Sunday, February 22, 2009

Searching for the perfect Commuter/Trailer Tow-er/Foxy Minimalist/Utilitarian Date Bike. Why so elusive?

OK so it's a bit ambitious, and maybe I'm a niche market of one, but I am nothing if not obsessive and something like a hound with a scent. I will search the internets and beyond for a solution to my various biking needs. I am on a quest.

Here is what I do with my bike:

I tow 100 pounds of kids + trailer about 5 miles a day, with one small hill. So I need a sturdy frame with a pretty decent low gear and the ability to attach a hitch to the rear quick-release skewer. Currently I get down to about a 23T in front and an 18T in the back. I get stronger all the time, but that gear makes me laugh in the general direction of the hill on our regular route. The other hills in our neighborhood still instill a bit of fear. Is there an internal hub (for a cleaner look than a triple + granny derailleur) that can give me what I need? I'm not yet sure about that. This rig is also used for grocery shopping and other cargo situations you'd think you might need a car for. So this is my Family Man ride.

I commute and generally leave the car at home when possible, on easy 4-10 mile routes depending on the destination. For this I'd probably be fine with a single-speed with a slightly forgiving gearing, and I love the clean, stripped-down look. I don't carry too much back and forth, usually just a laptop and maybe some clothes, but I'm not totally opposed to panniers or some other bike-mounted bags/racks. My messenger bag works OK, but I do like the feel of getting the junk off my back, especially as the weather warms up here in L.A. But racks and cargo space and lights and locks can quickly turn into a mishmash of utilitarian debris, loosing the simplicity I love. I also like to really fly when on these rides, so I like something on the sporty side. This is my Bread-Winner, Eco-Proselytyzer ride.

I also like just getting out with the wife, for a lazy shopping run or a Bike Date (as the blog title implies) so I like something a bit relaxed and elegant. Not a full-on Dutch bike necessarily (though I love those, too) but something with some élan, some form to go with the function. Something I can wear nice clothes on, an eye catcher as we pull up to a swanky L.A. valet. This is the Date Bike.

Writing this reminds of the scene in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories where he is in love with specific elements of two different women, so he has this fantasy of taking the best parts of one and combining them with the best parts of the other, Frankenstein style. But then once he completes the transformation, he falls in love with the one with all the bad traits!

I am also more aware of the challenge, the impossibility you might say, as I write down the contradictions. But my journey in the wilderness, my search for this Two-Wheeled Grail of Transportation goes on. So I will post some of the bikes that catch my eye, and how they attain or fall short of my ideal. I will continue my quest, because it is something bigger than me.

Oh, I forgot. It needs to be reasonably priced. I need a pile of cash left over for one of those sweet Rapha Tweed Softshell Jackets...

UPDATE: I like some of these...


  1. Have you looked at an Xtracycle? It's a cargo toting, kid carrying, stuff hauler of pure awesome.

    They're doing a month of love with rotating deals and the one that ends today nets you all you'd need for converting an existing bike at about $200 of savings.

    I love mine, and it'd be great to have another one rolling around Santa Monica.

  2. I can't believe I haven't seem you out there! I know the Xtracycle - they are cool machines. Re: the Xtracycle, we just invested a king's ransom for our new bike trailer, so we'll be staying with that approach. It also allows me to detach the trailer and cruise in a more stripped-down way.

    But I would love to check out your X - I haven't seen one in the flesh, and I've definitely considered going that way. If you want, drop me a note at jh9856 at gmail dot com and maybe we can cross paths somewhere.

  3. Hm, that's a lot of requirements! The only bike I can think of is the xtracycle. But I must say that I love Monty Python!

  4. For an internal hub with a clean look, have you checked out the SRAM Dual Drive? It gives you a nine-speed cluster, wrapped around a3-speed internal hub. I have had one for years, and am very happy with it. I don't know where you get your nike serviced, but Victor down at Bicycle Workshop on Ocean Park speaks Dual Drive.

    Another elegant albeit pricey option is the Schlumph Mountain Drive, an internally geared bottom bracket. Built like a Swiss timepiece, this thing will give you some serious low gear-inches, and definitely keeps your bike looking clean.

  5. Funny I keep hearing about the Xtracycle. I don't think it really fits my needs (since I'm already using (and paying for) a trailer with two 40 pound kids in it, but when I'm done towing I want a sleek ride for general commuting and such. But I do want to check the X out. Since what I talk about in this post is, honestly, probably at least two bikes, I should just go for it and make it three!

  6. Oh an thanks for that other tip Warren about the Sram. Maybe we can cross paths and I can check that out.

    And P.S. I've found those guys at Bicycle Workshop to sometimes want to show their knowledge level more than be encouraging and helpful. Not a scientific conclusion about them, but I've been turned off before - and they are the most L of my LBSs. I'll give them another chance tho.

  7. By all means, Victor has a rep as "The Mad Mechanic". But he does know his stuff.

  8. Based on your needs, check out the Pedego Comfort Cruiser at They won't be available till April 1, 2009 but it uses a 500 watt brushless DC rear hub motor driven by a 36 volt lithium battery. Cool looking ride too!