With an emphasis on fun, not commuter accoutrements like panniers and racks, the Urban Racer is a showpiece with performance chops.
Weight: 19.4 pounds with pedals (size 56)
Unlike most European cities, commuting in U.S. is often a boutique affair: serious riders riding serious bikes seriously. That’s a bad thing in many ways — shutting out the common man or woman isn’t the best tack for getting more butts on bikes — but it’s also kind of wonderful: It means the bicycle is revered, celebrated, despite our off-the-back reality when it comes to bicycle infrastructure. People who commute in the U.S. love their commuters, and the folks at Vanilla have created a commuter worth that love.
The Speedvagen Urban Racer is a bike-path beauty, and it’s probably not something you want to leave locked outside your apartment overnight. It’s got all the goodies, from an integrated seatmast likely to tank the resale value — though this bike wasn’t built for resale — to an integrated chain-guard and distressed paint job (which adds $400 to the overall cost of the bike). This bike is all about fun, but it’s got some performance chops, too.
Low and long is the name of the game when it comes to frame geometry; the Speedvagen is made to go fast. A 140mm stem on our test model stretched us out even more, so when you’re railing the bike path or shooting through traffic, feel free to throw down some watts on your morning commute. If you’re expecting an upright, forward-pedaling position, look elsewhere.
650b wheels are wrapped in 42mm tires, adding tight handling and a bit of comfort. Acceleration was particularly notable, and it’s unlikely you’ll find any commuter to compare with the Urban Racer. It jumps off the line at stop lights so well, you might be convinced it’s a racer bike in casual clothes. In fact, the Urban Racer is constructed from the same grade of steel that’s used to make Speedvagen’s high-end road and cyclocross bikes.
Oddly, the Speedvagen is spec’d with a 2-speed SRAM Automatix hub that didn’t seem to fit with the overall story of this bike. Vanilla’s owner and head builder, Sacha White, said, “I like that it gives an easy-ish gear to start out and to ride hills, as well as a tall gear to actually get somewhere. It definitely takes some getting used to. After a few days, I was pretty at home on it and knew when it would shift.” We weren’t especially in love with the hub and would consider swapping this out for a more traditional singlespeed hub.
Before plunking down cash on a pricey commuter like this, it’s important to think about what it’s great for, and what it’s not so great for. If you’re hauling groceries with bags and panniers, the Urban Racer is not up your alley. But if you’re looking to turn heads on the way to the bar or coffee shop, with the occasional huck off a curb or skid in the parking lot thrown in, throw a leg on this steel showman.
Vanilla’s owner and builder Sacha White is unapologetic about the Urban Racer, a bike that very clearly was a project close to his heart.
“This bike is for having a good time and not taking ourselves so seriously. It is not meant to be the height of utility, or the ultimate in pragmatism. It’s for having fun, which takes different forms for different people.”
Is the price overkill for a commuter bike? It certainly is if you’re an occasional commuter or a once-a-month stroller around the block, but if you’re pedaling multiple times a day every day, a build like this lends quality you’ll notice. Performance aside, if you’re looking for a fun bike that will have you swooping down city streets in nostalgic bliss as you remember your very first bike, perhaps the Urban Racer is worth a look. This is a showpiece for sure, but it’s one you can rip through town. Not a bad combo.