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Raleigh Sojourn

Raleigh actually makes a commuter bike called the Detour, fully equipped with racks, fenders and a built-in light set. Despite this, we've chosen the company's Sojourn, which is marketed as a touring bicycle. The main reason? A steel frameset.

Most touring bikes make good candidates for grocery-getters. Their frames are generally beefier than recreational bicycles, with relaxed frame angles and long wheelbases, which improve stability and comfort when carrying heavy loads. That's the case with the Sojourn, which is built like a tank from Reynolds 520 chrome-moly steel. It's also full of touring touches which translate well to hardcore commuter use: Avid disk brakes, full fenders, beefy Vittoria Randonneur tires, a heavy duty rear rack and a full complement of braze-on frame eyelets for future expansion. It's also one of the few bikes we've seen that comes with a pump.

Raleigh Sojourn from Raleigh Bicycles. Suggested retail price: $1,199.00.

Schwinn World GS

We've includes the World GS for two reasons: first, we wanted to show what’s available in the $500 class if you shop around, and second,  we're glad to see Schwinn back in the saddle again.

For those of us who grew up riding a Varsity, Paramount, or Stingray, Schwinn was — at one time — the all-American bike company. But a series of missteps dragged the company into bankruptcy and ownership turnover before settling with its current corporate parent Montreal-based Dorel Industries.

Dorel knows how to price. The World GS sports a mild suspension fork and seatpost, fenders, a semi-enclosed chain and a rack suitable for light cargo. With a decent aluminum frame and alloy components throughout, there's not much this bike can't do — on a budget.

World GS by Schwinn Bicycles. Suggested retail price: $499.00.

Specialized Vienna Deluxe

There's no denying the sexiness of the Vienna Deluxe's lines, which seem influenced by those of the now-classic Bianchi Milano cruiser. In any case, Specialized's top-end commuter looks hot enough to make you feel good about parking your car forever. And it's well-equipped, with a cargo rack, hub dynamo-powered headlamp, fenders and a chainguard styled to match the Vienna's fluid design.

At this price level, disk brakes would be nice. But it's an awfully appealing package.

Specialized Vienna Deluxe by Specialized Bicycle Company. Suggested retail price: $1,100.00

Torker Cargo T

Got a heavy load to carry? This is your bike. Torker's Cargo T is clearly patterned after a Dutch delivery bicycle — the kind of hard-working bike you'd see on the streets of Amsterdam hauling unreasonable loads in all weather. That's what the Cargo T is designed to do.

The Cargo T comes with massive front and rear racks for better load balance. The frame is steel, and the U-shape is intended to allow an easy step-through when the racks are piled high. There's a fully enclosed chainguard, an unusual (and sturdy) double-sided kickstand, generator mounts and a front steering lock for simple loading.

This bike has a couple of shortcomings: 3-speed gearing really limits the Cargo T to shorter trips or Holland-like flat terrain, and the rear coaster/front drum brake leaves a little to be desired. But the drive train is nearly maintenance-free, and for a specialty bike, it's a bargain.

Cargo-T by Torker Bicycles. Suggested retail price: $640.00.

Trek Soho

Behold the most technically innovative bike of our select bunch: the Trek Soho. If the Breezer Uptown or Fuji Cambridge are the Classic Rock of our dozen choices, the Soho is its Trance.

We're fond of the Soho, mated with Xtracycle's Free Radical hitchless trailer. But 2009's Soho is essentially a new bicycle. Designed as a fast, stylish commuter, the Soho's most obvious new feature is its Gates carbon belt drive system. The lightweight, essentially noiseless belt requires no grease, which makes for a cleaner bicycle. It's partially enclosed by a new guard, also new for this year.

Gearing is through an internal Alfine 8-speed hub. Brakes are Shimano's new IM50 rollers, which are also internally mounted in both hubs. The Soho is finished in very modern high-gloss grey, with matching fenders. As in previous years, it comes with a pair of nice little urbanesque touches: dual rubber strips across the top bar — which make for scratchless parking — and a natty thermal coffee mug. You'll need to add lights and a rack to round out this package.

Trek Soho by Trek Bikes. Suggested retail: $1,149.99.

Xtracycle Radish

Just as the Trek Soho is the most technologically advanced of our urban bike selection, the Xtracycle Radish represents the biggest departure from what most people consider normal bicycle geometry.

The Radish is a longbike, specifically designed to haul pretty much anything: a full cart of groceries; a surfboard or kayak; bricks; puppies; a passenger — you name it. This bicycle is basically a steel cruiser frameset permanently mated to Xtracycle's popular Free Radical hitchless trailer. The advantage of having the two as a single assembly is strength and rigidity. You'll purchase the panniers and associated gear separately — an extra $250 to $350. But you might also have to purchase panniers to fully appreciate the capacity of any bike listed in our bunch, and the Radish is arguably the most capable.

Fenders are standard, as is a partial chainguard and massive 203mm rear disk brake. There's a V-brake up front, heavy-duty alloy wheels and 26 x 2.24 inch tires. This isn't just a car replacement: It's a two-wheel pickup truck.

There's a whole car-free culture surrounding longbikes. The Radish is a ready-made entry, or you can build your own.

Xtracycle Radish by Xtracycle. Suggested retail price: $880.00 (base frameset) or about $1,199 with racks, panniers and snapdeck.

Which is best for you?

That's a function of taste, budget and how you live. For casual grocery runs and quick errands, the Gary Fisher Simple City 8 is a great choice. If you live in a sufficiently dense area, the Simple City could be a full-time car replacement. Traditionalists will like the beautiful steel frame and retro vibe of the Fuji Cambridge. Riders with longer commutes will probably best appreciate the randonneur heritage of the Raleigh Sojourn. If you want bleeding edge urban bike technology and arresting style, Trek's Soho is the obvious candidate.

But we're giving an unreserved thumbs-up to the Xtracycle Radish, our "Carfree, Lifestyle Bike of the Year." The Radish — combined with an appropriate longtail pannier kit — simply takes bicycle utility to the next level. If you're serious about living without a car, the Radish is an unbeatable combination of price, community and capability.

So there are a dozen smart urban bike choices. If you ride one of these bicycles and want to share your experience (or if you'd like to bring another bicycle to our attention), leave a note in our comments section below.

Also on MNN: 12 reasons to start using a bicycles as transportation 

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2009