Help me choose my next work-commuting bike!
March 24, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Help me choose my next work-commuting bike!

I'm in the market for a new bike. The leading contender right now is the Civia Bryant, but I want to make sure I'm not missing any good alternatives.

The main use for the bike will be a ~6 mile (one-way) commute to work, maybe 3-4 times a week basically anytime the temperature is above freezing. I'm in Chicago. The commute is totally flat. Sometimes I take the lake path and there is a mean headwind going home. Occasionally I'd like to take it on a longer ~20 mile ride, but that's only a few times a year.

Right now I ride a single-speed - a Kona Paddy Wagon. I love it - especially the "bulletproof" build, the steel frame for the potholes, and the low maintenance of no derailleur.

I'm looking for a change primarily because the single gear on the Kona is a little hard on my knees with the stop/start of riding in traffic. I also think a few gears might be nice on days with a tough headwind.

I'm pretty sure I only want a steel frame because of rough roads. I'm also pretty sure I only want an internally geared hub. I think I could take or leave disc brakes, but they come with the Bryant. They would probably be nice in the rain. The belt drive sounds cool, but it isn't make-or-break.

The only other important thing about my riding "style," I think, is that I like to ride in a pretty upright position because I am usually in traffic and feel safer "up" rather than "in the drops." I have cyclocross levers installed on the "flats" of my Kona so that I can ride partially upright and hit the brakes fast when necessary. I notice that the Bryant only has road-style brakes, but I figure it will probably be a pretty simple modification to add the top levers too (right?). Maybe I will change out the whole handlebar configuration.

I'm a little worried about the Bryant's weight - I've seen stuff on the web saying it is around 30 lbs. I think the Kona is around 25lbs. Not sure if this will make a big difference.

So - any thoughts? Any other bikes I should be thinking about? Thanks
posted by Mid to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That Civia looks pretty sweet. I built up a commuter bike with an Alfine internally geared hub and it's great. I think it has a hair more drag than a derailleur setup but it's not a big difference.

I'm a fan of drop bars and normally ride with hands on the brake hoods. It's comfortable to me, easy to apply the brakes from there, and it's a pretty upright position. I put a nearly flat bar on my bike at first, but found it uncomfortable for longer rides & swapped it out for drops. If you can get a test ride you can see if the drop bar will be comfortable for you.

I don't know if the belt drive is considered a proven design at this point. Mrs. exogenous and I have a couple of folding Strida bikes with belt drive and they have been great so far. The belt helps in the case of a folding bike in avoiding a greasy chain that might get on vehicle upholstery. I can see the appeal as being generally neater and low maintenance.

The impact of frame material on ride quality is merely placebo - frames don't really deflect vertically and tire size and inflation makes a much bigger difference. However, steel has the advantage of being practical to repair more often than other materials.
posted by exogenous at 1:45 PM on March 24, 2012

I personally just picked up a Jamis Coda Sport. It's definitely more upright and has flat bars which you might like if you never go in the drops. It has a steel frame.

Jamis Street Bikes

Changing a bike after the fact comes out a lot more expensive than buying flat bars in the first place. Handlebar conversions (since you have to change shifters and brakes) can easily cost $200+.

The DiamondBack STI-8 has an internal 8-speed hub which sounds right up your alley. It's aluminum, but you might not be able to tell the difference.

Also check out Marin Bikes.
posted by just.good.enough at 1:48 PM on March 24, 2012

I have buyers remorse over an internal hub. The mechanism that controls the shifting is fragile and fiddly to maintain & the chain tension gradually slackens in away I wasn't aware of with derailleur gears. Ymmv of course, but think about why you want the internal gears.
posted by crocomancer at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2012

Check out a folding bike with internal hub. Some people have a dismissive attitude toward folders, but they can be super fun commute bikes. They are speedy, compact, accelerate really quickly from a stop (great for city riding) and most of them will put you in the upright position. I used to do a regular commute the same length as yours (but with more hills) and became so addicted to them my "big wheeled" bikes stay in the closet now.
posted by quarterframer at 3:32 PM on March 24, 2012

On flat rides, weight is overrated. How much of a difference does 5 lbs. make if you weigh 125 lbs. and you're carrying 20 lbs. of cargo?

I commute with a Breezer Bike with an internally geared hub, with no problems. The frame is aluminum, but that doesn't make any difference in the ride.

For a commute of 6 miles you should choose a bike you feel comfortable riding and enjoy. The Bryant sounds like it fits the bill. If you find yourself tempted by 50 mile rides, you may need a second bike, but best to wait until you need one.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:07 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

That looks like a sweet bike. I don't have any solid advice to give about the internal hub, but I agree that this is the one place where convenience may not be worth it, as mentioned above.

Weight: I'm a small woman, but my favourite steel mountain bike weighs between 35-40 pounds with rear rack and folding baskets. That kind of weight is still very rideable: I've ridden long distances on it (120 km) and can take it up and down hills. I've even rushed up stairs with it on my shoulder to catch a train. This was kind of brutal, but then, I was rushing and I'm probably smaller than you. So as brianogilvie says, don't worry too much about 30 pounds of bike.

Aluminum versus steel: I know that a lot of people say there's no real difference in smoothness between steel and aluminum, but I get tailbone pain on my aluminum frame hybrid if I don't consciously under-inflate the rear tire. I've never had tailbone pain on my mountain bike, which is outfitted with nearly identical slicks and which I inflate to the recommended psi. YTBMV.
posted by maudlin at 9:23 PM on March 24, 2012

If you decide to out a bike together, both the Salsa Casseroll and Surly Crosscheck are great steel frames which have the right spacing for internal hubs like the Shimano Nexus hubs.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:10 AM on March 25, 2012

After gawking at all the cool bike tech on this link, my favorite is the Civia you initially mentioned. If you don't mind dropping nearly $2K on a bike, that's a pretty sweet ride. Belt drive, baby.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2012

I'm not sure there's a steel bike with an internal geared hub that's as nice as the Bryant. If you are willing to trade material for a flat bar, you could try Kona's Dr. Fine. As much as I love my steel bikes, geometry has way more to do with comfort nowadays. Test ride them both and report back.
posted by advicepig at 10:14 AM on March 25, 2012

Despite being an all derailleur all the time kind of chap, myself, I can definitely see the attractions of enclosed hub gears and a belt drive for clean and (hopefully) low-maintenance commuting duty. The Alfine has developed quite a following and I wouldn't hesitate to get one. The only potential annoyance might be the fussiness of rear wheel removal for flat fixing (it will happen, sooner or later).

You can brake from the hoods. It might feel a little weird at first, but not a problem with a little practice. Into that headwind, you might find the drops become more useful than you first thought.

Forget about bike weight, especially on a flat commute. Unless you're racing or climbing big hills it's unimportant. Being comfortable is the thing.
posted by normy at 10:10 AM on March 26, 2012

Consider the Novara Gotham.

Belt drive. Upright posture. Internally-geared hub (continuously variable transmission!). Generator front hub to run the light. Rack and fenders.

Disclaimer: I work in an REI bike shop.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:54 AM on March 27, 2012

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