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!
To begin, I will admit to having held onto a bias against e-bikes of any kind. While they intellectually make sense for commuters and cargo haulers, the last thing I want in my life is yet another thing that I have to remember to plug in. I can’t believe I have to charge my watch, my phone, my book library, etc. etc. I am literally running out of outlets in my 70-year-old house that didn’t have very many to begin with.
At Interbike this year, e-bikes were huge (or, “uge”), meaning unavoidable. They occupied significant square footage at the indoor show and had their own, dedicated test track. With some time to kill on the first day, I decided to take the new Haibike Urban Plus for a spin. Note that this is just an initial look at the bike; I can’t comment on what it’s like to live with one.
First of all, I can actually get behind the aesthetics. It still looks like a bike. Somehow, this thing is one size fits all, and I was plenty comfortable even though I’m on the shorter side (5’4″).
The bike is powered by a TranzX M25 GTS Drive Unit and will support you up to 28 mph. The Urban Plus also uses a COBI Smart Connect system that powers your cellphone to provide all kinds of ride and navigation data, weather information, music and much more. The downtube-integrated battery can be removed or you can just plug the whole bike in. It takes three hours to charge, after which you will get 40-80 miles of range depending on which of the four assist settings you use.
Pulling out onto the test track, I hit the unobtrusive, intuitive and well-placed handlebar keypad button to cycle the bike through its four assist modes. The track was flat and I wasn’t carrying any cargo, but even in the lowest assist level, I felt as if I had an intensely strong tailwind. When you cycle through that first pedal stroke, it’s like someone gives your back a big push and keeps on pushing. In short, it feels pretty darn incredible.
In the highest setting (more power!) you actually have to be careful pushing off because the bike just leaps forward. The assist is serious at that level, and I can imagine making light work of even the most loaded commute on this thing.
The all-aluminum Urban Plus weighs a whopping 56 pounds. When the electric assist isn’t turned on, you absolutely notice. Thankfully, the bike is well-balanced and still stable with the battery off, but I wouldn’t want to run out of charge and end up having to haul all that heft around. I’ve certainly done so on loaded bikepacking trips, but not in town wearing work clothing.
The Urban Plus build includes Schwalbe Super Moto 2.4-inch tires, fenders, kickstand, rear rack, front and rear lights, an integrated anti-theft system and a Shimano 10-speed drivetrain with Deore brakes. Choose white or black for $3,600.
So, would I buy a pedal-assist urban bicycle? To be honest, yes, I would. I live in a small, compact town that is easily served by a human-powered bicycle and I really do need a car to travel elsewhere. But, I have lived in places where this bike would have served a car-free lifestyle perfectly. Electricity tethers are just facts of modern life, and I think I could probably find one more outlet in my house if I really needed to.
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.
Blaq Design Kagero – $250
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Blaq Designs makes a variety of sturdy bags out of Portland, Oregon. How sturdy? Blaq says “We believe that a bag should be able to endure being thrown on the ground, kicked to the curb, ridden through a rainstorm, sprayed with a line of road grime, and over-stuffed with sharp objects. For year after year after year after year.” That sounds like my kinda bag.
Blaq sent me the Kagero, an new mid-size, roll-top addition to its two strap line-up. A heavy-duty seamless floating tarp liner has proven to be absolutely watertight, but the zippered front pocket is unlined and only water resistant. The external material is heavy cordura, the single zipper is super-beefy and all straps and buckles feel more than strong enough for the job. Six compression straps can keep the bag small, and the contents tight; I only used the pair around the side pockets to keep my water bottle and u-lock from bouncing out. I’d be into longer straps on the bottom of the bag to secure bulky stuff like a jacket, yoga mat, or bed roll, a few more inches would help a lot.
Internal organization is limited to a laptop sleeve, which is well protected by the padded back panel. The shoulder straps are wide and comfortable, and I’m thankful for the waist belt, which keeps the bag from bouncing around when my commutes get too rad for just shoulder straps. This is well designed and executed bag.
The $250 price tag includes custom colors in the body, trim, liner and logo. For ten bucks more, you get a reflective stripe across the bottom or top. Backed by a generous lifetime warranty, the Kagero is a serious investment for the rider who asks a lot of a bag.
