Step-through bikes aren't for everyone, but their practicality appeals to many women - especially those who want to commute in their office clothes. The Specialized Globe Comp IG8 Women's model (£450) takes the usability element a step further with a simple, low-maintenance internal hub gear. If you like the idea of exploring, its tyres and clearances are well suited to riding canal paths and forest tracks too.
Specialized's women-specific Globe step-through frame design gives a very low standover height to facilitate getting on and off the bike. It also makes hoisting the bike up and down stairs easier, as the top-tube is out of the way under your arm. If you're not mad on the 'ladies bike' looks, you could always try the men's version with its traditional frame; sizes run smaller for the women's one, though. The frame is made from Specialized's A1 Premium aluminium with neat cable routing, sliding hub gear dropouts and well positioned rack braze-ons. Forks are carbon (alu steerer) with Zertz vibration dampening inserts and rack eyelets. The wide fork legs look a bit ugly, but the carbon helps contribute to the bike's surprisingly light weight. Clearances are good front and back for wider tyres too. The headset is very basic, though.
TheNexus Inter 8 hub gear is clearly the heart of the Specialized Globe. It's the less expensive, slightly heavier, standard SG-8R20 model, rather than the premium version, but performance is still very good. Shifting nearly always falls into line perfectly, there's very little noticeable noise, and the trigger action is quick and light. There's an easy-to-read, retro-styled gear display (very cool) and integrated brake levers. The disadvantages of the hub gear are that the rear wheel is difficult to remove and replace - any internal servicing is best left to professionals - and they're heavier and less efficient than a properly maintained derailleur system.
Overall, though, the practicality in the city and ease of use for new riders offer many more benefits. Long-term reports on the Nexus Inter 8 are positive - quality and durability have improved over earlier 7-speed models. The beefy KMC singlespeed chain and tough SR-SunTour 42-tooth chainset with guard add to the no-nonsense approach.
Other bits to note are the foam padded grips, low-rise bars and replaceable-cartridge Avid Single Digit 3 V brakes.
Dependable and inexpensive Alex rims with 32 plain gauge black spokes, front and rear, make up the Globe's utilitarian wheelset. There are no quick-release skewers so you'll need Allen keys and a spanner to get the wheels off. Thankfully, the Borough 700x42 tyres should keep you out of puncture's way thanks to the Flak Jacket protection. They roll and grip well in the city and on canal paths, but we'd recommend something with more traction for forest tracks. The tubes are Schrader valve, which points more towards recreational use.
Riding the Globe is a breeze. The posture is upright for a great view in traffic and you can confidently look around without having to move from your riding position. Because your weight is squarely on your rear, the suspension seatpost and comfort saddle are a welcome addition to soak up the bumps. There's no pogo effect with the seatpost when pedalling but it does its job on rough surfaces.
We found the 8-speed hub gear provided ample range for Bristol's hilly city centre. Hub gears are great for their low-maintenance, internally sealed parts while the ability to shift at a standstill is remarkably useful - it saves on wear and tear, both from avoiding sudden shifts and on your knees from starting in the wrong gear. There's no danger of crossed chainlines and they operate more cleanly too. The V-brakes stopped the bike well, though the levers need to be adjusted inwards for small hands via a fiddly screw.
The Globe's reasonably lightweight chassis and low-maintenance, faff-free internal hub gear make it an easy bike to deal with both for city riding and canal path explorations. Although the step-through is not to everyone's taste, it suits smart dressers and is handy for hoisting the bike up and down station stairways.