An article published by the Des Moines Register this weekend says that Iowa has slipped a few places in the “bike friendly states” ranking. Considering the vast amount of bikes seen daily, endless biking groups and events, and many bike shops, one can only wonder what the top bike states must be link.
Most bicyclers know that lights are one of the most important safety devices a bicycle can have. If a simple front white headlight and red tail light isn’t flashy enough for you, perhaps you might be interested in something more creative.
There are a number of companies producing LED wheel lights that are able to produce text and images as the wheel spins. These devices use an effect known as persistence of vision, allowing one row of lights to blink rapidly as the wheel spins and create patterns that our eyes see.
Some of these lights produce simple patterns, while others can display full color images, text or even motion video. They all rely on the wheel spinning fast enough to make the effect work (usually around 10-15 m.p.h.), but by adding more rows of LEDs, the effect can be seen at lower speeds.
Simple single-color versions can often be found for less than $10 (including shipping) on e-Bay, and fancier ones that allow loading custom color images are around $40. There are even some that can display animated video. Most are programmed by hooking up to a Windows computer via USB, but some use smartphone apps and Bluetooth.
Here is a chart listing about a dozen different models:
Before we continue with our series on the chainless bikes from Dynamic Bicycles (see part 1 and part 2), we thought it might be appropriate to share some photos of the Runabout 8 (both 18″ standard frame, and some of the 16″ Easy Step frame).
In part 1, we discussed ordering and assembling a Dynamic Bicycles chainless bike. This time, we share more information on the bikes and some initial impressions from our first rides.
Although the website lists three models, there appears to be four (or five?) distinct models of bikes offered by Dynamic Bicycles:
Runabout 8 – An 8-speed “comfort hybrid” available in a 16″ Easy Step model or an 18″ or 21″ normal frame, in standard or Premium configuration. ($979-$999 list price, on sale for $589-$699.)
Comfort 7 – A 7-speed “comfort cruising” bike with an 18″ unisex frame. ($999 list price, on sale for $699.)
Sussex 8 – An 8-speed “city bike” with a 16″ step-thru frame. ($899 list price, on sale for $629.)
Sidekick 8 – An 8-speed folding bike, available in normal model ($999 list price, on sale for $699) and Sidekick Elite ($1099 list price, on sale for $879) model with a different frame.
As you can see, pricing can vary depending on special sales. Over the past two years, we have never seen the bikes actually selling for the full list price. Instead, there has always been a discount offer such as percentage off, free shipping (normally $59), or half price accessories. At the time of this writing, bikes were 30% or 40% off (depending on model), and free shipping was available if you ordered two bikes (saving $118).
Choosing a Bike
We asked Dynamic Bicycles to recommend a bike after we described where and how we would be riding. They suggested the Runabout 8 model.
The Runabout 8 is available in normal and premium versions. According to the description, the premium version comes with a Shimano Nexus Premium 8-speed Gearing and Shaft Drive System rather than the normal Shimano Nexus. We weren’t sure if that would be worth an extra $110.
Since there was no explanation on the website, we wrote in to ask what made a premium model premium. One of the owners, Patrick Perugini, responded:
“The Premium hub is what makes it the Premium model.”
An accurate answer, but unhelpful. We requested an explanation that even a blogger could understand:
“The premium hub runs a bit more efficiently, and is about 1/2 lb lighter. It makes longer rides and hills a bit easier. If you live in a flatter area, you likely would never notice the difference.”
It was refreshing to hear such honesty about an upsell. We chose to go with the premium version since, in spite of Iowa’s reputation, there certainly are plenty of hills here.
After assembly (as detailed in the previous article), we were eager to take our first test ride. We took a short ride around a residential neighborhood (probably no more than a mile) and were amazed by how silent and easy the bikes shifted. With a traditional chain bike, shifting can only be done while the bike is in motion, and usually takes a moment for the gears to spin and the chain to jump to the next position. With the internal gear hub on these chainless bikes, you can shift to any gear even while the bike is standing still, and the shifting happens the moment the twist-grip shifter clicks in to place.
