For many people, cycling is strictly a fair-weather activity. Dedicated commuters, including Digital Trends staff in the Pacific Northwest, brave the winter days of wet and cold, but few stayed committed to two-wheeled travel during the recent snowstorm in Portland. Personal comfort aside, winter presents unfavourable conditions to bicyclists due to slick roads and the added maintenance requirements, due to exposure to salt, sand, and other muck.
Enter Priority Bicycles, whose hassle-free, affordable bikes require minimal amounts of maintenance without compromising on fancy features that are popular with bicycle commuters. The small but growing NYC company Priority Bicycles has a new model intended to take many of the headaches away from winter cyclists. The Continuum, Priority’s most expensive model at £800, features aluminium and stainless steel parts that are impervious to rust, a belt drive that does away with the hassles of chain maintenance, as well as Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, and a NuVinci continuously variable transmission (CVT) rear hub that grabbed our attention.
“Priority Continuum builds bikes that won’t rust and will stand the test of time.”
The Priority Continuum also caught the eye of Le Meridien Chambers, a boutique hotel in downtown Minneapolis, that’s added four of these bikes to its fleet for hotel guests to borrow. Against the odds set by the harsh Minnesota winters, Minneapolis is consistently listed as one of the best cities for cyclists in the United States, and Priority’s reputation for designing dependable bicycles will undoubtedly be put to the test through the stresses experienced by loaner bikes.
David Weiner, co-founder and CEO of Priority Bicycles, is confident that the bikes are up to the task even in Minnesota winter conditions. “All of our bikes have an aluminium frame, feature puncture resistant tires, and stainless steel spokes,” said Weiner. “We try to make bikes that won’t rust and will stand the test of time.”
The ultimate urban winter test ride
Le Meridien Chambers and Priority invited Digital Trends to ride one of its hotel fleet bikes in the middle of winter as a demonstration of the bicycle maker’s confidence in its product, and the hotel’s commitment to the local bike culture. After seeing how successful the hotel’s spring and summer bike tour program had become, David Cronin, general manager at Le Meridien Chambers, wanted to add enhanced year-round cycling options for guests visiting Minneapolis.
“After I test rode Priority’s new Continuum with the winter package in very icy conditions, it was a no brainer,” said Cronin. “These bikes are truly amazing and a great way to further show that Le Meridien is all about discovery and unlocking the destination, and of course we think the best way to do it is on two wheels!”
Not just talking the talk, but also riding the bike, Cronin personally led the group ride through downtown Minneapolis and then to – and directly across – Lake Calhoun. Along the way, we encountered all sorts of traction-challenged conditions, from slick sheets of ice, to crunchy snow pack, to dirty, slushy puddles. Priority winterised the Continuum fleet bikes with Klondike snow tires that feature 100 tungsten carbide tipped studs that help bite into the ice – which we appreciated immensely, as we would have had more than one encounter with the pavement if it weren’t for the upgraded rubber. These tires come included in a £115 winter package that also adds head- and taillights.
Priority makes it clear that it builds bikes for the person who enjoys riding casually, or who wants hassle-free transportation. The company doesn’t try to cater to the high-end enthusiasts, who often build their own bikes anyway; but even the staunchest of bike builders should appreciate the technology and common sense that went into designing the Continuum.
“The Continuum with studded tires is a great fit for icy, slushy, chunky paved paths and roads, because of its grease-free Gates Carbon belt drive and NuVinci fully-enclosed, seamlessly-shifting hub. Both perform well at sub-freezing temperatures and are very durable and resistant to debris,” said Connor Swegle, co-founder and CMO at Priority Bicycles.
The CVT upgrades your ride
Riding with the NuVinci CVT system was a revelation. It freed our attention from hunting for the ideal gear, so we could just concentrate on the ride. A rider controls the CVT by twisting the right grip in a similar way one would operate a Grip Shift, but there are no discrete steps from one gear to the next. Like the CVT that you may have first learned about from the automotive world, the number of gears is virtually infinite – depending on how finely you can operate the transmission with your right hand. Twisting the grip forwards will effectively decrease resistance at the cost of increased pedalling, while twisting it the other way will yield more wheel rotations per pedal stroke.
“The simplicity of the NuVinci hub means that even with thick winter gloves you can find the perfect resistance for your ride without fumbling with gear shifters in thick winter gloves or choppy shifting on slippery terrain,” Swegle added.
Without predefined gears, it makes no sense to use a numerical representation for the status of the transmission. Instead, there is a simple picture of a cyclist going up a hill. The steeper the hill, the greater the mechanical advantage. While cute and fun, the visual representation of gearing is unnecessary because it’s dead simple to twist the grip to whatever feels right. It’s like adjusting the screen brightness slider on your phone or computer; you just move the slider until it’s where you want it to be.
Gone are exposed derailleurs and gears. With it go the challenges of keeping track of which gear you’re in, and the jarring stutter when shifting from one gear to the next. With the Continuum, or any bike with this NuVinci system, you’ll never have to think about keeping a straight chain line again. One of our favourite benefits was that we could lazily ‘shift’ all the way to the ‘lowest’ gear while stopped at a light, and take off without waiting for a chain to hop a sprocket.
Speaking of a chain – there isn’t one. All of Priority’s bicycles, including the Start C/B for toddlers, utilise a belt instead of a chain. The Continuum features a Gates Carbon Drive drivetrain that is rustproof and grease-free. You’ll never have to worry about lubing chains after riding in the rain – or in any other condition. Belt drives are very reliable and last two to three times longer than chains, but are more expensive to replace. The belt is expected to endure between 5,000 to 10,000 miles, which could take years, even for the daily commuter.
The service life of the NuVinci n330 hub is even more impressive, which is important, because it’s the most expensive part on the Continuum. Weiner estimates that replacing the hub would cost around £300, but is backed by a 2-year warranty. The hub is completely sealed, lubricated for life with traction fluid specially formulated by Valvoline, and is designed to be maintenance-free for a minimum of 12,000 miles, with many able to go well beyond that without issue. The nature of the CVT also means the system is more resistant against the negative effects of cable stretch.
“All of our bicycles focus on a maintenance-free design, which means that the bike is ready to ride whenever you are,” Weiner added. “We want people to have no excuse for being able to go out to ride.”
After riding all morning on the Continuum, we came away impressed with how well the entire package performed, and understood why Le Meridien Chambers felt comfortable in offering it as a winter bike option for its guests, regardless of riding ability. Indeed, for any city that experiences extreme cold or wintery conditions on an annual basis, the Continuum is a solid option for cyclists who feel intimidated by snow and ice.