Manhattan Green

This product review of the Manhattan Green originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #2. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times and here to purchase Issue #2 as a single copy.]

Tester: Karen Brooks
Country of Origin: China
Price: $370
Weight: 35.1lbs.
Sizes Available: Men’s 17” and 21” (tested), Ladies’ 14” and 17”
Color: Black
Contact: www.manhattancruisers.com

Amid the Manhattan line of retro cruisers, inspired by a swath of American classics from the Schwinn Phantom to the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, the Green stands out as a throwback to a different place—England, the home of the venerable Raleigh Sport three-speed utility bike. The Green is essentially a tribute to the basic, sturdy, reliable transportation used every day in the mid-20th century by all but the upper classes in Great Britain and elsewhere. “Green” comes from the fact that this basic transportation is gaining new value for its environmental friendliness, not its color, as the bike only comes in black. That’s fitting for what is really a serious bike and not an eye-catching bauble.

This version of the classic is built around 700c wheels, not 26”, but is otherwise a faithful follower of its predecessor. The frame is good ol’ high-tensile steel, no fancy tubing, not light but certainly made to take a licking. Its geometry is more upright and quick-handling than a cruiser or roadster-style bike, with 72° head and seat tube angles and a fairly short effective top tube of 23”. Usually there’s no way I could ride a men’s 21” of any sort, and in fact this bike was intended for another tester, but the cockpit felt mighty short to those of us in the office used to a more bent-over position. I still had several inches of clearance when standing over the top tube. The ultra-upright riding position was not great for dealing with a headwind, but very nice for seeing and being seen over the tops of cars in traffic.

manhattn green

As this bike retails for just $370, one can’t expect it to be dressed in name-brand boutique shiny bits, but then again, that’s not necessary for its workmanlike purpose. The Green’s parts spec is inexpensive but functional and serviceable, not flimsy junk. The heart of the bike is a Shimano Nexus three-speed drivetrain, with a simple twist shifter on the right hand and an internal-gear hub complete with coaster brake out back. It’s intended to remain functional with a minimum amount of maintenance, and it has indeed stood up to rainy and grimy riding without adjustments or applying chain lube, with nary a squeak. The gear range is just enough: lowest for climbing, middle for starting off from a stop or mild uphills, and highest for cruising along on the flats or downhills. Occasionally I wished for some in-between gears to keep a steadier pedaling cadence, but this is not the kind of bike on which to worry about maintaining cadence or power output or any of that—I learned to simply relax and enjoy whatever pace I could muster. Plus it was nice to be able to change gears while stopped at an intersection.

As it’s been quite a while since I last rode with one, the coaster brake took some getting used to, especially when hopping up on curbs or getting the pedals set to take off—had to remember not to pedal backwards. The Nexus brake has a few degrees of free backwards rotation before it kicks in though, which makes these things easier. There’s a front linear-pull rim brake to give some backup stopping power that I seldom had to use. Once stopped, I found it necessary to dismount, as the ground was just out of reach of my toes when the saddle was extended enough for my knees. This is not unusual on a more racy bike, but initially I expected an easier reach, as the upright position reminded me of a casual cruiser. But that’s not what this bike is, and its non-cruiser geometry is more efficient. Dismounting also made sense given the loads I often carried on the rear rack.

Oh yes, the rack—it’s one of a host of accessories that comes standard on the Green. Again, it may not be a brand name item, but it’s sturdy and well-constructed, with extra rearward tubing to support large bags, a spring-loaded clip on top, and even a pump peg. I put on a set of grocery-style large panniers from Basil Bags (to be reviewed next issue) and enjoyed their convenience. The frame certainly handled a full load without complaint, and the 38mm-wide tires helped to cushion load and rider.

manhattn green

Full metal fenders, complete with a rear red taillight-style reflector, and a chainguard kept the road muck off of me and the drivetrain. This bike naturally also sports a kickstand, and a nice bonus is the simple but effective rear wheel lock. I used another lock when leaving the bike for long periods, but if thieves on foot can’t roll this beast away, they probably aren’t going to bother hefting it.

As for the cockpit, the handlebars have the classic English “North Road” bend that put my hands at a comfortable, natural angle, if a little too close to my hips. (These could be flipped upside-down to mimic some early drop bars.) A pair of no-name Ergon-style wide and flattened grips capped them off nicely. A large, ergonomic, sprung seat cushioned the bumps fairly well the old-fashioned way (or close to it, as the springs were elastomer instead of metal). Simple metal and rubber platform pedals allowed me to wear whatever shoes I liked. The finishing touch is a nice loud bell. One absent modern convenience that would have been nice was water bottle mounting bolts—I made do with a TwoFish Quick Cage strapped to the down tube.

It’s amazing that this bike goes for less than $400. Nice that such a simple, functional, sturdy bike is easily within reach.

manhattn green

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