Interbike Mini-Review: Spot Highline
We first spied Spot's Highline commuter bike at Interbike last year, info here.
In marketing the Highline, Spot encourages you to ditch your car payment in favor of pedaling, going so far as to state that if you aren't already riding everyday, you will be after life on the Highline. Let's take a spin, shall we?
I have a growing fondness for bikes like the Highline; simple bikes that encourage you to hop on and go, without thought to what outfit you have on, or where your cycling specific footwear might be hiding.
The Highline's 4130 chromoly frame is all business, no frills, utilitarian, with a few nice touches such as the seatstay brace to manage disc brake forces, and the sloping top tube offers ample stand-over clearance, and mountain bike-ish profile.
Perhaps the most commuter friendly aspect of the Highline is its Gates Carbon Drive belt system. The advantages of this belt drive system for commuting are many; the belt and aluminum cogs will not rust, do not require any lubrication or maintenance (no dirty, greasy chain), and are said to last nearly twice as long as the average chain-drive system. We'll need to get a long-term tester in to evaluate the durability claims, but keep in mind that belts like these are used with great success on motorcycles. The Carbon Drive system does require a split drive-side dropout in order to install the continuous belt in the frame.
Also adding to the low maintenance vibe of the Highline is the 3-speed SRAM internally geared hub (Gates Carbon Drive is designed for single speed use only, so you'll need an internally geared hub, or crankset, if you want multiple speeds. Hayes Stroker hydraulic disc brakes also contribute greatly to the all-weather, low maintenance aspect of the Highline.
The Highline comes complete with fenders and sensibly wide 38mm Kenda Kwick Roller Holiday tires.
The Highline's riding position is decidedly racey with "moustache" bars in their stock, "drop" position. As such, I felt this position was too aggressive considering the vibe of the rest of the bike, and the fact that I was wearing a 40+ lb photo backpack while riding. So, I took a few minutes to flip the bars 180º to their rise position (as pictured) and, viola, all was right in the world. The decidedly upright position felt worlds better given my use, and seemed to match the overall vibe of the bike better. In most situations, commuting bike's handlebars should be higher than the saddle, in my humble opinion, affording a nice comfortable position.
Handling-wise the Highline is fairly conservative; not too quick, not too slow, but displaying stable, comfortable and relaxing handling that's ideal for a commuting bike.
In my younger and far more foolish days, I wasn't terribly excited about internally geared hubs, but I have since seen the low-maintenance light and I am thinking I need an internally geared commuting bike. Being able to shift gears while stopped at a traffic light brings me more joy than it really should. The SRAM 3-speed Dual Drive hub on the Highline felt great on the flat streets of Vegas, but might have riders in hilly areas wishing for a wider range of gearing.
The only real issue I can see folks having with the Highline involves mounting front or rear racks. Since there are no low-rider mounts on the fork, you'll be resigned to using band-clamps should you need to run a front rack. Out back there is only a single rack/fender mount per side. In order to install a rear rack, that one rear mount will have to share duty with both rack and fender, while working around the rear disc brake. While this is certainly possible, it will take a bit of creativity.
Overall, the $1299 Highline could make a fantastic commuter, depending on your needs, terrain, and riding style. Its low-maintenance build will certainly make a lot of folks happy, and keep them on the road.
[Ed notes: During Interbike week, we borrowed a variety of bikes from companies to ride from our rental house to the indoor show, plus to parties and happenings around town after dark. Not only did this make our experience much more enjoyable, it allowed us a closer look at some of the latest offerings in the realm of transportation and utility bikes. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be presenting our impressions of our time with these bikes as mini-reviews.]
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