As parents of two developmentally disabled children, my wife Deana and I struggle to wrangle everyone together for family activities. We’ve always tried to find ways to get our kids riding, and despite his visual impairment, that has been relatively easy with our son, Ryan. First, we used a Burley trailer, then a trail-a-bike, and finally a traditional tandem. This has been wonderful and we ride a fair amount, but we were often leaving the ladies of the house behind.
Our daughter, Allison, has gross motor issues and is non-verbal, so while she has good sight, even getting her to navigate a tricycle safely on her own has been a challenge. We had the Burley trailer which served us well and was a way for all of us to ride together for a few years when both kids were younger, but as soon as Allison grew out of that, the bikes fell by the wayside as a group option.
When we recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, all of the cycling infrastructure really got us hankering for a solution to get Allison on (or behind) a bike again somehow so we could all ride together. She’s 11, and she’s pretty big. Her inability to balance safely and consistently had us leaning toward some other trailer option. We briefly considered an e-bike plus a larger trailer to account for the added weight. In addition, we were trying to think ahead with a potentially significant investment involved. We wanted something that we felt we could use for at least a few years, and hopefully many more into young adulthood and beyond.
The A-HA! Moment
Brainstorming with my cousin Ellen via email one day, she offered to put us in touch with her friend James to discuss some possibilities. Ellen mentioned that James had recently gotten one of the excellent Yuba Spicy Curry cargo bikes for his family and thought it might be worth checking out and exploring as a solution for us.
As an e-cargo bike, it seemed compelling. After discussing some of the pros and cons, we decided we should go check one out in person. Both Ellen and James immediately pointed us to local cargo bike specialist, Front Range Cargo Bikes, with the thought that we could certainly put our hands on a few bikes there, if not get some novel ideas from folks who deal primarily in this niche.
It was probably only a day or two later when I headed on down to Front Range Cargo Bikes, and that’s when I saw it. Front and center by the open bay door, the first thing that caught my eye was a crazy, bakfiet-looking cargo bike with an electric motor, integrated lights, and a cool looking cargo area made of EPP foam. As I waited for someone to come help me, I started poking around it. The first thing I noticed was a small bench seat bolted in the cargo area with a SEATBELT! QUEUE THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS. Right then, I suspected we found our answer – The Urban Arrow Family.
First Test Ride
The first ride was a solo affair. I figured Deana and I need to crawl before we sprint – we needed to be steady on this bad boy by ourselves before we could strap a child in the front with a clear conscience.
The first piece of advice was that the steering would be much different from I was used to. The analogy used by the folks at the shop was, “it’s like steering a canoe”. I have to say, that’s a pretty good analogy. I was a bit wobbly, but as soon as the Bosch electric motor kicked in with the first pedal stroke, things straightened right out. More about the fantastic motor later.
I pedaled down to the end of the industrial area where the shop is located, and found a nice big area of tarmac to make a complete turn with lots of space, then headed back. Instead of going straight back to the shop, I hooked a left turn and rode on down an adjacent bike path. Before I had even hit the path, I had the steering sorted out, so I opened it up to see how the thing felt at speed. Right away, the bike is confidence-inspiring. At just under 100 pounds, one might think it would be a bear to manage, but with a low center of gravity, and a lot of the weight out in front of the long wheelbase, this thing is very stable. If there was a precise moment I knew the bike would work for us, it was then, on the path.
A return visit with Deana and Allison proved that the bike was, indeed, a winner. The test rides with those two went better than I expected. Deana quickly handled the awkward transition to driving a long and heavy machine, and Allison showed no fear riding in the front. In fact, Allison clearly loved having the wind in her face and was actually resistant to getting out at the end of the first test ride. Smiles and high fives ensued!
Tires, wheels, etc
The Urban Arrow has features galore that really make it a legit car replacement option. In fact, since we got the bike, my car has seen fewer miles than it has in years. A big reason why is all of the features that make the bike easier to grab as a first transportation option.
Starting from the ground, a thoughtful spec is apparent. Supporting you are two Schwalbe Big Apple Plus tires that serve two purposes – durability and suspension.
These things are impenetrable, and even at the higher end of the pressure range, they offer a surprising amount of shock absorption over inconsistent tarmac. My only complaint with the tire set up would be the odd Dunlop valves which are sort of a combination between Presta and Schraeder and only fit one of my two pump heads in my home garage.
Moving up from the tires brings us to the excellent SKS fenders that came stock on our Urban Arrow. These are the bolt on variety and are wide enough to accommodate the Big Apple tires, and as anyone who has any experience with SKS fenders will tell you, they’re great. They come with buddy flaps installed and everything, so the coverage and splatter protection are top-notch.
Mounted to the top of the front fender is an integrated headlight, and there’s a tail light mounted under the seat in the back that is similarly hard-wired. The lights can be turned on and off from a switch on the Bosch head unit, and the lights run off of the prodigious battery. The lights work well enough, but they do leave some room for improvement. The headlight is adequate, but not particularly bright. Because it’s very adjustable, I was able to point it in a way that maximizes illumination and it works well enough. The rear tail light is large, but again, if I could have it 100% my way, I would like to have an option to make the tail light blink. Despite these minor issues, both lights appear to be high quality and completely adequate.
Cockpit and Shifting
I have to admit, it took me a while to get used to the bendy bars. With hands resting in position on the grips and just straight line cruising, it’s a very comfortable setup. The grips are…grippy, and the ergonomic shape is comfortable. Standing up in the pedals took a while for me to confidently figure out with this setup. There’s rarely a need to do so in order to accelerate or power up a hill – you have the battery-powered e-assist. Where it occasionally becomes handy is going over bumps, across uneven driveways, or otherwise navigating a bumpy section of road. Even though the saddle and tires are cushy, sometimes it’s nice to stand and use your arms and legs to absorb some of it.
The stem is like unique and provides lots of adjustment options:
The bike came with the stem almost as high as it would go. The upside to that position is that it clears the bars out of the way for larger passengers inside the cargo area. In a lower position, which is more comfortable for me as the driver for several reasons, the bars _might_ get in the way a larger passenger’s noggin. So far, this has not been a problem for us, even with Ryan who is a 5 foot 7-ish inch 15-year-old and always wears a helmet.
Shifting via the NuVinci N380 system is a key component to the killer spec on this bike. It’s a completely sealed and continuously variable shifting solution that’s contained in the hub of the rear wheel. There are essentially two extremes (easy and hard), with a rotating grip shift to adjust between those extremes. I find that I need to pause shifting for a beat to make the up-shifts as smooth as possible. Downshifting seems to go much smoother while pedaling, but I find that I still pause my pedal stroke for just a second when going in either direction. This is no different from what most people should be used to with traditional derailleurs.
Conveniently, you can shift to the easiest end of the spectrum while at a standstill. This comes in handy if you have to stop short, or just forget to downshift. This allows you to restart a 100 lb. bike from a standstill without needing to crank over a huge gear which is a must. The closed system of the NuVinci also continues the low-maintenance, durable theme of the bike. The chain is also enclosed in a rubberized Chainglider cover. As with the shifter, this keeps the chain entirely sealed, keeping water out, and also protecting the pant leg of your Armani suit from drivetrain lube, should you choose the take this mean machine to work after dropping the kids off at school.
The Key Bits – Cargo Area and Motor
What sold us on this bike is the integrated, purposeful human hauling capabilities. There is a cushioned bench that comes stock with the Family version of the Urban Arrow, and there are adjustable nylon belts to secure your passenger (or passengers). A second, smaller bench is available as an after-market option, which allows for a forward-facing and a rear-facing passenger in the cargo area. We haven’t gotten the second bench yet, but we may at some point. For now, the main bench is perfect for any single passenger.
I purposefully avoided the use of “child” in reference to the passenger, because there’s room for a full-sized adult. The hauling capacity in the cargo area is rated at 400 pounds, so with that much room, you could technically put two average-sized adults in there, as long as they were willing to share some knee room. We haven’t tested the upper ends of the hauling capabilities, but it was reassuring to know we had room to grow.
The Bosch Active motor and battery are phenomenal. I had no experience with any sort of e-bikes or e-assist motors at all before test riding this bike. The first thing I noticed when stepping on the pedals is that the engine assists you right away. As with the downshifting capabilities described above, the instant assistance of the electric motor is VERY handy when you have a heavy and unsteady payload….such as an excited, hand-flapping, 100-pound autistic girl. The assistance is subtle and, in a word, perfect in those situations. It allows the driver to confidently lift both feet on to the pedals at very slow speeds, so steadying the bike is a breeze.
Beyond the instant availability of the e-assist, the motor feels and works very intuitively. It’s not a motor in the traditional sense – when engaged, the motor will not propel the bike by itself. It only assists the pedaller while pedaling with variable amounts of power based upon the four settings: Eco – just enough boost to take the edge off of completely pedalling the thing by yourself; Tour – a bit more power, more than enough to help get over moderate hills with a light load without too much extra effort; Sport – the next notch up, great for powering up hills with a kid in the front, getting up to speed in traffic, and most any situation; Turbo – tons of power for getting over the steep hills with a full load.
The battery life on the unit is pretty good so far. The higher power settings obviously eat up battery life much faster. If you left the bike in Sport mode, you might get 15 miles of pedaling assistance. I find that I most often use Eco mode when riding by myself, and the estimated range on a full battery in that mode is somewhere around 25 miles. My technique to extend battery life has evolved to maximize life between charges. When going downhill, I’m getting better about turning off the motor and just pedaling. I think Bosch got the design right when they developed this product because the toggle switch between e-assist modes is easy, intuitive, and right at your fingertips. Your mileage will obviously vary, but so far, we get two to three days out of a charge. That’s with regular use riding at least one child to school every day (sometimes two), and using it for nearby errands and/or short fun rides around the neighborhood every day.
The Extra Bits
There are several key features built into the bike that really help put it over the top and make it easy (and fun) to grab as a primary transportation option. First, Urban Arrow used a sturdy, double-legged kickstand that engages and disengages with relatively little effort.
The only thing you might need to take into account is steadying the bike when a passenger is getting in or out of the cargo area. When the kickstand is engaged, if you don’t have weight on the seat, the bike will tip forward about an inch and weight ticks forward to the front wheel (you can see this better in the first picture at the top). This is a natural consequence of the kickstand acting as a bit of a lever when it’s engaged with the bike defaulting toward leaning “back” toward the heavier back-end of the bike. You can also just push the front down to ensure the weight is tilted toward the front of the bike to steady it that way if the passenger prefers that when they’re stepping in. This is a very minor thing and is hard to explain, but I thought it would be worth mention. In either case, the bike is very stable and otherwise steady when parked with the kickstand in use.
