Today was bikeariffic! I had the chance to test ride the Kona Africabike 3 at Ozone Bikes. I went in for a set of handlebars, and while I was there couldn't help but test ride the Africabike. This bike interests me for a couple reasons - it's an upright aluminum framed bike with an integrated rack welded right to the frame. It comes standard with a chainguard, fenders, a bell, and a handlebar basket.
The Africabike is equipped with a three-speed Shimano Nexus internally geared rear hub, which as internally geared hubs go, is one of the best systems in the world. All these features, and this bike rolls in at under $500. As a a budget-conscious, fully loaded commuter readily available through American bike shops goes, that's one hell of a deal and pretty hard to beat.
As much of a bike commuter as I am, I was caught majorly off guard by this bike's braking - namely, this bike has a rear coaster brake and a hand brake in the front. I've never actually ridden a bike with coaster brakes before and as I was working it out in the parking lot I almost collided with a guy on a fixie hauling ass off Guadalupe into the parking lot, so I really got that new-cyclist feeling again! The first time I kicked back with too much vigor and almost went completely over the handlebars. With time and laps around the parking lot, I learned to modulate my braking with the coaster, but didn't quite get the hang of stopping with the pedals in the correct position to start.
The ride quality of this bike was amazingly smooth for an aluminum bike, though I'd attribute that to the awesomely fat 26x1.9 inch tires. I'm not used to sitting up so much on a bike, but this one gave me the same sensation as the Electra Townie in that I immediately felt like I could have carried on a phone call, eaten lunch, and if I were so inclined, smoked a cigarette while riding.
The rack is an interesting feature of this bike, as it is a welded, integrated part of the frame. I've been unable to find a stated weight limit, but the rack is made of very stout tubing and could probably carry a person. Interestingly, it also has four braze-ons welded to the top of the rack, but I'm not sure what you could secure to those bolts. This rack may not work with some pannier systems, as the tubing really is pretty big, so in order to use panniers you'll need to consider the magnitude of the rack tubing as it effects the attachment. The bike is also equipped with a rear wheel lock, ideal for quick stops in safe areas.
The basket is fairly small and could hold a purse, a chihuahua, or a few this-and-thats very nicely, but not much more than that.
The bike has an partial chain cover - wear what you want, no snagged pants or greasy right calves!
The long and short of this bike is that it is an impressive deal in terms of utility, value, toughness, and ride quality. If you're looking for a classic bike, a steel bike, a lugged bike, or anything that's going to illici coos of amazement from fellow bike dorks, this may not be the bike for you. Additionally, if you live in a seriously hilly area, the upright positioning and three-speed gearing range may hamstring you, but then again, tell that to the citizens of cities like Tokyo.
In short - I like this bike. While I'm new to the universe of upright bikes, it strikes me as having most of the bells and whistles at what is quite frankly an astonishing price point. Many thanks to the guys at Ozone for the test ride, and to see it in person, they'll have it available at just about any Kona dealer.