Monday, August 10, 2009

Review of "Eustacia Vye": Pashley Princess Sovereign

[Edited to add: There is now an updated review of this bicycle here. I suggest reading the updated version first, as it's the most complete.]

Meet Eustacia Vye: my precious and unique beauty, made by Pashley and customised by the fine people at Harris Cyclery. If you are familiar with the works of Thomas Hardy, you probably got the reference of the name. (If not, read Thomas Hardy!) Eustacia roams the heaths and meadows with wild abandon, seducing those whom she encounters with her regal beauty. And she is excellent in Boston traffic.

Here are the front and back views. If you are interested in how I came to select this bicycle, you can read about it here.

I. THE BICYCLE:

The Pashley Princess Sovereign is a classic "loop-frame" ladies bicycle. It comes standard with fenders, a fully enclosed chaincase, dress-guards, a heavy-duty black Pletscher rack, a hub-driven dynamo headlight and an LED rear light, a Brooks B66S saddle (sprung, suspended leather), enclosed hub brakes, puncture-resistant Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, a pump attached to the frame with braze-ons, an "O-Lock" for the back wheel, a "ding-dong" bell, and an enormous wicker basket. My Princess is the 20" frame (51 cm), which fits my 5'7" (170 cm) proportions perfectly. Standard specs for the Princess Sovereign can be viewed on Pashley's website here.

For those not familiar with Pashley, they are an English manufacturer and have been making traditional bicycles since 1926, specialising in transport cycles and classic English roadsters.

A close-up of the Pashley headbadge.

This is a traditionally lugged and brazed handbuilt frame. The frame is powder-coated and the paintjob is very durable (a powder coated finish will scratch and scuff, whereas a liquid-coated finish will chip). The Princess is available in two colours: "Buckingham Black" and "Regency Green." I chose the green, because it seemed to have a stronger personality, and because I generally like green bicycles. The shade is a dark and subdued "British racing green".

Pashley bicycles are made in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Some cool photos of their factory, including the brazing process, can be viewed here.

II. CUSTOMISATIONS:

As mentioned earlier, many customisations have been done to this bicycle. Here they are, not at all in the order of importance or magnitude:

Dress-guards: We replaced the standard dressguard pictured here with a netted dress-guard I bought in Germany. I wanted a dressguard that resembled latticed wroght iron rather than transparent plastic. This one certainly does. It also covers more of the wheel than the original dressguard.

Here is a close-up of the netting over the chaincase...

... and around the opening for the "O-Lock". The O-Lock is a European locking system that locks the rear wheel, making the bicycle impossible to be ridden away by a thief. In most areas in the US, it is probably prudent to use this for supplementary purposes only.

Kickstand: We replaced the standard Princess kickstand with the Pletscher Twin-Legger, which provides support on both sides of the bicycle and lifts either the back or the front wheel off the ground (you can adjust the balance to determine which).

Not all bicycles will accommodate this kickstand, but the Princess has a special braze-on below the bottom bracket for this purpose.

Grips: We replaced the standard Raleigh-style plastic grips with Brooks leather washer grips in brown. These are probably the most comfortable handlebar grips I have ever tried: They provide just the right amount of texture, softness, suppleness and durability. And they look gorgeous!

Gearing and Brakes: But wait, what's this next to the right grip? The Princess Sovereign comes with a Sturmey Archer 5-speed hub. Mine has been replaced with a 7-speed Shimano Nexus coasterbrake hub (and yes, the gear-shifter has been twined and shellacked). This is by far the most dramatic customisation, and I cannot thank Harris Cyclery enough for doing such an amazing job.

I wanted a coaster brake on the back wheel instead of the (hand-operated) drum brake that Pashley bicycles normally come with. Most people would have been glad to have the standard hand-operated brake option, but I wanted a coaster brake due to some problems with the nerves in my right hand. I can operate a hand-brake, but in stop-and-go traffic a coaster brake is more comfortable.

