The Urbana Bike — a very friendly and forgiving monster of a bicycle

The Urbana Bike at the beach.

Yes, it’s a monster.

Not in the Frankenstein sense, with frightened villagers carrying pitchforks and torches. But more like the creature from Young Frankenstein — big, a little awkward maybe, yet friendly and playful.

And more than ready to put on the Ritz.

In other words, this is a very serious, fun and exceptionally user-friendly monster of a bike. Think of it as an urban assault bike, the two-wheeled equivalent of a full-size Hummer — a bike able to go anywhere. And over just about anything.

SI was surprised to get an email a few months ago, asking if I wanted to try out a new bike. After all, I’d never done a product review before. Mostly because no one had ever asked me to.

This...

Next thing I knew, there was a massive box waiting at my door. And inside was the biggest bike I’d ever seen, in a shocking shade of magenta. Although they call it Sangria.

Naturally, there weren’t any assembly instructions enclosed; while I used to do my own wrenching, this was far different from anything I’d worked on before. So even though I blundered my way through putting it together, I had still it fully assembled and ready to ride within 20 minutes.

Or so I thought.

...turned into this in just a few minutes.

Used to quick release hubs, I was afraid to over tighten the nuts on the front wheel. And sure enough, two blocks into my test ride, it was flopping back and forth like a bad toupee in a hurricane. My next attempt wasn’t much better, lasting about six blocks.

After finally tightening the crap out of it, it’s lasted nearly three months without needing another adjustment.

Make no mistake, though. This is a very big, and very heavy bike; when I stepped on the scale holding it and subtracted my own weight — admittedly, not the most accurate means of measurement — it came out at a whopping 42 pounds.

But it doesn’t ride like it.

Despite the weight, the Urbana rolls as easy as any bike I’ve ridden — and a lot easier than many I’ve tried. The 8 speed Shimano Nexus internal gear hub shifts easily and accurately, and is geared so efficiently that that even on the steepest hills, I never had to shift below third. And the Shimano Nexave drum brakes stopped it every bit as fast and surely as my much lighter road bike.

Before I agreed to accept the bike, I made sure it was insured; after all, I this is L.A., where bad drivers and worse roads can turn any bike into so much scrape metal.

The Urbana rep said “Don’t worry about it. This bike is indestructible.” When I said that sounded like a challenge, she responded “Go ahead. You can’t break this bike.”

She’s right. Because I tried.

No matter how bad the pavement, those big tires handled it with ease.

I started out riding in my own neighborhood, on streets so badly degraded they might as well be the famed cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Yet the oversized, balloon Niddepoule — or Big Sidewalk — tires rolled right over the cracks and potholes, as if I was riding a newly paved street.

And nothing changed, no matter where I rode it or what I tried to do to it.

With my own bike out of commission, I rode the Urbana at CicLAvia. I took it to the beach. I even rode through the Westwood stretch of Wilshire Blvd known as the Gauntlet, where countless right lane ruts, potholes and rippled pavement challenge even the most experienced riders — and aggressive, high-speed traffic means falling is not an option.

In every case, it handled the worst roads with ease. Rather than swerving around potholes like I do on my own bike, I aimed for them. And the worst that happened was that the rear wheel might bounce a little before regaining solid traction.

Despite the weight, it rode comfortably, even over longer distances. The only time I found it tiring was coming back up the beach, where the upright riding position made pedaling into the usual afternoon headwind a chore.

It also climbed with surprising ease, thanks to the low gear ratio. Even riding up Temescal Canyon proved easier than expected.

There was still one more challenge the bike had to pass. The rep had described it as a one-size-fits-all frame, easily adjustable for any rider.

So I took my tiny, five-foot tall wife outside, and within 30 seconds, I’d adjusted the Urbana down from my six-foot frame to fit her perfectly. And even though she hadn’t been on a bike in the nearly two decades I’ve known her, she was soon riding easily on those same broken streets I’d tested it on.

As she was riding, our neighbor stopped by to say hi. A native of Uganda, she’d never been on a bike; yet within moments, she was rolling unsteadily down the street, thrilled to be riding for the first time. And thanks to the bike’s step-through design, when she finally lost her balance, she just stepped off and let the bike fall harmlessly beneath her.

