Thursday, March 03, 2011

Urbana Bike: First Impressions


Yesterday I picked up an Urbana bike in Seattle. Christine and I will spend a month reviewing this bike in depth, using it to get groceries, run errands and for general fun riding. This first post is not in any way meant to be a review, it is more a collection of my first impressions. We are getting no compensation for reviewing the, but we do get free use of the bike for a month.

My very first impression of the Urbana came from the Urbana website, which has a clever page under the Pick Your Hood tab where you select your bike based on terrain, climate, use and your color preference. All Urbana bikes have a single frame size and style, but the other options decide what the bike will have in terms of gearing, brakes, fenders and luggage. When Haniya at Urbana initially emailed me to see if I'd be interested in reviewing one of their bikes, I went to their site and selected a bike for utility riding suitable for the rainy, mountainous Pacific Northwest. I told Haniya I didn't care about the color.

I took the bus into Seattle to pick up the bike and merged the trip with a lunch meeting with a friend to discuss books and a coffee meeting with another friend to solve the problems of the world. In my various comings and goings I put about 25 miles on the bike in weather that ranged from sun, to wind, to hail, to good-old northwest rain. It's only one day of riding, but it was fairly diverse riding and I felt like I'm getting a sense of what the Urbana is all about.

The Urbana is a tough bike. Although the frame is a step-thru design, the Urbana doesn't strike me as being a particularly masculine or feminine bike, it is more industrial. The black paint job almost makes the bike look like a big U-lock and the fat tubes and solid re-enforcing plates going down to the bottom bracket say this is a bike built to take on some very mean streets.

The Urbana has clearance to fit big SKS P65 fenders and massive 26*2.60 (68-559) Niddepoule tires. Since the rims are a standard 26" (559) mountain bike size you could go with any number of standard mountain bike tires, but the Niddepoule tires are probably my favorite thing about the Urbana so far. While I've pointed out previously that there is no one perfect wheel or tire size, these puffy tires (which are rated to take anywhere from 20 to 40 PSI) just soak up bumps. Together with a slack headtube angle and a steel fork, the Urbana rides like it has suspension. It's plush and the bike just ignores potholes.


The tires are big enough that I couldn't fit my mini U-lock around them, so I wound up looping a cable through the wheels and my U-lock through a frame and a fence when I secured the Urbana. I was also wondering if the 2.6 wide tires would fit on racks used by the Seattle area bus system. Thanks to the practice rack at the downtown Seattle Bike Port, I verified that the Urbana fits fine on the bus rack.

The Urbana is by no means a racing bike but it's a good bike in traffic. The 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub shifts flawlessly except the twist action is the opposite of the 3-speed twist shifter on my 3-speed Sturmey-Archer equipped Dahon. So aside from the fact that I had to keep re-calibrating my brain, the shifting was flawless. And despite the 40+ pound weight of the Urbana, I was able to scoot up all the Seattle hills and ride the 20 miles back to Issaquah. In fact, I had a funny experience with the Urbana on the ride home.

Stopped at the light at the base of what I call "Honda Hill" in Factoria, I chat with a fellow bike commuter who is also stopped at the light. "What's going on with that back wheel?" the fellow asks pointing to the rear hub. I explain that the big hub contains an eight-speed transmission and that the big, finned aluminum disk is a dissipates heat from the rear hub brake. He comments on the bike and it's tires, "It looks like you're hauling some serious weight in those wheels." "Yep," I reply, "they're like riding big, puffy marshmallows." And the light turns green.

Now I'm always pretty quick from a stop and I'd downshifted at the red light (a nice feature of hub gears is that can shift them when stopped). So I'm in a better gear than the other guy is and I zip through the intersection and start climbing the hill. And of course, when I go to shift I shift it the wrong way because I'm used to my Dahon. So I hit a harder gear instead of an easier one but I figure I'll try to tough it out and hold my lead as long as I can up the hill. I held through the next light. And the next one. By the time I hit the intersection at 150th, I was really hoping the guy would catch me so maybe he'd ask the "so, does that thing have a motor?" question and I could do the "yeah, you're talking to it!" smart-ass response but alas, he was too far behind. So, unlike some designed-in-flat-country-and-can't-climb-worth-a-damn urban bikes, I have to say that I've found that the Urbana can climb. The frame is stiff but the tires make the ride plush. Punch the pedals and it goes. It's a good combo.

That said, this isn't a bike for distance riding. The riding position is upright and you can't really crouch down to fight the wind and engage your glutes the way you can on a racier bike. I'd only adjusted the seat height when I got the bike and I probably will do a bit of tweaking of the cockpit length by playing with the angle of the BMX-style bars and the position of the saddle rails in the seat clamp, but this is an upright, cruise around bike.

And it's a lot of fun to cruise around on. Over the next few weeks Christine and I will put the bike through it's paces by using it to do exciting things like get groceries, ride to the park and the coffee shop. I'll intend to take it on some logging roads and dirt trails it will probably go on at least one camping trip.

Stay tuned and keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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