Friday, March 19, 2010

Budget "Dutch bike" from Republic

Having introduced their Aristotle "fixed gear" bikes last year, Urban Outfitters and Republic Bikes now announce that the Plato "Dutch bike" is forthcoming. Like the Aristotle, the Plato is described as a "build your own bike", which means that the customer can choose the colour of the bike and accessories. The bicycle has a fully lugged hi-ten steel frame and crown fork. It is fitted with balloon tires, coaster brake and front Shimano rollerbrake. Fenders, front and rear racks, a dressguard, and a full vinyl chaincase are included. Retail price of $399.

[image from Republic Bikes]

I played around with the Republic Bikes website and "built my own": tusk frame, ivory skirtguard and chaincase, brown saddle and grips, and green tires. The bicycle is available in 47cm frame size only and is recommended for riders 5'2" - 5'11". The tires are 26" x 2.35" and it is not mentioned who manufactures them.

[image from Republic Bikes]

If you are not a fan of the green tires, then this is how it would look in all-cream.

[image from Republic Bikes]

And another colour combination I like in gray and brown. Of course if you prefer flamingo pink, mint green, or candy apple red, there are those options as well.

[image from Republic Bikes]

Given how many readers email me every week asking about inexpensive bikes, I think that news of the Plato will be welcomed by the market. I cannot speak at all about the quality of this bicycle or about the feel of the ride. But the specs make me hopeful that it might actually be ridable - especially if you are on the shorter end of the recommended range. It is especially impressive that a full chaincase and a dressguard have been custom made and included in the price, when even some bicycles in the $1-2,000 price range have not been able to offer this option. Questions of manufacturing locations and practices aside - If one's budget is $400 and this is not negotiable, the Republic Plato may prove to be a good option.

If anybody has already ordered and ridden the Plato, it would be great to get your feedback. I don't think it's possible for me to to test ride this bike, as they are built to order.

32 comments:

  1. It is also not particularly hard to upgrade the single speed to a three speed in the future. Three speed hubs are readily available.

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  2. I would worry about durability and the ability to have repairs done. My LBS won't repair big box store bikes due to irregular parts and the chance of breaking the flimsy bike during repair. But I don't have any experience with this specific bike.

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  3. this would be a tempting option if i lived in a flat place, like NYC. but are their bikes available to see or ride in person? in the gallery, the quality did not look so good, but its hard to tell. but $400 would be an okay price if it was decent quality, since its only a single speed

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  4. too bad they won't offer an internal gear hub option.
    God is good
    jpu

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  5. Nice bike. It's very similar looking to the Retrovelo.

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  6. Interesting!
    I like the funky color combos (orange bike with red accents anyone?)
    and the price is nice. They've definitely taken a page from the Scrap Deluxe with the oversize tires. I actually prefer the more refined looks of a vintage bike though.
    The one glaring oversight is no built-in lighting, which is really unfortunate.
    Still, for a college student in a reasonably flat place, you could do a lot worse for that price.

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  7. We demand a comprehensive review!! j/k, but it would be nice. Maybe Republic would be willing to let you borrow one? :)

    cycler,

    There is no built in lighting, but LOOK at those racks!!! If they are reasonable well constructed, that's worth $50-100 right there. And don't get me started on the chaincase.

    Needless to say, this bike makes me very excited, because it could put a lot of hip and trending-setting tweens on the right kind of bikes. I'm already recommending it to some of my friends.

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  8. I like your green tires. Thanks for looking into these less expensive options. I always feel so sad to see dawning eagerness die away when price considerations enter in. For the same price, would a refurbished Craigslist vintage Raleigh or Schwinn be more or less desirable than one of these do you think?

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  9. cycler - The fat tires trend was actually started by Retrovelo. Schwalbe developed the balloon tires especially for them, but then these were used by other manufacturers as well.

    Giffen - Maybe Urban Outfitters will have a floor model in stock eventually and I'll be able to at least look at it in person and maybe sit on it. And I agree with you about the value of the racks and chaincase.

    Emma - In theory I think vintage Raleighs are the best. In practice, I think that most people would be lost about what to do in order to get the bike properly and fully refurbished (i.e. with proper rims & brakes, etc.) and would end up wanting a new bike in the end. Even I can't bring myself to go ahead and build the perfect vintage frankenbike by refitting a vintage DL-1 with proper brakes. It is a tedious project that only someone who truly enjoys tinkering with bikes could take on.

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  10. @ Emma J.

    IMHO the Raleigh or Schwinn would be the better choice.

    My biggest issue with the Republic bike is the single frame size. Too small and too large for our use around here. My daughter is the only one that could get away with it. So that is one out of 6 of us. But it should fit a majority of people so probably a good call on their part. A 3 speed option would be nice and really wouldn't add that much to the cost of the bike.