It was a strange feeling to click to a higher or lower gear and feel the resistance on the pedals instantly change. It is the bicycle equivalent to what power steering and brakes feels like in a car.
One of our riders was used to riding a 1998 21″ Trek 6000 mountain bike with 26″ wheels. He found that on the smaller 18″ Runabout frame, its larger 700×35 wheels and more vertical seating position made it feel like a larger bike. As expected, the thin street tires did provide a noticeably rougher ride over bumps than the mountain bike. Though both old bike and new provided front shocks, the Runabout added a seat post shock which the old Trek did not have. Without it, the Runabout might have even felt rougher. One other difference was going from speed shifters (operated by index finger and thumb) to twist shifters (operated by twisting). He much preferred a speed shifter over twist, and Dynamic (sometimes) does offer that as an optional upgrade.
Our other rider, who was used to a 2004 Trek 7300 hybrid bike (official Trek archives page) with 700x35c tires, did not think the Runabout ride was that much different. She was already used to having front shocks and seat post shock on her Trek and the same size street tires, as well as the twist shifter.
Both of our riders were used to having a much wider range of gearing, so a major concern was that going down to 8 speeds would be a problem. However, even with only 8 speeds versus 21, the range felt great. Dynamic Bicycles explains on their website that most 21 and 24 speed bikes have redundant coverage of the gears, so you never really get that many distinct speeds anyway:
Our chainless bicycles use the Shimano 8-speed internal gear hubs. So you get a surprisingly wide range of gearing, while eliminating the number one complaint people have always had about their bikes – the chains and derailleurs. In fact, the Shimano 8-speed hub has 80%-90% of the gear range of a traditional 21-speed or 24-speed chain bike.
In preparing for this review, we submitted information on the gearing of the 1998 Trek 6500 mountain bike, and Dynamic Bicycles sent us back a spreadsheet showing where the 8-speed fit in with the 21-speed.
They also have a downloadable Gear Ratio Chart you can use to compare with your existing bicycle.
As you can see, while a 21-speed bike may have two lower gears and one higher gear than the Runabout 8, the overall range was very similar. The 21-speed only had 18 distinct gears, and many were very close to each other. The 8-speed had more of a gap between each speed, allowing it to cover most of the same range with no redundancy. Also, our test riders generally stayed in the center gear (speeds 8-14) on their old bikes, and thus the range of the Runabout was actually greater than what they normally used.
Our conclusion is that for casual bikers who do not routinely use all 21 or 24 gears of their bike, the 8-speed of the Runabout is more than sufficient. In fact, we expect it would be sufficient for all but the most extreme shifters.
In the next installment, we will share a gallery of photos covering practically every inch of these bikes, and share some of the downsides of going chainless.
We now present the first in a series of articles reviewing the chainless bikes from Dynamic Bicycles. Before we get to discussing the actual bike, we want to cover the process of obtaining one.
Ordering and Shipping
Since Dynamic Bicycles are not available in stores, you are out of luck if you want to test ride one before buying. They do have a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If there is an issue they cannot resolve over the phone (1-800-935-9553), they offer a “courtesy return authorization.” The bike can be sent back for a refund (less a 10% handling/restocking charge). This takes some of the risk out of trying a “new” type of bike like this, sight-unseen.
Our order for two bikes was entered in to their system on a Tuesday, and the bikes were delivered the following Tuesday. They were shipped via UPS from the Dynamic Bicycles headquarters in Rhode Island to the Doing Des Moines offices here in Iowa. The website said to expect in-stock orders to ship within 1-2 days of order confirmation, and delivery times ranged between 2 to 6 days depending on destination. For the Midwest, our one-week wait from order to delivery was as expected.
Their order system did send an order confirmation e-mail, but it did not send (or we did not receive) a shipping notification with UPS tracking number. After several days of waiting for a shipping notification, we began to get impatient. Apparently Amazon.com had spoiled us. “How can an online business survive and take this long to ship a product?” we thought.
