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The reasons, according to a recent survey by Shimano, a bike-components supplier: Bikes are considered too ugly and uncomfortable, switching gears is too complicated and messy maintenance activities such as lubing the chain and tightening the cables are too much for people who just want to throw the bike back in the garage. With those potential riders in mind, Shimano this year introduced Coasting, a new automatic-shifting drivetrain that is found on bikes from three major brands. The bikes are among those with novel ease-of-use features that are trying hard to win over noncyclists.
Roy M. Wallack
Classy and classic
Raleigh Coasting: Reinvention of an old-fashioned steel English three-speed.
Likes: Fastest bike reviewed here due to 700-centimeter road-bike wheels (several inches taller than the 26-inch mountain-bike-size wheels of the other bikes tested). The Shimano Coasting three-speed electronic drivetrain (also used on Giant and Trek bikes here) shifts automatically into higher gears when a monitor on the front wheel detects speeds of around 7 and 11 miles per hour. It includes coaster rear brakes (backpedal to stop) and stylish hub caps on the wheels. The bike has classy, retro styling.
Dislikes: No front-wheel brake. The bars are too low for long, out-of-the-saddle climbing. For all the Coasting bikes, in general, the coaster brake and automatic shifting (which sometimes can shift too late or early) can be irritating for anyone already comfortable with hand brakes and shifting gears. It tends to shift abruptly when working hard up a hill.
Price: $450 (men's and women's models). (800) 222-5527; http://www.raleighamerica.com .
An elaborate extravagance
Ellsworth the Ride: Exotic, high-performance eye candy with cutting-edge design and drivetrain.
Likes: Style and speed. Head-turning looks, featuring massive 2.75-inch-wide tires, dual-crown carbon-fiber handlebars and sleek aluminum frame, which cleverly uses the burly rear fender as a structural support. The NuVinci internal hub houses the world's first infinitely geared drivetrain: twisting the dial ring on the right handlebar grip changes the gearing — encompassing most of the gear range of a normal double-derailleur, 27-speed bike. The bike blends a comfy, laid-back seating position with a potentially rapid cruising speed.
Dislikes: The low-slung handlebars are too low for efficient out-of-the-saddle climbing. Has no front brake or mounts for water bottles. Huge money for a casual bike.
Price: $3,995 (for the first 500 "Tony Ellsworth Signature Series" bikes, including a belted-drive model). Lower-end, all-aluminum bike is $2,995. (760) 788-7500; http://www.ellsworthride.com .
Smooth operator, up to a point
Delta Cycle C Drive: Conventional three-speed recreational bike with clean, hassle-free drivetrain.
Likes: Smooth, quiet and low-maintenance. This aluminum-frame bike features a Kevlar-reinforced belt drive (instead of an oil-dripping chain). Sturmey Archer three-speed internal hub is controlled by handlebar twist-shifter. Includes a rear rack, front and rear fenders, water bottle and mounts, and a hand pump. Straight-back seating position, with adjustable stem.
Dislikes: The belt frequently slips under high torque (i.e. cranking hard while standing up out of the saddle), so the bike can't be pushed too hard. The cable cover at the rear hub looks sleek, but gets knocked off every 10 minutes by your heel.
Price: $599. (800) 474-6615; http://www.deltacycle.com .
The best of most worlds
Giant Suede DX Coasting: Relaxed-geometry cruiser that puts your feet out in front.
Likes: Feels the most comfortable, maneuverable, fun and safe of all the five bikes tested. Crank-forward position sits the rider with back straight up, feet low to the ground, and hands high on riser handlebars. Includes rear rack, leather panniers-computer storage bags, front handlebar bag and light, suspension seat post and a stylish chain with oval-shaped links.
Dislikes: Clearly slower than the larger-wheeled Raleigh, so not as good for long fitness rides. No mounts for a water bottle. No front brake. Same Coasting shifting and braking advantages and drawbacks mentioned in the Raleigh.
Price: $700; (Suede without bags and rack is $500). (800) US-GIANT; http://www.giantbicycle.com .
Trek Lime (Coasting): High-style cruiser with high cool factor.
Likes: An integrated "trunk" under the pop-up seat ranks as one of the best innovations in years, capable of holding keys, energy bars, even a sandwich. (The lower-end Lime Lite model, $499, lacks the trunk.) You can mix and match colors by ordering a different chain guard and frame inserts. Clean look; it's the only Coasting bike to run the cable from the front-hub to the gear-changer module inside the frame tubes.
Dislikes: Slower than the Raleigh due to smaller wheels. Not as comfy as the Giant due to use of conventional bike geometry. Same shifting and braking advantages and drawbacks mentioned in the Raleigh. No front hand brake.
Price: $579. (800) 313-8735; http://www.trekbikes.com .
Irvine-based Roy M. Wallack, an endurance cyclist and runner, is co-author of the book "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.