Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Dynamic Crosstown 7: A Review at 1200 miles

Last summer, I had to retire my old faithful commuter with something like 12k miles because it need about $400 worth of new drive train, wheel, hub, etc. Having paid about $400 for it 12 years ago, it was time to check out the market and replace it with a new bike.
I looked around at several options, and I ended up choosing the Dynamic Crosstown 7 over the Bianchi Milano, Bianchi Bergamo and the Breezer Uptown. This time around, I wanted reliability, low maintenance, and a good balance of cruising speed and comfort. Having had enough of cleaning dirty derailers, I was sure I wanted to get an internally geared hub. I ended choosing the Crosstown 7, a shaft-drive bike with the Shimano Nexus 7 internal hub.
I made my choice based on rides of the Bianchis at Ozone Bikes and reading the reviews of the Dynamic online. BikeCommuters.com gave a good review on their site. Many of the people who write in to the Dynamic website are hard core year-rounders in the sticks of Maine who ride through snow and summer rain alike. I took that to be a pretty good endorsement. The shaft drive had strong appeal to me since I have long ago tired of sprocket tattoos, greasy fingers, chewed up pants legs, and expensive drive train replacements. The shaft drive has no exposed moving parts, does not need to be cleaned, and is an $89 part when and if I have to replace it. (Dynamic estimates its lifetime at about 10k miles.) How many chains, gearsets, and derailleurs have I been through on my previous bike in 12k miles? At least $300 worth... :-\ Daring to be a little different, I took the plunge.

The buying experience was good overall with minor hiccups. Since they are fairly small volume, there are not local dealers, and my order was over the phone but the sales rep was helpful, knowledgeable, and willing to customize the order. They swapped the cheapo pedals and seat for a good cycle computer, and I added fenders, too. With the added delivery charge, the total came to about $750, delivered to the door. Their website estimates 3-5 days delivery to Austin. I ordered late on Friday, and it took them until the following Wednesday to put it in the mail, and five business days later (Monday) it arrived. From order to arrival was actually 10 days.
Assembly was straightforward: the shaft drive poses no special difficulty, and I was eager to take it for a spin. I noticed right away that the shaft drive was not silent but growled a little bit, especially right before shifts. Otherwise everything felt good.
I did quickly develop two beefs, though, that are pretty much inexcusable for a bike of this cost. First, out of the box, the front wheel had a wobble large enough to brush the front brakes. >:( I cured this with a spoke wrench and wheel alignment rig, discovering in the process that three spokes were way loose. How this got past quality control, I have no idea, but this was a disappointment. ??? The other beef is that the crank was a little loose and creaks embarrassingly when I stand on the pedals. :-[ This has been largely resolved by using clipped pedals and shoes (no switching torque direction) and a quick tightening of the crank arms, but I would expect the cranks to be appropriately seated and tightened to avoid the noises. Again, this is minor and relatively easily fixed, but with no local dealer offering a free first tuneup, and for the price I paid, I would expect it to be ready to go straight out of the box. :(
In any case, that was 1200miles ago, and quickly forgotten. I have five months riding it, in cold weather and hot. I've changed flats, and spent a lot of time in the saddle (The trip computer estimates about 100hrs.) So here are my well-worn impressions now:
In Re: the growling, a shot of grease to the front crank case completely solved the problem. I would have expected it to be done more thoroughly out of the box, but this was not a big deal. Properly done, it is totally silent. The bevel gears and drive shaft add a very small amount of friction relative to a brand new chain, but I think this would reverse for an older chain, and as I expected, the drive has gotten smoother with after a short break-in. On average, I've been adding grease to the front crank on a more or two less monthly basis. I ride a lot and more vigorously than some, so my greasing interval is slightly shorter than the recommended by Dynamic. I can tell it's time to add grease when the drivetrain gets a little growly. It's really very easy to do and takes me all of 15 seconds to do, so this is a HUGE improvement over the messy chain cleaning process I used to dread.
I definitely enjoy the lack of worry about pant cuffs, grease marks, and having been through the rain a few times this week and have not at all missed needing to clean the chain and derailleurs, etc.
I love the Nexus 7 hub, and highly recommend it: the shifts are precise and instantaneous. The gearing is well suited to my commute, which is moderately hilly (mostly along Shoal Creek from Anderson to campus). Anything hillier, and I'd recommend the 8-speed, whose extra gear is at the bottom of the range, for climbing. It took a little bit of time to reprogram my muscle memory since its grip shift is setup in the opposite sense from a derailleur's. I.E. twist forward to shift down and backward to shift up. At first I had to think about; now it comes naturally. Regardless, I love the ability to shift without pedaling, a huge help for hill starts.
The geometry is, for me, the right compromise between being far enough forward for speed and power but upright enough not to stress my wrists and lower back (especially with a backpack: I prefer not to use a bike rack). I saw a complaint online about the aluminum frame being too stiff, but I find it very comfortable and not too jarring, and I appreciate the lighter weight. In addition, the aluminum frame displays some beautifully well done TIG-welds, for those who appreciate that sort of thing.
Regarding flats, it's not a big deal to remove the rear wheel, although it is certainly more of a process than on a bike with a chain and quick release skewers. I keep two extra tools that I would not otherwise: a stubby flat-head screwdriver, and a thin wrench to fit the bolts on the rear axle. The main problem with getting the rear wheel off is actually the fenders. With the rear-open axle drops, you really have to remove the fender to get the wheel off. That makes it more involved than a conventional setup, so in order to minimize that problem, I replaced the Kendra tires it came with with some Maxxis urban tires with a Kevlar lining (and a reflective sidewall). Since putting on those tires, I've not had a single flat, and removing the rear wheel hasn't been an issue. Better tires are an option that Dynamic offers, and I would recommend paying the extra money for them.
Overall, I'm pleased with the purchase and would characterize it with one word: smooth. I look forward to putting lots more miles on the bike. In general, the build quality and components are good (with the above noted exceptions), and the Nexus 7 really shines. The shaft drive is pretty transparent and noticeable only because of the annoyances it doesn't give. I think I'll appreciate it more and more as I don't have to tune it, oil it, clean it, replace it, or hide my greasy pants legs. I hope that shaft drives become more accepted in the mainstream in the future. I think that would be well justified, especially among the bike-as-transportation community.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tim,

Thank you for taking the time to post this review on our bike. We are thrilled that you are logging so many miles and enjoying your Dynamic bike.

