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)
As I wandered around the Sea Otter Classic this year, a collection of unique-looking bikes all the way at the edge of the expo caught my eye. The noticeable difference between these bikes and most other bikes was the downtube—a curved arc replaced what is normally a straight piece of tubing.
As I stopped to take a closer look, one of the guys manning the booth came over and asked me if I’d like to take it for a test ride. I didn’t have time to go far, but I jumped on the bike and pedaled around the perimeter of the expo. It rode very smoothly—it turns out that the crazy-looking downtube actually acts as a type of suspension, absorbing shock from bumpy roads while also improving pedaling efficiency.
When I got back from my brief ride, I got the lowdown.
In addition to the curved downtube, which Alter Cycles calls the Rider Fit Tube, a specially-designed top tube provides vertical flex while minimizing horizontal movement. Together, the tubes flex as you pedal or encounter bumps.
Alter Cycles also claims that this design improves pedaling efficiency, storing power during the downstroke and releasing it at the bottom of the pedal stroke (normally the “dead zone”). I didn’t spend enough time on the bike to confidently attest or refute that this is the case.
There are four models available, all based around an aluminum frame and a steel Rider Fit Tube. The Reflex line offers three different hybrids with varying components. The top-of-the-line Reflex Elite 500 comes with a carbon fork, Shimano Tiagra and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, while the budget-friendly Reflex Sport 100 is set up with a steel fork, a Shimano Altus 3×8 drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes. Pricing starts at $749 for the Reflex 100 and goes up to $1399 for the Reflex 500.
The Route 400 is a drop bar gravel and road bike featuring an aluminum fork, a Tiagra 2×10 drivetrain and Spyre mechanical disc brakes. It comes in at $1599.
The downtube is customizable, with seven different colors as well as a few patterns. There are also four different flex options of varying stiffness, allowing riders to tune the bike to work optimally for their weight and desired riding style.
Alter Cycles can be ordered online or bought from a number of authorized dealers across the United States.
Keep Reading: Check out more stuff we saw at the 2017 Sea Otter Classic!
Tester: Jon Pratt
Weight: 26.6 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
More info: Novara Mazama
For those who aren’t familiar with Novara, it’s the in-house bike line of outdoor mega-retailer REI, and features everything from kids’ to mountain to road bikes. Novara already had successful road and off-road touring bikes in the Randonee and Safari models, but the Mazama splits the difference between those two. It’s designed to handle not just the smooth surfaces around town, but also the gravel and dirt routes that a lot of us dream of while sitting at our desks or leafing through the pages of our favorite cycling magazine.
Personally, bikes like the Mazama are exactly what I envision when I’m thinking of the bike that can get me to and from work, haul my beer, grind out miles on the crushed gravel and dirt paths of my local parks, and guide me through a self-supported bikepacking excursion into the wilderness.
What makes the Mazama lust-worthy—for lack of a better term? For me it’s pretty simple actually. It’s all price to performance ratio. There are lots of bikes out there that can take us from the store to the woods and back. Some of them are really expensive—some not-so-much. The Mazama is definitely in the later category. Yes, I know we all have different ideas of inexpensive, but at around a grand I think it’s fair to say the Mazama fits the bill.
But just hitting a price point isn’t enough. The bike needs to get us out and back safely, comfortably, and provide a platform to attach all our gadgets and gear for our adventures. Besides attaching a water bottle or two and some lights to your bike to get back and forth from work, you might find the need to haul a bit more. Novara designed the Mazama to adapt to those situations as well. There are front and rear bosses that will handle almost any configuration of fenders and racks. There are three bottle cage mounts, with one on the bottom of the down tube.
Do you need another clue that the Mazama was purposefully designed? There’s a guide on the right front fork leg so you can cleanly attach the wire from a dynamo hub. Sure it doesn’t come with one, but at least Novara’s team knows it might be a future upgrade you’d consider.
Now that we’ve got all your hauling needs covered, there’s the task of keeping you and that gear in control on varied surfaces. That’s where a good wheelset and brakes come into play. Novara opted for tubeless ready AT470s rims from Alex rims matched up with Clement X’Plor MSO 40c tires. The rim selection is a bit puzzling—17 mm wide rims seem a bit too narrow for a multi-surface touring bike, especially when it is loaded. While not the fastest tires on smooth, hard surfaces, the Clements do a fantastic job of transitioning between the multitude of surfaces you’ll encounter on tour or on your daily commute. Off road they are pretty awesome.
Of course when you go fast you’ll need to stop fast too. The Mazama relies on TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes matched with 160 mm rotors to bring you safely back from the brink. They are not the most powerful mechanical discs I’ve used, but they do perform well. I could see an upgrade here if you needed a bit more umph. There aren’t any significant bends in the brake line so compression-less housing might help increase the power.
Let’s not forget that handlebar selection is an important consideration for any bike, especially one that you may spend days on end riding in a touring situation. The Mazama’s flared drops provide a comfortable position while descending or just when I needed to mix things up a bit. Unfortunately, the positioning of the hoods down and off the front of the bars just felt awkward. I like the hoods to be positioned so that there is a flat surface beginning on the tops of the bars and continuing to the upturn in the hoods. With the Mazama’s stock hood position I felt halfway in-between where the hoods “should be” and the drops.
