Jelly Bean Bikes single-speed/fixie review

The bikes from Jelly Bean Bikes are very definitely rides for the urban environment. Visiting my old home town of Melbourne the Jelly Bean was the perfect conveyance for exploring some old haunts. In some ways too perfect for the many haunts I wanted to visit because I had traveled barely 5kms in the first couple of hours.

Jelly Bean HQ
 
From Jelly Bean HQ in Richmond I traversed slightly uptown to connect with the pathways of the MCG. I visit Melbourne several times a year and rarely if ever miss an opportunity to ride or walk through to the city via the MCG. As a Melbournian I consider it my spiritual home, the temple from which we worship the twin gods of football and cricket. Though no longer the home ground of my own deified team it in nonetheless hallowed ground.
 
Jelly Bean bike basks in reflected glory at the G.
Any ride worth its salt should be liberally punctuated by food and beer. My first stop was to sample some of Melbourne’s fantastic Vietnamese food. A student staple for me was Pho Bo and I’m still loath to miss and opportunity to grab one. I parked the Jelly Bean on the path of Swanston Street and cajoled the waitress into ordering for me (“You must order inside.”) so I didn’t have to leave it unattended. Reviewing bikes has its own responsibilities and one is not losing the bike in the first half hour of review.
 
By now I was already feeling quite comfortable on the bike. It has a neutral geometry and city friendly riding position that makes it a confident ride from the get go. I’d squeezed it between and around cars in the city centre traffic before alighting for pho bo and while not as smooth and agile as I would be on a more familiar mount I had more confidence than would be expected after 10 minutes together.
 
For me handlebars felt too narrow. I’m used the the leverage provided by wider bars but I come from a mountain bike background and my own single-speed/fixie has ex-MTB bars and are far wider (as in heaps wider) than is considered fashionable on a fixie. The bars on the Jelly Bean are neither short nor wide but feel a tad narrow after my familiar wide bars. I’d swap them for wider bars for GC use but for Melbourne I’d learn to love them. I’d already squeezed into a space between a van and a taxi that would not have been possible with wider bars. The fact that I’d done so at a zig-zag through traffic indicates that the bars have all the leverage I needed and it’s time for me to adapt.
 
Local birds help finish my soup

From the city I ambled up to North Melbourne and quenched my thirst with a mate at the Court House hotel. It was one of those blisteringly hot Melbourne days that suck you dry without regular resupply. It was so dry there wasn’t a drop of sweat on me, all sweat being whisked away by the kiln-like heat of Melbourne.

 
After a couple ales my mate and I checked out an importer/retailer operation round the corner that sells cheap bikes, fixies among them. A guy browsing in the store came out and double-checked the Jelly Bean leaning against my mate’s scooter and I could see the wheels of his mind turning with this thought, “Now that’s what I really want!”
Jelly Bean shining in the Melbourne sun
It’s a striking bike. I would have thought Jelly Bean were a little brave knocking out chrome bikes. There’s no hiding any errant welding on a bike this shiny. But the welds are pretty good, not works of hand-crafted art, but neat and consistent. The bottom bracket area shows signs of a heat smudge where the metal had blued during welding but otherwise the chrome comes up nicely. I owned a chrome bike back in the eighties and was in no hurry to rush back to that decade but the chrome on the Jelly Bean isn’t that awful shiny chrome I had back then. You could certainly polish it up if you wanted but it has more character the way it is now. And if you don’t like chrome you can choose 9 other colours.
 
All Jelly Bean bikes are free from stickers and logos. The only indication that you’re on a Jelly Bean is a line on the nose of the seat that says Jelly Bean Bikes. It’s a lost opportunity in some ways because people like Double-Check above will definitely find them eye-catching and unless they’re quite sharp they wont know what brand they’re supposed to be shopping for. But Jelly Bean’s loss is our gain as we get a unique and eye-catching ride that isn’t covered in someone else’ branding. Fixies are a personal thing and with Jelly Bean you get to keep it that way.
 
Rolling out of the North Melbourne I thought I’d better justify my end of the bargain by actually riding this bike somewhere during the review, and not just using it for a tour of Melbourne’s pubs and cafes. I hadn’t got far when some idiot in a ute tried to run me off the road, hooking into a left hand turn with no indication and me on his inside. To be fair, I’d put myself on his inside and you cant blame a car for that once you’re smeared across the road. So with that in thought I was mindful of the situation I’d put myself in and when he cut me off I slid Jelly Bean nicely into a controlled rear-wheel lock-up. The driver initially apologized but came to his senses once the shock wore off and called me some kind of moron or idiot or something. Grist to the mill. The Jelly Bean had proven itself in the cut-and-thrust of traffic.
 

I was planning on getting myself down to the bay where there might be a cool breeze but my head was fairly exploding with the heat so I contended myself with Albert Park Lake instead. When a hot northerly blows through Melbourne there is no respite so I  kinda doubted the bay could save me anyway.

