Comfort Bikes?

Comfortable, but not a “comfort bike”

The other day, someone asked me, “So, it looks like your site is mostly about “comfort bikes”, right?” I was caught a little off guard, and after stuttering and stammering a bit, I mumbled something to the effect of, “Well, um yeah, I suppose so.” I was surprised because I would never describe EcoVelo as a site that’s “mostly about comfort bikes”, though many of the bikes we ride and write about are certainly “comfortable”.

After being confronted with the question I realized I don’t like the “comfort bike” moniker. What does it mean anyway? Is the implication that every other type of bike is a “discomfort bike”? Racing bikes are for racing, commuter bikes are for commuting, cargo bikes are for hauling cargo; any or all of these can be made comfortable if set-up properly, so should they all fall under the “comfort bike” classification too? And what about those most comfortable of bicycles, recumbents?

So, if we’re not “about comfort bikes”, what are we about?

At EcoVelo, we’re interested in any bike that serves a practical purpose. We like comfortable bicycles because they encourage people to ride more and stay out of their cars. We like bikes that get you where you want to go efficiently and with as little hassle and forethought as possible. We like bikes that can carry your things and light your way. We very much like the idea of bicycles for transportation.

So, the next time I’m confronted with the comfort bike question I’ll be ready, and instead of fumbling around and mincing words I’ll say, “EcoVelo is not about any particular type of bike. Nope. What we are about is using bicycles for transportation.”

19 Responses to “Comfort Bikes?”

  • Jim says:

    I have the same problem at the shop. People constantly ask me to pigeonhole the bikes we sell into the handful of easily recognized categories, which I still can’t do very well. To people who know a little about bikes, if something isn’t a road bike, and it isn’t a mountain bike, then it must be a “hybrid” or a “comfort bike”. Unless it’s a cruiser, cross bike, or touring bike. In the last week I rode one of my bikes, without changing any equipment, on a double metric century, on a 7ish mile singletrack course maintained for mountain bikes, on numerous fitness-oriented road rides, and on various practical errands. In the past, with a couple bolt-on accessories, it was a loaded touring bike and a kid hauler. I like to call it an all-rounder, but that sounds like hybrid, which tends to describe bikes that are universally mediocre. If I describe a bike as a touring bike, I immediately alienate most people who don’t intend to cross the continent by bike, and a commuting bike sounds like the opposite of fun.

    My strategy is to refer to most modern road bikes as “racing bikes” and most modern mountain bikes as “extreme mountain bikes”. This tends to emphasize that these highly purpose-specific bikes are actually the oddballs, made for a limited subset of people who have particular specialized needs, and that my all-rounders are, in fact, the normal thing.

  • Karl OnSea says:

    Maybe if people want to give you a label, you should correct them to “practical bikes”?

  • ksteinhoff says:

    When I got back into cycling in the laqte 90s, my wife and I bought matching Trek Navigator 300 “comfort bikes.”

    When I went into my LBS and told the wrench that I had ridden my first (unsupported) century that weekend, he was astounded. “That’s like riding 130 miles on a real bike.”

    I didn’t know that my Navigator WASN’T a “real” bike.

  • brad says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but the bikes I think of as “comfort bikes” are the hybrids that have suspension in the seatpost and a heavily sprung saddle. I really don’t like those, they feel mushy and are actually less comfortable for me to ride than a standard bike.

  • Nate Briggs says:

    KSTEINHOFF has it exactly right.

    A “real bicycle” is associated primarily with the pain of riding it: following the cultural mandate that physical activity has to be associated with a continuum of discomfort from “misery” to “agony”.

    Therefore, a bike labelled as “comfortable” cannot be “serious” or “real”.

    Transportation is not even an issue, since the American cultural framework does not even admit that a bicycle could be a practical means of everyday transportation.

  • Thom says:

    A bike is a bike is a bike. Labels be damned.

  • Bill Lambert says:

    Just looking through various blogs and cycling sites over the past year or so, I believe there is a vast array of bike classifications that mainstream bike shops have not, and may not ever tap into. What is a shame is that people who are wanting to get interested in biking are sold either a racing bike or an extreme mountain bike, or a “comfort” bike.

    I can’t really blame the retailers outright, because their business is to sell as many bikes as possible. I think what happens is these salesfolk quickly size people up and steer them to one of the three categories irregardless of what the intended use will eventually be.

    As bicycling becomes a more recognized form of transportation (i.e. not just recreation) I’ll bet more bike shops/retailers will begin to recognize the market is much larger than what they are selling now. Your blog is helping to lead the way to helping our society view biking as a legitimate form of transportation.

  • Roland Smith says:

    Well, ever since I discovered recumbents about a dozen years ago, all bikes with saddles have been classified as discomfort bikes in my view. :-)

  • spiny norman says:

    But it’s true. Comfort bikes as Brad and the industry use the term are just ’round the block and bike path bikes (NTTAWWD). They’re designed to look comfortable and to sell, not to actually be comfortable, since you make more profit by giving people what they want, not what they need (in that sense it’s the equal opposite of selling race bikes to testosterone addled non-racers). Riding 100 miles on one IS like riding 130 on a road bike, and commuting 10 miles on one is like commuting 13 on a real city bike (i.e. touring, Raleigh Sports, traditional hybrid or rigid mtb with slicks).

