It’s nearly bike-riding season in most parts of the country. In Colorado, we get tricked into thinking winter is almost over and then the heavy snows hit. Time to head back to the slopes and forget biking for a while. In any case, there is a somewhat new development in bikes that really isn’t new at all. I, for example, have a road bike for riding reasonably long distance for exercise and a mountain bike, which I don’t use any longer for its intended purpose. I just can’t think of a convenient time to break my collarbone. What I don’t have is something that everyone used to have, a bike meant for riding around town. People used to hop on their bikes and ride to work, to the park or to grab something small at the store. Once again, some people are commuting to work on their bikes. I might want to do that, but I really need something to go on short weekend rides with my wife and kids. I use my mountain bike for this now, but it isn’t ideal. The knobby tires don’t roll well and the front suspension is a waste of weight. There is a whole new class of sophisticated, well-made bikes for this purpose. They’re called urban or city bikes and they’re meant to be pretty light and fast, but more comfortable and relaxed than lightweight road bikes. Two specific new developments for these bikes are worth mentioning. Many higher-end city bikes use a belt drive rather than a chain. These are very quiet and require no maintenance. They also don’t get grease all over your right pant leg on your way to the office. The other thing is a more sophisticated version of the old three speed rear hub from bikes from the sixties. These now come in three, five, eight, eleven and even fourteen speed versions. They’re easy to use, but the really slick thing is that you can change from any gear to any other gear while you’re at a complete stop. This is much handier around town than a typical derailleur.
Below, I’ve listed six city bikes that I think are worth considering. I didn’t include any of the well-known major bicycle brands, all of whom make very good city bikes. This is more of a boutique group of unique bikes, a bit out of the ordinary for one reason or another. They range in price from $499 to $7850. Worth the money? That’s a tough one. Worth the money to someone? Absolutely. My definition of worth the money is not being able to get something that you’d rather have for less money. You’re the one who has to decide.
This is a lot of bike for the money. It has an aluminum frame and a Gates belt drive, something that isn’t common in bikes in this price range. It has a three speed rear hub, so it’s not ideal for big hills, but it’s all anyone should need for an all-purpose around town bike. It also happens to look cool.
Marin bikes started life as a mountain bike company, but this is an exceptionally nice urban bike. Similar in concept to the Priority Gotham, but a major step up. Much classier-looking frame shape and paint job along with higher-level components. This one has the same belt drive, a Shimano 8-speed rear hub and disk brakes. You’ll notice the flatter bars, giving it a bit racier riding position. This might seem like it would be less comfortable than sitting more upright, but it takes a bit of weight off your bum and gives you more control. This bike isn’t cheap, but it is a killer city bike for the money.
Spot Brand is based in Golden, CO, just about an hour and a half away from Fort Collins, where I live. They worked with Gates Rubber Co. (another Colorado company) to develop the bicycle belt drive. The Ajax is their top-end aluminum bike with the Shimano 11–speed hub. The curved top tube gives the bike a funkier, less classic look, but it’s a pretty bike and a sporty ride. It’s quite similar to the Marin, but the 11-speed hub is a little nice to operate than the 8-speed and gives you a broader gear range. There’s a pretty substantial price penalty for a slightly more hand-built bike with a couple additional features. We all know about the law of diminishing returns. Paying quite bit more for something a bit nicer is fine if that’s what you want to do. This starts to get into the fairly ritzy category of bikes for simply buzzing around town, but blowing a bit of extra money on something special isn’t all bad.
The Schindelhauer Ludwig is a German-built aluminum framed bike. The classic geometry of the frame, the flat handlebars and the fairly narrow tires put this bike in the fast commuter category. It’s offered with either of Shimano’s internal geared hubs, the eight speed or the eleven speed. Again, it uses the Gates belt drive, without which I wouldn’t pay much for a city bike It weighs 24 pounds, which is quite light for this style of bike. It’s a modern classic design, understated, but nicely detailed and handsomein a classy shade of silver. You can put fenders and a rack on it if you’re really serious about commuting on a bike. I just want a fast around-town bike and it looks too good as it is to clutter it up. Very nice.
This one definitely falls into the old school category, but it’s a beautifully-built, very competent bicycle. It has a relaxed classic diamond frame geometry, but it has flat bars and it’s not a dull or stodgy bike. It uses the Shimano 8 speed hub and a conventional chain. I tried to order one with the 11 speed, but they declined, so I passed. This is a bike that looks right with fenders and even a classic seat bag. It has a Reynolds steel frame, so it’s slightly heavier, but it rides like a Rolls Royce and you won’t see yourself coming and going. This is a unique bicycle and it’s one of those rare things that works perfectly and performs, but looks like it’s fifty years old. Absolutely something special. The steel blue paint color is perfect for this bike and the tan Brooks leather saddle looks just right.
OK, here you go. This one sits at the very top of my list, by a mile. It’s the only bike that I’m aware ofthat shows up in Industrial design and lifestyle publications rather than just in bike mags. When I first saw it, I thought that it should be on display at the Museum of Modern Art. Too late, it is on display at MOMA. I suppose we should all be able to live without a titanium-framed city bike with a 14 speed German hub, but I’m not sure that I can. You can add hydraulic disc brakes and a carbon fork, if you want to (and why wouldn’t you?) It’s light and fast and perfectly beautiful, but not flashy. If this were a car, it would be an Aston Martin Vanquish. They really knocked it over the fence with this one. The next time I’m anywhere near Burlington, Vermont, I’m going to pay these guys a visit.
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