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.
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.
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.
- Age: 28
- Height: 5’7"
- Weight: 165lbs.
- Inseam: 31”
- Country of Origin: Taiwan
- Price: $800
- Weight: 27.0lbs.
- Sizes available: 15", 17", 19" (tested), 21", 23"