I want a bike that’s comfortable enough to ride all day, sturdy enough to haul an overnight sack, big enough to fit a guy over six foot tall, and reliable enough to go months between tune-ups.
I’ve ridden full-suspension mountain bikes that are plush enough to handle the biggest drops. I’ve ridden minimalist track bikes that will tear cartilage and blow flats all day long. I’ve ridden beach cruisers that can be beaten daily without complaint. I’ve ridden road bikes that were fast on the hills but hard on the back and hands. I’ve ridden cargo bikes that can haul a toddler, a dog and a keg of beer. I’ve captained tandems and piloted pedicabs. I’ve been around the block more than once.
While all of those bikes were good in their own way, I need a Sport Utility Bike, a bike that I can ride on road and off, on both sunny summer days and drizzly winter nights, with gear and without. I need a bike that I can use for both delivering sandwiches around a flat, gridded college campus and for exploring backcountry Alaskan trails. I need a bike that is both sporty and practical.
Like many of the writers here at Bikeshophub.com, I ended up with a hardtail mountain bike, the SUVs of the bicycle world. Hardtail mountain bikes are incredibly rigid and reliable without the rear suspension of more expensive and complicated bikes. And, they are also adaptable to a multitude of purposes.
While many riders opt for a suspension fork up front, a rigid fork paired with a fat front tire can provide just as much comfort, with the added bonus of better traction from a wider footprint. Fat tires are less prone to puncture. They dampen the shock load for not only the rider, but for the bike as well. Less stress on welds, threads, and bearings means that components aren’t as likely to break and will last longer.
After breaking yet another frame with a lifetime warranty, I had an XXL Trek Procaliber aluminum frame to build my dream bike around. I installed my old favorites from a decade of Sport Utility Biking, with the help of my Local Bike Shop. Being a big guy who can fold mass-produced wheelsets with only a glance, I commissioned a custom set of wheels, hand-built by a grey-haired bike mechanic.
I dubbed my creation, “The Beast.” It’s the biggest, beefiest bike I’ve ever owned. A Surly Karate Monkey fork up front offers the simplicity of a rigid fork, the vibration dampening of steel, and the ability to mount fenders and racks around a tire twenty-nine inches tall and three inches wide. The Mavic 821 rims are nigh-invulnerable, and offer the flexibility of riding with tires from thirty five to seventy five millimeters wide (1.5″ to 3″). The Brooks Conquest saddle combines the suppleness of leather and the cushioning of steel springs. The Jones H Bar handlebars offer plenty of ergonomic positions for my big paws. The Ergon GP3 grips offer a stable platform that buffers my wrists from both chatter and hits. The Shimano Deore XT M8000 shifters pair with the Shimano XT M8000 brake levers into a reliable, tunable, minimal control station. The Shimano Deore XT 2×11 drivetrain offers enough gears to get up most any mountain and zip across any valley. Down the line, I’ll be installing detachable polycarbonate fenders and carry-all front racks. HYPERLINK THIS TO CATALOG.
I have a history of breaking frames. I bought my first 21″ aluminum Gary Fisher Rig circa 2005. A year later, I cracked the frame at the weld between the seat tube and the bottom bracket. But Gary Fisher frames are sold with a lifetime warranty, so I got it replaced with the same size frame. A year later, I broke that frame at the top of the seat tube. So I returned my second frame for the updated, “G2” design. While the new design was beefier, I still managed to crack the frame at the bottom bracket within a couple of years. I repaired my bike with a composite lug, using the skills I had learned to build bamboo bicycles at the Brooklyn Bamboo Bike Studio. And sure enough, I cracked the frame again, just below the seatpost collar, which I repaired and rode again. While competing in the Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge, a fellow racer suggested that I return my frame for a new, unbroken one, and then upgrade it with a composite lug beforeit breaks. Sometimes the simplest solutions are never seen. I took his advice to heart, and before I ever pedaled The Beast, I wrapped the bottom bracket in synthetic paracord, polyurethane foam and epoxy. Combined with the latest design advances, I’m confident that I’ll be able to ride The Beast for at least five years without breaking it.
“A Swiss soldier without rock-hard buttocks brings shame on the army.”
Bicycles are almost as Swiss as Swiss Army knives, and the Swiss Army proudly maintained a front-line bicycle infantry regiment into the 21st Century. While it was disbanded in 2003, The Swiss Army continues to use bicycles for base transportation, lending some credence to satirical news reports suggest that the bike regiment will be revived:
Frankly, young Swiss men used to be fine specimens of manhood, but today many have let themselves go, Defence Ministry spokesman Thomas Fisch supposedly told The Local, “Our view is that a Swiss soldier without rock-hard buttocks brings shame on the army.”
