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

As promised, I’ve been diligently testing out the stylish and versatile commuter bike, the A-Type by Detroit Bikes, which is designed and fabricated in their west Detroit factory.

Bike-Slider

This bike is designed to meet the demands of a rider’s daily commute—whether it’s two miles or twenty. With simplicity in mind, the bike is fashioned with a Shimano Nexus internal gear hub boasting three gears and a coaster brake paired with a front caliper brake. Plus, the A-Type comes with a sturdy rear rack for your panniers or other hauling needs, a stylish riveted saddle, and narrow all-weather Kenda Kwest tires.

My commute certainly put the A-Type to the test—I tackled hills, cruised down descents, lugged my bike up and down stairs, and, more often than not, pedaled like mad to catch the train. I put this bike through its paces, but there was one aspect for which I had to outsource: Detroit Bikes claims that their frame will serve anyone from 5’3” to 6’3” tall. I’m an average 5’ 7”, so to better test out this claim, I coerced my 6’ friend, Alex to ride the bike for a couple days and report back. Stay tuned for his feedback, which I’ll post tomorrow in Detroit Bikes Review, Part Two.

Aesthetics

detroit-bikes_a-type

My first impression fixated on aesthetics. It’s one hip bike: all matte black from the frame to the chain guard with a silver-riveted seat and die-cut logo in the back rack. (Am I cool enough to ride this bike?) Truth be told, I love the look of the A-Type. The simple, unadulterated and unadorned design can appeal to a variety of tastes.

Brakes
I knew what I was getting into, but the coaster brake still threw me for a loop. I think the last time I rode a bike with a coaster brake I was, oh, about five years old (see picture in my commuter profile). At first, I found it difficult to position the pedals for a proper takeoff after stopping, which lead to an awkward scoot-n-shuffle push to get the myself going. The learning curve was a bit steep, but eventually I got the hang of it.  I experienced some fatigue engaging the coaster brake while on particularly steep descents, but the backup front caliper handbrake helped me feel secure while dropping down the hills of San Francisco.

Frame

detroit-bikes_warrantied-for-life

The chromoly steel frame does a fantastic job of absorbing the bumps in the road and the upright design provides a stable, yet comfortable seating position for cruising about. Compared to the hunched position on my road bike, the upright posture felt downright leisurely, like I could be coasting around the streets of Amsterdam rather than racing Strava-junkies to the next stoplight. With this in mind, the posture may not be the most efficient position for pedal power.

I found the bike to be fairly light for a steel framed bike. I had little difficulty hauling it up and down stairs (onto the train and into my apartment), though it’s no featherlight road bike. As I mentioned, the frame is designed to comfortably fit anyone from 5’3” to 6’3”, and to this purpose, the crossbar curves down toward the seat post. At 5’7” tall, I don’t have particularly long legs and I found myself standing as close to the seat as possible so as not to high center myself. I could see this being uncomfortable for someone with even shorter legs.

Gears

detroit-bikes_internal-hub

The A-Type features a Shimano Nexus 3-speed grip shifter for the internal gear hub. Prior to this trial, I had never used an internal gear hub. I was impressed by the smooth shifting and the simplicity of it—though I was wary of having only three gears to tackle the hills of San Francisco. For the most part, I pedaled in gear two dropping down into one for the hills and up to three for descents; however, I found myself wishing for an additional gear in each direction. This desire is probably specific to my commute in San Francisco. If I lived in the Mission neighborhood (relatively flat), or anywhere not quite as hill-riddled, three gears would have been enough. Plus, I liked that there was no need to clang through a surplus of gears before coming to a stop or ramp up while shifting madly as you pedal away. (You’ve only got three choices after all!)

Chain

detroit-bikes_chain

I only had one quibble with my experience. On my third trip with the A-Type, I was cycling down the home stretch to the train station, and the chain broke! Yikes. Luckily, I still caught the train and my favorite Redwood City bike shop fixed it up with a new chain lickity-split. The bike mechanic identified the issue as a “poor quality” chain. I brought this up with Detroit Bikes and they were already on top of the issue and had ordered new, high-quality chains. As a representative told me, “all bikes that are currently being manufactured and assembled will have the new chains.”

Overall

detroit-bikes_emily-a-type

The Detroit Bikes’ A-Type is a great, no-fuss commuter bike best suited to relatively flat commutes. So, if you’re looking for a stylish, easy-yet-durable commuter, I would definitely recommend checking out this bike. Plus, you’ll be supporting domestic bike production.

Don’t forget to stay tuned for Alex’s review tomorrow.

Find the A-Type’s full spec sheet here.

You can purchase Detroit Bikes’ A-Type Commuter Bicycle for $699 directly from Detroit Bikes online or through a local retailer.