Novara chose to spec Microshift BS-M10 bar-end shifters because they are compatible with the Deore rear mountain bike derailleur. It is one of few derailleurs that are capable of handling all the chain needed to wrap around the 48 tooth front ring and 34 rear cog. This allows for a rear mountain bike cassette and 48/36/26 triple chainrings to produce a good range of gears, including a great low end which is well-suited for touring. I also found the frame to be stiff enough and provide plenty of carrying space for all the gear I need for multi-day adventures packed into handlebar, frame and seatpost bags.
The last thing worth a shout-out is the turn limiter that’s built into the FSA headset. There’s an extra bit to this headset you don’t normally see, and its purpose is to stop you from banging the handlebars into the top tube and saving the bar-end shifters in a crash. The bars are in no way hard to steer, but it’s just enough to protect your bike. It seems like a simple idea that I expect to start showing up a bit more in other bikes. We’ve already seen a similar version of it in one of the mountain bikes we’re currently testing in our other publication, Dirt Rag.
No matter if loaded, unloaded, on road or off, there was no unexpected or unwanted feedback from the Mazama. It felt ready to keep trucking along for as long as my legs could pedal. Novara has done a great job putting together a bike that I consider to be a good value and worthy of serious consideration if you are in the market for something that will perform well in a wide range of situations.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 55 pounds
Cargo bikes and electric assist are the peanut butter and chocolate of low-impact transportation. Maybe I shouldn’t be using a sweet food metaphor for a bike with a savory name like Spicy Curry, but right now my belly is full of chocolate peanut butter ice cream and I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else.
The Curry part of the name comes from the electric motor manufacturer: Currie Tech. With almost two decades of e-bike experience, Currie Tech was recently purchased by Accell Group, an international company which owns a huge portfolio of bike brands including Raleigh, Diamondback and Redline. Currie Tech teamed with Yuba to develop the Spicy Curry solely as an e-bike platform.
The aluminum frame is bristling with mounting points for cargo accessories, and the bright color is sure to attract attention on the road. While there is only a single size to choose from, the huge standover, long seatpost and stack of stem spacers make it easy to dial in a good position for riders of many sizes.
The swept-back bars are immediately comfortable, but the 1.5 inch steerer makes sourcing a shorter or longer stem more difficult. The components are all basic and functional. With the torquey 350 watt motor to back you up, the Shimano Acera 8-speed drivetrain has plenty of gearing for even the steepest of hills. Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are a nice touch for all-season stopping power. Front and rear LED lights, wired to the battery, are a welcome stock feature. It’s something I think should be on all e-bikes meant for road use. Full coverage fenders and a kickstand round out the build.
I also tested some accessories. The Bread Basket ($169) bolts to the frame, not the fork, and includes a stretch cargo net and water-resistant liner. Passengers sat on the Soft Spot ($30) padded seat, which strapped onto the Rear Deck ($40), and held on the Hold On Bars ($70) mounted to the seat post. The Carry On ($139) rack extenders created a wide platform for all kinds of bulky cargo.
The Spicy Curry may be the easiest cargo bike to just get on and ride. The well-triangulated aluminum frame and low center of gravity afforded by the 20 inch rear wheel makes the bike amazingly stable under heavy loads, even heavy loads of two squirming kids who are starting to get too big for me to haul around anymore. Frame stiffness plays a huge role here, and Yuba nailed it with the Spicy Curry.
The gearing might sound high (48 tooth chainring, 11-32 cassette) but the 20 inch wheel effectively lowers the ratio. In fact, I was left wanting an even bigger gear for those stretches where I was spun out at speeds below the motor’s cut-off point of 28 mph. This top speed makes the Spicy Curry a “Class 3” e-bike in California and your local laws might vary. Although, to be honest, we are probably at least a decade away from anyone enforcing e-bike speed laws.
The motor itself has plenty of power, although it isn’t as refined feeling as the Bosch mid-drive motor. At low speeds it is reluctant to kick in much power, which makes it very manageable, but sometimes it was hard to get moving with a heavy load and poor gear choice. As speeds increase the power does too, but gear shifts can cause driveline noise and surges in power.
I spent most of my time in the highest assist levels of 3 or 4, depending on traffic conditions, load and distance. The display predicts 16, 25, 29 or 33 miles per full charge in power modes 4, 3, 2 or 1 respectively, which I found to be quite accurate. The display is large and easy to read, but I’d like to see more info on each screen.
Without adding the pictured accessories, the stock bike isn’t capable of handling that much cargo. I highly recommend the Bread Basket to start—it is huge, and since it doesn’t turn with the front wheel it barely affects handling, even with a lot of crap inside. The oversize tubing of the rear rack wouldn’t work with any panniers I tried, although the copious mounting points had me scheming various DIY methods to make use of bags I already have. Yuba sells the 2-Go ($219) cargo bags that look to be a wise investment, with a large capacity and stirrups for passengers’ feet.
It’s been interesting watching the evolution of the long-tail cargo bike in the United States. What we see here, in my opinion, is what will be sticking around as the default orientation for the electric-assist cargo bike: mid-drive motor, 20 inch rear wheel, single ring drivetrain and a la carte accessories to personalize the bike for each owner’s needs.
