Sea Otter Classic 2017: Alter Cycles

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!



First Impression: GT Traffic 1.0

The folks at GT Bicycles recently approached me with a challenge: ride the new GT Traffic 1.0 day in and day out and share my impressions and feedback. Well… challenge accepted.


The Traffic 1.0 is at the top of a three-bike line of multi-purpose, sporty hybrids from GT, each with disc brakes and aluminum frames featuring the trademark Triple Triangle. In fact, all of the brand’s new pavement bikes sport disc brakes, a decision that we can whole-heartedly endorse.


Nothing on the Traffic 1.0 is revolutionary, but it represents an evolved example of an all-purpose bike. The Shimano 3×8 drivetrain has more gears than I really need around town, but people buy the bikes they want, not the bikes they need. The Acera shifters and Altus derailleurs shift crisply and easily.


The frame features a full compliment of fender and rack mounts, and the bike even comes with a set of full-coverage fenders and a bell. The struts were a little short on the front fender so I had to attach them to the mid-fork eyelets, but they work fine mounted there.


Rather than a flat or riser bar, the Traffic has a slightly backswept handlebar to keep you in a more comfortable position. It’s not as swept back as a cruiser but still gives a bit more control to the forward, poised rider position.


The Shimano hydraulic brakes are great for dodging inattentive drivers and bombing hills. The levers are more than long enough for two-finger braking, though one finger is all you need.

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Keeping you rolling (likely without flats) are the 700×35 Schwalbe Road Cruiser tires with puncture protection and reflective sidewalls. The Schrader valves on the tubes aren’t as nice as Presta valve tubes but they are less expensive if you ever do flat.


So far, the Traffic 1.0 and I are getting along great. With an MSRP of $660 it’s nice to know you don’t have to break the bank to find a quality bike that’s fun to ride.


Watch for a full, long-term review of the GT Traffic 1.0 in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Order a subscription now to make sure you don’t miss it!




Field Tested: Trek Lync 5 commuter 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.

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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).

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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.

Ride quality

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.

Key stats

  • Price: $1,199
  • Weight: 30.1 pounds
  • Sizes: 15, 17.5, 20, 22.5 (tested), 25

Keep reading

We recently reviewed some similar bikes in Issue #33 that also make for great commuters. See them here and order a copy of the issue to read the reviews.


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