Health & Fitness

Gear: Back Bay bikes

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The Back Bay loop, a 10.5-mile nearly car-free bike route around Upper Newport Bay filled with birds, scenic vistas, a museum, exhibits, side paths, headwinds and a few quick, steep climbs, is a worthy notch in the belt of a beginner cyclist and a good training ride for a veteran. It's also the perfect route for the comfortable flat-bar road bike known in the cycling world as the "fitness" bike, or as some local shops refer to it, the "Back Bay" bike.

Designed to handle long recreational or commuter rides without leaving body parts aching, the bike keeps a road bike's fast 700C wheels and gearing but replaces the drop bars and aggressive hunched-over position with a mountain bike's straight, higher handlebar and relaxed, upright body positioning.

With aluminum frames, ergonomic platform hand grips that stop finger numbness, quick-release wheels for easy transport and repairs, and a variety of suspension and comfort features, the models below work for everyone from ambitious rookies aiming for double-digit Back Bay miles and longer charity rides to aging roadies who still have the need for speed but now want some back- and sightseeing-friendly comfort too.

Pushing the envelope

Specialized BG Roulux 2: The brainchild of ergonomics guru Roger Minkow, inventor of the much-copied anti-impotence seat, this radical fusion of performance and comfort features unique handlebars, mirrors and a suspension frame designed for all-day riding.

Likes: Fast, fun and remarkably comfy. The tall stem, S-shaped swept-back bars (see photo) and ergo-grips put your back at a semi-erect 70- or 75-degree angle (45 degrees or less is typical on road bikes) and your hands at a turned-out angle that does not hyperextend the wrists. The result is good power, no numb hands and surprisingly good leverage for out-of-the-saddle climbing. Has shock absorbers under the head tube (35mm) and the seat post/seat stay juncture (15 millimeters). Ingenious, pivoting 4-by-1-inch rear-view mirrors on the down tube, barely visible, let you look behind instantly without turning your head. Aero rims, 25mm tires and 20-speed Shimano 105 group with trigger shifters completes a good performance package. Weighs 23.4 pounds (in medium size).

Dislikes: No seat-stay rack mounts, limiting the bike's usefulness as a commuter. The slight bobbing of the suspension means wasted energy as well as comfort, a tradeoff some serious riders may not want. No granny gear in the top-end Roulux 2 (not the 1) may bother those who like it for steep climbs.

Price: $1,800 (Roulux 1, with lower-end components, is $1,350). (408) 779-6229; specialized.com.

Penny-wise plushness

Schwinn GS Voyageur: Emphasizing comfort over speed, this suspension-equipped entry-level bike can handle rides of 20-plus miles.

Likes: Comfort is king, but the GS is so sporty, solid and fun that it feels more expensive. Tall handlebars and a big, cushy spring saddle sit you straight up (90 degrees), with a bird's-eye view of the scenery. A suspension fork (11/2 inch of travel) and seatpost (1/2-inch) smooth rough roads; minor bobbing should not be an issue for buyers at this level. The 21-speed triple-chain-ring drivetrain with twist shifters is fine for flatland speed and steep-hill chugs. Includes rack mounts. Good looks give it an edge over similar models from Giant, Diamondback and other brands, especially the GS women's model, with its sleek step-through frame.

Dislikes: Too heavy (31.3 pounds) and upright for long-haul, hard-core riders.

Price: $389. (800) SCHWINN; schwinnbikes.com

Economical epitome of the breed

Cannondale Quick 4: Midrange model of a full line of versatile fitness road bikes, the 4 has a vibration-eating carbon-fiber fork and can be used for fast workouts, long rides, commuting and touring.

Likes: All-day comfort and a sporty design that screams "Go!" The relaxed geometry puts you in a semi-forward body position (less than a traditional road, but more than the Specialized) that is comfy yet efficient for serious pedaling. The fork soaks up lots of road vibration. Basic wheel set and econo 24-speed twist-shifter drivetrain is a good value for the price. Rear rack mounts. Weighs 25 pounds.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $599. (800) BIKE-USA; Cannondale.com

Techy trekky

Trek 7.5 FX: Midrange of a fitness bike line, similar to the Quick 4, with carbon fork, higher-end components, light weight, and standout comfort and convenience features

Likes: Fast, fun, relaxing, do-it-all riding position (like the Quick). Includes Flex Form saddle, which adds comfort by flexing inward to make more room for each leg as it goes through the pedal stroke. The stylish carbon fork seamlessly flows into the head tube and includes a hidden "Speedtrap" compartment for an integrated computer sensor ($35 extra), which eliminates the need to zip-tie an unsightly bike computer wire to the fork leg; the sensor is compatible with most computers and ANT+/Bluetooth frequency devices, including Garmin and Powertap. Includes 27-speed drivetrain, rack mounts and a bell. Weighs 231/4 pounds.

Dislikes: None

Price: $899. (800) 313-8735; Trekbikes.com

Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." roywallack@aol.com

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