If you haven’t been on a bike lately (or since you were a carefree kid), it’s easy to forget how much fun it is to rip around on two wheels.
After turning 16 and swapping my Gary mountain bike for a very used Ford Explorer, I took a 12-year hiatus from riding. But at 28 I decided I wanted to complete a triathlon, so I picked up an old Fuji 10-speed and started training. A year later I sold my car, and for the past five I’ve gotten around primarily by bicycle.
My nimble Fuji got the job done for a while. But then I had kids, and I had to start hauling them and all their junk around town. Apart from a little extra beef, I wanted something with a more comfortable, upright geometry that could also handle some of the dirt or gravel paths you run into in the parks and hiking trails around Philly. At the same time, I didn’t want to give away all the speed I was accustomed to with my road bike. Basically, I needed a commuter bike.
If you’re not familiar, commuter bikes are generally a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike, combining some of the former’s comfort and durability with the latter’s speed. I test-drove a half dozen before selecting a pricey Marin model. (I figured I was saving boatloads by not owning a car, so I could justify dropping a grand on a good bike.)
My Marin was a beautiful, fun, functional commuter … until it was stolen. So after a few months back on my Fuji, I was pumped when Priority offered me the chance to test-ride their new Continuum commuter.
Two pieces of bike tech jumped out immediately when I took off on the Continuum. The first was the bike’s shifting mechanism—a rear-mounted Nuvinci “seamless-shifting” gear hub.
Unlike traditional gear shifting that requires you to manipulate paddles or levers while your ride, the Nuvinci hub smoothly raises or lowers your pedaling resistance via a grip-mounted twist knob. It works a lot like the throttle on a motorcycle, and a cool bar-mounted display shows you your level of pedaling resistance. You can shift at a dead stop, and because the shifting is seamless—not incremental—there’s no getting stuck in a gear that provides a little too much or too little pedaling pushback. (The folks at Priority likened traditional bike shifting to a car that could only hit speeds in increments of five or 10, while their seamless hub is more precise.) Apparently these seamless hubs are all the rage in Europe, but are just now migrating across the pond to the U.S., although they’re usually only available on bikes that cost thousands of dollars.
At first I wasn’t sure how much these shifting features would matter. But the more I rode the bike, the more I appreciated them. I live near the top of a big hill, and there’s a stoplight at its base that always snares me. It’s nice to be able to twist down the resistance while I’m sitting at the light, especially when I have my 3-year-old on the back and I’m carrying a pack full of groceries.
The second piece of technology that was new to me is the Continuum’s carbon drive belt system. Unlike the chain and derailleur set-ups I was used to, the carbon belt is grease-free and more or less rustproof. Combined with the Nuvinci hub, which is enclosed in a kind of protective shell, the bike’s components are practically impervious to rain or snow.
While it’ll take me years to find out if they’re telling the truth, Priority claims the hub can go 20,000 miles (or more) without maintenance. “Just keep the tires inflated, and you’re good to go,” David Weiner, Priority’s co-founder, told me several times when I was grilling him about the bike.
New technology aside, the Continuum hauls ass—which surprised me a bit. While the bike is deceptively light, the seat geometry felt a little more upright than my lifted Marin, and I figured that would mean a drop in speed and maneuverability. If there was one, I couldn’t tell. The simple silver frame isn’t going to turn many heads, but it’s sharp and features composite fenders that kept my ass and back splatter free even when I rode right after a rain. The puncture-resistant tires skated over gravel and pebble-flecked trails with aplomb, and the ride never felt rough or jarring.
VERDICT: Buy. ($899, prioritybicycles.com.) It’s a fun, fast, comfortable commuter, and the incorporated technology isn’t just marketing hype or window dressing; it noticeably improves ride ease and quality. At this price point, I can’t imagine you’ll find a more adaptable and hassle-free bike.