Next, the seat has a hard molded plastic handle built into the underside:
This thoughtful addition serves a specific purpose. As you’ll find out after test riding the Urban Arrow, it has a very large turning radius and is very long. This makes the bike hard to handle and manipulate in tight spaces. Having a sturdy handle to grab helps pick up the back-end to move the bike around a bit quicker when you need to…and there will be times you need to (think parking on a tight sidewalk area). Because of the length of the wheelbase and the relatively low clearance, it could be pretty easy to scrape the bottom riding off of a tall curb or other obstacles, so just be careful in those situations – you can use the handle to lift the back end a bit to walk the bike over. As for the low clearance, I have yet to come across any major slam scenarios, but I did strike the crank arm while pedaling up and over a grassy sidewalk/path interface while riding my son to school one day. This was undoubtedly a consequence of the low clearance (and perhaps a poor line choice by the driver!)
Next on the list of nice extras is an integrated lock:
With the flip of a lever and a turn of the key, a miniature u-shaped bar wraps around the rim, between the spokes, and locks into the other side. This essentially immobilizes the bike since attempting to move it causes the rear wheel spokes to bump into the bar, so you can’t roll it when engaged. To retract the bar, all you do is insert the key and twist, and the lock springs back, hidden away and locked in the housing. The key (shown above) is locked in place when the lock is retracted, so you can keep it there and don’t have to worry about it falling out while riding around. To disengage the key, you have to push the lever and fully engage the lock. This is really handy and is another critical factor that makes the bike so easy to use.
Skeptics might be worried about relying upon a tiny locking device like this to secure the bike. The fact of the matter is, this bike is at least 5 feet long end to end and weighs right around 100 pounds. It would take at least two people, a truck, and some planning to pick up and make off with this bike while it’s immobilized. For almost every use I have for this bike, the integrated lock is sufficient and is all I rely upon. I bring along a larger cable lock if I know I’m going to be away from the bike for more than a little while, and obviously, your circumstances may vary.
Lastly, this thing has a siiick bell! A Dutch neighbor recently showed me a very similar bell that she has on her bike that she said she picked up on her last trip home, so I think these bells are a Dutch thing. Anyway, there’s a great chance that you’ll be one of the few folks with a cool bell like this in your town. It’s just a small cherry on the top of an already stellar package that makes it fun to ride.
The Final Analysis
Because it perfectly fit as a solution to a problem that had been nagging at our family for quite some time, this is my favorite bike in the stable, and is the most fun I’ve ever had riding a bike. It’s certainly not going to get you anywhere as fast as other machines, and of course, you’re limited by its natural range of capabilities. You’re not going to go touring on it, you’re not going on any serious off-road trails, and you’re certainly not going to race this bike. I like to do all of those things, and this does none of them.
What this bike _does_ do is change your life. It changed our lives, at least. We’re lucky enough to live very close to a lot of amenities. We have two grocery stores, several banks, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc, all within a mile of our house. Our kid’s schools are next door to each other and sit less than two miles away. We also have an extensive network of multi-use paths and bike lanes right outside our door. These things unquestionably make riding a bike easier.
The undeniable fact is that we drive much, much less, and we are riding as a family again. If you think that you’re ready to make an investment in a purposeful, workhorse machine as a commuter, a grocery-getter, and an all-around car replacement, the Urban Arrow Family does all of this and more. Go get your hands on one and pedal it.
I have to give a huge thanks to Ellen and James for helping us find this bike. It really has been a blessing to have an option to ride together again with “all four friends”, as our son might say. We all owe you guys big.
Also, I can’t forget to mention that, if you’re serious about pulling the trigger on one of these awesome machines, be prepared to talk to people. More often than not, people want to talk about the bike when I’m out and about on it. People are perplexed, curious, confused, amazed, and otherwise very interested in the bike, and they WILL ask you about it. It’s a great conversation starter and it turns heads wherever you go. You’ve been warned – enjoy!
LONG TERM UPDATE – OCTOBER 2018
Time and miles have not changed much with this bike. Pretty much everything has proven to be durable and reliable after extensive daily use, with two minor exceptions:
- The Chainglider chain cover came loose after several months and became difficult to secure. As a result, the chain would rub against it on the inside and generate a bit of noise when pedaling. After futzing with it for a few weeks and trying to find a way to get it to work unsuccessfully, I decided to just remove it. While this eliminated the built-in grease protection for your pant legs, things immediately became quiet again. I don’t wear pants where chain contact is much of a concern, and to be fair, I made no attempts to contact the vendor or take it to the shop. I’m fine with lubing, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining an exposed chain as with my other bikes.
- The stock pedals are not great. They were pretty smooth on the surface and would probably work well with a variety of shoes (including dress shoes), but they also began to make noise after some significant miles. I decide to replace them with some inexpensive nylon Odysseys and everything has been smooth and quiet since.
I consider both of these issues minor and neither change my previous enthusiastic endorsement.
Note: Corrected 10/10/18 to reflect the following note from Urban Arrow-Ed. “The box on this bike is not EPS, the material used inside bicycle helmets. That stuff is brittle and purposely intended to break on impact. (absorbing shock in the process) We use Expanded Polystyrene (EPP) which is actually what’s used inside motorcycle helmets – a more expensive and durable material altogether. It’s sort of rubberized as you’ll see if you press on it. Almost impossible to do more than scuff, and it will not shatter like EPS. Also note that flashing taillights on bikes are illegal in many Euro countries as flashing is reserved for emergency vehicles and red flashing for trains rear facing”.Tweet Print
By Stewart Port
I’m a 64-year-old guy with heart disease. I ride for everyday transportation and errands when I can, and occasional 10-20 mi. jaunts for exercise and recreation. I’m otherwise in good shape, but I have a hard limit for sustained exertion– the arteries to my heart are narrowed and propped open with hi-tech Chinese finger-cuffs. So when my (mostly younger and healthier) pals urged me to join them on their annual weeklong bike camping trip. I really wanted to go, but was torn. I didn’t really have any rolling or camping gear that was up to the trip, and 30 miles of all-out effort while potentially rolling along by myself with the pack far ahead didn’t sound like much fun.
And then there was the Tern, conveniently on loan for evaluation to the publisher of this fine outlet, who happens to be my neighbor, and one of the instigators of the tour.
At first, I hated the idea of being the old guy on the e-bike, but Moe patiently explained that it wasn’t a regular e-bike, but rather an e-assisted bike– Pedal, and the motor amplifies your efforts, with a choice of four levels. No pedal, no go. Hell, you could even turn off the electricity and kick the entire 60 lbs down the road purely on burrito power. And the cargo deck solved the problem of having no proper compact, lightweight camping gear– I just stuffed my quilt and pillow in a soft bag and gathered up my usual car camping kit and backpack and mini-cooler, and bungeed the whole impossible pile down on the rear cargo deck.
First, a short ride to the train station. Starting out in the lowest gear, my first pressure on the pedals produced powerful acceleration. (Note: Hold on tight when starting out! There’s a bit of a learning curve, but the various power levels make it possible to really dial in the effort, spin rate and speed for varying conditions) With a hand from an obliging conductor I loaded the thing up into an Amtrak San Joaquin, and we were off to Antioch, our starting point at the edge California’s Sacramento River Delta.
The trip from Antioch to Locke, a picturesque old Chinese town up the Delta, was about 30 miles, and apart from the half mile of 7% grade climbing up the Antioch bridge, the route is the very definition of flat, though the winds can be stiff. For the most part, I found myself switching between equal periods of pedaling unassisted and using the first level (“Econo”) to keep up with my crew’s 10-12 mph pace (Yes, the speedometer is very cool!). I found myself wishing that there was an even lower level of assist available. When I used the assist, I consoled my wounded pride by figuring I was using just enough battery power to make up for the thing’s fat tires, 60 lb curb weight, and the ridiculous pile of gear strapped behind me. I was surprised at how easily and smoothly it rolled un-assisted.
The fit adjustments were convenient, especially the handlebar quick-release adjustments which made stopping and making minor changes to avoid fatigue a reasonable solution to the straight bars’ lack of different places to grip– If I were using it mainly for touring, I would want to add climbing pegs or some sort of bar extension. When we got to our bivouac for the night, an orchard and adjoining wood, the fat tires did nicely on the rougher surfaces.
On the trip back, I put it to a harder test. I was traveling alone for the last 15 miles, and I had a train to catch, so I allowed myself the second and third levels (“Touring” and “Sport”) and cruised along at 15-16 mph, switching to the highest level (“Turbo”) for the bridge. At about a mile from the station, I noticed the ride getting a little squooshy, and sure enough, the rear tire was looking low. With no patch kit or pump, and not much time to spare before my train, I gave it the juice– I put it on the highest setting and the lowest gear, and pedaling hard, fishtailed into the depot on a completely flat tire, with scant minutes to spare. Amtrak came through for me again in Oakland– The agent was kind enough to let me leave the rig in the secure baggage area while I walked to my house to get my car. Getting it into the trunk of the old Jetta for the ride home proved easy enough, and without taking off the wheels it only projected a foot or so beyond the back of the car.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone abuse defenseless rubber and aluminum so, but the wheel and tire appeared none the worse for wear when I broke them down to patch the tube (A small sliver of glass that had worked its way through, and eventually cut the tube..)
All in all, the GSD, and its fine-grained pedal assist control system is a great addition to my life. For a lot of folks and situations it can tip the balance towards making a trip on two wheels as opposed to four, or not at all.
Read Part One here: Tern GSD review Part 1Tweet Print
The longtail cargo bike, with its stretched rear end, has been my go-to whip of late due to its ultimate versatility, utility, and fun. And with an electric motor for extended range, there are no worries about what (or who) you might pick up during your travels, or how far you might go in a day. But longtails are long, taking up a good amount of space and being difficult to load onto a larger motor vehicle.
So when Tern showed up in the cargo bike market with its GSD, I was Intrigued. First, what does GSD stand for? Get Stuff Done is one answer. And secondly, aside from its attractive looks, what is so new and exciting about this bicycle? Tern calls it a new kind of bicycle, a compact longtail.
What makes it compact? Well for one thing, with the help of dual 20” wheels, the GSD has a length similar to your average bike. Combined with a folding handlebar and highly adjustable saddle, it’s easier to get it into the back of your SUV, easier to take on public transportation, and a lot easier to store. In fact, the GSD can be stored vertically on its tail, taking only a small footprint.
It’s also electric. Some of you are thinking that is not what you are looking for. A while ago, I wasn’t either. But once you get accustomed to the increased range and versatility you will likely be sold for life. Power comes from a 250 watt Bosch motor, putting out a maximum 63Nm of torque in Turbo mode. That’s right, the GSD controls offer four power modes from Eco to Turbo. Different levels of assistance for different needs. In Eco the motor gives you 50% more power than you pedal into it, up to Turbo where the motor is adding 275% more power to the bike. Stock battery is 400 Watt-Hours but you can also buy the GSD with a 400 plus 500Wh battery for extended range. This pushes the GSD into the touring realm.
