A Preamble, and Some Context
OK, first. I’m a commuter. I decided after a rough break-up that I wanted to get back into shape, and I decided to break out the old mountain bike from college and start biking more. Of course, years of disuse after years of abuse had left me a rust bucket with a bent rim. I set it out for the neighborhood kids to make off with and bought a hybrid. A cheap one, really. At the time, though, it was the most expensive bike I’d ever bought. And, it changed how I viewed biking. It rolled! I could make decent time and not feel exhausted! It turns out, I think fenders are sexy! No really! And, other than some laps around the adjoining neighborhood, it got used as a vehicle. It was a way of getting from A to B without a car. Work, groceries, my buddy’s place. That’s what i wanted out of a bike. No recreation, but transportation.
I’m not a weekend warrior. I don’t want to kick out Saturday morning and spend 50 miles grinding up hills. I’m not keen on the idea of doing a century. I’d probably have fun doing it, but it’d eat a day. And that doesn’t jive with my preferred use of time. I have too many hobbies to kill my free days going forwards in one direction. I’m also not a mountain biker, or a downhill guy. If I try to imagine myself barreling down a dried-out creek bed, I giggle. BMXs are only valid bikes near a half pipe. Otherwise, they’re clown-cars for guys with nicer boxers than jeans. Touring is a maybe. I might some day get into touring. Biking around the country and drinking coffee at strange cafes pleases my inner romantic. But mostly, what I am is a guy who sees a bike as a substitute for my car, but with free exercise. This is important, because one’s reasons for selecting a bike are pretty much born out of how they’re going to use it. The bike I ended up with is probably not even remotely a reasonable choice for most bikers. So, i wanted to establish why I went with this bike in the first place, so we can get down to the brass tacks of reviewing it properly.
I didn’t need a light bike. The Felt isn’t. I needed a bike lighter than my last one, and the Felt is. I needed fenders and racks. I know you can buy those aftermarket and put them on. I have. I wanted ones intended to be there. Purpose-built racks and fenders always look better than bolt-ons. I didn’t need shocks. I bought the sauce. Shocks eat efficiency if you’e just sticking to paved roads. I am. I could go either way on steel or aluminum. I wanted something with a more road/aero profile, and less of an upright/cruiser profile. I wanted good brakes. Good rbakes are comforting when you’re getting passed by cars who love running lights. I needed gears. Internal gear hubs are awesome, and I love the very idea of them. But, if you’ve ever biked home with two glass growlers of beer for ten miles, you might think having a few more gears choices is a splendid idea. I have, and I do. I wanted 700c wheels, and rapid fire shifters. Those were my metrics. I wanted to keep it under a grand. I got a Felt Verza City 2. And that leads us to the review. The next page of this post is the review of the bike itself. The third is my thoughts on using it in the wild, and on commuting in this city in general. Those two thoughts are two intertwined to split into separate sections. So it goes. And here we go.
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So, some of you may remember last year I had an experiment in commuting by bike instead of car. I live, of course, in Indianapolis, which isn’t exactly the most bike friendly city in the world, but where most of my car usage was weighing in at around 2-12 miles in any direction. I’d biked to college for the first three years (the fourth year saw me hauling too many portfolio pieces and canvases for the bike to be practical at all), and I found myself thinking about taking that back up. With the advice of my manager, a bike commuter himself, I looked into a more modern, and task-appropriate, hybrid bike instead of the mountain bikes I’d grown up with, and I set to it. I got what was for me the most expensive bike I’d ever bought, but which I learned along the way was actually a rolling conglomeration of low-end parts and cut-rate bearings that were formed together in the shape of a bike. But, this was a big commitment, and a proper bike-as-a-vehicle investment would only make sense if I stuck with things, so, I decided to start with something low-end to see if I would keep at it before making such a large investment in a whim.
The Not-Schwinn Trailway, Affectionately Dubbed "Your Mom"
What I learned is, in fair weather I loved it. It only took about ten more minutes for me to bike to the office instead of drive, thanks to the nature of traffic on the way in. Local errands were sometimes a bit slower, but came with the benefit of being able to skip the treadmill at the gym. And I decided that this year I’d put the deniro into a proper bike-as-a-vehicle ride. And some rain and snow gear, so that when I woke up and it was wet and cold I wouldn’t just throw in the towel and pick up the car keys. I was going to take this seriously, darn it.
And so, in the next few weeks I’m going to finish putting together my new bike v1.0, Bikesworth “Townie” Townsington. Or, as his friends call him, “The Town.”
I say version 1 because down the road I’m going to swap out some stuff based on experience on the bike, and a desperate need to save some money back up after dropping the scratch for the bike itself.
