Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ladies' Bicycles from ANT: 2 Test Rides

At their Open House last weekend, I had a chance to briefly examine and test-ride two ANT bicycles. This is my first time seeing these bicycles up close and personal, and I hope the reports will be useful to those considering an ANT.

TEST RIDE No.1: The Boston Lady Roadster

The Boston Lady Roadster is a classic loop frame bicycle, available custom built from ANT. This fact in itself is remarkable. If you are wondering why, I invite you to find other framebuilders willing and able to build a loop frame, or even capable of discussing such a thing without laughing. Until recently, most framebuilders' idea of a "women's bicycle" was a diamond frame roadbike painted pink, or with pink handlebar wraps. Now mixtes have began to pop up as well, but for city riding they are not quite as comfortable as the classic curved step-through. The fact that ANT has chosen the loop frame as one of their flagship models carries significant implications for the recognition of women in urban cycling. It also says something about the framebuilder's skill. It is difficult to make that curved top tube, to get the form just right both structurally and aesthetically. So I feel that this frame is one of the most specialised and special things ANT has to offer.

The Lady Roadster is available in many colours, with the option of matching rims and a choice of black or cream tires. The bicycle I tried was in a colour I would describe as "Vermilion" or "Cadmium Red Light" in painters' pigment terms. I must say, ANT knows how to put together colours. The combination of the vermilion frame, matching rims, cream tires and steel fenders is timelessly classic and elegant. At the Open House, someone asked me what I think of putting matching fenders on this bike, and my thought on that was "no". With a bright colour like this, I think it is easy to overdo it and make the bicycle look like a toy. To my eye, the clean steel fenders are a good counterweight to the extravagant frame and rim colour; it's all done just right. If it were my bicycle, I would ask for brown leather accessories and a steel quill stem for a more classic look, but that this is a matter of personal choice.

One of my favourite features of the Boston Roadster is the mount for the dynamo-powered headlight. Welded to the fork, it looks like a little tree branch. Having a low-mounted light like this is better for illuminating the road than having the light on top of the fork or on the handlebars, so this feature serves a practical purpose as well.

This shot may not speak to you immediately, but I wanted to point out the kickstand plate. Not all bicycles are made with one. Also note how neatly all the joints are welded: clean and pretty.

The "full suit" chainring and steel chainguard.

A prototype full chaincase is in the works - to be coated to match the frame colour. I am excited about this development. I have also been discussing dress guards with Mr. Flanigan, and I think you might be seeing something on that end as well pretty soon.

Other than adding a chaincase and dress guards, the only thing I would change about this bicycle if I had a magic designer's wand, would be the style of the fork. I like the straight forkblades here and think that their clean, utilitarian aesthetic is fitting with the overall design. But I wish that the "unicrown" fork (rounded top) could have a flat or "segmented" top instead. This is really a personal preference.

As you can tell by my ridiculous facial expression and firm grip, I liked this bicycle quite a lot and was excited to try it. The owner and I are similar in height, so the frame was just right for me.

The ride felt smooth, stable and effortless, and I love the 8-speed coaster brake hub. The ANT handled similarly to my Pashley once it got going, but was somewhat faster to accelerate and more maneuverable. At least in part this is probably due to the 10lb difference in weight (the ANT being the lighter of the two). Of course this was a very short ride, so I really cannot make far-reching conclusions based on this experience alone. What does it feel like loaded? on hills? in the rain? on a 30-mile ride? That I can't say. But riding it for that short time period made me want to find out. The ANT Boston Roadster is a classic, but with a twist that I would describe as "utilitarian chic".

...

TEST RIDE No.2: The Mixte

I am not certain whether ANT plans to offer the Mixte as a standard model, but they certainly can build it as a custom order. This turquoise mixte belongs to Betsy, Mike Flanigan's parter, and it is fairly unusual. As you can see, it is built with the classic twin lateral stays - but it lacks the rear stays that typically connect the seat tube to the rear drop-outs.

The frame was a size too small for me, but with the saddle raised it was fine. The bicycle does not feel like a mixte to ride - at least if you are accustomed to vintage mixtes, which were designed with road bike and sometimes touring frame geometry. It is much more stable, sturdy, and easier to operate than the typical mixte I am used to, with a relaxed sitting position, wide tires and an 8-speed hub. The bike was geared low and as a result was able to fly up the hill in a fashion I had not experienced before with hub gears. It was not a road bike, that's for certain. But I wouldn't describe it as a city bike or a "cruiser" either. Town and country? Yes, that seems about right. And with the wide tires, it is probably suitable for a variety of on and off road terrain.