Versatility is key. Accessories unlock the GSD’s potential. Kids? The GSD will easily take two Yepp child seats for the small ones. Big ones and adults can ride on the back using accessory foot pegs, seat cushions, and grab bars. Panniers? Enough for all your groceries. Racks? Front and/or rear for even more hauling capability. One size fits most all here with the GSD fitting riders from 5 feet to 6’5”. I’m 6’4” and had no trouble with it. Plus the handlebars rotate around the stem for further fitting options.
The build is pretty heavy, in a good, strong way. The frame, while aluminum, appears beautifully built and ready for anything. In fact, the weight capacity is 400 lbs. so there’s not much you can’t haul. The feeling of solidness is welcome here. Weight comes in under 60 lbs. in the single battery configuration. Component-wise there are a few things that stand out. Tern-specific Schwalbe 62mm tires on Tern-specific 36mm rims with plenty of spokes and Boost axles. Magura 4 piston brakes handle the stopping with great power. Super solid, top notch, up to date modern stuff. I would not hesitate to carry anything with this bike, as long as I could get it on there.
Accessory-wise you won’t need to add much to this bike. Lights, fenders, center stand and bell are all included with the bike. Optional accessories to consider include Tern’s Cargo Hold panniers, child seats, and the Shortbed tray that is on the test bike. Handlebars and pegs are also available for adult passengers as well.
In practice, it is easy to get on and go. The step-through frame and low center-of-gravity sure help. Turn the motor on, select the amount of assist you’d like, and go! Easy-peasy. The Bosch motor helps as little or as much as you need. But you still have to pedal. Power is solid, but keep in mind this is no motorcycle.
My friend Stewart and I shared the testing duties. We both found the GSD to be super-capable for a wide range of tasks. Loads included a pile of camping gear, the band’s bass drum, passengers, boxes of magazines, garage sale items and more. As much as Stewart did not want to use the motor (Out of pride I believe), he was glad to have the motor as an insurance policy in case he got tired too far away from home. Me on the other hand, I just enjoyed the lack of throttle as I bopped around town picking up random articles. But I did wish for a bit more power on some of the steeper hills. I do weigh well over 200 lbs you know. The good news is that the 2019 model will have more, power that is. The other small improvement we’d recommend would be a larger center stand as the current one is a tad small for parking on uneven surfaces.
The best thing about the GSD is its foldability and storability. The handlebar folding down made it much easier to load the bike into a SUV or minivan. As for storage, grab the rear brake, pull back and the GSD sits on its tail, taking up only a small amount of closet space.
The Tern GSD is sold with single 400Wh battery for $3999 The dual 400 plus 500Wh model will run you $4799. Panniers run $150 a pair and that rack runs $120. A lot of money? For some, yes. But this bike is a game-changer, a car-pooper, sonic reducer, life-changer. Imagine parking that multi-ton behemoth automobile and spending your time outside! Quality time! Quality life!
One of the most interesting cargo/utility bikes I have seen in a while, The Tern GSD is bound to get more butts on bikes, and that is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Click here for part 2, in which Stewart shares his touring experience!Tweet Print
Maybe driving a car is something you’d like to do less often. A cargo bike can make this a reality and can even replace the gas hog as a way of moving kids and groceries. Yuba, a company out of northern California, has been making longtail-style cargo bikes since 2006, first with the Mundo, Boda Boda and Spicy Curry models. Now, Yuba has expanded into the realm of front-loading cargo bikes with the Supermarché.
Call it a Front Loader, Long John, or Bakfiets if you want to get fancy – the Supermarché puts the load low and in front of you for certain advantages. Compared to a longtail, a front loader opens you up to carry a wider variety of loads more easily. Small children can be sat side by side as you pedal along, chat them up and keep an eye on them. Front loaders are also great for those odd or heavy loads like boxes of bicycle magazines, bass drums or kegs. Not that you need to chat with your drum or your beer, but those are the kind of thing I like to carry. The center of gravity is low, and the cargo space itself can be configured to accommodate a wide variety of “things.” The Supermarché can (soon) be had in an electric version if you live in a hilly area or just want some more juice to go further without questioning your physical ability to do so.
So what sets the Yuba Supermarché apart? One design goal was making a cargo bike that would fit a wide variety of people and carry a wide variety of loads. This is accomplished with a loooong seatpost and a looong steerer tube for a wide range of seat and handlebar adjustments. I had no trouble fitting my 6’4” frame on to the Super – in fact, I found it fit quite well whether I was sitting or standing to pedal. With its short seat tube, the Supermarché is designed to fit riders as small as 4’7″.
Another goal was to make the Supermarché as easy to ride as possible, so Yuba’s team selected a cable-actuated steering system which not only eliminates the usual damage-prone steering rod extension to the front wheel but allows for an even lower center of gravity. They also used different sized pulleys and played with fork rake to make the Supermarché relatively easy to handle.
The drivetrain is of the Shimano 3 x 8 trigger-shifting variety and connected to 20-inch wheels front and rear, providing ample gearing for the steepest of hills. Those 20-inch wheels have fat 2.4-inch tires and 36/48 spokes (front/rear), which provide confidence when carrying heavy loads. Plus, there’s only one innertube size to keep in stock for flats. Braking is handled by Tektro hydraulic discs for ample stopping power. The frame is aluminum the fork is cromoly and a wide kickstand holds the whole thing up without issue when loading or parking.
Other pertinent info? The Supermarché weighs 58 pounds before accessories and is capable of carrying up to 300 pounds of cargo, 220 pounds in the front and 80 pounds over the massive rear rack.
Accessories are a big part of the Supermarché thing. There are a variety of bamboo platforms and boxes available to customize your ride. My review rig came with the $250 bamboo box, which is pretty key if you just want to drop stuff into a box and forget about it. If you want to haul children, there’s a $150 seat kit that attaches to said bamboo box. And for the minimalist with a huge load, there’s a simple bamboo baseboard for $70. You are also free to build your own solutions and mount them to the frame. A third child can be put in a $199 Yepp child seat mounted to the rear of the bike. One more cool accessory is a $35 frame lock that slips through a special bracket that locks the back wheel from turning.
How about the ride? Starting off on the Supermarché is definitely easier than a couple of other front loaders I’ve tried riding. The step-through frame makes it easy to get on, and once you push off there’s no drama, even with a large load. The riding position is comfortable whether sitting or standing and wide MTB-style handlebars with ergonomic grips made controlling the bike a breeze.
Acceleration was great for such a large bike with the smaller wheel size. Loaded, the low center of gravity was appreciated. I have carried some pretty heavy loads with the longtail Mundo, and getting the weight even lower was yummy. The burly center kickstand also makes parking a breeze. Mind you, the wheelbase is quite long, so it doesn’t have the turning radius of a regular bike, but it does feel pretty natural once you get rolling. The only thing that felt odd to me was the five feet of bicycle sticking out in front of the handlebars. This made it a bit weird when, say, pulling out from between two parked cars, but I got used to it. The added length (8’5″ total) also takes the edge off the roughness of the smaller wheels when the going gets rough.
Coming off the Yuba’s Mundo longtail, there were a few things I noticed right away. First of all, I found myself picking up and moving more odd loads of various sizes – a bass drum, Dirt Rag magazines, people, etc. This can be addicting. Why bother with a regular bike when you might decide to do some shopping, stop at a garage sale or flea market, or want to give someone a ride home? The Supermarché is becoming my daily driver.
In the past, I had already been handling many daily chores on my Yuba Mundo cargo bike. But now, with the Supermarché my car is going to be parked even more. Yuba makes it easy to go car-free! Breathe the outside air, enjoy the day and be happy!
More info can be found on Yuba’s website.
(Edited 2/1/18 to reflect earlier use of cable-actuated steering system)
Before I talk about the Travelers Check, I need to talk about the Cross-Check.
And before I talk about the Cross-Check, I’ll talk about the KLR650.
In 1987 Kawasaki introduced the KLR650, a 650 cc, single-cylinder, dual-sport motorcycle. Even for the time, it was a simple tool that could do almost any motorcycle task one could ask of it. Commuting, touring, off-road, around-the-world trips or even Paris Dakar race bike, it does many things. It remained in production, almost completely unchanged, until 2008, when it received some updates, although it remains a no-nonsense option for a do-it-all moto.
It has its limitations. It is heavy and tall. The brakes are less than stellar; the engine produces less power than a modern 450 cc motocross bike, and the suspension is crude by any measure. But it is easily repaired, and with a few exceptions it is reliable as a garden tractor, it sounds like one too.
The Cross-Check fills a similar spot in the cycling world. First introduced in 1999, the Cross-Check was an inexpensive option for a “utility” steel cyclocross bike. Some might say it is the godfather of the modern adventure bike. It fits big tires and can be built up to suit a huge range of uses. Winter fixie beater, cyclocross race bike, Tour Divide cruiser, gravel bike, this thing can do it all. Rapidly closing in on 20 years of production, the Cross- Check is also mostly unchanged from the first ones that showed up in the last years of the 20th century
Much like the KLR, the Cross-Check is a jack-of-all-trades, which is both its strongest and weakest point. You’ll see what I mean by that shortly.
So back to the Travelers Check. Based on the geometry of the Cross-Check, the Travelers Check uses the well-regarded S&S couplers to create a take-down travel frame. Longer butting profiles on the top and down tube are used to keep the tubing thickness uniform on both sides of the couplers. Other than that, there are no real differences between the CC and TC, even down to the full-size run between 42 and 62 cm.
The Travelers Check doesn’t have a complete bike option, so I built this one up out of mostly used parts that were sitting around at home and at Bicycle Times HQ. I decided to go with a flat bar build and keep it simple with a single-ring drivetrain, using a Shimano Deore 10-speed derailleur with a GoatLink adaptor to shift an 11-42 SunRace cassette. Plenty of range for almost anything, one less cable to mess with when taking it apart. The horizontal dropouts open up the possibility of single-speed or internally geared hubs for those who lean one of those ways.
The handlebars are Fouriers alt-bars, brakes are from BOX and the seat is a generic- looking but comfortable Fyxation Pilot. The wheels are older Bontrager Race TLRs. These wheels would not normally be my choice for an all-around build, but all of the all- around wheels I had at hand were disc-only. Since I had the option, I saved my tubes for flat repairs and ran a set of 35 mm Kenda Flintridge Pro tires sans-tubes. I spent most of the test period with a Surly 24-Pack rack and Porteur House bag on the front of the bike.
For better or worse, the ride of an all-purpose steel bike hasn’t changed much in a long time. I’ve owned a few bikes of this type in my riding career, including a Cross-Check, and the best way I can find to describe the general demeanor is neutral with a subtle hint of flex.