The Swiss Army bike regiments were tasked not with offensive reconnaissance, as many bicycle units had been during the Great War, nor with logistical supply as in Vietnam, but were rather a quick-strike (Handstreich), defensive unit. For five hundred years the Swiss have pursued a policy of armed neutrality. While there were occasional border skirmishes and accidental bombings in the First and Second World Wars, Switzerland hasn’t been truly at war since it was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. It is a naturally defensible country. The Swiss Army, therefore, trains to defend their country. And for that purpose, the bicycle reigned supreme for one hundred years. Regardless of whether Switzerland was being invaded from the east by the Warsaw Pact or from the west by NATO, the bicycle regiments were expected to quickly and quietly traverse both rural and urban settings to ambush motorized forces.
The Swiss bike regiments were the lite of the army, the equivalent of U.S. Army Rangers or Royal Army Gurkhas. While most civilian cyclists would be daunted to ride two hundred kilometers, bike recruits were expected to do just that at night, with a seventy-five-kilo pack on a single-speed “velo” over alpine passes. “They come to the cyclists’ regiment because it is something very special,” said Lieutenant Tobias Zuercher, “You can be proud of it when you tell your family or your friends.”
The bicycle began service in the Swiss Army in 1891 as a courier vehicle. Enlisted soldiers assigned to headquarters would bring their bicycle from home, as they had done previously with a horse or pony. In 1905 the Swiss Army introduced the first standard bicycle, or “Ordonnanzfahrrad,” the Modell 05. It was built “army tough,” weighing 22 kilograms, or almost 50 pounds. With just a single gear, riding the MO-5 up an alpine pass would have been a challenge, to say the least. And descending a pass would have been even more exciting, as the MO-5 had just a spoon brake on the front and a coaster brake on the rear (upgraded to a drum brake, post-World War II). Thankfully one of the frame bags included all of the tools necessary to field strip the MO-5, as a single, substantial descent would have burned off all of the grease in the coaster brake.
Facing a shortage of spare parts for the MO-5, the Swiss Army introduced a new bike in 1993, dubbed the Militrrad 93, or MO-93. The MO-93 was equipped with a rear derailleur and seven gears, a hefty derailleur guard, and (then) state-of-the-art cantilever brakes.
But in 2001 the Swiss Army announced that the bicycle regiments were to be disbanded by 2003. The venerable velos were to be replaced with armored, motorized fighting vehicles. The loss was lamented by cycling aficionados and lampooned by internal combustion snobs. “No-one can understand why they are going to abolish us,” said bike commander Julian Voeffray in a 2001 BBC interview, “It is stupid. Over short distances, we are very fast, much faster than the motorized units. We can be very discreet, we are well armed and we perform well against the tanks.”
A few years later, though, the Swiss “Ministry of Defence, Civil Defence and Sport” ordered 2,400 (some sources say 4,100) new bicycles, dubbed the MO-12, but colloquially known as the “Velo Zwolf.” The MO-12 is a dream commuter bike, built by Simpel, a Swiss company. It addition to a reliable, eight-speed, internally-geared hub, it sports front and rear disc brakes, fenders, cargo racks. It looks beefy enough to haul a bazooka, an assault rifle, and a rucksack, all at the same time. The reflective sidewalls on the semi-slick Schwalbe tires, though
, belie that the M-12 is meant for “cadet officers, sergeant majors, quartermasters, cooks, guards…physical training, and movement between barracks and firing range,” but not the frontline.
Switzerland’s defence department has ordered the reinstatement of the bicycle infantry for the Swiss Army in a bid to improve fitness standards among soldiers.
The Swiss bicycle infantry was phased out in 2001 but a defense department spokesman said late Tuesday that its resurrection would help deal with the thousands of recruits who are out of shape.
Spokesman Thomas Fisch said the army favors the return of the single-speed bicycles used continuously by the army between 1905 and the 1990s.
Frankly, young Swiss men used to be fine specimens of manhood, but today many have let themselves go, Fisch told The Local.
“Our view is that a Swiss soldier without rock-hard buttocks brings shame on the army.”
The bikes, equipped to carry food rations and battle gear, weigh a hefty 25 kilograms or more, making them challenging to maneuver in mountain terrain.
As well, soldiers in the cycling infantry will be expected to carry up to 32 kilograms of equipment.
