Bicycles Available in the U.S.
with sections on caffeineation, accessories, luggage, and converting a hybrid into a commute bike
Last Update: 23 August 2007
Schwinn World Avenue One, as low as $304, only from Performance
This is an informational, non-commercial site. No products are sold on this site.
I have opted to leave products on this site that may no longer be sold new by the manufacturer. Often these bicycles can be purchased used on sites like http://craigslist.org
Table of Contents
|Commuter Bicycle Definition|
|Multi-Position Trekking Bars|
|Where to Buy|
|Cell Phone Stuff|
|Which Type of Cell Phone to Carry|
|Cell Phone Holder|
|Cell Phone Charger & Holder|
|Stuff to Carry on Your Commute|
|Research the Best Route|
|Links to Related Web Sites|
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This site has a different focus than the other sites that offer advice about bicycle commuting (of which there are many). This site is equipment oriented. It's main focus is to keep track of the various commute bicycles available in the U.S., as well as the top quality accessories needed by commute cyclists. I threw in a little bit of stuff regarding the logistics of bicycle commuting, but other sites have more extensive information on this subject.
A frequent topic and complaint on bicycle forums is the lack of availability of true commuter bicycles in the U.S. While these bicycles are widely available in other geographical markets, the major bicycle manufacturers have chosen not to sell these products in the U.S. (this appears to be slowly changing with Trek's test marketing of several models). Hopefully Trek will be successful and other major manufacturers will follow their lead (Fuji has an especially nice line-up of models). It's not like the manufacturer actually has to design anything new, these products already exist. In the meantime, there are several specialty manufacturers that sell this kind of bicycle in the U.S..
Invariably when the subject of commute bicycles comes up in bicycle related forums, there are well-meaning responses that advise the original poster to convert his or her existing bicycle into a commute bike. While this is definitely an option, it misses the point. Not everyone is a gear head even though I am. Not everyone has the desire or the ability to add the accessories necessary to achieve this conversion, and in fact, due to the lack of after-market chain guards, it is not even possible to achieve a complete conversion. Many people just want to pay the money and get a complete, fully integrated, fully assembled product; they are not looking for the cheapest solution.
A commuter bicycle has the following components from the factory:
1. Chain guard
3. Rear luggage rack
4. Lights (usually dynamo)
There are some bicycles that come very close, but fail to meet these criteria in one way or another. For example, the REI Novara Fusion looked promising, but it lacks a chain guard.
Avoid the temptation to buy a bicycle that is too small. Sizing for commute bikes is different than mountain bike, road bike, or touring bike sizing. The chart below has some general guidelines, but the usual warning about different manufacturers having different ways of measuring applies. In general, round up, not down. Beware that many manufacturers now use threadless headsets which lack any height adjustability, so do not believe that you'll compensate for a too-small frame by raising the seat and handlebars. It's a judgment call when your ideal size is not a manufactured size. I.e., 53cm would be my ideal size, but the Kettler Traveller is available only in 51 cm, 55 cm, and 60 cm sizes, and the Specialized Globe is available in 49 cm, 52 cm, 55 cm, 58 cm, and 61 cm. I'd choose a 55 cm for each of these.
Unfortunately, you will probably have to order these bicycles either on-line or
from a shop, so you won't be able to fit them prior to purchase.
These fully equipped bicycles typically sell for very high prices considering their equipment level. This is because they are a specialty product and are not mass marketed in the U.S.. There's a little bit of a Catch-22 here, i.e. in Europe, Giant markets a line of trekking bicycles for about $200-250 (these lack lights, but have the other components installed). at that price there would be a big market for these bikes (since it is essentially a hybrid bicycle with additional accessories included), but you can't buy them in the U.S..
No one would spend $800-1000 on a commute bike like they cannot secure it at their workplace, but at $200-300 it's less of a worry. Ironically, before the advent of the "ten speed," this sort of bicycle (fenders, rack, lights, chain guard) was the norm, rather than the exception, for adult bicycles in the U.S..
Multi-Position Trekking Bars
One very cool feature on the Kettler Traveller, the Biria Touring City TC-Superlight 21, and the Koga-Miyata Streetliner are the mult-position trekking bars.
in the U.S.?
There are nine manufacturers selling commute bikes in the U.S. at this time. Trek, Kettler, Breezer, Kronan, Biria, Skeppshult, Specialized. and Koga-Miyata. Aside from Trek and Specialized, few U.S. bicyclists have heard of any of these brands. Most of these will be special orders from bike shops. Very few shops will risk stocking such a low-demand item (and of course there will be low demand unless they are stocked).
