GEAR

With these bikes, easy does it

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Although bike riding is an ideal fitness activity for all ages and abilities — doable from home, easy on the joints, free (after buying the bike) — most people don't ride.


FOR THE RECORD:
Bike tires: A review of the Raleigh Coasting bike in Monday's Health section referred to 700-centimeter road-bike wheels. The tires are actually 700C, a technical term. —



The reasons, according to a recent survey by Shimano, a bike-components supplier: Bikes are considered too ugly and uncomfortable, switching gears is too complicated and messy maintenance activities such as lubing the chain and tightening the cables are too much for people who just want to throw the bike back in the garage. With those potential riders in mind, Shimano this year introduced Coasting, a new automatic-shifting drivetrain that is found on bikes from three major brands. The bikes are among those with novel ease-of-use features that are trying hard to win over noncyclists.

Roy M. Wallack

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Classy and classic

Raleigh Coasting: Reinvention of an old-fashioned steel English three-speed.

Likes: Fastest bike reviewed here due to 700-centimeter road-bike wheels (several inches taller than the 26-inch mountain-bike-size wheels of the other bikes tested). The Shimano Coasting three-speed electronic drivetrain (also used on Giant and Trek bikes here) shifts automatically into higher gears when a monitor on the front wheel detects speeds of around 7 and 11 miles per hour. It includes coaster rear brakes (backpedal to stop) and stylish hub caps on the wheels. The bike has classy, retro styling.

Dislikes: No front-wheel brake. The bars are too low for long, out-of-the-saddle climbing. For all the Coasting bikes, in general, the coaster brake and automatic shifting (which sometimes can shift too late or early) can be irritating for anyone already comfortable with hand brakes and shifting gears. It tends to shift abruptly when working hard up a hill.

Price: $450 (men's and women's models). (800) 222-5527; http://www.raleighamerica.com .

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An elaborate extravagance

Ellsworth the Ride: Exotic, high-performance eye candy with cutting-edge design and drivetrain.

Likes: Style and speed. Head-turning looks, featuring massive 2.75-inch-wide tires, dual-crown carbon-fiber handlebars and sleek aluminum frame, which cleverly uses the burly rear fender as a structural support. The NuVinci internal hub houses the world's first infinitely geared drivetrain: twisting the dial ring on the right handlebar grip changes the gearing — encompassing most of the gear range of a normal double-derailleur, 27-speed bike. The bike blends a comfy, laid-back seating position with a potentially rapid cruising speed.

Dislikes: The low-slung handlebars are too low for efficient out-of-the-saddle climbing. Has no front brake or mounts for water bottles. Huge money for a casual bike.

Price: $3,995 (for the first 500 "Tony Ellsworth Signature Series" bikes, including a belted-drive model). Lower-end, all-aluminum bike is $2,995. (760) 788-7500; http://www.ellsworthride.com .

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Smooth operator, up to a point

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