Monday, July 26, 2010

Retrovelo Paula in the Countryside (with Her Vintage Friend)

I have written about Anna's Retrovelo Paula before, but I was not able to evaluate the ride after what was only a couple of minutes on a cold November day. This time around it was summer, and Anna and I went on a nice long trip along the Danube - she on her Retrovelo Paula and me on the Steyr Waffenrad (the bike I ride while in Vienna). Our ride was 30-miles round trip, and for a stretch of it we swapped bikes.

Here is Anna on her beautiful bike.

I must pause and mention here that she was wearing a stunning outfit taylor-made for her in India: slate blue kaftan, white trousers and white cape. It looked elegant and kept her cool on what turned out to be a very hot day.

But back to the bikes: neither the Retrovelo nor the vintage bike I was riding had a problem with the magnitude of the ride, which did include occasional (but mild) hills.

We rolled out of Vienna and passed through the beautiful countryside of Klosterneuburg, Krietzendorf, eventually stopping at a scenic spot in Greifenstein.

Here is me with the Retrovelo Paula during our trip. This dog decided to join us for a bit - no doubt because he liked the bike!

Anna's feet and sandals. My main impression of the Retrovelo Paula is that it is a comfortable ride with a feel of gliding to it. The bicycle is clearly well-made and of high quality. It rode very differently from the vintage Austrian bike I was on, but similarly to my Pashley back home (after the latest round of modifications I made to the Pashley). Prior to its latest modifications, I would say my Pashley was more sluggish than the Retrovelo Paula, but post-modifications they are about the same. One interesting point, is that I did not feel a huge difference in "cushiness" between the Delta Cruiser tires that I had been riding on my vintage bike, and the Fat Frank tires on the Retrovelo; to my surprise the ride quality was similar.

Overall I liked the Retrovelo Paula, and found its ride quality to be in the same general category as that of Pashley and Velorbis.  I think that between the three of these, preferences really depend on individual tastes more than anything else. I know of one former Pashley owner who tried the Retrovelo, liked it better, and has now gotten one (and is selling her Pashley). However, I do not feel the same, and wonder how much of the difference she felt is component and setup-related. The Retrovelo is a very pared-down bike in comparison to the Pashley, and I think the choices of tires and gearing further contribute to the sportier feel of the ride if we compare their "out of the box" set-ups - but all of that can be changed, and I feel that the basic ride quality is similar.

In terms of manufacturing quality, I would rate Retrovelo as being on par with Pashley and better than Velorbis. Aesthetically, I think the Retrovelo has hands-down the best fork-crown design and lugwork of the three, but it has a few practical drawbacks - such as a lack of chaincase and dressguard. As for weight, the Retrovelo Anna was riding felt to me as if it weighed exactly the same as my Pashley at home; it is not a light bicycle by any means. 


Other random notes... The Retrovelo has handlebars that to me feel unusually wide, a bit like cruiser bars. Some may like this, others may not. The braking system is hand-activated hub brakes. If you are a coaster brake fan keep that in mind, but I know that some dislike coaster brakes and will see this as great news. The bicycle is equipped with dynamo lighting, front and rear.

The bottom line is: the Retrovelo is an excellent modern bicycle built in the classic tradition. It is fairly fast and maneuverable, comfortable, gorgeous, and its owners love it. If it is within your budget, I doubt that you will regret choosing this bike.

But... I have yet to find a modern bike with a ride quality I like better than my vintage Raleigh DL-1 or the vintage Steyr Waffenrad I ride in Austria. I honestly wish that wasn't so, as I'd feel more comfortable riding a reliable modern bicycle than a vintage one. But it is as if the modern designs did something to the geometry of the bikes that has made them less efficient than their vintage equivalents. Maybe someday I will figure it out.

32 comments:

  1. The Retrovelo website says that Paul/Paula has 7 or 8 speed Shimano hubs with roller brakes and a Shimano hub dynamo feeding a B&M Lumotec headlamp. Regular specification. And I do believe to see a wire running from headlamp to fork in several pictures of Paula. The rear light is a LEd light running off batteries.

    And to Dutch eyes the lack of chain and dress guards is so strange ...

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  2. Frits - Yup. It definitely does not try to be a Dutch bike, but is basically an aesthetic version of 1970s-80s mountain bikes. It rides nicely, but not at all like a Dutch bike; totally different feel.

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  3. I feel like pedaling efficiency and ultimately comfortable speed has a lot to do with hour you set up your individual bike.

    We worked to get the DL-1 where it is today. We also made a number of changes to the Pashley, changed the whole drive train, positioned the bars and the saddle just so. Maybe if we did all of those angle/position adjustments to the Retrovelo, it would feel completely different. I am sure Anna has set hers up just the way she likes it, and we don't know how the bike would feel if we did the same.

