Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away? Or on Second Thought, Stay!

I have not been cycling for the past week due to nonstop rain. But today I finally could not take it anymore: Despite the overcast sky and the morbid forecast, I went. By mid-day, it did rain. And it was great!

Some nice things about cycling in the rain:
. it's good for your complexion
. you can sing in it (and I did!)
. the grass and trees look super green, almost neon
. the lovely scent of flowers really comes out
. you have the cycle paths mostly to yourself
. you have an excuse to wear screaming red and lobsterman yellow!

Above: My empty Apfelspritzer mug, in an empty outdoor cafe -- in the rain. Look how red those geraniums look!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Pashley Princess: How the Choice Was Made

I have been asked by several people now why I chose the Pashley Princess over the Gazelle and other options, so I wanted to describe the process that led to this decision.

First, I want to say that I do not necessarily think that Pashley is "the best" bicycle. It was the right choice for me, and this decision was based on very subjective criteria. In terms of quality, I think that most of the manufacturers profiled here are equivalent, and any differences in preference between them are a matter of personal choice. Please be certain to try out a bicycle before deciding whether or not it is right for you; it is the only way to really know.

My initial choice was between Gazelle, Batavus and Pashley. These were the only models out of the list here that fit all of my criteria and were available locally to try before buying. Gradually, the Batavus fell out of the competition, because it just did not pull at my heartstrings in the same way as the other two, lacking some of the more elegant touches. And so the real choice soon became between Pashley and Gazelle.

Selection factors:

1. Fit: The proportions of the Pashley fit my body just a tad better than the proportions of the equivalently sized Gazelle. Namely, the Pashley felt a bit roomier between the saddle/seating-tube area and the handlebars/front wheel area. Note that the Pashley Princess is available in three different frame sizes. Size "small" is smaller than Dutch bike sizes; sizes "medium" and "large" are equivalent to the 51 and 58 Dutch frames. I tried the Pashley "medium" and the Gazelle 51-size.

2. Getting the Perfect Configuration: To get a Gazelle configured with all the components I wanted (including adding gears, but more importantly, getting both the colour I liked and the brake system I wanted on the same model) would have involved more customisation and more money than Pashley.

3. Aesthetics: The subtle elements of Pashley's design -- including the angles, the curvature, the style of the chain cover and dress guard, the placement of lights, etc. -- appealed to me just ever so slightly more.

4. Je Ne Sais Quois?... : Granted, this is a rather vague factor, but I think it is important if you want the kind of bicycle that you will have a love affair with. The Pashley got to me at the intuitive/emotional level. It whispered "Take me, I am yours!..." in a sweet husky voice. What could I do?

And so there it is. My Pashley Princess Sovereign is now at Harris Cyclery, getting customised with a coaster brake and 7-gear Shimano hub. I also asked for her to be fitted with a drop-down stand and Brooks leather handles. By the time I return to the US, my green beauty will be waiting for me, and oh how happy our union shall be!

But I have a confession to make: I still want the Gazelle!... Yes, in addition to the Pashley... But that's insane, right? I don't need a second bicycle. Right?...

[Edited to add: I have now posted a full review of my customised Pashley Princess.]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Viennese Cyclists

I have finally gotten up the nerve to go beyond photographing parked bicycles, and to capture cyclists in actions. Here they are, on the streets of Vienna.

These photos were taken over the course of several days, along my normal walking routes.

Looking at these now, I am struck by how distinctly un-picturesque the surroundings are -- something that is actually quite difficult to achieve when photographing Vienna! But the cyclists sure look nice.

I did not have a chance to be selective and pretty much photographed whomever my camera was quick enough to capture. So this is a good sampling of what commuters here look like.

As you can see, the bicycles are mostly hybrids and comfort bikes, fitted with fenders, racks, baskets, etc. Lights are mandatory, so all bicycles here have them.

It is pretty common to see elderly persons cycling, often faster and more skillfully than younger ones.

Bicycles are allowed into most parks and courtyards including inside the Museum Quartier (a maze of court yards where many of Vienna's museums are located, as well as outdoor cafes and small gardens).

So there it is; my first bout of cyclist stealth photography. Granted, cycling culture in Vienna is not as dramatically stylish as in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but overall still pretty cool -- at least compared to the US, where hunched over lycra-clad cyclists remain the norm.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The "Fendi Abici Bike" in Vogue Magazine

A friend sent me this great scan from the June 2009 issue of American Vogue:

"Girls, go tell the groom that we've found the gift of all gifts to give his bride on the big day. (He does know that one's in order, right?) The Abici Amante Donna city bike now comes fitted with Fendi's luxest Selleria leather accessories. Seat, handles, thermos case, and GPS holder are all cut and sewn by hand. In front, the fully outfitted picnic basket -- which, you might tell him, doubles as a beauty case -- bears the house's signature stamp. There's also a splash catcher (he'll know this isn't its technical name, but "mudguard" is so unsexy) on the back wheel. The course of true love never ran more smoothly!

The price of the Fendi Abici is $5,900 and the detachable travel case on the front rack is $975 extra.

