The price of gas is topping $4 a gallon — again. And like 2008, when this last happened, interest in bikes for commuting and shopping is rising fast. With a variety of designs and technologies now available, there is now a practical bike for all types of work, be it urban city transport, long-distance commuting or short-haul shopping and delivery.
Shop and Deliver
Likes: Heavy loads are remarkably balanced. I easily controlled the bike over a 10-mile ride with two cases of beer strapped to the rack. The key is a design that keeps the load low and stable; not only does the small 20-inch front wheel (versus a 26-inch rear) keep the center of gravity low, but the front rack also is attached to the frame itself, not the fork, so it does not turn with your steering. Low standover height due to a lowered top tube and a front disk brake aid control during mounting and stopping. Includes a burly kickstand and fender and rack mounts. An optional snap-in basket is ideal for grocery bags. For small businesses, it even comes with four tabs for signage. With the small front wheel and shorter length than standard cargo bikes, it's got nimble handling.
Price: $995. (952) 229-5040; http://www.civiacycles.com.
Cannondale Hooligan 8: Aluminum-framed eight-speed bike with short length and small 20-inch wheels for agile city riding.
Likes: It's convenient, fitting more easily in cars, subway trains, elevators, stairwells and tight city quarters than foot-longer regular-wheel bikes. And yet the wheelbase and riding feel is the same. Originally developed for London, where there is a tax for driving into town, it has disc brakes for good stopping power on wet streets, is a fun fitness bike for weekends and seems to have a high coolness factor.
Dislikes: It lacks a water bottle mount on the frame and runs out of gears on downhills.
Price: $649. (800) BIKE-USA; http://www.cannondale.com.
Currie Technologies IZIP Express: The company sells top-of-the-line electric pedal-assist bikes, ranging from $499 to this one at $3,499.
Likes: A monster that climbs hills like a billy goat and will get you to work without a drop of sweat. Like all pedal-assist bikes, it requires you to pedal in order to engage the motor. But this huge 750-watt motor is strong and, with its 36-volt battery pack, offers good speed and distance. The removable mid-frame battery placement gives the Express great handling, balance and a lower center of gravity compared with electric bikes with rack-mounted battery packs.
Price: $3,499. (800) 877-2453; http://www.currietech.com.
Flax-able Night Flyer
Schwinn Vestige: Innovative eco-friendly commuter nine-speed, with a frame made of 80% flax fibers and 20% carbon fiber, plus bamboo fenders and grips, water-based paint and recycled-rubber tires. Attached to a hub generator, the frame actually "lights up" from the inside as you ride, making it highly visible at night.
Likes: Comfortable, stylish and unique. The flax fibers not only dampen shock well they also supposedly create a smaller carbon footprint during manufacturing and are biodegradable. Plus they also have a different pattern on every bike. The somewhat translucent flame lights up courtesy of LED lights within it that are powered by a dynamo front hub. The dynamo will also run optional front and back lights.
Dislikes: It's not for sale until June!
Price: $1,299. (800) THE-BIKE; http://www.schwinnbikes.com/vestige.
Wallack is the author of "Bike for Life: How to ride to 100."