Sunday, March 7, 2010

Retrovelo Paula (Thou Shalt Not Covet!)

I have been dying to see Anna's new Retrovelo Paula, but ever since my arrival in Vienna circumstances conspired against it. Finally, we arranged to get together a couple of days ago. We planned to meet by the river for an elaborate photoshoot, naïvely expecting the warm spring days of the past couple of weeks to continue. Alas, the weather here has turned absolutely horrid - freezing temperatures and icy gusts of wind. We abandoned the riverfront idea and instead met near Anna's university department. It was so cold that we barely managed to take a few pictures before seeking refuge indoors. For what it's worth, here they are:

Anna and the Retrovelo Paula by the Goat Statue outside her department at the University of Vienna. The bicycle frame is what Retrovelo calls "pigeon blue", with cream Schwalbe Fat Frank tires. I have to say that the bicycle is difficult to photograph and I almost feel bad posting these pictures here, because in person it looks so much prettier. I was simply speechless when I saw it.

"Pigeon blue" is a soft powdery French blue that goes perfectly with the cream tires. If you ask me, the loop frame Retrovelos are much more attractive that the diamond frame version. I like this bicycle soooo much better than the Paul we tried last November.

Closeup of the fenders, tires and my favourite part - the triple-plate fork crown. Yum.

Despite still being in pain from my injuries, I obviously had to try the bike. I rode it briefly on the campus path, and I must say it is spectacular. I liked the ride better than any of the Dutch bikes I have tried so far (Azor, Gazelle and Batavus) - mainly because it is just as comfortable while being considerably sportier and easier to handle at slow speeds. And possibly I liked it a bit better than my Pashley. The seat post is more slack than on the Pashley and at the same time the Paula seemed faster to accelerate at slow speeds. I can't jump to conclusions after such a short test ride, but this was my initial impression. I must admit that I had a serious case of bike envy after riding the Paula.

In honor of meeting Paula, I wore matching tights - which she liked very much.

On this picture you can see the hubs, chainguard, rear rack and tail light (which is dynamo-operated, like the headlight). I love the rear rack design, and it looks even nicer on loop frame models than it does on the diamond frame. It would be very easy to install a dressguard on this bicycle, but I am not so sure how easy it would be to find a full chaincase to match. If Retrovelo offered a chaincase to go with these bicycles, it would be much appreciated.

In general, while the specs on this bike are pretty much identical to the Paul reviewed here, the overall impression is completely different (nicer!). All in all, it is a bit of an overload on the "stunning" scale. I can only imagine how I would react if I saw this bike in my favourite green-gray colour, which is also one of their standard options. No, better not think about it!

After our faces and fingers went completely numb, Anna carried Paula up the stairs into her department building and we all paid her office a visit.

Amazingly, all three of us fit into the tiny elevator.

Paula was kind enough to wait in the storage room while Anna and I had coffee in the downstairs cafe and recovered from the freezing cold. We had a nice time and it was good to see Anna again... but the downside is that I now covet her bike. Shame on me!

29 comments:

  1. I think you need a green one! Me too!

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  2. Thanks for egging me on : )
    The one I want is called Khaki-gray but in reality is an army green colour.

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  3. That is a lovely bike!
    I might learn to forgive myself for coveting one too. Tho' I would have a tough time choosing between the black and the clay brown. Happily, the odds of my being truly tempted are quite slim.
    I'm glad you had a chance to try Paula.

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  4. Sweet report. I certainly consider Paula to be a person too :). Until we meet next time I'll get her dressed (that is, buy bags or baskets). A dressguard is in fact a nice idea, but I fear that I would not just look "heavy" but also put more weight on her. A full chainguard would be very much appreciated though.
    Well, about her behaviour: She mananges all the ups and downs in Vienna, but I must admit that she is much easier to ride on the flat parts.

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  5. Nice review. Perhaps you and Anna can get together for a "second impression" and a longer test ride when better weather presents itself.

    (and Walnusstort, too.)

    Both my neighbor and my wife are inspired by the muted-yet saturated Retrovelo colors for their bike projects.
    Cyndy The Neighbor gasped when she saw Anna's bike.

    Interesting impressions about the ride quality. I was intrigued by the Electra Amsterdam and Townie Balloon bikes when they appeared-both are built around the Fat Franks as well. A friend bought a Townie Balloon, and I had to test ride one to see what he was going on about...they do have a different and pleasant feel, don't they?
    How does Anna characterize it versus her mountain bike?