We also appreciate your critical feedback. Based on this, we have made changes to our work order and quality control processes to reduce delivery times and improve our internal quality ratings. We now average 1.5 day turnaround times on in-stock orders and 97% customer satisfaction upon delivery. We diligently tune each customer's bike before it is shipped, and will continue to improve our operations so every customer is as pleased with their bike as you are.

We are fortunate to have so many customers like yourself to provide us with feedback and referrals so we can continue to grow and improve.

We hope you continue to enjoy your bike, and we look forward to staying in touch.

Patrick Perugini, President
Dynamic Bicycles, inc.

Jenny said...

Dude, you got a blog comment from the PRESIDENT of the bike company? How'd you manage such an impressive blog readership in just a few weeks??

GhostRider said...

I'll tell you why: because Patrick Perugini is SERIOUS about his company and his products.

I got to test this bike for www.bikecommuters.com, and during the review process I spoke with Patrick a couple times over the phone and exchanged many emails with him. He is knowledgable (sp?), friendly and cares about how his company is fulfilling their mission. The whole interaction was outstanding!

Tim said...

All of my customer service interactions with Dynamic Bicycle have been outstanding. The first time I called in to figure out what was causing the growling problem, they sent me a grease gun and tube, gratis, and the mechanic was very helpful, calling me back after hours several times. Don't be too scared by the lack of LBS support because the phone/net support is responsive and good.

Jeff said...

Thanks for writing this Tim. I purchased a Dynamic Crossroad 8 based very much on what you wrote here and what others have shared online. No bike shop in my area carries Dynamic's line so I felt I was pretty limited in making a decision to get one. So far, the bike has been working well for me.

I wanted to return the favor and share my experiences with this unique bicycle design so I wrote a website about it. I hope it helps others who are thinking about getting one of these bikes. I've made a bunch of modifications to mine and the details don't easily fit into a brief forum post like this.

Thanks again. By the way, how's your bike? I've learned mine needs grease fairly frequently to run smoothly and I've had problems with the bevel gear circlip at the hub coming loose and weak rim tape causing flats. What problems have you experienced?


Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I owned a Dynamic Bicycles shaft drive bicycle. The Sussex shaft drive was not built to specifications that could handle the torque generated when pedaling uphill, or pedaling hard on level ground. The result was that the shaft drive was not maintenance free--in fact, it broke. I replaced it with a new shaft drive sent by Dynamic Bicycles. The new one began to break and I was told by their Production Manager that I was exceeding the specifications of the shaft drive. I received a verbal agreement from him to refund the purchase price of the bicycle. Dynamic Bicycles even took care of the return shipping for the bicycle.

Once they received it, however, the president of Dynamic Bicycles told me that I had owned the bicycle longer than 30 days, so the satisfaction guarantee no longer applied. I was given the option of having my bicycle returned to me with a tightened bolt and new grease, which would supposedly fix the problem, or receiving a refund minus the cost of shipping and a 15% restocking fee. Despite phone conversations, emails and then a complaint process with the Better Business Bureau In Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont (http://boston.bbb.org/WWWRoot/SitePage.aspx?site=27&id=b9531757-8bff-425c-83ce-ef5cf233e6a5), the president of the company would not uphold a verbal agreement stated twice and acknowledged by email. Because I do not live in Massachusetts, the state where Dynamic Bicycles is located, it made no sense for me to pursue a mediation or claim in small claims court, which would have required my presence. I will never do business with Dynamic Bicycles again, nor would I recommend doing business with Dynamic Bicycles. I am also weary of bicycles sold with shaft drives built by Sussex.

Tim said...

Wow, that's a bummer experience that doesn't match the attentive customer service I experienced with Dynamic. I've just passed 5200 km on my bike with no complaints from the driveshaft. I regularly haul heavy loads and crank hard up hills with it and have not had much to do. I grease the front crank more frequently than the recommendation when I've been riding hard, but I can tell right away when it needs it because of the roughness.
If you don't mind to post another comment, could you tell us how the shaft broke? Did it just shear into two and start spinning freely or did it seize up? I'm curious. How hard was it to replace the shaft?

Tim said...

In case anyone else is following this thread, Dynamic's president Patrick Perugini has already addressed this comment at Bikecommuters.com. Here's the link to it

Anonymous said...

Hi,
It has been interesting to read all the comments, thanks!
I have owned two of the older Sussex model bikes over the past ~8-9 years. I have done over 5000 miles on each before selling them, still in working order.
I cannot say either bike survived that long without some repair work, but lucky for me nothing I could not fix myself.
As they were old models, they do not compare to the current range.
Overall I have been very happy with the bikes, they have made for great trouble free commuting, and even have worked well towing my daughter in a trailer!
I'm currently looking into purchasing one of the new models to replace the last bike I sold, and can;t wait to get on it.
Richard