We sent in an e-mail asking when our bikes would ship but did not receive a response. Much to our relief, we found the bikes sitting on our doorstep a day or so after our impatient e-mail. Had we known when to expect delivery, we could have arranged to be in the office to receive them (or had UPS hold them for pickup at a nearby UPS Store).
The bike is delivered in one large shipping box. Unpacking the box revealed a variety of cardboard/paper wrapped items. There were four main components inside the box:
The main bike frame with rear wheel already attached.
The front wheel (strapped to the bike frame with zip ties).
Any accessories ordered (such as the rear carrier rack we ordered) would also be included. There was also a small box that contained instructions, a small squeeze bottle of oil, the pedals, and an Allen wrench tool.
The website claims assembly time is less than 20 minutes and has a page with step-by-step instructions with color photos. A black-and-white printed version of this guide and a thicker manual shipped with our bikes. None of the Doing Des Moines team had ever assembled a bike before, so we weren’t sure how long our “20 minutes” would actually take.
As it turns out, the most time consuming part of the process was probably removing all the cardboard and paper wrap from the bike parts. After snipping a few zip ties that held pieces together, and making a nice pile of trash after removing the protective coverings, we were ready to begin.
Assembly itself was quite easy. Basically, all we needed to do was:
Insert the handlebar and tighten using the included Allen wrench.
Attach the front wheel (making sure the tire pattern direction is the same as the rear wheel). The front wheel uses a quick release lever so it can be attached without any tools.
Insert seat post and lock in to place using the quick release lever.
Connect the front brake cable. It came fully wired up, but was disconnected to give room to insert the front wheel.
Screw on both pedals. This required a 15mm wrench (not included). The pedals are marked “L” for left, and “R” for right, as each one screws in a different direction based on how that side of the pedals turn.
Apply grease to shaft drive. This involved removing a small bolt using the included Allen wrench, then squeezing the entire contents of the small bottle of grease that was provided.
Check tire pressure and inflate is necessary.
A note about the front wheel: You do have to insert the axle/skewer in to the wheel yourself. It is found in the small box, and involves removing an endcap nut and a spring from one end, then sliding the axle through the wheel center, then placing the spring back on the other side and putting the endcap bolt back on. Once the axle is installed, the wheel can be placed where it goes on the front fork of the bike. The axle ends slide in to position at the end of the fork, then the nut can be tightened a bit and the quick release lever on the other side of the axle can be locked in to place.
It was so easy, even a blogger could do it, (It helps that the instructions came with photos. We had no idea what a “skewer” was. Why isn’t it just called an axle?)
Adjustments and Fine Tuning
Unlike a cheap bike you might get from a big box retailer, Dynamic Bicycles had already adjusted brake pads and cables before shipping. We found no fine tuning was needed beyond adding more air to the tires. We did follow the instructions to make sure everything we installed was tightened, aligned, and working as intended.
In our next installment we will discuss our first test ride on a chainless bike.
Yesterday Doing Des Moines received two Runabout 8 Comfort Hybrid chainless bicycles from Dynamic Bicycles. These 8-speed bikes use a shaft drive instead of a chain, and an internal gear hub instead of derailleurs. According to the manufacturer, chain-less bicycles have many advantages over traditional chain gearing bikes, with some downsides that only high end bikers might ever notice. For casual bikers who ride “just for fun,” it seems the advantages may be significant.
In coming weeks we will begin posting thorough reviews of these bikes, with details on how they are shipped (see the photo above), assembled (video coming soon), and maintained.
Initial thoughts based on unpacking and assembly: WOW!
Pardon our dust… We are retiring the original site (launched in 2011) and replacing it with a new one. The new video series will begin soon, with a Bike Adventure episode reviewing the chainless hybrid bikes from Dynamic Bicycles. We also have a few Video Adventures in the works where we will be speaking with the folks behind the recent resurgence of retro-arcades here in the Des Moines area.
Stay tuned! (Is anyone here old enough to even know what that means?)