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  6. Love the matching tights! Interesting that you say it may be a better ride than your Pashley; I was certainly impressed with the one I rode in Chicago. Great pictures and hope you are back to riding regularly soon!

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  7. This is a beautiful bike and the colour is amazing. I am now in a quandry! I just decided yesterday to go for the Velorbis Danneborg in red as they have just brought out a smaller size (17.5 inches). I love the Retrovelo though - the Pigeon Blue and Ruby Red are my favourites. I think from memory that you and Anna are quite tall? Do you think it would fit a smaller person - I'm 5 feet 2. Thanks!

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  8. Jennifer - I have tried the Velorbis Danneborg, and I personally prefer the Retrovelo Paula (and the Pashley Princess) to it.

    I am 5'7" and I would venture to say that Anna is 5'8". She has the saddle raised quite a bit, but I am still not certain whether a 5'2" person would be able to reach the pedals with the saddle all the way down. It depends on other factors of course, like the length of your legs. A 17.5" bicycle would be a safer bet for sure.

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  9. Trisha - of the currently produced classic Dutch/Roadster bicycles I've tried, I would rate my preference of the ride like this:

    1. Retrovelo/ ANT/ Pashley

    2. Velorbis

    3. Gazelle/ Azor

    4. Batavus (classic Dutch)

    5. Electra Amsterdam

    This is just about the feel of the ride; not looks or quality

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  10. Phew, I'm 5'2" so that means I can turn off these madly covetous feelings I have for the lovely Paula, as she will be the wrong fit for me!

    I enjoyed your review, Velouria, especially about the ride with those balloon tyres. I know they don't need much pressure in them and for that reason I wonder how fast you can go on them. Reports elsewhere on the web indicate they are just fine for beetling about town and country though.

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  11. Jennifer--I am going to recommend what may seem counterintuitive. If you are relatively new to cycling or can't ride without comfortably touching the ground then don't bother reading the rest of it. :)

    I think people often get a smaller bike than what they would ultimately want, had they been experienced with it. Impossible to overcome unless you can go back in time or magically grow your bicycle to a next size up... or buy the right frame in the first place.

    With that in mind, I recommend that you go out of your way to physically try said frame size before you buy, or else you may end up with a bike that you wish was bigger down the line. I think 5' 2" should work with 20" loop frames. The way these bikes are made, I don't think it will be too much reach for your upper body, so I would pick the biggest size the legs will accommodate. If anything, it will be less crowded. With diamond frames you have to watch your pubic bone height, but who cares if there isn't a top tube to worry about? People with longer legs particularly will appreciate the extra frame size.

    Velouria's 20" Pashley now has about 3" of seat tube showing (below the seat), and she would need to raise the seat yet about 2" more for a full leg extension. So, if you can ride with a fully extended leg (i.e. no touching the ground!), you may be able to handle a 20" Princess with the seat all the way down. And there is nothing "wrong" with having the seat all the way down on loop frame bikes.

    Hope this is useful.

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  12. MDI - The issue is not whether she will be able to reach the ground with the lowest saddle position, but whether she will be able to reach the pedals when extended all the way down. I know of 5'2" women who cannot do it on a 20" frame. It depends entirely on her proportions, so she would have to try it.

    I am 5'7" and I do wish I had gotten the largest size (22.5") Pashley. However, I have long legs.

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  13. From my personal experience and observation, I concur with most of MDI's points. So Jennifer do go and have a 'physical encounter' with the bike first before you make a decision
    He [one of the bike mechanics around ) would probably make 'adjustments' for you if you do not know how.

    One (of MDI's) point in particular I would like to repeat: "...people often get a smaller bike than what they would ultimately want, had they been experienced with it. "
    Lemony

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  14. I wish I had gotten the mid-sized Pashley and I am 5'3" with long legs for my height (long legs at 5'3" ha ha ha). My bike fits but I totally agree with MDI that had I been more experienced I would have known that I'd be happier with the middle size. It felt HUGE at the time, but I was unused to the style of riding and inexperienced. Since the bike shop told me both sizes would work, I chose the smaller. Now I wish I could have had a bit more room to haul my baby around on a front-mounted bobike seat.

