Electra Amsterdam Royal 8 mini-review
Being in a household with both a Classic 3 ($600) and a Royal 8 ($850), here are the upgrades you get for the $250 more money (Classic 3 is here):
More smaller gears for hills. But the top gear on the Royal 8 and Classic 3 are roughly comparable in speed --you're really just gaining more small gears. The Shimono Nexus 8 is slightly more finicky to keep tuned than the Nexus 3, but both Shimano shifters are much, much better than deraillers.
Both models shift by twisting the right handle, and as someone who faces numerous stop lights on my commute, the ability to downshift and shift back up again with a flick of the wrist is fricking fantastic. I *love* being able to downshift to 3rd gear for starting from a cold stop and then quickly racing up the gears to 8 again once I get back to my cruising pace. (I can flick down to gear 1 just as easy, but I find I only use 1 and 2 for steep hillsides, not even for starting from a complete stop.)
Kevlar tires (more flat protection for those riding in urban areas with broken glass and other sharp objects)
Front and rear hand brakes. The ability to freewheel the pedals backwards without braking and coast while standing on the side for those used to doing this in urban commutes. When stopped, it's easier to adjust a pedal to the optimal 10 o'clock position for when you next start pedaling --this quick launch technique is really only useful when you find yourself at stoplights a lot.
Fully enclosed disc brakes. No more sanding brake pads! No worries about wet rims, since the brakes are fully enclosed. (Classic 3 is fine in rain too --it's my old mountain bike with calliper brakes that sucks in this regard)
A lighter frame --which with the heavier 8 speed rear gear and the enclosed brakes, means it weighs just about the same as the Classic 3 in the end.
For my ten mile round trip daily commute, the Royal 8 upgrades were worth it. Especially since I have to ride up a 15% parking ramp grade from the basement parking garage every day and I actually use gear 1 on the way up --and I need the freewheel since I coast standing on the side of the bike in a business district where technically we're only supposed to walk our bikes on the sidewalk. :-)
People not doing such a long daily commute (and having to pedal up and down parking ramps) should save their money. The vast majority of people beginning at city bicycling will be quite happy with the Classic 3 instead.
But don't take our word for it. Give them both a test drive if you can. Even in the same household we came to two different decisions on what was right for each of us. ;-)
(Note: The college student in our spare room managed to pick up a usedElectra Cruiser Black Betty off craigslist for cheap, so we also have some pictures of that and mods made to make her 20 minute trip to classes each day easier. Before this she was riding a 10 speed she bought from a Master Student who had graduated. The Electra 3 speed is much, much easier to shift and much more comfortable to ride.)
The after-market upgrades I've added to make the bike even more usable are:
* Wald 582 wire baskets for the back rack. ($32 for 2 on amazon) Work much better for
carrying groceries than panniers. Grocery bags slip in exactly as they
should with no repacking necessary.
* Cargo net for $5 for keeping things from popping out of the top on bumps
* Use multiple 50lb www.buycableties.com to attach each basket to your back rack . The metal brackets Wald provides are too small for the diameter of Electra's rack tubing. I use 8 cable ties per side. Three per side meant they would break off from time to time.
* Pletscher ESGE double kickstand and rubber feet ($51) --because your bike tipping over once loaded with groceries sucks. (both from www.aebike.com )
* We moved the light on the Classic 3 to make space for the basket, and the same thing will work with the Royal 8 as well. More details Moving Light Classic 3 Royal 8
* Planet Bike 9.0 wireless cyclometer ($32) --makes rides more fun by knowing your speed and distance traveled. I actually prefer the wired version now. The wired version's display wakes up on its own once you start moving, while the wireless version has to be "nudged" to wake up at the beginning of each trip.
* Bell Citi helmet in black charcoal fabric
* Bell Citi helmet mirror --because craning your neck around to look behind gets old quickly, and you can order both at once from REI.
* Fahgettaboudit 5' chain and lock is too heavy for most people. I'm used to it and use it because I've already bought it, but I recommend for others a Kryptonite U-lock to lock the frame and the front wheel with a 7' cable to reach the back wheel.
The issues I've faced during shakedown of the new bike are:
* A coat panel on the back wheel came loose and started to slip down the frame --a twist of the screwdriver and it was fixed (instead I wasted a few rides pushing it back up into place, it slipped back down again. Duh, you really do need to tighten with a screwdriver to really fix it)
* After 80 miles the shifting cable needed to be readjusted (this is normal with all bikes as part of breaking in).
* The back tire and fender were rubbing one trip. A tap on the fender (no tools, just my finger) and it stopped.
* One time the Shimano shifter cable jumped out of its seat on the handlebar. Well, not the steel cable (which stayed in place), but the plastic sheath on the outside. So all the gears got unaligned when shifting. Once I noticed the plastic sheath had walked up out of its seat on the handlebar shifter, a quick poke back into place and everything returned to fine. I've lubricated the cable now, will see if it reoccurs.
Took it in at 4 months for my free tuneup and it's still smooth sailing. Have 500 miles on it.
There's some idiot that sued Electra because his chain fell off and rather than pay him and his slime lawyer a fat check, Electra decided to starve them both and pay out the judgement as a recall settlement instead. You take it in, they replace a screw with a shorter one and change a 30 cent piece of aluminum on the chain guard. It's completely useless and unnecessary, but so was the lawsuit. This way the money goes to bike shops instead of some ambulance chaseing goon and his stooge lawyer.
* Because the shifter is internal hub, the chain is cheap to replace: $10, $20 if you want nickle plated. My bike shop feels you should replace the chain every 3,000 miles. So I've got some time on that still.
[March 2009 update: The new prices are $970 for the Royal 8 and $700 for the 3i, with $750 for the Girard Tree of Life and Madonna 3i art bikes. The "i" means "internal" or "inside the wheel hub" shifter that they've already been using for years --much fewer problems with chains falling off when shifting than a derailer shifter.]