At long last (more than two months after ordering it), I've finally got my hands on the bike I bought using the Tax-Free Cycle scheme through work. It's a Fahrrad Manufaktur S200 Comfort, and it's absolutely wonderful.
I rode it to work for the first time on Friday, and after Mr. Bsag's bike, it felt supremely comfortable. It has a much more upright position, which is great for my back, shoulders and wrists. I also felt more relaxed, more engaged with my surroundings, and less confrontational than I felt in the typical 'head down' position of the old bike, which made for a very pleasant commuting experience.
I won't be able to talk definitively about the reliability until I've used it daily for a few months, but the build quality seems superb. It's a very solid bike, with good quality components, and a nice finish, but there a few components that make it a much better ride in terms of comfort than any I've had before.
- It has a suspended seat-post, but also very fat Schwalbe Big Apple tyres, which have relatively low rolling resistance, but provide a luxurious, cushioned ride. Together, these smooth out the inevitable bumps and holes in the road very well, without making bike feel 'flabby' and unresponsive.
- There's a strong spring which connects the back of the front mudguard to the frame of the bike, which automatically and passively centres the steering. I've never come across anything like it before, but I understand that it's a fairly standard feature on Dutch-style bikes. It's hard to think of a simpler bit of technology, but it makes for a very stable ride, and effortless 'no-hands' riding (off-road, of course).
- The Nexus 8-speed hub gears are silky smooth, and have the perfect ratio for my route.
- The handlebar grips have a kind of flattened palm rest at the end, which significantly reduces the pressure on your hands as you ride. Though the upright position means that there's less weight on your hands and arms anyway.
- The bike has a back-pedal, 'coaster' brake, in addition to normal front and back lever brakes. I haven't ridden a bike with one before, but it's very useful when you're slowing for a junction, and having to indicate as well as brake. The only thing you have to be careful about is that you don't twiddle the pedals backwards gleefully as you're coasting (as I used to do when I was a kid), or you'll come to a messy and abrupt halt.
There are a couple of other nice features (a built-in lock, very sturdy stand, and a hub dynamo and automatic stand lights), but the comfort-oriented features are the real benefit for me. I'm really looking forward to my ride to work on Monday.