Bike Shaped Objects

Funky bikes and news
Schwinn Median Virtual Review

Never has bike had a more appropriate name than the Schwinn Median. It occupies the exact space of crossover between mountain bike, road bike and cruiser.

Actually there is a strong trend among high-end bike makers to produce do-it-all bikes, but while those try to combine the best of each breed with a few compromises , the Median leans much more heavily in the compromise direction. Hey, what would you expect from a $200 bike?

Sitting on the bike at Target the first thing I noticed was the comfort. It may not be the position of ideal pedaling efficiency but it felt like I could ride all day with feeling hunch-backed.

The second thing I noticed was the weight. Several customer reviews have mentioned how light it is but now I’m assuming their yardstick is a cheap heavy cruiser. It’s about ten pounds heavier than a similarly-priced road bike, though it does feel like it could handle quite a bit more abuse.

Speed: It’s faster than a cruiser but slower than most road bikes. Having just the rear gears is a nice compromise. My folding bike has this set up and have only encountered a few hills that caused any problem. This simplicity will appeal to people stepping up from a cruiser and the increased speed should generate a few smiles along the way.

As with all big store bikes you have to watch out for the assembly quality. Several customer reviews have complained about the brakes and the shifting. I the one I checked out the gears were perfect but the brakes were both slightly off center. Fortunately, simple instructions for adjustments are available online and can be done with simple tools.

So if you’re not sure of what kind or riding you’ll be doing the Median might be a good choice.


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Media Watch – Bicycle Times

This is currently my favorite bike magazine. They aren’t obsessed with bike racing. They review bikes that are mostly out of my price range but not by much. Their emphasis is on commuting, riding for fun and utility. Most importantly, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

So what’s missing? Kids. It’s funny because it’s a reflection of cycling here in San Francisco. We have miles and miles of bike lines and a recent report pointed out that almost none of them are appropriate for kids to ride. Similarly Bicycle Times rarely include kids in their focus. The only exception being stories about cargo bikes with kids as cargo.

Another thing I like is their limited coverage of vintage bikes. Like on the radio it’s nice to hear the occasional song from your youth but so many stations overdo it and I wind up pounding the radio buttons screaming “How about something from this century?”

One of the oddest thing about this magazine I like are the ads in the back. They actually address things I need. I’ve bought several things advertised there.

My only other complaint is that it’s only bi-monthly. Though when I first subscribed it was quarterly, so there’s hope.

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Media Watch – BICYCLING magazine

I promised myself that I would start these reviews by saying something positive. The closest I can come to that is to say that this magazine is a very good match for it’s primary audience of wannabe bike racers, like myself. Unfortunately since its name implies a more universal and it is often the only bike magazine on the magazine rack, a casual reader might assume that’s all there is to cycling.

Like the car magazines that concentrate on Ferraris and Posches, Bicycling concentrates on the highest end of the cycling world. For example, the bikes reviewed in this month’s issue range in price from $1,000 to $10,000, with most priced in the $3,000 to $5,000 range. They consider the $1,000 bikes to be a “value.” The reality is that even if you go to a fancy bike shop you can get a perfectly good, brand name bike, for $500 or so.

It’s not just the big budget bikes that annoy me. The whole editorial feel is one of arrogance and exclusion. If you don’t ride the right bike and wear the right spandex clothes you aren’t a real cyclist. A great example is that an article about biking to work. For their subject they discussed this woman who discovered the joys of bike commuting. Sounds good, but then they tell us that she was already riding her bike 70 miles a week. That’s more miles than most people do in a month.

As I said, if you are a wannabe bike racer, Bicycling Magazine is for you. It has all the latest exercise, nutrition and training advice, just be prepared to pay a pretty penny for what they talk about. But ask yourself, and the people you know who ride bikes, do you want to race bikes. You’ll find that most never even considered it.

If racing doesn’t interest you, this isn’t your magazine.

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BMX Bikes Virtual Buying Guide

My goal was to identify the best cheap BMX bike on the market. Unfortunately there is no such thing. The problem is that there are so many different riding styles all lumped together under the name BMX that there can be no one bike that would be good at them all.

