I’ll admit it, I’m getting that want-a-new-bike itch once more.
As much as I love my Townie (and I really do), I very much miss my Amsterdam Dutch-style bike. Recently I have seen a Dutch-style city bikes around South Beach made by Republic. Their Plato bikes, the name of their oma-style, are stylish and practical and just beautiful to look at. Last week or so, I saw on Twitter that Republic had teamed up with CB2 to create two models exclusive to the store built on the Plato design. They have arrived and I had a chance to see them in person this weekend.
This is the Abuela model (oma means grandmother in Dutch, same as abuela in Spanish), their “women’s” bike. More correctly, it is their step-through model, with the Abuelo being the more traditional diamond-frame model. In Holland, both bike models are unisex, something we still need to inculcate to the customer base here in the US.
That aside, there are reasons why I’m feeling more attracted to the step-through but I won’t go into that now. For now, I’m just gonna look at it and keep thinking, pondering, trying to hold myself from scratching that want-a-new-bike itch until I know that it’s not just a passing whim.
It’s been a fun time, doing all the research on the various bikes. I even got to test-ride a really awesome bike that I’d been eying for a while. I cast my net far and wide, checking out a lot more bikes than I actually wrote here about, brands I came to discover along the way, and options from companies better known for their sports models which are now catering to the (re)emergent commuter market. I tried to be as fair as possible in my research, I promise, and eventually I ended up considering a couple of actually Dutch bikes that I would have simply had to purchase unseen given there are just no dealers for any of these brands in Miami or the South Florida area.
I weighed a lot of factors when making my final decision, including price, build, and availability locally/via shipping. I did my best to consider each bike individually for its own merits, not compared to other similar models, and I think I even succeed most of the time. Let it be known that in reaching this decision I even called Canada, about four times, not to mention contact a number of Florida, Chicago and NYC shops, just so I would be sure I was doing my due diligence.
In the end, it came down to what I could get that had the most features I wanted and the best build/durability for my budget. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner is: Read more…
I’ll be honest, I’m getting a little antsy to have a new bike. After Sunday’s Bike Miami Ride, my legs and knees were very sore for a couple of days; I understand I’m overweight and all that, but this was all due to trying to keep up with 30+ other riders while on a singlespeed with a lame back wheel. It’s time for a new bike. I can even rationalize it by saying that I have been a good boy who’s been riding his bike regularly for over a year, that I’m slowly seeking to move into a bike-as-primary-vehicle way of life, or even that Monday, October 12 is my birthday and this will be my gift. The simple truth is, however, that it is time. Read more…
We found the store fairly easily (corner of 5th Street and Washington Ave, or the place with the loaded bike rack right in front) and quickly stepped inside a small store packed to the gills with bikes and accessories. The Bicycle Center only carries Electra Townies, which is fine as I wanted to give these cruiser-types a fair chance as I shop for my new bike.
Mike answered all my questions about the Townies without batting an eye, which speaks wonders to me about their knowledge. He also asked key questions of me, like how much riding I would be doing (as much as possible), what was my intention in getting a new bike (to replace my car as much as I can), and offered suggestions. He also offered to let me test-ride the Townie, which I wasn’t expecting but gladly accepted.
I rode the 7-speed men’s Townie (in blue). It comes equipped with a Shimano handgrip gear shift system and a hand brake, plus a top-cover chainguard. The seat was adjusted to my height and off I went down the sidewalk. My first thought was, “Wow, this is a very comfortable seat!” It was followed very quickly by, “Wow, this thing is fast!” It’s not so much a fast bike as it is an efficient ride; the gears allowed me to get the most out of each and every push of the pedal and that was a wonderful feeling.
The bike rides super smooth as well; this model did not have balloon tires, but the default Townie tires are very roundish as it is (compared to the fat-and-flat tires my current cruiser has) and this made for a feeling of gliding over the surface. Understand, as you can see in the photo, I’m a heavy guy, so I’ve come to expect my weight to basically nullify any natural shock-absorbency the tires on any bike I ride may have, but that wasn’t the case here at all. That alone impressed me quite a bit.
I’ve been riding a bike with coaster brakes for more than a year, so my natural instinct is to pedal backwards to stop, which on this bike doesn’t do anything other than let your feet spin around freely. The hand brake, however, worked like a charm; just a squeeze and the bike came to a full stop in less than a foot of distance. While riding I tried some of the various speeds and each performed just right. The transition between the gears was barely felt or heard and I never felt a loss of motion between shifts. I wish I could have taken it up the bridge I climb every morning, but even on the flat surface of Miami Beach I could tell the selection of speeds on this bike would allow me to ride that incline a lot more efficiently and without so much stress to my knees as my current ride.
The big deal with the Townies is their angle of riding, which tilts the angle of riding, putting the rider a bit towards the back and the pedals more towards the front, creating what Electra calls Flat Foot Technology®: when you sit on a Townie, you can put down your foot flat on the floor when standing still, and when riding, you pedal forward instead of downward, allowing full extension of the leg. It works wonders, let me tell you. I was able to simply put my foot down and stand with the bike without any balance issues. When riding, the angle of the pedals allowed my long legs to get an almost full extension; I truly felt that I got the most out of each push of the pedals, all while sitting in a relaxed position that kept my back straight and without feeling any noticeable strain.