This is a gorgeous bicycle and a lovely wedding gift, but is the Fendi version worth six times the price of the standard Abici Amante Donna? I guess that is a matter of personal choice and depends on how much you like Fendi. Personally, I'd rather keep the Brooks saddle. The travel case is rather nice though (any idea on the weight?).

[image from]

Pictured above is the standard Abici Amante Donna in cream with original saddle and handles, and without dress guard, racks or thermos holder. I believe the cost is about $1,000 MSRP. Not being a fan of the rod brakes, I prefer Abici's Granturismo model. Still, the Amante is quite beautiful, and I think that Fendi had the right idea to add some dark warm contrasts to all that white.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

His Pashley Roadster Arrives!

[edited to add: There is now a review of this bicycle here.]

The end result of our frenzied search, was that both my darling Co-Habitant and I decided to buy Pashleys: he the Roadster Sovereign (which comes only in black), and I the Princess Sovereign in green. My Princess is getting some custom work done at Harris Cyclery (a coaster brake installed) and will be waiting for me when I return from Vienna. The Co-Habitant's Sovereign arrived last week and he has been enjoying it ever since. Lucky, lucky him!

My dandified Co-Habitant added Brooks leather grips and bags to the bike, but everything else pictured here came standard. This is an enormous bicycle and he absolutely towers over the traffic as he rides to work. I can't wait to see him ride it in person, and to pick up my Princess!

The saddle that comes with the Roadster is the Brooks B33 in black. The bags are the Millbrook and Glenbrook. The leather grips in black are pictured here. All of these are available at Harris Cyclery in West Newton, Mass.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Defense of the "Frivolous" Bike Craze

[J. Crew catalog excerpt; image from]

During the past two years, traditionally styled bicycles have gained considerable popularity in the US. Fashion models in ad campaigns have been featured riding Gazelle and Jorg & Olif, celebrities have been photographed cruising around on their Electras, and there is over a dozen weblogs now across North America dedicated to cycling and fashion. The New York Times made it official by referring to the stylish bicycle as the current must-have fashion accessory.

It is hard not to notice that some of the discussions of the “Dutch bicycle craze” come with a degree of scorn. There is an assumption that those who are buying such bicycles are not actually interested in bicycles, but merely want the latest “It” item -- a frivolous, consumerist attitude that is embarrassing to the real, authentic bike lovers. I have gotten this response form several shop owners when I told them what kind of bicycle I was looking for, as well as from some acquaintances who have been riding road bikes for years. Surprised and disappointed to encounter this sentiment, I offer two lines of argument in response.

[Gazelle Toer Populair for Club Monaco; image from]

First off, those rolling their eyes at the girls who supposedly must have a Dutch bike as a fashion accessory, may be misunderstanding the situation. If you read the first post on this weblog, I think you will get a pretty good idea of why many women in the US do not ride bikes, and how introducing them to traditionally styled bicycles can change that. When I saw a Gazelle on the street for the first time, I did not know what it was. I had no idea whether it was new or vintage and whether it was considered popular in the public eye. What I did know, was that finally I was seeing a bicycle that I would be willing and able to ride.

The point is, that before the Dutch-style bicycles began to be imported in the US, it was simply not possible for fashion-conscious and unathletic women to ride a bike. There were no products for them to buy that would have accommodated their lifestyles. Now there are, so they are buying them. Therefore, to say that they are buying fashion accessories that happen to be bicycles is to misjudge the situation. They are buying these bikes, because finally the kind of bicycles that suit their tastes are available.

Second, even if some persons are interested in these bicycles only because they have been deemed a fashion must-have, I do not understand why this should evoke criticism. Is it not the ultimate victory for cycling advocates and environmentalists, that it is suddenly possible to get even the most unlikely suspects interested in commuting by bicycle? Wouldn’t it be an ideological coup for the go-green movement, if all those glamour girls previously driving enormous SUVs now think that cars are totally uncool and anyone who is anyone must have a Dutch bicycle? I can assure you that the majority of the population is far more likely to be influenced by these giggly spokespersons than by the earnest Green activists. It really seems like a win-win situation to me.

So please, hard-core cyclists: do think twice about criticizing those who you think want a bicycle “for the wrong reasons”. Consider instead what a fabulous thing it is, that they want a bicycle at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kitty Inspects English Craftsmanship

My cat has just emailed to inform me that while I've been away, my lucky Co-habitant has acquired a Pashley!...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Netted Dress Guards

I love the look of netted dress guards, so while I am in the EU, I decided to stock up. Here are some lovely options from reliable online sellers:

[ Kleiderschutz; fits 26 und 28" tires; 5.95 €; image from]

The model above is the one I bought for myself. I think I will install it on my Pashley Princess instead of the one it comes with standard-issue. The prices are not typos; these dress guards really are available for under 10 Euros! Many of the sellers allow payment via paypal and some will ship to North America.