    Nate, if you mean too many people ride race bikes you’re right, but I can tell you from experience that the comfort bike would be far more painful for many people to ride 100 miles than a proper randonneur road bike – or even a race bike if it’s set up right, the road’s good, and it doesn’t rain. I can’t stand ‘em for more than 3 miles.

  • Stephen says:

    Roland is approaching my question. Since the opposite of comfort is discomfort, does that mean that any bicycle that isn’t built like a cheap overstuffed easy chair is a “discomfort bike?” Yes, these labels are incredibly stupid. Mountain bikes in Florida? Uhh, no. I instead call them “off-road bikes.” Road bikes should be called racing bikes, since that’s what most of them are. City bike seems to mean something, but practical bikes is better, although that can mean almost anything bike-wise. Commuting bike means something, but do you commute to the grocery store?

    Yep, comfort bikes suck, “hybrid” is meaningless, and the American bicycle industry is in sore need of a nomenclature tuneup.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    The comfort bike moniker is a misnomer. It certainly doesn’t apply to most of Alan’s bikes. Sure the words as parsed separately seem to be a match. Most of Alan’s bikes covered here are comfortable, and they are bikes. But the phrase “comfort bike” refers to bikes that aren’t practical for the most part and not very comfortable.

    I ride recumbents now a days such as this one – Duncan Riding his Raptobike.. My particular choice is a bit performance oriented but I can carry decent amount of gear and ride long distances well. I will be making a tailbox for it as well so I can carry more gear when needed.

  • Bob Stewart says:

    I have a “Fitness Bike” . It has a compact road bike frame, mountain bike handlebars and controls, touring bike fork and wheels, commuter bike fenders and BMX pedals. And just to put lipstick on a pig, I added a Brooks B17 touring saddle. Is it ok if I just ride this “fitness Bike” for fun? If someone asks if it’s a hybrid what do I say? When I ride to work is it a commuter? I’m so confused, please help!

  • Bob Stewart says:

    P.S. Oh! I forgot to mention, It’s comfortable too.

  • Gary Rechtin says:

    Well, I’ve gone both ways – uprights and recumbents. So I see only 2 categories, with sub-geners within each (mountain, road, trikes, etc.). The main difference in my mind is how my bottom feels after 2 hours in the saddle. As my recumbent freiemds would say – there are ‘bents’ and there are ‘wedgies’. As for me, I’ll taske the bents, as I can still walk without numbness after 2 hours!


  • Kenneth "DeltaTrike" Jones says:

    I sort of like categories and categorization for that matter. I am fascinated with the technology and artistry that goes into cycling – see, I DO like categories! When communicate about my ride I tend to add that it is a trike, not a bike – Why – because I don’t like the bi- two wheel machines? Not the case. It is to be more specific and becasue I think I am way cool for having 3 wheels. As I get older, cool is very important – to a point. That point is comfort. I have a hybrid that is good looking, very functional and sports a nice rear rack and very easy to access panniers and a real skinny seat that meets my old man butt like a very bad blind date. There it sat for a few years gathering dust and taking up valuable space in the garage. People would say, “Cool bike” and I would say “Thanks” and mutter, “Uncomfortable, too” I see these folks on the formal rides with their sleek, carbon frame, $1000 wheel “racers” and I self-righteously mutter, “Silly Expensive Uncomfortable” while I tool along in extreme comfort on my sweet trike ride, muttering jealously “Man, I wish I could ride that fast!” It’s all a matter of what you want and need. I love taking my time on gorgeous trails and roads on my trike – I also want to haul buns at times – I also like to leave the trail on occasion and tear ass throught the woods – I also want to don my teacher outfit and pedal to work on a real nice “comfort” bike with an electric assist hub – and when it rains I want to crawl into a sleek velomobile……..well I have come full circle – We CAN all get along if we Just Ride! For me, I’ll just have one of each!

  • joe3 says:

    Roland Smith has it right….I’ve been riding a recumbent for 9 years…..all the rest seem to be a discomfort to me too.

    Recently I moved back into the city, my bent…Haluzak…isn’t city friendly, and I’d like to find a confortable riding bike for city/daily use…going to work, the store, etc.
    I’m not enjoying riding the Trek 520 either…… it’ll go to ebay and I’ll be looking for a comfortable riding, upright sitting bicycle, maybe like the English bikes that were imported in the 1950’s…..there’s label I can be proud of : )

  • Roland Smith says:

    Comfort bike is a bit of a silly term, because only a sadomasochist would buy a bike for the purpose of being uncomfortable, no?

  • Rick says:

    @Kenneth “DeltaTrike” Jones :

    I just became a delta triker too. Love the comfort, love the fat tires (20×2.25) that smooth out the frost-heaves in the concrete of the bike path, love the grocery-haulling capabilities, love that the styling is reminiscent of a Harley chopper with a trike conversion (the cool factor), dislike the slowness compared to my 2-wheeled bent. I’m trying to incorporate Alan’s idea that riding this sort of conveyance should be thought of as fast walking rather than slow riding.

  • Kenneth "DeltaTrike" Jones says:

    Hey Rick! I must have missed that “fast walking v. slow riding” idea…..that is my new mantra, moniker, whatever the proper term! Gone are the days of the slow trike rider! Onward, Upward, and Beyondward is the Fast Walker on Three Wheels!!! Thanks!

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