    Aaron

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  11. Thanks, Velouria. And proper brakes would be . . .? For authenticity or because of function?

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  12. Emma J,

    Getting a good vintage bike is very time consuming and stressful. Even though I love vintage bikes and tinkering, I can't imagine buying one if I had a full time job.

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  13. 2whls3spds - I agree about the frame size. Raising the saddle is not enough to accommodate for a taller rider. I expect that even for me the "cockpit" area will feel too cramped.

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  14. Emma - Vintage Raleighs tend to have either rod brakes (like my favourite DL-1 model), or rim brakes on wheels with steel rims (the Lady's Sports model, like my former "Lucy 3-Speed"). Both of these versions provide inferior (unsafely so) stopping power in wet conditions, especially the rod brakes. To replace these brake systems would be quite costly and/or time consuming - you would basically need to have the wheels of the bikes rebuilt with alloy rims and hub brakes. In the case of my DL-1, I would also need to replace the handlebars, because they are specially designed to accommodate the rod brake levers. If I had a bike shop do this, I expect the entire procedure would take 2-3 weeks and would cost $350+ including parts and labor. If I did it myself... Well, I considered it, researched the procedure involved and looked into getting parts, and that alone took more time and effort that I am able to invest in a bike project given the other things going on in my life.

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  15. Thanks all for sharing the benefit of your experiences. We're playing around with options for a useful set of wheels for a college-bound daughter - it's such a great resource to have sites like Lovely Bicycle to pick minds.

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  16. I wish they gave more details, like frame angles and assembly instructions, on the website. If they offered a 3-speed for $100 more, I would seriously consider getting one for my wife. But adding a 3-speed hub wheel to the back and paying for professional assembly might raise the cost up to $600, where you might as well buy something from a local shop that is more customizable in components.

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  17. @Bliss Chick

    I wouldn't worry about getting repairs done, the quality of the bike appears to be a tick above the bottom line bikes sold at an LBS; and priced accordingly. These aren't great bikes, but they aren't Wally World junk either.

    With one exception; I wouldn't get too excited about the chain case. Photographic evidence, rather than graphic, suggests that this is the one bit of the bike that is a bit of ├╝bercrap.

    @ Joseph Eisenberg"

    I wish they gave more details"

    Dude, what are you talking about? This is a company that allows you to specify the finest details of a fully custom bike (if by "finest details of a fully custom bike" you mean you can get any color of unspecified spec chain you want; except chain colored).

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  18. kfg - Really? I do not see that in the pictures. The descriptions says that the chaincase is entirely enclosed, and there are pictures on their website showing the bike from the non-chaindrive side that seem to support this.

    Joseph - I agree with you, except that I think the $600 bikes in bike shops are not a better value.

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  19. "The descriptions says that the chaincase is entirely enclosed"

    Oh, I'm not calling that into question, just the quality of the enclosure. My qualitydar says that's the one place where they just plain skimped. It might be interesting to know if a Torker or Breezer case might fit.

    I'm a bit iffy about the coat guards as well, but that will be an issue for fewer people.

    Time and experience, after they've actually been on the streets for awhile, will, of course, ultimately tell.

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  20. Thanks for the write up. This looks like an excellent option for those who want a Dutch bike without the price tag, as long as they understand the quality difference. Even less expensive than the Amsterdam, which has dominated the less-expensive-Dutch-style-bike market. I'll be interested to see how these play out with consumers.

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  21. @kfg - I'm with you on the chain guard, and the skirt guard too. The light reflects off both of these in a way that says flimsy cheap plastic. And the join between rear fender and skirt guard is pretty poor.

    Other than that it looks like a fun run.

    I know that Lovely Bicycle has a good section on budget options, I think the 2 that look the most promising is 1) Electra Amsterdam with lots of options and different models, and 2) Kronan (not featured) for $600 and less choice on models, colors etc. Again for both of these I don't know about longevity.

    Ride safe!

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  22. Rupert - I will look into Kronan again, but it was my understanding that they are not available in the N. American market, and the budget section was originally intended for North Americans (in Europe I can think of many additional budget options).

    Personally, I would not buy an Electra Amsterdam for the retail price it is sold; I do not think it is worth it. But I know that others disagree.

    I am really curious now about the quality of the dressguard and chaincase and hoping Ubran Outfitters will have one of these as a floor model soon!

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  23. Then good news! http://kronanusa.com/ - $500 single speed and $600 3 speed, both for girls and boys models, plus there is a 5 speed unisex for $700.

