I'm sure many of you remember Claudia, my lovely Electra Townie Bicycle.
I still love her very much, but I also want a new bike. I have become a true bike commuter and use my bike for some daily errands and general getting about town and because of that I want a bike that *does* a bit more than Claudia and really *is* more.
Like many things in life, you get what you pay for, and a seven speed Townie is relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of bikes. After 5 years the quality issues are starting to show. I've had to replace the back wheel (not the tire, the actual wheel after the bearings failed), the bottom bracket is going--the bearings are starting to grind, I've had to replace all the cables, the back fender is bent (thanks Mr Don't Look When I Turn Right) and it has always rattled and well it's feeling like a bike of "all style and no substance".
I promised myself that if I rode all winter (when the conditions weren't dangerous) I could start looking for my next bike. Luckily for me, this winter was one of the dryest and warmest on record and I rode all winter. I should also add that I'm not someone who "gears up" to ride her bike. I want to ride in my street clothes. Here's a winter shot of me in my regular coat. The only add-on was leggings over my skirt tights because of the temperature.
Also, Emma needs a bike for occasional use and Claudia would be perfect for her.
In March I started the hunt. Fuelled with excellent reviews and tips from several great bike bloggers like Lovely Bicycle! and Let's Go Ride a Bike, I started to see what bikes I could find in Toronto that had the following criteria:
- Full chain guard (I have ruined too many pairs of pants)
- Skirt guard (to keep some of the mud off me)
- Integrated lighting system
- Internal hub gears (less maintenance)
- Internal hub or disc brakes which are better for stopping in wet and snowy conditions
- Solid, heavy frame
- A proper, solid Vee kickstand (I'm left handed and am always on the wrong side of my bike to operate a regular stand).
- Solid rear rack
- Eye-catching. If you don't love your bike it won't get ridden.
While there were a few bikes I wanted to try that I can't get in Toronto (mainly Batavus and Workcycles) I have test-ridden a number of fantastic bikes. Here are the current contenders in no particular order.
Royal Gazelle: I thought at the outset that I wanted a traditional Dutch bike and I've ridden a few different Gazelle models yet can't quite fall in love. I started out trying a 57cm sized frame 7speed because that was all that I could find and it was just that much too big for me.
The 28" tires make these bikes go fast and they don't want to stop once they get rolling. The handlebars take some getting used to and they handle very differently than any other bike I've ridden. It was a smooth easy ride (even though my toes couldn't quite touch the ground).
I also rode a basic 3 speed 51cm size (I'm 5'6" and this is the right frame for me) and while I feel like it's enough bike for me, I'm also considering the long term (Gazelles and all the bikes I'm showing here are meant to be 30 year investments) and might want something with 5 or more gears.
I'm also not super crazy about the coaster brake on the Basic, but know I could get used to it (some people prefer them). If I did get this bike I would swap the seat for a Brooks saddle. Since is the least expensive bike in my possible list, that's not a big deal. Then there's the issue of colour. The basic black is always nice, but this Tardis-shade of blue is awfully pretty
This 8 speed Toer Populair, is really the one I love. Those little extras like the Brooks saddle and the mudflap give it the edge on style. The only thing this model doesn't have is the nifty traditional dutch kickstand, but I could easily add a vee shaped one (I think!). I would have to order this one, but the frames are all the same, it's just whether I want the extra gears and the extra cost.
Velorbis: This is the most stylish of the bikes I've tried. The Dannebrog just knocks me out and is definitely in the running. A Danish company, Velorbis bikes are built in Germany and this one has 5 speeds, leather grips, a leather mudflap, that striking red colour, it *kills* me with pretty.
It's also the most expensive of the lot (I wouldn't buy the optional basket as I'm more of a pannier girl). I notice on the Velorbis site that this bike now comes with a 7speed Shimano grip shifter--I prefer that to the Sturmey Archer flip shifter (I'm not sure what the technical term is) which might seal the deal. It's a quick and nimble ride and has everything I want.
Pashley: This is the bike I'm still waiting to try. It's elegant looking and someone on my commute rides one--i just purrs down the street.
It's a 5 speed which is probably the right number of gears for me, but also somewhat smaller in stature than the Velorbis and Gazelle so I'm not sure if it's what I want. The thing is I can't say yes to one of the others until I try this bike out. I'm just waiting for them to arrive at the shop.
I rode a Bobbin Firefly that Curbside Cycle has configured to be almost identical to a Pashley (the one below doesn't have the Brooks seat or lighting system that was on the one I tried).
It was okay and the price is near the low end for these sorts of bikes at $999 but it didn't speak to me the way I was hoping it would.
I find that many women's loop frame bikes feel too short between the handlebars and the seat--I find myself riding with my butt half off the seat regardless of what size frame I'm riding (even some that are too big for me). The Bobbin was definitely like that. If you're more petite, a Bobbin bike might be for you--the Birdie comes in some sweet colours.
So, what will it be? I keep hoping one of these bikes will choose me but I think with all choices, there isn't a perfect one. The other hard part is not being able to ride them all in one go (the Velorbis is at Cycle Couture and the rest at Curbside) and the waiting for the Pashley. I hope to make the purchase soon and I'll let you know how it goes.