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Tag Archive: bike commuting

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.

FTC Disclaimer here.

Intro and Mid-term Review: Dahon Mariner

So a few weeks ago I accepted delivery of Dahon’s Mariner D7 folding bike for review! I’ve been considering adding a folder to the stable, so I was pretty stoked to get the chance to take this for a spin or 20. Because I’ve been all over the place and crazy busy, I’m wrapping the out-of-the-box and midterm reviews into one here, so get your coffee and settle back!

Smaller box than usual…

First off though, some specs. The Mariner weighs about 26 lbs, which for the functionality (including folding) and price point (MSRP $599) is pretty decent. It comes equipped with a rear rack, integrated bungee (snaps into rack), kickstand, and SKS fenders. Sounds like a good fit for Bikecommuters.com! Components are mostly not big brand names, but appear solid. V-brakes provide some good stopping power, and the 7-speed drivetrain provides a decent range.

Out of the box, the Mariner was easy to set up – it came folded and without instructions, but thanks to my insane skills reasonable mechanical aptitude I figured everything out pretty quickly. Unfolding time is somewhere around 20 -30 seconds, folding time a bit longer depending on how it’s been set up. Everything is adjustable – the seatpost, stem, handlebar angle, etc. – and depending on how the handlebars have been situated they may need to be adjusted before folding (they fit in between the two wheels when folded). The seatpost always needs to come down, because the bottom portion of it also functions as support for the bike when its folded. Pedals also fold in, and there is a clip that holds the two axles together when folded; it’s not tremendously strong, just enough so the whole thing doesn’t come open unexpectedly. Once folded, the front wheel still rolls so you can move it around a bit but it’s a little awkward. Carrying it by the seat isn’t that difficult though.

So how does it ride? Pretty well! It took me a few minutes to adjust to the small wheels – they’re definitely much more responsive to small steering adjustments than my usual 700c or 29er wheels. Otherwise, everything was pretty easy: the ride is comfortable, the brakes work well, the shifting works well, and there’s really not an awful lot to think about. The only caveat there is that because everything is so adjustable, it takes a bit to figure out where to set it all to be comfortable – and then to figure it out again the next time. I’d definitely recommend making some sort of marks on it for preferred setup.

All folded.

Because I hadn’t gotten much opportunity to ride it before heading out on a family vacation to Maine, I managed to squeeze the Mariner into the back of the car (hey, no bike rack!) and got a couple rides in while we were vacationing – including one to the grocery store, which was a (very hilly) 9 mile ride each way. I went with my brother-in-law, who was on his Surly Long Haul Trucker, and found out some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Mariner relative to a 700c commuting/touring bike. First, the gear range on the Mariner, while more than adequate for most cities (maybe an exception for San Francisco, but I assume all bikers in San Francisco have massive quads and can deal), was a little less than ideal for coastal Maine hills. I ran out of gears on both ends – so there was a little walking up some particularly steep hills, and then some coasting down the other side of those same hills when I got to spinning too fast in the top end. Standing and cranking really isn’t an option on the Mariner – the geometry makes it so it’s pretty much a seated-only bike. I also have to note that especially when loaded down with groceries in the back, the front end felt very light and twitchy and going downhill quickly was just a little hairy! So adding a top gear probably wouldn’t be very beneficial – but I thought having an 8-speed with a lower low end wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Finally, we both noticed that I was working a lot harder on some of the hills than he was on the LHT – mostly just a function of the wheel size and gear range, I think – but possibly also related to pedaling position (the Mariner is much more relaxed).

Loaded down with groceries.


In terms of carrying capacity, the Nuvo-brand rear rack has a 10kg (22 lbs) max load printed on it, which seems pretty silly to me. Probably a liability thing, but if there’s a rack, I’m going to want to put more than 22 lbs on it! I’m pretty sure what I carried was closer to 30 or 40, and I’d bet a decent amount of money it could take 50+ lbs without too much issue. The Ortlieb panniers I used were a little bit of a tight fit – I had to shove them pretty far back to get adequate heel clearance – but they did work. I’m sure there are other panniers that would work a bit better if you were buying specifically for this bike.

Other quibbles? I’d like to see some bottle cage bosses somewhere on the frame. I didn’t particularly like their choice of grips – I’ve been riding without gloves since I see this as being targeted for riders not all kitted out, and have found that when my hands get sweaty the grips get slippery – not good! Also, the drivetrain was a bit noisier than I prefer when in high or low gears (though functional).

