It’s okay to call them foul-weather friends; we’re not offended. Joe Bike has built one of the world’s deepest selections of ultra-low-maintenance, high-performance city bikes equipped with the trifecta of year-round urban cycling: Gates Carbon belt drive, internally geared hubs, and disc brakes. These bikes all have a set of common attributes: their drivetrains and braking systems are weatherproof, extremely reliable, clean, and nearly maintenance-free; all accept fenders as well as both front and rear racks; and all can be equipped with a front dyno hub to power both front and rear lights.
The practical-cycling movement in the US seems to have taken its first cues, and its first models, from Holland, where the earth is still flat and where heavy bikes don’t feel heavy once you’re rolling. Where steel chaincases very sensibly protect your chain from the rain but make repairing a flat tire a greasy, sharp nightmare. Where sitting bolt-upright as if at your grandma’s dinner table is the only choice you have.
We love the Dutch and their influence on the transportation-cycling revolution that’s under way in North America, but Joe Bike is in Portland, not Amsterdam, and our idea of practical cycling runs fairly counter to Dutch (or, more accurately, Dutch-style) bikes and their misplaced advantages in favor of what actually works well in Portland.
For example, “practical” in Portland means the ability to climb a hill even with a full load of groceries without being deprived the use of most of your body’s muscles, and without a $2500, 20 lb., self-necessitating motor and battery. It means you don’t need to oil your chain or to mess with a cumbersome chaincase because you’ve got maintenance-free, grease-free Gates carbon belt drive. The belt never rusts or stretches and lasts several times longer than a chain (and is now more efficient than a chain, too). It means your bike is both very strong and surprisingly light, and has a wide gear range to get yourself going and powerful, weatherproof brakes to get yourself ungoing. It means your rear rack weighs half as much as most others, yet carries twice the weight. It means if your body feels stronger and more comfortable when you’re leaning into the bike rather than imagining your back between (as your yoga teacher might say) two panes of glass, that’s because it is. You’ll ride more easily and more efficiently, maintain better control, do more on a bike, and have a lot more fun doing it.
With these ideas in mind, we’ve put together what we think is the best lineup of practical city bikes for the Pacific Northwest, whether you’re a beginner, a seasoned commuter, or somewhere in between.
- Spot Bikes Acme and Ajax: These are the ultimate in hassle-free, maintenance-free, high-performance commuters. Aluminum frame, carbon fork, Alfine 11-speed (or Rohloff) with Gates CenterTrack Carbon Drive, and hydraulic disc brakes. Ajax has the same frame and fork but uses the Alfine 8-speed hub and has mechanical disc brakes. There’s even a stepthrough version of the Acme for people under about 5’5″.
- Surly Disc Trucker: The venerable Long Haul Trucker now has a disc-brake version. It’s a long-distance tourer that makes an extraordinarily nice commuting and city bike.
- Norco Indie IGH: A no-nonsense, flat-handlebar urban machine that doesn’t seem all that special until you look closely. That’s when you’ll notice it has an Alfine 8-speed internally geared up, hydraulic disc brakes, a light and stiff aluminum frame, and full rack and fender friendliness, at an excellent price ($1165) for what you get. Doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
- Norco Indie Drop: Not to be confused with the Indie IGH, the Drop is a full cromoly, drop-bar urban road bike with disc brakes. Responsive, fast, and uncannily smooth.
- Norco Indie Drop Alfine Di2: A unique integration of two of the bike industry’s most advanced components: Di2 electronic shifting and the Alfine 11 internally geared hub. Based on the same cromoly frame as the Indie Drop. Like the Disc Trucker, this is a favorite among our staff.
- Spot Bikes Sprawl, handmade in Colorado: one of the most gorgeous city bikes out there. The frames are made to order, so they’re purchased by special order.
- Spot Bikes Dualie: Steel, belt drive, two-speed kickback hub, track geometry. (Can’t accept full fenders or a rack, though!)
- Soma Buena Vista: among the most graceful steel frames made today. We custom build these to suit you.
- Soma Stanyan: a sporty urban road bike that makes you say, “I didn’t know they still made bikes that beautiful.”
- Soma Double Cross:
- Surly Troll
For light to moderate urban riding (let’s say for rides of 5 miles or less), we recommend these:
- Civia Twin City 7-speed
- Civia Linden: When Civia discontinued the Linden complete bike in 2012, we snapped all the framesets we could get, and now offer them as custom builds that dress up well. Ideal for light to moderate everyday urban riding in style.
- Norco City Glide: For casual riding in style, this is a gem: lightweight, comfortable, beautiful in the stepover version or the graceful mixte stepthrough.
Norco, of Vancouver BC, is Canada’s oldest and most highly regarded bike manufacturer. They’re known mostly up north and in Europe, and Joe Bike is one of a relatively small number of US Norco dealers. Spot Brand Bicycles, closely associated with Gates, is based in Golden, Colorado, and specializes in high-performance Gates-equipped commuter and mountain bikes. Civia Cycles, based in Minneapolis, designs high-quality utilitarian models such as the Halsted cycletruck, the Twin City, and the Loring.
Note: If we don’t carry what you’re looking for, we can still special order any bike available from Norco, Spot, or any of our other brands, plus Speedhound, Van Dessel, and others. In most cases, you get free shipping (to our store) and free assembly, while paying zero tax. Exceptions may apply.
Everybody at Joe Bike loves bike touring. It’s our favorite mode of distance travel. Some of us have done six-month bike tours of Europe on the Yuba Mundo and Surly Big Dummy, bike-camped up and down the coast of Portugal, circled Oregon for 900 miles on their honeymoon, or crossed the US as teenagers….with their dads.
A few of our favorite touring bikes include the Tout Terrain Silk Road, the Soma Saga for loaded touring, Soma Buena Vista and Norco Indie Drop for lighter touring, and the Surly Troll for touring off road as well as on.
But the Surly Disc Trucker, the disc-brake version of the famous Long Haul Trucker, is our number-one choice for loaded touring.
A few touring and randonneruing links
3. Offroad: cyclocross and mountain
With a quick change of tires, a pair of fenders, a rack, and other accoutrements of the urban cyclist, cyclocross bikes make excellent fast-but-strong all-around city bikes for long and short commutes, as well as for longer weekend rides both on and off the road. They’re even better suited for daily life now that more of them are coming out with disc brakes.
- Spot Mod single-speed belt drive: True Temper OX Platinum steel, the tubing of choice for premium cyclocross bikes. Frame and Gates Carbon Drive components made in Colorado. Carbon fork. Oh, and by the way, this can be built up as chain drive or belt drive, geared or single speed. Shown above.
If we don’t carry what you’re looking for, we can still special order any bike available from Norco, Spot, or any of our other brands, plus Speedhound, Van Dessel, and others. In most cases, you get free shipping (from the manufacturer to our store, that is) and free assembly, while paying zero tax.