[ Kleiderschutz; fits 26 und 28" tires; 4.99 €; image from]

One nice thing about the netted dressguards, is that they go with bicycles of any colour and they break up the space in an interesting way. I would love to find a truly gorgeous filigree-style set of dress guards, with a paisley or fleur de lis pattern, but have not seen one so far.

[ Kleiderschutz; fits 26" and 28" tires; 9.95 €; image from]

To give you an idea what a netted dress guard looks like on a bicycle, I include an image of the stunning Skeppshult "Ladies Nature" in Vanilla:

[Skeppshult bicycle, Sweden ; image from]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shady Lady: On the Necessity of Sunglasses

This might sound obvious to experienced cyclists, but I've discovered that good sunglasses are a must, especially when riding through the countryside. Not only will sunglasses protect the eyes from harmful rays and the delicate skin under the eyes from wrinkles, but they also shield from the debris and insects that hurtle toward me at top speed.

Yes, insects! Assuming that your bicycle has no windshield, be prepared for your face to be hit by flies, bees, butterflies, and God knows what else. If you keep your mouth open, they will fly into your mouth. And if you don't wear sunglasses, they will fly right into your eyes or get trapped in your eyelashes. Based on personal experience, I can promise you that this is not pleasant.

To be useful as a shield, I find that the best sunglasses are those that cover as much of my face as possible. Conveniently, the "Jackie O." style is popular right now and every shop seems to carry them in many variations. I opt for cheaper sunglasses, because I have a knack for losing or destroying mine. The darlings pictured here lasted two weeks before I crushed them in my handbag -- which reminds me that I must buy another pair if I plan to cycle again over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Danube Cycle Path: Part II

More photos riding along the Danube Cycle Path. Grass, trees, attractive wooden huts, and the Danube for miles and miles.

The terrain is mildly hilly and the 7-speed KTM hybrid I am renting feels appropriate here. Interestingly, this bike has both handbrakes and a coaster brake. Not sure how this can be, but I like the set-up.

Small outdoor cafes are situated along the path at frequent intervals, giving cyclists the possibility to stop for a drink, snack, or a meal.

There are also Gasthaus-style bed and breakfast places advertised as being "bike friendly" for those touring long distance.

This is now my third time riding on the Donauradweg, and I absolutely love it. I have gone about 11miles North each time and back, and it feels great. But what I really want to try some day is long-distance touring.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Danube Cycle Path: Part I

One wonderful aspect of being in Vienna is the Donauradweg! The Danube Cycle Path runs through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine along the Danube river. It begins in the Black Forest and ends at the Black Sea, covering a total of almost 3,000 km.

In and around Vienna, the trail has a similar anatomy to the Charles River path in Boston. However, it continues in both directions, becoming more rural and interesting the further out one ventures.

There are several bike shops situated directly on the path that rent bicycles by the hour and by the day. The bikes can be taken along the trail straight from the shop without ever coming in contact with street traffic.

This is the one I've been riding: an Austrian brand, KTM. It's okay for exploring along the river, but for my own bike I'd want something a bit more classic and without the suspension fork.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Citibike Wien

Like many cities in the EU, Vienna has recently adapted an active city-wide bicycle rental programme. The concept is similar to Zipcar in the US: There are many bicycle parking stations throughout the city, and the user simply takes a bicycle whenever it is needed and then returns it to any of the other stations when they are through with it.

With their baskets and hard-core dress guards, the citibikes are rather charming, if heavy on the advertisements.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bicycles in Vienna: Part III

More Vienna bicycles. All the bikes in this and the previous post were photographed within a 5-minute walk from my house.

Another old KTM model in a nice sage green. My favourite colour!

Venice Comfort Bikes, made for Intersport, Austria. Basic urban-style bicycles similar to the KTM and Hercules models.

Rabeneick, Germany

And finally, I've spotted a Batavus! Here it is, parked in the city center, looking new and clean in sharp contrast to most other bikes around it. The owner must love it. These really are beautiful bicycles.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bicycles in Vienna: Part II

Following up on this earlier post, these are the types of bicycles one is likely to see in Vienna. Notice how the fenders, lights and racks contribute to the look.

In no particular order:

Hercules seems to be one of the two most popular Austrian manufacturers (along with KTM). This is one of the newer models.

A pink and white "Dusika". Not sure whether this is the name of the manufacturer or the model, but I believe it is of Austrian origin.

Puch "Elegance" model; an Austrian manufacturer that I do not think is in business any longer.

Epple (Germany). An older model.

Ghost (Germany); specialises in mountain bikes.

Drive, I believe also German. These are very common here, but I cannot find much information about the brand.

A beautiful older model KTM (Austria). This is probably the most popular domestic manufacturer.

And a modern KTM: like most of the newer bikes here, it is a hybrid model adapted for urban cycling.

Vienna can be hilly, especially on the outskirts, and so you are unlikely to find single speeds here; 7 gears seems to be the norm. Sprung seats are a lot more common than in the US. Notice also that many bikes have suspension under the seat and on the front wheel.

Partially enclosed chains are common, but fully enclosed ones are uncommon; I am not sure why. Dress-guards for 28" and 26" wheels are readily available in bike shops.