Those nits aside, I’m very much liking the Mariner. It wouldn’t be my choice for a lengthy commute, but it seems quite reasonable for shorter rides and I’ve been pretty happy with how it packs down. I’ll be putting in a final report later, and Ghost Rider will hopefully be adding in his impressions after he’s had a chance to ride it.

All set to ride

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The problem with Census data

By now, many of you have heard that the U.S. Census released new data (based on 2012 surveys) recently that shows bike commuting up by around 60% over the past decade. This sounds great, doesn’t it?

But seasoned bike advocate and author Elly Blue has some concerns about the way those numbers are collected, interpreted, and presented. Like her, I’ve often felt that the Census data collection on bicycle travel left a lot to be desired, and Blue sums up her concerns very eloquently in a recent Bicycling Magazine blog post:

New census numbers are out for 2012 (press release). Any time you hear anything in the next few years about the number of people who bicycle in the US or in a specific city and state, there is a very good chance the numbers will be from this survey. Proceed with caution: They don’t necessarily mean what we want them to.


Spin on over, give it a read, and then come back to tell us what you think — do you sometimes feel that bike commuters get under-represented? Are there more of us than the numbers show? Any other thoughts — we’d love to hear them!

Commuter Profile: Bruce Wright

 

Note: We’re pleased to offer an intro to Bruce Wright, one of the leading advocates for better bicycling facilities, policies, and education in the greater Washington, D.C. area (and specifically Fairfax County, VA). Bruce’s advocacy work on the board of WABA and as chairman of FABB is very nearly a full-time job at this point, so we appreciate him taking the time to answer some questions for us!

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Bruce Wright. Photo by Shannon Ayres, www.shannonayres.com

How long have you been a bike commuter?
I started commuting by bike on a regular basis in 1979 and have been doing so almost daily since then (34 years).

Why did you start riding your bike to work and how long is/was your commute?
There were several reasons why I started to bike to work. I understood the health, economic, and environmental benefits of biking and since I had a short, 3 mile commute, I decided to bike instead of buying a second car and driving. I could commute by bus when necessary, which was very rare, maybe 3 or 4 times a year.

How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?
Since I retired from working full time my bike commuting to work has transformed to using a bike for almost all other local trips. I’m 64 years old and have been able to maintain the same weight as when I was in high school. I take no prescription drugs other than for minor medical procedures and usually only visit the doctor once a year for a physical. I think I’m a happier, more well-adjusted person because I get regular exercise by riding. My wife and I enjoy riding together as well. One caveat; I now use sunscreen whenever I go outside. Bike commuters are exposed to the sun more than others and we need to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of UV rays.

What do you do for a living and in what city/town do you bike commute?
When I worked full time I was a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA. Since I left the Survey in 1999 I’ve worked part time in several different jobs: as a legislative aide to a local politician, as a bike shop employee (at bikes@vienna), as a bicycle skills teacher, and now as the head of a local bicycle advocacy non-profit (volunteer). I’ve made a conscious decision to work in places where I can easily bike.

Bruce (3rd from left) with other FABB members at Bike to Work Day 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

Lately I’ve been mostly using a Brompton folding bike. It has six gears, fenders and a rack and a front carrier block that holds a large bag. The bike is great for taking on Metrorail and bus and is a fun way to get around. For longer commutes or trips where I need to haul more stuff I use a Bruce Gordon touring bike outfitted with fenders, front (occasionally) and rear rack, and large panniers. I used that bike to travel cross country in 1999. I also own a recumbent tandem that I ride with my wife, a beater bike for parking at Metro, and a short wheelbase recumbent that doesn’t get much use these days.

Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?
I’ve helped many motorists who have car problems. When traveling on a bike it’s harder to pass by someone in need.

Bruce at the 2012 Fairfax Bike Summit

What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?
Most people have never tried riding a bike to work so the concept is foreign to them. I tell them that it’s easier than they think and that they should try it one day. It takes a little planning but most people can easily ride farther than they think. Bike to Work Day is a great time to encourage co-workers to try biking. I know many people who rode for the first time on Bike to Work Day and have continued to bike commute at least some of the time since then.