Trek is now selling its "Eurobikes" at one bicycle shop in the U.S., The Bike Gallery in Oregon. No mail order of course, but they will box and ship these bikes to you for about an extra $60 if you (or someone you know) goes to the shop and personally pays for it. No sales tax in Oregon. This is an excellent shop that I have personal experience with. Unfortunately, all of these models have aluminum frames.
Trek has made these models available to all of their dealers, but I have been unable to find a single dealer in my area that actually has any or is planning to carry them. They can special order them though. Bargain hard.
|$999 estimate (€849 in the Netherlands)|
Kettler sells many of their commuter bicycles in the U.S. through a couple of dealers. Kettler offers better compenentry than Trek, at comparable prices. Unfortunately, all of these models have aluminum frames. Still, at least these bikes are easily available, unlike the Treks.
See http://www.kettlerusa.com/page14.html and http://www.kettlerusa.com/page13.html for details on Kettler bicycles.
Available in 51 cm, 55 cm, and 60 cm sizes.
(official Kettler site shows a chainguard)
Breezer has three commuter models, two 7 speed, and one 3 speed. All have internal rear hubs and no front derailleur. If you do not need the gearing range provided by a derailleur bicycle then the Breezer is a good choice. Unfortunately, all of these models have aluminum frames. The Uptown model includes the internal Nexus/Shimano hub dynamo.
Your basic commute bike, one and three speed models.
|$350-450 (1 speed-3 speed)|
Biria lists many models on their U.S. web site, but I have only ever seen the Easy series for sale. This does not mean that other dealers don't have these other models though.
|Easy 3, Easy 7||Touring City Series|
|$450-550 (3-7 speed, aluminum or steel)||Price
Unknown; this model is on the Biria U.S. Web Site
3, 7, and 21 Speed
|Touring Sport Series||Trekking Series|
Unknown; this model is on the Biria U.S. Web Site
Unknown; this model is on the Biria U.S. Web Site
7, and 21 Speed
Contact Skeppshult for pricing
Specialized enters the trekking bike competition with an aggressively priced model at $770 (MSRP). Hub integrated dynamo. Watch out Breezer!
5 sizes: 49 cm, 52 cm, 55 cm, 58 cm, and 61 cm
I found this bicycle for as little as $630 (regular shop price is $700, with a 10% discount for my bicycle club).
Amazingly, there are a few dealers that actually stock this bicycle. In my area, these include Off-Ramp in Mountain View, and Valencia Cyclery in San Francisco, though both charge $700 for this model and don't offer the 10% discount.
|You may have to special order this from a Koga-Miyata dealer. $1510|
This 8 speed commute bike is complete with Nexus dynamo front hub, rear rack, pump, bell, water bottle, lock, and a small seat bag. But the Specialized Globe is a better deal.
|Schwinn World Avenue 1|
|Available only From Performance|
Schwinn is selling a commute bicycle only through Performance. the regular price is $550, but it regularly goes on sale for $400, plus Performance often has 15% off coupons which bring the price down to $340. Team Performance members get 10% back in scrip to use at Performance stores, effectively lowering the price by another $34 to $306. The components are lower end, but serviceable. Rear rack, fenders, and chain guard are standard. Lights are not included.
This bicycle is very similar to the Schwinn World City, seen at http://www.schwinnbike.com/products/bikes_detail.php?id=749 but the World City lacks the chain guard, which is very important in a commute bike to avoid getting chain oil on clothing.
Sizing of World City (not available on Performance site, but World Avenue 1 should be the same):
|Schwinn World City|
My top choice would be the Specialized Globe. I don't believe that the Trek, Kettler, or Koga-Miyata models are fairly priced. If you can live with the seven speed internal hub gearing then I would recommend the Breezer Villager or Uptown. Should Fuji decide to market the Hokkaido in the U.S., it would be the best choice. The Trek T300 is also acceptable, but is not worth the extra money over the Specialized.
The Schwinn from Performance is a very good deal on a lower-end commute bike.
Where to Buy
Local bike shops are usually of very little value for commute bicycles or accessories, though occasionally you'll find a rare shop that offers something. The Bike Gallery in Portland is one such shop, probably because bike commuting is more popular in the Portland area than in most places. The San Francisco Bay Area doesn't have any shops that stock commute bikes other than Performance.
