Review: Linus Gaston 5

Wool scarf? Check. Ray-Bans? Check. Mustache? Check. Alrighty then, it sounds like we’re all suited up for a ride on the Linus Gaston 5.

Outside the bespoke specimens on display at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, this five-speed city bike is the most stately, respectable steed I’ve seen in this year’s crop of urban-minded velocipedes.

Linus has assembled a catalog of beautiful, retro-flavored bicycles since getting into the business in 2007 in Venice, California. The brand’s styling sits somewhere between mid-century British “sports” models, a beachy SoCal vibe and the French New Wave.

The Gaston 5 follows suit — it’s one damn handsome machine, especially when lined up alongside the clunky comfort bikes and carbon-fiber show ponies in the bike rack.

The 4130 chromoly frame is slightly relaxed and has all the appropriate eyelets for fenders and racks, should you want to add them (Linus offers matching fenders and racks as an upgrade). The saddle and the handlebar tape are brown leather, the 700c wheels are slung with creamy white 35mm Kendas, and (as on all other Linus bikes) a brass bell is standard.

The Gaston is gassed up with a Sturmey Archer 5-speed internally geared hub. This is an update for 2011, as the Gaston was previously only available as a single speed, which remains an option. This isn’t one of Sturmey Archer’s drum brake models, it’s a 22-tooth high-flange freewheel, so you get Tektro handbrakes and calipers.

The handlebars are regular low-rise swept bars, but they’re flipped upside-down. This pushes your riding position forward and down, giving the bike a more aggressive “cafe racer” feel when you’re cruising.

Another oddity: Unlike most other internally geared bikes in production these days, the Linus Gaston 5 doesn’t have a twist shifter or a thumb shifter. Instead, the shift lever is on the down tube. This choice makes for aesthetically clean lines, and it complements the bike’s retro styling — that’s where we put ‘em in the ’70s and ’80s — but it also presents a problem.

The Gaston 5 has those flipped handlebars on a 100mm stem, which pushes your weight farther forward than normal. When you reach down to shift, you’re riding one-handed with all that weight on the bars, and the steering suddenly gets a little dicey. Most of the time, this only requires a momentary boost in your concentration.

But when you’re accelerating quickly, or if you ride with a bag or a backpack that adds weight to the top of your back, the instability becomes a more serious issue. I have a messenger bag, and it was jostling from side to side every time I reached down to shift during my stop-and-go office commute. Even after growing used to the little dance I had to do every time I shifted gears, I found myself wishing for a bar-end shifter. It wouldn’t mess up the aesthetics like a grip shifter, but it would make the bike more stable.

I should also note that if you encounter the same issues I did (and you may not), you can explore any posture you want by simply flipping or replacing the bars.

Otherwise, it’s a great ride. It’s not excessively heavy (27 pounds) so, while it’s a bit of a chore on hills, it’s easy enough to pilot around town and not a total pain carrying it up and down stairs.

Most of all, I really like the gearing on the Sturmey Archer five-speed. The first few gears offered enough of a spread to tackle the varied terrain in San Francisco. I was able to set it and forget it in fourth almost all the time on flat roads. And when you kick it into fifth, the thing positively cooks.

With your weight pushed forward and your shoulders hunched down low, top speed feels pretty exhilarating.

Riding home late one night with no cars hogging the road, I threw it into fifth gear, then hammered the pedals until I spun out. The great whooshing sound of the wind masked my delighted cackling as tears streamed down my cheeks. Lucky, I had my monogrammed pocket square tucked into my tweed jacket, so I was able to dab away the tiny drops of joy and regain my composure.

Photo by Jon Snyder/get-gadget

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