How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?
I’m on the Board of Directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and chair of their advocacy committee. I’m also one of the founders and now chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), a local volunteer non-profit advocating for better bike conditions and policies in Fairfax County, VA. I’m also a member of the League of American Bicyclists and a League Cycling Instructor.

Anything else that you want to share with us?
The world would be a healthier, happier place if more people took short trips by bike.

 

Review: Dual Action Bike Seat Test Ride

My fellow contributors were more than happy to let me take a crack at the funky Dual Action Seat #400 as my first equipment review.  When I pulled the funny looking Dual Action Seat out of its box, I thought, “this is definitely newbie hazing.” The aptly named seat has two independently moving butt flaps that rotate up and down as you pedal, and the whole thing swivels right to left with the movement of your hips. This is definitely unlike any bike seat I’ve encountered.

Dual Action Bike Seat

The Dual Action Seat is designed as an alternative for riders looking to relieve issues associated with the traditional horn-shape bike saddle. The roomy five-inch-wide seat pads are separated by a two-inch gap intended to reduce pressure on the tailbone and groin area, and the rotating action to limit hip pain. I read up on Dual Action’s website about perineal pressure, and dudes, penile paralysis associated with a traditional saddle is scary stuff!  If this seat helps minimize or eliminate damage to fella bike riders’ delicates, I don’t care how funny looking it is.

Dual Action Bike Seat 2

Dual Action Bike Seat 1

I may not be the target user, but I do love a wide, cushy seat, so I was stoked to give the Dual Action a little, uh, action. Though the seat is geared toward touring or stationary bikes, with a few minor tweaks of an Allen wrench, it can be swapped in for any bike with a straight stem 7/8″ diameter seat post. Including my trusty steed, Roy the Roady.

Emily allen wrenching DAS

It was relatively easy to install. And by easy, I mean it is literally just adjusting two Allen bolts. A little too easy. I didn’t trust the simple directions included with the seat, so I managed to put it on backwards my first go.

DABS Instructions

The movement of the butt flappers seat pads is a bit strange at first and I spent a while finessing the proper installation angle.

Dual Action Bike Seat 3

Roy with DABS

Roy with DABS 2

Once I had Roy all geared up, I took him for a spin. The seat felt more precarious than I had anticipated. While the up-and-down movement of the pads felt natural with my pedal movements, the swivel action along the vertical axis was disconcerting. I felt like I was constantly falling off the seat. It didn’t help that I was slipping from the slick fabric of the seat itself—fyi, yoga pants and gel seat coverings don’t work well together (and I imagine a snazzy pair of spandex bike shorts might have the same issue).

Emily on DABS

The more I rode, the more comfortable I became with the seat’s movement; however, I just couldn’t shake the precarious feeling of the swivel motion. I felt like I was fighting the side-to-side motion, having to bring my hips back in line after each pedal rotation. Rather than enhancing my natural movements, I was having to work to stay on my seat. As for comfort, I wish the pads had been more naturally contoured—rounded or tapered toward the front. The squared edges tended to poke and rub uncomfortably for me. Also, the seat itself is heavy, adding weight to my fairly light road bike and making it more difficult to haul up and down stairs (which I have to do to board the train on my commute).

After putting in quality time with the Dual Action Seat on Roy, I realized it wouldn’t be a permanent seat swap for me, but I wanted to get a second opinion. So I mounted the seat on our office spin bike and persuaded my boss (yep, my boss), Jim to give it a try and let me know what he thought.

Jim Dual Action Bike Seat 2

Jim Dual Action Bike Seat 3

An avid road cyclist and fellow bike commuter, Jim gave the Dual Action Seat a trial run. After getting accustomed to the seat’s movement, Jim had a similar discomfort with the swivel motion of the seat. He suggested that if the seat resisted or sprang back to neutral after each pedal stroke, the rider’s hips would still have the benefit of natural motion without strain of realigning the seat back to a centered position. Sounds clever to me. Overall, I think he’ll stick with his current saddle too.

I have no doubt that the Dual Action Seat design will continue to improve and serve as an alternative to the traditional bike saddle. While this inventive seat might not be right for me, if it can help riders keep riding without pain or medical complications, I am all for this wonky seat. And if you happen to be looking for a bike saddle to reduce pain while riding or said medical complications, you can purchase the D.A.S. Model #400 for $239.00 with free shipping. A bit pricey, but it does come with a 30-day money back guarantee.

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