Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Vendors in Boston

Local Sellers of Traditionally Styled Bicycles


After much research, I am happy to report the following vendors of hard-to-find, relaxed-style bicycles in the Boston area:

Dutch Bicycle Company (Somerville)
. Gazelle
. Velorbis
. Soegreni

Jolly Bike (Arlington)
. Gazelle (while remaining stock lasts)

Cambridge Bicycle (Cambridge)
. Batavus
. KHS Green
. Biria Classic Dutch Series
. Gary Fisher

Harris Cyclery (West Newton)
. Pashley
. Electra
. Gary Fisher

Ace Wheelworks (Somerville)
. Electra
. Gary Fisher

There are several other manufacturers, including Raleigh, Specialized, Bianchi, and Trek, that produce commuter models in styles similar to the classic relaxed bicycle. I do not list shops that sell these, because most local bike shops carry them. Simply walk into an independent bike shop in the Boston area and ask. Attractive and relatively inexpensive Raleighs (pictured in the photo above) seem to be particularly abundant.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Pain in the Butt?

After riding around all day on the KHS Green, I noticed something, ahem, interesting. I've no idea how to put this delicately, so I won't even try: My bottom hurt like hell the next morning! It did not seem to be a muscle pain, but rather a pain from the imprint of the seat.



When returning the rental bike, I gingerly asked one of the Cambridge Bicycle employees about this. He replied that the sore butt is a natural side-effect of the relaxed-style sitting position: Because the seat is so much lower than the handle-bars, the body's weight gets distributed predominantly to that part of the body. The butt gets pressed into the seat, eventually becoming sore (especially after hours of riding).

This explanation makes sense. But why is this "feature" not mentioned on any of the reviews and weblogs that praise Dutch bicycles and relaxed-style riding?... I wonder whether the quality of the seat might have something to do with it as well. Either way, I thought it would be useful to provide this tidbit of information!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Renting the KHS Green

Earlier this spring, I was delighted to discover that the KHS Green can be rented from our local Cambridge Bicycle. The cost is $25 per 24 hour period. My darling Co-habitant and I rented a men's and a ladies' and took them along the Charles River, as well as through some streets of Cambridge, Somerville, and the center of Boston. We went to some of the places we usually frequent, to see what it would be like to get there by bike (it was great!). And I intentionally wore a skirt, to determine whether this would present any problems (it did not!).

Renting a bicycle similar in style to the one you plan to purchase is something I very much recommend. It has certainly helped me hone down my preferences. For one thing, the 3 speeds were just barely enough for Boston, and we did not even go to the particularly hilly areas. So now I know that 3 speeds are a minimum for me, and that a single speed bike is out of the question.

I have also discovered that I love the coaster brake. Despite never having ridden a bicycle with this braking system, I got used to it immediately and found that, especially when riding through the city, it gives me the optimal degree of control. It is also somehow less stressful to use than the hand-brakes, especially if you are a person who panics easily when other bikes or cars are close to you. Though it was comfortable to have the front-wheel handbrake there, I barely used it and relied mostly on the coaster brake.

Another pleasant discovery was that, after 12 years of not touching a bicycle, I was not as out of practice as I feared. I had tried other bicycles in bike shops over the past year, but did not feel sufficiently comfortable with any of them to ride them on the street. The KHS Green is the first bike I've tried that has made me feel okay with actually riding it "for real".  And as soon as I started riding the bike, it all came back to me naturally. The upright sitting position was an absolute joy, as we breezed past the ridiculously picturesque blossoming cherry trees.

After riding the KHS Green for an entire day, I would describe it as a good bike. When going over cobblestones, the ride can be a little bumpy and it is missing some components that my bike would ideally have, such as the dress guard and a full chain enclosure, but for the price it is a great deal. If my budget does not allow me to splurge on the likes of Gazelle, the KHS Green may be my bicycle of choice.

Monday, April 13, 2009

KHS Green: The Loveliest Budget Bike

[Edited to Add: There is now an updated review of this bicycle here]

One stumbling block in the purchase of a classic step-through city bicycle, is the shocking price tag. Be prepared to spend upward (in some cases very much upward) of $800 USD for a quality Dutch-style bicycle with 3 or more speeds.

Refreshingly, there is one alternative. During my trips to local shops, online research, and chats with surprisingly bike-knowledgeable acquaintances, I came across the "Green" bicycle made by KHS.


