Metro Bike Mountains of Madness
Words by Carter Chappell
If you have been to LA recently maybe you have noticed the new Metro Bikes that launched last late year. They are essentially three-speed commuters by Trek that are built around a bombproof steel frame and held together by an army of tamper-proof bits. You cannot in any way take the tires off if you get a flat or do much outside of raising and lowering the seat to change the bikes fit in any way. It’s pretty much that last thing you would want to do any sort of long or hilly ride on.
When Andy brought up to our group last week the idea of taking these steel beasts up the Angeles Crest Highway we all thought he was completely kidding. As the week wore on and ride plans begin to solidify it became apparent this, while maybe an attempt at humor, was no joke. Andy was going up that damn mountain, and he was going to do it on a Metro Bike. The group quickly splintered into three factions: those that were into it, bike packing in the mountains, and anything but those other two things. I rode the line somewhere between Metro Bikes and going out for a mountain bike ride so kept quiet until Saturday night when I just couldn’t seem to shake the image of being up there with Andy’s goofy face grinning on the 2.
I opted for late Saturday night and signed up for the Metro Bike share program which was simple and hooked up to my TAP card that I use to ride the train. I did some light research on the bike and realized I would need a pump that would do Schrader valves and tire levers hefty enough to pop the bead on a heavy tire. I threw in the usual assortment of tools but added dry erase markers to the mix for on-the-spot bike customization.
Sunday morning turned up to be Andy, Nils, and myself at Fillmore station in Pasadena off the gold line. We quickly fitted our bikes as best we could and affixed various bags into the ample baskets on the front of the bikes. I realized that the tools were useless when I got a good look at the bolts and resigned to not having any way to fix the bike aside from a very awkward call the Metro Bike share support team from the top of the San Gabriel Mountains. Turns out you may or may not be able to swap out the pedals on these bad boys for SPD’s with a pedal wrench but I cannot confirm that as altering Metro Bikes is bad and against the rules.
We set off through Pasadena and on the way to the Angeles Crest via the Rose Bowl. Along the way, Andy and I swapped out bikes for ones that did not ghost shift or pop under load respectively. The new bikes were solid, so we took off to the normal weekend ride meetup spot: the La Canada Shell Station at the base of the 2. Normally, you will see dozens of cyclists here heading up for some weekend climbing miles but today was void of anyone save our trio of Metro Bikes. We found out later that Phil’s Fondo was the same day, and pretty much everyone in Southern California with a road bike and a chamois was in Malibu eating cookies. After stocking up on peach rings and candy bars we headed out and up for Mount Wilson via the 2.
Just as we were leaving our friend Mike showed up (he was part of the camp that wanted nothing to do with this metro bike silliness) we chatted for a bit and took a few photos before taking off on what has got to be one of the hardest initial ascents of the 2 in recent memory. Mike, quickly pulled away from our group and on into the weekend and better thought-out plans.
I am really surprised and impressed by how the Metro Bikes handled on this ride. You would expect a 40-pound steel frame, spec’d with SRAM Pigeon (credit Andy for the name), drum brakes, and minimal adjustability to pretty much be impossible to climb on. I’ll say it was tough, but no harder than riding a singlespeed up a mountain and in some places a bit easier as the three options for gearing paired with standing up and mashing on the pedals at some points felt like almost, close to the right gear.
We made it to Clear Creek in good shape all considering and stopped to rest, refuel and snap some pics with a fellow cyclist who had a contact at Metro Bike he wanted to show our ride to. The next bit of the ride up to Red Box was probably one of the stupider things I have ever done on a bike, our initial plan to get to Wilson was revised, and after a soda and candy bar we all decided to head back down the 2 and basically just lollipop our route back to Fillmore station. I’d like to note here that we could have taken a sweet shortcut down Mount Lowe and dropped our bikes off at the Pasadena City College station to set us up for a quick trip back to my house, but this plan was vetoed due to the unknown handling capabilities of the Metro Bike on steep sketchy gravel roads.
The descent down the 2 is widely known as one of the best and most fun roads in Southern California. The 8-mile ride gives you enough time to let your smile set in and start to enjoy the feel of the wind, with amazing views of mountains and LA skyline. Today was no different, again I must say I was surprised here. The bike descended quite well, and if it were not for the lack of hand positions would have been an extremely comfortable descent. The weight of the frame and wide heavy puncture resistant tires soaked up the normal road chatter and when sitting up, the cruiser feel of the bike allowed for some amazingly fun descending. I think I topped it out at around 40 miles an hour which was good for a normal day, and very impressive under the circumstances.
We got back to Fillmore station feeling more like a 100-mile day than the 44 miles and 5k of elevation gain it ended up being. After docking the bikes back in their stations the grand total per bike was about $20, a drop in the bucket compared to the fun we had on these sturdy gentle beasts. If you are ever walking by a bike share station and wonder what it could be like I’m here to tell you that while yes there are much better bikes out there, for what it is the humble Metro Bike and the legs of the Best Friends Forever Cycling Club made for as good a weekend as I have had in some time.