More info: blaqpaks.com
Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter Backpack – $160
Tester: Justin Steiner
Though Thule is a name most often associated with racks and cargo boxes, the company has been steadily branching out by producing panniers, backpacks and travel cases. We’ve been impressed with all of the Thule bags we’ve tested over the years and this pack is no different. Quality construction and materials certainly help justify the asking price.
The main compartment is accessed via a zippered, roll-top closure. Inside, a removable laptop sleeve accommodates up to a 15-inch machine and a 10-inch tablet. This removable sleeve connects to the bag’s back panel, suspending it from the bottom of the bag. With 24 liters of capacity, this bag’s middle-of-the-road size is perfect for commutes where you need to carry a flat repair kit, computer, change of clothes, shoes and your lunch.
I really appreciate the genius, hard-shell pocket on the side of the bag. It’s the perfect place to protect items like your glasses or phone. The organizer pockets on the front of the bag are well-sorted and convenient to use. A rain cover and helmet holder deploy out of the bottom of the bag when needed.
Two minor gripes. First, while including a zipper on the roll-top closure provides an extra level of security; it also adds another step to the process of opening and closing the bag. Second, I’m a big fan of waist straps on backpacks designed for riding, and wish this bag offered one. The added stability is welcome for anyone who likes to jump the occasional curb on the way home from work. Ultimately, this bag’s positives far outweigh those minor drawbacks.
More info: thule.com
Ortlieb Velocity – $115
Tester: Katherine Fuller
This bag has seemingly been around forever, which is about as long as I think I’ve owned mine. While the Velocity is not new, it’s notable if what you want is a waterproof, indestructible, cavernous bag that is as simple and reliable as they come. Think of it as a pannier for your back. Capacity is 20 liters, or 1,220 cubic inches. If I’m stocked up on basics, I can stuff a week’s worth of groceries in there.
The Velocity features a stiff but padded back, padded shoulder straps, and beefy chest and waist buckles. The placement of the back foam allows for some welcome air circulation. Inside, there’s a small organizer pocket helpful for a wallet and keys that snaps to the rear of the pack (the snaps means it’s removable). There is a useful handle at the top, a place to clip a light on the back, a little reflective logo on the rear and not much else. But what else do you need?
I carry my laptop in it only after encasing it in a padded cover as there is no laptop compartment. Without anything else in the bag, the laptop will flop forward and back inside the pack, so make sure to at least stuff a rain jacket in there, or something else that will hold the computer in place.
Notably, the roll top closes best if you roll it toward the back even though rolling it down toward the front is more natural. Rolling it toward the front will cause you to think the Velcro strap isn’t long enough. If you still think that, Ortlieb sells a Velcro strap extender, as well as a cellphone holster for the shoulder straps.
In all, I really like the Velocity, which is why I bought it with my own money a few years ago. I was overwhelmed by choice in commuter packs and settled on this because it’s waterproof, unpretentious, unfussy and comfortable when loaded down. I use it all the time.
More info: ortliebusa.com
Peace Bicycles makes just a pair of bikes: this traditional double diamond frame in a size 54 cm and a step-thru frame in 47 cm. Taking cues from traditional Dutch style bikes, the seven-speed Dreamer is as fully equipped to handle everyday cycling right out of the box as anything I’ve swung a leg over in the last few years. Peace Bicycles says “part of every purchase will go towards buying a bike for someone in need. Peace will donate a part of proceeds towards bike co-ops for refurbishing bicycles. ”
Check this thing out: full chain guard, kickstand, front and rear LED lights, rear rack, fenders, skirt guard and a bell. The bike wears a pretty swank headtube badge, as well.
The skirt guard is an intricate series of tiny bungie cords.
I’ve been pretty happy to have such a well-appointed bike around to just hop on and go, regardless of weather or whether I am wearing riding gear. And at times (you might want to stop reading now), I’ve skipped the helmet entirely as the laid-back nature of this bike is more akin to a casual stroll, in my mind.
So far, so good. The saddle is a fine place to spend some time; the upright position is easy on the back; and the big Schwalbe Fat Frank balloon tires offer a magic carpet ride.
We’ll have a full review in the next issue of the magazine; hurry up and subscribe if you haven’t yet.