Made especially for stylish and safe commuting, the KHS Green features the relaxed-style frame and handlebar construction and comes fitted with fenders, a rack, and a partial chain-guard. It is a 3-speed, with a Shimano hub. It has both coaster brakes and a hand-brake. And it is priced at $350 USD! As one reviewer put it (I paraphrase, unable to find the original text): This is the least expensive bike worth buying.

The bicycle on the photo above is the KHS Green, ladies' frame, that I rented from Cambridge Bicycle (more on this later).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gazelle Bicycles in Boston!

Until recently, it was nearly impossible to buy a Gazelle bicycle in the US, but I have learned that the Dutch Bicycle Company in Somerville, Mass. has begun to import them this year (further evidence substantiating the rumor that Somerville is the center of the universe).
Immediately I paid them a visit, and for the first time in 12 years got on a bicycle -- a black Gazelle "Basic" model, which I gingerly rode around their warehouse in a state of ecstatic awe. Ideally, my lovely bicycle would not be all-black, and I was glad that the catalog also showed white and lilac models for the Basic, as well as black-and-white for the Toer Populair model.


At some point, Jolly Bikes in Arlington, Mass. also sold Gazelle, but they have now closed. When I checked, they still had several bikes available (two violet and one red), and I paid them a visit as well. The (gorgeous) remaining bikes are single speed, with coaster brakes only. I was not sure whether these configurations would be right for me, but the real problem was that all the remaining bicycles were the largest-sized frames, which are too large for my preference (I need to be able to touch the ground with both feet).

My introduction to Gazelle left me extremely pleased that the sort of bicycle I was looking for was not a fiction, but readily available in my local area.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gazelle Bicycles: First Glance


As I discovered, that first lovely bicycle that caught my eye was the Dutch brand Gazelle. Described as a "Dutch legend," Gazelle has been manufacturing bicycles since 1892.

[image from: www.gazellebicycles.com.au]

Holland is well known for being a cycling nation, where riding a bicycle is a way of life and persons of all ages can be seen happily riding while wearing suits and high heels, carrying groceries, talking on their mobile phones, and transporting children and significant others. Dutch bicycle producers have a reputation for manufacturing high quality commuter bikes in traditional designs, and Gazelle is one of the leaders of this industry.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Yearning for a Lovely Bicycle

Before all of this began, I had not been on a bicycle since my teenage years in the 1990s. Back then, my trusty beat up bike felt simply like an extension of my body -- I rode it everywhere, wearing anything I wanted. Riding did not require any special preparations. The bike was easy to operate and it gave me a sense of independence.

[image: from an advert of Triumph Cycles, early 1900's]

Somehow in adulthood, things became different. It seemed impossible to simply buy an attractive, comfortable bicycle and ride it. There was a bike culture, where cycling was positioned as a formalised, athletic, and often political act. This culture has done a great deal to keep me away from bicycles.

My associations with bicycles from seeing them ridden in American cities included hunched-over postures,  blotchy, sweat-stained faces communicating a curious combination of misery and self-righteousness, commitment to a wardrobe of lycra or t-shirts with anti-car slogans, and constant risk of collisions with motor vehicles... none of which appealed to me. Combined with the bicycles themselves - aggressive, awkward monstrosities that I wouldn't begin to know how to physically negotiate - bike culture was not something I found compatible with my ideas of dignity and aesthetics. If it were possible to ride a bicycle with grace and without the need to sacrifice my personal tastes - perhaps I might want one again. But what I had seen on the streets and in bike shops was not encouraging.

[image from http://sellwoodcycle.com]

Only on vintage posters and in old art films did I see the bicycle portrayed in a manner that made me long to cycle again. The relaxed style exuded by the fictional ladies of yore was alluring and enticing; it made cycling seem feasible. But did such bicycles still exist in today's world?


On a sunny Spring day in Somerville, Massachusetts, I found my answer. Chained casually to a parking meter, it was the first bicycle I had seen on the city streets that I would describe as lovely. It had a beautifully shaped ladies' frame and gracefully curved handlebars. It was fitted with all sorts of fascinating components including a chain cover and a basket rack. It was decorated with flowers.

I jotted down the name: Gazelle, and did some research. And suddenly, an entire new world had opened up: a world of relaxed-style urban bicycles that are very much in production today using the same traditional design elements that I so admired on the vintage posters. These bicycles were most definitely lovely, and I immediately began my search for one to call my own.