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Commuter Bikes

Dahon Mariner: Final Review

If this is your first time reading about this bike, check out our initial impressions on the Dahon Mariner D7.

So the time has come… to tell you all about the hair-raising adventures I’ve had on the D7!

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You wish you had these skills.

And… that time is now over. Because there really weren’t any. Sorry… you can take another sip of your beverage now. And close your mouth, the popcorn’s about to fall out.

What I WILL say is that this bike has been rock-solid, and has introduced into my life the idea that maybe I should have a folding bike permanently. Because it’s been pretty sweet! It has continued to be easy to use (biking, folding, unfolding, lugging around) and hasn’t needed any maintenance to speak of. The only issues have been with fenders getting bent out of shape due to bad packing in the car (fairly easily bent back), and once when the handlebars somehow got spun all the way around and braking was wonky for a couple minutes ’til I realized what had happened. So… yeah, user error.

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Main folding mechanism and bottle bosses

Speaking of user error, in the initial review I said there weren’t bosses for a bottle cage. That was incorrect: there are, I missed them somehow, and they’re on the top of what would be the top tube if there were more than one tube. So ignore that complaint… it’s invalid!

Since the initial review, this bike has been in and out of cars, to the library, to the grocery store, and just generally wherever we need to ride. The one thing I haven’t yet done on this is take it on public transit… I simply haven’t headed DC-wards recently, so I can’t say how it is. I imagine it would work fairly well, but can’t 100% verify.

My wife and I both like it, and because it’s easy to hop on and go, it’s one of the first picks out of the garage. My wife also had the amusing experience of using it when she had to drop the car off for some maintenance – and seeing all the car repair guys watch in amazement as she pulled the Dahon out of the backseat, unfolded it, and rode off to do a couple errands while she was waiting. Apparently they’re not used to that!

Our very own Jack (Ghostrider) also got a ride on the Mariner D7… here’s what he had to say:

I really enjoyed my (short) time aboard the Mariner. I have a soft spot for folding bikes, although there’s not one in my bike fleet currently. For multi-modal commuters, or people who live in small apartments, a folding bike makes a lot of sense. And this Dahon really fits the bill.

I didn’t try my own hand at folding the bike, but Matt demonstrated the ease with which it folds up into a tidy package. One of the things I noticed during the folding was that the seatpost didn’t have reference marks etched into it; the lack of those marks means that getting your saddle height right the first time is a bit of a challenge. A strip of tape or a silver Sharpie marker makes short work of that omission, however.

As with most small-wheeled bikes, the Dahon accelerates quickly. It feels really nimble while riding around city streets and tight spaces, too. Gearing was adequate for around-town use — we didn’t get to try it on any monster climbs, but it handled the inclines of northern Virginia without too much effort. Standing up to pedal up a rise was, well, rather awkward…that’s the only time when the short wheelbase and compact fit were an issue. The overall fit and finish were excellent, and there weren’t any mechanical problems throughout the duration of our review period.

Overall, the Dahon Mariner makes a great choice if you’re in the market for a folding bike.

Did I mention we had a lot of fun riding it?

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You also wish you had these skills.

Ever heard of an Audax?

I was talking to a friend of mine from the UK who works for an online bicycle shop called Fat Birds. We got to talking about “commuter bikes” and what that all means to someone in the UK. Well he brought up the word “AUDAX.” Truthfully, I’ve never heard of such a term. Apparently Audax is basically a word that best describes a commuter bike. Here’s a definition on their website:

A Sportive or Audax bike is a bicycle that allows for mudguards and in most cases a rear rack it is lighter than a touring bike and the geometry is more racey (yet slightly more relaxed than a road racer). A Touring bike is a frame designed to handle bicycle touring, with mudguards and front and rear pannier racks (not all come with front racks as this is dependent on the fork).
Special features of a touring bike may include a long wheelbase (for ride comfort and to avoid pedal-to-luggage conflicts), frame materials that favor flexibility over rigidity (for ride comfort), heavy duty wheels (for load capacity), and multiple mounting points (for luggage racks, fenders, and bottle cages).

Oh yeah, did you notice the other word in there? “SPORTIVE.” In the US market, or at least in a few bike shops that I’ve been to, they have dubbed what our UK friends call a Sportive as a “fitness bike.” Basically it’s a bike that isn’t quite a sporty road bike, not as burly as a touring bike, but a bike you could use to commute with or take for a 15-20 mile bike rides and still be comfortable.