Even with oversized tubing, compared to modern aluminum or carbon bikes the Travelers Check displays some twisting in the front end. I am sure some of this is related to the porteur rack setup, but even unloaded I noticed it while cranking up hills or getting more rad than 35 mm tires are designed for. Also, 740 mm wide bars are going to torque things up more than the drop bars, or the 660 mm bars that come stock on the flat-bar Cross-Check. And finally, I ride a lot of very stiff, very modern mountain bikes, so my stiffness calibration may be different than yours.
With the lightweight wheels and tubeless tires, I was highly impressed with how speedy this bike felt on the road while still being able to hit the dirt with authority. While it isn’t as pronounced as on some higher-end steel frames I’ve ridden, this bike still has some of the “good flex” that gives steel frames their zippy feel, which made me want to get after it more than I expected on a bike with a not terribly aggressive riding position.
I know I am spoiled, but I haven’t ridden a bike with rim brakes in a long time. My own sizeable collection of bikes has only one without discs, and that bike lives on a trainer. I can’t say I had any issues with the brakes on this bike, but it was a mild winter for the most part, not the type we used to have where wearing through the braking surface on rims in a single winter was common. As a travel bike, the rim brakes keep things much simpler than cable-actuacted discs and rotors can’t get bent in transit.
The brake pads for V-brakes are a universal fit for almost every brand out there, so it should be simple to source a set almost anywhere.
For a true touring bike, most people would want closer ratios between gears than what is found with an 11-42, 10-speed cassette. But for everything else, it is fine, and maybe the best all-around drivetrain setup I’ve used on an all-around bike. It also means one less cable and derailleur to deal with when packing. S&S recommends checking the coupler’s tightness before every ride and during the ride on very long and rough days. The coupler tool is a simple hook spanner with a 15 mm pedal wrench on the other side. I didn’t notice the instructions on daily tightening until about two weeks into the review, and both couplers where at least 3⁄4 of a turn loose.
I didn’t pack this bike up, as it doesn’t come with a case, but just like all coupled bikes it isn’t easy and takes some practice. S&S sells a variety of cases, both soft- and hard- sided, including a backpack that can fold up and store on the bike. Look for a review of the backpack at a later date. All S&S cases are designed to meet airlines’ maximum size rules, so flying should not involve an upcharge.
If you don’t need a travel bike, there is little reason to buy this bike. For $875 you can get a very similar complete build in the flat-bar Cross-Check. But if you do plan to fly even a few times a year, it could easily pay for itself in just a few flights.
As an all-around bike it is hard to beat the Cross-Check, and by extension, the Travelers Check, even almost two decades after it first hit the market. While it is easy to criticize its performance in any one, and in some ways every single, criteria, it really doesn’t matter. To me, the key to a good travel bike is being up for almost anything. Short of riding very technical mountain bike trails or hopping in a group ride with really fit roadies, this bike can get me into all kinds of trouble all over the globe.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Sizes available: 42, 46, 50, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 60, 62 cm
Price: $1,099 (frame and fork)
Weight: 23.4 lbs
Twin Six is a clothing company, so I was a bit surprised to see a collection of bikes in its Interbike trade-show booth a few years ago. The surprise quickly turned to respect, as the bike lineup was simple yet well thought out. This is the sole steel bike in the line—its other bikes are titanium.
“This whole thing [Twin Six, back in 2004] was started because of being fed up with boring options when it came to cycling apparel,” said co-founder and owner, Ryan Carlson. “We founded this company on the idea of designing clothes we wanted to wear. Fast forward 10 years, and our thoughts were the same—let’s design bikes we want to ride. There were plenty of ‘mediocre-frame with crappy- parts’ combos out there, but we felt like we could provide a better option. Two years of drawing and prototyping later and we couldn’t be happier with the range of steel and titanium frames we’re putting out there.”
The Standard Rando is a very practical, by the numbers, all-rounder. While that might sound like damning with faint praise, it is a high compliment in these days of increasingly complicated bikes. A steel frame and fork with classic geometry, but modern components, might just be the ticket for people who want to step off the technology bullet train.
At the heart of the Rando is a double-butted, 4130 chromoly steel frame. While there are probably at least a dozen options for bikes similar to this one, the Rando stands out as a simple and focused option, offering just what most riders want in a frame like this without extraneous braze–ons or styling exercises.
My favorite feature about this frame is the cable routing. Nothing fancy here, just simple cable clips that screw into bosses in the down tube. Full housing runs for every cable reduces the chances for contamination, and all cables under the downtube keeps everything neat. It makes internal routing seem silly. Which it is.
The frame also has a chainstay mounted disc caliper for easy rack and fender mounting. The fork has mid-mounts for a low-rider rack and a pair of mounts at the forward-facing dropouts. Cheers to steel forks. I think they ride better than carbon and are better able to handle the day-to- day abuse a bike like this may face.
There is one complete bike option for the Standard Rando: a SRAM Rival build kit with BB7 brakes, NoTubes Grail wheels and a Fizik cockpit. Gearing is a practical 46/36 crankset and 11-32 cassette. It’s all very functional stuff and the customer can even choose handlebar width and crank length.
The black paint hides it well, but the steel tubing on this bike is of the oversized variety. And that oversized tubing gives this bike a solid feel. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the “feel” that a good steel frame is famous for, but compared to some of the steel bikes I’ve ridden lately, it resists flex under hard pedaling efforts very well.
The stock 32 mm Panaracer Pasela tires step up and help take the edge off quite well. I swapped in a set of new, 36 mm tubeless Clement MSO tires (see page 60), and things got even better. You can stuff in a tire up to 43 mm wide but that is starting to run out of clearance for mud.
The Rando can handle pretty rough roads without complaint, but it does make its road-focused geometry known when things get really dicey. For the most part it was a fun bike for exploring but not something I would intentionally take on rides with a lot of singletrack, as the steep head angle and low bottom bracket make for interesting times.
That leaves a whole lot of good riding to be had, and with the versatility afforded by all the braze-ons this bike can be set up for almost anything. You could add fenders and a rack for commuting, a low-rider front and a big seat bag for light touring, or knobby tires for gravel rides. They’re all good options and all easy to set up.
The Rando has 75 mm of bottom bracket drop, which is a good spec when paired with the bigger tires. This keeps the center of gravity low when cornering. Those big tires, whether knobby or not, offer up the traction, and the geometry is happy to take full advantage of it to carve around corners like a sharp knife through a Christmas ham.
There is a frame and fork option as well for $600. As of early August, the green color option is sold out, but expect another color besides black to be ready soon. The black metal fenders pictured are a $30 upgrade, worth it for the matching look and protection from the elements, although they are not the easiest to install.
The Standard Rando is standout for its clean aesthetic, smart spec and simple functionality. As a steel frame on the stiffer end of the spectrum, this is a good fit for heavier riders or for those folks who just want to mash the pedals and go fast. Strong, stable and straightforward, the Rando is a straight-talking bike that can deliver on its promises.
Ed. Note: The latest color option for this bike is orange, as of May 2017.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 23.5 lbs
Sizes: 51, 53, 55, 57 (tested), 59
Keep Reading: Find more reality tested reviews here!
We all enjoy a good escape on peaceful back roads where dilapidated farm houses often outnumber the passing cars. Maybe there is no set route, and each intersection allows for that last-second decision with only the falling sun as our guide. Perhaps your route rolls on by a park with some dirt paths or maybe even some singletrack. Regardless of the destination, the points between A and B will provide an adventure themselves with endless possibilities, assuming your bike is up to the task.
I want to be able to jump on my bike and go as I please. I want to escape the busy roads as quickly as I can, leaving careless drivers far behind. If I see that sweet little doubletrack path through the green space, I want the ability to take it without hesitation. I want my equipment to be up for anything it may encounter, including plenty of rough terrain. What I want is complete freedom to roam. The answer to that freedom is none other than the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent. It’s exactly what a bike should be: a do-all, go-anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one-trick ponies and niche categories.
Most cycling enthusiasts, regardless of which bike-nerd level they have achieved, are familiar enough to know that the Ritchey brand is of a finer quality. Ritchey has a long history, starting with production road frames made for Palo Alto, a Bay Area bike shop in 1974. Soon after, a partnership formed between Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher to produce the first production mountain bikes. Once that partnership dissolved in the early ‘80s, Ritchey rebuilt the brand into Ritchey Bikes. Eventually, as more and more of the pro peloton made the switch from steel to aluminum bicycles, Ritchey shifted his focus to working with other companies (such as Shimano) designing specific components, creating what we know today as Ritchey Designs. Almost 40 years later, Ritchey continues to lead by example, instilling the “relentless innovation” mantra at Ritchey Designs, striving to improve and perfect the products we all love to push to the limits on a daily basis.
Going back to 1985, Ritchey released the Ascent, which replaced the Timber Wolf as the company’s entry-level off -road bicycle. After a few years, Ritchey updated the Ascent’s geometry, shortening the chainstays and creating steeper head and seat angles. As stated in the 1988 Ritchey catalog, “as a result, the bikes retain their stable handling characteristics while positioning the rider further forward for more efficient pedaling.” Almost 30 years later, today’s Ascent mirrors the 1988 Ascent Comp with the exception of a few small upgrades. Those upgrades include Ritchey’s custom internal headset cups, Ritchey Logic steel tubing, disc brake compatibility, 100 and 135 mm quick-release hub spacing and fender and rack mounts for all your touring and commuting needs.
Speaking of wheels and disc brakes, that’s probably my favorite feature of this frameset, it has the ability to run up to 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires. Sure, it may not roll the fastest with all that rubber, but it’s going to fit wide, puncture-resistant commuting tires or even some nice mountain bike tread for singletrack action. Or, you could always throw some road slicks in there to get your speed jollies off. That’s the beauty of it; it all works!
While the versatility of the tires is certainly awesome, what makes this frameset the ultimate adventure seeker’s bike is the Break-Away frame design. Tom Ritchey built the first Break-Away model in 1999, and the first production run soon followed in 2001. Interestingly enough, Ritchey still rides the first Break-Away model today.
The Ritchey Break-Away design implements a locking compression system to achieve a travel frame without sacrificing ride quality or needing any special tools for disassembly. The frame can be assembled with 4 mm and 5 mm Allen wrenches and a few simple thumb turns for the derailleur cables. Personally, I prefer the aesthetics of the Ritchey Break-Away design over S&S couplers as it maintains the smooth lines of the TIG welded tubing. As far as the breakdown and assembly, even though no special tools are required, this is no speedy task and is not for those that lack the ability to perform intermediate-level maintenance on their bikes. You are essentially taking most of the bike apart in order to make it fit in the travel bag and then reassembling. Make sure you perform a dry run, or three, before you travel. Once you figure out how to successfully pack the bike in its bag, I would suggest taking photos of the step-by-step process so you can more easily replicate it again.
The included Break-Away soft-sided travel bag measures 8.5 x 26.5 x 31 inches, or 66 linear inches. Yes, that’s correct, that’s 4 inches over the 62 inch oversized airline baggage policy. Based on internet forum discussions, I found that travelers typically were not paying oversize fees. However, I would not rely on that always being the norm.