Jelly Bean reclines at Albert Park Lake

As though to prove the sign in the photo above, “slippery when wet”, moments later a cyclist rode down onto the slipper water’s edge and went arse over tit on some green slimy stuff. I could only be thankful for light comic relief as I sipped yet another drink in yet another cafe.

 
The Jelly Bean has a longer wheelbase than I’m used to. My earlier comments show that I had no problems weaving in traffic or throwing the bike into a skid, so it’s nimble enough, but I didn’t find cornering as satisfying as I might on a more nimble bike. No doubt this was in direct comparison to my normal ride and this feeling would disappear over time. All new bikes feel different and suffer in comparison to your current ride. Jelly Bean put some good solid thought into the shape of their bike and it rides like it does for a reason. It’s no slow pudding of a bike but is a little more stable than say a Bianchi Pista, and for good reason. The bike is being bought by people who don’t actually want a Bianchi Pista and for them the stable geometry is just right.
 

I didn’t test the stable geo on the slippery lake’s edge but on riding out of Albert Park Lake I had to merge across a lane from right to left with traffic coming up from behind me on both sides. I  was grateful for the longer wheelbase and stable handling. I could look right over my left shoulder, riding one handed, knowing I wasn’t going to hit some little bump or crevice in the road that would twist the bike inside out. This bike would ride unforeseen bumps with equilibrium.

There’s another advantage to that ever-so-slightly longer wheelbase. Jelly Bean have been able to design mudguards for the bike. They’re Jelly Bean’s own design, because regularly guards wont fit (this actually not being a long bike…I don’t want to give you the impression it’s touring bike long or anything). Guards are a compromise for a bike, in some ways spoiling the minimalist aesthetic we love in the fixie genre, but once you’ve arrived at work with a dry arse on a wet day you begin to appreciate them. I’m sure they’ll be popular in Melbourne, where winter roads can go weeks without properly drying up.

The furniture was more colourful than the bike. This doesn’t happen often on a Jelly Bean Bike.

Spec

The equipment on the Jelly Bean is spot on for a bike of this price and purpose. The brakes work perfectly, have stiff metal levers with adjustable reach. If you don’t like brakes there’s a flip-flop Quando hub. The hubs are one of the few items that aren’t offered in a multitude of colours but I wouldn’t swap the standard gold ones even if I could. They look great and roll nicely. I’ve been a bit worried about Quando for a while, having come across some very notchy ones someone bought on eBay, but these seemed fine to me and looked ever-so shiny.

The cranks are standard issue Sugino so you’ve got no problems there.

I was impressed that Jelly Bean had specced up a 700 x 28 tyre. They started with 700 x 25 but found this a little too narrow for the bike’s intended use and have moved to the 28s. That’s the same size tyre I use and I reckon it’s just about spot on. For me the extra comfort and puncture protection the larger tyre offers make them perfect for city riding. More to the point, it shows that Jelly Bean are thinking about the finer details of their bikes and have an interest in getting things just right.

The frame of a bike is the heart of any bike and this frame is a decent one. You get the entire bike with a dollar change from $500 so you’re not getting a $1,500 custom lugged beauty. But you are getting a nicely finished, true and straight frame with a ride that is comfortable but not sluggish.

 

Summary

I feel that in some ways I’ve made too much of the ever-so-slightly longer wheelbase and stable geo of this bike. It’s a fixie/single-speeder, not a touring bike. It’s a fun ride. I recently stripped down an old Repco and found that once I’d converted it the bike was a wallowy pig. It’s permanently mounted on my indoor trainer now. I dont and wont ride bikes that aren’t fun. Riding is fun or it’s nothing but a huffy puffy way of getting from A to B. Jelly Bean bikes are fun but they’re an accessible kind of fun. At this price the purchaser is going to get just what they want and need. More experienced riders with more finicky fixie habits will be shopping at a higher price. Though I could easily imagine someone such as myself getting a Jelly Bean for urban commuting (so the regular ride doesn’t get exposed to the rigors of the daily grind) and using it for all but the weekend glory duties.

By and large the person who buys a Jelly Bean is looking to get into the single-speed/fixie thing at a price they can afford. Part of the fixie thing is owning a bike that is unique, that is yours. With Jelly Bean they’ll deliver you a bike that is a fun and reliable ride and unless my math is wrong you can choose from over 100,000 colour combinations. Unless Jelly Bean start selling their tits off you can bet your bike will be a one off!

My only real disappointing with Jelly Bean is that they’re deviating from the single-speed zen path for 3-speed glory. Apparently the rigors of the single-speed philosophy are too hard for some and Jelly Bean are tempting them with the allure of 3-speeds. To my mind everyone should accept the one true path. What disappoints me most is that now I’ve ridden the 3-speed I can really see no reason to stick to the single-speed path myself. Except for blind devotion. So like any man whose religion who has been questioned with temptation I rise stronger and more dogmatic in my faith than ever. Buy the single-speed! It’s a matter of faith over reason…

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