Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mixte vs Mixte: What's the Difference?

Mixte-frame bicycles have become popular again over the past couple of years, with many women buying them, or considering buying them. But what kind of bicycle is it that they are looking for? Mixtes can differ from one another considerably, both in looks and in ride quality: You cannot assume that because you have ridden one, you know them all. Just to give you an example, I have prepared a side-by-side comparison between my custom Royal H. mixte and the Rivendell Betty Foy. It takes some time to train your eye to differentiate between bicycles that may seem similar at first glance. But see whether you can get a sense of the differences just by looking at the pictures. 

To break it down, I will describe the most obvious and significant differences between these mixtes' geometries. And as an aside to the experts out there: If you are cringing at my explanations, please keep in mind that I am trying to make this as visual as possible, as opposed to as technical as possible!

Overall proportions
Take a close look at the overall "body types" of the two bicycles. Despite their being the same size in relation to me, my custom mixte has a "short and fat" look to her, whereas the Betty Foy looks "tall and skinny". That is because my mixte is dominated by the round forms of the large wheels, whereas the Betty is dominated by the angular forms of the large frame. The Betty Foy has smaller wheels, so the frame automatically needs to be larger in order for the overall bicycle to be the same size as mine. This also explains why my mixte frame is 52cm and the Betty Foy frame is 58cm - yet when the bicycles are assembled they are both my size.

The "short and fat" vs "tall and skinny" difference between the two bikes is accentuated by the position of the handlebars. The handlebars on the Betty Foy are set higher, with some stem showing - which further elongates Betty's "body."  The handlebars on my mixte are pushed almost all the way down - which accentuates the round look. Both bicycles were designed to be set up with the handlebars in these respective positions.

If you look at the vintage René Herse mixtes in this post from last year, as well as at some modern bicycles that emulate them, you will notice that they all have similar proportions to my custom mixte. Not a coincidence, because that is the look I was going for. The Rivendell Betty Foy, on the other hand, is a more contemporary take on the mixte and does not conform to this traditional design. Other modern framebuilders have taken a similar approach - playing with proportions to create their own versions.

Wheelbase 
"Wheelbase" is the distance between the center of the front and the rear wheel of a bicycle. But to get a more concrete idea of what that means, look at the space between the wheels. On my custom mixte (left) you can see that the wheels are fairly close together, while on the Betty Foy (right) there is an enormous amount of space between the wheels.

Another easy difference to spot is the length of the chainstays. The chainstays are those skinny tubes on the frame that run parallel to the ground along the rear wheel. If you look closely, on the Betty Foy these are considerably longer than on my mixte.

Angles
The angles of a frame are actually directly related to the wheelbase, but I am not going to go into this here and will discuss angles separately.

Even without measuring, you can see in the side by side pictures, that both the seat tube and the head tube on the Betty Foy are more relaxed (they lean further back) than on my custom mixte. The difference in angles is actually very small (1 degree difference in the seat tubes and 2 degree difference in the head tubes), which makes it all the more interesting that it is visually apparent. Even a small difference can be important.

Step-over height
Not related to any of the previous factors, but worth mentioning, is that the Betty Foy top tube is lower than my mixte's twin lateral stays. On the Betty this was achieved by virtue of not continuing the top tube in a straight line after the seat post, but angling it a bit. This angle produces a similar effect to creating a "swoop" or slight loop in the frame's top tube. It is still not as easy to step over as a step-through, but it is lower than other mixtes out there.

Ride quality
If you have managed to read this far and not fall asleep or close your browser window, you are probably wondering how these features affect ride quality. After all, it is useful to be able to look at a bike and have an idea of how it rides compared to other bikes.

Speaking very generally and summarily, bicycles with a longer wheelbase and more relaxed angles tend to feel more comfortable and stable, whereas bicycles with a shorter wheelbase and steeper angles tend to feel more aggressive and maneuverable. Of all these qualities, comfort is the most subjective - and also depends on other factors (such as tubing material and tires) that are independent of geometry. I would say that my custom mixte is equally comfortable to the Betty Foy - which means that the builder must have done something to enhance comfort despite the steeper angles and shorter wheelbase. As for the other factors, my mixte is indeed aggressive in comparison to Betty, with a ride quality that feels more "zesty." Both bicycles are fast and stable, but mine is quicker to accelerate and a tad more responsive, whereas Betty is more even-tempered.

