The Sea Otter Classic is a huge bike festival held every year in Monterey, California. This year, there were over 400 brands represented in the expo, and while many of them were well-known giants in the bike industry, there were also plenty of the little guys, the family operations and brand new startups. At events like this, I’ve started making it a point to visit some of the lesser-known companies, because they’re often doing some pretty cool stuff. One of these brands was Fairdale Bikes, out of Austin, Texas.
The first thing that caught my eye as I walked by the Fairdale Bikes booth was the cardboard cutout of a rabbit that was strategically placed on a BMX cruiser.
Then I noticed all the cool bikes.
Fairdale specializes in making “simple and reliable bicycles to complement the styles of riding that we love to do because we want to be able to share the joy of a simple ride with you.”
Those styles of riding include long road rides, commuting, touring or just cruising around town. Right now, Fairdale offers nine different bikes, from the aforementioned BMX cruiser to a road bike to several different around-town bikes. At Sea Otter, they were also showing off a brand new gravel bike prototype called the Rockitship. The Rockitship can accommodate 40c tires and includes rack and fender mounts.
The Weekender is a commuter and light touring rig, available with either drop, flat or the Fairdale Archer bars. It’s equipped with a SRAM 9-speed drivetrain, 700c Continental Town Ride tires (or 27.5 inch on small and extra small frames) and Avid brakes built around a chromoly frame with rack and fender mounts.
The Taj is an “adult-sized” BMX bike that can shred some sick jumps but is also comfortable enough to ride around town. It’s designed to be durable and fun, with a steel frame, singlespeed drivetrain and 26 x 2.2 inch tires.
Focused more on ride quality over speed and racing, the Goodship is a steel road bike that’s designed to be ridden often and far. It features an ENVE carbon fork, Shimano Ultegra groupset, FSA components and Continental 25 mm tires.
The Fairdale crew all seemed like super chill, great people, and they even convinced me to walk away with one of their cool water bottles (not an easy feat when I already have too many bottles and limited room in my luggage).
Tester: Adam Newman
What do we have here? Are they klunkers? Not really, they have 29 inch wheels and disc brakes. Mountain bikes? No way. Too much style. Cruisers? I guess you could say that, but they are a hell of a lot more fun than what you find at the beach.
For the sake of seniority I’ll address the Kona first. The Humuhumu model dates back to 1992 when the brand wanted to offer something that put fun ahead of performance. By that point mountain bikes had already gotten incredibly complex, but not everyone needed scandium and elastomers to get around and get dirty.
The Moto 1, on the other hand, is one of the most sporty models in Electra’s line-up. Best known for its relaxed, “Flat Foot” cruiser design, it isn’t a brand you might normally equate with gettin’ rad. Then again it was acquired by Trek Bikes a few years back and the Moto 1 has more than a passing resemblance to the short-lived Fisher Sawyer mountain bike.
Frame and fork
The heart and soul of both these bikes lie within their distinctive frames. Each has an additional top tube that recalls the classic lines of bikes like the pre-war Schwinn Excelsior that often had a faux “gas tank” attached to simulate the motorcycle styling of the day. Many of these bikes were re-purposed in the mid-1970s as “klunkers,” sturdy, off-road bicycles that we the genesis of the modern mountain bike.
The Kona’s chromoly steel frame has straight tubes and a straightforward layout. The sliding dropouts allow you to tension the chain, but there’s no derailleur hanger or provisions for shift cables. Practicality is still possible, as it has a full compliment of rack and fender eyelets, but only one bottle cage mount. The fork has Kona’s classic P2 shape and a set of mid-leg bosses for a front rack. The 44 mm head tube means you can even try experimenting with a suspension fork.
The Electra, in contrast, has more curves than Kim Kardashian. The frame might look old-school but the material is modern 6061 aluminum. It’s much more sleek than the Kona, with internal brake cable routing, no bosses or eyelets save for the single bottle cage mount, and a simpler, stamped, track-style dropout. While the Kona’s paint sparkles in the sun, the Moto 1 has a sinister, matte blue hue that looks like serious business.
By choosing aluminum over steel Electra is able to save a significant amount of money in the construction process and offer the Moto 1 at hundreds less than the Kona. The Humuhumu is a better frame, for sure, but it can’t compete with the Moto in terms of looks alone.
Wheels and tires
While the Humu models have traditionally sported 26 inch wheels, Kona outfitted the newest Humu with big 29 inch hoops, in this case WTB SX19 rims laced to Formula hubs and wrapped in buttery smooth Schwalbe Big Apples. The rear hub has a singlespeed freehub body that makes switching cogs a breeze.
