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Rediscovering Boston on an Urbana Bike

by Greg Hum

Greg HumGreg Hum leads a bike-centric lifestyle in Boston, MA, going everywhere and carrying everything by bike. In college he co-founded a bike-advocacy group and still loves organizing people around bikes. He can sometimes be heard playing jazz rhythms on his handlebar-mounted percussion instruments while riding. His musings on biking and more can be found on: thehum.bostonbiker.org.


UrbanaWell that’s a goofy looking bike, I thought.

The Urbana’s U-shaped frame, BMX handlebars, and fat 2.6-inch tires makes it look like a bicycle mutt, which in my mind, probably rode like a plain ol’ cruiser. But as I soon found out, riding the Urbana was anything but plain or old, and offered me an entirely new biking experience in the urban jungle of Boston.

First Impressions:

My first ride with the Urbana felt strange. I was so used to swinging my leg over my horizontal top-tube, so simply stepping over the U-frame felt too easy. The rear rack fit my “trash-canniers” perfectly. Once I started pedaling, something about the scenery looked different. I wasn’t hunched over like I usually am on my road-bike. I was sitting fully upright, and turning my head left and right with ease. I didn’t have to roll up my pant-leg because the chain-guard kept my chain safe from my pants and the weather. I found myself looking around and enjoying the scenery. As strange as this was, I couldn’t help but think, Hey, this is fun!

UrbanaI joined up with a group of bike-commuters for the City of Boston’s “Bike Friday” early morning bike-convoys and bike-festival, where free coffee and breakfast awaited at City Hall. “Those are some fat tires!” someone remarked as I arrived at the morning festival. “Yes, these are some phat tires, indeed!” I replied. Riding over potholes and road repairs was like riding on a cloud, a pleasant break from the usual rattling of my bones riding over rough roads with 700x23c tires.

Conquering Potholes:

Some of the scariest places to bike in Boston are the intersections with trolley tracks, like Packard’s Corner, where too many friends have gone flying as their wheels catch the gaps between the tracks. As I braced myself and held my breath, the Urbana’s enormous tires rolled over these tracks with a safe, soft “thuddump,” and I let out a sigh of relief.

My five-mile commute into downtown Boston was much less bumpy than usual. Arriving to work, I had no problem locking it up on my office rack with all the other bikes, although my mini U-lock just fit around the fat frame and bike rack.

First Date:

After work, the the clouds parted and the sun emerged, so I took the Urbana for an adventure around Boston. Together, my new friend Urbana and I paid a visit to the seals at the aquarium, rode along the river down the esplanade, and stopped to admire the sunset on the docks. Feeling dangerous, I even took the Urbana off the paved path onto the rocky dirt path runners usually take, conquering potholes, bike paths, and mild dirt paths.

UrbanaUrbanaUrbana

Monster Rear Rack:

As a kid, I used to give friends a ride on the back of my BMX bike thanks to rear-axle-mounted pegs, “and hauling friends is exactly how you break a rear rack,” bike shop mechanics tell me every time I ask for the strongest rear rack they have. I was told the Urbana’s heavy-duty rack is rated to hold up to an impressive 150lbs, so when I received a call from my bikeless friend Danielle to meet up for dinner, I thought, No problem! Danielle can just hitch a ride on the rear rack!

Urbana

Even hitting potholes and hopping curbs, the rack held together without wobbling, and Danielle found the rack surprisingly comfortable to ride on. Thanks to the bike’s three speeds, I could pedal with relative ease.

A Grocery Getter

Too often in Boston I cringe when I see people biking with grocery bags full of groceries hanging on their handlebars. I hold back the urge to yell “Hey you! Your steering wouldn’t be so squirrelly if you had some panniers!”

The Urbana bike came with two reusable grocery bags, which conveniently sling onto hooks mounted on the rear-rack so the bags hang like panniers. Conveniently, I needed to buy some groceries, so off to the grocery store I went. Checking out at the register, I said “no thank you!” to paper or plastic and whipped out my Urbana bags.

Outside at the bike racks, I watched another bicyclist struggle to cram an orange juice carton into her backpack. Meanwhile I also struggled to hook the straps onto the Urbana’s rear rack. I couldn’t help think how much easier it was to just throw my groceries in rear-rack mounted buckets or unhook my Ortlieb shopper pannier. But once the bags were secure and ready to go, biking with them was a breeze. With that said, the versatility of having a mounting system that can be used with any reusable grocery bag is a nice touch that solves a pretty common problem.

Shopping with the UrbanaShopping with the UrbanaShopping with the UrbanaShopping with the Urbana

 

After groceries, I met up with some friends. My friend Alex, a BMX and mountain biker found the Urbana a little heavy and awkward for bunny hopping, but perfect for doing wheelies.

What I didn’t like:

Urbana WheelieAs much fun as I had with the Urbana, there were two gripes I had with it: its weight and its handlebars. In true steel dutch city cruiser style, this thing weighs a ton. Sure, this thing isn’t built for speed; it’s built to last. However, weight becomes a major disadvantage for the many of us bike commuters living in urban areas without adequate outdoor bike racks or storage who keep their bikes stored inside their apartments. Carrying an old 25-pound road bike up two flight of stairs is tiring enough, and as strong as I like to think I am, I almost broke a sweat awkwardly carrying the bulky 40-pound Urbana down the staircase into my basement.

As for the handlebars, when sitting upright, I prefer swept-back cruiser bars or trekking handlebars for comfort. The Urbana’s were BMX-style, which, while very upright, were almost straight-across, which meant shoulders rolled in and elbows outward when gripping them.

Drum Biking:

I also had a chance to use the Urbana for one of my biking specialties: drum-biking, or the practice of playing handlebar-mounted bucket drum set on my bike. The Urbana served as a suitable vehicle for my one-man drum-biking show:

Conclusion:

Without a doubt, the Urbana lives up to the “Urban” in its name. Riding it around Boston gave me a new perspective on cruising around the city: not having to keep an eye on avoiding trolley tracks and potholes meant my eyes could be enjoying the scenery more and paying better attention to traffic (or my drumming). Overall, a stellar choice for a kicking around any urban town in my book. As my friend Rich said after giving the Urbana bike a ride, “It’s super heavy, not fast, and you look pretty silly, but I’ve gotta admit: It’s mad fun.”


The Urbana Step-Through Classic sells retail for $1149 US.
The rack sells for $110, and the fenders for $70.

 
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One Response to “Rediscovering Boston on an Urbana Bike”

  1. Ted Johnson says:

    You think that bike was fun? Try the Urbana Current, which is basically the same bike with a Bionx kit. (Although it’s bound to be even less fun carrying it up or down stairs.)

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