Brilliant Bikes Carmen: The Best Cruiser Bike
I want to take a break from the usual and talk about the Brilliant bikes Carmen. I spend a lot of time reviewing the absolute best of the best. The most serious gear that exists. I recently tried out some pedals that cost $600 and don’t even measure power. They are great by the way but for the price they better be! Even my city bike is a serious bike in its own way. Does every person and every ride need to be so serious though?
What if you want something fun, and easy, that you can cruise around town with? Short commutes to work or cruising through a college campus to class don’t need to be serious. I like something like the Brilliant bikes Carmen for gentle rides around the neighborhood with my family. Whatever your need for a low cost, high quality bike might be, Brilliant bikes has options. I took a look at the Carmen. It’s cheap, it’s in stock, it looks great, and it’s better than it has any right to be.
Brilliant bikes benefits from the same guiding hand as that of Priority Bikes and there are similarities. The sales model is direct-to-consumer. There’s no distributor and the pricing reflects that advantage. Of course, that does mean final assembly is your responsibility. Don’t worry though, the bike is mostly assembled as delivered. If you need any help Brilliant has videos and phone support. They even put together a music playlist to pass the time during assembly. Given how fast it is I doubt you’ll get through a ton of the songs but I love the idea.
If even a little wrenching sounds intimidating don’t worry, Brilliant still has you covered. Tack on a bit of extra money and you can take advantage of a white glove delivery by the mobile bike shop Velofix. Seriously though, you don’t need to worry. It’s easy.
The Brilliant Bikes Carmen, actually all their models, uses 1020 steel construction. It’s tricky to find a balance of how much to dive into this because for a bike of this price range, and with this type of focus does it really matter? Probably not but the basics might be worth mentioning. When you hear the old guy in the corner bike shop going on about how steel is real and there’s no ride quite like it, he isn’t talking about 1020.
People who wax poetic about steel bike frames are talking about 4130 chromoly steel. 1020 is a low-cost, low-carbon, type of steel that can take less stress than a comparable piece of 4130. Because 4130 can take more stress, tube walls can be thinner than what is possible on a 1020 steel bike. The thinner walls mean a lighter bike and a more flexible bike. It’s the flexibility that people who love steel bikes enjoy.
Brilliant bikes, I’m sure, chose 1020 to hit the price point and it’s hard to say anything bad about that. Yes, there are more desirable frame materials in the world but there are also bikes that cost $10,000. In a $400 cruiser frame 1020 steel is entirely reasonable.
The Brilliant Bikes Carmen weighs in at a quoted weight of 28lbs. That weight isn’t down to only the frame but it’s definitely a contributor. You have to think about the intended use though. In an inexpensive cruiser bike a heavy steel frame might actually be an advantage. This is not a frame you need to worry about being delicate with.
On top of the steel is a very high-quality coating. Colors available are Positano Teal or Marigold Yellow and each has a bit of a pearlescent quality. Under flat indoor light the effect is a yellow or teal bike with a white rear. Bring the bike out in the sun and the flake in the color adds another dimension.
Matched with the chosen color is a mix of silver and chrome pieces and brown finishing kit. The crank arms are silver in color while the seat post and handlebars are chrome. The included saddle and grips use a light brown that gives a bit of a retro feel when paired with the available colors.
No matter how much people might pretend it’s not true, aesthetics matter. It doesn’t matter if you have a serious and expensive bike or an inexpensive cruiser like this. For whatever it’s worth, the Brilliant Bikes Carmen is a good-looking bike. Welds are smooth and high quality and the finish is perfect.
Drivetrain and Finishing Kit
The drivetrain of the Brilliant Bikes Carmen is where it stands out. While the finish of the bike is better than you might expect at this price point the frame isn’t all that special. It does the job you need it to. In contrast, the drivetrain is special.
Like Priority Bikes, every model that Brilliant bikes makes uses a belt drive. Above all else, this is the reason to purchase this bike. Belt drive bikes require basically no maintenance and won’t ever get grease on your pants. Ride in whatever clothes you want and never worry about making sure your pant legs on the drive side is tight against your leg. Truly the best option for a bike you can hop on without thinking about it.
In this installation of the Gates Carbon Drive Brilliant bikes has chosen a Shimano three speed rear hub. If you were going to be climbing serious hills you might want to look for a different option but compared to a single speed this is a great choice. It’s not setup to optimize pedaling speed. Think of it more like a three-way switch. Use the grip shift to select an easy gear if you have a hill to go up, a hard gear if you are heading down a hill, or leave it alone on an all-around gear. Almost all of the time it’s going to be on that middle gear but there is something easier, and something harder, if you really need it.
Along with what I consider to be a truly special drivetrain there is a quality cockpit and the brakes are entirely passable. The seat, hand grips, and pedals are all really nice to look at as well as being comfortable pieces. They seem well made and I don’t see any reason other than preference to swap pieces out.
As far as the brakes V-brakes can be finicky but these worked well for me. All I really want to see is something that feels like it can stop the bike and doesn’t need a complete overhaul before sitting in the right place.
Think about the Brilliant Bikes Carmen as a single speed cruiser. That’s what the ride feels like. Sure, there are gears but they aren’t going to get much use. Leave it on the middle gear and cruise around. It’s not a long-range bike, it’s not an aggressive bike, it’s a cruiser. Head out in the neighborhood with your family, cruise across campus, take it down to the beach, just be mellow with it.
The seating position is very upright and the handlebars sit so they are easy to reach. I talked about the weight earlier but compared to other bikes in this price range it’s actually very competitive and it doesn’t ride heavy. It’s a pretty bike and it’s a fun bike. It looks good and it gets around for not a lot of money. None of the touchpoints feel cheap and as long as you understand what it’s good for it’s not going to let you down.
Not every bike has to be super serious and expensive but you don’t want to buy junk either. In this space the Brilliant bikes Carmen thrives. I mean it’s seriously amazing what Brilliant bikes has managed to accomplish for $400. There’s not a single piece on the bike that I look at and think needs improvement.
It’s tough to find anything this inexpensive but finding it at this price with a belt drive is even more rare. Throw in the fact that in midst of a pandemic driven bike shortage the Brilliant Bikes Carmen is available right now. Don’t forget also that it will show up at your door and do so in time for the holidays. If you are looking for a low-priced bike for cruising around pick one up right away!