Yuba is fully invested in e-cargo bikes (or is it cargo e-bikes?), this being one of four you can order directly from Yuba or a dealer. Price-wise, the Spicy Curry compares most closely with the elMundo V5 ($4,500) an e-bike version of Yuba’s oldest model. I’ve spent a good deal of time on the non-electric version of the Mundo and the best way I can describe the difference is another metaphor: The elMundo is a Ford Econoline van—heavy, sturdy, versatile and capable of hauling just about anything. The Spicy Curry is a Honda Odyssey— refined, comfortable and easy to drive.
Yuba is working to secure an agreement with a lender to offer consumer financing for its bikes, which should put them within reach of more families that don’t want to pay up-front or carry a large credit card balance.
The stock bike comes with a lot of things that are add-ons for most cargo bikes, at a price that undercuts its closest competitors. The lack of stock cargo capacity is easily offset by the lower price. Even with the generous amount of accessories I tested, the Spicy Curry is hundreds cheaper than the similar Xtracycle Edgerunner e-bike. This is a bike that I can see really making a dent in car use for many people.
I am as happy taking my kids home from the bus stop as I am hauling home remodeling supplies. The motor also made me much more apt to grab this bike rather than the car keys when I was tired or felt pressed for time. In the city, with a top speed nearing 30 mph, most trips are faster than in a car, and parking is easier, too. The Yuba Spicy Curry makes me hopeful for a transportation future that is more centered on people and not cars.
Tester: Emily Walley
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, XL
This year is Marin Bikes’ 30th anniversary, and it marks the introduction of an all-new “utilitour” model, the Four Corners. The neutral gray steel frame gives the bike a timeless look, while disc brakes, wide tire clearance and an upright riding position keep pace with cyclists’ expectations for adventure touring and bikepacking.
What piqued my interest in this bike was its Gemini, do-it-all attitude packaged at an approachable price point. The Four Corners is equipped with a Shimano Sora 50/39/30 crank and 12-36 cassette, wide Schwalbe Silento 700×40 tires and the stopping power of Promax Render 160 mm disc brakes. The bike’s tour-ready spec is rounded out with mounts for racks front and rear, fenders and three water bottles.
Marin also offers the upgraded Four Corners Elite model with a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for $2,300.
The Four Corners was designed with a long top tube—21.8 inches on the small—but also a long stem offering ample room for adjustment. An upright riding position is facilitated by a tall head tube, and the Marin bars have a 20-degree flare to the drop, which allows for a natural hand position that opens up your core. This had me in the drops more than usual, and I’ll struggle to return to a bar without flare.
On a weekend tour I split my gear between a front rack, frame pack and seat bag. It can be a struggle to fit standard-sized frame packs on small-sized frames, but the long top tube opens up the interior space, expanding storage options for shorter folks. The tires are a good middle-of-the-road rubber, offering adequate rolling speed on hard roads and off-road traction. Best of all they’re stout, making them a good fit in any terrain where you’re susceptible to punctures.
While the stock tires were capable on smooth sections of singletrack and confident when loaded down with touring gear, there’s ample clearance for swapping to larger tires: up to 700×45 with fenders or 29×2.1 without.
The bike remained poised across varying terrain, its balance un-phased by rutted dirt roads and chunky railroad ballast, proving competent to carry the weight for an extended tour. I found the gear range to be ample for touring Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but an easier gear may be advantageous on an extended tour with sustained climbs.
For days between 45 and 85 miles, the WTB Volt Sport saddle was comfortable and supportive, even on long sections of rail trail. “The Four Corners was designed for the rider who is looking for a versatile, modern take on a touring bike,” said Chris Holmes, brand director for Marin Bikes. “[It’s] one that is equally at home with a weekday commute as it is on a week-long adventure.”
For the city dweller, it fills the niche for everyday commuting needs, and for the adventure seeker, the large tire clearance and touring capability encourages exploring on gravel and dirt. As cyclists, what tales would we have to share if everything went as planned? The Marin Four Corners is ready for a change of route and a story to tell.
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.
The steel Space Horse has long been All-City’s most popular and versatile model, ridden by commuters, tourers and gravel grinders alike. It features the geometry of a road-meets-touring bike, room for wider tires, a bottom bracket that’s lower than a standard road bike and stability when loaded down. Now it features disc brakes, a new parts spec and a wider size range.
The Space Horse Disc will be offered in seven sizes: 43, 46, 49, 52, 55, 58 and 61 cm. The 49-61 cm fit a 700c x 42 tire while the 43 and 46 cm bikes will take a 650b x 45. The 43 cm bike has a 495 mm top tube length to fit riders in the five-foot range and the 46 cm has a top tube length of 515 mm, which is a half centimeter shorter than the cantilever Space Horse version.
Other updates include a new vertical dropout with a replaceable derailleur hanger and a 2×11 Shimano 105 parts spec. You still get an E.D. coated frame (protects against rust), internal cable routing, a lugged crown fork and hidden fender mounts. The Space Horse Disc will be priced at $1800 and will hit dealers in mid-August.
