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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.

Our FTC Review Disclaimer.

 

 

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Review: Dynamic Synergy Road Bike

As we announced a couple of weeks ago, Dynamic Bicycles offered us the rare opportunity to test-ride their newest offering before anyone else outside their company. While I only got to keep the bike for a shortish test period (two weeks), I put a lot of miles (close to 200) on the bike and was able to get a great feel for it.

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(pink Velocity waterbottle cage not included)

Here’s some background: Billed by Dynamic as “the world’s first production internally-geared road bike?, this bike is aimed at the performance enthusiast who likes to think outside the box. With a drivetrain based around a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internally-geared hub, the other item that really makes this bike stand out is the STI-style shifter co-developed by Dynamic and the Taiwanese component manufacturer Sussex. The shifter is branded “Versa”. This shifter is the first of its kind for internal hubs…prior to the development of this shifter, the two choices were a twist-grip shifter and a trigger assembly for flat bars (although a barend shifter set recently became available as well).

Please bear in mind that the bike we tested was a pre-production model; not all of the components shown are in the final production version, and there were minor changes to the frame and a different paint scheme is planned. Patrick Perugini, president of Dynamic Bicycles, was thoughtful enough to provide me with the production spec list:

· 7005 Aluminum Frame
· Carbon Fork with alloy dropouts
· Shimano Alfine 8-speed Internal Gear Hub
· Versa 8-speed Road Shifter Set with integrated brake levers
· Versa Alloy Crankset, 46T with external BB
· Steel rear cog 19T
· Alex DA-22 Double Wall Alloy Rims, 32H Butted Spokes
· Shimano 105 front hub
· Vittoria Rubino, 700x25C Tires
· Alloy Pedals
· San Marco Ischia Seat
· Ritchey Pro Alloy Seat Post
· Ritchey Pro Alloy Handlebars
· Ritchey Pro Alloy Stem
· Cane Creek IS2 fully integrated Headset
· Tektro 740 Alloy caliper brakes
· Includes water bottle cage
· Frame Sizes: S,M,L,XL
· Color: Blue/Silver
· Weight: 21 lbs

As shown in the previous article, this is what the production bike will look like:

production version

The frame is configured in a fairly commonplace compact-geometry format, with a slightly extended headtube for a bit of added comfort and a slightly less aggressive riding position. There are rack-mounting points on the seatstays but no corresponding eyelets on the rear-facing fork ends. Dynamic has addressed that oversight in the production version; there WILL be eyelets back there. The frame itself is TIG-welded with nice clean beads. The fork is carbon fiber with polished aluminum dropouts and an alloy steerer. Like the OSO we reviewed a few months ago, the fork comes with eyelets for fender mounting…but there’s virtually no clearance between fork crown, tire and brake arches. It’s not clear if these eyelets have carried over into the production bike.

Fender eyelets on a tight-clearance road fork? Still a mystery…

eyelets

Aluminum-frame-haters, you might be surprised: this frame isn’t harsh at all. In fact, I found it surprisingly comfortable for long rides and rides over some pretty rough streets, including the many brick streets of central and south Tampa. Part of that comfort is the riding position, part is courtesy of the carbon/aluminum fork and part of it comes from the 25mm tires (up to 28mm tires should fit in this frameset with no clearance issues). The main thing, though, is that a comfortable frame can be made out of any of the major frame materials, and I think Dynamic crafted a good one here.

Franklin Street in downtown Tampa — one of many brick streets in my area:

franklin street
(photo by Steve Swiger)

Let’s talk about the drivetrain, seeing as how that’s where a lot of the excitement about this bike centers around. The Alfine hub is a proven performer — easy to adjust, easy to shift under load or even standing still and plenty durable for all manner of applications. Coupled with the Dynamic/Sussex STI-style shifter, and you’ve got a winner; fingertip control over the entire range of gears lets you fire off shifts as easy as you please. The Alfine doesn’t care whether the hub is under load or coasting when the shifts take place, but I’ve found that easing off the pedal pressure makes everything a bit smoother.

