Friday, June 27, 2014

City Bike: Shinola Women's Bixby Bicycle

Bicycles are a curious thing. They are simple, easy to use machines that require little maintenance. They can be used for transportation, recreation, sport, and/or endurance. Despite their simplicity, they come in a vast array of sizes, shapes, materials, and capabilities, making them possibly one of the most confusing items to purchase. I seem to find myself spending a lot of time in bike shops, ranging from small stores with only a few bikes on hand to those that have rows and rows of bicycles to choose from. Even having a baseline knowledge of what different types of bicycles are best suited to accomplish, it can still be confusing or overwhelming to have so many choices. Add in the internet, which can virtually put even more options at an individuals fingertips and things become even more hazy.

It helps to know what sort of riding the cyclist intends to do on a bike. I think it's safe to say most people who have been riding for any amount of time start to see that having one bicycle to do everything is highly unlikely. Sometimes it helps to think realistically about what sort of use a bicycle will get. If the intention is to take casual, 3-10 mile trips at an easy pace, this may not require the sort of set up that an individual who plans to race or regularly participate in extended road rides would need. Some people prefer a middle ground that allows them be comfortable on a short commute but that can also allow for some longer rides as well; others prefer a dedicated commuter and separate road/race bike. Some don't mind having a garage full of bicycles with only minor differences among each of them. I don't think any option is wrong in itself, but it's important to understand what sort of rider one is and what sort of means to purchasing options a person has when choosing a bike. The wrong decisions can make a huge difference in happiness and use of the bicycle chosen.

Recently, I found myself in a bit of a bike conundrum. I had been talking about the possibility of adding a city bike back into the fold, but having experienced several different versions, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do or which direction to go - or even if I wanted to add this sort of bike again.  During this discussion of possibly adding another bike, a coincidental test ride on a Shinola Bixby Women's bicycle took place and I thought there might be others looking at this bike, so I thought I'd throw out a few thoughts on this bike in particular to help those who might be on the fence or even seriously considering this as a purchase.
*Image from Shinola
As it would happen, I was walking by a bike shop in Boulder and saw this beauty staring at me from the window. I felt drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It is gorgeous! The pictures you've seen online simply cannot do it justice. It's really the little things such as the headbadge and small touches that make this bike something spectacular to behold. It is available in four colors from Shinola (charcoal, taupe, mauve and teal). This shop happened to have a mauve colored version.
*Image from Shinola
I had read about and viewed pictures of this bike online (though there doesn't seem to be many thoughts on the mixte version), but there is something about seeing it in person that provides a new level of respect for craftsmanship. While it is a beautiful bicycle, what really counts is ride quality, so off I went for a test ride.

The first thing that came to mind is that it was quite easy to start riding. I think for those wanting a handlebar that is higher than the saddle position, this may not be the best choice, but with that said, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out as even having the handlebars level with the saddle, I didn't feel particularly leaned over. The Bixby has a city-bike/lightweight cruiser feel and one that seems as though I was perched up on the saddle. Pedaling was easy and shifting smooth. Nothing felt shaky or twitchy. I went up and down a few hills to test the gearing and it seemed sufficient for those not having to deal with a very steep grade. The cream Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires are a perfect choice. I've had these on other bikes and have enjoyed the ride quality and puncture protection (as long as I haven't ridden through a thorn field, they've held up well), and the color sets off this bike perfectly.

One item I wasn't absolutely certain about was the saddle width choice for this bike. It's such a beautifully made saddle (by Shinola) to go with the bike, but even despite the ever-so-slightly aggressive position, I still felt quite a bit of weight on my backside. I think a bit more width in the saddle would have helped eliminate the sensation that there just isn't quite enough there to support the sit bones (we are all different though, so this will vary from individual to individual). Of course, if a person is taller and had the saddle higher, s/he would be more leaned on the handlebars and would likely eliminate this issue. I also appreciate the disc brakes and internal hub as these features make the bike easy to ride in all sorts of weather and help make the bike nearly maintenance-free.

As is typical for me while riding a bike, it was the small things, such as a coordinating bell that made me smile (the bike made others smile and look as well - even in a city full of people on bicycles). It was difficult not to picture myself someplace sandy with ocean breezes, cruising along on this beautiful bike. However, practicality soon set in and I realized that I don't live somewhere with beaches surrounding me and instead I have many hills to climb on a regular basis, so I quickly came back to reality and realized it's simply not the right bike choice for me. Which is not to say that I didn't stare longingly at it as I walked away, but rather my practical side seems to rear its head more frequently these days than in the past.

There are also a few items missing from the build that I think are practical for those wanting to use this as a commuter or grocery-getter. For instance, there are no racks on this bike, making it challenging to carry more than a bag over ones shoulder. Additionally, it does not come with lights. Both of these items can be added, of course, but with a price tag of nearly $2,000, I would hope these would be included.