Photos from All-City don’t accurately reflect the stock build that will be offered. See the Space Horse Disc page for complete information.
Tester: Adam Newman
Price: $3,499 (as tested)
Weight: 42 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L (tested)
More info: Faraday Bikes
One dirty little secret of the design world is that keeping things simple actually takes a lot of work. At first glance the Porteur looks like any other city bike, the double top tube notwithstanding. The steel frame, British Racing Green paint, chrome accents and bamboo fenders are classy and understated. But lurking beneath that demure aesthetic is a lot of modern-day technology.
Yes, the Faraday is an e-bike. A fairly distinctive one at that. The motor is mounted in the hub of the front wheel, and the battery is entirely contained within the frame. When the bike’s initial design took the crowdfunding site kickstarter.com by storm in 2012, the plan was to install the battery in the second top tube. It subsequently moved to the down tube, but the designers wisely kept the look intact.
Even without the electric assist, there’s a lot to like about the Porteur. The drivetrain is a Gates Carbon Belt Drive running to a standard Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly, making it a virtually silent and maintenance-free drivetrain.
Further simplifying things is integrated lighting that runs off the battery and is always on if the bike is on, even if the motor is disengaged. The control unit is housed in the box under the saddle, with a charging port, some LED taillights and a big on/off button.
The motor itself puts out a nominal 250 watts with a peak of 340 watts—more than powerful enough to get you up to speed in a hurry. While many e-bikes have complex dashboards, the Porteur has a simple thumb switch with options for high, low or off. There is no throttle mode—the Faraday is pedal assist only. The LCD battery fuel gauge display is on the handlebar switch where you can see it, but it is tiny and impossible to read while moving, so a solution like a green/orange/red light would be easier to read.
At 42 pounds the Porteur isn’t a lightweight, but it’s really not far off what you’d expect a bike like this to weigh. I experimented with riding it with the motor off and it goes just fine. I appreciated that because the internal battery simply can’t match the capacity of some larger, external units, and with normal use I was averaging about 15 miles on a single charge.
Another drawback to the internal battery design is that you can’t remove the battery to bring it inside to charge. This means you have to get the bike relatively close to an outlet to make it work. Later this year Faraday will be offering an add-on battery pack inside a classy, leather saddle bag. It can plug directly into the bike for a battery boost and can be taken with you inside to charge, but will set you back $500.
Small hiccups aside, the Porteur is a joy to ride. If you’ve ever ridden a classic English three-speed you’ll immediately feel at home on the Porteur. The swept back bars and upright posture are comfortable and keep your head up in traffic, and it gives you a lot of confidence being in such a natural, upright posture.
What’s remarkable is how drastically it changes your riding behavior, especially when commuting on the same boring route every day. Hills that used to be obnoxious just disappear, and distances are seemingly cut in half. The very nature of electric-assist bicycles fills me with existential angst, but if you just want to get yourself from A to B, I am wholeheartedly on board.
No, the Porteur isn’t cheap, and new technology never is. Then again, I’d gladly sacrifice some battery range for a bike that looks and rides like a bike rather than a mini motorcycle. If you want another option, the Porteur S model substitutes a chain for the belt drive and has five speeds instead of eight, knocking the price down to $2,799.
Faraday also recently announced a new model, the Cortland, which is essentially the same as the Porteur but with a dropped top tube. It, too, is available at both price points.
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?
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 22.4 pounds
Sizes: 43, 45, 51, 54, 56, 58 (tested), 61
More info: Felt Bicycles V85
Felt makes a lot of drop-bar bikes: race, endurance, aero, cyclocross, track and women’s. This V85 is the middle child of the adventure branch of the Felt drop-bar family. What makes this bike adventurous? “With a slightly longer wheelbase, rugged components and wheels, the V is the perfect bike for anyone searching for an exciting new experience. Be it an epic tour or simply continuing to ride beyond the road’s end, the V is made to last,” Felt says.
To tackle adventure, Felt starts with an aluminum frame, carbon fork, disc brakes and tire clearance for up to 38 mm tires. Shimano’s excellent 105 group provides the shifters, 50/34 crankset, derailleurs and 11-32 cassette. Discs are de rigueur for adventure, and TRP’s Spyres take care of stopping duties with 160/140 mm rotors. All good stuff.
I took a particular shine to a few items. The tubeless rims are a nice touch for future tire upgrades, but even with tubes, the stock Challenge Strada Bianca 33 mm tires provide a stellar ride. I wasn’t a fan of the big, gel-padded Selle Royal Look In saddle—it seems out of place on an otherwise sporty bike.
Overall it is a nice group of parts for the money, but how does it ride? In a word, refined.
Taking the best of cyclocross and endurance road DNA, the V85 goes down the road with more panache than the average aluminum-framed road bike. Some of the credit for that goes the those Challange tires. This isn’t my first time on these tires, and every time I get back on them I’m reminded they are some of the finest clinchers I’ve ever ridden. For a bigger tire they never felt slow and took the edge off harsh roads and off-road shenanigans.