A close-up of the twin lateral stays and a gratuitous shot of my face in the rear view mirror. As on the Boston Roadster, you can see the nice clean welds.

View from the saddle.

Custom rear rack with a wooden base; hammered Honjo fenders. Shimano 8-speed hub.

Dynamo-powered headlight.

Retro bicycle horn on the handlebars. It cannot be denied that ANT has an eye for beautiful eccentricity - a definite plus in my view.

As a self-professed lug fanatic, it is funny that I like ANT's TIG-welded bikes so much. The clean welds are an integral part of ANT's "utilitarian chic" aesthetic, and as such they seem perfect just the way they are. It simply looks right. Does this change my obsession with lugs? Well, no. But let's just say that ANT is the exception to the rule.

I hope these descriptions were helpful to those curious about ladies' frame bicycles from ANT. I know that Mike Flanigan is working on some updates to the Boston Roadster models, and I am looking forward to the results.

37 comments:

  1. Woot! all I needed was a little vid of you one the bikes and I would be all set as it were.

    Yeah! I can't wait for life to die down so I can go out there and check it all out.

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  2. Which one are you thinking of, Boston Lady Roadster or Mixte?

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  3. "the "bubbly toothpaste" look"

    I call them BUB bikes (Big Ugly Bead). Of course that makes the people who ride them BUBbas.

    I was in a shop yesterday looking at some of the modern design Batavusen and it seems there are BUBbas among the Dutch now too. Who knew?

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  4. How did you like the bar-end mirror? My own brief experiences with such have not been entirely happy so far. Was it solid?

    Definitely both were wonderful bikes. I especially liked the lighting on the Boston Roadster. The low mount and chrome housing finished it off perfectly.

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  5. Steve A - I do not believe in using mirrors on a bike, so I am the wrong person to ask. For what it's worth, the bar-end mirror on the ANT mixte seemed very solidly attached. The mirror belonged to the bicycle's owner though, it is not bundled with the bike.

    kfg - Most Dutch manufacturers, including Batavus and Gazelle, have several lines of bikes, where most are modern and a few are what they refer to as "Nostalgie" models. The "Nostalgie" bikes are still traditionally made.

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  6. Thanks...we have been having a long discussion around here about a custom bike for my Bride and the Boston Roadster is very near the top of the list.

    I have been looking at ANT bikes for a while and am very impressed with the thought he puts into them.


    Aaron

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  7. I enjoy this blog. This type of bicycle is completely off my radar and truthfully, the antithesis of what I look for in a bicycle. But they are fun to look at and your enthusiasm is infectious. Keep up the good work.
    Oh,and don't let the A.N.T.spokesman blow smoke at you - the curved tube is only hard until they've figured out the process and built a jig. It's on cheap bikes all over Europe (which are probably made in China now).

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  8. Gunnar - It's not anybody from ANT who told me the curved top tube was difficult; it's a dozen other framebuilders whom I approached when I was first shopping around for a bike at the beginning of the year. I was told it was impossible by some, that it's possible but would cost over $10K by others, and so on. Yes, it's a matter of figuring out the process and building a jig. But most framebuilders consider it not worth their time to do that just to make a loop frame. I mean who wants a thing like that, right? Do women really still cycle in skirts? I was told all of those things, and also that once I get more educated about bikes I won't want that kind of frame anymore. So you can understand my frustration! Mike Flanigan is very modest about his work, but I think the loop frame is a big deal.

    Thanks for your comment re my website. Our tastes intersect at vintage French roadbikes and Peter Mooney, which is good enough for me.

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  9. Thanks for the thorough assessment of these ANT models. Now I want to save up for a custom Boston Roadster more than ever; the love child of Betty Foy and a Pashley sounds right up my street. :)

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  10. This is a really helpful review. That chain case is key. I have to admit while plotting ways to spend money I haven't got yet I was thinking A.N.T seems great and all but I can't test ride and they do not come with a full chain case or coat guards. If he has both of those I will have a much harder time finding a reason not to buy one when I get this imaginary money.

