Monday, March 22, 2010

England Made Me: Pashley, Raleigh and Dawes in London

I was in London for only two days and it rained continuously. Somehow rain in England does not seem as dreary as in other countries; it has an almost cheerful feel to it and makes colours seem brighter. This is especially noticeable with green grass and red double-decker buses. I saw far too many nice bicycles in the area where I was staying, so I decided to focus on bikes made by English manufacturers.

A tangle of black bicycles locked up to a rack on the King's Road; double-decker bus in the background. The frontmost bicycle is a Raleigh mixte that looked to be from the early '80s.

This is the first time I have been back to the UK in almost 5 years, not counting the many hours spent in Heathrow airport during layovers to other destinations. When I lived in England, it was in a small provincial town. London was "the big city" where I would occasionally stay with friends, go to parties, and visit museums. I am at my best in small towns, and many parts of London make me uncomfortable because they somehow seem simultaneously vast and overcrowded. But there are a few areas that have cozy pockets of quiet side streets that appeal to me. My friend's place in Chelsea is in just such a location, and it was nice to stay there.

Walking around the neighborhood, I came across somebody else's Pashley Princess waiting for her owner outside a health food store.

This Princess has seen some use. The basket is tattered around the edges and the frame is a bit grimy - which suits the bike nicely.

Just blocks away, I spotted a Pashley Roadster. The owner added a wire basket to the front.

The Roadster was locked to the rack with an enormous golden chain, and a U-Lock. The owner must like it as much as the Co-Habitant likes his.

Not one, but three Dawes bicycles were locked up outside the Saatchi Gallery.

The most interesting of them was this Dawes folding bike, I assume from the '70s. I have never seen one of these before and wonder how it rides compared to the Raleigh Twenty. The owner's installation of enormous baskets, front and rear, suggests that they use the bike as a "shopper".

And finally, behold this magnificent Pashley Mailstar, across the street from Harvey Nichols.

The Mailstar is a mail delivery bicycle (read more about it here), but this one has obviously been converted to a family cycle. I wonder whether these are available for purchase by the general public, or whether the owner bought a de-comissioned mail delivery bike? Either way, it is pretty cool and, I bet, extremely steady to ride.

To my eye, not much has changed in London since I was last here - aside from the obvious things, like the new St. Pancras station. Perhaps people seem a bit more relaxed and "loungy" than what I remembered. And I had forgotten how exciting "the High Street" can be.

As for cycling infrastructure - I did not see any. Aggressive, chaotic driving dominates the roads. To me it all looked quite scary and entirely uninviting. All the beautiful bikes I photographed were in neighborhoods that are fairly manageable microcosms - but even those neighborhoods had more cyclists on roadbikes wearing neon than "regular people cycling".

I can not compare this to how things were in London five years ago, since I did not pay attention to bicycles then. But it would be interesting to hear from Londoners. Is there a trend on the rise, like in New York? Or have the Pashleys, Raleighs and the many loop-frame Dutch bikes I saw been there all along?

Whatever the case may be, thank you England for continuing to make beautiful handbuilt bicycles and I hope to see even more of them on the streets of London in the future.

26 comments:

  1. Cool pictures. I saw a lot of Pashleys when I was in London last year. I also saw a few interesting bike lanes and bike light signals, but I agree that it all seemed chaotic.

    I really want a Pashley - I've been thinking about that a lot lately :) And a Brompton.

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  2. Very nice!
    I wonder if things in London get painted red to make them stand out in the murk a little more!

    If that bright red mail bike were mine, I'd save the money to get a proper basket from David Hembrow for it- it's crying out for a nicer one than the retrofit that's there now!

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  3. There's a trend on the rise .. go to Broadway Market on the weekend and all you see is Pashleys and old dutch style bikes. Partly it's the "make do and mend" spirit of a recession, and partly it's a reaction to the slightly dated Shoreditch "nu-rave" trend for fixed gear and single speed bikes (amongst other things).

    I'm totally sold on the stripped gold chain you saw around the Pashley Roadster, bicycle jewellery.