Handling was not razor sharp, but it is a very sporty feeling bike. While it handles itself well when the pavement turns to dirt, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a true rough-and-tumble adventure bike like a Specialized AWOL or Trek 920. The V85 likes to get dirty, but starts to feel out of its element on anything that starts to look mountain-bikey.
As a tool for fun and fitness, the V85 should keep a lot of people very happy. Fast enough for group rides and sturdy enough for dirt road exploring, the V85 also has rack and fender mounts. This could also make it great for long-distance commutes, or even short tours. The easily adjustable stem makes it simple to change handlebar height for a more comfortable or more sporty position on the bike, so going from weekday commuter to weekend speedster is easy.
With some sturdier tires this could make for a solid gravel race bike. It handles all types of unpaved roads and responds well to aggressive riding, both sprinting up hills and attacking the corners on the way down. A little more tire clearance would help, as some of the rougher courses would be better suited to 40 mm tires.
Felt is known as a racing company, and that racing spirit was always in the back of my mind while riding this bike. The V85 is a versatile drop-bar bike that took me all over on all kinds of adventures: five hour rainy slogs to my parents for Thanksgiving, back road exploring, fumbly attempts at “training” rides and plenty of off-road detours.
Not much to complain about here, Felt did a great job creating what I would call an “adventure-lite” bike for riders looking for plenty of on-road speed with some dirt aptitude.
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
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.
The RSD Catalyst 700+ is designed to transition between the city streets and the gravel beyond—perfect for my neighborhood and style of urban cycling. A few minutes away from my house is a great park with miles of gravel and dirt paths. I frequently use the park as a corridor to run errands, get to work, or jump on the Great Allegheny Passage trail. Because of the varied surfaces and distances I encounter on such outings, I like a bike that can easily and comfortably get me where I’m going on my ever-changing routes.
Several things make the Catalyst a great option for cyclists who like to mix it up. First and foremost is the ability to use large tires. The Catalyst comes stock with 700×45 tires, and can fit a 2.25 inch wide tire in the frame but only a 1.9 inch wide tire up front due to limited clearance in the carbon fork. The Maxxis Overdrive tires feature Kevlar protection and reflective sidewalls, and traction was great for everything I found myself pedaling over and through.
Another quality I admire about the Catalyst is the long top tube, which limits the dreaded toe/tire overlap—especially when running large tires. The medium I tested has a 23.4 inch top tube, which is longer than most mediums. RSD combines this with a short stem, keeping the reach to the handlebar in check. Sizing may be an issue for some riders, as the Catalyst only comes in two sizes.
The 4130 chromoly Catalyst has mounts for a rear rack and front and rear fenders, and I am happy to report that the front triangle has ample room for a large frame pack. The only downside to using a framebag is that you lose access to both water bottle cages and there are no bosses on the underside of the frame to make up for it.
The swept-back FS A Metropolis handlebar creates an incredibly comfortable hand and wrist position while riding. It took me a few rides to get used to the bars, but I soon noticed that my hands just naturally fell into the right spot. Combine that with the forgiving carbon fork and extended time in the saddle was a bit more tolerable on my hands, arms and upper body.
The Catalyst has only a single chainring, which limits its usefulness in some situations. The 40 tooth chainring is matched to an 11-36 cassette offering a decent gear range but nothing really great for super-hilly, long commutes. A consolatory bonus is the front chainring guard, which does help protect your pant leg. In the end I did not find myself wanting a second chainring, but the frame does have cable stops for a front derailleur.
Thankfully RSD decided to equip the Catalyst with some decent brakes. Avid BB7 discs matched up to 160 mm rotors felt like enough stopping power in most situations. When loaded down, I’m a bit on the heavy side so a 180 mm rotor up front can be helpful. I’m just happy that RSD didn’t cut corners with cheap brake calipers.
After all was said and done, I really enjoyed my time on the Catalyst 700+. If you want a bike that can tackle the urban environment with a bit of dirt and gravel thrown its way, this is a solid choice at a great price. Looking for something fancier? RSD offers the Catalyst in stainless steel and Ti versions too.
- Price: $1,399 as tested, $529 for the frame only
- Weight: 25.2 pounds (complete)
- Sizes: Medium (tested), large
Shinola—of the famous “You don’t know shit from Shinola” catchphrase—was a shoe polish brand founded in New York in 1907, gained fame in World War II, then went out of business in 1960. Relaunched in Detroit in 2011 by a Texas investment company that bought the name rights, the new Shinola began its second life as a fine watchmaking company, then expanded to bicycles in late 2012. It now employs more than 400 people in a city still struggling to find its footing following the crumbling of the auto industry, a mass population exodus and a recent bankruptcy.
That old saying still applies: Shinola product is anything but crap. Its three bicycle models are meticulously designed, American-made and have price tags befitting the finer things in life. If you’re more inclined to bust your knuckles fixing up a Craigslist find, this is not the bike for you. If you’re willing to pay for subtle, classy, lasting quality, read on.
Bike industry veteran Sky Yaeger—formerly of Swobo, Spot, Bianchi and Suntour—leads the design of Shinola’s bicycles. Yaeger is the real deal, a true pioneer with more than 30 years of experience in the bicycle industry. At Shinola, she is proudly focused on things like weld integrity, custom dropouts, proprietary cast fork crowns and stamped chainstay plates.
