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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.

Redline R530 — Review

In my first impressions of the Redline R530, I promised to come back in a few weeks with a full review. It’s been more than a few weeks, but finally, I’m ready!

Redline R530

I’ve had a chance to ride the R530 for a couple months now; I’ve put 300 or 400 miles on it so I feel I’ve got a good grasp of what this bike is capable of — where it shines and where it doesn’t.

As mentioned in my first article about the bike, this machine comes with a couple of components not usually seen on commuter bikes…in particular, the Shimano roller brakes. In addition, this bike comes stock with a rear rack, fenders, a good kickstand, full chainguard and even a handlebar-mounted bell! Apparently, someone at Redline is listening to what folks want in a city bike. Styling-wise, the bike has a very European flavor, with full chainguard and a very upright and commanding rider position.

The parts spec, for the MSRP of $589.99, is quite adequate — a buyer gets a lot of functional value for that price. With the rack, fenders and chainguard, this bike is truly a “turnkey” commuter option. The only accessories needed would be front and rear lights (which often come stock on similarly-spec’ed but far more expensive bikes). And Redline didn’t skimp on hardware: all mounting bolts for the rack and fenders appear to be stainless steel. Because I am totally out of storage room at my house and my wife was tired of a bike in the kitchen, I was forced to store this bike out in the elements…and am happy to say that no rust has appeared anywhere! The same goes with the chain — I’m not exactly sure of the brand (I suspect KMC), but it is completely rust-free. The chainguard is partly to thank for that, but in addition, the chain itself has a matte silver finish that shrugs off grime and corrosion. Good stuff.

The R530 frame is welded from 6061 aluminum. The welds are clean and the frame is sleek, with a deep, glossy paint finish and subdued graphics. The bike looks classy and modern at the same time, with strong echoes of that functional “Euro” look. The top tube is radically sloped and the headtube seems really high — good for a nice, upright riding position. One small nitpick I have with the frame is Redline’s choice of a threaded 1 1/8″ headset — when it is time to replace the bearings, threaded headsets of that size can be somewhat difficult to source without a bit of searching.

Suntour suspension fork

Folks who live in fear of “harsh-riding” aluminum frames need not be worried, because comfort-wise, this bike has few competitors. With some tricks, the rider is pretty well isolated from the frame. As I mentioned earlier, some might think the standard suspension seatpost and 50mm-travel front suspension fork are somewhat “gimmicky” for a bike like this, but I feel they really take the comfort level to a whole new dimension for a bicycle of this type. The SR/Suntour fork does its job well enough…soaking up small bumps and smoothing the ride. The saddle and ergo-shaped grips add to the comfort level for most folks, too. I personally didn’t like the cushy, gel-filled saddle, but everyone else who rode this bike raved about it. I’m cursed with a narrow, bony butt, and I just sank too far down into it, irritating my “tender bits” (sorry!). A quick swap with something a touch firmer did the trick for me. Saddles are such a personal choice that I can’t knock a bike for coming stock with one I don’t like, though. In my opinion, a cushy saddle like this makes a low-travel suspension seatpost seem like overkill…it’s probably not necessary to have one in order to keep comfort levels high.

Plush saddle and suspension seatpost

Riding position was excellent also — no hunching or stretching required. Because the bottom bracket is pretty high and the handlebars rise up quite a bit from the radically jacked-up headtube, standing up on the pedals is a treat. I felt like the Pope addressing the St. Peter’s Square crowds from his apartment balcony! All this upright positioning comes at a cost, though; there is NOWHERE to hide from headwinds and your body will catch any breeze like a sail, reducing efficiency. There were a couple times when I got quite tired riding this bike around, desperately wishing for a way to get more “aero”. This is no time trial rig, though — Redline made this bike as an around-town cruiser, not a race machine.

Shifting and rear braking were flawless. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to try a Shimano Nexus hub, you’re really missing out. Shifting is effortless; just a quick twist of the shifter gives you clean, crisp gear changes. And, you can shift while standing still or under some load — good for getting a jump off the line at intersections or whenever you need a higher or lower gear right now. The Nexus hub is maintenance-free and easy to adjust, too. In fact, I can’t think of an easier-to-adjust shifting system. For adjustment of the shifting, refer to an article we wrote a while back that addresses the simple steps needed to get the shifting performance spot-on.

