Interbike Mini-Review: Civia Loring

The Loring in the desert of Bootleg Canyon.Civia is a fairly new company, started in 2007 as a project within bike part and accessory distributor Quality Bicycle Products (who also owns the Surly and Salsa brands). Their goal is to produce functional transportation bicycles that are also aesthetically pleasing. The Civia folks began with the Hyland – a 700c-wheeled aluminum bike available with either a flat or drop handlebar and several gear options, and later introduced the Loring – a 26”-wheeled steel bike with front and rear racks. This year they added three other models at lower price points to offer more affordable options.

The Loring is striking to look at, not because of any weirdness, but because it’s actually pretty. To an everyday European cyclist it would not look all that unusual, but to us ‘Mericans it is still a type of bike that isn’t too common (yet). Its intended function is carrying a moderate amount of cargo (up to 50lbs.) on short trips of five miles or less. Both the 4130 chromoly steel frame and the 36-spoked 26” wheels contribute to its beast-of-burden nature, although this bike definitely seems like less of a beast than other cargo bikes, due to such refined touches as bamboo panels on the racks and bamboo fenders (included), and its Brooks springer saddle. Such touches are part of the I-Motion 9-speed build option that I rode, which retails for $1395, and the 3-speed option available for $1095; there is also a 3-speed “Base” option, without the racks and fenders and with a generic saddle, for $875.

The frame has a nice sloping top tube for generous standover clearance, something that becomes more important the more stuff one is carrying, with a pair of reinforcing bars from the seatpost to the seatstays to keep the rear end from being wiggly. Civia experimented with three different fork rakes to find the one that gave the most stable handling under load, and ended up using 55mm. I carried a bag full of paper catalogues and other heavy stuff on the front a few times, and indeed the bike’s steering was well-mannered under this load, in fact even more predictable and less likely to wander than when unloaded. When standing up and pedaling without a load, the front wheel could wander a little. Both racks use aluminum tubing, so they don’t add a large amount of weight. The front rack has a nice wide hook designed for hanging a U-lock. I neglected to bring panniers to properly test out the rear rack (and was discouraged from simply bungee-cording my backpack to the rack by a curb-kissing accident caused by a loose bungee that TwoFish Robert suffered late one night), but the bike felt plenty solid enough to handle a big load out back.

The Civia Loring looks lovely in the Vegas evening

My position on the bike was decidedly upright, but in a nice and relaxed way, and the bottom bracket was close enough to the ground that it wasn’t a struggle to put a foot down at stops with proper seatpost extension. The rearward sweep of the handlebars feels just about perfect – very natural and not too close to my hips. I cased a couple of curbs until I figured out exactly where the front wheel was located under that rack.

The Loring I-Motion 9 build uses a SRAM 9-speed internal hub. Civia chose the SRAM over Shimano 8-speed to get a slightly wider gear range, which would no doubt be helpful in hillier terrain. The shifting was slightly louder than Shimano’s Alfine 8-speed, but not enough to be bothersome. Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes are a crucial part of the kit in my opinion – wouldn’t want to stop an extra 50lbs. with rim brakes. The rear brake caliper mount is positioned in the angle of the seat- and chainstays (rather than on top of the seatstay), a frame tweak that is becoming more popular, since it sidesteps any rack or fender mounting conflicts and allows the use of slotted dropouts for tensioning the chain.

Other well-thought-out parts choices: the two-legged Pletcher kickstand was very nice for holding the bike steady when loaded, as was the simple little spring mounted between the downtube and fork, which kept the front wheel from flopping over (and perhaps also stabilized the steering). Of course this bike has a chainguard for riding with regular pants. The stock Panaracer Pasela 26 x 1.75” tires are my city tires of choice, and in Vegas I had plenty of opportunity to run over broken glass to test out their Tourguard reinforcement with success. One possible minus were the fenders: while the bamboo looked very stylish, they were mounted far enough from the tires that spray would probably get past them. (There was no rain in the desert to test this out.) Their mounts would allow them to be positioned a little bit closer to the tire, which would help.

The $1395 price tag of the Loring reflects a reduction of a couple hundred bones from the 2009 version. Civia will eventually be dropping the fancy Brooks saddle in favor of a cheaper one and spec-ing a different rim and tire to achieve that lower price, but for the next couple of months, they’ll be selling through their current upgraded stock at that lower price, so you may want to get while the gettin’s good.

[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.]

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