Shinola’s frames are handmade at Waterford Precision Cycles in Waterford, Wisconsin, from U.S.-made True Temper double-butted 4130 chromoly, and assembled at the Shinola flagship retail store in Detroit. That is a big part of what you’re paying for. It’s easy to balk at the $1,000 price tag of the singlespeed Detroit Arrow, but you also can’t find too many off-the-rack, American-made bikes at that price. Shinola is arguably helping to put a little spirit back into an industry that readily offshored itself and no longer gives much love to the “Made in USA” sticker.
On the road, the 26-pound Arrow feels much lighter than I expected for a sturdy, steel townie. It is markedly smooth-rolling and quiet—I would describe the ride feel as “gliding.” The upright position lends an air of casualness to cruising about town. With only one gear, riding this bike involved plenty of climbing out of the saddle. The swept-back bars aided those efforts, as did the bike’s well-mannered stability.
While the Arrow’s intent is to be a throw-your-leg-over-it-and-go bike—reminiscent of whatever simple, two-wheeled transport you had as a kid—it is practically designed for those who want a singlespeed even in a hilly, urban environment. The Arrow not only climbs well, but is also fun and maneuverable when it picks up speed on the return descent.
The Arrow runs 38×18 gearing and is equipped with a basic, all-black build kit, leather Shinola saddle, custom chain guard, Tektro caliper brakes, cork grips, silver bell, steel fenders and 700×32 Continental Contact Reflex puncture-resistant tires. It comes in either black or white, and the frame features rack mounts for extended practicality. You can choose a step-through model or a traditional, straight top tube frame.
I did question the use of bolt-on axles (a nemesis of mine) rather than quick releases. Yaeger responded this way: “On city bikes, I have always used nutted axles on the rear and a lockable quick release on the front as one more deterrent if you just leave your bike for a few minutes and [don’t] lock the front wheel. Also, there is no learning curve to a bolt, compared to a quick release, which poses a challenge to beginning cyclists.”
Is it worth spending this kind of money for a bicycle with only one gear? Only you can decide that. My mom’s sister-in-law likes to say that there should be a few items in life you’re willing to spend good money for lasting quality because you will use them daily. For her, it’s eyeglasses, shoes and coats. For you, it might be your bike. The Arrow doesn’t give you the most bang-for-your-buck, but statement pieces rarely do.
- Sizes: Traditional: 53, 55, 57, 61 cm. step-through: 47 (tested), 51 cm
- Weight: 26 pounds
- Price: $1,000
- More info: Shinola Detroit Arrow
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.
The original inspiration for Soma’s Wolverine was “monster cross,” but this frame’s geometry, versatility and even the screaming orange means you shouldn’t save it for just one, specific purpose. This type of bike is becoming more and more common, and we’re out to discover what sets this beast apart.
Soma currently sells its Wolverine as a frame and fork for $620, but was kind enough to build us a complete bike for testing purposes. So far, I’ve been impressed by the Wolverine’s lively and supple ride quality. As the saying goes, steel is real!
Soma’s Wolverine promises great versatility with clearance for 45 mm tires with fenders, sliding dropouts for adjusting chainstay length and singlespeed use, as well as a plethora of rack and fender mounts. All that and the classic good looks of a Tange Prestige steel frame and Infinity steel fork with a lugged crown.
Even though this is a custom build, it’s worth commenting on as it will affect our rides together. This is my first experience with SRAM’s Rival 1 drivetrain and I’m very impressed so far. The shifts are crisp and the Double Tap shift action didn’t take as long to adjust to as I thought it might. The 10-42 cassette provides a range of gearing wide enough for most applications.
I do sometimes miss the very tight ratios of a traditional road cassette, though. The 42-tooth chainring on my test bike is fine for spirited riding, but would be a little tall for touring with any sort of load. I’d definitely swap down to a 38 tooth ring for any touring application. Chainrings are available from 38 to 50 teeth in increments of two.
The Wolverine’s sliding dropouts offer a touch over 20 mm of chainstay length adjustment to adjust handling characteristics and accommodate singlespeed drivetrains. See the two bolts on the drive-side chainstay? That little piece unbolts so you can install a belt drive, a nice touch. With that feature, plus the disc brakes, this is a bike that can grow and morph with you, should you not be the type to just live with one setup for all time.
With a handful of commutes on the Wolverine, I’m starting to get the riding position dialed. Soma set me up with its Gator bar, but I’ve struggled to warm up to this unique handlebar. This bar has a ton of reach when setup with the tops flat. Due to the wide open angle, it seems I was always sacrificing one hand position. When setup with the tops comfortable, the drops are pointed down too steeply. If you set up the drops to be comfortable, the tops slope down too aggressively. Ultimately, I’ve swapped the Gator out for a traditional bar with a little bit of flare.
I’m really digging Soma’s Shikoro tires. Made by Panaracer, these 42 mm tires roll well on the road and offer a nice suppleness for an armored tire.
Now it’s time to remove the fenders, throw on some knobby tires and see how the Wolverine does on more aggressive rides. Stay tuned for the full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.
