Urbana Bikes: Serious Fun

Many people wonder why racing cyclists train on ludicrously expensive bikes and wheels. Theoretically, a racing cyclist must work harder riding a heavy clunker, getting more benefit from this harder workout. The secret lies in the psychology of motivation: it’s simple stupid fun to go fast and to push yourself to new personal bests. I’m much more likely to spend four hours in the saddle if the bike feels like a racing machine.

Many utility bikes get the job done getting you from point A to B, but the fun of the ride is perhaps less visceral and more subtly sublime. I’ve reviewed a couple of bikes here where I recommend no more than a couple of miles of riding at a time because the ride feels more like work than fun. It’s one reason we generally recommend against buying a bike from the discount retail mart — rickety bikes don’t feel fun to ride.

When I received a bike from Urbana Bikes the other week, I looked at the heavy U frame, 8 speed hub, fenders, rack, balloon tires and 40 pound weight and thought, “Utility bike. Very practical and serious, but not a fun bike.”

Boy, was I wrong. In my First Look at this bike, I kind of mocked the “laterally stiff” frame, but it’s true — this bike feels efficient. My pedaling motion translates to wheel motion without a wobbly, rattling frame to suck my energy away. And pedaling efficiency translates into hilarious fun.

How fun is the Urbana? I unboxed this bike, assembled it, and took it for a quick check ride. That quick check ride turned into a two hour trip down to Santa Cruz. This is so vaingloriously cliche I almost hate to mention it, but I cycled alongside a skinny, kitted out road cyclist with muscular thighs, admired her Cervelo RS while answering her questions about the Urbana before I passed her on an uphill grade and left her in the dust. With my 40 pound bike. (Disclosure: A full peloton of road cyclists later passed me on that same hill like I was standing still. Ah well.)

Combining the low rolling resistance tires with the stiff frame and responsive steering results in an exhilarating road ride in the Santa Cruz mountains. The bike is too heavy to be a true hill climber, but after I discovered the ultra wide tires won’t fit in Santa Cruz bus bike racks, I had to ride five miles uphill from sea level to an elevation of over 500 feet. My 30 minute trip didn’t approach any personal records, but this bike’s efficiency and stiffness really impressed me.

The serious, practical side of Urbana Bikes is evident with the multiple gearing options (singlespeed, 3 or 8 speed hub, or derailleur gearing), an amazing rack with a zillion mounting options (I’ll talk about this later), big fenders, a kickstand option, and a sturdy frame and wheels for handling the worst that declining street budgets can throw at you. This sturdiness, incidentally, transforms into fun on the mountain bike trail as well :-). In this below video, I’m going so slowly because I had the wrong tires for the trail conditions (slick tires on damp trail). I don’t recommend hard core gravity riding on this bike, and the high rise handlebars means enough leverage to move the handlebars on higher jumps (yes, I have empirical evidence for that ), but I’m confident the handling is sufficient for cross country trail fun.

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Urbana designed a bike to combine the practicality of Amsterdam city bikes with the fun of mountain trail riding. I think they succeed with this design that can move you from city and suburban streets to the back roads and mountain trails for weekend fun.

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