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  11. First, I want to say that I am privileged to have both this blog and Gunnar Berg's on my reading list!

    And I love the bikes, even though they may be a bit beyond both my budget at the moment and what I envision in my next women's city/town/commuter bike.

    The mixte seems to be channeling Rene Herse, just a little. That's fine. And the "loop" frame bike has some interesting details. For one, I'm thinking of the headlight mount. In some European countries, where headlights are mandatory, you'll see mounts like that on many bikes. Also, the English three-speeds sold in England and most of the Crown colonies had similar mounts.

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  12. Hi Filigree,
    As always a well-thought-out review. Re the fork on the Roadster, I know what you mean - but I think a flat or segmented top may then be begging for lugs on the bike rather than the clean welds. (Who wouldn't beg for lugs? ;-) I was interested to note the Roadster's agility compared to the Pashley - in your case it's a similar gear and brake set up so you're comparing apples with apples.

    The vermilion colour is truly stunning, and the attention to detail make it a bike anyone would be proud and delighted to own. I'm lucky I don't live in Boston... I could get into serious debt with ANT bikes I think!

    I do like the Mixte, too. Again lovely details but I'm surprised ANT hasn't gone with a leather Brooks-type saddle rather than a padded gel. I guess that's a comment for both bikes, as it would add to their individual looks and the comfort of the rider. I guess you can order them with a leather saddle at extra cost?

    The beaten fenders on the Mixte are a delight and suit it as much as the shiny ones on the Roadster. ARe they the Honjo Fluted on the Roadster? Whatever they are, they work beautifully from an aesthetics point of view; the silver breaks up the bright colour for both bikes.

    The Mixte's luggage rack is just perfect :-)

    kfg, I loved your BUB and BUBba comment - those welds are seriously ugly and usually the domain of sub-$300 bikes but I've noticed more expensive bikes disfigured with them too lately.

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  13. Carinthia - The Basket Bike and I believe also the Light Roadster have segmented forks that are simple and suit the welded frame very nicely, so that it the kind I would ideally have. That said, those other bikes are more expensive too : )

    Re the saddles: Actually, I believe the padded vinyl saddles were the owners' choices. The Roadster normally comes with a leather saddle, choice of brown or black. I know that not everyone likes the Brooks & VO saddles - which is fine, and they are welcome to send them my way!

    I think the fenders on the Roadster are Wald, but not certain. This may change on the new version that's coming out soon.

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  14. Justine - Thanks for the kind words. I am curious which bicycle will end up being "the" new lady's bike for you; should be an interesting process given your level of skill and experience.

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  15. Re-reading the reviews...

    I love the concept of the chain case, but would hate to see that fancy "full house" chain ring covered up...choices and decisions! :-P

    Aaron

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  16. ( boston roadster for sure. Although the Mixte looks sweet I am I am learning a loop frame kind of girl. I am hopeful that maybe I can wait for a skirt guard. We'll see. Or maybe get it retro fitted... As I do ride with full flowing skirts quite often. the real question is what color!)

    What I love reading about in your blog is your knowledge. I have zero knowledge so I am learning a lot from you. thanks. I hope my ignorance isn't too annoying. I also love that you have such strong opinions about cycling. Ie mirrors and whatnot. So far I am an open vessel on most of these things. But slowly I am developing my own ideas and I think that's cool.

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  17. Gorgeous stuff! As a blogger about the bike industry, your posts are exactly what we need more of.

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  18. Filigree,

    Wow, thank you very much for your reports on our Open House and the bikes you were able to test ride. This is very good for me, because as Gunner says "I am an ANT spokesman blowing smoke at you". Gunner I see what you are saying, but I actually make my own tools, frames, forks, rack and build my own wheels...Not to be compared to designers in a cubical with a load of money and cheap labor at their disposal. The big companys can easily make anything...and do a good job at it too [hey I am all for it]. I spent about $800 to make my own tool to do the large radius bends. I have other frame builders come to my shop to use my tool. They could buy a roller for about $2,000 to $10,000. The bend on the orange BR was an early one and the ones I am making now have an even better swoop to them...sometimes I have to scrap a tube, from over rolling. So it IS some work to make...these are made by hand, with the use of the eyes. Not every tube is bent the same [like a cheap bike, with awesome automated rollers, that can do repeted bends]
    On Betsy's bike the mirror was new and she decided that she did not like it.
    Both Betsy and the owner of the BR did not like the leather saddles and also like rubber or plastic grips...these are all options, since I am a small shop and not a big company.
    Thanks to everyone for your comments [even Gunner] and for your interest in ANT