The Moto 1 also comes with massive 29 inch cruiser tires, in this case Electra’s own design with a moto-inspired tread reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s favorite Triumph. The wheels themselves are no-name hubs spinning Electra’s own massive, double-wall rims and the rear hub sports a traditional, thread-on singlespeed freewheel. I love the look of the Moto 1’s tires, but the Kona just has it beat in terms of quality and especially weight savings.
Both these bikes are dedicated singlespeeds, and while you could conceivable hack a drivetrain onto the Humu, that’s not really what it’s all about. The Electra is available in a three-speed model, but in the case of these retro-inspired cruisers, more isn’t always merrier. Kona sticks to a tried and true mountain bike drivetrain with four-bolt FSA crankarms and a threaded bottom bracket pushing a 38×18 combo.
Electra went for a BMX-inspired look with a Euro bottom bracket and and BMX crankarms and chainring with a 40×18 gear ratio. While the BMX crank looks kind of cool, I’d have to give the nod to Kona for the ease-of-use and compatibility of other parts you might have sitting around in the garage for future upgrades. Both bikes have gear ratios that I would put at the tall end of the spectrum for around-town use, especially the Electra, which isn’t hill-friendly out of the box.
Being able to stop quickly and easily is the best confidence booster when it comes to going fast, and I’m quite thrilled that both these brands laughed in the face of the rim brake tradition and chose to go with mechanical disc brakes.
Kona has Tektro Novela calipers with 160 mm rotors and the Moto 1’s calipers are unlabeled, but a pretty standard design. They both work quite well but the Humu has a higher quality feel in your hands. The Moto 1 is also hampered by the rear facing, track style dropouts, as getting the caliper to line up properly if you decide to switch up the gearing is going to be a bit of a hassle.
Both of these bikes are a ton of fun to ride, especially when you’re tracking your progress in smiles-per-hour. With the can-do attitude of a happy puppy they are just asking for you to hop a few curbs and skid your way around the neighborhood. I wouldn’t choose either for a lengthy, year-round commute, though the Kona can at least take a set of fenders. While the two bikes weigh about the same, the Kona has much more pep in its step, thanks to the high quality wheels and tires. I think the massive rotating mass of the Electra’s wheels slow it down and give it a slightly sluggish feel.
While both bikes have chunky, BMX-style stems, only the Kona has the uber-cool handlebar that looks like it just came off a flat-track race motorcycle. It’s huge too, measuring 800 mm wide— something that riders small-in-stature might want to take heed of. That single piece notwithstanding, I can’t help but think the Electra just looks better from every angle. The extra curve of the tubes, that matte paint, the classic tire tread… It all adds up to a very handsome bike indeed.
It’s quite likely that both these bikes fall into shoppers’ “N+1” category. Like a summer sports car the priority here is pleasure, not practicality. The Electra is hundreds of dollars less, but if it were up to me I’d be saving my pennies for the Kona. It’s a blast to ride, has the edge in terms of practicality, but most of all it brings a mischievous smile to my face every time I ride it, and isn’t that what these bikes are really for?
- Price: $899
- Weight: 29.5 pounds
- Sizes: S, M, L (tested)
- Price: $550
- Weight: 29.6 pounds
- Sizes: One size
I was stopped on the side of the bike path, topping off a slightly underinflated tire.
“Hey nice bike. What’s that extra tube for? Must be heavy duty or somethin’. Is it for extra weight?”
The tube in question is the twin top tube on this here Kona Humuhumu. A retro/cruiser/mountainous/classic/singlespeed/bar-hopping/klunkish/commuter. Why is the extra tube there? Because it can. Why does this bike exist? Because fun. #becausebikes
Note: Leopard print saddlebag and pink Klean Kanteen not included.
The Humu has been in Kona’s line since 1992 and was loosely inspired by the legendary Lawwill Pro Cruiser and Koski Trailmaster. More of a giant BMX bike than an upgraded klunker, the original Humu wasn’t meant to be a hard-edged trail tamer, but rather a less expensive way for fans to fly the Kona flag while getting to class, cruising the neighborhood or generally causing a ruckus wherever they went.
The current iteration was inspired by a custom build and sports the same classic layout, 4130 steel tubing, moto-style handlebars and let’s-go attitude of the original, but updates it with disc brakes, 29-inch wheels and sliding dropouts.
Unlike a lot of cruisers, the Humu is available in three sizes so everyone can join in the fun. The Schwalbe Big Apple tires measure a massive 2 inches wide so the ride is magic carpet smooth. The rear hub is nearly silent too, letting you roll in stealthy silence. It’s available in orange or lime for $899.
So far I’ve had a blast hopping curbs, blasting through alleys and riding like a hooligan. I’m guessing that’s exactly what Kona was going for.
Watch for my long-term review of the Humuhumu in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and help support your independent voice for cycling.