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  4. ooohhhhhh I want that mailstar!!! With co-pilot!

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  5. Love the photos. I miss London. Absolutely love the mail bike with baby seat! Speaking of red bicycles, have you all seen the Britannia editions? Pretty gorgeous, especially the red. I am tempted:

    http://www.pashley.co.uk/products/britannia.html

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  6. Dottie - I want a Brompton too; the clear coated one. There is no end to my bike hunger!

    Cycler - That's an interesting point about why things are painted bright red; highly possible!

    neighbourtease - Oh, interesting! I will take the cream Britannia please.

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  7. When I was living in London in 2006 and 2007, I felt like cycling for transportation was definitely on the rise. I was inspired to take it up by co-workers who were devoted to their bikes and commuted up to 45 minutes on them, and found the bike lanes/lights/and bike boxes very useful. The infrastructure probably weren't nearly as widespread as in other European countries, but much better than I was used to. I definitely found biking in London easier than biking in Boston, my current city.

    I think another reason for this was less the infrastructure and more that drivers seemed more accomodating/less likely to honk. I hate getting honked at! There are also some nice off-road areas that can take you from Central London to the Western suburbs (along the canal to the north and the river to the south).

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  8. Morgan - I might be back later this year and will have a look at Broadway Market. Would love to see a world of Pashleys and Dutch bikes.

    onecitytwowheels - Funny, I live in Boston (when I am not in Vienna) and cycle there all the time, whereas London looks scary to me. I imagine that to some extent it's just a matter of getting used to the environment.

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  9. I find myself coveting Pashley . . . cranks.

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  10. the trick is to avoid the main thoroughfares and explore! It's a higgledy-piggledy hotpotch of side streets, parks and escape routes! With a bit of knowledge you can avoid the scary bits. Use this feature to order maps of the London cycle network: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11598.aspx
    then get out there and sit tall on your steel steeds!

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  11. It's a little sad to see the post office bike in civilian hands, though, because Royal Mail are looking at phasing them out in favour of vans, which seems an entirely backwards step to me.

    I don't remember there being all that many Pashleys & the like when I cycled in London (up to 2008) although I lived in a much less upmarket part of town - Vauxhall station is certainly the place to see half-dismantled cheap mountain bike-alikes, which cope quite well with London's cratered roads. The classic London bike is probably the Brompton because you can take it on the train, and it's made there too.

    I agree, cycling in London is not for the faint hearted, but if you choose your roads carefully it can be pleasant and it's certainly the fastest way to get around. As you say, it's what you're used to.

    And rain in England not being as dreary as anywhere else? Um...

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  12. O, England I love thee!
    I spend more time out of London ... and outside of London 'old' Raleighs, Pashleys are common sight as 'commuter' bikes (for shopping, visiting friends/neighbours ...eerrr .. to work place(s).). However, there is still the need to 'encourage' more 'Brits" to make use of the bicycles more.

    O dear I'm hungry and thirsty : "Waiter, may I have a Pashely Red, Raleigh Dark, and Black & White Brompton and an English steak? By the way do you have exotic Dahon, too? May I have that too?"
    l

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  13. I forgot to mention that British drivers are more 'accomodating' of/to cyclists than ....! ;)
    l

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  14. Hi there,

    With regards to your question about whether you can buy the mailstar...yes you can! See:

    http://www.pashley.co.uk/products/pronto.html

    I live in York, UK where the cycling is much more friendly than in London. It has many offroad bike paths. Indeed, I moved to York with my wife for this very reason. The most common bike in York is the Gazelle, as the local bike shop "Cycle Heaven" import them.

    John I

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  15. When I lived in London 7 years ago, although I knew plenty of people who cycled to work (and stored their bikes in the office), you hardly ever saw bikes in the street. When I visited last September, I couldn't believe the change. Bikes were parked everywhere, especially around Soho. There has been a massive change from what I've seen, but it is still only a tiny percentage of people who ride. If London had the level of cycling that Amsterdam has, I suspect it might get tricky to walk down the street!

