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Test Ride: the Bobbin Shopper

Test Ride: the Bobbin Shopper

Yesterday I was lucky to be able to try the new Bobbin Shopper, thanks to my favorite LBS RedBike. I rode it around for about 20 minutes in the neighborhood around the U of A, and stopped on the path on Saskatchewan Drive for some quick iPhonography. You should also check out the more detailed review by Lovely Bicycle! – but I thought I’d share my observations.

Bobbin Bicycles' Shopper
Bobbin Bicycles’ Shopper

It’s fun to ride! A comparison with a Raleigh Twenty is inescapable, because its’ design is so similar. Like an R20, it feels like riding a full-size 3-speed, but the smaller wheels make the steering a bit more responsive and the whole bike more maneuverable. Unlike an R20, it has a front caliper brake and a 3-speed coaster brake. The small wheels do mean you can feel every bump – not so good on a pothole-ridden stretch of construction-abused 110th Street, but perfectly fine for most sidewalks.

It is adorable, too. I had three different people I passed during my ride give me big smiles and say “nice bike!” – including an elderly woman who had looked apprehensive when she saw me coming up the sidewalk, before I hopped off the bike, pulled onto the grass, and gave her a friendly smile. Mary Poppins Effect in full effect!

A nice big front basket, front caliper brakes, and Sturmey-Archer 3-speed.
A unicrown fork, 20 x 1.75 whitewall tires, a sturdy little kickstand, and fenders. I love the British racing green paint, but it also comes in burnt orange and robins’ egg blue.
A short rack marked “max 25 kg” with a Pletscher-style clamp. This would work well for panniers, a small crate, or those pretty Po Campo bags.

I’m strongly considering this bike as a fun-but-practical summertime ride that could become my winter bike with the addition of studded tires (Update: I’d have to DIY these with EBC’s help, because I just looked it up and the Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires are 20 x 1.6 not 20 x 1.75, darnit!). In my neighborhood, the MUPs and sidewalks are (mostly) cleared, but only the major roads get plowed, so a bike designed for sidewalks is preferable for winter use. Yes, I could pick up a Raleigh Twenty for cheaper, but by the time I upgraded the wheels and brakes to improve the braking and make it winter-worthy, I’m not sure I’d be saving any money. Yes, a Twenty’s frame might be a higher-quality build, but it’s also a bit heavier. I’m also not sure I’d feel comfortable desecrating a pristine R20 with modern upgrades so that I could subject it to winter abuse.

(PS: What the heck has 20 x 1.6 tires? A Dahon folder? Who are Schwalbe making those studded tires for?)

(Update: Read the comments for tire info!)

(2014 Update: This year’s model┬áhas a very nice looking porteur rack in place of the front basket, so has upgraded cargo capacity, and teal or ivory paint. I am still strongly considering it, but haven’t pulled the trigger because I need to sell part of my stable of bikes first. I’m also tempted by the Tern Swoop and Dahon Vitesse folders, but haven’t yet found a local LBS where I can try them out.)


Test Rides!

Test Rides!

There are two little bike shops near my house that have been tempting me for months. I finally made time this weekend to test ride a couple of bikes. The first store is a classic LBS with a variety of bikes chained out front – road bikes, hybrids, city cruisers, kids bikes and more. The one that caught my eye, though, is the red Xtracycle. I’ve seen a few around the city and I know people who swear by them for transporting kids and cargo. I was especially curious to see how it compared to riding with a trail-a-bike.

I first tried it up and down the block on my own to see how it handled. My first impression – it’s solid. The trail-a-bike has a slight side-to-side wobble, no matter how much you tighten the screws. I’ve gotten used to it, but have to admit that the Xtracycle did feel more secure. However, it is long, so you still have to allow for a much wider turning radius. Still, it didn’t seem to take much to get get used to it, so I rode back to the shop and picked up my passenger.

Adding a passenger didn’t change the handling much, aside from the extra weight. It still felt solid and secure. The bike isn’t light, but it’s not as heavy as I expected. It’s heavier than Ye Olde Mountaine Byckke, but not by much, and it’s considerably lighter than the Byckke plus the trail-a-bike. I didn’t want to take it out too far, since it didn’t have the foot rest attached, and I was worried Spencer might kick the chain. Because of that, I really can’t call this a thorough review, but it did make a good first impression. I had no problem getting up the gentle hill back to the bike shop, but didn’t test out any serious hills. It’s hard to say whether I’d miss the extra push from the back seat or not, given the diffence in weight. However, it definitely has better “hop on and go” vs. a trail-a-bike, especially since I usually detach them and lock them together.

Spencer found the back seat comfortable. It’s well padded and cushioned the bumps in the road, not that I was deliberately aiming for them. At least not many.

When asked what it was like to ride, he said “Easy!”

Me: How did it feel?

Spencer: Good!

Me: Do you like this one better or the trail-a-bike?

Spencer: This one. I don’t have to pedal so my legs don’t get tired!

Hmph. And here I thought he might get bored without his own pedals. Active transport my @$%……

The next stop was two doors down at an electric assist bicycle shop. This shop, which opened about 6 months ago, carries the Ohm bike, made in Vancouver. After a little chitchat and signing a waiver, I was out the door on their city commuter bike, while the store employee rode the sport version beside me.

The commuter bike is a solidy built bike, that feels quite upright and cushioned. It’s heavy – about 53 lbs – and, with the low center of gravity from the battery, it feels very stable. It handled smoothly on turns, though I didn’t try any particularly aggressive moves. The electric assist controls were very intuitive and easy to use. I didn’t notice much with the two lowest settings – it just seems to take off a little bit of weight. Settings 3 and 4 are pretty cool, though. At first, I slowed down, expecting the motor to pick up the slack, but I quickly ground to a halt. The motor actually multiplies the effect from each pedal stroke, so the harder you push, the harder it goes. Once I started pedaling, I could really feel it pulling the bike forward. I still had to work to get up a steep hill, but not nearly as much – I was able to keep up a conversation and go much faster. The bike was very quiet and free of vibrations.

Although I’m not looking for an electric assist bike right now, I can see the appeal – it would makes Seattle hills much more manageable. If I had to tow kids daily or if I developed a health issue that made a regular bike too much effort, it would be a great option. Or, of course, if I ever move to Phinney Ridge. The downside is the price – at $2800 US, it’s a pretty expensive bike. I’ve never tried another electric assist bike, so I can’t say how it compares to others. It did rides well, though, and was a lot of fun.

This was my “test ride a different kind of bike than you normally ride” entry for the LGRAB Summer Games.