New Bike Day: Electra Loft 3i review

Electra Loft 3i step-over frame in charcoal grey.

Electra Loft 3i step-over frame in charcoal grey.

Yep, it’s #newbikeday! I’ve been looking for a Dutch-style, upright bike to ride when I host my tours around town. I thought I wanted a “real” Dutch bike, but after shopping around I ended up with a “fake” Dutch bike.

(The good old commuter hybrid Marin Larkspur, circa 2008, was causing me some wrist issues, it had some recent mechanical issues, and it was also looking a bit shabby. I had been using it as a winter bike only and now I remember why!)

Anyway, the things I required on a new bike:

That tiny hook thing on the rear rack above the fender was given to me at the bike shop so I could mount a light on the rack.

That tiny hook thing on the rear rack above the fender was given to me at the bike shop so I could mount a light on the rack.

  • Upright posture with “Parisian” swept-back handlebars

  • Internal gearing

  • Hand brakes

  • Mounting point for a wheel lock

  • Mounting point for a water bottle cage

  • Fenders

  • Chain guard

  • Rear rack that fit my existing bags

  • Kickstand

  • Non-leather seat & grips (no animal products, thanks!)

  • A not-hideous and non-gender-specific color scheme.

things on the wish list…

  • Step-through frame

  • Generator lights

  • Front frame-mounted rack or basket

  • Double kickstand

  • Survive living outdoors all year

  • Something I could buy locally and get serviced here in town.

After a lot of searching (see the comparisons below), I went with the Electra Loft 3i.

Electra Loft 3i First Look

Here’s what I spent:

  • Electra Loft 3i: $480 (on sale since it was last year’s model; retail US$549)

  • Water bottle cage: $13

  • Cup holder: $10

  • Cable lock: $25

  • Froggie horn: $10

  • Delights by Findrs light set: $79 (findrs.net)

  • Double kickstand: $25 (Amazon)

  • Linka Leo wheel lock: $189 (Amazon)

  • Bungee cords: $4 (True Value Hardware store)

The Delights by Findrs rear red light mounted on the fender with a little clip provided by the bike shop.

The Delights by Findrs rear red light mounted on the fender with a little clip provided by the bike shop.

Things I like about the Electra Loft

  • The upright position is fantastic. but I had to adjust the seat way down on the “large” step-over frame so that I have good footing. Bike shop mechanics tend to put the seat up high, which is not what I want since I’m trying to be as upright as possible and be able to stop on a dime and put my foot on the ground.

  • The 3-speed gearing is just right for the around town riding I do. The twist shifter is simple and reliable.

  • The rear rack is solid and can carry my bags without complaining (no squeaks or twisting yet).

  • The chain guard is a little anemic, but it’s color matched to the frame so it’s a nice touch.

  • The fenders are solid and seem well-designed and securely attached.

  • The seat is comfy and soft with a little bit of spring. (I’m not a hard-saddle guy.)

Things I don’t like about the Electra Loft

  • The color selection is weird. They are obviously trying to be a lifestyle brand, but the colors are very gendered. The step-overs are dark colors, and the step-through models are pastels. Arrgh. (I had wanted to buy a dark blue, purple, or yellow bike, but gave up on that really quickly. My choice at the shop was grey or black, so I went with the grey.)

  • The handlebars are a little short. They could be an inch or two longer for my big hands. They could be a bit higher, too, but I’d need the shop to extend it since it’s already to the top of its limit.

  • The kickstand is awful, which is why I replaced it with a double kickstand. With any load on the rear rack the bike kept falling over.

  • The rear rack has no mount for a tail light or reflector, which is weird since every other Trek and Electra rack has a mounting point at the back of the rack.

  • The front and rear reflectors are just cheap plastic ones mounted to the handlebar and seatpost. They should be on the fork and rear fender. This is a really thoughtless omission.

  • The fenders should have mount points for lights.

  • It didn’t come with any lights, which always irks me since state law requires them on all bikes.

  • Really short on reflectivity — no reflective sidewalls on the tires. I already mentioned the cheap front and rear reflectors, and the ones on the wheels look like they’ll fall off in no time (all of my Trek bikes have had this problem, and they look like the same Trek reflectors).

  • It doesn’t come with a water bottle cage.

  • The paint job looks nice but it’s not very robust. It has already scratch and dinged through to bare metal in spots over just a couple of days of riding.

Things I won’t upgrade

I looked into adding a generator for a set of lights, but hub generators are expensive and bottle generators seem to be a dying breed. I also didn’t feel there was enough clearance under the fenders for running power to fender-mounted lights.

Maybe next time…

Why didn’t I just buy the Electra Amsterdam Royal 8i? Well, it’s a freakishly expensive US$1,249 for a Chinese-made faux-Dutch bike. For that price, I could by a real Dutch bike. It’s also not available as a step-through, which would be a requirement for me at that price point, and it’s a bit too old-timey in its design (very much like the Hollandia that sells in big-box stores).

Other bikes that didn’t make the cut were the Gazelle Tour Populaire (USD$1,299), the Workcycles GR8 (USD$2,400), the Azor Jersey Blue (USD$1,500), the Gazelle Heavy Duty NL (used, US$600, since they don’t sell them in the US any more!), Trek Verve 3 (US$670), and a whole host of models from Raleigh, Jamis, Specialized that I checked out at the bike shops around town.

I also eliminated the direct-to-consumer brands like Priority, Brooklyn, and Detroit, since I wanted to be able to buy it from a shop that would have parts on hand to support and service it. I ended up ruling out the Gazelles, Workcycles, and Azor since the nearest dealer is over 120 miles away in Somerville outside of Boston. (I’ve been hounding Gazelle North America on Twitter about the lack of non-electric bikes available in the US and their lack dealers in the northeast.)

What I learned

I am more apt to buy a bike if I can try it out and it’s in stock. It’s like buying a car off the lot instead of special-ordering it. If the shop had the step-through model in stock and it was big enough for me, I likely would have gone for that. It’s easy to overlook shortcomings on style if the bike is right there and I can take it for a test drive. Comfort ended up being the key for me.

My total $835 spend hit my around-$1,000 budget. I’m okay with that for a bike that should see me through a few seasons and can become a rental (it’s already on Spinlister) or used for my tours. I’ll report back next year on how it survives its first winter!