So. The bike. I knew I wanted a 700c hybrid commuter. I’m still not a fan of those hipster fixies that are scooting around everywhere. It’s mostly an aesthetic thing. They’re just not my style. And mountain bikes just flat out suck for commuting. My mountain bike in college was a labor a chore. Even my cheap-o not-Schwinn 700c made getting out on the road so much easier and enjoyable. So a 700c hybrid (half road, half mountain) was my meal ticket. I knew that if I could find steel that’d be nice, because it absorbs bumps better, but that’s a pretty niche market reserved mostly for fixies, so it wasn’t a high priority. Racks and fenders were. I’d added them to the cheapie, and they worked OK, but gave it a bit of Franken-bike aesthetic. I wanted something a bit more “designed,” and to not have to add the cost of those items to my odds-and-ends shopping list. I also considered disc brakes a plus, but not a deal-breaker, and waffled a bit on internal gear hubs, but settled on the versatility and cost-savings of a traditional cassette instead.
In the end, I ordered a Felt Verza City 2. It was well-specced: good, solid mid-end components with no fluff that I wasn’t going to need for commuting. It was beautiful, with a very European flare missing from most American hybrids. And, it was at the high end of my budget, but not unreasonable. For something I was going to try and use as my primary vehicle and work-horse, it was the right mix of everything.
As with all things, I strive to strike a balance between function and appearance. Despite being the sort of dude who asked people to get naked and wear a giant plaster chicken skull mask, I do like a bit of elegance to my stuff. So long as it doesn’t impede functionality, anyway. If it’s elegant exactly because it’s functional, so much the better. So, I set out to update all the essentials (which I had also stuck to cheap on): front light, rear blinky, bottle cage, saddle bag, bell, and panniers. OK, so, the bell isn’t quite an essential, but it’s technically in Indiana law any bike on the road has to have one, so, in the spirit of this being a vehicle and not a toy, a bell it was. And I lucked out when Megan found men apprently-rare Dimension coffee cup bell without the tacky “COFFEE” screen-printed on it. A Niterider Minewt 350 cordless (on amazing sale at my local shop at the time) won out as the affordable choice for biking on unlit city streets (although if I ever move the country the 600 might see some of my love), and Planet Bike’s super-shiny clear half-watt blinky was the pick for the rear illumination. Top pick for the bottle cage was Velo-Orange’s elegant Moderniste, but since stock on it is harder to find than a Republican who doesn’t hate women, I settled for the very-knockoff Delta Inox one. I needed a new saddle-mounted bag to hold the emergency kit (tools, spare tire, tire levers, gauge), and for the time being I’ll have to settle for the rather-affordable retro-styled Electra Cylinder. My old cheap Schwinn frame pump isn’t the fanciest ever, put it shoves air if I get a flat, so it got to move on to the new ride, and for the time being my giganormous Mwave Day Tripper panniers get to move over as well.
And, while Indianapolis is no New York City (or San Fran, or Portland, or even Ball State University’s campus), I do believe in practicing good security methods with my stuff, so, I’ve invested in some new locks and tools for the first time since I was in high school. Not trusting cables, and finding u-locks too limited in flexibility, I’ve always rather been a chain guy. To that end, Kryptonite’s New York Noose is the right compromise between size and weight and flexibility, and is also reputedly one of the hardest lock solutions to crack on the market. In an easy-theft city like Indy, that’ll be more than adequate. Combined with a beater u-lock and replacing all my quick releases with OnGuard’s locking spindle system to prevent disappearing seats and wheels, and this ought to be a good start for there being a way home for me left at the end of the day.
So, the future. It’s only version 1.0, right? Right. I’ve got plans to make this the sweetest little townie bike in this damn city. Depending on how I find the ride with the current flat bars, I’ll either just add some Origin8 drop-ends and bar-ends near the clamp for extra hand-holds, or maybe replace the whole bar with a Soma Sparrow for a more touring-style bar that’ll let me keep my MTB shifters and brake levers.
The saddle bag I want to be an actual leather one, of the type that the Electra is imitating. Call me old-fashioned. Zimbale makes a really nice looking one with some size to it, so, that’s on the list. And, while the Mwave panniers get the job done, they take up a lot of space when they aren’t in use, and they’re not often just left on the bike as a result. The obvious solution is a good pair of waxed canvas ones that I can roll up, and Laplander makes just such a thing that also comes with a cinch-string nylon lining, unlike the Brooks. The problem is, being hand-made by a small family business, they don’t run cheap. But they oughtta last forever, for sure.
And, what else? A Brooks saddle? Maybe. A pair of amber spoke lights from ThinkGeek? Almost certainly. And from there… we’ll see. Like anything, my desires and projections might change with use and need. But, either way, it oughtta be one hella fun ride on The Town.