race team wins epic Milan-San Remo while supporting African children

By Adam Newman

The African continent’s first professional UCI Continental team is off to a fast start, but its success will do more than just sell bikes, it is providing them to rural Africans as a way to get to school, visit a doctor, get clean water, or start a business.

The MTN-Qhubeka team (“qhubeka” is a Nguni word meaning “to progress”) has progressed straight to the podium after receiving a wildcard entry to the nearly 300-mile Milan-San Remo race in Italy and then putting its sprinter Gerald Ciolek across the finish line first.

It was a day to be remembered not only for the win, but because Ciolek’s teammate Songezo Jim was the first black South African to start a WorldTour event and because the weather conditions were so severe the race organizers were forced to reroute the racers by bus around a snowed-in mountain pass.

But the real heroes are back in Africa, where rural South Africans received Buffalo Bicycles in exchange for planting 100 saplings for a reforestation project or for removing more than 2,500 lbs. of refuse from their village. The bicycle can increase the workload of a person more than five times, and they can travel 75 percent faster or further.

The Qhubeka project isn’t new, since 2004 this volunteer-based organization has partnered with World Bicycle Relief to donate more than 40,000 bikes. It is funded by bike sales, corporate donors, events, and consulting. Since the race team rides Trek bikes, each time a Trek customer chooses a bike with the Qhubeka paint scheme, Trek will donate $200 to the Qhubeka project. You can bet there will be a big increase in sales after Ciolek’s win.

The bikes in Africa, on the other hand, are specially designed to handle the rigors of rural life. They have heavy-guage steel frames; sturdy wheels and tires; a weatherproof coaster brake; and can carry more than 200 lbs. The parts are made in Asia, and the bikes are assembled in World Bicycle Relief facilities in Africa, by Africans.

Watch for more victories by Team MTN-Qhubeka and by the Qhubeka project in Africa.

Shinola’s American-made bikes – and watches – now being built

The Shinola brand has been around since 1929, but when it was reincarnated in Detroit it didn’t have much in common with the shoe-polish company it once was and the colloquialism that bears its name.

Now it produces to key products: high-end watches, leather goods, and bicycles, both made right here in the U.S. of A. The watch factory occupies 30,000 square feet of the historic Argonaut building, the former home of the General Motors Research Laboratory. The bicycle frames are built in Wisconsin by Waterford and assembled in the same Detroit facility.

The two models, the Runwell and Bixby, were designed by industry veteran Sky Yeager, who has brought us some of the most popular models from Bianchi and later Swobo.

The Runwell is inspired by French Porteur bikes, blending style with practicality. The 11-speed Shimano Alfine drivetrain paired with disc brakes and internal cable routing makes it nearly maintenance-free.

The Bixby adds a bit of flair, with retro-cruiser looks and a curved top tube. It too has an internal-hube drivetrain, but in this case it’s a three-speed. It’s also available in a dropped top tube model.

For the upcoming Baselworld watch show in Switzerland next month, Shinola has created a one-of version of the Runwell that is brass plated. The frame, fork, fenders, and even the vintage lamp that hangs from the saddle have been given the treatment.

Bicycles and the leather goods are for sale now at The watches are available for pre-order with expected delivery in July. 

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