We found the store fairly easily (corner of 5th Street and Washington Ave, or the place with the loaded bike rack right in front) and quickly stepped inside a small store packed to the gills with bikes and accessories. The Bicycle Center only carries Electra Townies, which is fine as I wanted to give these cruiser-types a fair chance as I shop for my new bike.
Mike answered all my questions about the Townies without batting an eye, which speaks wonders to me about their knowledge. He also asked key questions of me, like how much riding I would be doing (as much as possible), what was my intention in getting a new bike (to replace my car as much as I can), and offered suggestions. He also offered to let me test-ride the Townie, which I wasn’t expecting but gladly accepted.
I rode the 7-speed men’s Townie (in blue). It comes equipped with a Shimano handgrip gear shift system and a hand brake, plus a top-cover chainguard. The seat was adjusted to my height and off I went down the sidewalk. My first thought was, “Wow, this is a very comfortable seat!” It was followed very quickly by, “Wow, this thing is fast!” It’s not so much a fast bike as it is an efficient ride; the gears allowed me to get the most out of each and every push of the pedal and that was a wonderful feeling.
The bike rides super smooth as well; this model did not have balloon tires, but the default Townie tires are very roundish as it is (compared to the fat-and-flat tires my current cruiser has) and this made for a feeling of gliding over the surface. Understand, as you can see in the photo, I’m a heavy guy, so I’ve come to expect my weight to basically nullify any natural shock-absorbency the tires on any bike I ride may have, but that wasn’t the case here at all. That alone impressed me quite a bit.
I’ve been riding a bike with coaster brakes for more than a year, so my natural instinct is to pedal backwards to stop, which on this bike doesn’t do anything other than let your feet spin around freely. The hand brake, however, worked like a charm; just a squeeze and the bike came to a full stop in less than a foot of distance. While riding I tried some of the various speeds and each performed just right. The transition between the gears was barely felt or heard and I never felt a loss of motion between shifts. I wish I could have taken it up the bridge I climb every morning, but even on the flat surface of Miami Beach I could tell the selection of speeds on this bike would allow me to ride that incline a lot more efficiently and without so much stress to my knees as my current ride.
The big deal with the Townies is their angle of riding, which tilts the angle of riding, putting the rider a bit towards the back and the pedals more towards the front, creating what Electra calls Flat Foot Technology®: when you sit on a Townie, you can put down your foot flat on the floor when standing still, and when riding, you pedal forward instead of downward, allowing full extension of the leg. It works wonders, let me tell you. I was able to simply put my foot down and stand with the bike without any balance issues. When riding, the angle of the pedals allowed my long legs to get an almost full extension; I truly felt that I got the most out of each push of the pedals, all while sitting in a relaxed position that kept my back straight and without feeling any noticeable strain.
There are three things I did not like about the Townie, though. First, I did not like the straight handlebar; after riding my cruiser, and even my wife’s Amsterdam, both of which have handlebars that bend back towards the rider, the arms-straight-out position I had to adopt to ride the Townie felt just wrong. Second, the top-half-only chainguard as opposed to a full-cover chainguard. The Red Beast has this kind of cover and I have constant problems with the cuff of my jeans getting caught in it and bending it out of shape. Even assuming that the material on the Townie chainguard will be better than the one in my Target-bought Schwinn cruiser, that’s one hassle I’d just like to avoid altogether. And last, the lack of all the accoutrement that are needed to make this a functional day-to-day bike: fenders, back rack, back and front lights, and bell. There is a Townie Euro version that comes with all of these (except the bell), but the price shoots up quite a bit from the version I rode. Yes, these are all things that can be likely customized at the store level, but they would add considerably on top of the basic price (and the 7-speed I tested was fairly priced at just under $500).
Overall, I really liked the Townie experience, enough to make this bike a real contender for the title of My Next Bike. People who prefer cruisers should definitely check the Townie out, because if I can sum this bike in 4 words it would be Cruiser: The Next Generation, and I don’t think I’d be doing it a disservice at all.