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Best comfort bikes for errands or short commutes

Few comfort bikes receive more buzz in 2011 than the Breezer Uptown Infinity (MSRP: $1,270). Breezer has always received high marks for its Uptown series, but the new Uptown Infinity adds an unusual feature -- a NuVinci N360 internal rear hub, which offers a nearly infinite number of gears that can be adjusted more precisely than traditional gears. The aluminum frame comes in four sizes (plus an additional four sizes for the women's step-through model). Components include twist shifters, WTB Freedom Cruz Elite tires and Tektro V-brakes. The Breezer Uptown Infinity also comes fully loaded with all the commuting accessories one could want, including a headlight and taillight, rear rack, polycarbonate fenders, a bell, ring lock and full chain guard.

Reviewers rave about the NuVinci internal hub, saying its simplicity and versatility is hard to beat. "On a regular bike, you might be stuck in a situation where fourth gear is too hard and third gear doesn't give you quite enough power," says Michael Calore at Wired. "With the NuVinci, you can dial in gear three-and-a-half, or even gear three-and-nine-sixteenths." Bicycling magazine agrees, saying the hub "works flawlessly," and it is part of the reason they give the Breezer Uptown Infinity an Editors' Choice award. The ride is relaxed and plush, and reviewers say the bike is ideal for commuting in a variety of conditions.

However, reviewers caution that the Breezer Uptown Infinity is heavy -- Wired estimates that the bike weighs close to 35 pounds, thanks to all the commuting accessories and the NuVinci hub, which weighs more than 5 pounds alone. As a result, testers for Men's Journal say the bike is far from a speed demon. Those with very long commutes may prefer hybrid bikes, which are lighter and faster. Another downside is the Uptown's significant price tag, although reviewers agree that this bike is a worthy investment.

If you can make do with a traditional gearing setup, the Breezer Uptown 8 (MSRP: $1,000) still gets good reviews and it costs less than the new Infinity model. The bike comes in both a diamond and step-through frame, and the components are nearly identical to the Breezer Uptown Infinity, except it has Shimano Nexus eight-speed gearing.

The Breezer Uptown 8 won the Editors' Choice award from Bicycling magazine for the last two years, and even though it lost out on that title this year to the Infinity, it's still a solid choice for those who want to commute in style. BikeCommuters.com gives the 2011 model a positive review, saying it comes stocked with numerous commuting accessories at a price that won't break the bank. The upright riding position translates into a stable ride that gives you a good view in traffic, but don't expect to keep up with hybrids or road bikes. "You're not going anywhere fast with this bike É but as I mentioned in our first impression of the Uptown 8: this bike isn't designed for speed or serious distance," says Jack Sweeney. "It's a point a to point b bike, predominantly for short-haul urban commuters."

The Electra Delivery 3i (MSRP: $850) is another option for leisurely rides and commutes. This three-speed bike has a cruiser-style frame and plenty of commuting accessories, including a rear rack, front cargo tray, fenders, chain guard and a bell. The aluminum frame is outfitted with a steel fork, a Shimano three-speed internal hub, a roller brake in the front and a coaster brake in the rear. All Electra bicycle frames come with a limited lifetime warranty, while other components (excluding tires, tubes and cables) are covered for one year. The 2009 model of the Electra Delivery 3i was recalled because the front tray had a tendency to come lose while riding, but current models of the bike have fixed this issue.

BikeRadar.com says the Electra Delivery 3i is very comfortable to ride, thanks to the wide Schwalbe balloon tires, and the wood-accented frame is sure to attract compliments among fellow bike riders. Bicycling magazine says the bike is stable, even when hauling panniers and a loaded front rack, and the saddle is thick and comfortable. However, testers for BikeRadar.com say the chain rattles on occasion, and they think the bike's range is limited to short, leisurely rides. "It's more cool cruiser than cargo bike, and even though the matching racks, chain guard and mudguards tie it together, this bike is for shorter, flat rides," says editor Gary Boulanger.

Best hybrid bikes for long commutes

If you live in a hilly area or have a long commute, a hybrid bike like the Fuji Absolute 3.0 (MSRP: $600) may be a better choice. Hybrid bikes combine the speed and efficiency of a road bike with the comfortable positioning and flat handlebars of a mountain bike. The Fuji Absolute 3.0 has a lightweight aluminum frame, Tektro Mini-V brakes, Fuji Alloy Road wheels and a triple crankset. Like most hybrid bikes, the Fuji Absolute 3.0 doesn't come with commuting essentials like fenders, racks or lights, but the frame has mounts so you can add your own accessories. The frame (which is covered by a lifetime warranty) comes in five sizes in a traditional diamond frame; a step-through frame is also available in three sizes.

The Fuji Absolute 3.0 is the top scorer in a recent group test of budget hybrid bikes conducted by Britain's Cycling Active magazine. In addition to a sleek and expensive-looking design, testers say the Fuji bike has a smooth, quiet drivetrain and can go fast while maintaining its comfortable ride quality. "The ride quality as a whole is very impressive," says Cycling Active. "It's possible to adopt a pretty sporty posture on the bike, which props your bodyweight quite far forward and lends a sense of urgency to the proceedings." The Fuji Absolute 3.0 is also the top-rated bike in a recent independent test, where experts give it high marks for excellent handling and admirable shifting performance. The wide range of 24 gears is another perk, especially for those who regularly tackle hills on their commute. Unlike some hybrid bikes, the Fuji Absolute 3.0 isn't well suited to riding off-road on trails or dirt, and it can feel slightly jittery over potholes and bumps. 