Defence Minister Ulrich Maurer is an avid cyclist who served in the army as a major commanding a bicycle battalion.
In addition to being useful for improving the fitness of soldiers, the army says bicycles will play a vital part in national defense.
“Frankly, we’re getting a bit worried by the French and their crack Segway regiment,” Fisch said.
“We hope that putting our men on bikes will stop them getting up to any mischief.”
The infantry will enable the army to respond nimbly and without the noise of motorized vehicles, he said.
A budget for the new bicycle contingent has not been announced but thousands of the Swiss-made bikes will have to be ordered at an estimated cost of 2,500 francs apiece, including maintenance over ten years.
Maurer, concerned about the overuse of motor vehicles by the military, wants all recruits to take their turn in the bicycle infantry around 10,000 a year.
The Swiss Army has raised the alarm about recruits being unfit for the tasks they have to take on, with more than 20 percent of them being sent home within three weeks of starting training.
You’ve seen those oddball, laid-back bikes being ridden by slightly goofy guys (yeah, it’s usually guys). They’re smiling. They’re waving. And they’re looking suspiciously comfortable. Recumbents are practically the opposite of everything that bicycling is supposed to be about. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s blessedly little comfort in bicycling. Right? Well, maybe not. From the start, recumbents have been criticized for being too comfortable. They first made a splash on the international cycling scene in 1933, when an enterprising French bicycle manufacturer, Charles Mochet, applied to have his “velorizontal” bicycles certified for competition by the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI. The Mochet recumbents had distinct aerodynamic advantages.
For the same amount of effort, a rider can go faster on a recumbent because they’re presenting less wind resistance. Recumbents both look faster and feel faster. Humans have evolved to see small objects in motion as faster than larger objects going the same speed (because small, fast predators were more dangerous than big, slow predators). A Ferrari or a Ducati looks fast just standing still. As in a low-slung sports car or motorcycle, the sense of speed on a recumbent is exaggerated by being closer to the ground.
Because the body isn’t folded over into an inherently uncomfortable position, recumbent riders can be more efficient. Cyclists on recumbents don’t suffer from the neck pain, numb hands and compressed feet that are the bane of traditional bikes. Recumbents are often a recovery vehicle for injured riders, who’ve crashed their “regular” bikes but don’t want to give up riding altogether (including yours truly).
There’s also an argument that recumbents are safer in crashes. Instead of landing on their hands in crashes (or in my case, my shoulder), recumbent riders are thrown forward onto their feet. It’s far easier to “run off” a crash upright than it is to catch yourself on your hands. In a recumbent crash, head injuries are less likely, too.
Some folks say that recumbents are more dangerous because of their lower profile. Supposedly recumbents aren’t as visible as traditional bikes. But ‘bent riders retort that because their bikes are so unique, they actually get more attention on the road. And being at eye-level with automobile drivers makes it easier to notice distracted drivers, as well as make eye contact with drivers.
Recumbent bikes are fast. They’re so fast, in fact, that they’ve been banned since 1934 by cycling’s governing body, the UCI. After first certifying recumbents for competition, the UCI acceded to the demands of traditional bicycle manufacturers and reversed their position. Paul Morand, a piddling Cat-II racer, won the Paris-Limoges race on a “velorizontal” Mochet recumbent, and Francis Faure shattered the two-decade-old Hour Record on a Mochet. Before the next season, the UCI introduced rules that effectively banned recumbents. Ostensibly the decision was made for safety reasons, but economics and tradition played no small part. The state of mainstream cycling has been essentially stultified in regard to rider position and comfort ever since. Bicycle design in the past hundred years has been mostly evolutionary, not revolutionary.
The Hour Record, the test of how far a cyclist can ride in a single hour, has been the gold standard for both cardiovascular fitness and technological refinement in bicycling. Time and again cyclists have used new technology to ride faster, be it chain drives, pneumatic tires, tensioned wheels or derailleurs. Francis Faure won numerous times in velodromes on a Mochet recumbent, and broke the Hour Record (which had stood for nearly twenty years) when he rode 45km in 1935, only to see his record revoked by the UCI. Sixty years later Chris Boardman’s hour record of 56km would also be invalidated by the UCI for too-novel technology. Under the new rules even Bradley Wiggins, Olympian cyclist and Tour de France winner, has only been able to ride 54km in an hour in 2015.
Meanwhile, the hour record on a recumbent was set at 92 kilometers by Francesco Russo, nearly twice as fast as what can be accomplished on a “real” bike. While the best sprinters in the Tour de France might be able to reach 60 or 70 kilometers per hour (about 40mph), the record set at the World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in a fully-faired recumbent is 123 kilometers per hour.
