Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Brodie Ocho - A commuter bike for me?

So it seems my posts on some of the more "comfort" oriented bikes have not come with sufficient disclaimers that I just think they look cool and would be useful for a lot of riders. And if I had unlimited funds (and space), I'd have about 6 bikes - one for each narrow need - including a sit-up-and-beg dream machine.

But that is not the case, so I need to find one new bike to replace my Bridgestone MB-1 since I need 700c wheels to keep the kid's trailer level. In addition to pulling the kids in the trailer I commute all over the Westside of L.A. I've gotten myself in pretty good shape (and lost about 8 pounds at this point) so I'm not really looking for a laid-back cruiser. One commenter even suggested an electric-assist bike - I think they are great to have out there, but I'm not dead yet!

What I'm after is a bike with some decent gear range for towing, but a lean and fast commuter the rest of the time, leaning toward a basic road-bike geometry, and honestly not a full "commuter" in the sense of a ton of goo-gaas and bags and excess hardware. That's just what I'd use it for, but think "slightly relaxed, fender-ready road bike". I just think things like the Giant Suede Coasting are cool bikes to see available in the States! Go Giant!

So to clarify I now bring you the Brodie Ocho, listing for $1,199. This is a bike I might actually buy. While stylistically this bike is edging a bit close to a mountain bike for my aesthetic sensibility, it is redeemed by hardcore utilitarian cred.

The riding position is just right for me - straight-ish bars (allowing you to ride with your hands right on the brakes for easy, unpredictable city braking) placed level with the saddle. It's a nice riding position for both speed and athleticism as well as for pretty easy-going towing and family riding. That works for me. I have a drop-barred road bike for when I have a chance to take a long, carbonized, logo saturated ride (but no logos on the clothes - I have my limits), but that isn't what this bike is for. This bike is for getting me (and my kids) places we need to go so I can leave the car at home.

The Shimano Alfine internal hub has the low gear range I need for towing, and also has a nice clean, derailleur-free look. I'm intrigued by the clipless pedals on a commuter, but I'd probably switch to something with clipless on one side and standard treads on the other, if not just a standard set-up with clips for going-to-work practicality. I also like the small chainguard surrounding the chainwheel that would at least help with chainwheel-to-slacks grease transfer issues.

I wish this Brodie had a steel frame (and that might be a deal-breaker) but they've included some shaping of the seatstays to smooth out the aluminum ride. It's got full fender and rack mounts and a pretty clean, minimal paintjob and sticker deal going on - all good. It has disk brakes, which I find clutter the looks and lean it dangerously mountain bikey, but they seem to be popular on commuter bikes these days. I've never had any trouble with the good old cantilevers on my Bridgestone in rain on city roads. The disk brakes lose some of the clean simplicity that the internal hub gained.

The Ocho comes with 32c width tires which seem a good choice for urban riding. So all in all it's a bit pricey, but crap, you get what you pay for.

So there you go. Maybe this will dispel the impression that my ideal ride would be a motorized tricycle with a built in defibrillator and an AARP bumper sticker on the back. And speaking of that, could someone tell the AARP to stop sending me mail? It's really depressing...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Giant Suede Coasting DX - The Dutch city bike gets a makeover

So here's the second in my series on interesting bikes (is two a series?). I'm looking for something for myself, but sometimes I just find stuff that I just like, even if it doesn't suit my particular needs. Case in point, the Giant Suede Coasting DX (also garnering an honorable mention in the most inscrutable name contest). Seems to sell for just under a grand.

This is just a sweet looking bike. I love the way they have taken the Dutch city bike idea and really made it new. Many companies try this in different ways, but I think Giant really nailed it. It looks retro, but it looks totally modern at the same time - it pulls in both directions. It's like one of those concept cars you see that are so cool looking, but never really get mass-produced. But you can actually buy this. If I could justify it, I would totally buy one of these just for kicks. And just like in politics, good behavior should be rewarded.

That gorgeous pannier jumps out first (can I just buy one of those?!). And then the tried-and-true upright, step-through geometry. (And don't think that's just a "girl's bike", in Europe that design's not gender-specific, just practical. They are confident in their masculinity, so nut-up guys.)

Then there's the details like the chrome hubs and crank/chainwheel cover thing - those gleaming things rock. Then there's the nice, uncluttered paint job (this bike could have easily been ruined with a ghastly paint job) and continues with the nice fender details, the little handlebar bag, the sleek chainguard, the centered, symmetrical kickstand, leather grips and simple, comfy saddle.

I mean seriously, how many things did they get right on this bike, designwise? That is a real accomplishment. Working in the creative field myself, I know how downright impossible it is to get a clean, simple new idea through the swamps of group-think. If they haven't won awards for this bike, they certainly should have.

On the technical spec side it's mostly typical: Aluminum frame with a steel fork, coaster brakes and a suspension seatpost. The unusual thing is the "Coasting automatic drivetrain", some kind of, well, automatic drivetrain. I'd imagine it's controlled by that little box on the tube above the cranks, but (and here's my one complaint) I searched the Giant website and couldn't really figure out what a "Coasting automatic drivetrain" is! A search brings up no results, and it's not covered anywhere I could find. Seems like something that unusual would be featured, but there you go. [UPDATE: Here's info on that...]

They have others in this line that are nice, like the Suede GX shown here, but they tend to be more typical, lacking the Jetson's flair. And that woodgrain chainguard might need further, in-person inspection! All the bikes in their Metro series have good points, addressing different needs.

So hat's off to Giant. You had me at... sweet panniers? Hmm, doesn't exactly roll off the tongue...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Australian bike stairs make me go all mushy inside

OK, we have our bike lanes, where you can choose between being clipped by a passing car or doored by a parked one. Hey wait, you could do both at the same time! And if some other driver nuzzled up to your rear wheel, revved their engine and yelled, "Get off the road!" you'd have the bike commuter hat-trick!

We deal with these things, and you know what? It's still fun. But man, our legislators and civil engineers could really make our life easier. They could make a bike route that you could actually let your kids ride on, because God knows that isn't the case in most places now. That is really the criteria designers of bike infrastructure should use when considering improvements for bikes - Would you let your kids ride on it? Bike Boulevards anyone?

Anyway, where was I...

So with that feeling of persecution in mind, I was working on a project recently and these images rose before my eyes, like some apparition. These were taken in Australia and show that they see bikes in a different way. They obviously thought, "How can we make life better for people that actually pull their weight in this whole we-are-on-a-collision-course-with-unsustainability issue by leaving their cars at home?" So they dedicated some space for those bike commuters. They realized, getting people on foot and people on bikes down the same stairways has problems, so how about making one set of stairs just for bikes? The image above shows that this stairway is not for pedestrians, it's just for bikes!

And in this photo you can see how it works. They put this ramp in the middle of the stairs so that a bike can be rolled while the rider walks. No more cyclo-crossing it. Some of these guys (and gals) are actually riding up (and down), but I doubt that was what was intended. (Also note everyone there wears a helmet. Just sayin'.)

In some quick googling I saw this entry at Copenhagenize. Of course they have similar things over there. They love their bike commuters. They have embraced bikes as transportation. They aren't being dragged kicking and screaming into a more sustainable society. But hey, we got Dylan and the Snuggie...

So, the U.S. is a little slow, but we can do it. I have faith. And a bike. And a helmet. And maybe a date with a door...