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2008 commuting bikes

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Q: What’s a good commuting bike? A: The one you ride.

Just about anything will do. My first commuter was a Schwinn 10-speed I found through a classified ad and bought for $25. Due to faulty components, it was actually a 3-speed. No matter — I rode the thing all over the place and loved it.

The goal here at The 6-Miler, however, is to make it easy, or at least easier, to ride a bike regularly in everyday situations. So I surveyed bike manufacturers to find the best candidates.

The minimum a commuter needs is fenders. When a manufacturer sells fenders as a standard feature, I’m assuming that model is geared toward the commuter. (I can’t include everything here, and fenders seems like as good a litmus test as any.) Whether a bike that comes with fenders is otherwise an ideal commuter is another question.

I tried to avoid exotic brands that have maybe one distributor in the United States. In other words, this list is somewhat arbitrarily limited to bikes you have a shot at getting through a local bike shop.

STRATEGIES FOR SHOPPING AND BUYING

If you see something you like on this page, call around or check the manufacturer’s Web site to find out which bike shops near you sell the brand. Many (if not most) shops favor racers and/or mountain-bikers, so there’s no guarantee they will have the commuter you’re looking for in stock. (Be surprised — very pleasantly surprised — if your local bike shop considers commuters to be a target audience.)

Of course the shop will order the bike for you, but who wants to buy a bike sight unseen? Let the dealer know what you are interested in, and see whether you can work something out with no obligation up-front — maybe he will get one as a floor model, so you can ride it to see if you like it.

Expect prices to be a little higher than the ones listed here. Manufacturers warn that their suggested retail prices don’t account for shipping and assembly.

Unless you’re a good wrench with plenty of time, your best bet is: Research online, but buy local. That way, you have someone to service what you bought. This assumes competence at the bike shop, which is not a given. But that’s another post …

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A COMMUTING BIKE

In addition to fenders, the ideal commuting bike will have:

  • Rear rackA rear rack. You can strap a load to it or hang panniers from it.
  • Sensible gearing. A wide range of gearing is best, and it’s nice to have low gears that are pretty low (meaning it’s very easy to pedal — great for hills and windy days). So generally it’s good when the smallest front chainring (“up front,” as I describe it below) has fewer than 30 teeth. (I’m no expert on gearing, but I can send you to someone who is.)
  • An internal hub. Having the gears enclosed in the hub of the rear wheel is a very nice feature for the sake of simplicity. There is no rear derailer to get bent or clogged with mud or ice. Internal hubs generally have an adequate range of gearing.
  • A chainguard. This keeps the chain from rubbing against your pants.
  • Lights. Front and rear lights are indispensible for keeping you visible on the road. The best commuter bikes have lights powered by dynamo hub in the front wheel; others have a dynamo that gets its power by rubbing against a tire.
  • Braze-ons: places to screw stuff into the frame. A good commuter-type frame will have a place to attach a rack, and eyelets on the front and rear for fenders.
  • A note about tire size: Tires on these bikes come in 700c (road bike size — bigger) or 26-inch (mountain bike size — smaller). I prefer 26-inch wheels for around-town riding, but either size will get the job done.

A lot of these models have V-brakes and aluminum frames. Both are fine. Also, many of them have 700c wheelsets; I have tried to note the ones that come in 26-inch.

With all that as background, here are the best-looking possibilities for commuting bikes in 2008, with manufacturer’s suggested retail price (where available on their Web sites; otherwise I looked around online) and a few observations.


Bianchi

Bianchi MilanoBianchi BrillanteI’m not convinced Bianchi has updated its Web site for 2008. I’m trying to find out from the company, but for now I’m going with what they have up there.

Brillante ($649, top right): The Brillante features a 21-speed drivetrain (48-38-28 front, 14-28 rear), a chainguard, a solid-looking rear rack and a kickstand. A Basta tire-driven dynamo provides power for the front light, and a battery-powered rear light is also included. And here’s a unique feature: the bike comes with a pump that fits neatly onto the rear rack.