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  19. Vee - The dress guard issue is such a tricky thing. When I am over in Europe, I have opportunity to buy them and was considering bringing back a whole bunch of them to re-sell. The problem is, that I don't think any one dress guard looks good on all bikes. The solid black ones look good only on black bikes, and to my eye at least, look terrible on colourful bikes. And they cannot be painted, because they are vinyl. A company has to order a huge batch of them from the manufacturer in a colour matching the bike frame in order to get non-black ones. And since A.N.T. offers bikes in so many colours, he would go broke ordering hundreds of dress guards in each colour : ( The alternative is limiting his bike colour just to be able to sell them bundled with dress guards, which I think would be sad.

    I would love to see a bike maker offer a cool modern version of the rope style I have on my vintage Raleigh - with either black, colorful, or natural hemp ropes, depending on frame colour. That would make the bicycle even more unique and special, but I am not sure whether the labor involved in doing this to each individual bike will be too much.

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  20. Vee - Thanks for your comment about my "knowledge". Just recently, I knew absolutely nothing. It does come to you gradually. I am very thankful to the people in the industry who were kind and non-patronizing enough to explain certain things to me and point me to the right directions in terms of research. I am only too glad to pass it on.

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  21. Mike - Thanks for chiming in; I hope my hyper commentary was not too bewildering to read. I know that many people would like to try an A.N.T., so hopefully these descriptions and the ensuing comments from readers are informative.

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  22. Filigree, here is a photo of Mike making a dress guard out of spokes - It could be powdercoated in whatever color the bike happened to be. Swoon!
    I'm happy to have a blog, it serves as my memory since mine seems to be shot!

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  23. Charlotte - I love that photo. If I understood correctly from Mike, the spokes design was not feasible in the end for a number of reasons. But with rope or hemp, it could could work. I guess we will wait and see!

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  24. Filigree: "I know that not everyone likes the Brooks & VO saddles . . . and they are welcome to send them my way!"

    Sorry, I gave up on Brooks 35 years ago, so mine are all already done gave away. I actually find the bare plastic Cinellis more comfortable. It takes all kinds of arse to make a world I guess; and I'm definitely some kind of arse.

    I've been convinced to try out a Selle-Anatomica though. Quick review:

    Impression the 1st: Damn, that's kinda weird.
    Impression the 2nd: But holy CRAP is it comfortable!
    No lasting impression yet, as I've only got a couple hunnert miles on it.

    "The "Nostalgie" bikes are still traditionally made."

    If "Nostalgie" means "like we give a crap," yeah, some of the new ones (painted flat black with tubing sections wide enough to use as sailplane wings" definitely aren't "Nostalgie."

    Mike's elegant welds stand in mute but effective testimony against such practices.

    "Just recently, I knew absolutely nothing."

    For what it is worth, one of the things that has attracted me to your blog is watching you enthusiastically developing your knowledge. I get a kick out of it.

    Carinthia: It has jumped from "cheap workmanship" to "bad boy style," first among the body modification and beer mountain bike types; and now on to the "Urban Grit" types. Takes all kinds I guess; see above.

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  25. RE: Your response to MamaVee's comment of your knowledge; You are being too modest. You probably did know 'absolutely nothing' (based on what you wrote in your first post), but I don't believe the knowledge came to you gradually. You picked it up at warp speed!

    Wish I could try one of these bikes.

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  26. Wow, you are such an aficionado! Like Mama Vee, I also like to glean new knowledge from your posts. Today, I have learned a bit more about lugs (I learned what the term referred to the other day from your post about pinstriping). I still don't know what you're talking about half the time, but I appreciate the numerous photographs of the beautiful bikes.

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  27. Thanks Maggie, Bronze Bombshell and kfg : )
    The academic in me (my dayjob) has that pesky need to research the heck out of a topic once I am interested in it. It can be quite annoying actually!

    kfg - I have read that Selle Anatomica is too soft and falls apart faster than Brooks, especially on a roadbike. But I haven't tried one myself. They do look good, and the form of the cut-outs is intriguing.

