Overall, I am *really* enjoying this bike. It is perfectly suited to my main goal which is "chasing kids around the park/neighborhood and getting some light exercise". On any given outing I encounter varied terrain from smooth roads, to speed bumps, to broken up sidewalks, crumbling park paths, grass, mulch, gravel, dirt and speeds vary from slower-than-walking to sprinting to catch a little one before she rolls out into traffic. Dismount, remount, start, stop repititions are more than common. So far, this bike takes it all in stride and keeps me in the saddle more than any other cycle I've ridden.
Some specific observations (both positive and negative):
1. Disc brake mechanism at rear left can interfere with "big foot" riders depending on placement of foot on pedal and shoe combinations (not unique to this bike).
2. Shifting from 2nd chain ring to innermost chain ring 50/50 drops the chain scratching the paint and stopping the ride. Clearly, this happens more as the angle to the cog becomes more extreme. Limiting travel on the front derailleur might alleviate the problem. This will likely improve after the first tune-up at LBS.
3. Shifting "down" on the rear casset/derailleur, even under light load, "bangs". There is some "crunchiness" on outermost cogs when pedaling. This should improve after first tune-up at LBS. Shifting "up" is quite smooth and nearly silent.
4. Brakes have yet to strike me one way or another. At times they seem feeble and unable to stop a rider my size. On the otherhand, just today I was bookin' down a steep hill and I grabbed a fistfull of both brakes and they hauled the 200+lb combination of bike and rider to a stop in short order. Maybe I've been too gentle with them under other circumstances?
5. Weight - The bike is pleasingly light and nimble. Additional weight savings can be had by going to lighter aluminum or carbon in place of all the Bontrager SSR bits like the seatpost, stem, and bars.
6. Handling; Road - It's not "twitchy" at speed. This is probably due to the long-ish stem (105mm) and wide riser bars. Quite pleasant, actually! The lock-out fork is great especially when you're climbing on the road as it ensures no energy is wasted in the the mush of the suspension. The bike is lighter and speedier than 26" hardtails with wider tires and longer travel front forks without lock-out.
7. The bike looks terrific, IMHO. The paint is smooth, the graphics are subtle and understated.
8. The tires are what I've come to expect with a hybrid. Not wide enough for steep climbs on soft stuff, but wide/heavy/knobby enough to be somewhat obnoxious on smooth roads at speed. Compromise is the key word here.
9. The Shimano EF50 shifters look nice and are pleasant to use for chasing the kids around the park. The all-in-one design makes for a compact unit but has some downsides. First, if one gets damaged you have to replace both the brake & shift lever together (I would use the opportunity to upgrade everything...). Second, I find that if I have my index finger on the trigger while pulling the brake lever, I tend to pinch myself.
10. Saddle - I like it better than the one that came on my previous Trek 800-series but I've never sat on a bike seat that I liked as much as my favorite chair in front of the TV.
11. Pedals - They are freebie junk and will be upgraded as soon as I bend or break one of them so I have a reason so the CFO will release the funds necessary for something from Crank Brothers...
12. Fork - Only 63mm of travel which is no where near enough for serious offroad work. But, I tell you what, it takes all the teeth banging, jarring jolts of rough paths/trails, curbs, and speed bumps and smooths them out. I feel less fatigue in my upper body after rides than I used to (...and, I've yet to bite my tongue!).
I may add a set of bar ends pretty soon as I like them for climbing and the additional hand position(s) can be relaxing and change things up on longer rides. Visibility/safety lights and a simple computer are on the way to add to the cycling experience. After the first tune-up at LBS, I'll see how I like the derailleurs...if they don't smooth out I may go in a different direction. 700cm wheels offer many of the same benefits of a 29er in that they roll over roots, ruts and rocks pretty smoothly and they help with a tall rider (I'm ~6'4"). The frame is well constructed, has a good geometry and is likely worth building around with upgrades here and there over time.
Bottom line: I would definitely recommend this bike, at this price point, to a friend with "requirements" similar to my own. It is vastly superior to anything you can find at most department stores in virtually every way, and its versatile enough to fill several roles if you can only afford one bike.
After a few weeks I wanted to circle back and update this post with some comments. First of all, my enjoyment of this bike and its flexibility continues to grow the more miles I put on it. I'm now using it to get some light exercise in the evenings and early mornings so I needed to add some lights for improved visibility on the road.
I opted to go with the combination of the Cateye Uno for the front light and the Cateye TL-LD150-R for the rear. The Uno is extremely compact and light requiring only a single AA battery for power. Though the beam is certainly not adequate to be your sole source of light for the road ahead it is more than sufficient to attract the attention of motorists in suburbia. The LD150 is truly diminutive but highly visible in all modes. The mounting mechanism makes it very easy to adjust the "tilt" of the light itself so that it's parallel to the roadway even when attached at odd angles like on the seat post, etc.
I also attached a simple computer, the Cateye Strada Wireless, to help me keep track of mileage, speed, etc. It is more than adequate for my purposes and mounted very easily. Switching between modes is as easy as "mashing down" on the face of the unit with a positive click confirming the change. The display is large enough to read while riding, in the wind, with sunglasses on, etc. The unit itself is tiny and will add very little weight to your rig.
Lastly, based on recommendations from other forum dwellers here, I opted to install a set of Shimano PD-M324 SPD Dual Platform pedals. The idea was to maintain the "grab and go" ease of use of platform pedals but add the option of clipping in for my longer, exercise rides. So far so good! Thanks to all for the advice.
'09 Gary Fisher "Kaitai, '09 Raleigh Team", '91 Trek 8700, '97 Cannondale SR500, '12 Raleigh Twin Six
I'm another very happy Kaitai owner, though mine is an '09 model. I haven't experienced the shifting issues you allude to. Mine seems as smooth and accurate as my cadence. I replaced the seatpost with a carbon one from Bonetrager, the seat with a Terry Fly, and the handlebars with Ritchey wcs carbon. My only complaint would be the front suspension. I don't have any issue with the amount of travel, but I would like to have a stiffer spring in there. I would also like to be able to COMPLETELY lock it out, but for the price, it's tough to beat. In the summer, I commute on Conti Ultra Sports (700x28), but I have a couple of pairs of knobby cross tires that I put on for off roading.