Finding the Right Commuter City Bicycle

By Colleen Kirley
Photos by Tammy Thorne, Colleen Kirley and Miranda Newman

Since working with dandyhorse, cycling has become my sole source of transportation ~ almost.

You see, my roommate and good friend, Lindsay, isn't a cyclist – which means whenever we go anywhere, we're walking.

So I’ve declared it's time to find Lindsay a bike. Over the past week, I tested out three different bikes from three bike shops across the city keeping in mind that Lindsay is a first-time city commuter, a “starving” student on a budget, doesn't want anything heavy and isn't necessarily interested in speed (yet).

First up: The Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) Skyway.

MEC Skyway. Photo by Colleen Kirley

The new MEC Skyway is a road bike with no chain -- instead, it has a thick plastic belt (like the ones used in some motorcycles). This makes maintenance really easy -- no lubricating the chain and it's a lot harder to snap.

Grease-free belt drive and toe clips come stock on the MEC Skyway. Photos by Colleen Kirley.

The Skyway is a single speed, which seems odd for a road bike. Especially, since this one was set at a pretty low gear, so climbing hills was easy enough, but it wasn't very fast. Of course, after you buy the bike, you can change the cog to suit your preference, whether you want slow and easy or fast and a little more challenging.

This bike was a really nice ride. Initially, the seat was much too low for me, and was really uncomfortable. Thankfully, I was able to barter the assistance of a helpful courier lent with a multi-tool at the corner of Queen and University in exchange for the newest issue of dandyhorse, which features one of his two-wheeled compatriots courier Kevin Barnhorst. (He said he knew Kevin when I asked. Later, I when I returned the bike to MEC, bought my own multi-tool.)

Colleen hits the streets on the MEC Skyway. Photo by Miranda Newman.

Once the seat was at the right height, the ride was extremely comfortable.

COST: $925 at Mountain Equipment Co-op

PROS: Looks really nice. Got a lot of stares on this bike. The belt drive is a cool feature and may reduce the need for tune-ups. The brakes are nice and the saddle was comfortable.

CONS: The single speed is limiting. Need to get used to using the metal pedal straps.

IS IT RIGHT FOR LINDSAY? If Lindsay would ride a road bike, this would be the one for her. It's low maintenance and light and not as intimidating as some of the skinny-framed "urban commuter" bikes can be. But, I don't feel she's ready for a road bike.

So, let’s look at an “upright” ride…

Next up: The TREK Atwood

Getting "upright" on the TREK Atwood. Photo by Colleen Kirley.

From a road bike to a cruiser -- The Atwood, by TREK, was a really smooth ride. Coming from the perspective of a new cyclist like Lindsay, the wider tires seem a lot safer -- especially when you’ve been regaled with tales of wet streetcar track wipe-outs and are already timid to ride in traffic.

Like a certain Canadian author who shares the name of this beautiful bike, the Atwood was graceful and sturdy. I felt a lot more ladylike riding this cruiser in a skirt than I do on my current Miele road bike. Sitting upright, I felt prim and proper coasting down Bloor street, past Christie Pits to my destination -- the fine establishment that is the Palmerston Library!

The gear shifting was ridiculously easy, and I found myself shifting them for every little increase in altitude. The handlebars were comfortable, but extremely wide. I almost tore off a side mirror. Thankfully, the driver was unfazed.

Quick and efficient Shimano shifters and sturdy steel frame. Photos by Colleen Kirley.

COST: $570.00 at Sweet Pete's

PROS: A beautiful bike, you can feel civilized while riding through the chaos of Toronto. The gears are so easy to shift and, for a heavier bike, it's not difficult to use the hardest gear.

CONS: You take up a lot of the road. I could have had a small lawsuit on my hands (with the side mirror) -- know your size.

RIGHT FOR LINDSAY? Getting closer. I can definitely see her riding this bike. It may be a little on the heavier side for her.

If I could just find something that was sort of in between the road bike and the big cruiser….

Final bike: The Linus Roadster Classic

Colleen takes the Linus Classic Roadster "off-road." Photo by Tammy Thorne.

I see Linus bikes everywhere now. I always thought they were nice looking bikes, but I never really understood what all the fuss was about.

Then I rode one.

The ride is smooth and easy. It's set at a pretty low speed, but you can still ride fast if your legs have it in them. Plus, the bike is really handsome. Without brakes on the handlebars, the frame is simple and clean.

Win this bike at the Food Issue launch party! Photo by Tammy Thorne.

It was odd getting used to the coaster brakes. I had a really embarrassing moment gliding south down Crawford Street, where I was coasting over a speed bump, attempted to back pedal (which engaged the brakes) and I jolted forward. Not so graceful.

At every red light, I would stop by back pedalling my left leg, leaving my right pedal in no place to begin biking. You need to be aware and thinking so you can set your feet up for the "push-off" at every stop. Or else you end up tip toeing your bike forward until the pedal is at a good spot to push off of.

COST: around $500 at Curbside Cycle

PROS: A smooth ride -- a clean look.

CONS: A little slow for me. The coaster brakes take some getting used to.

GOOD FOR LINDSAY? Yes! Since she doesn't have experience on any bike, I think she'd be able to get used to the brakes quickly. The gear is just the right speed for her. Climbing hills was really easy, and as long as you're okay with a slower pace, the Roadster Classic was a nice ride for just cruising around the city.

All in all, these bikes were great. Each one offered something to a new cyclist. The MEC Skyway was a good introduction to a road bike for anyone who is considering the switch from a cruiser. The TREK Atwood is one of the lightest (therefore fastest) cruisers I've ever ridden, and the Linus Roadster is a great all-around city bike for a new commuter.


Don't forget -- You can win the Linus Roadster Classic (or his lady-friendly sister, the Dutchi) at our dandyhorse Food Issue launch party at Parts & Labour, Monday, October 3, 2011!

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