In the meantime, head over to the Peace Bicycles website for more info. It looks like these are on special right now at $699, which seems like a swell deal. A word of warning: While these bikes are sold consumer direct, Peace recommends shipping directly to a bike shop for assembly. After putting this one together myself, I think that is a wise move even with the supplied tools and instructions; this was a frustrating build. Peace is working on a “99% assembled” option for those not into DIY assembly.
Take your bike commute to the next level with these three Thule Pack ‘n Pedal products.
The Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Tour Rack works on virtually any bicycle from full suspension mountain bikes to single speeds and everything in between.
Combined with the Tour Rack, you’ll be able to carry everything you need in the Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Shield Panniers. These multi-purpose panniers deliver on both safety and protection with eye-catching reflective elements and a roll-top waterproof design.
Still need more carrying capacity? Load up the Thule Commuter Backpack to ensure you have all that you need to tackle your day. This stylish waterproof backpack is perfect for bike commuting in all weather conditions, but works just as well once you’re off your bike.Tweet Print
We’ve been fans of many of the Levi’s Commuter pieces since we first sampled them, and this year the iconic denim brand is expanding the line and adding women’s pieces.
Inspired by and designed for cyclists, the collection bridges from casual wear to performance by using stretchy fabrics that keep you comfortable and design details that work well on the bike.
So, you’re kinda still married to riding that old Trek carbon racer from 1998, the one with the garish red, white and blue graphics and a Shimano rear shifter that doesn’t work that well anymore? While it was fun watching you-know-who dominate the Tour de France for seven consecutive years, it’s time to step up and consider another Trek, one more suited to your needs.
Time to rise up off those racing bars and take better control of your bike! A higher handlebar position makes riding in traffic and on bike paths easier and safer, especially with a backpack or messenger bag bogging you down. The head tube is taller on commuting-specific bike like the Lync 5, and with a wide, flat handlebar, you can ride with more confidence.
The Lync 5 has several tasty features that may make your commute more memorable for different reasons.
First, the integrated lighting system is smart: a couple buttons reside underneath the top tube to control the LED headlight and taillights, which are built in to the head tube and rear seat stays, respectively. They’re powered by a USB-rechargeable battery mounted on the down tube (which provides up to five hours on a single charge).
Second, slowing and stopping gets a bit easier thanks to hydraulic disc brakes, which take less effort to modulate and squeeze compared to cable-actuated brakes. And third, even though Trek decided to leave off a kickstand, there’s a handy kickstand plate welded onto the lower frame so you can park your bike anywhere without the fear of it tipping over and denting the metal fenders, which do an admirable job of keeping your back dry on mornings after rainfall. You’ll just need to spend another $10 or so on a kickstand at the Trek dealer.
Pudgy tires—in this case 700x32c—provide better cushion on busted concrete and asphalt than 700x23s, dramatically cutting down on pinch flats. Who wants a perfectly good ride cut short due to an easily avoidable flat? Trek is smart to include a reflective ring on the sidewall of the Bontrager H2 Hardcase Lite tires—which are also puncture resistant—providing more visibility from perpendicular traffic. Bonus points for Trek for including theft-resistant skewers that require a 5 mm Allen key to loosen.
The Lync 5 is made with an aluminum frame and fork, which is a good thing for a few reasons. First, aluminum is easy to manipulate into shapes conducive to managing ride quality (stiff is good for bike handling and steering, and oval is good for providing tire clearances).
With the Lync 5, integrated rubber ‘bumpers’ are added to the top tube and down tube to protect the frame from damage when locking to a post or when transporting on a train. Second, aluminum doesn’t wilt in bad weather, and can take winter road salt and moisture better than steel.
Finally, it allows a product designer to add better components to the Lync 5 like its ergonomic grips and a stem system which handles smartphone attachments, plus a bell.
A bike designed for transportation and a bit of cargo hauling needs to feel steady and be free of fuss, i.e. janky shifting under load. The Shimano below-bar thumb shifters are responsive and dutiful, always leading the chain where I want it to go. The gear range works in all terrain, with a 9-speed 11-34 tooth cassette and 48/36/26 triple crankset up front handling drivetrain duties (more on that below).