Our FTC Review Disclaimer.

OSO Bike: Review

We talked a lot about the OSO Bike a couple weeks ago…and I illustrated the major features and my likes and dislikes so far of this bicycle.

oso

But, I sort of left you hanging: just how does this bike actually ride?

We’ll get to that shortly — in order to talk about the ride, we need to talk about the frame first. On the Osobike website specs, the frame is described merely as “chromoly high strength steel”. It IS chromoly, of course, but in talking to Osobike founder Shane Stock, I discovered that the main tubes are double-butted. In addition, the main tubes of the frame are teardrop shaped and then everything is TIG-welded together. Here’s a shot of the tube shaping:

teardrop

Shane specified a one-inch headtube with reinforcing rings for this bike. At first, I questioned this spec — one-inch forks and headsets aren’t exactly plentiful, but the more I thought about it and the more I looked at it from an aesthetic perspective, it makes good sense — semi-aero tubing notwithstanding, the frame evokes classic road or track bike lines. Besides, how often does a rider REALLY need to replace an entire headset? If a new one is ever needed, there are several companies making 1″ threadless headsets.

1

Because of the tube shaping, the way all the tubes come together at the bottom bracket shell leaves a very stiff junction. The downtube wraps almost halfway around the BB shell!

bb
(Ignore all the dirt…no fenders, remember?)

Couple that stiff BB junction with some very stout chainstays and you’ve got one s-t-i-f-f frame. In fact, this frame is easily the stiffest steel bike I’ve ever ridden, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve got two handmade steel frames in my personal fleet, one Italian and one Japanese. Neither of them can hold a candle to the OSO in terms of getting pedal power to the rear wheel. To put it bluntly, this bike is really fun to haul ass on — get out of the saddle and start thrashing and this bike responds instantly. I found myself sprinting a lot during my commutes!

Where’s the beef? Oh, here it is:
chainstay

Frame geometry seems to be somewhere in a happy zone between a traditional track bike and a road racer…something perhaps best described as “relaxed track geometry”. The bike exhibits a good bit of “toeverlap” as many track-like bikes do (really a non-issue…this is NOT a design flaw, just the nature of a tight frame). The bike responds to pedaling and steering inputs without any twitchiness, but it isn’t as plush a ride as a more stretched-out road frame. The OSO won’t beat you up with all that stiffness, though…it IS steel, after all.

The handlebars and saddle are both somewhat generic, but servicable. You either love or you hate bullhorns…and I suppose I fall into the latter camp. No big deal — throwing on some road drops is a 2 minute process. I thought I’d like the included saddle…it is shaped like a few of the saddles I’m fond of, but I guess I have to admit to myself that my sit bones are a little wider apart than my narrow ass would suggest. Saddles are such a personal choice that I could never give bad marks to a bike I’m reviewing just because of an uncomfortable saddle. This one’s not that uncomfortable, either…but I wouldn’t want to roll cross-country on it, either.

The bike weighs a bit more than one might expect for such a simple machine, but this isn’t a paperthin frame. Some judicious parts swapping (especially a set of lighter wheels) could easily put the bike in the 16-17 lb. range, if that’s your thing.

If an OSO owner gets bored of laying down hot patches of smoking rubber with that coaster brake, there’s good news…the rear bridge is drilled for a brake:

bridge

Slap a singlespeed wheel in there or go fixed and you’ve got yourself a fun little bike…which sort of brings me to my last thoughts: Just who is this bike best for, anyway? It hasn’t been well-received by the majority of the commuting community, nor has it been met with much enthusiasm by fixed-gear fans. My friends from the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club and I have been pondering the ideal demographic for the OSO, and we’re still scratching our heads a little bit. One of my club members described it as a “fixie girlfriend bike”, which loosely translates into a bike suited for someone not quite ready for the fixed-gear experience but who appreciates the simplicity and aesthetic those bikes bring to the table. Several others have derided the bike as a “poser machine” — intended to emulate everything that’s “cool” with a fixed-gear bike without the steep learning curve. I wouldn’t go that far, though.

So, let me try to pull all my observations and experiences of the OSO together: simple, fun, a blast to ride, really low maintenance. The bike needs some tweaking, to be sure — we’ve discussed that at length already. Still, none of those tweaks are terribly expensive or difficult to do.

Hits:
-Simple and low maintenance
-Fun to ride
-Great frame for the price
-Might be a good choice for an ultralight, fair-weather commuter who doesn’t need a rack or fenders

Misses:
-Some questionable parts spec
-Chainline issues
-May not do enough from a versatility standpoint for a lot of cyclists out there. This isn’t a primary bike for many of us, but might be an ok “fun bike”.
-Front brake should come STANDARD, not as an add-on. Let the owner choose to ride without the safety of a front brake!