    Bicycle Fixation, in LA, had an overall favorable review of the mens single speed at http://www.bicyclefixation.com/kronan.html He mentions weight as the main downside, while at the same time loving how much he was able to carry because of the sturdiness.

    BTW Velouria, I LUUV this blog; you capture so much of the fun and style of biking.

    I'm an ex-londoner living in the USA. I grew up cycling down the King's Road so in your Monday post I was very happy to see so many new bike racks there. I remember chaining my bike to many a lamp post - or getting in trouble for using private railings on residential side streets.

    I'm about to start again; I've been car-free for 4 years on a Vespa, but I'm going to go peddle power as soon as I can find a good commuter for a gentle but not flat 5 mile route ... definately a lovely bike:) Not a racer or "road" bike. I dream of Pashleys, but I think that the Kronan is more in my budget (I have to buy little bikes for little girls too so I can pass on the habit of lovely biking).

    Happy rides!

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  24. As I understand it, Rigida does make Alloy rims for rod brakes, both in 26 x 1 3/8" and in 28" under the moniker of 'V38'. At one point, they were the rims for a number of Pashleys. As far as

    I know Rigida doesn't distribute in the US, so you will have to get them in Europe, or have someone get them and send them over.

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  25. I know this is an old thread but I happened upon it looking for reviews of the Republic Plato bike. My husband bought one for me this summer to commute to and from work- (approx 2 miles each way) and I have to say that it looks great but I have been disappointed. I am not a bike expert nor is he- the alignment has been off since I got it and the dressguards will not stay in place at ALL. Also the seat is just horrible. The most uncomfortable thing ever. I need to replace the seat but I am afraid that my local bike shop will refuse to try to work on it. The ride is just really slow and difficult. I know a single speed takes some geting used to but I am in shape and its just really hard to ride this bike. Any suggestions?

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  26. Velouria-

    I really love your blog BTW. I have learned so much from it. I just wish I had been more savvy before buying the Republic bike but I think that with some adjustments and guidance I can make it better. I would appreciate any advice you and your readers may have for me.

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  27. Anon 2:02 - It's funny, because I have not come across ANY customer reviews of this bike even though at this point it has been in production for almost 8 months. And I have not ridden either this one or the Plato bike, as my local UOs don't stock them. So... I just don't know. For what it's worth, it is pretty much the norm that inexpensive bikes will have bad saddles, and I don't think your local bike shop would be unwilling to replace the saddle (it just requires unscrewing a bolt, very easy). As for the single speed thing, you can replace your rear cog with a larger one - which will lower your gearing and make pedaling easier. I would take the bike to a bike shop and see what they think of it.

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  28. Thanks so much for the quick response. I am going to replace the saddle myself. I am not a big person- I am about 5'3, 130 lbs- what do you recommend for someone my size for a new seat? We have a lovely bike shop in my city and they are very nice. Hopefully I can convince them to take a look. I will mention the rear cog replacement suggestion. I too find it odd that no one is reviewing this bike. It was on back order for most of the summer so someone was buying the thing. My plan is to ride it for a couple of years and then make a more informed decision the next time around. I do like the dutch bike concept though. Particularly for our city which is flat and easy to get around in. Bike commuters are not too common though and so it has been a learning experience for me. But I love not having to depend on a car. Plus my daughter's pre-k is 2 blocks away from my office and we can ride home from school together. She rides her bike with training wheels every day! Recently upgraded from her trike. Thanks again.

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  29. That's a tough one. I find virtually all saddles other than Brooks uncomfortable. But Brooks is probably over the top for a bicycle like this - unless you find a used one cheap. Otherwise it is really trial and error and unfortunately I can't recommend anything useful : (

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  30. Three-speed option, multiple frame sizes, they have both now. www.republicbikes.com.

    IMHO the step-through is the better bargain, you get two racks, the fender skirt, AND the chaincase. It's as Dutch as Amstel beer, the canals of Amsterdam and a "coffeeshop."*

    * Please don't inhale

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  31. I just got a Plato bike about 3 months ago- the most comfortable bike I have ever owned. I have no idea what the poster upthread means about an uncomfortable ride because the saddle and suspension make for a very cloud-like ride. As for quality, it is about par for a budget bike but much better than what you would get at a big-box store. I love the custom details which are holding up nicely and the old fashioned bell. This bike is great for casual riders, students and people who want to ride comfortably as the Dutch do.

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  32. Hello,
    I love your blog. I have a quick question now. I want to buy this budget Dutch bike but should I just suck it up and save for a better one? If I did what bike would you recommend for the most bang for the buck. I am a city girl needing a commuter bike that also looks feminine and classy. I like the skirt and chain guards and the racks on this bike. But I am also wondering if the skirt can be removed if purchased and I don't like it in the end.
    Thank you!
    Xenia

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