    I like my Pashley, but I also really like how Retrovelo bikes look. I just never ridden one...

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  4. that is a lovely bike. Thank you for mentioning her Salwar Kameez- it is stunning and I had forgotten all about the bikes as I admired her outfit. I'm a salwar fan although I look better in Saris. ( big hips appreciate flowing yards of fabric rather than straight tunics.)

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  5. MDI - We did not do anything to the DL-1's geometry as far as I remember. Am I wrong?

    Vee - Yes, I loe them too. Off topic, but does anybody know a good source to get these over the internet?..

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  6. Velouria~ Another great blog post and I also loved Anna's Salwar Kameez...I've looked on the internet for similar but most of what I have found were highly decorated and I prefer the simple but elegantly casual look that Anna has pulled off:)

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  7. I like some of the elaborate patterns, as long as they are cotton or silk (and not a synthetic fabric). I've found some online sources that offer a lot of choice, but I have no idea whether these sources are safe to purchase from.

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  8. Velouria~ for sure natural fibres:) please update if you do find some safe sites please:)

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  9. I love the retrovelo; they are gorgeous. However, they are very expensive without having all the practical components for a city/utility bicycle as noted above (chain guard, coat guard, etc). To me, they celebrate "form" first; I tend to prefer form-follows-function and the more straight-forward and practical esthetic of Dutch bikes. But that's personal preference, and if Paula's seductive beauty gets more people cycling, then more power to her! Interesting that they had a very different feel than Dutch bikes, too....

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  10. Jeanette - It is a sportier bicycle, so maybe the designers thought a dressguard and full chaincase would conflict with that. Reminds me of the Raleigh Lady's Sports, which did not have either of those features either, but offered the benefit of being a step-over.

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  11. Beautiful! I've been a huge fan of Paula since I first saw her. Such a lovely bike in every way. I love Anna's outfit - so perfect for riding the soft blue bike.

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  12. Thanks for offering the review of this! I'd been wanting to hear more about the Paula. SO very lovely!

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  13. I agree, it's one of the most attractive transport bicycles on the market today.

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  14. Re the lack of a complete chain case : for reasons unknown to me, that's the way the german build their bikes.
    I'm surprised Anna's bike has batteries powered lights. The dynamo hub is clearly visible on your photos. ready to be wired to that nice Lumotec head lamp.

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  15. philippe- That is a front drum brake.

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  16. Does Anna remember Isadora Duncan's fate? And have you all seen these daily riding pants?
    http://outlier.cc/main/womens-daily-riding-pant.php

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  17. Hallo, My name is Sven; I am a Velorbis Scrap Deluxe bicycle. How could you say that Retrovelo Paula is better quality than I am? I offer a handy little hook on my intergrated rack for holding a briefcase. Also, my rear light is powered by the dynamo. OK I don't have the coronation of my fork, but is that no necessary?

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  18. Philippe: There are at least three pics here where the wire between headlight and righthand fork leg is visible. So forget about battery lights. A Lumotec doesn't run on batteries; they would be drained in a few seconds (halogen).

    Re the ship: is this one of those cruise ships steered by the famous Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän?

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  19. Frits and philippe - I am confused now. I too initially thought this was a dynamo light, but Anna told me it is not. Maybe I misunderstood and Anna can clear it up.

    Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän : )))
    That would be great.

    Mr. Haramis - Sorry! I have seen both bikes and I prefer the Paula. But I am no authority and I am sure there are those who would violently disagree. This is all just my opinion. Different bikes to suit different tastes.

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  20. My Retrovelo Paula came with dynamo lighting in front and rear LED, like Frits describes above.

    I do not mind the half-chaincase because my bike lives inside both at home and at the office and I don't mind maintaining the chain and have yet to get any grease on myself. I do miss the dress guard but that's an easy enough DIY fix that I plan to do when I wear longer dresses in the fall and winter. Since it is minidress season I don't worry about it.

    I did not fiddle with my Pashley a ton before I decided to sell it, primarily because I knew after three months of riding it that I needed a larger frame size (have had it for a year). I did try a couple of things to make it less sluggish and cramped -- changing saddle positions, moving handlebars around, removing front basket, running tires at different pressures etc. Nothing worked for me. The dealbreaker was when I needed to move my son to a rear carrier and the bobike would not work on the Pashley without removing the rear rack, which I need for my panniers when I go to work. This seat does work on the 20 and 22 inch frames for those who have a toddler in tow and want a Pashley. I tried other bikes including the 20 inch Pashley, Gazelle, Batavus and Abici but found Retrovelo to be the best fit for me and the fastest among those. I absolutely love this bicycle. The only modification I have made has been to swap out the grips for some leather Brooks grips. The rubber ones it came with are in a tone of brown I don't like.

