Is the townie bike a goodie bike?
July 12, 2006 10:23 AM   Subscribe

My wife would like a new bike. She really loves the Electra bikes (she really wants the Petro Zillia but found the Townie 21 much more comfortable). We went to a different bike shop and the guy there explained that she would not enjoy those bikes on long rides and would not be able to keep up with people on hybrids over the long haul. Does anyone have any experience with these bikes and are they good for more than just going to the grocery store? Will she be able to keep up on longer rides (road/bike path)?
posted by GrumpyMonkey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you live in a flat place or a hilly place?
posted by Songdog at 10:28 AM on July 12, 2006

I find those wide seats incredibly uncomfortable for riding more than a slow mile. The cruiser style with the handle bars so much higher is definitely more comfortable for backs, but yes it would be hard to keep up with folks on hybrids or road bikes on a longer ride. I have a Bianchi Milano that I sometimes ride 8 miles to work. It still has that cruiser look, but is much easier to ride long distances than my old, heavy Schwinn one speed .
posted by sulaine at 10:33 AM on July 12, 2006

If you're going for a leisurely ride, distance nonwithstanding, I think you'll like these comfortable bikes. The bike shop guys are right, they're not made for speed.

My wife and I regularly ride 10 miles plus on our 30-year-old schwinn one-speed cruisers, and would give anything to do the same on one of these Electras. We've test ridden them, but they're pricey.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:41 AM on July 12, 2006

Let me follow up on my question about hills. I've never owned an Electra, but we considered these bikes when my wife was shopping for hers. The main drawback they have is that they're relatively heavy. Depending on your wife's fitness and cycling experience you may be able to say with confidence that this is not an issue for her, but it's something to bear in mind. But do note that less expensive bikes in general tend to be heavier than more expensive bikes, so it may not make that much of a difference on its own.

Followup question number two: will she be able to keep up with whom? Leisurely trail riders? Sure. People on mountain bikes? Probably. Roadies? Less probably. The gear ratios, frame, and probably the tires of one of these bikes will limit its speed on the open road. That's not to say you can't keep up, but you'll have to spin the pedals faster and work harder in order to do so. I ride a somewhat unusual hybrid bike, basically road gearing and wheels on a suspensionless mountain-style frame. On flat roads I can typically outpace my more-fit and more-experienced cyclist friend when he's on his mountain bike or riding with fatter, softer tires on his cross bike, simply because I have taller gears and less drag. If we were on the same bike I'd be hard pressed to keep him in sight.

Personally I'd love to have an Electra or something like it around, because I think it would be fun to ride. I've considered getting one as a utility bike that I can ride in plain clothes when I want to make a light grocery run. If I lived near the beach I'd ride one of these along the boardwalk. It would probably be fun on the bike path too, but for longer rides it probably wouldn't be my first choice.

On preview, I agree with sulaine about the seats too. I have a narrow, hard Selle Italia saddle on my bike, and I think it's more comfortable than the big squooshy mooshy "comfort" saddles, but my wife hates my saddle. I've read that when you sit on a really soft saddle the compressed stuffing ends up just putting pressure on different parts of your backside, and this ain't so good over the long haul. A smaller harder saddle increases the pressure on a few points, but they're the right points (supposedly). Everyone's pelvis is bound to be a little different, though, and a saddle is easily changed.
posted by Songdog at 10:48 AM on July 12, 2006

The first question you need to ask is how long is a "longer" ride, to you? If you mean 40+ miles at a century pace, or a quick-sprint-capable ride, then yeah, a townie's probably not your best choice, but for rides of 15-20 miles, as long as you're not racing or trying to do a peak fitness workout, a townie would be fine, I'd think.
posted by pdb at 11:06 AM on July 12, 2006

Get a light hybrid or better, a mountain bike. I prefer being streched out on long rides.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on July 12, 2006

Response by poster: Okay, "the wife" here. A LONG time ago I did a bit of mountain biking and trail riding in the Chicago land area and in Nantucket in the summer. We currently live in Decatur Georgia, have a 1 year old son, and I am looking to bike around town for errands and maybe tackle a few bike paths throughout the year.

I will be hauling the baby in a trailer and need to consider this as well. As for "serious" riding, I am no longer interested in the hard core mountain biking and riding with an infant in tow on major Atlanta streets is in truth frightening to me!

I have tried the townie (and the cruisers which just look so damn good) and find it a comfortable ride. I live in a hilly area and want to be sure that I am not scrambling up those hills while towing the baby, I have tried the 21 speed on hills and it seems fine. But then again I have not compared it to anything else. Basically I need to determine if the townie is the best bet for my situation or if I am just romantically attached to it.

Lastly, I would like to do some bike trips throughout the year (maybe 20-30 miles) and want to be able to keep up. I used to do a 28 RT ride in Nantucket each year on a 10 speed which was great, don't think it was a hybrid, just an ordinary 10 speed. Also, was not towing a child on that trip...
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 11:42 AM on July 12, 2006

For one thing, hybrid themselves are generally compromise quasi-comfort bikes not intended for hard riding (songdog's notwithstanding). That said, the Electras are built for looks. A bike that is comfortable riding around the parking lot of the store may not be comfortable after ten straight miles—in fact, I'd say that for the novice rider, the initial impression of "comfort" is 100% misleading if your goal is to ride any appreciable distance.

A properly set-up bike that's really built for serious riding will be uncomfortable to the novice, who will need to adapt, and that can take a couple weeks of regular riding. The payback is that you can ride much more efficiently, and, yes, comfortably, for the long haul. Even over short distances, you're working a lot harder on one of those bikes, and that can be a drag.

