Biking is a happy chore for determined people. I learned this when I tested ten different bikes over a ten day period, all sitting in my garage waiting to be fretted over.
Every two days, I rode a different bike to find out about its strengths and weaknesses, sometimes putting them on top of my car on a bike rack but mostly looking both ways at the end of my driveway and pushing off for a random coffee shop, hoping to reach my destination in one piece and without any broken parts—on me or on the bike. (There’s a reason every serious rider wears a helmet. There are too many cars, too much gravel, and not enough natural protection on our heads to risk biking anywhere at anytime with an exposed cranium.)
In case you haven’t ridden in a while, biking is a laborious and repetitive endeavor. You pedal one foot after another, then repeat about a thousand times or more. Or, maybe that’s 10,000 times depending on how far you go. The happiness part comes into play when you let go of the monotony of pedaling and forget you are even on a bike, when you lose yourself in the scenery and enjoy the moment. Some bikes help you do that better than others, depending on the varying levels of gadgetry on most bikes. In my testing, a bike seat kept falling down repeatedly, a tire slipped constantly in the rain, and a wheel even broke off.
Fortunately, the rest of my testing was a raging success. And, most of the mishaps turned out to be my fault. Here are the five bikes I tested and what I discovered riding each.
1. Critical Cycles Harper ($180)
What I liked most about this bike was the simplicity. It’s a fixed gear, which means you can’t coast (you have to keep pedaling at all times). I won’t get into the physics here, but when you ride, the bike pushes you along thanks to the internal drivetrain. Pedal faster, and you get more push. I liked this for riding to a coffee shop in the morning because I didn’t have to think about shifting gears, I just pedaled. (it also means there are fewer parts that could break.)
The bike is also super light, at 28 pounds, so it was easy to lift up to a bike rack. Critical Cycles sends bikes in the mail, too, so you can assemble them easily without a complicated setup. My one ding is that the wheelbase (space between tires) is a tad short which made the bike feel a tad tippy.
2. Raleigh Redux 2 ($750)
This brilliantly designed bike is a good match for my size (about 235 and 6’2”) because it has wider tires that felt stable on any road. I rode this bike constantly. It’s sturdy and rigid, which means you won’t feel like you are going to tip over or fall off easily. (It also means you will feel the bumps, because this bike worked best on a smooth bike trail.) At its weight, it was a little harder to lift up to a bike rack on top of my car, but I strongly prefer a durable, rigid, and well-made bike that will stand the test of time and some abuse.
Also, when I added some extra lights, a bike computer, and a Bluetooth speaker, I didn’t feel like the bike was suddenly weighed down. (It’s shame to add stuff to a feather-light bike and make it a rock.) More than anything, choose this bike for stability. I rode on gravel, dirt, pavement, and mud and it worked perfectly. The Redux 2 even has hydraulic brakes for quick stopping, which was really handy.
3. Brooklyn Bicycle Co. Roebling ($499)
At 27 pounds, this commuter bike was a godsend on days when I had to flip it onto the back of a car I was testing using a bike rack, grab it and carry it down a path to a bike trail, or lift it up onto a hook in my garage. It’s one of the big reasons I’d buy one. The company is a startup, too, which means they will be more than happy to answer questions about the bike and won’t treat you like one of the minions who shopped at Walmart.
The tires are puncture resistant and the frame is made from a low alloy steel for durability. There’s a screw for the seat that came loose over time so the seat flopped down, and this is the bike that skidded a bit on wet pavement, but you expect some slippage with thin tires and one quick flick of the screw kept the seat in place.
4. Linus Avanti 2 ($549)
What an amazing, well-designed bike. The Linus brand is all about style, and they do an excellent job of making that clear. The Avanti 2 is a bike you ride if you want to look cool—therefore, you would not want to use one for a 110-mile hike across Minnesota. (I’m doing that next month.) It glides forever, though, and uses a unique two-gear system that automatically shifts for you as you ride. To brake, you push backward—just like the old days.
That took some getting used to, but like the Critical Cycles Harper, there’s grace in simplicity (and fewer breakable parts). On multiple rides, the Avanti proved to be the most eye-catching bike and easily received the most comments. It’s not that expensive, either. The reason it wouldn’t work for all riding is that you sometimes really need to downshift or you need to brake suddenly. I’d use this bike around town for a leisure trip with the family but not for an all-day ride or in too much traffic.
5. Fat Tire Xtreme E-Cherokee 750-Watt ($1,599)
My last test was the most unusual. The Fat Tire Xtreme E-Cherokee is an electric bike that goes 35-mile son a charge, and it’s absolutely amazing. I loved riding this one because it felt so stable on any surface with the fat tires and a lower profile. You sit lower on the bike (e.g., more aerodynamically) which puts you lower to the ground.
I used this one on a mountain bike trail in my area and felt like I could ride all day. When the battery finally depleted, I had no problems pedaling home. It’s a rugged, all-purpose bike, although I probably should have secured the front tire a little better—it fell off after one ride just as I came to a stop.
Conclusion: OK, with all of these ups and down, here’s my final answer. The Raleigh Redux 2 gets the nod as the best bike for everyday riding. I liked how rugged it is and the hydraulic brakes make it easy to stop suddenly without fear of any slippage.