The importance of keeping properly caffeinated during your commute cannot be over-emphasized. Fortunately there are many products available that will help you achieve this goal. Please visit Bicycle Coffee Systems for detailed information on how to combine coffee drinking with bicycling. Coffee is a healthful herbal beverage made from the seeds of the coffee plant. For some reason, coffee has gotten a bad rap, but all the evidence points to the fact that it actually promotes good health and prevents many diseases.
JSB-500 Stainless Steel Vacuum Bottle Fits a Water Bottle Cage (Profile Cage is recommended)
I find a mirror very useful. The type you select depends on the type of handlebars you have.
Gear Mullti Mirror
(Goes Into Bar End)
Gear Mountain Mirror
(Straps around handlebar)
Gear Road Mirror
(Fits brake hoods on drop bars)
Cell Phone Stuff
Type of Cell Phone to Carry?
Try to buy a cell phone with a built in speakerphone, such as the Motorola V270C or V60s. If you want your cell phone to have the maximum chance of having a signal outside of urban areas, shun GSM-only phones and Nextel. Your best bet is a CDMA/AMPS phone from Verizon. If you go the GSM route, get a GAIT phone (GSM/TDMA/AMPS) which are available from AT&T and Cingular (western region Cingular customers must go through me to obtain a GAIT phone, I can put you in touch with the proper individual at their regional headquarters--they don't sell GAIT phones on-line or in stores in the western region).
What more can I say? But the next accessory also has a charger that runs from a dynamo!
Cell Phone Charger & Holder
Just in case you're a big talker, this lets you charge your battery from a rim dynamo.
Much nicer than yelling "hey you," especially on shared bicycle/pedestrian paths. Any bell will do, though I'm partial to the classic spinning Chinese bell (if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, these can be purchased for $3 at the Museum of American Heritage 351 Homer Ave, Palo Alto (open 11-4, Fri-Sun)) or from http://shop.store.yahoo.com/toadsandtulipsinc/bibebysc.html
I like the Profile bottle cage because it works the best with stainless steel vacuum bottles. It doesn't scratch them and it grips the bottle at the bottom not close to the top.
Profile Cage, $4 at Bike Nashbar
I've had the best luck with Cat Eye, all the way back to their first solar powered model. I've had bad luck with Avocet and Nashbar. However the Shimano Flight Deck computers look very appealing if your bicycle's components are compatible with them (compatibility list).
Which luggage you choose depends on what and how much you have to carry. Don't buy cheap luggage as it will not stand up to daily use (zippers will break, velcro straps will rip, elastic will stretch, etc.
Rack Top Bags
Use a rack-top bag that attaches securely with buckle type fasteners, not Velcro. Not only because the battery is heavy, but because the Velcro type of attachment doesn't retain its strength over years or removal and attachment.
The Lone Peak RP-700 attaches with buckles, not Velcro. I went through two poor quality rack packs before spending the big bucks on a higher quality product with superior design features. I'll let you know in five years how it holds up!
Ortlieb has an excellent line of rack top bags. The Travel Biker model is especially unique.
A good collection of old-fashioned saddlebags is available from Rivendell Bicycle Works. Be sure to check the clearance between your seat and the rear rack before ordering
Ortlieb has a model called Office Bag which can double as a briefcase. They sell a padded insert for notebook computers.
Two Wheel Gear manufactures panniers specifically geared toward commuters.
For regular panniers, Ortlieb is recommended.
Converting a Hybrid Bicycle into a Commute
Converting a hybrid bicycle into a commute bike is not difficult, except for the fact that chainguards are not easily available. The issue is that the bicycle was not really designed with the mounting points for the hardware so you'll have to make do with funky frame clamps and probably do a bit of fabrication yourself. Fenders are often troublesome to get properly aligned and out of the way of the brakes, though with the current type of brakes it is usually not an issue.
You will have to add the following components: fenders, lights, chainguard, rear rack.
Zefal makes a fender set for hybrids. Click for link to Bike Nashbar Page
For more information on bicycle lights, please visit http://bicyclelighting.com.
The ideal lights for a commuter bike utilize the Shimano/Nexus generator hub. This is standard equipment on the Breezer Uptown and the Specialized Globe. You can buy these hubs, but of course it will mean rebuilding your front wheel. The problem with generator lights is that they are not really bright enough for riding on dark streets, though they are fine for being seen and staying legal on lit streets. You should add a rear Lightman xenon strobe or a Real Lite 18 LED flasher.