    I did notice a massive difference between the speed and agility of the Shimano 8 speed and Sturmey Archer 5 speed. I don't think I would have been so frustrated, nor would the Pashley have felt so sluggish had I had a Shimano hub. Maybe I could have also tried lowering the gearing. I didn't do these modifications because I wanted a bigger bicycle and didn't want to waste any more time or make modifications that might mess with my ability to sell it.

    I have also noticed that if I run the Fat Frank tires at a psi hire than about 30-35 the bike slows down a lot and I need to use lower gears more often. So I don't fill the tires very much and enjoy moving very quickly and with great agility and comfort over the potholes of Brooklyn.

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  21. strange. in this picture:

    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2690/4412724321_e31fdcc379_o.jpg

    it looks like there is a dynamo wire running from the taillight to the fender.

    i dunno. could it be a drum brake/dynamo hub combo?

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  22. A picture is worth a thousand words :
    http://lh5.ggpht.com/_BnX47mu3IBs/TE9QKZwEu3I/AAAAAAAAFuU/4dvhU2Vz5P4/s800/paula.jpg

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  23. It's so interesting to read your and neighbourtease's comments about the Paula. I have been struggling with a Paula crush for weeks now but it would be madness to add this to my Workcycles Oma and Pashley. I also much much prefer the Shimano 8 speed (on Oma) over the SA 5 speed. I think it's the main reason why Pashley has been relegated to back-up bike.

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  24. wow, sorry for the ultra-long post!

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  25. Neighbourtease -- if I see a Paula in Manhattan, I will assume it is yours, and smile and wave! There's one in the window at Adeline Adeline, with beach stuff in the basket, looking terribly irresistable. I really want to test drive it sometime....but I'm afraid to go into that store; my wallet really doesn't need to shed any more weight, if you know what I mean! But they have such a great selection.....and everyone there is completely lovely.

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  26. Jeanette, please do wave and say hi! My bike is dove grey with white wheels. I know what you mean about Adeline Adeline -- everyone there is lovely, particularly the owner, who worked in collusion with my husband and friends to surprise me with this bike for my birthday.

    I have seen one very good-looking Paul in Brooklyn (!) but no other Paula yet anywhere.

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  27. Velorbis offers frame sizes 54 and 59cm, while Retrovelo only offers 57cm. I am 6'1" so the 59cm is a great fit.

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  28. Sorry that I missed the discussion, but to clear things up: both the front and the rear light are dynamo powered. No batteries anywhere.

    The half-chaincase has never been a problem so far, but I will have to get a skirtguard eventually (when I transport plastic bags, they sometimes get pulled in the wheel).

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  29. I drove to NYC from Boston and purchased my lovely Retrovelo Paula in cream color. It is absolutely wonderful to ride in and around Boston! The potholes are no match for the Fat Franks. I also have an Electra "Tree of Life," which I wish came with 8 gears instead of 3, and a screaming red Viva Juliett, which is quite the head-turner. The seven gears come in handy, and the full chain guard and skirt guard are perfect. I ride in dresses and heels, which seems to shock passersby. Yes, I wear underwear, so it must be the dress and heels? I have joined the female Velolution! Beauiful ladies on beautiful bikes!

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  30. To clarify, Retrovelo offers the Paul "Classic" in 57 cm, and the Paul "Modern" series in both 57 and 59 cm.

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  31. i'm lusting after a retrovelo paula...but i'm concerned about how it would handle hills?
    right now i'm riding a vintage peugot mixte that has roadbike geometry but upright handlebars. i'm having pinched nerve issues with my hands due to the geometry throwing my weight forward and placing so much pressure on my hands. :/

    even though it's a roadbike and has 10 speeds, i feel like it's really not great on hills...either that or i am just not terribly fit. i'd really love to blame as much as possible on the bike, while admitting that fitness is certainly a contributing factor; in the weeks i've been commuting (rolling 8 miles each way), i've noticed an improvement.

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  32. I was reading up on the Retrovelo when I got distracted by the discussion on clothing! Anna is wearing a churidar type of salwar kameez. It's the kind with the tapered/close fitting leg, rather than the billowing loose fit. There is no place like India to do this kind of shopping, much cheaper and the range is far greater. You will find cottons and silks galore in both a simple and ornate style, and even tailor-made clothing will be very cheap. FabIndia is a popular place to go for cheap, cotton ready made kameezes (the top) and you can mix and match them with ready made salwars (the bottom). If going to India is too much of a stretch, you might try an Indian diaspora district ... is there one in NYC? But it wouldn't be anywhere near as cheap, and they might be too ornate.

    I really like the look and sound of the Retrovelo, but am not too keen on the wide handlebars, and lack of chaincase. Curious about the above comment... how does it handle hills, did you friend say?

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