Recumbents are so fast that they’re banned from Strava. While Strava is supposed to be a motivational community where riders can compare times on road segments, traditional riders complained to Strava that recumbent riders were too fast. Strava now invalidates winning times for riders accused of riding “bicycles with modifications including wind fairings or other means of minimizing drag…The Segment Leaderboards are a coveted and defended area on Strava, and we do our best to keep them fair.”
So recumbents can be fast, but are they useful? Can they carry a load? Again, the answer is emphatically yes. Look no further than Maria Leijerstam’s sprint to the South Pole on a recumbent tricycle. She rode 650 kilometers in j
ust ten days. Her next closest competitor took almost forty days to cover the same distance on a traditional, upright bike. Recumbent bicyclists have won other, non-UCI, events as well, such as the Race Across America. And amongst the randonneuring set, recumbents have a small but devoted following.
Recumbents also make great rickshaws. Several companies manufacture relaxed pedicabs, and bike hackers have also built their own.
Recumbent rickshaws can be seen in Mexico City, Amsterdam, and Berlin, to mention just a few cities. They are stable, comfortable and often assisted by electric power. They look both futuristic and retrograde at the same time.
Don’t be surprised to see a Steampunk’d recumbent at your next ‘Con, either. Recumbents fit right into the “what-if,” revisionist ethos of Steampunk cosplay.
Recumbent bikes are also great family bikes. Having ridden with my wife and my children on several upright tandems and hauled my kids in any number of trailers, I can say that it’s far easier to converse with somebody when I’m leaning back toward them, not leaning forward. My five-year-old son loves his rearward “tail gunner” trailer perspective, and he takes great pride in telling me what the cars behind us are doing.
It’s true: Recumbent Riders have a goofy grin, a side effect of the Recumbent Rock Star Phenomena: If you ride a recumbent around town, you will smile more and wave more and commune more with your fellow citizens as you hear, every three or four blocks, “That bike is so cool!”
or, “Woah! Check out the bike!”
or, “What the what?!? What IS that? What is that even called? Did you make it yourself? Where can I get one? Is it comfortable? Is it fast?”
Unless you’re antisocial, the aerodynamic advantage of a recumbent that allows you to get somewhere faster is offset by the extra time that you have to spend explaining your awesome ride. Don’t ride a recumbent if you don’t want to be an ambassador of cycling.
But are there downsides to recumbents? Aside from the Rock Star Effect, yes. Foremost is the challenge of learning to ride a bike in a new position. Many recumbents require longer cables, which in turn creates more maintenance. Some components on recumbents may not be regularly stocked at your Local Bike Shop or Walmart. They can be harder to park and lock to a rack. Putting a recumbent bike in your car or on top of it can be a challenge, if not downright impossible. Maintaining a recumbent is its own distinct skill as well. I knew a mechanic at a Local Bike Shop that hated recumbents: they were a square peg in a sea of round holes. They didn’t fit into the repair stands, they didn’t fit well into a cramped repair shop, parts had to be special ordered, the chains and cables were all extra long, and they didn’t stack nicely with other bikes. From this mechanic’s point of view, they were annoying and time-consuming. If you’re going to ride a recumbent, you need to either have decent bike mechanic skills or be willing to pay a good mechanic for their time.
What accounts for the recent recumbent resurgence? In a word, the Internet. While mainstream bicycle development is driven by big money and big ticket events like Trek and the Tour de France, a growing number of recumbent bicycles are being made by tinkerers and amateurs. Websites like Atomic Zombie and Bent Rider Online celebrate those who hack, chop, weld and modify new bikes from odd parts. Instead of buying someone else’s conception of a “good bike,” Atomic Zombies build their own custom contraptions, inspired in no small part by the virtual community of like-minded folks they find online.
Wesley Cheney bikes for family, fun, profit and necessity in Norfolk, Virginia. He writes about bikes and kilts at Foto by Wes and (re)builds bamboo bikes and bamboo kayaks at 757 Makerspace. When he is not delivering sandwiches for Jimmy Johns on his bicycle, he aspires to earn (another) Bachelors in Music Education at his alma mater, Old Dominion University. Wesley loves leather saddles, full fenders, helmet-mounted lights and mirrors, platform pedals, front racks, double kickstands, and vintage friction Suntour Command shifters. He warbles on a flugelhorn, sings bass in the choir of Christ and Saint Lukes Church, and studies ukulele under the amazing Skye Zentz.
