I like to think of life in chapters. Depending who’s counting, I’m up to my fifth or sixth: Fledgling Writer with Loyal But Poorly Trained Dog. Two decades ago I was immersed in my second: Forts, Nerf Wars and Backyard Baseball. It was a step forward from the precursor, Lego Solitude, and a relative apex compared to what would follow, Math League and Prom Failures.
During that second chapter, a precious five years bridging the naïveté of elementary school with the pimply battleground of high school, I built a makeshift pump track a few blocks from my house. Riding it with friends became a daily ritual, one accessed only by sneaking through a neighbor’s backyard full of rusted Chevy carnage. Laden with uneven rollers, side hits and shoddy banked corners, this 300-yard stretch of dirt, paired with a hand-me-down BMX, unlocked my lifelong love of bikes.
Every spring my mind wanders back to the long afternoons we spent lapping the track, getting muddy, going fast, leaving our pre-teen angst in the dust. The joy was pure, the wipeouts were hard, and the memories are still vivid. Though the nostalgia seems to have forgotten the blood and tears, conveniently replacing them with an insatiable curiosity for bikes of all kinds. From my Chapter 6 vantage point, I’ve become a two-wheeled egalitarian, and here are my favorite bikes right now.
Priority Cycles Continuum Onyx
Best Commuter Bike
The Priority Cycles Continuum Onyx is the safest, most stylish option for four-season laps to the office and back. It features reflective sidewalls and frame decals, a continuous geared hub good for 20,000 miles without service, a Gates Carbon Drive belt and hydraulic disc brakes. The headlight, taillight and a USB port are powered by the front hub as you ride, and the rear light keeps blinking when you stop, so cars don’t plow over you at traffic lights. The sexy matte black finish is just a bonus, really.
Best Dirt Jumper
Simple and classic, the PBJ lives up to its sandwich inspiration. Ideal for dirt jumps and pump tracks (which will make any mountain biker better and faster), this bike’s relaxed geometry is stable at high speeds and still handles well on tight corners. Twenty-six-inch wheels, disc brakes, 100mm of travel and a slick paint job make this build the modern version of my first bike.
All-City Super Pro Apex
Best City Smasher
Looking to have fun knocking around the neighborhood? Meet the Super Pro. This flat bar rig is great for the city, a simple drivetrain is reliable and efficient, and a steel frame will probably outlive most of us. The bike is full of lugs for fenders and racks, making it great for grocery runs and rainy days. And if you want to get wild, it’ll fit a dropper post too.
Marin Pine Mountain
Best Adventure Bike
The Pine Mountain has everything you need for a memorable adventure — and none of the whizbangs you don’t. Built to tackle all-day epics and week-long bikepacking trips, this burly steel hardtail is loaded with tons of cargo mounting points. The bike’s geometry is great for trail riding with or without an extra load. The front suspension softens the big hits and the Shimano groupset is built to last as long as your thirst for exploration does.
Giant Reign Advanced 29
Best Enduro Bike
Enduro: After a 15-year evolution, the Reign now comes with a longer frame and bigger wheels, making it best at high speed with an aggressive rider. A good climber with enough suspension to handle most technical descents, the Reign excels at both the up and the down. A carbon frame, SRAM Eagle drivetrain and 160mm travel upfront make it race-ready out of the box.
Best Gravel Grinder
The Saytr snuck onto the scene in January, when most of us were preoccupied with shoveling driveways and waxing skis. Boasting a relatively low price point for a top-tier gravel bike, the Saytr delivers all the functionality needed for the complex gravel category – room for 43c tires, a versatile bottom bracket, disc brakes with thru axles and a wide-clearance front fork. As playful as the mythical goat beast that inspired its name, the Saytr proves a drop bar isn’t a barrier to gnarly off-road exploits.
Specialized Creo SL
Best E-Gravel Bike
The fastest growing part of the market, electric bikes, has been dominated this year by Specialized and its proprietary battery and motor system. Engineered from the ground up, in-house, it allows the Creo to be nearly five pounds lighter than its competitors, shaving weight while offering an 80-mile range (plus 40 additional miles with the external range extender). Rocking an intuitive interface, Future Shock vibration reduction and smooth power-assist motor, the Creo is top of its class.
Best Aero Race Bike
Th first Felt AR appeared seven years ago, and even in 2013 it was shockingly fast. This year’s version – like the one before it and the one before that – claims to be even faster. The product of testing hundreds of computer models to refine the aerodynamics, the new AR is 9 percent faster than its predecessor, according to Felt. The bike also employs a stiffer form of carbon fiber and disc brakes to make it the best aero bike we’ve ridden lately.
Specialized Turbo Levo SL
Best E-Mountain Bike
Launched just a couple months ago, the Levo SL is (feel free to quote me) the most fun bike you’ll ever ride — and arguably the future of mountain biking. Depending on the components used, the SL weighs in at right around thirty pounds, the same as many non-electric mountain bikes. With a nearly silent motor and enough juice for 60 miles, the Levo SL makes the uphills feel like riding downhill and downhills feel like motocross. Buckle up, so to speak, because you’re about to go for the ride of your life.
Best Custom Bike
If you’re in the market for a one-of-a-kind ride, check out Portland, Oregon’s Speedvagen. Renowned for a shared love of bikes, attention to detail and community ethos, the workshop is a collection of fabricators, mechanics, metal workers and painters that make some of the most beautiful city, road and gravel bikes I’ve ever seen. And they’re not just for show: Speedvagon customs are high-end racers that’ll outpace the rest of the field. Bring some coin, though: full customs start around $8,000, and the average complete build is closer to $12,000.
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