Although the Break-Away Ascent is only offered as a frameset, the awesome team at Ritchey sent ours as a complete bike. The frame was accented with Ritchey’s top-of-the-line WCS components, a SRAM Force 2×11 compact road drivetrain and BB7 mechanical disc brakes. This build features the company’s new VentureMax off-road drop bar, which offers a 6 degree sweep on top and an ergonomic bio-bend with 24-degree flare in the drops. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a flat bar kind of rider, and although the VentureMax was comfortable, I still prefer the leverage of a flat bar when climbing out of the saddle. Thankfully, the Ascent’s geometry is versatile enough to accommodate either flat or drop bar builds. The tubeless-ready Vantage II wheels and 27.5×2.1 Shield tires provide a surprising amount of traction for the dual-purpose, low-profile tread design, rolling well on the pavement and offering just enough side knob to stay confident on the dirt. Although the bike handled singletrack quite well, I was quickly reminded of its low (in terms of mountain bike standards) bottom bracket when taking on log overs. However, that same bottom bracket height was appreciated when letting the bike flow through gravel descents earlier in the ride.
As a whole, this is one hell of a bike. The smooth Ritchey Logic steel tubing rides like a dream, and the mountain-bike-esque geometry provides all-day comfort. I am confident that any adventure seeker would love this bike and the ability to fine-tune the build to their liking. The Ritchey Break-Away provides ample possibilities to discover the world on two wheels.
Tester: Scott Williams
Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
Price: $1,650 (frameset and travel bag)
Weight: 23 lbs. (as tested)
Find out more at ritcheylogic.com
Editor’s Note: When we originally published this review in Bicycle Times 46, we mistakenly printed that this frame was fillet brazed, not TIG welded. Our sincerest apologies for that error.
Adventure outlet REI is ushering in spring 2017 with their new bike line, Co-op Cycles. This new line of bicycles increases their focus on adventure products by placing a slightly increased emphasis on the popular, and growing, segment of gravel and adventure inspired bikes. Feedback from a co-op members survey directed REI’s decision making after it was determined that members were looking to purchase bikes for adventure, freedom and fun. Sounds good to me.
Select representatives from the cycling and outdoor industry were invited to kick the tires on the new offerings and do a short mixed surface bikepacking overnight in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Part of the Austin REI team led the ride on paved and gravel county roads, giving riders the full experience on the Co-Op ARD 1.2, their all-around, gravel/adventure bicycle.
The ARD 1.2 represents the middle-of-the-road option in terms of trim and pricing. It features an aluminum frame with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 drivetrain, TRP Spyre-C dual piston mechanical disc brakes, rack mounts and a front thru-axle.
The bike comes stock with 28mm tires and a generous amount of room for fenders. For this ride, the ARD 1.2 was set up with beefier 35mm tires as we made our way through some thicker dirt and gravel areas. There is still a fair amount of clearance with the 35mm tires, but REI doesn’t recommend using fenders with tires larger than 28mm.
The ARD 1.2 was capable of riding through a variety of terrain and was just fun to ride. The Shimano 105 2×11 drivetrain offered enough of a range to see me up and over most of what Texas hill country could dish out and the carbon fork helped dampen front impacts while remaining stiff and light.
While I don’t often ride drop bars bikes, I really enjoyed my (relatively brief) time on the ARD 1.2. It handled both smooth, flat asphalt stretches and sketchy, gravels descents with equal predictability and seemed up for just about anything else I might want to throw at it.
Available in men’s and women’s sizing, The Co-Op ARD 1.2 will set you back $1,299. If this is a little rich for your blood, Co-Op offers a more reasonably priced (the Co-Op ARD 1.1) model which goes for $849. Of course, the componentry is not as robust as the 1.2, but that is pretty typical when the price drops on a bike (top tip!).
There are also two higher priced carbon models. The ARD 1.3 has a carbon frame and fork, is equipped with Shimano Tiagra components and is priced at $1,799. The most pricey model is the full carbon ARD 1.4, which comes with American Classic wheels and weighs in at 19lbs 1.1oz(!) and will set you back $2,299.
I walked away impressed with the Co-Op ARD 1.2 and feel like REI really took their members’ feedback to heart. This bike is a great choice for a wide range of cyclists who are looking for a moderately priced adventure bike.Tweet Print
The Tout Terrain brand is really built around the open road. The bikes and their designs have evolved from first-hand experience on long distance tours and expeditions. A big brother to the classic Silk Road model with 26-inch wheels, the Tanami has 29-inch mountain bike wheels and can fit up to a 2.0 tire for flotation and comfort on bad roads and gravel. Because of the taller wheels it’s only available in sizes large and extra large. Most Tout Terrain bikes are built to order to a customer’s specifications, but you occasionally see models like our test bike pre-configured in local bike shops.
The Tanami Xplore frame is built from good ol’ steel, like a touring bike should be, in this case Dedacciai chromoly. The rear rack is welded right into the frame and rated to 88 pounds. Since it’s likely to be subjected to heavy wear, the rack is made from stainless steel, as are the dropouts and all the braze-ons. The frameset also has standard dropouts, three bottle cage mounts and mid-fork eyelets.
As Americans we’re used to seeing drop bars on touring bikes, but in Europe it’s much more common to equip them with flat bars, a setup I prefer myself when running panniers. With the right grips and some bar end handles it’s easy to have a couple hand positions and control all that weight. Plus at touring speed it’s not like I’m in a big hurry anyway. I much prefer the upright comfort.
At the heart of the Tanami Xplore is of course the Pinion P.18 gearbox. Similar to a car or motorcycle gearbox, it houses most of the whizzy, toothy, spinning bits inside where they are protected from the elements. Tout Terrain has been building bikes around the internally geared Rohloff Speedhub for years, and the 18-speed Pinion is a natural extension of that indestructible ethos. It offers nearly all the benefits of a Rohloff hub, but with better weight distribution thanks to having the mass right at the bottom bracket. Tout Terrain also offers the standard Tanami model with the Speedhub.
Similar to a Rohloff, the Pinion is shifted with a dual cable system, so your shifting options are limited to the factory twist shifter. The twist shift design is perfect for a transmission like this, since it can shift to any gear at any time without stopping at the gears in-between. It can also shift while stopped, which is a feature I didn’t realize how much I loved until I used it. Each shift indexes with a nice thunk, and you can upshift to a harder gear even while pedaling hard. Downshifting, on the other hand, can sometimes get hung up. I found it a bit temperamental about having to lift off the pedal pressure just right to let it shift. It often occurred when transitioning from a flat or downhill up to a steep hill, which is exactly the worst time to get stuck in gear.
Once you get your pedal-pushing power transferred through the gearbox it’s delivered to the special rear cog via a Gates Carbon Belt Drive. The belt is a perfect companion to the gearbox, since it needs virtually zero maintenance and is built to last a long, long time. It runs smoothly and quietly, and I appreciated not having worry about getting my pants leg stained from grease too. One downside to the belt drive: If you are on tour in the middle of nowhere and have a problem with it, you’re likely going to be stuck there for a few days until the UPS carrier arrives with a replacement. A traditional bike chain can be found at any bike shop and even some big-box stores.
At first I wasn’t sure how the proper tension was achieved on the belt, but then I realized that the entire Pinion gearbox itself pivots slightly to take up the slack. Removing the rear wheel from the vertical dropouts is simple, and you’re guaranteed the same belt tension when you reinstall it. Both front and rear wheels use traditional quick release skewers.
At this price you better expect to get some bells and whistles on the Tanami, and it includes the dynamo hub that powers an included headlight. In fact, the dynamo cable routes right through the fork leg for a clean look. Tout Terrain offers a handful of other dynamo options to suit your needs too, including integrated USB charging.
What I’d really love to see is a center stand. The U.S. distributor of Tout Terrain, Cycle Monkey, included a carbon fiber UpStand, which attaches to a small tab at your rear hub and detaches to store on the seat tube. While it worked great when the bike was empty, a pair of full panniers were too much for its 25 gram tube. A few cool features are found hidden near the headset: a pair of bumper tabs welded into the head tube prevent the handlebars from rotating more than 90 degrees in either direction, and a small steering lock holds them in place while you’re loading and unloading the bike.
On the road the Tanami feels much like, well, a hybrid. Like many stout steel bikes, it has a smooth and planted feeling on the road. Even loaded down for a 100 mile mini-tour it never felt wobbly or uneasy. The integrated steel rack plays a big part in that.
Quirks aside the Pinion is a great system that I have no doubt would stand up to some serious abuse. Tout Terrain markets itself as a “buy it once, buy it for life” kind of brand, and with an eye-bulging price tag it’s not likely you’d be buying anything else quickly after. While the Tanami has more than enough pedigree to tackle an around-the-world expedition, I have to wonder how its lack of sex appeal will draw in American audiences. After all, our country has never been quick to embrace practicality. It’s a flawless execution of a vision, but like everything in life, you have to pay for what you get.
Sizes: L, XL (tested)
Weight: 36.5 lbs with pedals
Words and photos by Jeff Lockwood
The Italian bicycle brand Bianchi has been an icon in the world of cycling for well over 100 years, and its celeste green paint is lusted after by legions of bicycle lovers from all walks of life. While Bianchi regularly sees its bikes in the pro peloton, the brand is also known for building a solid stable of rigs for mere mortal cyclists. For example, Bianchi produced a very popular series of singlespeed mountain bikes, like the SiSS, in the early- to mid-2000s.
We know from watching races like the Giro d’Italia and Strade Bianche that Italy has some rough roads and that Italians love to ride bikes. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Bianchi’s All Road collection offers a couple of bikes to be ridden atop such surfaces. As part of this collection, the All Road Disc 105 hits a market that prefers a bike that can handle the rugged white roads in Tuscany as well as riding to the local café or winery. While that sounds quite utopian, more practical applications for the All Road for the rest of us means we can ride the bike around town during the week and then take it on some modest adventures on the weekend.
The aluminum All Road frame is designed to be ridden in a variety of scenarios, on differing surfaces—sometimes all on the same ride. While people sometimes simply opt to buy cyclocross bikes for off-road riding, the All Road offers some features that are more specific and useful to the average cyclist—and offers more comfort than a racy cyclocross frame.
Bianchi’s own marketing copy positions the bike as a capable all-terrain steed, “The All Road best suits the needs of riders looking to enjoy endless miles ‘off the grid’ — whether their excursions take them up fire roads, down gravel roads, over mountain bike trails or ‘all of the above.’” However, I find the bike does better with riding situations closer to home. Without failing miserably at being too many things to too many people, the All Road deftly presents a product that wisely offers three important characteristics needed for varying types of riding.
