Easy Bikes – A New Name for Upright Bikes?

Did the Wall Street Journal just rename the most accessible, useful, and comfortable of all bicycle styles?

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City Bike City Life Look Book

Photo by David Niddrie

Did the Wall Street Journal just rename the most accessible, useful, and comfortable of all bicycle styles?

Upright bicycles, sometimes referred to by Momentum Mag as city bikes, are hands down the best style of bicycle for daily use. A relaxed frame geometry and swept-back handlebars combine to place the rider in a comfortable, upright position that can feel a little more like a favorite chair than a human-powered speed machine. The frame style also makes carrying cargo on front and rear racks a breeze as this riding position tends to aid in maintaining balance. Fenders and lights also integrate easily onto upright bikes, making them perfectly suited as a viable transportation option.

In places where cycling is an accepted, supported, and convenient method of transportation the upright bicycles are the ones that thrive. Most of the bicycles parked outside of businesses, shops, and homes in Copenhagen and Amsterdam are the polar opposite of those you’ll find in many North American garages.

Easy bikes, as the headline of the Wall Street Journal calls them in their look at this growing section of the bicycle industry, are defined by writer Rachel Bachman as:

New models let riders sit in a more comfortable, upright position the way an old-school Schwinn did, but with lighter bike frames. They often have eight speeds or fewer, rather than the 18 to 33 on more complex bikes. Some bikes feature internal gears protected from dirt instead of the exposed jaws of traditional systems.

Bachman goes on to share the experience of a new rider who was looking for a bicycle to suit his transportation needs:

Adam Bertoni, a 36-year-old insurance claims manager, says he got the urge to start biking around town after moving to the bike-friendly Minneapolis area from Cleveland. “The amount of research I had to put into just trying to find a bike to fit my needs was a pain,” he says.

Mr. Bertoni found a mountain-road-hybrid bike with its 21 gears too cumbersome. A single-speed bike was too difficult to pedal up hills. He read about Priority Bicycles, a New York-based bicycle brand, and ordered one online.

Mr. Bertoni likes its smooth ride and the simplicity of its synthetic belt drive, a greaseless alternative to a bike chain that leaves his pants legs clean. The three-speed bike also has puncture-resistant tires and that staple of children’s cycles, the coaster brake.

Easy! In the face of countless styles of bicycles, easy bikes sounds like a clear winner in name alone. And where has this demand for a more comfortable, utilitarian bicycle come from? Bachman points to a boom in bike share and infrastructure.

But bike-share programs and expanded bike lanes, once viewed as oddities for tourists to try while visiting Amsterdam, are now standard in many U.S. cities. Many of today’s hottest-selling bikes mimic the models in bike shares, with three speeds, upright seating and easy-to-board frames.

While the article goes on to discuss bike brands like Linus, PUBLIC, Electra, and the new Giant sub-brand Momentum, there is one major point about easy bikes that is completely overlooked. Much of the discussion around the popularity of these bikes focuses on recreational use. In fact, the entire article completely ignores that easy bikes are extremely well-suited for getting from A to B. Whether that means a trip to the coffee shop, to work, to run errands, to pick up and drop off the kids, and even, though certainly not primarily so, to go for a leisurely ride with no destination in mind.

In fact, the article takes a strange, although not entirely unexpected, left turn toward the popularity of running.

Running participation in the U.S. jumped 20% from 2009 to 2014, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. That growth is tied to how inclusive the sport has become. For every hard-core distance runner, there are plenty of others just looking for a bit of exercise and enjoyment. An explosion of costumed 5K races and wine-country half-marathons has prized fun over finishing times. Meanwhile, bicycling participation has barely budged.

“When you look at a marathon or half-marathon, you will see people walking, and they’re not ashamed,” says Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. “They’re not made to feel embarrassed. And that’s something that you won’t really see at a bicycling event. I don’t think we’re as far along as running is in making events that appeal to everyone.”

Inclusivity is a major challenge facing the North American bicycling industry, a challenge that faces not only bicycle manufacturers, but also bicycle shops. A focus on sport has left potential new riders out of the conversation and all to often ignored on the retail shop floor.

Perhaps though, the Wall Street Journal is on to something with their possibly unintentional addition to the cycling lexicon. Could “easy bikes” soon become the most in-demand section on the bike shop floor? The name alone single-handedly touts the ride’s clear benefits while glossing over the needless complexity that sport-focused cycling pursuits often require. Sounds pretty awesome to me.

3 Comments

  • Anthony

    Easy, Upright, Cruiser, Urban, City… whatever the multitude of names of this category of bicycle may have… it still boils down to perception and needs of the specific segments of the cycling industry. Whether commuting, shopping, joy riding or just short transportation between places…it proves that their is an ever-growing class of people who are looking for “traditional” bicycles. These folks don’t want to ride road/drop handlebar bikes primarily ( among other reasons) they associate them with “fast people wearing spandex”. I agree that it’s about inclusion… the industry, I feel is finally / hopefully realizing that this segment is really growing and my just give them the attention and service that traditional road bikers get.

  • Augsburg

    Yikes – I hate the suggested name “easy”!

    I have a European city bike. In the US, you are already diss-ed for owning/riding a city or “upright” bike. The typical American turns up his nose at an upright, urban bicycle. Please don’t add to the insult by calling them “easy” bikes. They aren’t even “easy”, as the fat tires take more energy to pedal than skinny tires.

    As cycling becomes more of a real means of transportation in the U.S., Americans will learn what Europeans have know for decades. That city bikes handle commuting, potholes, poor pavement, cobblestones, trolly tracks, etc. much better than a typical American road bike with skinny tires and dropped handlebars. With large tires and rugged frames, they can carry heavy loads on front and rear racks and are perfect for basic transportation uses.

    • Duncan Hurd

      I’d say that your final points actually prove that upright bikes are easy and that using sports bikes for transportation is harder than necessary. From a marketing standpoint, the term “easy” is already well-used in transportation, and often to promote lower cost or time saving alternatives, which sounds a lot like what bicycles can do to me.

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