So the guy at the bike shop wasn't just blowing smoke up your ass.
posted by adamrice at 11:53 AM on July 12, 2006

Bike + child = heavy, but as someone who's done mountain biking you probably have some idea what it will feel like. My main concern would be that when you're hauling a trailer up the hills you're probably going to want to be able to stand. Have you tried that on the townie or the cruisers? I'm not sure whether their geometry really lets you do that, and I'd be very interested to find out.

adamrice, the Electras are also built to let new and returning cyclists put their feet on the ground while sitting at the "correct" height. And they look good. I agree with the rest of your points about initial versus eventual comfort, and I want to point out that my bike is probably aimed at commuter riding and other rides less than 30 or 50 miles. I have ridden one century on the bike and quite a few half and metric centuries, and it's fine for the task, but I'm aware that a more conventional road or touring bike would be better suited for the really long hauls.
posted by Songdog at 11:59 AM on July 12, 2006

I remember when I went from an old family bike like those comfort/townie ones in the picture to my first ride on a men sports bike... that's when I started actually enjoying cycling. First time I got my own bike I got a hybrid, for convenience reasons, as it was cheaper and good for both city commute and road/bike path use.

So, I have to second Ironmouth's advice.

When cycling I care less about the comfort of my butt (though once you get used to them the small hard thin saddles are the most comfortable) as much as the comfort of my legs, and there's no beating being able to go faster with less effort. At leat that's how it feels.

It's not really about speed, it's that even for short distances and cycling around leisurely, the hybrid type with gears and the mtb-like light frame takes much less of a toll on your legs (and lungs!).

But, in the end, you have to find what's best for you. Your wife should really have a test ride before deciding.
posted by funambulist at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2006

But then again I have not compared it to anything else.

Then try and test something like this, they have racks too so you can attach the baby seat.
posted by funambulist at 12:22 PM on July 12, 2006

I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE my Electra bike. I have a Coaster 7.

But, it doesn't do hills well.

I love riding around on bike paths with it though.
posted by k8t at 12:30 PM on July 12, 2006

One of the most important factors is the height you can get the saddle up to. Ideally, while sitting your leg should be slightly bent when at the downstroke. This is much less tiring on the muscles.

The other very important thing is low gear ratios. If you can get a low enough gear and you're sitting correctly, you can haul pretty much anything. Babies included.
posted by Kiwi at 12:48 PM on July 12, 2006

The Electras are semi-recumbents and recumbents have slow times with hills (because you can't fully use gravity to help you push the pedal down, you have to do it all with your legs). You don't work any harder (less, in fact), but you will go slower uphill that riding partners on diamond frames. You need to make sure that your gears have low enough ratios to be able to climb comfortably. Given that the Electras use hybrid components, you may want to put on a smaller granny chainring for hilly rides.

The problem with the big seats is that while they are much more comfortable to sit on, they do chafe much more than the narrow seats. In my experience, the cut-off between "oooh cushiony!" and "ow, ow, ow, my ass blisters are on fire!" is somewhere between thirty minutes and an hour, moderated somewhat by padded shorts. On the otherhand, it takes about two weeks to get used to a narrow seat. Terry Bicycles makes seats especially for women. Most of the female riders I know (but not all) like them.
posted by bonehead at 12:49 PM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: So many responses and it sounds like only 1 (maybe 2 did I miss some one?) person has actual experience with the Townie. I don't either but I know a woman who does tons of bike path riding (rail trail -- so not much grade) on a Townie and she loves it. She's an easy-going rider whose companion rides a Raleigh Passage (a Hybrid). She's tiny and he's tall. Maybe they have some kind of agreement, but it seems like she keeps up just fine.

I have sat on the seat and ridden around a bit on an electra. You've ridden one too -- To me they don't seem like overly cushiony seats but much more like an old style motorcycle seat. I don't think it can be compared to those monster, Charmin squishy gel seats.

As for doing a longer ride now and then -- if you have the financial resources, invest in a low end (comfort) road bike from a decent bike manufacturer -- They start around $500, come with Shimano componentry and work just fine. You'll enjoy a faster ride with less effort -- try out the various models and see what feels best to you. If that's too much $$, see if you can find one on craigslist or ebay that fits your price range. Also, if you wait 'til the fall or winter you might be able to get a deal on a late model bike. I've done the bike paths on Nantucket and if I were going out to really do a ride, I'd want a road bike. If I were riding into town to go to the Atheneum, I'd be o.k with the Electra.

. . . and what's wrong with romantic notions? If you buy the Electra and you don't like it, sell it and get something else. One way or another, get a bike (or 2!) and have a great time!
posted by nnk at 6:33 PM on July 12, 2006

Previous discussion here. In general, comfort/cruiser bikes are not recommended for rides longer than a few miles.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:01 PM on July 12, 2006

I adore my townie.

I've had it for just over two years. When I bought it, I was 29 years old and had NEVER learned how to ride a bike. (long story) Thus, I don't have a huge range of things to compare it to.

OTOH, I can say that I've ridden it as a commuter bike on a fairly hilly paved bike trail, about 2 1/4 miles each way, since late last summer. (Nice weather only at this point.) Plus I ride it around town, to the store, etc.

In May I logged 120 miles on it, for the local bicycle commute contest.

Pluses: I don't worry about falling over. It's insanely comfortable. (If I took more long rides, I'd probably get a different saddle.) It looks freaking cool.

Minuses: yes, it's heavy, and can be a little daunting on the hills. (However, I can ride it up Olympia, WA's near vertical hills out of downtown, most of the time.) You really do need to buy their fenders and rack. And it almost doesn't fit on bus bike racks.

If it's going to be an errand-running and light pleasure bike, I think it would be a great fit. nnk's suggestion about getting a 2nd inexpensive road bike makes a lot of sense; I'm thinking about getting a 2nd bike myself for longer trips.
posted by epersonae at 5:32 PM on July 23, 2006

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