Even my petite wife could ride it with ease.

In the three months I had the bike, I rode up and over curbs, across grass and gravel, and off steep drop-offs, yet nothing phased it.

Like a serious SUV, it handled dirt, grass and mud with the same assurance it rode over pavement — and the heavy-duty fenders meant I stayed spotless, no matter what kind of muck I pushed it through.

And despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t break it.

That’s not to say it’s perfect.

The oversized wheel base means carving a turn just isn’t an option; this bike lumbers through corners I’d normally lean into. While the V-shaped handlebars make adjustments easy, I found them tiring on longer rides, and longed for the more relaxed position provided by the swept-back bars of a classic Schwinn.

View from the cockpit; thanks to Becky for suggesting the water bottle solution.

It was hard to figure out how to carry a water bottle, until a friend suggested the perfect solution of mounting it on the handlebars. And the heavy-duty serrated pedals ate the soft plastic soles of my Sidi mountain bike shoes; a pair of harder soled trail shoes fared much better.

As much as I enjoyed it, though, I won’t be trading in my road bike anytime soon. For me, the Urbana would make a nice second or third bike. But it could be ideal for a number of riders and uses:

  • Beginners — The Urbana’s intuitive design, forgiving ride and ease-of-use makes it perfect for cyclists just starting out, while its durability means it will survive beginner’s mistakes. And the sheer size and weight will do more to deter thieves than most locks.
  • Heavier riders — When I bought my current bike, I had to find a frame that would support my then 220 pounds; I could only imagine what it would be like with another 50 or 100 pounds to carry. According to the manufacturer, the Urbana’s frame will support up to 400 pounds with ease, and it offers an optional larger seat for greater comfort. It’s also available as an e-bike, making it very forgiving for anyone who may be reluctant to ride for fear of not being able to go uphill or make it all the way back.

    Sadly, though, it ate my mtn. bike shoes; harder soled shoes fared better.

  • Winter cyclists — The big balloon tires make it perfect for road surfaces slick from rain or snow, while the heavy weight should allow it to carve through several inches of ice and snow — although that’s not something I was able to test here in L.A.
  • Urban and off-road commuters — No matter how difficult your commute, or how bad the roads or trails you have to ride, the Urbana can handle it. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to find a surface it couldn’t cover. And seriously, I pity any car that hits one of these.
  • Bike share programs — The Urbana really does fit all, in just a few seconds with just a few simple adjustments, while its strength and durability make it ideal for a bike that will inevitably take a lot of abuse as it passes from one rider to another. In fact, I’m told that Urbana will soon be unveiling a turn-key bike share system of their own.

The Urbana may not be my dream bike.

But seriously, it’s been fun. And when I drop it off in the morning, I’m going to be sad to let it go.

Because this really is one hell of a fun little monster.

Note: No payment or any other compensation was received in exchange for this review.

Darn it.

8 comments

  1. Jim Lyle says:

    The Urbana will be great for plowing through sand on the beach bike path while we wait for city maintenance.

  2. The Trickster says:

    I could see it being one awesome beach cruiser.

    Still wouldn’t attempt to take it up the 14% Mountain Rd we’ve got here though. That’s hard enough on a rather light Giant roadie.

  3. It’s a fun bike, isn’t it? My wife was sad to see the Urbana go when I had it.

    • Hmmm. I seem to remember riding this bike – both in the saddle and on the rack.

      I’ll never forget Richard’s comments when he let me get in the saddle. It was something along the lines of “Ummm, dude, you don’t have to throw your leg over the saddle. It’s a step through”

      “Um, habit” was the best retort I could come up with

      • I had @JustAnotherCyclist try the bike surfing thing in Santa Cruz, with big Tour of California crowds all around.

        Funny story about that step through and habit: After riding the Urbana several times, I hopped back on my road bike, arrived at destination, tried to dismount the step-through way, got leg tangled up betwixt top tube and downtube, hilarity ensues.

  4. But I gotta ask: why the heck did you wear your mtb shoes on this bike?

  5. Opus the Poet says:

    I still remember my first product review, for a helmet locking device to keep your helmet from growing legs when you leave it on your bike.

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