For battery powered lights I recommend at least 10W, with dual lamps being the ideal option because you can turn off one lamp when riding on lit streets to conserve the battery. I personally don't like the water bottle style batteries since I want to use my water bottle cage for a bottle. Frame mount batteries are a better choice for me. If you decide to use water bottle cage battery packs then you may need to add another water bottle cage, fortunately there is a web site that details how to do this, http://nordicgroup.us/cageboss.htm. Here are some suggestions for lights, but by no means are these the only options.
There are lighting systems costing $100 or more, but you can get a dual lamp system, with battery and charger, for $50-60. Add another $25 for the best rear light. Avoid helmet mount lights.
If you are interested in building your own lighting system, check out the http://bicyclelighting.com web site (another of my sites)
Note that the run times quoted by the manufacturers of lighting systems with sealed lead-acid batteries are nearly always incorrect. They are not taking into account the fact that the ratings of sealed lead-acid batteries are based on a 5% per hour discharge rate (20 hour rate), while the actual discharge rate in their systems is far higher. See page 5 of http://www.flex.com/~kalepa/techman.pdf for details. I have computed realistic figures.
|Model||Metro||Night Rover||Mirage X|
|Lamps||6.3W x 2||6.3W x2||5W x1, 20W x 1|
(6x7.5AH NiMH D)
|18WH (6V, 3AH) Lead Acid||18WH (6V, 3AH) Lead Acid|
|Realistic Run Time (High/Low) Hours||A.
Option 1, NiMH Batteries
NiMH batteries have come way down in price due to their widespread use in digital cameras (2000 mAH AA cells are now about $1.35 each)
The advantage of NiMH batteries, especially the high capacity ones, is that they provide a better weight/capacity ratio than sealed lead acid (gel cel) or NiCad batteries. The disadvantage is that they are much more expensive and that they should be used with an intelligent charger, which is also expensive. The suppliers of lighting systems rarely include a smart charger, but with the cost of NiMH batteries a smart charger makes a lot of sense.
Option 2, Sealed Lead Acid Battery
Buy the Cygolite Night Rover (dual 6.3W bulbs). These lights run on an included sealed lead acid battery. $53. A "dumb" float charger is included. I would go this route to start, then buy a 6 D Cell battery holder and change to NiMH once the lead acid battery no longer holds a charge. Smart chargers are less of an issue for sealed lead acid batteries, but the charger should be disconnected when you are done charging the battery unless you have an automatic charger that reduces the current once the battery is fully charged. Automatic chargers for these batteries can be found at JC Whitney for $38 and direct from Yuasa (Yuasa 12V900) for $42.
Another good deal is the Sigma Sport Mirage X which has one 5W bulb and one 20W bulb, $52. This has a water bottle battery holder.
The best charger to use is a CVCC (Constant Voltage, Constant Current) charger. There is one made by Accumate that is available for $50, but it should only be used with batteries that are rated at 4AH or higher.
Be warned that the run time of a lighting system with a sealed lead acid battery cannot be obtained by dividing the Watt-Hour rating of the battery by the wattage of the lamps. The AH ratings of sealed lead acid batteries are for low current discharge. You will likely get about 50-60% of the run time that you calculate. In fact you are probably better off buying six 1.8AH AA NiMH batteries (about $18 total) than a 3AH sealed lead acid battery. With NiMH batteries you will probably get about 80% of their rated capacity.
NiCad Batteries, A Bad Option
Avoid nickel-cadmium batteries. At the retail level they are not any less expensive than NiMH batteries but they are much lower capacity per cell. NiCad batteries have low internal resistance and self-discharge even when not being used. NiCad batteries have a relatively short shelf life. Ni-Cad batteries suffer from a phenomena known as "memory effect" (a misnomer) which is caused by improper charging (you can read an explanation of this issue on page 40 of the Video Battery Handbook). Commercial lighting system manufacturers often use Ni-Cad batteries because they can buy them very cheaply at the wholesale level.
The best option is a Xenon strobe. I had given up on finding a replacement for the old Belt Beacon (no longer being made), but I finally located one. These come in three models with a variety of lens color options (blue is probably not legal for non-law enforcement).
Xenon strobes are far brighter than the LED flashers, and about three to four times as expensive. Bulbs in these strobes will not last as long as LEDs, but are replaceable. This same strobe is also sold by NightSun for $30, and they have a 12 volt (not-self powered) version for $40 (good if you have a 12 volt lighting system). You can also purchase 12V strobes from All Electronics for $9, but you'll have to fabricate a mounting bracket (this is what I have done)
A much less desirable alternative is to buy a couple of rear LED flashers, one for the seat post, one for the back of the rear rack. The LED flashers are really just toys; they are not very visible unless it's very dark.