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  28. These are gorgeous - real dream bike material! Great reviews. Your eye for aesthetics and performance from a woman's point of view is so much more helpful than a typical gearhead type of review. I'm with you on the general lug love, and the special appreciation for ANT's welding. Just when I thought I could not want an ANT bike more, now I have your pictures to drool over... :)

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  29. "I have read that Selle Anatomica is too soft."

    As you may intuit by my remark about the Cinelli plastic saddle; I don't like soft saddles. I don't like soft mattresses either and have finally found comfort by sleeping on the floor.

    On the other hand about the most comfortable I've ever slept is when I lived among the Zapotec gone all native; in a traditional hammock.

    Is a hammock hard or soft? They aren't pads. The mattress concepts don't really apply.

    The An-atomica is like that. It's a hammock. Yes, it's "soft," but it's the hammock sort of soft that doesn't translate across to "standard" modes of looking at it. It is in no way like a soft PADDED saddle, nor is it really like a Brooks either, even though the Brooks is a suspended saddle. The Brooks still relies on it's FORM, the An-atomica is more hammock like formless.

    As I noted, impression the first was that it felt weird. Then it didn't. Then it "disappeared" underneath me.

    ". . .falls apart faster than Brooks . . ."

    I can only recall hearing about one that actually fell apart; the usual complaint is that they stretch too much. It is very stretchy; like a hammock.

    "They do look good . . ."

    I didn't think so at first. The sides flare out so they're very flat and odd looking, but I'm getting used to it.

    I can't do anything like endorse it though. My miles with it are short, my knowledge of ultimate disappointment long. On the one hand I feel like rushing out and getting one or three more; on the other I have no idea what I'll think of it after three or ten thousand miles - and that's the only opinion that counts.

    I think wisdom would be to get a Rolls as a backup.

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  30. Maybe "soft" was the wrong word choice - what I meant was, that it is said to spread / flatten out / lose its shape fairly quickly compared to Brooks. And again, I haven't tried it myself.

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  31. "Maybe "soft" was the wrong word choice"

    But it is the word most commonly used to describe it. Some people have even noted that they hit the top of some seatposts it's so "soft" (I'm an "elf" so I don't have that problem, or maybe I just have the right seatposts).

    "what I meant was, that it is said to spread / flatten out / lose its shape"

    Indeed. I just did. It rankles my concept of what a saddle is supposed to look like.

    ". . .compared to Brooks."

    But again, the Brooks relies on its shape. That's why you have to lace them to keep them in shape when they spread. The An-atomica does NOT rely on it's shape, so it doesn't matter FUNCTIONALLY that it doesn't keep it.

    "And again, I haven't tried it myself."

    If you ever have the chance (Hey Mike, let her ride the Scorcher) on someone else's dime I think it would be worth it just to experience and think about the different concept of "saddle" that's involved.

    There used to be a company in California (www.saddleco.com) that was doing something very similar, only using the same material Aeron chairs are made from. I would have liked to try one of those out (I'm vegan sympathetic, even if I'm not a vegan), but they went "Poof!" before I got around to it.

    The biggest complaint about those was chaffing at the edges. Interestingly that is also a common complaint about the An-atomica (a consequence of its spreading), but with leather (rather than plastic) it is easier to take steps to alleviate it.

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  32. It's not what you know that matters. It's what you learn that's important.

    I say that as someone who teaches.

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  33. kfg - Okay, thanks a lot. Now you've peaked my husband's interest (on and off commentator "MDI") and he's been browsing photos of the saddles while sighing wistfully. What am I to do, I don't like to deny him. Maybe we will give one of these a try. The idea that the spreading is intentional had not occurred to me; most intriguing. Pretty colours too.

    Justine - I agree. And I am learning that I have an appetite for expensive bicycles and saddles : (

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  34. "you've peaked my husband's interest . . . I have an appetite for expensive bicycles and saddles"

    Well, the OBVIOUS solution here is to just have Mike make your husband a copy of his scorcher. :)

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  35. We can't have the venerable Mr. Flanigan working for free now, can we... But if my readers wish to set up a "petty cash" fund for me to purchase bicycles and saddles without constraint so that I can review them here, who am I to stop them : )

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  36. "We can't have the venerable Mr. Flanigan working for free"

    Details, details.

    "if my readers wish to set up a "petty cash" fund"

    Oooooo, nice try. :)

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