Testers: Eric Mckeegan and Jon Pratt shared this back-to-back review in Bicycle Times Issue #38
Bianchi has been at the bike game for a long, long time. One hundred thirty years to be exact. Almost as old is Bianchi’s signature celeste green, perhaps the most recognizable color in cycling. While much of Bianchi’s history revolves around road racing, it has also had much success in the urban market and with a line of now extinct singlespeed mountain bikes.
The Volpe (silver) and Zurigo (green) represent the road bike market’s move from racing to more general riding pursuits. In years past these bikes would have been categorized as cyclocross bikes, but now fall under the banner of “all-road” bikes, a much better term to describe sturdy, versatile drop-bar bikes that can commute, tour and maybe even see the start line of a dirt road race or cyclocross course.
It isn’t often we get to ride two such similarly equipped bikes from the same manufacturer at the same time, so we assigned a pair of riders to ride them both and report back. Both bikes have Shimano 10-speed Tiagra drivetrains with compact cranks, Hayes CX 1 disc brakes and nearly identical geometry. Both bikes have rack and fender mounts, too.
Of the two, the Volpe is probably the more familiar—the rim-brake version has been a favorite of utility cyclists for years. This steel-frame stalwart has low-rider rack mounts on the fork, downtube cable adjusters and a well-padded WTB Speed V saddle. The Zurigo has an expensive looking celeste paint job adorning its aluminum frame and carbon fork, a racy Selle San Marco saddle, and tubeless-ready rims. The Zurigo pictured here is the 2015 model, but will be updated for 2016 with a SRAM Apex drivetrain and a price increase to $1,700.
Eric: The Zurigo is perhaps the most expensive-looking $1,600 bike I’ve ever ridden. All that green should look tacky but this bike manages to be understated, classy and attract attention. It also looks and feels racy. The Volpe looked and rode like an old friend, although after a few rides I installed a more sporty saddle to try to get the fit and feel more similar between bikes.
Jon: I couldn’t agree with Eric more. The Zurigo looks and feels the racier of the two bikes. A bit too over-the-top with the colors for my taste, but it is classic Bianchi. Immediately, I felt like the Volpe was “my bike.” Understated and comfortable.
Eric: My first long ride on the Zurigo was a doozy. A road spin to watch a Red Bull mountain bike event, followed by a group mountain bike ride, and then ride back home. Even with the street tires the Zurigo was game for some dry trails. The drivetrain wasn’t very happy be bounced around off-road, and it paid me back by bouncing between gears, but all in all, it was a willing companion for this type of riding.
The Volpe struck me as a much more laid back ride, and where the cyclocross racing heritage of the Zurigo had me attacking climbs, the Volpe took a kinder and gentler approach. Easier gears, sit down, relax, we’ll get there. One of the main things that stood out to me was how much of the ride feel was about things other than frame material. I noticed the saddle, the handlebar height and the tire pressure much more so than any perceived diff erences between the frame and fork. That said, the Zurigo felt lighter and stiffer, but less forgiving than the Volpe.
Jon: To sum up my riding experiences with both bikes, I’ll harken back to the day Eric and I met up at a coffee shop downtown to swap bikes. I had ridden down on the Volpe, feeling at ease. It lazily darted in and out of alleyways and felt compliant as I navigated the sometimes broken streets of Pittsburgh. The Volpe wanted me to keep exploring. The combination of the saddle and handlebar height made my experience on the Volpe a very pleasant, relaxed one.
After a relaxing, tasty espresso, I headed home on the Zurigo. It felt like it was begging me to stand up and mash. Find the quickest route home and go. The bike felt snappier, more rigid and not as friendly to the errant pothole or crack in the street. As Eric pointed out, a lot of that feeling is directly related to the seat, tires and handlebars.
Which Would You Choose?
Eric: Normally, I’m a steel guy. But something about the Zurigo clicked with me. I could use a racier bike in my stable, and my mountain bike background is very attracted to the tubeless rims. While I don’t plan to mix it up on a cyclocross course anytime soon, this would make a fine race bike for dirt roads, although it does lose a few points to purpose-built, all-road bikes with its cyclocross racing genealogy. And those rack and fender mounts would make this a great winter commuter in areas that salt the hellout of the roads, such as my home city of Pittsburgh, no worries about rust.
Jon: While I feel the Zurigo is a fine bike, and both bikes are great deals at their price points, there’s no doubt I would buy the Volpe. It better fits my riding style, which tends to be a slow exploration of urban cityscapes or a short run the store. Where the Volpe felt like a bike I had been riding all along, the Zurigo’s racier touch made the bike feel like it was something I borrowed from one of my friends and could never really get comfortable on. I can see why so many people around town choose the Volpe as their go-to urban commuter.
- Price: Volpe – $1,500; Zurgio – $1,600
- Weight: Volpe – 26.3 pounds; Zurigo – 22.6 pounds
- Sizes: Volpe: 46, 49, 51, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61; Zurigo: 49, 52, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 610
- More info: bianchiusa.com
Linus Bike blends classic styling cues with modern parts to create everyday transportation that’s both fashionable and functional. Linus offers some of the classiest looking bikes available right now and the Rover 3 continues that tradition.