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  16. Funny how a Pashley doesn't seem to mind the rain. Toronto is getting drenched this week, and my new Roadster doesn't seem to mind a bit. I did wax him last week, I admit..

    Thanks for the pics of these beauties in their natural habitat ;)

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  17. For information: Confirming and enlarging upon what John wrote, the Mailstar is not available to the general public. However a virtually identical bicycle - the Pashley Pronto - is on sale at a price (in England) of about 700 pounds sterling(that's about 1050 dollars US). I expect the bike you saw was a Pronto and that the owner had chosen post office red as its colour.

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  20. You were in London - Nice!
    Great photos - especially of that Pashley outside of the shop... they were rather brave to leave it unlocked - I'd have such a fear of my Princess being stolen.

    I've not seen very many Pashleys in my specific patch of London (and I don't think I'm likely too either...) - I've yet to see that many in London in one go come to think of it!

    Lady Vélo.

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  21. More people certainly cycle in London in recent years - due to the cost of public transport, the desire to keep fit, and undoubtedly there is still some knock-on effect from the terrorist bombs five years ago which put a lot of people off using the underground.

    The provision of properly marked and signed cycle routes in central London is particularly poor, although if you know the roads you can take some quiet routes. But a lot of the big parks have cycle routes through them or along their edges, the Thames path is good for cyclists if you are considerate, and you can ride for miles along the canals and waterways particularly in east London.

    Outside of the city centre the quality of the cycle routes depends on each borough - some have very active cycle officers, others don't really seem to care. My route to work (about 6 miles from SE London to Pimlico) is about 20% traffic free and 60% traffic-calmed or very quiet streets.

    Our current mayor has a pet project to provide a network of 'cycle superhighways' into the city centre for commuters - I can't say it appeals to me (even when I'm driving I prefer single-track country lanes to motorways!) but if it results in an improvement in road junctions, signage and facilities for cyclists, I'm all for it.

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  22. @knit nurse

    "single-track country lanes" Be still, my heart! I often daydream about riding my vintage roadster past bucolic scenery on quiet country roads in England!

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  23. It's so fun to see my city and its bicycles through your eyes! I actually find London a pretty great place to cycle - there are SO many cyclists on the road today, cars are generally pretty aware of us. The problem is the big trucks, there are a lot of them and you really have to be careful. There's a huge cycling culture here though - loads of Dutch bikes and old step-through Raleigh Cameos etc, and a fair few Pashleys, but there's also now a massive single speed / fixed gear thing going on as well, with lots of lovely restored vintage frames which people have converted. There are some great cycle paths here - the Regent's Canal Path is one of my favourites, it's great for a leisurely Sunday ride with a stop at Lock 7, a really wonderful and unique cycle cafe. I don't wear the fluoro jackets etc myself, but I did when I first started riding - it made me feel a lot safer to know that I'd be seen, especially in bad weather. Hope you enjoyed your brief stay in London, you must stop by for longer next time!

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  24. I live in York, but was in London on Tuesday. Definitely not as cycle friendly nor active as York, but much more so than when I lived in London in the 80s.

    The UK government has a program to encourage commuting to work by cycle and you can save up to 50% on the cost of a bike.

    http://www.bike2workscheme.co.uk/

    A lot of people cycle to work here in York. We have a good network of cycle lanes and some traffic free cycle paths. I certainly would like to see more, but am glad for what we have. We see all types of bikes: racing bikes, MTBs are popular with teenagers, but for the more mature we are seeing more traditional cycles like the Pashley and Raleigh. City cycle Giants seem popular too.

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  25. I agree that England deserves huge props for continuing to make hand-built bicycles. I have that green Pashley Princess, so it's kind of exciting to see a photo of one in London! I'm yearning for a Brompton, they are so sharp-looking and perfect to pack up on the train or for a canping trip to the mountains. Glad I found your blog!

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  26. strange you didn't feature more Bromptons - they are all over the place - mind you, not many get left in the street! (they get taken indoors as they are VERY stealable). But plenty cycle by whenever I am in "the Smoke".

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