So are you wondering what a Sportive/Audax bike looks like? Well check out this beauty…”Kinesis Racelight 4S Audax Road Bike Silver; The versatile Racelight TK3 frameset gets a makeover and has a new name Racelight 4S (meaning Four Seasons).”
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Not bad right? I’m almost positive that the US Market will start to use those terms in the near future to introduce new commuter bikes to make them sound fancier.

Giant LIV Alight All City Quick Review

This is the 2015 Giant LIV Alight All City commuter bicycle. What makes this a “commuter?” Well, based on years of running Bikecommuters.com and knowing what our readers consider what a “REAL” commuter bike is, this one takes the cake. For example, it has the ever so important set of fenders and rear rack. In addition it has 700c wheels. Further more the cockpit is equipped with ergonomic grips for added comfort.
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You can find all the SPEC info HERE. However, let me high-light a few things that we liked. 24speed drive train offers a wide range of gear selection. From fast flat terrain all the way up to the steepest climbs, you should be able to ride it with the Alight.

Hydroformed Aluxx-aluminum
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Frame and fork uses Giant’s ALUXX-grade aluminum. This allows the Alight to have a light feel to it. To be honest with you, we didn’t get to weigh it, but when it was picked up by hand to see how heavy it was, we were impressed.

The essentials of a commuter bike. Fenders and rear rack.
giant alight bikecommuters.com
The Alight was designed for the female commuter. Geometry set for this bike has women riders in mind. What does all that mean?

Liv bikes, apparel and gear are designed specifically for women. Liv’s team of female designers and engineers consider all aspects of a woman’s unique strengths and physical characteristics to create the only complete product collection designed solely for women. Examples of this include: Women’s-specific fit based on global body dimension studies Optimized stem lengths, handlebar width and drop, and crank arm length Shorter brake reach Comfortable saddle designed for female pelvis and hip shapes Liv ApparelFit System with multiple fit options.

giant commuter bikes

So what’s the price on this commuter friendly bike? Most Giant retailers will have it around $575, and based on our previous research, $500-$600 is what most commuting consumers would be willing to spend on a new commuter bike. But how does it ride? Like a dream! The 700c wheels make for a smoother and fast ride, while the 24spd drive train provides the rider a plethora of gearing choices. Shifting between gears are smooth, all thanks to the buttery Shimano gruppo Further more, the aesthetics of this bike is spot on. The color pops, yet it doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME!!!

Oh one more thing, just because this is considered a “women specific design” bike, it doesn’t mean that a man can’t enjoy it. I really did enjoy my time with the Alight All City. It’s a great riding bike and it really could serve a rider dual purposes. Use it to commute with and use it on the weekends to go on a long ride through the country side. It’s comfortable and fast, which happens to be a great combo!

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Review: Virtue Encore 5M

Over the last few weeks I’ve been testing (with some help from our very own Ghostrider, whose profoundly enlightening viewpoints will be revealed later on in this post!) the Virtue Encore 5M from Virtue Bikes. Virtue is a San Diego-based company offering stylish city and transportation-oriented bikes at affordable price points. The Encore 5M is their standard men’s frame with a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub.

Google+ auto-edits FTW! This bike looks right at home in an “old” photo.

Right off the bat, this bike gave me some difficulties… on my first ride, the rear hub locked up suddenly and I almost got dumped in a ditch! Thankfully I had only gone a quarter mile from home… but after inspection, I was unable to determine the issue with the hub. My LBS took a quick look at it, and advised me to request a new wheel from Virtue – so I did, and a few days later I got the new wheel. After a couple weeks delay on my end (family vacation etc.) I was able to install the new wheel (though with a little grumbling as the new wheel was sans rim tape and I had to install my own “rim tape”). A few more tweaks, and it was finally ready to ride!

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This is more like it.

Where is my hand supposed to go??

First up: this is a nice-looking bike. Second up: whoever made the decision on where to put the shifter either has no right hand or never tried riding the bike. Not kidding… check this out:

Yeah. So I fixed that. Nothing too tough… just required moving things around a little bit. The way I’ve got it now still looks fine (IMO) but is actually functional, and allows me to put both hands on the bar!

This type of issue, where looks trump function, seems to extend through some of the component choices on the rest of the bike. The grips look great, but the cushion is really soft, so after a few miles my hands were getting uncomfortable because of the pressure from the bar. Maybe I just have wimpy hands… but I don’t usually have that issue.

