In case anyone was interested in the Burley Runabout commuter bike, DirtRag ran this review of it in one of the past issues...



Dirt Rag Article Archive



Burley Runabout
By Michael Browne
(Issue #106)

Rider: Michael Browne
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 165lbs
Inseam: 29.5"

Comfortable. Stable. Reliable. Those are the first three words that come to mind when I think about the Burley Runabout. If making comparisons to a car is fair, I'd compare the Burley to my dad's old Volvo. Safe, a little on the portly side and reliable as the setting sun—all for a slightly higher price. But we all know you get what you pay for, as is the case with the Runabout, a bike that's handmade by a cooperatively-owned company in Eugene, Oregon.

A commuter bike should encourage you to ride. When I gear up for a mountain bike ride, I look for my best compatible shoes, my waterpack with all the right tools, my helmet, my favorite chamois shorts and all the miscellaneous gear. When I reach for the Runabout, I make sure there's water in the water bottle, then I grab my helmet and go. With flat pedals and SKS Chromoplastic fenders ($40, not included), I'm not concerned about dirtying up my clothes with road and chain grit. With the upright riding position that the HL flat bar with 9° sweep provides, I'm aware of my surroundings rather than staring at the blacktop in front of me. And with Wellgo flat pedals, a Burley-specific rear rack and a low maintenance SRAM Spectro 7-speed internal drivetrain, all I need is a pump, tube and mini tool to get me going. Everything about this bike encourages me to strap on my helmet instead of opening the car door.

A commuter bike should be bombproof. To this end, Burley chose True Temper's Verus tubing—a tried and true double butted, heat treated, 4130 steel tubeset that used to be standard issue on bicycles back in the ‘80s. In today's bicycle building world, we have a confusing mix of attributes courtesy of carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum; the fact remains, it's all measured against the old standby, 4130 steel. The Verus tubing is strong enough to stand up to everyday abuse like unexpected potholes, dings from bike racks and the oh-so-surprising spill on slick ice. Not only is the drivetrain user-friendly, but since the hub only uses one cog, the wheel is built without dish, making the wheel stronger. (Geared wheels use "dish"—a wheelbuilding term to refer to accurate centering of the rim over the axle.) The Runabout gets a Shimano front cable-actuated disc brake and a rear drum brake, both of which are not affected by salty, wet roads and do not require cleaning or obsessive pad replacement.

For everything that a commuter bike should be, there are certain unappealing things about the Runabout, and they're the same things you'll read about many other bikes—mainly, price and weight. At $1100 and 30.5lbs. (subtract 1lb. for the derailleured Runabout), this bike isn't for the meager at heart or pocketbook. My co-workers, as well as myself, have been quick to criticize the bike's weight, but the bike feels balanced both while riding solo and with a full load of groceries. I've also noticed that my legs are stronger since starting this test. While at times I felt slow pedaling uphill into a headwind, I'd much rather feel slow once in a while than have to stop and fix a flat due to skimpy tires. As for the price, I'll leave that up to you. I could easily justify this to myself were I not a magazine editor, knowing I'd invested my hard-earned money on the right tool, designed specifically for the job. The only thing that concerns me is the possibility of someone snipping my lock and making off with a cool grand worth of bike.

Since starting this bike test, I've logged about 300 miles on the bike, sloshing to and from work through 9.1-miles of Pittsburgh's finest wintry roads. From the start, the bike was comfortable with no break-in time required. The bike felt solid and balanced, nimble and agile in its handling. Steering was precise, like I was turning with my hips rather than pointing headfirst towards a target. The nice, twisty S-turn descent down the hill near my house was a perfect example, as the turn felt fluid and not forced. As dorky as it sounds, I felt proud riding in the upright position, looking car drivers square in the eye as if to say, "Yes, I know it's 15°. Yes, I know I'm on a bicycle."

The bike comes in retro green only and its details shine upon closer inspection. A reinforced head tube collar prevents ovalizing, straight 17.25" chainstays with a slight dimple allow fairly wide (up to 2.1") tires, and industrial-looking rear dropouts permit the use of various braking and drivetrain systems—drum brake, coaster brake and disc brake mounts; singlespeed, derailleur or internal gearing. There are also two water bottle mounts, front and rear fender mounts, as well as a rear rack mount that doesn't get in the way of whatever style brake you choose. Using Burley's proprietary rack (75lb. weight limit), your pannier choices are limited, as my Sci-Con dry bag and Maurice's Jandd Mountaineering panniers did not fit. However, their children's trail-a-bike attachment fits directly into a port built in the rack, creating the ideal pivot point for junior's safety. Over all, the bike is versatile.

The Runabout is sold with either a 27-speed derailleur system or a 7-speed internal, using the same frame for the same price. Since I had no experience with an internally-geared drum brake hub, I emailed my friend Peter Elan, editor of Velo Vision (www.velovision.com), and asked him about the SRAM Spectro 7. He pointed out some internal drivetrain benefits—low maintenance, no chain drop, no derailleur to get stuck on things; and drawbacks—less efficient, heavier, doesn't offer as wide a gear range and will require a professional mechanic to repair when it goes bad. Peter tells me the Spectro 7 has a good reputation for reliability and is considered one of the more efficient models, at least the 3-speed version is, as tested by the International Human Powered Vehicle Association. If you were to have the same gear range on a derailleur system, it would be like running a 38t front chainring with an 11-28 7-speed cassette. Although the internal hub is cool, if you're confident using, maintaining and repairing a derailleur system, I suggest sticking with what's familiar.

Setting up the internal system was no problem once I read the directions. Shifting by means of the twist shifter was simple once I got used to delaying my pedal stroke to let the shift occur, and adjusting the chain tension was a breeze with the eccentric bottom bracket (BB). What puts the "eccentric" in an eccentric BB? An off-center BB spindle and an oversize shell allows the shell that houses the BB to rotate, providing about 12mm of adjustment. Since the bike has vertical dropouts, some sort of chain adjustment is necessary. The eccentric BB makes this bike an easy conversion to a singlespeed.

I could go on and on explaining the attributes of a 73° head and seat angle or whether the Continental Contact 1.75" tires with flat resistant belting really protected against glass in the road (they did), or how you can use 700c wheels and tires (up to 32mm) but the point is that I had a delightful experience commuting on the Burley. While some could argue that there are better values for a commuting bike, I believe one must look at their priorities in bicycle riding as well as life and make personal choices based on those decisions. Good luck, and more power to you.