I do a lot of bus riding as part of my commute. To stave off boredom, I scout bicycles and keep a rough tally in my head of how many and what type of bikes I see during my trip. Around where I live, the #1 type of bike being used for transportation is the generic sub-$500, hard-tail, suspension-fork mountain bike. The Trek 820 shown above is a typical example, though I see similar bikes from all the major brands. These may not be ideal bikes for how they’re being used, and they’re certainly not glamorous, but they’re pretty tough, they’re reasonably comfortable, and the price is right. Most that I see still have knobby tires installed, and a good number seem to be ill-fitting. I suspect a simple tire swap, along with some assistance from a local bike shop to dial in the fit, would dramatically improve the ride experience for many of the people on these bikes.
While I’m always happy to see anyone on a bike, and these mountain-bikes-being-used-as-commuters seem to be working fairly well for a surprising number of people, it would sure be great if there was a more road-worthy alternative that was widely available in this price range. I’m imagining a simple TIG-welded steel bike with a rigid fork, upright geometry, roadster bars, cushy tires, single chainring up front, 7-speed cassette in back, wide saddle, metal fenders, and folding wire panniers. If they can build a 21-speed, suspended mountain bike for under $500, it seems like someone should be able to build my fantasy city bike and sell it for under $500 as well. Linus is doing something along these lines (see below), though they’ve chosen to go with a 3-speed IGH which might be a tough sell to non-bikies who have come to expect at least 21 gears. The $64 question is whether a bike like my 7-speed could go up against a 21-speed mountain bike on the sales floor of the typical neighborhood bike shop or big box store (I’m somewhat doubtful).
I’ve argued many times for adjusting our thinking regarding bike pricing, and I still feel that as a society we undervalue bicycles. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to people who balked at the price of a $1000 bicycle while not even blinking an eye at the price of a $20,000 automobile. And while we can argue for a change in perspective on bike pricing until we’re blue in the face, that’s not going to change the fact that for the foreseeable future, an overwhelming majority of the bikes on the road will continue to be from the low end of the price range. It would be great to see more bikes in this price range designed specifically for the commuter/transport bicyclist.