Similarly, the saddle looks nice, but after about 5 miles on it various parts of me start to go numb! Not cool! Finally, the flat pedals are single-sided; they look nice, but there’s not really a good excuse to have ones that aren’t double-sided on a city bike.

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Looks are deceiving, this is painful!

All of that said… the bike itself rides pretty nicely. The (chromoly) steel frame absorbs bumps the way you’d expect it to, and the 700×32 tires give enough cushion to smooth out small bumps – which is good, because I think that’s about the max volume tire you can fit in this frame (for the rear at least) – I had to deflate the tire to get the new rear wheel on, and the clearance between the tire and the fender is pretty minimal. The Sturmey Archer 5-speed internal is a nice touch for gearing – that range covers pretty much anything I’d want in a city bike. I will caveat that I never got the shifting to work exactly as it should, but I’m going to put the blame there on my lack of experience adjusting internal hub shifters. I would assume that if this came from a shop, it would be properly adjusted and work nicely. The drum brakes worked pretty nicely too. I tend to prefer the most powerful stoppers I can get, and that’s definitely not drum brakes, but I was able to stop in reasonably short distances with these – pretty comparable with a lot of road-style rim brakes.

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Drum brakes!

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The stubborn drivetrain

Having an internal hub shifter and drum brakes makes for simple lines and simple maintenance – but there is one negative to all of that, which is that if you get a flat while riding this, you’re probably not fixing it right where you are. That is, unless you’re packing (for the front) 15mm and 17mm box wrenches, or (for the rear) 15mm and 10mm box wrenches and a philips screwdriver. This of course is in addition to the normal flat-fixing tools! Not really an issue specific to this bike, just something you might want to be aware of if you haven’t thought about it!

So what do I think of the Encore 5M? Well, in the end I think there’s a pretty reasonable platform here that could be made better with some judicious part swaps. If this was my bike, the previously mentioned grips, seat, and pedals would all get changed out right away – some of that is personal preference of course, though I happen to think my opinions are very reasonable! I’d definitely change out the stem too. The handlebars are pretty close in, resulting in a riding position that’s very upright and occasionally knee-endangering. I think a slightly longer stem would help there. Also, the current stem and bar combo seems less than ideal – I had trouble tightening the bolts down hard enough to prevent bar rotation. In the end I got it where it won’t rotate most of the time, but I can’t tighten it any further because I was starting to strip out the bolts. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of component quality or just making sure the stem/bar are an ideal fit – but I’d want to make it better, and a new stem would likely do the trick.

I’d definitely want to add a rear rack (there are spots to mount one). It would be nice to have a kickstand too – which some of Virtue’s advertisements say is included with the bike, but which I didn’t get with this bike (so maybe I was just unlucky?). Having said all that, none of these changes are very expensive, and I always assume I’m going to want to change out the seat (and possibly other contact points) on any bike I purchase just out of personal preference.

The Virtue Encore 5M has a MSRP of $599, which puts it on the more affordable end price-wise in comparison to other bikes with steel frames and internal shifters. If you like the looks of the frame but don’t need the SA hubs, some of their other offerings come in much lower – $290-$400 for single speed and conventionally-geared bikes with up to 7 speeds.

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Jack’s Thoughts:

I agree with everything Matt said about the strengths and weaknesses of the Virtue. It’s a stylish machine, no doubt, and it definitely has the foundation for a really nice and versatile urban machine. However, some of the parts choices left me cold, starting with the one-sided pedals. A proper citybike should have grippy platform pedals with tread on both sides so you can just get on and go.

The drum brakes were better than other drums I’ve tried in the past — I definitely don’t care for them, in general, as I feel they don’t have enough braking “oomph” for my taste. I tried locking up the rear drum on the Virtue, to no avail. Still, the SA drums seemed to be a bit more powerful than the Shimano drums and rollers I’ve used previously.

I did feel cramped on the Virtue — the swept-back handlebar and the upright stem meant putting the ends of the bars right in my lap. Getting out of the saddle to pedal became a real chore because of that…awkward and unstable. I would like a more stretched-out riding position; that would be remedied easily by a stem swap to something with a bit more extension. This would stretch the rider out some, but not sacrifice the mostly-upright stance such a citybike should have.

