Bicycle Commuting Mama: Time to Make a Choice

Yesterday I test-rode an Electra Townie Balloon 8i Xtracycle at Clever Cycles.  Today I tried out the Madsen Urban Utility Bicycle and an Electra Townie 7D at the Hollywood Bike Gallery, and a Radish at Clever Cycles.  Now I’ve got to decide what to ride!

The Electra Townies are both good bikes.  The 8i has an 8-speed hub gear system, while the 7D has derailleur gears.  Both handled equally well for me.   The upright posture on a Townie does take some getting used to.  Upright really means upright!  It’s a whole different feeling. Also, the 8i has big, cushy balloon tires, and the 7D has slightly less cushy tires.  Tires, of course, are changeable. Finally, the 8i has roller brakes, and the 7D has simple linear-pull brakes

The big difference between the two for me is price.  The 8i is $850, and the 7D is $440 (not including Xtracycle conversion).  Another difference, according to Dean at Clever Cycles, is in the axle.  The 7D has cheaper axles, and the hubs are likely to need replacement in a year or so.  The axle also sticks out more on the 7D, so it’s more prone to bending.

The Madsen utility bike was at first attractive to the kids.  They liked the idea of riding around in a large plastic bucket. The price is comparable to that of a complete Xtracycle package — $1299.  However, a test ride quickly helped us decide against this bike.  I didn’t like the handling; it felt hard to balance even after riding it around empty for a while.  I also didn’t like the way the gears worked.  The levers were difficult to manage, and it constantly felt like the gears were clicking in and out of place.

When I tried putting the kids in the bucket, they didn’t like it any better.  They actually felt less secure than they did on the Xtracycle, despite sitting on a seat with a seatbelt on.  It was also much harder to get going fully loaded than with the Xtracycle.

Finally, the Radish.  This is a sweet bike.  The Radish is specifically manufactured to be an Xtracycle, whereas the Townie (or almost any other bike) has to be converted from a regular bike to an Xtracycle.  I loved riding this bike.  Body position while riding is more like a regular bike — in between totally bent over and fully upright.  The Radish has an 8-speed derailleur, which shifts by simply twisting the right handlebar.  It shifted smoothly, without clicking in and out of place while riding.

The Radish does have a few disadvantages.  First, it doesn’t have a step-through.  You have to be able to swing your leg over, which might be a problem if someone is sitting right behind you.  Also, it doesn’t have the flat-foot technology of the Townies.  On a Townie, you can actually put both feet down while stopped, and keep the bike upright rather than leaning over to put a foot down.  On the Radish, I did have to lean over to put a foot down flat, or else balance on my toes.  Finally, the Radish has different tires — they’re made with sharp edges, which can catch while turning (and, according to Dean, are more prone to flats).

As far as price goes, the Radish and the converted Townie 8i setup are pretty comparable.  Using the Townie 7D (or some other bike entirely) would bring the price down.  I did ask at the Bike Gallery what they would recommend for an Xtracycle conversion, but they were fairly vague about it.  The salesperson said that they stock the 700cc conversion kit, rather than the 26″, so it sounds like that’s the type of bike they work with more often.

As far as customer service goes, Clever Cycles rocks.  The Bike Gallery salespeople were helpful and attentive, but Dean at Clever Cycles really knows Xtracycles; after all, he rides one himself!  And Clever Cycles is getting some Townie 7D’s in, if that’s what I choose, so I’ll definitely be heading there to buy.

But before that…decisions, decisions.