Rubino ($529): Similar to the Brillante, with lesser components.

Milano ($775, top left): If you’re after style, look no further: The curved top tube and celeste color set the Milano apart. The standard Milano comes with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal hub. Step down to the Milano Citta ($600) for an 8-speed derailer-operated drivetrain and a duller color. The Milano Parco ($500) offers a three-speed Shimano internal hub.


Biria

Biria’s Easy Boarding frame sets it apart. The company says it’s the most comfortable bike you will ever ride. It will turn a few heads on the street, at least. I got these prices from the manufacturer; they are not on the company’s Web site.

Biria Classic Dutch SeriesBiria EB Lite 8Dutch series ($460, top right): European transportation at a basic level, the men’s version comes in any size you want, as long as it’s the 21-inch frame. (Women’s models are available in 17-inch and 19-inch frames.) The full chaincase stands out. You also get some sort of a light-and-tire-driven-dynamo setup and a Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub.

EB (Easy Boarding) Series ($300-$750): This distinct step-through frame would make riding very easy for anyone who has trouble getting on a traditional bike, and I could see it having great possibilities for short-distance riding in nice clothes. (Company background on the frame here.) Each bike has a chainguard and 26-inch wheels; all except the Cruiser have a kickstand and a rear rack.

  • EB Cruiser ($300) is a single-speed with a coaster brake.
  • EB Easy 7 ($380) offers a 7-speed derailer drivetrain.
  • EB Top 3 ($420) features a 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal hub.
  • EB Lite 8 ($650, bottom right) graduates to an 8-speed Shimano Nexus internal hub.
  • EB Superlight 8 ($750) offers the Nexus hub as well, and adds front and rear lights and a dynamohub.

Touring City series ($420-$750): This marries a different step-through frame to a 700c wheel, and it comes in four models. All include a rear rack, chainguard and kickstand.

  • TC Lite 3 ($420) sports a 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal hub with a coaster brake. TC Superlight 3 ($520) adds a Shimano dynamohub and front and rear lights.
  • TC Lite 8 ($650) offers the Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub, and the TC Superlight 8 ($750) adds a Shimano dynamohub and front and rear lights.

Trekking series ($450-$770): This line is based on a typical double-triangle frame, with a rack, chainguard and kickstand standard. The TK Lite 3 offers a 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal hub, and the TK Superlight 3 adds a Shimano dynamohub and front and rear lights. The TK Lite 8 has a Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub, while the TK Superlight 8 adds a Shimano dynamohub front-and-rear-lights setup.


Breezer

Uptown 8 diamond frameUptown 8 U-frameBreezer Citizen Breezer GreenwayA rear rack, kickstand and bell come standard on all these models. The Uptown, Villager and Citizen have 26-inch wheels; the Citizen and Freedom have 700c wheels.

Uptown 8 (about $960 online): I own this and have written about it. If you are looking for a commuting bike in the United States, you can’t do better.

Villager ($850 online): A Shimano Nexus 7-speed hub, a Basta Quattro dynamo hub that runs the front and rear lights, chainguard, and suspension seatpost make the Villager a great option.

Citizen ($600 online): Similar to the Villager, but with a Nexus 3-speed internal hub.

Freedom: ($460 online): Similar to the Citizen, but with no lighting system and no suspension seatpost.

Liberty ($1200 online): Designed for those with longer commutes, it offers a 27-speed drivetrain and front and rear lights powered by a Basta Quattro hub dynamo. Cool “steer-horn” handlebars. Chainrings of 42-32-22 up front make this an eminently practical ride.

Greenway ($850 online): Similar to the Liberty, but with a 24-speed drivetrain, and the lights are powered by a tire-driven dynamo on the back tire.