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I didn’t like the saddle, either — I like a flat saddle with no cutout, and the cutout on this particular saddle felt like it was taking a cookie cutter chunk out of my nether regions.

In general, I commend Virtue for putting out a line of bikes that is affordable and stylish. I can’t help but think, though, that the company is perhaps too married to their price points, and quality/component spec/overall build suffers a bit for it. None of the parts Matt and I gripe about here in this review are expensive to swap out, but I’d like the Virtue folks to take a deeper look and find more suitable parts to specify for their various bikes.

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Review: Detroit Bikes’ A-Type Commuter Bicycle, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted my review of Detroit Bikes’ steel frame commuter bicycle, the A-Type. One of the main selling points of the bike is its versatility—the frame comfortably fits riders from 5’3″ to 6’3″. I decided to test this out by asking my bike enthusiast friend, Alex to borrow the bike for a few days and give me a full report on his experience. He was more than happy to oblige. Read on for Alex’s review of the A-Type.

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Alex’s Review of Detroit Bikes’ A-Type commuter bicycle:

A bike built for urban use…

The A-Type’s outstanding quality is the frame. It looks great, sleek, without being too flashy and standing out to potential bike thieves. The steel absorbs the bumps and shocks of urban cycling with brio. It never feels like it might fold in half when you run over that pothole you just can’t avoid, and it doesn’t leave your arms feeling like they’ve been through the wringer. It’s a frame that inspires confidence.

The bike is built to adjust to a wide range of rider sizes and I have to say it did so pretty well for me. Although the seat was a bit of a pain to adjust (and thus way harder to steal), it went high enough to allow for a comfortable riding position. If I had to guess though, anybody over 6’ might have some issues with the short cockpit and high riding stance that flows from the adaptable design.

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It’s tricked out with nifty little features that make it great for putting around town. The fenders are nice (having gone through a puddle of what was suspiciously probably not water) and the rear basket-carrier-thing fits a standard size milk crate just great with the help of a couple bungee cords. The springs on the seat are superfluous in my opinion—I tried to move them as hard as I could, but no dice—but do offer a nice big area to sneak a cable lock in there to secure the seat.

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Finally, the gearing on the bike is superb. All thanks to the Shimano Nexus 3-speed internally hubbed gear set. Just perfect for urban use, it shifts effortlessly and smoothly, even going up hills. Although I didn’t play with it, there’s enough tweaking to be done within the confines of these gears to suit everybody’s riding style. And there’s no external parts to steal, bang up, or get caught in your pants. As far as everybody (a.k.a. potential bike thieves) knows, it’s a single speed, and that’s such a nice solution for urban use.

… just maybe not San Francisco.

All of these nice attributes tend to fall apart when you hit a hill though, except for the gearing. The stance suddenly feels high and exposed. And while the curved handle bars maximize adaptability, I would have preferred straight bars to help optimize cockpit length. This issue is particularly evident on hills, especially for someone taller like me. The shorter length forces you to sit down—losing serious power—and that’s when you notice that the metal studs on the seat (they don’t have to be there, seriously) are really, really, really uncomfortable. Bummer.

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And to cap that off, the braking systems on the bike are not the best. The coaster brake reminds me of the bike I had when I was four and learning to pedal for the first time. It’s rough, abrupt and an old school complement to such a nice gearing set. The single front side-pull caliper brake doesn’t do much. It’s inadequate for effective braking—if you use it for fine tuning, you end up mashing on the coaster, which is all around startling and not slick. It’s understandable that the coaster brake presents a nice, compact solution for urban use, but only if it actually works well. It doesn’t. It offers two braking modes: not and full on. Which is only great if you’re into flying off your bike. Or maybe I just suck at using coaster brakes, let’s not discount that. Either way, a single, front mounted disk brake would be more than enough braking for this bike in urban situations and wouldn’t break the bank (no pun intended) any more than the current setup. Less sleek yes, but I like stopping.

– Alex

Thanks for that, Alex. Personally, I think you might just suck at using coaster brakes. However, I also found the coaster brake to be tricky at first, but once I got the hang of it, the breaking system was adequate for my needs.

Alex and I both agree that the A-Type is well designed, beautiful bike equipped with fantastic gearing and a frame that’s built to last—but it may not be the best choice for hilly locales. You may purchase Detroit Bikes’ A-Type Commuter Bicycle for $699 directly from Detroit Bikes online or through a local retailer.

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