It’s a sight you don’t see everyday- A guy riding a Walmart mountain bike, with an oversized, lopsided cart strapped to the back of his bike. He’s hauling a lawnmower, a weedwacker a broom, a big red cooler, a 5-gallon bucket, a couple of gas cans and a backpack.
Joe rides his bike from one yard to the next and cuts grass in Ocean View, a neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia. Joe’s license has been suspended since his last DUI, but you gotta be real drunk to get pulled over on a bike, Joe says. Since he couldn’t drive his truck, Joe downsized to a bike. Now he rides the streets through muggy summers and wet winters, cutting lawns wherever he can.
Ocean View Avenue stretches for nearly ten miles through the southern sand dunes of the Chesapeake Bay. OV Ave is long, flat and straight. It offers the perfect setting for riding a utility bike. While the summers can be brutally muggy and hot in Norfolk, the winters are mild. Which is good for the crabgrass, and good for Joe.
Joe’s cart is a testament to backyard engineering on a Walmart budget. It may have once been a baby trailer, but only the axle and wheels now remain. The pop-up trailer frame was replaced by part of a wooden fence. A two by four trailer tongue is suspended from the saddle by a dog chain. The saddle is high enough to keep the tongue off the rear tire, but is too high for Joe to sit on, and forcing him to constantly pump the pedals standing up. “Just like a beach cruiser,” Joe says.
Joe doesn’t wear bike shorts or a helmet. He doesn’t clip in. He rides in the same clothes that he wears to work: grass-stained sneakers, white socks, cut-off jeans, a sleeveless t-shirt and a boonie hat that was once white. The guys out for the weekly A-pace ride blow past Joe on carbon fiber bikes that would fold in half if they had to pull half of what Joe’s bike moves every day.
Well, we all got somewhere to get to, Joe says.
Wesley Cheney is married to a midwife in Norfolk, Virginia. He writes about bikes and kilts at Foto by Wes, builds bamboo bikes at 757 Makerspace and reposts The Onion on Facebook.
It is the week before Interbike and everyone is putting out teasers of their new product that they will be launching. Civia is one of these companies. Known for throwing show stoppers, for example in 2007 when they released the brand with a $2500 commuter bike. Since then they have branched out in all directions and budgets.
A front loaded cargo bike with 20″ front wheel and 26″ back. Offering the most stable of rides with a fully loaded front HDPE (Upcycled high density polyethylene) deck. Perfect for local businesses with goods to deliver, or those times when you can’t fit an entire picnic in your panniers. MSRP of $820!
Belt drive, fenders and geometry of their popular Bryant. It isn’t known if the photo above is the exact spec of the complete bike. But a complete belt drive bike for MSRP $1,050
This one has been kept hush hush and I haven’t been able to find photos yet.. There tag for the Prospect is “out of the box commuter for those with a tight budget.” MSRP $975
Has anyone noticed the quick increase of various cargo and utility bikes from manufactures for this coming season? Keep your eye on Commute By Bike for the next couple weeks to get full scoop of builds, photos and more!
We featured the new bikes from Puma at the beginning of the summer and many people commented on the aesthetics of the bikes. Regardless of if you like them or hate them, they spurred enough of an opinion inside of you to comment. Due to this, their marketing and design team did their job very well.
Welcome the Puma Cargo Bike
From Puma’s Headquarters, Somwhere in Crayonland : PUMA Mopion is rock steady for the daily grind. It mixes city bike features, and cargo bike features, making it a sturdy companion. It comes with a super-size innovative front carrier for heavy duty transport of your groceries or other needs. Developed for city dwellers, Mopion features a light aluminum frame, making it a one-of-a-kind lightweight cargo bike weighing only 22 kilos. The geometry holds the body in a slightly inclined, but still heads-up position for navigational ease and exceptional balancing. The name Mopion derives from an island in the Atlantic Ocean, symbolizing the new Trans-Atlantic approach and balancing PUMA’s European heritage with American popular culture. Mopion will be available in white, black and in the bold color combination magneta/blue/lime. The colors are likewise inspired by vibrant island colors. Mopion defies the expected.
Camper Bike, a functioning sculptural piece, built in April 2008. A stand alone piece and the subject of a series of paintings.
For the complete cyclist that wants to take everything, including the kitchen sink.Â Maybe the ultimate touring machine as well.Â If it starts raining, hop in the back to take a nap.Â All it needs is solar panels on the top to provide electricity and heat.