The thing most difficult (I believe, and as pointed out by others) for Shinola to sell this bicycle is price point. I would be surprised to suddenly see many of these out on the roads (which is a shame because both this version and the diamond version are lovely options) as I think they are a bit more costly than most American's are willing to spend on this type of bicycle. Of course, that could be a motivator for some to purchase the bike because it probably won't be a common find on the roads. Although I understand having a frame made in the USA and in the Waterford factory comes at a cost, building this bicycle with the 3-speed Nexus hub will limit who will use this bicycle and how it will functionally work for the individual. Speaking from experience, I know that a cruiser-type bicycle can be used to cover more than a few miles, but it comes at a premium to ones energy usage and joints. It's simply not the most efficient means to use as a commuter over any sort of distance - particularly when dealing with hills. Meaning, this probably isn't going to be someone's do-everything bicycle. While it feels lighter than many cruiser bicycles I've used, and has a slightly more aggressive sitting position, ultimately it still has the feel of an easy-going/riding bicycle - which is both to its credit and detriment.

If you are aesthetically driven, have a Shinola dealer nearby, and are looking for a city bike (& have the $ to spend - of course), I think this could be one to try out. It's a beautiful and easy to ride bicycle that I hope will be one of many options available for every day riders. It will be interesting to see if Shinola continues these models and/or if they modify them as time goes by. Have you had the opportunity to ride one of Shinola's bikes? If so, what were your thoughts? It's always great to have more opinions in the mix.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I'm pleased to see a high quality bike made in America. The price does not scare me off. All of our bikes cost that much or more. (Shinola, are you listening?)

    I agree with you, unless you live in a very flat area, it is tough to make a 3-speed work. We own four city bikes, all European. We have two in hilly Seattle and two in flat, flat Tucson. For hilly terrain like Seattle, I've found you can lower the gearing on an internal gear hub by going to a larger cog in the rear and a smaller chain ring in the front. Both are easy, relatively inexpensive swaps. I did this on my 11-speed Shimano Alfine IGH to make it easier to get around in hilly Seattle. (Shimano does say you can only go so far with this kind of gear change, but I have exceeded their chain ring/cog ratio recommendation with no issues. If a guy my size can't break their hub on Seattle's hills, the rest of you are likely pretty safe.)

    Still, 3-speeds does not offer a lot of choices. I'm surprised Shinola does not at least offer an 8-speed version at that price. Ditto for not including a hub dynamo and lighting. All of our European city bikes include the hub dynamo and lighting and three of the four were priced comparable to the Shinola. Although, I will admit to purchasing good aftermarket LED lights, since the dynamo lights were not bright enough to actually see anything at speed (i.e., on downhill runs) What is interesting, is the bike is equipped with disc brakes - I love discs, but on this bike they seem a bit of a luxury if the bike is intended to run on flat terrain.

    I also agree with your comments on the seat width. I guess the people that pick those out do it for looks and not practicality given the characteristics of the typical American. I'd think a city bike was especially aimed at enticing riders intimidated by, or not interested in aggressive, drop handlebar bikes - and would therefore take this into account.

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    1. First, I just want to put a note out here for any would-be commenters that Blogger seems to be having some issues with replies to posts at the moment. I've had a few emails wondering why I haven't approved comments, but I just want to assure you all that is not the case. I don't know what the problem seems to be, but I would suggest copying your comment before posting it and if the word verification box doesn't pop up, Blogger didn't actual register your comment, so you may need to try again and paste your reply into a new box. I'm so sorry for any issues this may be causing and hopefully they are working on resolving the issue. I, unfortunately, have had the same problems when trying to reply to comments, so hopefully this will be fixed soon.

      As for the Shinola Bixby... I agree that the price point on this bicycle is certainly within range of many other city bike options on the market. I have to wonder, however, if someone who is considering getting a bike to commute for the first time (or in awhile) will be able to deal with the price tag. I think if Shinola were to work on some of the gearing issues (making it easier to use for those in hilly areas or to take on a longer commute), I think they would definitely have a winner on their hands. There's no question that the design/style is there, but some modifications could make it one on the top of many people's list. As you point out, modifications are always a possibility, but I think when we start getting into this price range, many of us like to have a bike that's pretty well ready to go. I also think that the addition of (at minimum) a rear rack is essential. I know that there is a special edition available through a collaboration with Filson, but it is only available for the diamond frame version. It would be great to see a rack on all versions of this bike. While I could personally deal without the dyno-lighting (I have found, like you, that after market lights work much better), a means to carry things around is important.

      For the record, Shinola does make one model with an 11-speed Alfine internal hub (The Runwell - and comes at a $1k addition to the price), but it would be nice to have the option on the Bixby models as well.

      I love that Shinola is building/making these bikes, so I do hope that they will consider some tweaks as they keep moving forward. It's nice to see a bike made here in the U.S. that has special touches and is truly beautiful.

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  2. Pretty bike. I find myself wanting to replicate city bikes because the prices are reasonable and many are beautiful, vary in style and fun to ride. Last year I purchased a 2014 Giant Via 2W cro-mo 8-speed bike in deep red, for just over $500. Before that I found a sale on a 2011 Jamis Allegro 1 in silver for even less. When there are nice bikes out there in this price range, I can't see paying more.

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    1. Good point. There are some great deals out there in some of the older bikes. I especially like some of the steel framed bikes of 10 or 15 years ago. Find one with the braze-ons for racks and maybe switch out the seat for a Brooks, or replace the handle bars and you can really have something for not much investment.

      That said, I am really glad to see Shinola produce a high end product. It only makes sense. If American manufacturers are going to compete in the market, they can't do it competing on low price. They have to offer consumers the choose of top quality.

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