For starters, the amusingly (yet appropriately) named 35 mm Kenda Happy Medium tires offer a tread that will roll nicely on smooth tarmac, grab enough on loose dirt roads and absorb some impact from neglected city streets. The fender mounts are key if you’re more into commuting to the office, as well as light touring. The 35 mm tires are about as wide as you can fit here, but there’s still plenty of room for the fenders. While the rack mounts offer a certain level of utility by allowing you to attach some bags and other bits, I wouldn’t say this bike is quite suited to heavy touring or bikepacking.
The key aspect of the bike’s versatility, in my opinion, is the fact that it’s a bicycle that is quite stable and comfortable on rougher roads for long distances. However, it’s still nimble enough that it can confidently cut and dice around traffic and errant pedestrians as you ride from your apartment to those glorious dirty stretches of road. And, of course, everything in between.
While you could theoretically use the All Road to test the waters of a cyclocross race if you’ve never done one before, the bike has a more relaxed and comfortable geometry and measurements than its racy siblings. The chainstays are a bit longer, which offers more straightline stability, yet the front end of the bike remains on the short side. This lets the bike get snappy when you need/want it to be.
Its taller headtube puts the rider in a more upright (read: comfortable) position, which is always good for those long days in the saddle. This comfortable position is bolstered by the compact handlebars, which offer a shallow drop and slightly flared drops. I love the comfort and confidence this cockpit offers. It’s not often that I find myself riding in the drops on road or ‘cross bikes too much, so it was a pleasure to get into such a position with the All Road.
The All Road is spec’d with a wider diameter seatpost (31.6 mm). Combined with its aluminum frame, I was expecting a rather rigid and unforgiving feel—especially on rough roads. I was pleasantly surprised that the bike muted some of the vibrations on rougher roads. While it didn’t offer steel-frame-level forgiveness, I found it to be plenty comfortable. Sure, this is mostly thanks to the wider tires, but the whole package rode really nicely.
Let’s be honest. The All Road is not designed, or priced, to be a hard-edged racing machine. It’s meant to be more of the trusty Swiss Army knife you have at the ready for whatever might come your way. However, since it’s billed as something to play in the dirt with, I sought out to see how the bike would perform on some tasty singletrack. It’s definitely no cyclocross bike, nor can it withstand truly technical trails with gnarly rocks and roots. But when the path was smooth, flowy and tacky, the All Road was fun. As long as I approached turns with a bit of care, the All Road stuck nicely to the trail.
The component spec on the All Road is typical for what you would find on a similarly priced rig. Shimano 105 takes care of the drivetrain. The 105 group is the workhorse of the shifter/derailleur world, and it’s hard to beat its performance-to-cost ratio. Disc brakes are a must for a bike like this, and Shimano’s road-specific hydraulic brakes offer smooth modulation and confidence. The aluminum stem, bars and seatpost, all branded as Bianchi’s Reparto Corse products, do their respective jobs with neither complaint nor fanfare. The carbon fiber fork is a nice touch. It tracks nicely and doesn’t really chatter on the rough stuff, which is welcome for more dirty sorts of riding.
While the Reparto Corse DRAW 1.9 Disc wheels and the Happy Medium tires performed well during the testing period, I would have preferred to run a tubeless setup. I understand that would have priced the bike a bit higher, but the performance gains, and confidence, offered by tubeless tires is key for such off-road specific bikes like this. I did worry about pinch flats when I would drop the pressure to further smooth out the ride.
While it was designed and built to be primarily ridden off-road, I found the Bianchi All Road more adept at rides along varying types of surfaces, rather than a pure gravel machine as marketed. If you’re into riding what you want, when you want, the All Road is certainly worth consideration. It may lack the sexiness that Bianchi is known for, but it’s a reliable rig that’s versatile, comfortable, decently spec’d and comes in below the $2,000 threshold.
Sizes: 50, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61 cm
Weight: 24.3 lbs
This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #44. Read more reviews online here, and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get content like this delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday.Tweet Print
Tester: Justin Steiner
Price: $620 (frameset)
Weight: 7.1 pounds (frameset)
Sizes: 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 cm
I’ve always been a sucker for bicycles that offer heaps of versatility. Sure, some folks will argue that aiming for versatility results in a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” scenario, but in reality most of us are more jack than master anyway.
On paper, Soma’s Wolverine offers compelling versatility in terms of tire and drivetrain flexibility as well as options for mounting racks and fenders. The Wolverine frame is constructed from Tange Prestige heat-treated chromoly steel and butted chromoly stays. The rear triangle offers mounts for fenders and racks, and the disc brake caliper mounts to the sliding dropout.
The Tange/IRD rear dropouts offer adjustable chainstay length and the ability to run a singlespeed setup. These dropouts are also compatible with many of Paragon Machine Works’ dropout offerings, including Rohloff, thru axle, direct mount and other options.
The fork uses a flat crown and Tange Infinity chromoly fork legs with double braze-ons at the dropout for rack and fender mounts as well as mid-mount eyelets and mini rack mounts for a front rack.
A small section of the drive-side chainstay also unbolts in order to install or remove a belt for belt drive. Originally, the Wolverine was slated for development as a belt drive compatible version of Soma’s popular Double Cross. However, Soma employee Evan Baird suggested the company push tire clearance into the monster ‘cross realm to give riders more options.
The team’s effort to maximize utility then led them to lengthen the wheelbase and increase stack height to improve on the Wolverine’s light touring chops. With clearance for 45 mm tires with fenders, or 1.8 to 2 inch wide knobby tires—depending on volume and knob size—without fenders, the Wolverine holds up the monster ‘cross description quite well.
Top tube lengths on the smaller sizes run on the longer side, so be sure to take a close look at the 50 and 52 cm frames. The smallest is said to fit riders from 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 8 inches, while the 52 cm spans 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches.
Soma currently offers the Wolverine as a frameset only, but the company built up a complete bike to facilitate testing, including a SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and Avid BB7 brakes. The Easton Heist 24 mountain bike wheels offer ample width for the Shikoro tires in a 42 mm width. Soma’s Rain Dog fenders round out the build and keep salty winter road spray and spring showers at bay.
A couple things struck me on my first couple of rides aboard the Wolverine. First, I had forgotten how supple and lively a steel bike can feel, even at this price point. The ride quality improvement when you jump from a basic 4130 tubeset to even an entry-level, name-brand tubeset is significant.
Secondly, the big Shikoro tires rolled very well and were incredibly comfortable. This was my first extended test of SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain on a drop bar bike and I’ve come away impressed. At first, the larger ratio jumps between gears were noticeable, but I quickly acclimated.
This setup is great for all-around recreational and commuting use, but may not offer enough gearing range for steep terrain when loaded for a camping weekend. My test rig had the 42-tooth chainring up front, which I would definitely swap for the 38-tooth for touring—the smallest chainring offered with the Rival crankset.
Just as Soma intended, the handling of the Wolverine straddles the middle ground between drop-bar commuter, monster ‘cross bike and light touring rig. Handling is quicker than you’d find on a true touring rig, but slightly more relaxed than you’d find on a cyclocross bike.
Off road, the Wolverine feels great on graded dirt surfaces or anything that could be loosely classified as a road. When you turn onto singletrack the Wolverine holds its own but the road-oriented geometry requires quick reflexes. With its plethora of rack options the Wolverine is ready for adventure.
However, it’s important to keep in mind this is designed as a light touring bike. It’s more than up to the task, but the lighter your load the more fun you’ll have. If you’re looking for a round-the-world-with-the-kitchen-sink rig, there are better choices on the market such as Soma’s Saga touring bike.
With a reasonable weekend’s worth of gear, the Wolverine’s handling and frame stiffness both felt great. In day-to-day use as a commuter rig, the Wolverine was a treat. Handling is lively and fun if you’re feeling frisky, yet mellow enough to let you zone out and decompress on your way home from work.
Set it up with fenders and commuting tires for weekly commutes. Rip the fenders off and throw on some knobbies for a long weekend gravel bikepacking adventure. Run it as a singlespeed commuter during the winter to save your drivetrain. The options are nearly limitless if you enjoy tinkering.
No doubt, there are a lot of bikes on the market promising versatility. Soma’s Wolverine is a fine example of one that offers highly functional versatility with a few features, such as the sliding dropouts and belt drive capability, that set it apart from entry-level offerings. It’s easy to see this as a versatile drop-bar solution for anyone outside of the performance road or ‘cross racing realm.
It’s now available in black in addition to orange.
Tester: Adam Newman
Weight: 27.8 pounds
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (tested)
More info: GT Bicycles
Practicality and fashion are a difficult mix. Some would say they’re even incompatible. Many bikes will get you where you need to go, but they aren’t exactly turning heads.
If you’re reading this magazine you likely have more than a passing interest in two-wheeled transit. But you don’t have to be a bike nerd to appreciate having fun in the saddle, and that’s what I found with the GT Traffic.
Sitting atop the line of three Traffic models, GT says the 1.0 is built for urban professionals, suburban commuters or anyone who wants a really practical bike that doesn’t just blend in with the crowd. It takes several design cues from the sportier GT Grade models, but incorporates a more upright posture and commuter-friendly features like the kickstand mount.
The aluminum frame features the classic GT Triple Triangle, and the silver finish is classy without a ton of logos marring it. It is available in six sizes, so almost anyone should be able to find a good fit. At 6-foot-2, I rode the XL.
The Traffic is a solid platform for getting where you need to go and fun enough to take you a little bit beyond. While I will admit to being spoiled by some of the high-end bicycles we get to demo, I was impressed with the value of the build. Included are Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, full coverage fenders and even a bell. Add some lights and a lock and you’re off.
Propulsion runs through an SR Suntour triple crankset and 8-speed cassette. I’ll admit to using the center 38-tooth chainring the vast majority of the time, but the 28-tooth granny gear was appreciated once in a while. I think I used the 48-tooth big ring only once or twice.
Moving the chain from one chainring to a larger one is a bit slow but it always got there. Out back the wide range of the 11-32 Sunrace cassette was great for hills, and shifting through the Shimano Altus rear derailleur was crisp and easy, a remarkable difference from the front.
One hangup was the Acera shifter only has a “pull” motion for the cable release, not the two-way release of high-end Shimano shifters, so you have to take your index finger off the brakes to shift. After a few rides I had adapted to it though.
On the road the ride is smooth with a sporty, but not aggressive, body position. The swept back handlebars keep your head up and your elbows bent, ready to dodge that errant taxi cab about to pull out in front of you.
The 40 mm Schwalbe Road Cruiser tires offer a smooth ride without much risk of punctures, and while many purists will scoff at the aluminum fork, I didn’t even notice it.
The best thing about the Traffic is its versatility. For rides around town I found myself repeatedly reaching for it. There aren’t many places you couldn’t go on this thing, and knowing that you didn’t break the bank to get there only makes it that much more fun.
I wouldn’t hesitate to take it out for rides through the countryside, or throw some front and rear racks on and go for a tour. Dirt? Gravel? Pavement? Sure, why not?