Electra

Electra Amsterdam Classic 3Electra Townie Commuter 21
The Townie series ($330-$860) : There’s something happening here. How well it works, ain’t exactly clear — to me, anyway. It would take a good amount of time riding this to sell me on it, because the Townie takes the upright riding position to an extreme. The Townie 8 Commuter ($860) comes with a rear rack and Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub, and it has roller brakes and a halogen front light. The Townie 21 Commuter ($610, above right) has a 21-speed conventional drivetrain. If you like the Townie concept, you can find just about whatever you want, from single speed to those mentioned above.

Amsterdam: I think these look tres cool, in a Euro sort of way. The Classic 3 ($560, above left) features a 3-speed Shimano internal hub and a coaster brake, along with a full chainguard (the back is open, so it’s not a true chaincase). It also has — get this — a coat/skirt guard, something you NEVER see on this continent. There is some sort a of a funky light powered by a tire-driven dynamo. Good ride-review of this bike here. The Sport 3 ($510) loses the coat/skirt guard and the light. Both models have a rear rack.


Giant

Giant Suede Coasting DXGiant Trans Send EXGiant’s stepping out a bit with three commuter-friendly lines:

  • The Suede series, offering 26-inch wheels, and a very upright riding position.
  • The Trans Sport series, which looks like an offroad-touring-type bike.
  • The Trans Send series, which is a bit more “typical bike shop.”

Suede Coasting DX ($800, top): This has a Shimano 3-speed automatic drivetrain, with a coaster brake. Comes with panniers, a bell, a chainguard, and a handlebar bag with a light on it.

Suede GX ($440): Suspension fork, Shimano Revo 3-speed internal hub, chainguard, cantilever brakes.

Trans Sport LX ($750) and DX ($600): These offer 26-inch wheels, big-old-huge tires, front and rear racks, kickstand, bell, and nice-looking multiposition handlebars.

The LX upgrades with disc brakes and LED front and rear lights.

Trans Send DX ($480), LX ($560), and EX ($760, bottom): Sort of a flat-bar road bike, but with a design that puts the handlebars a bit above seat level.

All three feature a rear rack, kickstand, and 28-38-48 gearing up front. The LX adds disc brakes; the EX offers a Shimano Alfino 8-speed internal hub, a chainguard, and a suspension fork.


Jamis

Jamis Commuter 3The Commuter line offers handlebars that sweep back toward the rider for an upright riding position, and a suspension seatpost.

Commuter 2 ($425): Single 42-tooth chainring up front, 8-speed freewheel.

Commuter 3 ($550, above): Similar to the Commuter 2 but with a Shimano Nexus 8-speed rear hub.

Commuter 4 ($835): Shimano Alfine 8-speed rear hub, with 48-34 chainrings up front. This looks like pretty nice gearing. Also has Shimano mechanical disc brakes.


KHS

KHS Urban XKHS Green
Both models here come with rear racks.

Urban X ($359): 48/38/28 chainrings up front; 26-inch wheels; kickstand included.

Green (no price on manufacturer’s site, around $300 online, above right): A European-style bike, with a 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal hub, kickstand, a coaster brake in the rear, and a chainguard. The bike is designed to have the handlebars well above seat level, for an upright riding position. Interesting, especially at this price, although I wouldn’t expect much out of the components.


Kona

Kona UteKona seems to pride itself on sporting an attitude, which can come across as refreshing or annoying, but they back it up with some interesting bikes. They seem to be listing their prices for the first two bikes in Canadian dollars, so you do the math.

Kona Africabike 3.0Smoke 2-9 ($369): 48/38/28 chainrings up front, steel frame. I test-rode the 26-inch-wheel version of the Smoke a couple of years ago, and it was about as basic as I would want to get; maybe they have made a few improvements since then.

Ute ($799, top): Kudos to Kona for trying something interesting here. The Ute has a sport-utility look to it, with an extra-long rear end that looks capable of carrying really big stuff, or people. Two side bags are included.

Africabike 2.0 ($299): Coaster brake, one speed, rack, chainguard, kickstand. You also get a basket on the handlebars. This is a step-through frame. Uglier than sin, but in sort of an appealing way.