To accommodate this, the wheelbuilder at Harris Cyclery rebuilt the back wheel of the bicycle. This was done so impeccably, that it looks stock and absolutely flawless. I also asked Harris to set the gears lower, to make it easier to climb hills. They used a 23-tooth cog, which provided the lowest setting possible, given the enclosed chaincase. The 2 extra gears that came with the Nexus hub were pretty helpful in the hill-climbing aspect as well!

The front wheel retained the original Sturmey Archer hub dynamo/drum brake.

If you're confused, this means that I have a hand-operated front-wheel brake on the left handlebar, a 7-speed gear shifter on the right handlebar, and a coaster brake on the back-wheel that is operated with the feet by pedaling backwards.

Lights: We have added extra lights to supplement the standard lighting system.

Saddlebag: Not exactly a customisation, but the bag on the rear rack is a Carradice Barley. I absolutely love these remarkably roomy and attractive bags.

Initially, I had considered also replacing the basket and saddle, but on further testing decided to keep the originals. Please note that the 20" and 22.5" frames apparently come with a larger and more sturdy basket than the 17" frame.

III. IMPRESSIONS:

My first impressions of Eustacia can be summarised as "gorgeous, fits me perfectly and rolls like a dream... but unreasonably heavy". I had tested the Pashley Princess before purchase and had also tried several Dutch bikes -- so I thought I was prepared for the weight. But that was before I had to carry it up and down the porch stairs every time I wanted to ride it. I admit that during the first few days of ownership, I cursed and despaired, gave myself many bruises, and almost fell down the stairs a couple of times under Eustacia's weight. I was pretty upset about it and could not reconcile the fact that I had the most beautiful, elegant bike in the world and found it unmanageable.

Then, after a week, something magical happened: The bicycle miraculously lost weight! Well, either that, or I developed arm strength. Either way, carrying it up and down the porch stairs now takes only a couple of seconds and I take it in stride. Do I wish it were a lighter bicycle? I honestly cannot say for sure: Its weight also contributes to its stability, comfort on the road, reliability in traffic and tank-like indifference to pot-holes. (Edited to add: See also this post about speed.)

A summary of pros and cons:

Pros:
. stunning looks
. quality construction
. utilitarian add-ons
. luxurious accessories
. curved step-trough frame for easy on-off with skirts
. roomy and well-proportioned, with 3 frame sizes to choose from (I am 5'7", got a 20" frame, and can just reach the ground with my toes in the lowest saddle position).
. upright posture for relaxed riding, great views of surroundings, and visibility to traffic
. enclosed hub brakes make it weather resistant
. puncture-resistant tires are pretty much indestructible
. super stable
. handles extremely well in traffic
. sneers at pot-holes

Cons:
. heavy (specs state 45lb, but more like 50lb once you add accessories)
. not "agile" or sporty by any means; slow to accelerate
. upright posture restricts speed and uphill cycling
. saddle adjustment can be tricky with a "sliding off effect" unless perfectly tweaked
. if you are a private person who dislikes being approached by strangers, you might be overwhelmed with the attention this bike will get you. I get an average of 2-3 comments each time I take it out of the house.

IV. CONCLUSIONS:

The Pashley Princess Sovereign will give you elegant utility, with the bonus gift of increased upper body strength. As a town-and-country bike and a transport bike, it is a success. An agile, sporty bike it is not (and to be fair, does not claim to be). As with any bicycle, you can always customise components, which includes lowering the gears if you live in a hilly area. Enjoy the city and the meadows, and be prepared for lots of attention when people see this bicycle!


Edited to add:

Since this review, I have aded updates that may also be useful:
Pashley Princess as winter bike


For other perspectives on the Pashley Princess, you may also want to check out...
Miss Sarah at Girls and Bicycles
Sigrid at My Hyggelig

37 comments:

  1. Now I have bike jealousy. I'd better not let my Columbia read this post :)

    I totally get the heavy comment. I have to carry my bike up the basement stairs and then down the porch stairs each time I want to ride her. I can't wait till I move to my new apartment, where I won't have to deal with basement storage.

