A Bike With a Brain

Your four-wheeler probably has one, so why not your two-wheeler?

Bicycle manufacturers are introducing bikes with automatic transmissions--that's right, the bike changes the gears for you --to the mass market in a new push to reach would-be riders put off by a traditional model's multigear system.

We asked Mario Correa, an ultra-endurance cyclist from Chino Hills, to put an automatic through its paces. The 38-year-old software engineer, right, has finished in the top five of a host of elite races that demand cycling from six to 24 consecutive hours. He rode the new Trek Lime coasting bike up and down steep hills and over flat, paved terrain. Though the bike is not designed for off-road use, he took it on a few gentle dirt trails as well.

"It's easy, you just hop on and ride," Correa said. The bike, meant for recreational riders, shifts through three gears using an electronic shifter in its rear hub and powered by a generator in its front hub. Though Correa had a few reservations, he was impressed. He liked the bike's retro styling and ergonomics--an easily adjustable seat and handlebars make it comfortable. He had to get used to not reaching for the gears, but said, "It can really handle the hills."

But there's a delay in changing gears that you don't experience with a manual. You have to stop pedaling for a few moments before the automatic transmission will shift, resulting in a loss of momentum. While going down hills, he said, it can take several seconds before the bike finds its new gear.

To brake, you pedal backward--just as on a kid's bike--and that's a little problematic too. The brakes were responsive but likely to cause skids, Correa said.

As with cars, the convenience of an automatic transmission bumps up the price. At $580, it costs several hundred dollars more than a basic multigear mountain bike. So is it worth it?

"If I had to choose between it and an entry-level mountain bike," said Correa, who during peak training periods will cycle 300 miles a week on his $6,000, 27-gear bike, "I'd take the Lime."

The Trek Lime bicycle, $580. For more information, go to www.trekbikes.com.

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