Functionality, Comfort, Aesthetics
There are three basic qualities that matter to me in a bicycle, and these qualities are functionality, comfort, and aesthetics. All three are essential for me, and I could not love a bicycle if either were lacking.
Because functionality is a factor of individual needs, it is subject to great variability. Just as there are different types of bicycle racers, so are there different types of urban commuters. A diplomat who wears crisp skirt-suits and freshly-polished shoes to work and has a 2-mile commute will likely require different features from a transport bike than a computer programmer who wears jeans, sweaters and sneakers and has a 12-mile commute. A bicycle's functionality can only be evaluated in the context of its intended use.
And of course, regardless of what kind of cycling a bicycle was designed for, functionality means that everything should be working properly: structurally sound frame, proper assembly, and quality components.
Being comfortable on a bicycle involves, first and foremost, being pain-free. In particular, pain in the hands, knees, butt, crotch and neck are the sort one should not be experiencing while cycling, as it can cause injury.
Comfort also means that a cyclist should feel good about their ability to control and handle their bicycle: to mount and dismount, to balance, to pick up speed in the manner they want, to handle turns, to climb hills, to control descents, to make emergency stops, to carry a load, and to cycle through traffic. And while to an extent all of this certainly depends on the cyclist's skill level, it also very much depends on the bicycle. A given cyclist may be comfortable doing these things on one type of bike, but not on another. I am a firm believer in finding a bicycle that both feels good to ride, and matches your skill level and comfort zone, rather than attempting to adapt to a bicycle that does not feel right.
Though some are more aware of it than others, the aesthetic experience is a natural part of our everyday lives. As we move through our environments and go about our daily activities, we are always looking and always responding with some degree of emotionality - whether it is positive, negative, or some form of confusion. Almost nothing leaves us entirely indifferent, unless we do not notice it. We prefer certain colours over others, certain shapes over others, certain spaces over others, and certain faces over others. Aesthetics are not just for the frivolous or the rich; they are not something you are aware of only when looking at paintings or choosing expensive curtains. All ordinary objects and everyday experiences have aesthetic qualities, and being able to extract these qualities can bring joy and fulfillment to the way we experience life.
Needless to say, what we consider "aesthetically pleasing" is extremely subjective, probably even more so than comfort and functionality. To some extent, it has to do with our inherent sense of harmony, symmetry, and balance, as well as with the associations evoked by the given object. Suffice to say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
In my posts on Lovely Bicycle, I do not pretend to be "everyman" or the voice of other cyclists. Far from it! I am a kooky, peculiar person with an unconventional lifestyle and profession, and I am comfortable with that. Neither do I make prescriptive statements about what kinds of bicycles other people should like or should be riding. Personally, I love bicycles that are functional, comfortable, and beautiful - and that is what I write about. You may relate, or you may not. Life is all about personal preferences.