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  2. Thanks Cathy! My vintage Raleigh Lady's Sports (which probably weighs similarly to your Columbia) is actually considerably lighter than the Pashley, which I had not expected to be the case, since older steel is heavier. I think the Pashley's weight is mostly in the tires and add-ons, rather than the frame.

    I definitely cannot imagine storing this bicycle in the basement! It lives in my art studio and thankfully I have only the front stairs to deal with.

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  3. I love the customizations you've made to your Pashley (and her perfect name). When I test-rode the Abici I was really impressed by the efficiency and elegance of the rear coaster/front hand brake combination.

    re: weight, I suspect you are right about the components. The dynamo hub alone adds a couple of pounds to my Batavus. But like you, I appreciate the opportunity to develop upper-body strength -- it really doesn't take long to get accustomed to hauling it around.

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  4. Nice review. Makes me want one again. It is truly a beauty and I like the heavy aspect. ( granted I don't have steps to deal with- and I have to contend with the sorte which lord only know how much it weighs.)

    I would really like to ride a two wheeler with coaster brakes to see how it is. The sorte has them plus front and rear hand brakes and I will engage them all. Last fall I sprained my thumb and braking the townie was a bit painful. However, so far using only the coaster brakes on the sorte freak me out. I find I tend to swerve. I don't know why but engaging the hand brakes keeps my arms steady thus keeping hte bike steady. Also the rear steering gives the swerve feeling more of a edge as well. so anyway- would love to see what it felt like on just two wheels.

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  5. Trisha, I didn't realise that the Abici had both a handbrake and a coaster brake; I thought it was coaster only. Darn, now I want one again. In that nice pale army green colour. Darn velo gluttony!

    mamavee, I am 99% certain that the swerving you are describing is due to the front-heavy nature of the Sorte. I have ridden several bicycles with coaster brakes at this point, and if anything braking this way keeps the bike more stable. I am pretty sure that Harris has some coaster brake bikes in stock if you want to try it out on a 2-wheeler. (BTW: We both seem to be there so often, that it is a statistical anomaly we have not run into each other!)

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  6. Hello! What a loveyly post and I agree with EVERYTHING you say ;) there won't be much point in me doing a review eheh! I agree with the term 'gorgeous' she is indeed! I love her name Eustacia, I call mine Vita (as also in italian it means Life!) ;) It's a happy bike for sure, I love her to bits! Can you love a bike? I do ;) Agree on the weight issue but that also it does take about a month than I have stopped noticing too, I like its weight now, makes me very very safe on the road. And I so know what you mean about the sliding off the saddle ;) at first I thought it was just me!!

    Last but not least I love how it makes other people smile when they see 'her' riding down the streets!

    Happy Riding and Happy Pashley! L xxx

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  7. Lorenza, thanks so much for your comments! Please do post a review. I think it is so useful to have multiple reviews in order to really get a sense for a product. Everyone has a different point of view, different likes and dislikes, different uses for the bike, etc.

    The "sliding off the saddle" is definitely not just you. Is your saddle height adjusted so that you can reach the ground with your toes while seated? Mine is, and I thought this may be the cause of the problem. Technically my saddle is set a bit too low for my height, but I never learned how to properly mount and dismount a bike, and so I must be able to touch the ground at least with the tip of my toes in order to get off safely.

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  8. Beautiful bicycle.

    This is so helpful. Thank you!

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  9. What a great review of your Pashley! I'm happy for a formal introduction. I love all of the customizations you did. Making a bike perfect for your individual needs is such a great idea. Twined and shellacked gear shift! These pictures are not helping my illogical desire to own a Pashley on top of my Oma :)

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  10. I tried a Pashley and very much liked it, especially the bell. It had such a lovely clear tone; and it was very loud!
    I bought a Batavus tho' because it seemed to fit a bit better, and even in her 'off-the-rack' state, she is a heavy little beast, built for comfort, not for speed. I think she is wonderful.

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  11. It is interesting how individual the issue of fit is. I tried Batavus and Gazelle at the same time as the Pashley, and the Pashley was a much better fit than either. Just goes to show how crucial it is to try a bike before buying. You can't even rely on frame size alone, because the size of the wheels and other aspects of design play a role as well.

