The Best New City Bikes

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Cycling Special, March 1997

The Best New City Bikes
By Alan Coté

You could use your mountain bike to ride to work, but then why take a local bus when you can hop the express? Frankly, a fat-tire machine just isn't designed, in either geometry or componentry, for comfortable riding on city streets. A true city bike is lighter, has upright geometry to give you a better vantage in traffic, and features mounts for racks and fenders to help you haul your wares and avoid the urban detritus. Not to say that everyone needs a city bike--obviously a steed made for the trail will do fine for short jaunts on pavement. But if you've come to realize that you spend more time on the streets than on dirt, you should consider buying a bike designed specifically for the task. Herewith, four of today's best.

Specialized Crossroads Ultra, $379
Rare is the under-$400 bike that warrants much praise, but the Crossroads Ultra is a far cry from anything else in its price range. Where one would typically expect heavy high-tensile steel and clunky parts, Specialized offers a chrome-moly frame and spruces it up with lightweight aluminum alloy rims, handlebars, and stem. At 27 pounds, the Crossroads is a few pounds lighter than a similarly priced mountain bike, making for a surprisingly lively ride that responds to your every command. And with wideish hybrid tires and an enormous spring saddle, the Crossroads provides enough cush to smooth out all but the longest of commutes.

Marin San Anselmo, $599

No halfhearted attempts at providing dual-functionality here: Marin designed the San Anselmo strictly for use on the blacktop. Essential elements of urban transportation such as a chainguard, fenders, and rear rack, all of which would otherwise be upgrades, come stock on this aluminum-frame commuter. Instead of using quick-release skewers, you'll need a wrench to loosen the bolt-on hubs and seat-post clamp, making wheel and seat removal a hassle, to be sure--but enough of a deterrent to foil most thieves. Finally, perhaps the friendliest feature of the San Anselmo is its internally geared Shimano Nexus seven-speed rear hub, which means no derailleurs and thus very little maintenance.

KHS Fleetwood, $799

Like the cruisers that inspired its design, the Fleetwood is a retro-lover's dream, with a curvy frame, two-tone paint job, and stretched-leather saddle. Yet it's fashioned with modern updates--aluminum tubing, pedals that are clipless on one side and street-shoe friendly on the other, and Shimano's internal seven-speed hub--that make it as pleasurable to ride as it is to behold. Of course, with fat tires that are sluggish on pavement and a rather stern-feeling seat, it seems more suited for spins to the coffee shop than for everyday commuting. But in the former capacity the Fleetwood has few peers: It's a functional celebration of the bicycle's halcyon days.

Cannondale Silk Path 700, $1,029
With suspension both fore and aft, the Silk Path provides a fluid ride on all but the worst stretches of pavement. Cannondale uses a shock-absorbing seatpost to provide give in the rear, and its proprietary HeadShox to soak up bumps in front. This one inch of front suspension can be locked out if you wish not to use it, but considering the unyielding aluminum frame, you probably won't want to ride without it. Indeed, with the suspension activated, the Silk Path is so forgiving that it simply plows through missing chunks of asphalt and flies over tall curbs. And changing gears is equally smooth, thanks to quick-action Sachs Powergrip twist shifters and a Shimano STX-RC rear derailleur.

A   T o o l   o f   M a n y   T a l e n t s

Whether you ride tarmac or trail, there's really no reason to lug along your entire tool chest. Not when one compact, lightweight multitool, along with a pump and spare inner tube, will get you out of almost any jam. Presenting our favorite, the 2.8-ounce Blackburn Mtn Tool ($30), in all its utilitarian glory.

  • The handle holds eight-, nine-, and ten-millimeter box wrenches to adjust brakes on older bikes; its tip is a flathead screwdriver, while the other end (obscured) contains three spoke keys to true rims of any vintage.
  • Twin tire levers separate rubber from rim.
  • The rather uncommon three-millimeter Allen tool can be used to adjust your clipless pedals.
  • The MtnTool's chassis does more than just house its implements. It's actually a chain tool, allowing you to remove damaged links and then reattach the dangling ends.
  • Finally, the T-handled wrench has four-, five-, and six-millimeter Allen heads to secure seatposts and adjust threadless headsets. It also can be used to turn the pin on the chain tool.

--Eric Hagerman

Photographs by Clay Ellis

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