Sunday, July 21, 2013

Test Ride: K2 Astral 1.0

Here at East West Brothers Garage, our focus is usually on vehicles powered by some sort of motor or engine. However, as much as we enjoy our petrol powered vehicles, the both of us do occasionally feel the need to use something more environmentally friendly. What is more environmentally friendly than a vehicle powered by man itself? I am, of course, talking about bicycles!

The K2 Astral 1.0 parked in front of my S2000
The specimen I review here is a recent purchase of my own, the K2 Astral 1.0 hybrid road bike. I had originally purchased a $95 Wal-Mart mountain bike, but that ended up being a terrible idea as the gears did not all work and the bike was improperly sized. After selling the Wal-Mart bike on Craigslist, I made it a point to spend more than $100 on bicycle and to get something that actually worked and fit me properly.

I will admit though, I do not know a whole lot about bicycles. I have, at this point in my life, only owned three bicycles, including the one being reviewed here. The first bike I ever owned was, yet again, another $90 Wal-Mart bike that I purchased to use while attending UC Davis. After owning the bike for roughly two days during my freshman year, it was stolen and I never saw it again. Despite registering the bike with the police a day after I bought it, it was never recovered. The second bike was the $95 Wal-Mart bike I described above. And so we come to the Astral 1.0, which cost $299 ($249 after a Google offers discount). Is this bike worth three times the cost of the Wal-mart bikes?



The Good

The very first thing I noticed about the K2 Astral 1.0 was how light it was. Compared to the two bicycles I previously owned, the Astral felt like lifting a toy in comparison. The bike's light weight construction does not mean the bike was cheaply made though. The components of the Astral all feel well made and quite sturdy.

Though light weight, the Astral is actually a very comfortable bicycle to ride. The ergonomics of the handle bars feels just right, the positioning of the gear levers sit just below your thumbs, and everything is easy and quick to adjust thanks to quick release levers. The best part of this bike though is the shock absorber built under the seat. This feature is great when riding over rough patches of road, speed bumps or pot holes. Rather than your body absorbing the full brunt of riding over lousy road, the shock absorber spreads the shock through the frame, which takes a good chunk of the stress off your body.

I have always thought bicycles all pretty much looked the same, but after riding the Astral for a while, I have begun to notice that it is quite the nice looking bike. It is simple, but very sleek. Everything about this bike seems to fit together nicely, all the brake and gear lines are neatly tucked away. Compared to the poorly built Wal-Mart bike, the K2 Astral 1.0 is like a well tuned sports car.

The Bad

The Bell memory foam seat used to replace the factory seat
There really is not much that is bad with this bicycle. Overall, it is comfortable to use, but the K2 Astral 1.0 could have been even more comfortable had it come with a better seat. I understand that there are riders out there that prefer a firmer seat, but the seat that came with the Astral was almost as hard as the pathetic excuse for a bicycle seat that came with my Wal-Mart bike. After experiencing sore hind quarters after only riding on the factory seat for about 30 minutes, I knew I had to get something more comfortable. Luckily, I had already purchased a Bell memory foam seat that I had previously installed on the Wal-Mart bike. The combination of the memory foam seat and the shock absorber under the seat makes the most comfortable bicycle I have ridden to date.

Another minor issue I ran into with this bike was that the chain had slipped off the front gear set during a gear change. I was riding up a hill and went to change to a lower gear when I suddenly heard a brief grinding noise, followed by the pedals spinning freely. Upon further inspection, I saw the chain had slipped off the gear and had fallen behind the gears. This is not necessarily a problem with the bike itself, as it could have been an adjustment issue created by whoever adjusted my bike prior to me taking it home. Even though putting the chain back on the gears is a quick fix, it is something to watch out for.

Summary

A recent ride across "The Strand," a stretch of bike path that runs from Manhattan Beach to Marina Del Rey, further confirmed my feelings that this bicycle was a good buy. Though I did not travel the entire path, the 10 miles I did complete on the Astral were great. The ride was smooth, the weather was great, and thanks to the memory foam seat, my hind quarters were not in pain afterwards. Had I kept the stock seat, I would most likely be in pain. Long story short, the K2 Astral 1.0 is a great buy, but you may want to consider changing the seat if your rear end is on the tender side.

As I have mentioned before, I have not ridden a lot of bicycles before. Despite this though, I feel the K2 Astral 1.0 is a bicycle I can highly recommend to the average bicycle rider looking for a good, comfortable bicycle to ride around town and to exercise with. The price may be considered a little steep for some, but if you are planning on getting a bike to use on a regular basis, it is best not to skimp, as I have learned the hard way.