We almost all rode bikes as kids. And while it was a ton of fun, this is how we got places. If you wanted to visit your friends or buy one-cent bubble gum at the local 7-11, you hopped on your trusty Stingray and off you went.
As most of us turned 16 and finagled a driver's license from the state, our bikes got ditched for cars. A car could take us anywhere we wanted ... much faster than any bike. Our trusty and loyal bikes were stashed in the garage collecting dust, rust and cob webs--only to be sold as garage-sale fodder a couple of years later.
Ten or more years down the road and most of us, while we know how, never ride a bike. In fact, surveys show that 190 million Americans know how to ride a bike, yet only 32 million actually ride.
So what's the problem? Why don't more of us ride?
Shimano Bicycle Components and Trek Bicycles think they know why. Simultaneous research projects conducted by both companies found that people were intimidated by multiple gears and complex shifting systems and didn't feel comfortable using cable hand-braking systems.
"Expecting someone to learn how to shift is a pretty tall order for someone who hasn't ridden since they were a kid and is now 40 years old," says Shannon Bryant, project coordinator for Shimano's Coasting System. "We needed to go outside of cyclists and talk to non-cyclists."
After talking to non-cyclists, Shimano and Trek found they needed to get back to basics, so they developed a bike that takes advantage of today's technology without burdening the consumer with a need to interact with those components. They buried the cables and shifting mechanisms inside the frame and made shifting a non-issue.
So the idea of an automatic transmission, now dubbed "Shimano's Coasting System," was born. Trek, Giant and Raleigh Bicycles all signed on to develop bikes around this new transmission.
The Trek Lime
A couple of months ago, Shimano suggested I try Trek's Lime bicycle. Even though I've been riding bicycles seriously for over 25 years, Shimano explained that the Lime was essentially for non-cyclists. In other words, I had to change my mindset and evaluate the bicycle from a layperson's perspective.
One of the easiest ways to accomplish this was to let a bunch of my non-cyclist neighbors take it for a spin.
The Lime features a very simple design: no cables, brakes or levers are visible, and braking is accomplished the old-fashioned way: just pedal backwards.
The very large and comfy seat is the antithesis of a racing bicycle saddle. A storage compartment inside the seat allows you to store your wallet, keys, money or other small items during your ride.
The wheels are not meant to be taken off by consumers, but that's exactly what I did in order to put the bike in the back of my minivan. Since I didn't have any instructions, I didn't realize that removing the front wheel also disconnected the wire from a generator and speed sensor.
When I figured out the automatic transmission wasn't working anymore, I called Shimano and they explained I needed to take the mechanism apart and put the wire back -- which was pretty easy to do. They explained that this wasn't a bike you put in your car nor did they ever intend for the folks that bought this kind of bicycle to ever remove the wheels.
Which is why the bike comes with puncture-resistant tires. The idea is that you shouldn't get a flat tire and certainly will never need to remove the wheels.