I poked, prodded and rode Raleigh's new Coasting bicycle based on the Shimano Coasting group. With the Coasting project, Shimano and its bike industry partners worked to create a bike for the 160 million 'latent cyclists' in America who know how to ride a bike but do not. They're not interested in performance or the latest technology; they just want to ride a bike for fun.
While the Coasting offerings from Trek and Giant are cruisers appropriate for the bike path with big 26 inch tires, Raleigh took their inspiration from the old English three-speeds like the classic Raleigh Superbe to create a hybrid city bike with 700c wheels, a steel frame with a fairly lively geometry, and a practical front rack (complete with bottle opener) for carrying stuff.
Other nice details on Raleigh's Coasting bicycle are a retro leather saddle with big coil spring, the Coasting chain (and wow! what a chain it is), leather grips on the swept-back handlebar, and attractive shimmery paint job. The other Coasting offerings invite the rider to wear flip flops and sun hats; the Raleigh bike has a more refined, casual yet civilized look and feel.
My sample bike did not shift properly on my test ride; we figured out this was due to a problem with assembly. Because bike shop mechanics may not be familiar with the Coasting mechanism you will want to check for proper operation.
Sheldon Brown is famously skeptical of the Coasting experiment, calling Coasting “a wrong-headed exercise in form over function.” Coasting adds mechanical complexity to simplify the actual bike-riding experience. Sheldon, though, prefers the ability to quickly get at the mechanical bits so riders can fix them. “Making the bike look simple is not the same as making it be simple. The hubcaps over the wheels cover up the stuff you need to get at to fix a flat tire.”
Sheldon Brown also objects to the missing front brake, which he considers to be a safety flaw. I'm personally not a big fan of coaster brakes either, but I think this may be because I'm not accustomed to them. Positioning the pedals after you stop, for example, is difficult with coaster brakes. I suspect the target market for this bike won't care about the lack of front brakes. Front brakes are required for bicycles in the UK.
Because of the automatic three-speed shifter and coaster brake, no cables clutter up the lovely clean lines of this bike. The hub caps and special fork ends may make it a little more difficult to fix a flat, but Raleigh has equipped the Coasting with flat-resistant Kenda tires.
When I noted the lack of a fender to Raleigh marketing coordinator Carey Schleicher-Haselhorst, she explained that they considered fenders but kept them off due to pricing. “We wanted to keep this bike at a certain price point that would be appealing to that first time rider and unfortunately adding a set of fenders was going to pop the bike into a different price bracket. We put the money into the specific coasting chain, the chain guard with the window, the rack, 700c wheels, the grips and seat and frame silhouette,” Carey told me.
Riding the Raleigh Coasting
Some fat-saddle hybrid bicycles are so overbuilt that they really impact the ride. The Raleigh Coasting bicycle, though, feels just like a bicycle is supposed to feel. I didn't expend a lot of energy pushing past unnecessary bulk. The wide leather saddle with its coil springs very effectively smoothed the ride without getting in the way of my pedaling. The steel frame, traditional geometry, moderate fork rake and Shimano Coasting components quietly and efficiently transfer power to the wheels while giving a responsive yet comfortable ride.
Coasting is perfect for neighborhood trips to the coffee shop, but the Raleigh also is a nice commuter bike. This bike is built well enough for the occasional charity ride.
While bike shop revenues were up last year, actual unit sales are down. The National Sporting Good Association recently announced that cycling for recreation plummeted in 2006, falling behind bowling – bowling! -- in popularity. Shimano and their builder partners have put a lot of energy into Coasting in the hopes of growing the bike market pie. In spite of the slight shortcomings I mention above, overall I think this bike is a winner. Raleigh did an excellent job of designing an attractive city bike that I think will appeal to non-cyclists.