    Hélas, this means I can still covet Paula, I think. :)

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  15. this wee beauty is so similar to the powder blue pashley poppy! so pretty! xx

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  16. kerri - Hmm, interesting point. The colour is similar and might in fact be the exact same one, since they all probably use standard RAL powdercoat colour. But in other ways the Retrovelo Paula is different, including the geometry, lugs, fork crown, seat cluster (Paula us lugged vs Poppy is bolted), stem, and handlebars.

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  17. Thanks Velouria and MDI. Your comments are really helpful. I actually have a 17.5 inch Pashley at the moment. I have always assumed that it's the right size although conscious that it doesn't quite live up to all the great reviews for me - hence the ongoing search for 'the one'. It sounds obvious now but reading your comments it occurs to me that it may simply be too small. I always feel the need to push myself back on the saddle despite getting the saddle tilted up three times. Maybe it's a feeling of not being roomy enough. A trip to London may be in order to actually try some alternatives. Thanks again!

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  18. Jennifer - Oh, the saddle thing can be adjusted. I experienced it too at first (as did several other Pashley owners I know), but finally fine tuned it. Is your saddle pushed all the way back on the rails and raised so that your leg is fully extended when pedaling?

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  19. *click* That was the sound of the covetous feelings turning on again having read all these subsequent posts about loop frames and heights. Having said that though I think my 17.5" Pashley is probably right for me as I don't have long legs.

    I'm with you Jennifer on the saddle thing though... it's tricky to get it just right. Be wary pushing the front of the saddle up too much as you may get saddle pain in an unmentionable area!

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  20. I have a Velorbis Scrap Deluxe and an Electra Amsterdam. The Velorbis is a solid bike that could withstand most natural disasters; it will be with me 30 years from now; however, the Amsterdam is more comfortable and an easier ride. Will the Amsterdam in good condition in 10 years? I don't think so. The fenders are already dented and looking shabby.
    Bottom line: Velorbis is super stylish and uber quality. The Amsterdam is very comfortable (due to not having to learn forward but being able to lean back) and easier to ride because of its thinner tires.

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  21. Mr. H - My concerns about Velorbis is that I have seen several at this point that are no more than 1-2 years old yet had rusted and/or had broken components. But as far as ride comfort goes, I found the one I tried to be all right.

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  22. I'd like to concur with MDI, Lemony, et al. It's quite common for people to select a frame that is too small, or at least lower their seat too far. The important distance is from your hip to the ball of your foot when it is on the pedal. At its lowest/furthest point, your leg should be nearly straight. But, to get a good stroke and avoid the risk of the pedal hitting the ground in a turn, this means that you will barely be able to touch the ground when seated. A bicycle with a slack seat tube angle will make it easier to put your foot down, as more of the seat-to-pedal distance is horizontal in that setup. However, that can make it harder to accelerate or climb hills because you can use as much of your body to supply the force. Any cyclist, especially a new rider, should practice dismounting when they stop (continue to straddle the frame if you wish, but as you come to a stop, transfer your weight onto the lower pedal, lift your butt off the seat, and put the other foot on the ground).

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  23. I noticed the pic of rusted Velorbis on your site before I purchased it. I was concerned, but who's to say the Retrovelo would not rust under the same circumstances? Thankfully, I live in So Cal so I'm not too worried. But I do hope the bike can go the distance with me.

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  24. You are right about that; I have no idea what a 1 or 2 year old Retrovelo looks like. I guess we'll find out from Anna!

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  25. Those Retrovelos are a fair deal in Europe. But here in the states, they're not cheap. The Velorbis was discounted 10% and it has that Brooks mudflap, so that's why I went with it. I actually have the Brooks trio on my bike: tool bag, seat and mud-flap. Too darn cool! I do love the Retrovelo though. It's more of a signature bike because Frank from Retrovelo designed the Fat Frank tire.

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  26. Looks like the wide tires make it a very smooth ride. Love the blue color... and blue bike, blue hat combination.

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  27. I am lusting after Paula.
    Trouble is, I'm a bloke.

    I want a bike that can manage a bit of light, hilly off-road, but I am wedded to the Dutch style, so Retrovelo seems ideal.
    I prefer the ladies frame; I'm only 5ft 8, and my girlfriend can use her too. However I'm wondering whether the frame will make it harder struggling up country tracks.
    What do you think, Velouria, Anna or anyone else who has one?
    mygratefrendpeason

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