Meet my new bike, Sassy:
She's a Craighton Pure Oma made by the Belgian bike company Achielle. I've put about 90 miles on the bike, so I thought I'd post a little review.
I ordered this bike from A Street Bike Named Desire in Palo Alto, CA. $1700. I ordered the bike in late January, but because of delays in shipping and getting through customs, didn't receive it until two weeks ago and then couldn't ride it for almost a week because I was sick (it took strep throat, an ear infection, and a spouse who insisted I couldn't ride while on codeine to keep me off the bike). When the bike arrived I had to do some minor assembly including installing the handlebars, kickstand, seat post, pedals, and front wheel, hooking up the back brake, and plugging the headlight into the dyno hub. A friend from the bike co-op who is a bike mechanic came over to help me out. He also gave the bike a thorough safety check. Sidenote: people who volunteer at bike co-ops are wonderful.
The bike is a lugged ChroMo steel step through frame that puts me in an upright riding position, though not quite as bolt upright as some other Dutch-style city bikes do. It weighs 18 kgs, but I haven't found the weight to be a big deal. It's only seven or eight pounds heavier than my old bike, a Giant Cypress DX. The bike includes Shimano roller brakes on front and back, a Shimano dyno hub, and a Nexus 8 speed internal gear hub. It also came with some standard commuting features and a few nice little extras: fenders, chain case, rear rack, café lock on the rear wheel, front wheel stabilizer, bell, and double-footed kickstand.
Here's why I chose these specific features for my six mile (12 rt) fairly flat commute:
• I often ride in dresses and skirts, and the loop frame makes it easy to mount and dismount while wearing them.
• I ride in all kinds of weather and have found the roller brakes to be strong and reliable even in pouring rain. (No, I don't wear a dress if it is pouring rain.) I had heard that roller brakes required more grip strength to use than rim brakes, but haven't found that to be the case. They are easy to modulate but are also strong enough to lock up the wheels. I've practiced some emergency braking and am satisfied that they'll serve me well if I need to stop suddenly.
• I'm very happy with the dynamo lighting, no need to recharge batteries or remove lights when I lock the bike up in public. I've been leaving the switch on all the time. If there is any drag from the lights, I'm not sensitive enough to feel it.
• The IGH has been exactly what I had hoped. It shifts gears quickly and cleanly. Best of all, I can shift gears even when I'm not pedaling. This comes in handy in stop-and-go traffic when I'm not able to downshift before coming to a stop. I still can't get over how easy it is to adjust the gears. There are two little yellow lines on the hub. If they don't line up when you are in fourth gear, you twist the barrel adjuster on the gear shifter until they line up. That's it.
• One little detail that surprised me with how much I like it is the kickstand. I love this thing! Besides being very stable for the obvious function of a kickstand, it has the added benefit of holding one of the two tires off of the ground. If you need to spin your wheels to check for true or to test the brakes, it's nice not to have to put the bike up on a stand. I also used it with the weight on the front wheel to spin the cranks while I was testing out whether all of the gears were engaging correctly. Very handy.
Here's a closer view of the head tube, front wheel stabilizer, and head light, which is a B&M lumotec classic:
When we return to standard time next fall, I may swap out the head light. This one works fine as a "be seen" light, but it doesn't have a stand light feature and at just 25 lux, I'm not sure it will be strong enough for riding in the dark. The taillight is fine -- I forget which B&M model it is, but it's fender mounted with the cord running along the inside of the fender, and it includes a stand light. I love that little wheel stabilizer. It keeps the front wheel from flopping around. I haven't tried it yet with a front load. I'm considering a front rack and/or basket, so I'm hopeful that it'll hold the wheel steady even while I'm loading a bag of groceries on front.
The bike comes with 38 mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. I hope these tires are as flat resistant as I've heard. Between the IGH and roller brakes, plus how hard I've heard these tires are to get on and off the rim, I'm not looking forward to the first time I have to change a tire. This is my first time having a bike with presta valves. They seem like they hold the air longer.
The saddle is a Brooks B67s. This is my first leather saddle. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to adjust to it after my first ride, which was literally a PITA, but part of the problem was that I had the seat post too high. I adjusted that and also pushed the saddle back on the rails and pointed the nose up just slightly. Those adjustments seem to have done the trick. I've also been riding with lightly padded bike shorts until it breaks in. I'll probably do that for another hundred miles or so just to be on the safe side.
This little Axa Defender lock is pretty clever. I wouldn't trust it as a primary lock, but it's nice to have as a secondary.
A few more little details -- the bell, nice leather grips, and brake lever:
Now to the real question: How's it ride? Here's the best way I've found to explain it: The bike is more like a pickup truck than a little sports car. It's not designed to go fast, but to be incredibly functional. I don't know if it is the steel frame or the tires or the sprung saddle or the upright position or somehow all of those things together, but the bike feels stable, solid, workable. No matter what. It doesn't matter if the road is rough, cracked, and pot-hole ridden or if I'm going over railroad tracks. It doesn't matter if I'm buzzing through a residential area or riding with traffic down a six lane thoroughfare. I always feel like I'm in control. I got caught in a downpour today and felt much more certain that my tires were holding onto the road than I did on my old hybrid with its 32 mm tires (not sure of the brand). Sassy also has nice grippy platform pedals.
The bike definitely has a wider turning radius than I'm used to, and that took some time to adjust to. The steering isn't quite as responsive as I'm used to either, but I expected that with the higher handlebars. I can lower the bars if I want, but for now I'm going to leave them as is.
What about the weight? It's not for weight weenies. I find myself going about 11-12 mph, which is pretty close to my old average for this commute. There's never a place along my route where I can build up real speed because there's always a road to be crossed or a light or stop sign or traffic. The last mile of my commute goes through a park where I don't have to contend with lights and cars. When I check my speed thorugh there, I'm usually going about 13 or 14 mph, but I'm not really pushing myself. Maybe the bike would go faster in different conditions or with a different rider, but I'm happy with this speed. I never go very fast on my commute anyway since I don't want to arrive at work sweat drenched. I know the upright position slows things down, but that's a trade-off I'm happy with. This position -- plus the fact that the bike is pretty tall -- makes it very easy for me to keep an eye on everything going on around me and to make eye contact with motorists. The bright red color along with the fact that I'm decked out in a dress and high-vis vest gets me noticed, which is always good when you're on a bike in traffic.
So, Sassy is my N+1. She makes me smile. My old bike Doofus, the Giant hybrid, is still in the stable. Freed now of the lights, fenders, and panniers from his commuter days this past year, Doofus is now back to his status as a pure recreational ride. We just did a 30-miler together and are looking forward to more and longer rides in the days to come.
Hope you found this useful. Shoot me any questions.
Giant Doofus (and, now Achielle Sassy)