versa shifter

The shifter itself takes a little getting used to. The hoods are comfortable and will feel very familiar to users of Shimano’s various STI “brifters”. The Alfine (and Nexus) hubs require a lot more cable pull to shift than a conventional derailleur-equipped bike, so a fairly long lever throw is required. The big lever on this Versa shifter travels almost 35 degrees, and I found quickly that using my longer middle finger to shift it made things work better. Two minor gripes about this shifter: initially, I found the smaller downshift lever to be in a somewhat awkward spot. Based on the way I wrap my hands around the brake hoods, I found on the first couple of rides that if I squeezed the lever bodies wrong, I would inadvertently press the downshift lever, triggering an unintentional shift. After the first couple of rides, I was more careful with my hand placement and this “problem” ceased to be. My other gripe is that this pre-production shifter seems to be a little finicky about upshifts — a rider has to be careful to press the lever all the way to its inboard stop in order to get a clean shift. I found that in some gears the shift wouldn’t be quite complete, causing a little bit of chain skipping. Luckily, hitting the lever again quickly was easy to pull off. Patrick Perugini insists that the production shifter won’t be so finicky — this pre-production version has a much cruder set of innards and all that has been refined by the manufacturer.

alfine
(photo by Steve Swiger)

The gearing range afforded by the Alfine internals, the 46 tooth chainring and 19T cog seemed adequate for all but the toughest hillclimbs. Set up this way, the range goes from a hair over 40 gear inches up to 108. That covers a lot of territory, and the ratios between them are fairly even. Still, with only 8 to choose from, there are times that NO gear is “just right”. That’s an inherent drawback to all internal hubs and doesn’t reflect in any way on the Dynamic system. To play with the gearing range, a rider can simply swap out chainrings (standard 130 mm BCD) or rear cogs for something more suitable to his/her terrain.

I don’t have much in the way of hills in my area (Tampa is pretty flat), but I’ve got a “test hill” on the North Boulevard bridge leading over the Hillsborough River — it’s where I take any bike that I get to test. This is a short but pretty steep pitch and lets me test the gearing range of a bike without too much hassle. Up this “hill”, I shifted down under load several times with no problem and I found this gearing range to be up to the task. Would I try to climb the Alpe d’Huez with this setup? Probably not…but anything short of that shouldn’t be too much trouble.

My test hill (don’t laugh…it’s all we’ve got around here!):

north blvd.

The test bike came equipped with some good componets — Ritchey stem, handlebars and seatpost, a San Marco saddle, good Tektro dual-pivot sidepull brakes, Cane Creek integrated headset and decent Alex wheels. Nothing too flashy, but also nothing generic. Everything functioned smoothly; there were no issues to speak of.

cockpit components

I’ve had a couple people express concern that the heavy Alfine hub (the bare hub weighs around three lbs.) would unbalance the bike. And, in fact, if you pick the bike up with your hands, it definitely feels “back heavy”. During rides (where such things really matter), though, this heaviness is completely unnoticeable. The bike rides smoothly and with stability.

Another concern was overall bike weight. This bike is aimed at the performance enthusiast, yet the bike appears “piggish” at 21 lbs. Again, this isn’t noticeable…but that’s easy for me to say, because one of my primary bikes is a 60 lb. machine with a minimum of 50 lbs. of cargo onboard! So, to me the Synergy felt quick and racy. Bottom line is that bike weight is a good bit overrated — if a bike performs well, giving both a spirited and comfortable ride, it really doesn’t matter how much it weighs.

Checking out the bike and talking about its features:

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Overall, I really liked the bike — I was already a fan of internally-geared hubs, but the fingertip shifting control offered by the Versa system is amazing. The bike rode the way I like a bike to — stable and confident without being too twitchy. Geometry is performance-oriented, but with some comfort features built in. This bike seems ideally suited for speedy club rides, fitness riding and, with the addition of a rack, fast medium- to long-distance commuting. Besides, with the ease of maintenance of the Alfine/Nexus hub family (no fiddling with high/low travel screws, “B tension” screws, etc.), this bike helps simplify things for riders: more fun, less adjusting.

Looks like Dynamic has another winner on their hands — and who knows; perhaps this shifter/hub combination may find its way onto other platforms (especially a more commuter-specific bike with fender clearances and the ability to accept fat tires)?

Oh, did I mention the Synergy was fun to ride?

wheelie
(photo by Steve Swiger)

Visit Dynamic’s website for more information on availability of this new model (projected for March or April?) and their line of other well-thought-out bicycles.