Drawing on Scott Sports’ European sporting and racing heritage, the Evo 20 is designed to be an urban bike that is well-suited to its environment and fun to ride. In practice, I found it to be a very well-thought-out bicycle that had just about everything you’d find yourself needing to navigate through your city’s streets and alleyways.
The Evo’s frame and fork are aluminum so there’s no worry about rust. There are adequate fenders fore and aft to ward off the spray from the Continental City Ride II tires. I think the addition of a small mudflap on the front fender could limit the very small amount of water that gets to your feet when riding around rain-soaked roads.
The tires are pretty great in most conditions as well. These tires have a very nice tread that sheds water well and puts a lot of rubber on the ground. An added bonus is their internal belt, which enhances the puncture resistance of the tire. Nobody wants flats, especially when you are on your way to work or a hot date and don’t want to get dirty patching tubes.
The Evo has a 10-speed Shimano drivetrain with a 48x36x26 crank matched up to an 11-34 cassette, which equates to plenty of gears for all those fun hills! Of course, once you go up you’ll need to come down, so Scott equipped the Evo with a set of Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with 160 mm rotors. Snazzy.
While you’re pedaling around town you’ll probably want to pick up a thing or two from the store and cart it home with you. To aid in your deliveries, there’s a Racktime rear rack that not only has a spring clamp to hold down your precious copy of Bicycle Times magazine, but also features the Snapit system. Snapit allows you to securely mount and remove bags by way of a simple latching system. Of course if you don’t have a compatible bag, you can just use the rack normally. While you are in the store you can prop your bike up with a kickstand that does a pretty good job of keeping the bike upright and stable.
What will they think of next? I’m glad you asked. Lights that never need recharging. Yep, the Evo has a Shimano dynamo hub that powers a front and rear light. The rear light does not blink; remember Scott is a European brand and they don’t like blinkies over there. It’s plenty bright though.
That brings us to the front Busch & Müller light. Great idea, poor implementation. Unlike the mid-headtube mounted light on the cheaper Evo 30, the 20’s front light sits on top of the fender and is positioned in a way that the fender and tire can obstruct the beam. The light can be tilted so that the beam is not obscured, but then it does not illuminate the road directly in front of the bicycle. I would suggest relocating the light to a point higher up on the frame.
Other than the front light’s somewhat perplexing placement, Scott Sports did a great job with the Evo 20. It incorporates pretty much everything you’re going to want in an urban commuter and wraps it up in a comfortable, fun package.
- Price: $1,399
- Weight: 32.7 pounds Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
- More info: Scott Sub Evo 20
Every day is a good day for an adventure bike! This one comes to us by way of REI. Say hello to the steel Novara Mazama, designed for bikepacking, grinding gravel and all of your off-the-beaten-path adventures. It seems to work well on the plain-old road too, just in case you were wondering.
At first blush, this is a pretty great bike. It’s got most of the things I’m looking for in a commuter/hauler/adventure buddy: 40c tires, three bottle cage mounts, a comfortable saddle, lots of gears (30 if you’re counting), mounts for fenders and racks and disc brakes.
It does have some slightly odd handlebars, though. Not quite sure how I feel about them yet. Right now I can’t get into a super comfortable position with them, but time will tell.
The Mazama does have bar-end shifters, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. You are, aren’t you?
Another cool feature with the Mazama is the Head Block turn limiter. Basically it limits the turning radius of the stem so that your bars don’t come in contact with the frame.
It will be interesting to see how functional it is in real world use, or if it’s just a pain in the long run. So far, it makes a lot of sense.
Among other thoughtful component choices, Novara went with TRP Spyre mechanical discs matched up to 160 mm rotors. TRP designs the Spyres so that both pads are brought into contact with the rotor with the same force, allowing for more even wear. The pads are pretty easy to adjust as well. They have provided ample braking force on a few commutes and an excursion along the singletrack near my house.
I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time in the saddle and reporting back in a future issue of Bicycle Times how it all went. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it, or all the other great content we’ve got lined up!
I was stopped on the side of the bike path, topping off a slightly underinflated tire.
“Hey nice bike. What’s that extra tube for? Must be heavy duty or somethin’. Is it for extra weight?”
The tube in question is the twin top tube on this here Kona Humuhumu. A retro/cruiser/mountainous/classic/singlespeed/bar-hopping/klunkish/commuter. Why is the extra tube there? Because it can. Why does this bike exist? Because fun. #becausebikes
Note: Leopard print saddlebag and pink Klean Kanteen not included.
The Humu has been in Kona’s line since 1992 and was loosely inspired by the legendary Lawwill Pro Cruiser and Koski Trailmaster. More of a giant BMX bike than an upgraded klunker, the original Humu wasn’t meant to be a hard-edged trail tamer, but rather a less expensive way for fans to fly the Kona flag while getting to class, cruising the neighborhood or generally causing a ruckus wherever they went.
The current iteration was inspired by a custom build and sports the same classic layout, 4130 steel tubing, moto-style handlebars and let’s-go attitude of the original, but updates it with disc brakes, 29-inch wheels and sliding dropouts.
Unlike a lot of cruisers, the Humu is available in three sizes so everyone can join in the fun. The Schwalbe Big Apple tires measure a massive 2 inches wide so the ride is magic carpet smooth. The rear hub is nearly silent too, letting you roll in stealthy silence. It’s available in orange or lime for $899.
So far I’ve had a blast hopping curbs, blasting through alleys and riding like a hooligan. I’m guessing that’s exactly what Kona was going for.
Watch for my long-term review of the Humuhumu in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and help support your independent voice for cycling.
Dutch city bikes are well known for their pleasing ratio of practicality to style. The Peace Bicycles Dreamer keeps that rule intact with this fully featured ride. Peace Bicycles was founded to bring an affordable, stylish and well-equipped alternative to a market that is still chock full of fixies and expensive boutique models.
Don’t let the price fool you, this bike looks expensive and was admired by a wide range of the population as I made my way around town. It is classy and understated, but still stands out. The Dreamer is a turn-key commuter, including most of what is often an add-on sale: kickstand, fenders, chain guard, front and rear LED lights, skirt guard and a rear rack with spring clamp. The chain guard is a particular standout, offering a lot more protection than what’s available on most bikes with derailleurs.
A basic 7-speed Shimano drivetrain has a decent range, though I wouldn’t mind an easier gear for the hills. This wouldn’t be hard to modify, but I’m guessing most riders in flat to moderately hilly cities will be fine as-is. The rest of the parts performed just fine for a city bike. The saddle not only looks good, but offers much better support than most saddles of this type.
The riding position is upright, and anyone taller than 6 feet is going to feel pretty cramped on the single size, but Peace plans to offer more sizes in the near future. A longer stem would be an easy swap to open up the cockpit for taller riders.
The real star of the show here is the ride quality of this bike. I’ve ridden a few Dutch-style bikes, and they are often heavy and clunky. The Dreamer’s steel frame and high-quality Schwalbe Fat Frank tires provide a much more refined ride quality than I expected. The tires smooth out the ride but still roll much faster than they look. The color and reflective sidewall stripes are icing on the cake. It doesn’t hurt that the Dreamer is lighter than it looks too. It helps to not cut corners, and using aluminum components keeps the weight reasonable.
The battery-operated LED lights are perfectly functional, although they aren’t terribly bright. For busy nights out on the town, I added extra lights for more visibility. One of the bungees for the skirt guard pulled out of its hook, but there are plenty left to keep skirts out of the spokes.
Part of Peace’s mission reads: “When we were young, the bike was always an escape, a sense of hope and opportunity, and that’s something that we wanted to personally pass on to as many people in need as possible.” To that end, Peace donates a portion of its profits to local bike co-ops to help offset the cost of a bicycle for a rider in need.
Currently, Peace ships Dreamers directly to consumers who are savvy enough to assemble the bike themselves, or to a bike shop for professional assembly. Although the tool set included with the Dreamer is more than adequate for assembly, I’d recommend professional assembly for all but the most experienced mechanics—the build process is far from easy. Peace is now working on an option for delivering bikes 90 percent assembled and plans to add a few more sizes to the range.
Having a bike like this kept in a handy place ups the odds that the car will stay parked and the bike get used more often. With an attitude and riding position that feels natural and relaxed, the Dreamer matches up perfectly with quick trips to the store, a night on the town or a short commute to work.
Photos: Justin Steiner
All new for 2016, the Tern Bicycles Eclipse X22 is designed to pack a big ride into a foldable package. Thanks to its 26-inch wheels the X22 feels and handles like a “standard” bicycle. That’s something that the best tiny-wheeled folders approach, but never quite attain. The Eclipse is also more adept at rolling over uneven pavement, crossing railroad tracks or grinding through gravel than smaller-wheeled bikes.
Tern designed the X22 for speed. Clues are the slick Schwalbe Kojak tires and the racy paired-spoke wheels. The 22-speed Shimano drivetrain has a huge gear range. When needed, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes keep the speedy X22 in check—with plenty of power and mucho modulation.
Throwing a leg over the saddle and grabbing the Ergon grips, I found myself in an athletic, heads-up riding position. The cockpit is roomy and comfy. I was more “over the pedals” than on my personal bikes—so I slid the Ergon SMC30 Pro saddle saddle all the way back and felt more at home.
After reeling off a number of multi-hour rides, I came away impressed with the comfort of both the riding position and the contact points. The Eclipse X22 feels energetic, and it’s a lot of fun to ride. Agile handling makes it a breeze to thread through crowded confines with a flick of the wrist, or dodge potholes with a wiggle of the hips. It’s a lot of fun zipping around town on this responsive, but never twitchy, bike.
The frame and fork have mounts for racks and fenders (offered by Tern, as well as aftermarket brands)—just the ticket for transforming this speedy steed into a workhorse, or packhorse. All-weather daily driver? Check. Light-duty tourer? Go for it.
At a folded size of 16.5 x 35 x 31.9 inches the X22 is not as compact as its smaller-wheeled siblings—something to keep in mind if size and space is a major consideration. The fold/unfold operation is quick and easy via cam-actuated levers on the frame and handlepost. The closure force is adjustable, and the levers feature Tern’s AutoLoc that automatically locks the levers in place to prevent accidental opening (e.g., if the closure force is improperly set too low, or something snags the lever while riding).
To open the lever, you must first slide back the red AutoLoc button, which releases an internal catch. Which brings me to my one negative experience: I failed to fully release the AutoLoc button the first time I opened the frame lever and managed to break the plastic catch. Tern told me it is considering switching the frame’s AutoLoc design to an aluminum catch at some point in the future. It has already switched to aluminum on the handlepost AutoLoc.
Despite morphing like a Transformer, the bike feels solid and secure. There’s no undesirable play in the main folding joint or the handlebars. Both the Tern Physis 3D-forged handlepost and Syntace VRO adjustable, double-clamp stem are solidly built. While the VRO stem provides less height adjustment than the telescopic systems on some folders, I had no problem finding a comfortable stem position.