There are three things I did not like about the Townie, though. First, I did not like the straight handlebar; after riding my cruiser, and even my wife’s Amsterdam, both of which have handlebars that bend back towards the rider, the arms-straight-out position I had to adopt to ride the Townie felt just wrong. Second, the top-half-only chainguard as opposed to a full-cover chainguard. The Red Beast has this kind of cover and I have constant problems with the cuff of my jeans getting caught in it and bending it out of shape. Even assuming that the material on the Townie chainguard will be better than the one in my Target-bought Schwinn cruiser, that’s one hassle I’d just like to avoid altogether. And last, the lack of all the accoutrement that are needed to make this a functional day-to-day bike: fenders, back rack, back and front lights, and bell. There is a Townie Euro version that comes with all of these (except the bell), but the price shoots up quite a bit from the version I rode. Yes, these are all things that can be likely customized at the store level, but they would add considerably on top of the basic price (and the 7-speed I tested was fairly priced at just under $500).
Overall, I really liked the Townie experience, enough to make this bike a real contender for the title of My Next Bike. People who prefer cruisers should definitely check the Townie out, because if I can sum this bike in 4 words it would be Cruiser: The Next Generation, and I don’t think I’d be doing it a disservice at all.
I’m fairly decided that I’ll be getting an European city bike, but now the issue becomes which one. At the moment it comes down to two bikes.
Up to a few months ago the answer was clear: the Electra Amsterdam 3 Classic, the male companion to my wife’s bicycle.I absolutely love the look of the Amsterdam. It has very simple lines that say “I am a straightforward bike” and those extra details–the slightly swept-back seat, the wide handlebars, the coat and chainguard, the back rack, the dynamo-powered headlight–that give it that dignified look of a bike meant to be used by regular people for regular purposes. Yes, I’m waxing poetic on a bicycle, but look at it, it is a damn beautiful bike. The one drawback that I can name right off the bat: it doesn’t have a hand brake; while I’ve nothing against coaster brakes, a hand brake would be something I would like in my next bike, if possible. If I use my wife’s Amsterdam as a precedent, I’m looking at around $550 for this bike, built and ready to run. That’s a very attractive number! I do, however, need to add the cost of a front tray as that’s one customization I absolutely require for how I intend to use this bike.
The second contender is the Gazelle Toer Populair 3 SPD, a truly Dutch (as in, from Holland) bike. This bike brings Europe to you; you can rid it, squint real hard, and pretend you’re in Amsterdam. Again, simple lines (notice, however, that this one is straight at the crossbar and seat), a chunky back rack with back-wheel lock (love those!), coat and chainguard, dynamo headlight – all the fixings of a daily-use bike. The Toer, however, adds a hand lever brake out of the box, which is something to consider. And let’s face it, there’s the fact that this is a bike by a 117-year old company that knows how to make city bikes. Gazelle is an institution in the Netherlands, so they have the expertise to deliver a tried-and-tested fantastic bike. The one huge drawback? The price. Though Gazelle has a representative in Miami at the moment, they are still not carried by any local store, so based on the closest US dealer with prices displayed online (Dutch Bike Co. in Chicago), it’s $1300, more or less. Plus the cost of a front tray as well (though I don’t know if the Electra one I linked above will fit this one; if not, I need to find one that will).
That’s where I’m forced to stop and think. Marc from Amsterdamize.com, when I commented on the issue of pricing, replied, “Yeah, there’s no escape from import costs and duties, but we are of course talking about an investment in decades and decades of durability, the Dutch would say: ‘Goedkoop is duurkoop’ = ‘Cheap is expensive in the long run.’” Trust me, I know this is very much a case of up-front investment and I’m trying to keep it in mind. It would be a lot easier if the Electra Amsterdam wasn’t such a good and durable bike as well. As durable as a Dutch bike? Hard to say; to be fair, Electra hasn’t been around as long as Gazelle, nor do their bikes have had the same kind of use and abuse over the years. Which actually does bring a point: in Miami, I’m not quite yet at the level of use of people in Holland, and while I would love to get there eventually, does it warrant the expense now?*
I continue to ponder this as I inspect other bikes (in the interest of doing my homework and being diligent, even if I keep coming back to these two). I’m decided to keep both options viable until I have evaluated the bikes in person (and thanks to an email I received a couple of days ago, it looks like I’ll have a chance to see the Gazelle Toer in person in Miami). My other main concern is if the mechanics here will be able to work the Gazelle. I imagine so, but I intend to make sure beforehand.
Next I’ll look at some cruisers as well.
* – Of course, if Gazelle wants to work out a promotional/sponsorship deal with me, the decision would be a very easy one to make. I think about the amount of publicity Electra has gotten with my wife’s bike every time we ride around, especially when we go to Bike Miami events, and through this blog; maybe that would be worth something to Gazelle as they seek to stake a claim to the South Florida market. Just saying.
As much as I love my bike, the Red Beast, the time is coming close for me to upgrade my ride and get a better bike. I bought the cruiser very much with the proviso that I was buying a cheap bike to see if I was going to like this whole cycling business. After about a year of cruising, I can safely say that yes, I very much like it, and I’ll like it even more with a bike that’s better suited to asphalt riding, has variable speeds and hand brakes, is lighter and better built.
Since my wife got her Electra Amsterdam (Willow), I’ve been in love with that line. The classic Dutch/European style is one I have been infatuated with since our first trip to Europe in 2001, and especially so after our jaunt in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2006, when we got to ride a couple of these bikes in Brugge. The Electra Amsterdam, though made in the US, mimics the Dutch bikes perfectly, having been built to provide the same European experience. I have tried my wife’s bike on a couple of occasions and it runs like a dream, something she reiterates every time she rides it as well. So, though I have been fair and looked at other bikes over the past year as possible upgrade candidates (the Electra Townie was a very close contender), I know that it’s a Dutch-style bike that I want.
Of course, that takes me to Step 2, choosing which Dutch-style bike I want. You’d think that the Electra Amsterdam is the clear winner here, but the thing is, in the last few years actual Dutch brands have begun to make inroads into the American market, so now it is possible to get a truly Dutch bike without having to fly to Amsterdam (not that I would mind that in the least).
But I’ll leave that for the next post.