Monday, May 21, 2012

Funky fun - the Electra Townie 8i

A bike I ride fairly frequently, particularly when I visit home (i.e. the faraway land of north Texas) is the Electra Townie 8i, a bike that belonged to me for about 6 months until it swept my mom off her feet with it's beguiling lines, upright positioning, and internally geared hub.  The version of the bike I've consistently ridden is a 2010, in a beautiful muted gold shade.  Unfortunately, the bike lives in Dallas, and as such is unavailable for more detailed photographs.  EDIT: I finally went home to Dallas and took pictures of this bike!  They can be found here:

Hangin' out with the TARDIS
This bike comes standard with a hockey stick style pants guard, full fenders, and a kickstand - if you'd like to add a basket, bell, or rack, those are aftermarket accessories (Electra does also make the Amsterdam model, featuring these accessories stock, which I would love to someday extensively ride).  The geometry is insanely laid back and features Electra's Flat Foot Technology, which basically means they took standard comfy-hybrid positioning and rotated the whole thing backwards so when you ride the bike, your feet are well forward and your posture is bolt-upright.  If you're an American who is used to leaning forward a bit, the sensation of pushing down on the pedal and moving forward sitting up straight is actually pretty disconcerting.  But with a lap around the block, this becomes something like riding a couch with wheels.  Oddly, when the saddle is in the proper position so you get good leg extension, I had a few issues putting my foot down totally flat, but that being said it's remarkably easier to get a foot down than on with more standard bike positioning.  

Electra Townies are a one-size fits all bike, and as such, comes with an adjustable stem and a huge range of acceptable saddle heights.  I successfully rode this bike, as did friends of mine as tall as 6'1".  My mom falls somewhere in the middle of the height range at 5'4" and she finds it to be very friendly.  

One of the things that seems to consistently baffle new riders, in my experience, is the concept of shifting. Strangely, this even seems to extend to people who drive stick manual transmission cars who grasp shifting in other contexts, but can't generalize that experience over to bikes.  The "i" in "8i" stands for integrated - this bike features a Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub, the same found in many more expensive European city bikes.  My mom in particular had difficulty understanding what gear she needed and remembering to downshift before coming to a stop, which resulted in a lot of gears grinding and difficult starts.  With new riders in particular, my goal is for things to be fun and for an older rider like my mom, I felt no need to complicate things and the integrated hub allows her to shift while holding still, a huge benefit to this bike.  This hub is also astonishingly maintenance-free, and holds up pretty nicely in it's storage place in the shed - no derailleur to bang against a door or shelf.  

The frame is aluminum, which is not typically my favorite frame material, but any vibration issues are soaked up by the big, happy tires and the suspension fork in the front.  While adding a suspension does up the weight a tad, the Townie is overall shockingly light, especially when you consider the magnitude of the wheel base - and believe me, getting this bike around in a tight space is like parallel parking a limousine in an alley.  The geometry also makes the step through version of this bike a royal pain to get on a bike rack without some accessories from whoever makes your bike rack.

Where the Townies really snag me (and a lot of people) is their looks - Electra seems to be one of the few companies based in the United States who gets design.  They don't plaster their name all over their bikes, in fact, the labeling is minimal at most.  But the beautiful pearlescent paint options available and swan-like curves of the frame are unmistakable, even from a distance.  

This is a bike you ride in your Sunday best, and it never fails to get a comment.  For short (10 miles or less), relatively flat commutes (no GIGANTIC hills), this would be a perfectly practical bike.  I wouldn't want to ride it for 25 miles at a go, but that's not what this bike is for.  This is purely for fun, and that's the beauty of it!

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