I’ve ridden a number of folding bikes over the years, but none that has had the chops to deftly dispatch the daily grind, and hold its own in a paceline with pals, as well as the Tern Eclipse X22. I’d love to have this horse in my barn.
- Price: $2,500
- Weight: 24.5 pounds
- Size: One size fits riders from 4’10” to 6’5”
- More info: Tern Eclipse X22
Photos: Emily Walley
Marin designed the Four Corners and Four Corners Elite for the daily commute and the weekend adventure, and it couldn’t be more on point. I’m testing the lower priced model, with an MSRP of $1100. It offers all the bells and whistles for fully-loaded touring in an affordable package. The Four Corners is an all-steel frame with mounts for a front and rear rack, fenders and three bottle cages.
Saddling up, I immediately noticed the upright riding position facilitated by the long headtube. The bars sit higher than what I’m used to and have a 20-degree flare to the drop. On other bikes, I’ve trended toward riding primarily on the hoods and tops, but the Marin’s upright position had me comfortably riding in the drops for long stretches of rolling hills and rail trails—a welcome change. The reach on the size small frame was a little long for me, so I put on a 20 mm shorter stem.
To get a sense of the bike’s touring capabilities, I added fenders and a front rack and loaded it down with gear for a mixed-surface tour from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh. The ride included crushed limestone rail trail, rolling hard roads, dirt roads and railroad ballast. I carried my weight low on the front rack and the bike handled very well while weighted down.
On the small-sized frame, I was unable to include a water bottle underneath the downtube because it hit the fender. Though I haven’t tried yet, I’m speculating that the tire will come very close to hitting even a short bottle without fenders. On my trip, I used a stem-mounted cage for a third bottle.
The other two bottle mounts are placed so they’re easy to reach for day-to-day use, but they’re not in an ideal location for a frame bag. I zip-tied a cage lower on the downtube, closing up the unused space and allowing room for my frame bag.
I found the stock Schwalbe Silento 700c x 40 mm tires to be an appropriate spec, rolling well in a variety of terrain and adequately burly, so I wasn’t overly concerned with getting a flat. The Four Corners has clearance for up 45 mm tires with fenders or 29 x 2.1 knobby tires without fenders.
The Shimano Alivio 9-Speed with 12-36T gearing was adequate while weighted down over Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but I’d go with a lower gear range for an extended, fully-loaded tour with sustained climbs.
I was thrilled with the stock WTB Volt Sport saddle. One of the biggest pains of rail trail riding are the long, flat sections of saddle time. The WTB is comfortable and supportive and I didn’t find myself sitting gingerly.
Look for the full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Not subscribed? Sign up today for our email newsletter so you don’t miss stories like this one. Or, subscribe to the print magazine, where you can find the full review of this bike.
From Issue #37
Bicycle touring has changed a lot over the past few years, and while riders once rejoiced for a smooth ribbon of asphalt, a rough and rocky road is now de rigueur. Right on the Trek website you see signs of this preference as the new 920 Disc is classified under the banner of “touring and adventure,” and it’s clearly been designed to peg the needle at the latter end of that dial.
I have to say, the matte green paint and knobby tires look pretty badass, like something you’d expect to see with CALL OF DUTY EDITION stenciled on the side. Besides its looks the main draw of the 920 is of course the wheels and tires, which are straight out of the Bontrager mountain bike catalog: duster elite tubeless ready 29-inch wheels with thru-axles front and rear and XR1 29×2.0 tires. There is ample clearance for a 29×2.2 or a set of fenders with the stock tires.
When not exploring the back roads of the Wild West, the 920 Disc would make an excellent commuter. The build powering those big wheels is a Sram 10-speed drivetrain with 42/28 chainrings and an 11-36 cassette, also borrowed from a mountain bike. Old-school bike tourists will appreciate the bar-end shifters, though I wish the modern SRAM versions could be switched to friction mode. The double chainrings are more than adequate for most riding, but don’t offer a huge range. This might be the first bike I’ve ridden where I was wishing for a little bit lower gear and a higher gear; usually it’s just one or the other.
Built from Trek’s 100 Series Alpha Aluminum, the frame’s tubing is aggressively shaped with a massive downtube and a distinctly kinked top tube. That kink makes room for a second bottle cage on the top of the down tube on frames size 56 and up, for a total of four on the main triangle. There are also bottle cage mounts on each fork leg that do double duty as the front rack mount. In fact, the 920 Disc includes both front and rear Bontrager aluminum racks. While the rear rack is a fairly conventional design, the front rack sits up a bit higher than a set of traditional low-riders, though with the panniers mounted on the second bar from the top the bike handles just fine with plenty of toe clearance.
Bringing it all to a halt is a pair of TRP’s Hylex hydraulic disc brakes, which stand out for their stopping power but are also distinctive for their ergonomics. The main body of the lever houses the master cylinder, and to make room they are quite long. So much so that if you swapped these onto another bike, you’d have to shorten the stem by 10 mm or so to compensate to achieve the same reach to the hoods. The compact bend of the handlebar keeps things pretty comfortable though. I also swapped out the stock stem for a shorter one to dial in a perfect fit.
I loaded the 920 up with panniers and hit the pavement for a 100-mile overnight road ride, and then ditched the racks for some forest road exploring. It’s perhaps a bit too heavy for all-out gravel racing, but I found it’s an excellent companion for all-day back road explorations and dirt road rambling. Despite the aluminum frame, the big tires are more than enough to soak up the road vibrations, and the Bontrager saddle and I got along just fine.
While the basic layout of the 920 Disc is fairly traditional, the details are anything but. Shift cables run internally and the frame is equipped with a port for the Trek DuoTrap S speed and cadence sensor system. The hydraulic brakes might scare off some traditionalists, but they are much appreciated when you’re careening down a mountain with 70 pounds of gear. Purists will also scoff at the notion of an aluminum frame and fork on a touring bike, but if you really think you need a frame that can somehow be pieced back together on the side of the road by a good samaritan with a blowtorch in Uzbekistan, so be it. But I doubt you do.
The other refrain I’ve seen echoing through the message boards is that Trek copied the Salsa Fargo, as if that were the first bike with 29-inch tires and drop bars. While the Salsa is at heart a mountain bike and can run a suspension fork, the 920 Disc isn’t meant for singletrack. Think of it more as a Subaru Outback than a Jeep Wrangler.
The stock tires are most at home on double-track or gravel, but they roll well enough that I left them on for road rides as well. Because they are tubeless ready the bead sits incredibly tight on the rim and fixing a flat requires very high air pressure, some strong thumbs and a bit of cursing to get the tires to seat properly. I recommend setting them up tubeless from the beginning to shed weight and eliminate pinch flats.
While the 920 is meant for more rough and tumble adventures rather than smooth pavement, I would still choose it over the classic Trek 520 model for traditional road touring. My mountain bike experience has made me a big fan of hydraulic disc brakes and thru-axles—modern features that have earned my trust. Whether you go slicks or knobbies, with racks or without, the 920 Disc is a versatile bike that is ready for your next adventure.
- Price: $2,090
- Weight: 24.8 pounds (without racks), 27.5 pounds (with racks)
- Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58 (tested) and 61 cm
- More: trekbikes.com
With the Slot, Traitor Cycles set out to create a bicycle that could transition easily between urban commuter and off-road explorer. The idea was to have a bike that could be ridden through the city, to the trailhead, and continue into the wilderness without sacrificing too much from any one experience. Traitor is definitely targeting a rider who wants a do-it-all bike and doesn’t need a more robust mountain bike.
The Slot is made from steel and features a decent component group built from a mix of SRAM and Shimano throughout. The 44/32/22 chainrings matched to a 9-speed, 11-34 cassette provided me with a gear for just about every situation, and it all costs less than some of the more modern single and double crank setups.
The stock Avid BB5 brakes and 160 mm rotors are OK; I’m sure the BB5 brakes help to hit the price point, but I missed the adjustability of the BB7 versions and would have liked a larger rotor up front. Swapping rotors is a cheap and easy upgrade that you can do yourself, if needed. Traitor deserves a shout-out for the rear brake placement inside the stays so that it doesn’t interfere with mounting a rack or fender. Nice.
Speaking of touring, the Slot has braze-ons for front and rear racks, fenders and two water bottle cages. The front rack mounts are compatible with low-rider racks like the Tubus Tara. The down tube/ head tube junction has been formed so that even the smaller-sized Slots can accommodate an under-the- down-tube bottle and fender while still using 29-inch wheels. A water bottle under the down tube can get a bit crusty while touring, but it’s useful if you decide to outfit the bike with a frame pack and thus lose the use of cage mounts inside the front triangle.
For rubber, Traitor chose 29×2.1-inch Kenda Small Block Eights. While not the best tire for muddy or wet trails, they did an admirable job in most situations. I found them to be a perfect choice for a bike that is going to be jumping back and forth from the street, to gravel, to dirt. If you want to install full fenders you’ll have to swap out the 2.1s as the Slot will only accommodate up to a 700×45 mm tire with your splash guards on.
When I took it into the woods, the Slot did reasonably well on singletrack. Without bags, it performed just as you would expect a full rigid steel bike to. Without power lost to shock or fork compression, the bike felt efficient, albeit a bit rough in some of the more technical sections of the trail. And as long as the route up the hill wasn’t too muddy, it climbed like a champ.
Loaded up with bags and gear, the Slot didn’t flinch. Of course the weight slowed my progress down, but the frame handled the increased bulk well and I didn’t notice any unwelcome flex or loss of maneuverability. Even on some of the more challenging trails the bike felt well balanced and comfortable. The frame is compatible with an 80 mm suspension fork, but Traitor has also been mulling over selling a version with a suspension fork. I have a feeling that would be just plain awesome.
The bike really showed its worth when it transitioned from riding on a dirt trail to asphalt or gravel. Without any fanfare it just kept trucking along. I took the Slot on some pretty substantial rides with varying types of terrain and it performed as well as I could ask for from a multisurface rig. Long 17.9-inch chainstays and a low bottom bracket kept the bike stable in the dirt and the tires were able to crunch along gravel and roll pretty well along the smoother routes I explored.
The only real problem I had was with the seatpost clamp. I could never get the quick release mechanism to stay tight enough and the 26.8 mm seatpost slipped a bit while traversing rougher roads. I would suggest switching to a bolt-on collar if you experience the same. While Joel DeJong, the general manager at Traitor cycles, wasn’t aware of this issue, he stated they will likely change the post to the more standard 27.2 mm size with the next run of frames.
I really have to hand it to Traitor Cycles. They did a fantastic job building a reasonably priced, great-looking bike that can handle a wide range of terrain and activities. If you are in the market for a bike that you can ride to work or the store, tackle moderate singletrack, and take on tour I definitely recommend looking at the Slot.
- Price: $1,399
- Weight: 29.7 pounds
- Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
- More info: traitorcycles.com