The Trek 7.3 FX (MSRP: $680) is another multispeed hybrid bike that deserves mention. Like the Fuji Absolute 3.0, the Trek 7.3 FX has an aluminum frame, eight-speed cassette and triple crankset. Other components include Avid SD-3 brakes, a Shimano Deore rear derailleur and Bontrager Race All-Weather tires. The frame comes in five sizes; a women's step-through design is an option in the Trek 7.3 FX WSD (MSRP: $680), which is available in four sizes.

Bicycling magazine says the Trek 7.3 FX is a great value, and the British edition of Men's Fitness recommends it for riders with long commutes. "The fast-rolling 700c wheels will allow you to beat the traffic with ease on this well-specced hybrid," the editors write. The Trek 7.3 FX also earns very high ratings at Buzzillions.com, a site that compiles owner-written reviews from various sites, including the Trek website. The most recent reviews on the 2011 model are largely positive, with owners raving about the lightweight frame and smooth shifting. However, many riders say the saddle is uncomfortable.

For about the same price, the Giant Rapid 3 (MSRP: $680) is another well-reviewed hybrid bike for long commutes. The aluminum frame, which comes in four sizes, has a triple crankset and eight-speed SRAM cassette, so the bike offers plenty of gearing options for hilly areas. Other components include Tektro dual-pivot brakes, Giant S-R2 rims, Giant P-R3 tires and Shimano EZ Fire shifters. A similar women's model is available in the Giant Dash 3 (MSRP: $680). Both bikes are covered by a lifetime frame warranty.

The Giant Rapid 3 scores highly in a recent independent test, where it posts similar scores to the Fuji Absolute 3.0. The only area where the two diverge is in shifting performance -- the Fuji Absolute 3.0 posts a slightly higher score in this area. The U.K. edition of Men's Fitness is also a fan, giving the Giant Rapid 3 the magazine's Style Award.

Although Giant doesn't publish an official weight for the Giant Rapid 3, Men's Fitness estimates that the bike weighs less than 22 pounds, which isn't shabby for a hybrid bike. However, those unused to riding a road bike may struggle with the aggressive positioning. "It looks mighty impressive -- especially with such a snappy paint job -- and is incredibly fast, but it lacks the extra comfort provided by a more upright sitting position," says Men's Fitness. User reviews are also positive -- a number of owners at Buzzillions.com say the Giant Rapid 3 is a great commuter bike that doubles as a fun weekend ride. It even has enough speed to keep up with road bikes, according to these owners.

The Raleigh Detour Deluxe (MSRP: $800) comes with more commuting accessories than most hybrid bikes, including fenders, front and rear lights, a full chain guard and an integrated pannier rack. The steel frame (available in three sizes) includes a Nexus 8 internal hub, Shimano roller brakes, eight-speed Shimano Alfine trigger shifters, Kenda tires and Weinmann rims.

Reviewers say the internal hub is a huge perk in city traffic, as you can change gears while stopped at a traffic light -- unlike bikes with traditional derailleurs, you don't have to be moving. Roller brakes don't have the same stopping power as disc brakes, but reviewers say braking performance is surprisingly good, even in rainy weather. Handling is also solid, and reviewers like that the Raleigh Detour Deluxe comes with all the accessories most people will need. "At $800, the Detour Deluxe is one of the best values on the market for a mid-priced, fully-outfitted commuter," says EcoVelo. The bike also gets high marks for value from Canada's Momentum magazine, which features the Raleigh Detour Deluxe in its latest gear guide. However, EcoVelo says the pannier rack is limited in its usefulness. It can't be used as a platform, and it can only be used with certain brands of panniers.

It costs more, but the Kona Dr Fine (MSRP: $1,100) earns several recommendations for its all-weather commuting prowess. The higher price gets you a carbon fork, which is lighter and absorbs more road vibration than its aluminum or steel counterparts, and powerful hydraulic disc brakes. The aluminum frame comes in six sizes and includes an eight-speed internally geared rear hub, Continental Contact tires and Shimano Alfine shifters. A lifetime frame warranty is included.

Reviewers say the Kona Dr Fine has hassle-free shifting, and the disc brakes are a worthy upgrade for those who ride in stop-and-go traffic. The brakes even stand up to inclement weather, including rain and snow. "This is the selling point for me: the gears and brakes will cope with anything, making it a fine all-year commuting machine," says Jon Burrage at Road.cc. Like the Raleigh Detour Deluxe, reviewers say they appreciate the internal hub for city riding. The frame is also said to be durable but lightweight, according to Britain's Cycle Commuter magazine. However, the Kona Dr Fine has a narrower gear range than many hybrid bikes, and experts say you'll feel it on big hills. "I got up most hills, although some were a struggle," says Burrage.

The Felt Verza City 1 (MSRP: $1,150) is another option if you're willing to pay more for high-quality components. The aluminum frame is outfitted with a Shimano Alfine eight-speed internal hub, Shimano mechanical disc brakes, full coverage fenders and a rear rack. Four sizes are available, and the frame and fork are covered by a limited lifetime warranty. The bike earns a mention from Canada's Momentum magazine, where editors call it a "perfect transportation tool." Editors say the bike has easy handling -- a plus in busy traffic -- and the eight-speed drivetrain provides enough gearing options for most hills. "Everything about the Verza 1 is designed to make urban transportation faster, easier and more fun," the editors write.

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2011 Fuji Absolute 3.0 Road Bike
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