This is Torker's bid to cash in on the too-cool-for-school fixie clique. All the social politics aside, this looks like an inexpensive bike that is probably still quite functional and fun-to-ride.
Torker bikes are distributed by a ubiquitous national distributor, so any shop can order them for you. Most shops already have open accounts with the distributor, so it shouldn't be a huge problem. Of course, any shop would prefer to sell you something they have on hand--it's just business, and the bike biz has slender margins--but I think it's ok to press gently, especially if you are a regular customer. Let's get back on the topic at hand...The U-District seems tailored to the DC crowd, since U Street is a once-and-again famous DC landmark, and because the Chocolate City is one of the few Districts in the country. I don't know if there are any other official Districts at all. I'm sure some kind reader will let us all know.
The U-District offers basic transportation, quickish handling, and non-descript, only-slightly-stupid, fixed-gear-track-bike-styling.
The retail price listed in Austin, TX, is $349. If you can get that price for this bike, assembled professionally by your local bike shop, that's a deal! If they tack on a build fee, since it's not a bike they typically stock, maybe you'll pay $400. It's still a deal, and it's a much better choice, in my opinion, than getting a schmancy "custom" $350 fixie from say, republicbike.com. It's nothing personal, here's how it breaks down:
They BOTH have:
- Dual purpose rear hub for fixed gear or freewheel use,
- Front and rear brakes,
- Hi-tensile steel fork, (...chromoly would be better...)
- Generic parts in most other places, such as adjustable-bearing hubs, stem, etc.
Here are the differences (the winner in bold font):
- Bling factor: SURPRISE! [Torker: black is always in fashion] v. [Republic: you'll think you look like one of those cool-kid couriers, but they'll all be laughing at you behind you back, seriously]
- Company: [Torker: around since at least 1977, operates through independent bicycle dealers (IBDs)] v. [Republic: not sure, no way to trace, buyer beware, slender return policy]
Hidden Costs: [Torker: the bike will be assembled and adjusted by your local shop] v. [Republic: requires assembly and adjustment, so you'll end up at your local shop anyway, handing over some bread] Warranty issues are also a PINA with mail-order companies. I think they count on it being more trouble than it's worth, and it often is. Torker's warranty works through local shops, so there's a person to look you in the eye, and a reputation to keep!
Frame sizes: THIS IS A BIG DEAL! Game's over, I could just stop right here... [Torker: 44, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56] v. [Republic: 52, 54, 59]
The Torker has good frame sizes to fit folks who are between ~ 5'-0" and ~ 6'-0". The lowest stand-over height is 72.5 cm (28.5 inches). The distance from saddle to H-bar is determined mostly by the "length" of the frame (aka top tube length). On the U-District these vary from 518mm to 594mm, in proportion to the frame size and stand-over height. Likewise, the U-District's angles change through the size range, as is appropriate for a reasonably designed frame.
Republic theoretically has sizes to fit folks between ~ 5'-6" and ~ 6'-2", but the top tube lengths are 535mm, 540mm, and 540mm, and the angles are all the same! Tall folks are likely to feel cramped, and have significant toe-front wheel overlap. Changing to a longer stem can do only so much. A reasonable fit can probably only be found for folks shorter than 5'-10".
- Frame: [Torker: Chromoly main frame] v. [Republic: all hi-tensile]
Frame attachment points for rack and fenders: [Torker: YES] v. [Republic: no]
Enough room for fenders and/or wider tires: [Torker: YES, comes w/700x28 tires] v. [Republic: no, comes w/700x23]
Crankset: [Torker: not sure] v. [Republic: Sugino]
- Pedals: [Torker: plastic] v. [Republic: alloy]
Spokes: [Torker: stainless steel] v. [Republic: not sure]
- Rims: [Torker: Alex double-wall aluminum] v. [Republic: no idea]
Brakes: [Torker: ok, not great] v. [Republic: dual pivot, but unknown quality] No winner
Seatpost: [Torker: straight post w/ separate clamp] v. [Republic: single-bolt adjustment]
Chain: I've seen multiple reports of chains breaking on Republic Bike bikes, but I have no experience with them myself.
The winner: the U-DISTRICT, from Torker.
You know why:
- You get what you pay for, most of the time;
- There's no free lunch, ever; and
- A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
What you might save by going online for you bike or bike bits, you will likely end up spending anyway on unexpected issues. Republic had to cut costs somewhere, and we just don't know exactly where. The sad truth is that neither riding bikes, liking bikes, nor selling bikes is enough to ensure honesty and integrity. You'll be better off giving you business to the local shop initially. They know you can get stuff online for less, so they know you're choosing them, and appreciate it, even if they seem grumpy sometimes.
I'm a bit concerned that Trek will bring wrath and vengeance on Torker. Trek has been working on a fairly swanky fixed gear bike called the District (we posted about it a while back). The District arrival date seems to be getting further away rather than closer, however. A rabid District fan started an independent (really?) blog called trekdistrict.com, where you can go for unofficial (really?) info. Any-who, the U-District is a different animal, and less than half the price.
A reader found a shop in Austin, TX, that has a posted a list of retail prices for the whole Torker line-up. The T-300 that I wrote about a few weeks back is listed at $379.00, which sounds like a deal.