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.

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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.

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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.

Intro and Mid-term Review: Dahon Mariner

So a few weeks ago I accepted delivery of Dahon’s Mariner D7 folding bike for review! I’ve been considering adding a folder to the stable, so I was pretty stoked to get the chance to take this for a spin or 20. Because I’ve been all over the place and crazy busy, I’m wrapping the out-of-the-box and midterm reviews into one here, so get your coffee and settle back!

Smaller box than usual…

First off though, some specs. The Mariner weighs about 26 lbs, which for the functionality (including folding) and price point (MSRP $599) is pretty decent. It comes equipped with a rear rack, integrated bungee (snaps into rack), kickstand, and SKS fenders. Sounds like a good fit for Bikecommuters.com! Components are mostly not big brand names, but appear solid. V-brakes provide some good stopping power, and the 7-speed drivetrain provides a decent range.

Out of the box, the Mariner was easy to set up – it came folded and without instructions, but thanks to my insane skills reasonable mechanical aptitude I figured everything out pretty quickly. Unfolding time is somewhere around 20 -30 seconds, folding time a bit longer depending on how it’s been set up. Everything is adjustable – the seatpost, stem, handlebar angle, etc. – and depending on how the handlebars have been situated they may need to be adjusted before folding (they fit in between the two wheels when folded). The seatpost always needs to come down, because the bottom portion of it also functions as support for the bike when its folded. Pedals also fold in, and there is a clip that holds the two axles together when folded; it’s not tremendously strong, just enough so the whole thing doesn’t come open unexpectedly. Once folded, the front wheel still rolls so you can move it around a bit but it’s a little awkward. Carrying it by the seat isn’t that difficult though.

So how does it ride? Pretty well! It took me a few minutes to adjust to the small wheels – they’re definitely much more responsive to small steering adjustments than my usual 700c or 29er wheels. Otherwise, everything was pretty easy: the ride is comfortable, the brakes work well, the shifting works well, and there’s really not an awful lot to think about. The only caveat there is that because everything is so adjustable, it takes a bit to figure out where to set it all to be comfortable – and then to figure it out again the next time. I’d definitely recommend making some sort of marks on it for preferred setup.

All folded.

Because I hadn’t gotten much opportunity to ride it before heading out on a family vacation to Maine, I managed to squeeze the Mariner into the back of the car (hey, no bike rack!) and got a couple rides in while we were vacationing – including one to the grocery store, which was a (very hilly) 9 mile ride each way. I went with my brother-in-law, who was on his Surly Long Haul Trucker, and found out some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Mariner relative to a 700c commuting/touring bike. First, the gear range on the Mariner, while more than adequate for most cities (maybe an exception for San Francisco, but I assume all bikers in San Francisco have massive quads and can deal), was a little less than ideal for coastal Maine hills. I ran out of gears on both ends – so there was a little walking up some particularly steep hills, and then some coasting down the other side of those same hills when I got to spinning too fast in the top end. Standing and cranking really isn’t an option on the Mariner – the geometry makes it so it’s pretty much a seated-only bike. I also have to note that especially when loaded down with groceries in the back, the front end felt very light and twitchy and going downhill quickly was just a little hairy! So adding a top gear probably wouldn’t be very beneficial – but I thought having an 8-speed with a lower low end wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Finally, we both noticed that I was working a lot harder on some of the hills than he was on the LHT – mostly just a function of the wheel size and gear range, I think – but possibly also related to pedaling position (the Mariner is much more relaxed).

Loaded down with groceries.

In terms of carrying capacity, the Nuvo-brand rear rack has a 10kg (22 lbs) max load printed on it, which seems pretty silly to me. Probably a liability thing, but if there’s a rack, I’m going to want to put more than 22 lbs on it! I’m pretty sure what I carried was closer to 30 or 40, and I’d bet a decent amount of money it could take 50+ lbs without too much issue. The Ortlieb panniers I used were a little bit of a tight fit – I had to shove them pretty far back to get adequate heel clearance – but they did work. I’m sure there are other panniers that would work a bit better if you were buying specifically for this bike.

Other quibbles? I’d like to see some bottle cage bosses somewhere on the frame. I didn’t particularly like their choice of grips – I’ve been riding without gloves since I see this as being targeted for riders not all kitted out, and have found that when my hands get sweaty the grips get slippery – not good! Also, the drivetrain was a bit noisier than I prefer when in high or low gears (though functional).

Those nits aside, I’m very much liking the Mariner. It wouldn’t be my choice for a lengthy commute, but it seems quite reasonable for shorter rides and I’ve been pretty happy with how it packs down. I’ll be putting in a final report later, and Ghost Rider will hopefully be adding in his impressions after he’s had a chance to ride it.

All set to ride

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Review: Wind-Blox wind-reducing strap attachments

If you spend enough time zipping around town on a bike, you may enjoy the sounds of the city around you, and the sound of the wind whistling past your ears. Have you ever noticed, though, that sometimes that wind noise can block OTHER sounds, like the sounds of approaching cars or other hazards?

That was the idea behind the invention of Wind-Blox, a device that helps block some of that excess wind noise and thus improving safety on the road.

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In a nutshell, Wind-Blox are soft fabric “envelopes” that wrap around the front straps of a cycling helmet. The envelopes are filled with a cushy foam and attach with hook-and-loop material. The Wind-Blox serve as a baffle, channeling excess wind noise past the ear. They attach easily in just a few seconds, and are adjustable along the length of the helmet strap by sliding up or down to maximize wind reduction. The material and the construction is soft against the skin and there was no irritation to speak of.

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Does it work? Take a look at the video Wind-Blox has on their homepage:

While riding around my city, I experienced much the same effect — the “roar” of the wind was lessened, and I felt as if I were able to discern cars approaching sooner and to hear some of the other city sounds that get drowned out by the wind. It seems like a really silly sort of invention, but it does work!

The Wind-Blox come in four colors: Black, Silver-Grey, Neon Green, and Pink, and retail for $15.00 right on the Wind-Blox website. They make a lovely stocking stuffer or small everyday gift for the cyclist in your life.

Growing pains in our nation’s capital

We’ve written about “bicycle backlash” before here on Bikecommuters.com — the continued friction between motorists and the growing ranks of cyclists on city streets. Some of this is happening in cities that have seen recent surges in bike infrastructure and the people using that infrastructure, including our own Washington D.C.

Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been an acrimonious back-and-forth in the Washington Post consisting of editorial columns, one of which resulting in a two-wheeled protest in front of the newspaper’s offices. Here’s a good roundup from another WP columnist so you can catch up on all the action:

The great bicyclist-driver clash of Washington is so on.

Bottom line: Everyone is right. And wrong. Too many cyclists ride the streets and sidewalks like they’re above the law and own the place. Too many drivers haul around town in a ton of metal, oblivious that a careless right turn can kill someone.
As Rodney King once asked: Can we all get along?

Apparently not.

Read the rest by visiting the Washington Post page here.