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  12. I wanted to add a technical tid-bit that some bike tinkerers may appreciate: when Harris replaced the SA 5-speed hub, they ordered an extra lug nut to replace the hollow nut where the SA indicator chain goes. They internally ground the chain case to adjust fit, something you cannot see from the outside once everything is assembled. They managed to perfectly place the Shimano indexing mechanis and routed the cabling so intuitively that the bicycle looks stock.

    I guess I am saying all this to give well-deserved props to Harris and their chief mechanic.

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  13. So now I suppose I'll have to start "The Loop Frame Revue", huh?

    Seriously beautiful.

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  14. It sounds like you should have bought a Velorbis Victoria as many of your changes are standard on the Velorbis Victoria. Their models for the Scandinavian market comes as standard with 3 speed or 7 speed shimano coaster brake, Brooks grips, Brooks mud flap, double kick stand etc. Check it out here http://www.velorbis.co.uk/velorbis-classic-bicycles/classic-bicycles/victoria-classic. Prices start at £575 and they offer free delivery to the UK

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  15. Anon -- I looked at Velorbis when they were carried by the Dutch Bicycle Company in Boston. The Victoria and Danneborg are nice, but I liked the Pashley Princess better. Also, Velorbis bicycles do not have fully enclosed chaincases, which was an absolute must for me. The prices in the US were over $2,000, which was more than my Pashley cost even with all the add-ons and customisations. I do like the Velorbis Scrap Deluxe, which is a slightly different kind of bicycle, and would like to own one in future in addition to the Pashley Princess.

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  16. I appreciate this thorough review!

    I understand perfectly what you mean about taking into account the subtle differences between these type of bikes, that all seem so very similar at first. I came across one that was up on Craigslist at a significant discount, but I couldn't commit to it at all. It wasn't the right bike.

    I intend to try out a Batavus Cambridge (http://www.dutchbikeshop.co.uk/page15.htm), as the Danish market model has all the elements I want...but I believe I am far too short for it. Wish me luck!

    Glossy

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  17. Good luck, Glossy! The Batavus "Cambridge" is an interesting combination of vintage and modern aesthetics, and I bet it's pretty lightweight.

    Doohickie, a Loop Frame blog would be wonderful. I wish there were more vintage frames like this available, but they are so hard to find!

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  18. Why no leather frame protector? Seems like a no-brainer!

    http://www.pashley.co.uk/products/leather-frame-protector.html

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  19. I like that leather protector in of itself, but I also like the uninterrupted flow of the loop frame. Plus, what would BikeSnobNYC say!

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  20. Greetings,
    I have a 1980 Peujeot (Jeujeot) bike nearly identical to yours. Thrilling to ride, lacking in lightness....
    Best regards.

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  21. Hi, I am buying a Pashley Princess through our company's 'ride to work' tax saving cycle scheme. I have never had a dutch style bicycle before and have only yet tried the Pashley for a few minutes, felt a little wobbly on it. Do you think it will be difficult to ride? Haven't been on a bike for a few years...

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  22. If you haven't ridden a bicycle for a while, the Pashley is one of the easiest bikes to ride IMO; it is extremely stable. If it felt wobbly to you, my first thought is that it could have been in the wrong gear. Shops tend to set the bikes in a very low gear for some reason, like first or second. Test the bike in third gear if you are on flat land and see how that feels?

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  23. Any idea which size Princess i should get? I am 5'4/5'5 with a 30" inside leg but stuck between an 18 or 20 inch frame...?

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  24. Filigre - Thanks for your reply. I tried the bike today and it was sooooo nice and smooth to ride. Have a problem deciding on frame size now as the 18 felt cramped but I am only 5'4/5'5 with a 30" inside leg so the 20 might be a bit big?! Apologies if my question appears twice...

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  25. Anon. - If you position your saddle so that your leg is fully extended when you pedal (and therefore you cannot touch the ground at all), then I suggest the 20" frame. If you position your saddle so that your toes can touch the ground when you are seated (because you cannot mount and dismount a bike properly), then you'll need the 17.5".