Backing up that aesthetic are some stout 29-inch wheels with 45 mm-wide tires, which certainly add a lot of functionality to this robust package. Speaking of functionality, the Rover offers front and rear fender mounts and will accommodate a rear rack for day-to-day utility.
The steel frame is available in one size only, a medium, that’s said to fit folks from 5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet, 3 inches. At 5 feet, 7 inches, I’m obviously just a touch under the recommended height range but had no issues fitting on the Rover while riding. However, the frame’s upward-arching top tube didn’t offer any standover clearance for my 31-inch inseam.
The Rover’s riding position is very upright thanks to relatively short top tube and highly swept handlebars. A quill stem sticks to the traditional look and offers a welcome range of height adjustment for the one-size-fits-most frame. Caliper brakes do their best to slow bike and rider, and are adequate for all but the most aggressive riding.
That said, the Rover encourages a relaxed, we’ll-get-there-when-we-get-there attitude. Those big Kenda tires provide a nice big contact patch and the large volume offer a lot of comfort on rough surfaces. These tires are reinforced to guard against flats as well. The Rover’s Shimano Nexus three-speed hub is a nice touch in my hilly terrain, providing a gear low enough to mostly prevent walking.
On flat ground, I often found myself between second and third gear, but swapping the rear cog from the stock 22-tooth to a harder 19-tooth or easier 23-tooth cog might eliminate some of the hunting back and forth.
As a mountain biker at heart, I really appreciate the Rover’s ability to navigate off-the-beaten-path stretches of my urban settings. Its wide and tough tires allow me to ride along railroad tracks, through industrial zones and take singletrack shortcuts through our city parks on the way from point A to point B. I really appreciate that versatility.
Sure, you can buy more technologically advanced bikes at this price point, but they don’t look as good as the Rover. If you’re into classic styling and versatility, the Rover might be just your ticket. Folks looking to save a few bucks should consider the singlespeed Rover 1, which retails for $539.
- Price: $629
- Weight: 31.9 pounds
- Sizes: one size, medium
- More info: linusbike.com
Shinola (pronounced shy-nola) Detroit is a company doing something increasingly rare in this country: manufacturing consumer goods using the hands of skilled craftspeople. Shinola started as a watchmaker in 2011 and, having survived Motor City’s 2013 bankruptcy, expanded to leather goods, pet items and bicycles—the latter of which hit the market in December 2012. The company is part of a wave of downtown creative enterprise trying to spread across a city better known for other things, such as that 75 percent of liquor supplied to the U.S. during Prohibition reportedly passed through the Detroit area.
Industry veteran Sky Yaeger—formerly of Swobo, Spot and Bianchi—leads the design work of Shinola’s bicycles. The frames are welded at Waterford Precision Cycles in Waterford, Wisconsin, from U.S.-made True Temper double-butted 4130 ChroMo, and assembled at the Shinola flagship retail store in Detroit.
The above is what you’re paying for. It’s easy to balk at the $1,000 price tag of the Arrow, but it’s also difficult to find off-the-rack, American-made frames. While my personal temperament is not to heartily defend the practicality of a singlespeed costing a grand, there are people out there for whom this classic, creating-American-jobs bicycle is exactly what they’re looking for. The Arrow is also the most accessible Shinola offering, coming in well below the $1,950 Bixby (3-speed) and $2,950 Runwell (11-speed).
The Arrow (available with a step-through or traditional, straight top tube frame) is Shinola’s newest model and intended to be a simple, quiet, low-maintenance, throw-your-leg-over-it-and-go kind of ride that you keep and enjoy for a long time. It lacks screaming logos common on bigger brands and instead opts for a more subdued, laser-cut S on the rear dropouts and a real metal head badge. The fork crown is cast and is Shinola’s proprietary design.
The Arrow runs 38×18 gearing and is equipped with a basic all-black build kit, leather Shinola saddle, custom chain guard, Tektro caliper brakes, cork grips, silver bell, steel fenders and 700×32 Continental Contact Reflex puncture-resistant tires (I added the green tool roll). It comes in either black or white. The step-through “women’s” model is offered in just two sizes: 47 and 51 cm, so pay attention to the bike’s geometry chart if you’re thinking of ordering one.
The traditional frame 55cm Arrow officially comes in it at 26 pounds with all the bells and whistles attached. On the road, that feels much lighter than I expected for a sturdy, steel townie. This is the first step-through bicycle I have spent significant time with and it is definitely a product classy enough to ride in your business suit and park next to your professional office desk without anyone batting an eye.
So far, the Arrow has surprised me with how comfortable it is. It is markedly well mannered and smooth on the road. The upright riding position helps abate any toe overlap on my 47cm frame and lends an air of casualness to cruising around (while still being plenty fun at speed). The swept-back bars aid off-the-saddle climbing efforts. Speaking of that saddle, it’s quite comfortable out of the box—not rock hard, as many leather saddles can be. I tilted mine slightly upward and am plenty happy on short jaunts in jeans.
Rack mounts front and rear mean the Arrow can do commute and shopping duty, which I will try out of the full review, due out in Issue #39. Make sure you’re subscribed so that you don’t miss it! Read more about the Arrow from Shinola and watch the video, below.Tweet Print
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