Learning the virtues of a solid, well-designed utility bike
With a constantly expanding stable of aging bikes, I’ve never completely taken seriously the idea of a dedicated city bike.
Why would I spend extra money on a bike for running around town when that old Schwinn Homegrown with V-brakes or the dented Bridgestone RB-1 road bike would get me there? Sure, the first-gen Rockshox on the Schwinn is saggier than an octogenarian in Lycra and the sticky, down-tube shifters on the Bridgestone are about as convenient as the manual-roll windows on my beater 1998 VW, but could the added utility and performance of a dedicated commuter really be worth the money?
Having ridden the new Marin Fairfax for the past six months, I have to admit—grudgingly—the answer is yes.
On the principle of not taking on yet another bike, I didn’t want to like the Fairfax from the day it arrived. Yet the smart spec and, shallow as it may sound, the sophisticated black-on-black aesthetics drew me in from the start. The bike runs on a Gates Belt Drive, too, an efficient replacement for a chain that I’d love to see on more bikes, and in this iteration it is powering an 11-speed Shimano Alfine internal gear hub. Both of these devices partly account for the Fairfax’s somewhat expensive price tag, but the quiet, grease-free configuration is worth the extra few hundred dollars and will likely pay for itself in ease of use and lack of need for maintenance.
I’ve tried (and liked) other belt-drive commuters over the years, but what sets the Fairfax apart is all of the attention that’s been given to making riding easy. The aluminum frame is nice and compact, with excellent stand-over for quick on and off, and the bump-silencing carbon fork and internal cable routings—features normally reserved for expensive super bikes—keep the ride clean and comfortable. The ride is snappy enough that I have never had any issues keeping up with traffic (or even with friendly group rides on the few occasions I’ve gone straight from work to exercise without a bike change). Handling is chipper and quick but not at all nervous, which makes threading narrow parking slots and jams at stoplights a breeze.
The details are as carefully considered as the broad strokes. Not only are there eyelets and mounts for a rack and fenders, good high-quality models are included. The saddle and grips, two of the most important contact points, are excellent and comfy models from Ergon. The 32cm Continental Sport contact tires find the perfect blend between big enough for comfort and killer grip but still light and smooth enough for speed. And, my favorite bit, the high power Super Nova 3 lighting system is hooked up to a Dynamo Hub, which generates power as you pedal, so that you’re never stuck out after dark without both front and rear lights.
Out of the box, this is one of the cleanest, best functioning, and seductive utility bikes I’ve come across. At $2,400, it’s on the premium side, though if you’ll be commuting on your bicycle regularly, the savings over gasoline combined with the added comfort and convenience mean the Fairfax will pay for itself in no time. That old beater in the garage might be cheaper—but if you plan to keep on riding it, don’t ever try the Fairfax. As soon as I threw a leg over this one, I knew I had to upgrade.