I don't know how you can actually buy these chain guards, but they do exist. Since your bike won't have the fittings for it you'll have to use clamps, which this company also sells. 200 piece minimum order.
Sunny SW-771 Chainguard for single or triple chainwheel.
4. Rear Rack
One issue to be aware of is that on many hybrid bikes the upper mounting points for the front of the rear rack are too far away from the rack for the included hardware to work. You may need to get some aluminum flat bar (available at Home Depot) and saw, bend, and drill it to the proper size and shape. I have had to do this on two hybrid bikes that I attached a rear rack to, a Specialized Expedition, and a Giant Cypress, as well as to my daughters 24" wheeled Diamondback.
Jannd Expedition Rack, $57
For more information on racks, please visit http://bicycleluggageracks.com
Stuff to Carry on Your Commute
Pump. Choose mini pumps carefully, avoiding plastic ones. The best one I've ever had I bought at Orchard Supply Hardware under the "Bike Gear" brand (presta, schraeder, gauge). I've had bad luck with the Zefal plastic mini-pumps.
All in One tool with Allen wrenches, chain tool, tire irons, screwdriver, small wrenches. I like the Park Micro Tool Box 1 (MTB-1).
Spare bulbs for lights
A few metric bolts, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm
The quality of the lock that you select depends on where you park your bike. Actually it is better to just leave a very good lock at your destination rather than lugging it around. If you use a U style lock be sure to also have a thick cable to secure your wheels, and also think about securing your seat.
A helmet makes good sense though it is quite amazing how my whole generation, and generations before that, survived without helmets. Still, things have changed in terms of the quality and quantity of drivers. I wear a helmet while commuting, and I think it's a good idea, but I'm not a zealot. Choose a helmet with good ventilation and with a good strapping system.
One very good safety device, widely used all over the world except the U.S., is the flexible shaft reflector that extends out to the side of the bicycle. It has been proven very effective at encouraging vehicles to not come too close to the bicycle, but if a vehicle hits the shaft it will simply bend or break. These can be ordered on-line from Canada, or in the U.S. from http://www.velomobiles.net. I have added some better photos of the flash flag, including a close-up of the mounting clamp, and a scan of the instruction sheet (click here). Flash Flags can be mounted to the seat stay, or to a rear rack (with a rubber insert).
Click Images for Details
Research the Best Route
Obtain both a road map and a bicycling map of the area. A regular road map will usually not include bicycle/pedestrian bridges, underpasses, paths, etc. Even bicycle maps don't always show all routes. I.e., in my area there is a "secret" underpass on U.S. 101 that finally became an official bike path. One train station has a convenient underpass to get over the tracks without going on a busy road.
What to look for:
Freeway crossings that are not at entrances or exits
Small neighborhood streets that cross major arteries at traffic lights
Little known bicycle underpasses
Bike paths through parks and schools
Streets with bike lanes
Traffic lights that can be triggered by a bicycle and/or that are button activated
Small underpasses that parallel railroad tracks
Long streets without a lot of cross streets (safer and faster). These are often frontage roads along freeways, roads that parallel railroad tracks, and roads that parallel creeks.
Expressways that do not have freeway style interchanges (i.e., one of the most dangerous roads, for both bicycles and cars, is Central Expressway in Sunnyvale, CA, where they have very poor on/off ramps. The other cities through which this expressway passes have opted for traffic light controlled intersections).
I am able to commute the 8.5 miles from my house to my office almost entirely on quiet streets even though I live and work in a very urban part of Silicon Valley. It is not the fastest route (my typical 17-18 MPH pace turns into an average speed of about 12-13 MPH resulting in a 35-40 minute ride), but it is certainly more pleasant than riding on the major arteries. It would not be a stretch to say that more than 99% of Silicon Valley residents have no idea that parts of my route even exist. Even fellow cyclists at work often don't bother to do any route planning.
While these bikes and the equipment I mention will make commuting by bicycle more pleasant, it is not necessary to buy a $500-1000 bike to do bike commuting. I commute on a 16 year old road bike, but I am looking for something more suitable, which is what led me to start investigating the available options (which I put into this site).
Links to Related Web Sites
There is no shortage of web sites on the subject of bicycle commuting. I've listed the best one's I've found:
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