    I am between 5'6" and 5'7" and got the 20" frame because I am in the latter category; otherwise I may have gotten the 22" frame.

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  26. To add to my previous comment: a 30" inseam is actually quite long for a 5'4"/5'5" person; you must be long-legged for your overall height. I'd go with the 20" frame, especially since you say that you felt cramped on the smaller bike. It is generally recommended that one gets "the largest frame they can get away with," and a lot of that depends on being able to mount a bike properly, so that you don't need to touch the ground with your feet when seated.

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  27. Thank you so much for your advice. I think I will go for the 20" frame as I can still touch the ground with my toes if I position the saddle to its absolute lowest position. I hope to raise it an inch as I gain confidence and don't feel I need to be so low to the ground. On the 18", I felt my knees were coming up too high even with handlebar adjustments..

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  28. Came across your review while searching on the internet - this has been very helpful :) I still deciding between the Classic and the Sovereign & will be going to test them both soon... I've wanted one of these for so long to ride around London on... I've even named it & I don't even own her yet!

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  29. How great to read all these comments from like minded people who all love their pashley. I have just bought a Sonnett Bliss in cream with burgundy highlights. Only had her a week so still getting used to her but just love going out every day on this bike. I've wanted a Pashley for a couple of years now and purchased mine from a local shop in Stratford upon Avon (just down the road from the Pashley factory). When the cycle shop assistant asked me if I wanted to take a test ride round Stratford in rush hour I nearly died of fright but the moment I got on, I was hooked! Well worth the wait of 6 weeks and although I too have had a few bruises from my clumsy mounting and dismounting I am getting there! Now we are having some amazing summer sunshine I am enjoying the Cotswold countryside around my home. Just trying to come up with a name for her and thought with the connection to Stratford, a good old Shakespearian character might fit the bill. So any thoughts on that one?

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  30. Hi there! I have been looking for US stores that sell Pashleys with no luck....where did you get yours? Thanks, P

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  31. Hello from Spain..

    The bike is beautiful but as we see in the pictures you would have to buy the 17.5" because this 20" is large for you.



    Regards.

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  32. Measurements recommended for Pashley:

    17.5″ frame suits 27.5″ – 31.5″ inside leg
    20″ frame suits 30″ – 34″ inside leg
    22.5″ frame suits 32.5″ – 36.5″ inside leg

    A person will 1.70cm be more comfortable bike 17.5"

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  33. Anonymous from Spain - I am 5'7" with long legs (32.5" inseam) and the 20" frame actually began to feel small on me once I got better at cycling. I have now sold the Pashley and the bike I ride (a vintage Gazelle) is 22.5" and feels like a better fit.

    Everyone is different, but of the many-many women I know who ride a Pashley Princess, most of them feel more comfortable in the larger sizes as well. I would definitely not recommend that a person taller than 5'4" get the 17.5" frame unless they have super short legs.

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  34. What a wonderful Blog. And, thanks to you! Your blog finally helped persuade wife and I to get a Sovereign each - they are being built by Pashley as I type!

    Starting a blog myself too
    Baz
    http://pashleyguide.blogspot.com/

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  35. Hi,
    Has anyone tried changing the rear inner tube on the P Princess. I seem to have to take everything off it?

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  36. I have recently decided to buy myself a bike and immediately fell in love with the Pashley Princess Sovereign. Your wonderful and detailed review has confirmed for me that I've made the right choice. Thank you. I shall order one this wee. Enjoy many years with Eustacia, she's a stunner. I'm not surprised you're both getting comments xx

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  37. I recently discovered your blog and I have to say I really enjoy reading about your knowledge of the kinds of bicycles I am growing more and more interested in. I want to buy a bicycle for pleasure, exercise, and tooling around but with so many choices its easy to get overwhelmed. Your blog is helping to remedy that symptom. I now have a good idea of what I want but I was wondering what your opinion is about chainless bikes.

    dei gratia
    steve c.

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