The types are:

BMX – Short for bicycle motocross. These are the actual racing bikes. Unfortunately again, there is no one definition here either. It all depends on your local BMX track. So if you want to get into BMX racing ignore everything below, go to the track and see what the racers are riding.

Trick – These are the bikes with axle pegs, handlebars that spin 306 degrees and frames with lots of places to plant a foot or knee. This is what most kids want and what most parents want to avoid.

Off Road – This variation features heavier but more rugged frames. Mostly they are used for kids too small for even the junior mountain bikes.

Neighborhood – It looks like a BMX bike but it has none of the things that qualify it for the categories above. This type of bike will however meet the needs of the vast majority of kids. One of the advantages of the BMX style bike is it’s adjustability. It can be made to be a comfortable ride well into the teen years.

So rather than a single bike I’m going to give a quick peek to a series of bikes I think fit the categories above. This isn’t meant to recommend these bikes as the best of the breed, simply because there are so many BMX bikes out there that I don’t have the time to compare them all. I chose one big box store and selected example for consideration.

Huffy 20” Pro Thunder – $76.99
There are cheaper BMX bikes, but not by much, and they have smaller and somehow heavier frames. This also represents a simplicity I like in kid’s bikes. It has coaster brakes so there are no cables to worry about and this makes an easier transition from little kids bikes.

Thruster Slider 20″ Boys’ Bike – $89.97
If you’re willing to give your kids a trick bike this might be a good starting point. Thruster may not be as familiar a name as Huffy, but it’s produced a couple of nice cheap genre bikes. This one has foot pegs and hand brakes front and rear. It has a lager, heavier and presumably sturdier frame than the Huffy.

20″ Boys’ Mongoose Girder BMX Bike – $119.00
This bike barely qualifies being called a BMX bike, but on the other hand I don’t know what it should be called. The girder in the name refers to the frame which actually does look like little girders. This should make the frame very strong without adding much weight. The extra stiffness is compensated with a front suspension. The other major departure is that it has a rear disk brake. These differences make this the one I would chose for sever off-roading.

DK General Lee 20″ BMX Bike – $129.00
Never heard of DK? If you follow my advice about checking out you local BMX race track you undoubtedly will hear of them. The General Lee is not one of their top racing bikes, but it is a good introduction to the brand. If your kids have bike snob friends owning this bike will cause them no shame.

So that’s my quick overview. I wish I had the time to explore BMX bikes in greater detail. Actually I’m hoping people will comment on this post with their own BMX bike suggestions.




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Virtual Review – Thruster Fixie

Thruster FixieTook a trip to Walmart last weekend and got to take a look at this bike close up. I came away with mixed feelings.

On the good side: At $100 it’s the cheapest fixie on the market. It’s simple, which means there is less to break down. It’s much lighter than a cruiser bike. It has a flip-flop hub so you can free-wheel if you like. (Personally, that’s what I’d do.)

The OK: The saddle is neither great nor horrible. The brake calipers seem to hold well enough but are nothing special. The handle bars are very narrow. This would be useful when squeezing through Market Street traffic but might be twitchy elsewhere.

The bad: The brake levers are tiny and painful. The welds were pretty ugly, but I’ve seen worse on more expensive bikes.

The unknown: Those wheels and tires are funky looking but I don’t know how well they’d hold up.

What other people say: This bike is hated by the bike snobs who have never ridden it, but they hate anything that isn’t from an over-priced bike shop. It’s true that this isn’t the best built bike ever, but it’s so inexpensive that that isn’t a real concern.

Alternatives: The next cheapest brand name single speed bike I found was on Bikes Direct. The Windsor Hour goes for $279. This bike is also hated by bike snobs for the same reasons as the Thruster. You can also find a bunch of no-name fixie bikes on eBay, but you have no idea what they are and how they’re built.

Conclusion: This isn’t a bike I would buy, but I would buy it before I bought a heavy cruiser bike. If you want a dirt-simple bike with little or no maintenance to ride around the neighborhood, this might be worth a look.

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