Africabike 3.0 ($349, right): Similar to the 2.0, but with a Shimano 3-speed internal hub.


Marin

Marin Corte MaderaEach bike comes with a suspension seatpost. No rack. Each also has an LED light in the back of the saddle.

Novato ($510): 26-inch wheels, 48-38-28 up front, 11-32 8-speed cassette (24-speed).

Belvedere ($530): Similar to the Novato, with 700c wheels. Sensible gearing, with chainring sizes of 48-36-26 up front.

Corte Madera ($635, above): Similar to the Belvedere, with higher-grade components, a 9-speed cassette (27-speed), and a carbon fork.

Sausalito ($960): Similar to the Corte Madera, but with upgraded components and carbon-fiber bar-ends (these resemble handles at the end of the handlebar; they stick up at an angle to give you more hand positions).


Masi

Masi Soulville

Soulville ($820 online): It looks like the Bianchi Milano has some competition in the sexy-with-fenders category. The Masi builds on the curved-top-tube look with a Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub with coaster brake, cork grips and an embossed leather saddle. The frame is steel.


Raleigh

Raleigh Detour DeluxeRaleigh SojournDetour Deluxe (around $700 online, above left): In addition to sporting a rear rack and disc brakes, the Detour Deluxe is one of the few models listed here to offer a lighting system (front and rear lights, powered by a Shimano DH3D hub). No kickstand.

Sojourn (about $1,000 online, right): This is Raleigh’s brand-new touring bike — technically in a different category from most other bikes on this page. Still, it’s intriguing. It would be ideal for a long commute (say, 8 or more miles). Check out the bar-end shifters, flared handlebars for lots of comfortable hand positions, disc brakes, and leather saddle. Steel frame.


Redline

Redline R530

R530 ($600 online): “European Sophistication,” the manufacturer says. Well … European utility, at least. The R530 comes with a Shimano Nexus 7-speed internal hub, roller brakes and a full chainguard. The package also includes a rack, a suspension seatpost and a suspension fork. The angle of the stem can be adjusted.


REI

Novara Fusion

Novara Fusion ($749, above): The Fusion delivers a pretty practical package: for starters, there’s a Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub, and a front dynamo hub powers a dual-beam headlight.
A taillight is included, but it’s battery-operated.
A suspension seatpost, rear rack, bell and kickstand top it off. The bike uses front and rear roller brakes.

Novara Transfer ($599): A Shimano Nexus DH-2N Dynamo powers the front headlight; a taillight is included but battery-operated.
There’s a Shimano Inter-7 internal hub. 26-inch wheels. Rear rack.


Schwinn

The Schwinn CoffeeBefore seeing these bikes, all I knew about Schwinn’s recent history is that it had degenerated into a department-store brand. These models don’t seem to fit that profile. If you’ve seen or ridden one, let me know what you think.

Schwinn World StreetWorld Street ($650, right): A rear rack, nice gearing (48-38-28) and Avid disc brakes make this an interesting possibility.

World GS ($430): This handlebars-far-above-seat-level commuter aims for comfort. A rear rack is included. The bike has a 24-speed drivetrain. The World GSD ($530) adds a suspension seatpost and disc brakes.

World Adventure ($1500): Schwinn tries for the high-end market with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal hub with two chainrings up front, disc brakes, and a dynamo hub that powers a front headlight.

Coffee ($390, above): This model features a SRAM 3-speed internal hub, and it comes with a rear rack and chainguard.


Specialized

Specialized Globe City 6GlobeCity6 ($910, right) and GlobeCity7 ($630): The City6 features the Shimano Nexus Inter 8 rear hub and a chainguard, while the City7 has a conventional 24-speed derailer drivetrain (48-36-26 gearing up front).

Front and rear lights are powered by a Shimano HD-3N30-QR dynamo hub. A rear rack and kickstand are included.

Overall, a classy ride.