Nexus and roller brake

Shimano’s roller brake assembly handles the rear braking — the brake is quite powerful, low maintenance and easy to modulate. There’s plenty of range between gentle feathering, firm stopping and a tire-smoking lockup, and I really liked it. These roller brakes are immune to wet weather, too — unlike rim brakes, which lose power in the rain.

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about front braking…yet. But here it is — Shimano’s front roller brake stinks! In my “first impressions” article, I griped about the lack of stopping power from the front brake, thinking it was the way I set it up or something. Val Kleitz of Seattle Bike Supply (Redline’s U.S. distributor) informed me that Shimano built this brake with safety in mind by employing an internal clutch they refer to as the “Power Regulator”. Well, Shimano regulated most of the power right out of this brake — I get nothing more than a dribble of anemic friction, allowing me to slow down a bit but not nearly enough for serious panic stops. If 70% or so of a bike’s braking ability comes from the front, why is this roller brake so weak?

I don't like you!

It gets worse, too — the suspension fork that comes on the R530 is designed specifically for this roller brake (there’s a mounting point for the brake’s reaction arm built right into the fork), and other braking systems are not compatible. No V-brake bosses…no disc mount. You’re stuck with this brake.

The important thing is that the front brake is not very confidence-inspiring by itself. When used in tandem with the rear brake, though, stopping is not affected. Just be sure to rely more on the rear than the front (which may be counterintuitive to some riders).

The wheelset that comes on the R530 is bulletproof, so far. Stout 700c Weinmann Taurus 2000 double-wall rims are some of my favorites…no spoke hole eyelets, but these rims are beefy and tough as nails. No truing has been needed, even with some curb-hopping, lengthy traverses over cobblestones and a couple of trips down the stairs at full throttle. Kenda 700×38 tires and Slime-filled inner tubes keep the punctures away, and the wheels seem to roll quickly and smoothly.

Puncture-proof tires and tubes are a really good idea on this bike for a very important reason: changing a road-side flat is a fiddly process, at best, especially on the rear-end of this bike. As I mentioned earlier, the bike comes stock with a full chainguard. Well, part of this chainguard must be removed in order to pull the back wheel out of the frame. Luckily, Redline designed the chainguard with a small, removable “window” to access the frame’s dropouts. Here’s one of the spots where it gets fiddly: the two screws holding this portion of the chainguard on are incredibly tiny and easy to lose. Here’s a picture illustrating this “window” (red lines indicate the portion that is removed):

removable chainguard section

So, to remove the back wheel, you will need at minimum a small screwdriver and a 15mm wrench. If, like the bike I’m reviewing, the brake cable is really tight, you may also need a 10mm wrench to loosen the brake cable pinchbolt in order to release the brake’s cable stop from its keyhole slot. Not a quick process, in any case. Have no fear: if you lose one (or both) of the chainguard screws, the bike is still completely rideable! If you manage to hang onto those screws, be careful when reinstalling them — the plastic guard is a touch brittle and I slightly cracked the guard right at the screw hole. What I’m trying to say is, if you get a flat, be prepared to take it slowly and carefully when replacing the tube (or call for backup from a friend who can get you to work on time).

One last thing…although the pedals are comfortable and wide enough to ride in dress shoes, they become slippery when wet despite thick rubber treads. I’ve become spoiled by grippy BMX platforms (almost all my bikes have ’em), so you may consider swapping the stock pedals out for something with more traction.

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So, is this the perfect commuter bike? For shortish trips around town (less than 10 miles or so), the Redline R530 serves admirably, especially if one is new to bike commuting. It’s comfortable, it’s easy to shift and it is low maintenance. Over longer distances, though, the upright position will take a lot more energy out of the rider — this bike is just not efficient enough for long rides. I think this bike is best in an urban setting: short commutes, errand and grocery runs, fun cruising and path exploration. I’m pretty sure this is what Redline intended its use to be; they didn’t set out to make this bike a cross-country touring machine. Overall, this is a great bike for the price; it’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a capable around-town fun bike that also has a bit of versatility in terms of hauling a load, the R530 is tough to beat.

Hits:
— stylish design
— commanding riding position
— fully-equipped with crucial accessories straight from the dealer
— great wheelset for the price
— comfort galore
— good overall value for the price

Misses:
— Riding position sacrifices aerodynamic efficiency
— anemic front brake
— quick flat fixes are out of the question
— saddle/pedal swaps may be called for to get the most out of this bike

Check out Redline’s complete line of road, cyclocross, fitness, MTB and BMX bikes by visiting their website.