The Lync 5 tracks straight and clean, allowing for the occasional hand turn signaling in traffic. My time on the test sample was split between short jaunts to the downtown library and coffee shop, to multi-modal journeys to San Francisco from my office in Mountain View via CalTrain. The bike is heavy duty like a utility bike should be, but not too heavy to lift up steps. And there are two places in the front triangle to mount water bottles, either for drinking or stashing tools or supplies.
Room for improvement
There’s no such thing as the perfect vehicle, and the Trek Lync 5 is far from perfect. The rear rack is designed for hauling a U-lock and lightweight panniers, but if you want to use a top-mounted bag or carry extra gear, consider the Bontrager BackRack Deluxe for $49.
I also hated the stock saddle—my rear end couldn’t handle the shape or thickness no matter what I was wearing. And the tiny third front chainring is not only unnecessary, it’s bolted to a cheap crankset that makes you feel like you’re straddling a horse.
Most bike companies choose a triple front crankset, so Trek isn’t the only guilty party. The $899 Lync 3 has a single front chainring connected to a 9-speed rear cassette, but lacks hydraulic discs.
Also, while most riders will appreciate the integrated LED lighting system, a downtube lithium ion battery that needs removing to recharge is a bit of a hassle compared to a front dynamo hub that generates its own electricity. What Trek is doing is a step in the right direction, so give them time to improve.
Other than these issues—hey, it’s my job!—the Lync 5 can certainly be considered to replace your worn-out Trek OCLV from Bill Clinton’s last year in office.
- Price: $1,199
- Weight: 30.1 pounds
- Sizes: 15, 17.5, 20, 22.5 (tested), 25
Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.
When it comes to road bikes, I like mine comfortable, practical and versatile. Enter the $1,095 Greenway Elite. My contact at Breezer tells me: “Whether you’re riding for exercise, transportation, off-road recreation, or anything in-between, the Greenway is your do-it-all machine.” Roger all that.
The tall stack of stem spacers raised the bar, which helped to put me in a comfortable, upright riding position. As did the appropriately-short top tube. Speaking of comfort, the stock Ergon grips are a personal favorite. Note the Trelock Bike-I Uno LED headlight (dynamo hub powered, with standlight feature). Safety first!
Here’s a look at the Shimano 3-Watt Dynamo hub that powers the front/rear lights. Yep, that’s a disc brake rotor on the opposite side of the hub. This baby’s got Shimano M355 hydraulic disc brakes front and rear. A bike that’s designed to “do it all” rates a set of hydros, in my opinion.
Ample fender coverage gives the Greenway foul weather capability. The Trelock Trio Flat tail light has standlight functionality, and rocks steady (as opposed to blinking). The Greenway’s rear rack ticks a critical box on my “do it all” checklist. To do it all, you gotta haul.
The SRAM VIA Centro 2×10 drivetrain provides a wide gearing range, which matches the versatile intentions of the Greenway Elite. I’ve already put those gears to use, while hauling panniers filled with groceries. All the while daydreaming of loading those same satchels with overnight gear and heading for the hills. Very tempting.
Breezer’s D’Fusion hydroformed aluminum tubing used on the down tube and top tube has a D-shaped cross-section that helps diffuse the stresses that occur near the head tube joints without the need for reinforcement or gusseting. The rear stays use D’Fusion tubing as well. Look closely and you’ll notice a plastic cover bolted onto the concave underside of the down tube. The plate cleverly hides and protects the cables and electrical wiring.
From my first ride, the aluminum frameset and fork impressed me as feeling very solid and responsive. The Greenway provides very direct and clear feedback from the tires’ contact patches. I would not call the ride overly stiff, but it’s certainly not a buttery experience by any means.
Ah yes, the venerable Breeze-In dropout. A piece of mountain bike history that’s a welcome feature on any bike, and worthy of ogling. Light, stiff, and elegant.
I’ll have to admit that the Greenway Elite looks ready to rumble, even when it’s casually leaning on its kickstand. Never fear, the bike’s found a willing partner in yours truly. Keep your eyes peeled on the print version of Bicycle Times #33 for my full review, after I’ve racked up the miles. In the meantime, learn more at breezerbikes.com.