Either of those qualities can be considered a virtue, depending on the cyclist's needs: A mixte like the Betty Foy is a better idea if you are looking for a relaxed, even-paced ride, whereas a mixte like mine will be more enjoyable if you want something more racy. And it helps to recognise which is which by looking at them.

25 comments:

  1. Thanks. I'd never really compared mixte design like this before.

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  2. Part of the reason the Betty Foy doesn't appeal to my bike aesthetic is that I want a mixte to "look" like a mixte, that is, with the twin lateral stays. I also prefer the look of a higher top tube. Nice breakdown of the functional differences between these frames.

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  3. Nice article.

    I'm wondering about the 58cm Betty. I may be mistaken, but in the photos it appears to me to be too large for you. I'm just curious how you went about choosing that size. I'm guessing you probably need the non-existent 55 and the 60 was the better of the two options?

    Thanks,
    Alan

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  4. Alan - It's interesting that both my pictures and Dottie's (of LGRAB) pictures/videos of her Betty have elicited a few comments that the bike is too big. But I would have chosen this size even if there was an in between size. It feels "just right" and I don't like to mess with that feeling. But then again, I prefer to ride the largest frame I can get away with, whereas others may not. Also, if you are basing your impression of the sizing on how little seatpost is showing, I should say that I could have raised the saddle another inch, but was too lazy to adjust it.

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  5. Nice and helpful.

    the more I hear the more I think Betty is actually my girl. hearts and apples or not. and at 5 feet the 52cm def fit well but "looked" big.

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  6. One of the reasons I have not taken the plunge with the Betty Foy is indecision about the sizing. I'm 5'2" with a PBH of 72cm and Rivendell advised that either the 47cm or the 52cm would be fine. I pressed a bit and Grant has helpfully advised that the 47cm would be best as the 52cm will leave hardly any seat post, which he thinks would look a bit strange. It's good to get some clarity but I really want the 650B tires so I can get the Grand Bois tires you and MDI love so much. I think they would be great for the kind of riding I have in mind. Thanks as always for all the great information.

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  7. Jennifer - with the 26" wheels you can get the Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. They are not quite as fat as the Grand Bois (35mm vs 40mm), but they are very fast and very cushy! Also keep in mind that the Grand Bois would have made the already slightly too big bike even bigger - since they would raise it off the ground more.

    Vee - Speaking solely for myself, I like the "big" look. My Gazelle is enormous and I have the saddle shoved all the way down. For some reason I enjoy big bikes, but everyone is different.

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  8. There is no _need_ to show "so many inches" of seat post, so long as you're not riding the seat tube itself. That's just nonsense, completely inapplicable to non-diamond-frames. I wish people would stop saying that.

    On diamond frames it's inevitable to show lots of seat post because if you can straddle the top tube, you'll need your saddle *much* higher because the pedal is higher than the ground. On loops/mixtes/step-throughs, there is no top tube, so you don't have to worry about this stuff and can pick a bigger/better fitting bike if you so desire. Don't ignore the ONE benefit of non-diamond-frames, which is no top-tube sizing conflicts! Meh!

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  9. Thank you Peppy! I was not sure how to explain this without turning it into a page-long treatise.

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  10. @Peppy

    There is (virtual) top tube length to consider, though. Modern bikes such as the Betty Foy get proportionally longer front-to-back as they get taller. So while top tube clearance may not be an issue on an oversized mixte, the excessive length front-to-back may be, particularly for individuals with long-ish legs and short-ish torsos. Of course, bars such as the Albatross at least partially mitigate for this issue, as do short-reach stems.

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  11. Thanks Velouria and Peppy. Instinctively I was actually leaning more towards the bigger size and I may just go with it. I used to have an aversion to bikes that seem too large but since gaining a bit of cycling experience, my greater fear is feeling too cramped. This is the feeling I have on my (small sized) Pashley and I don't want to get it wrong again.

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  12. Alan -For me, because of the Albatross bars and how high they are typically set, this is not a problem on the Betty. I actually have a very short torso (you can see it in the pictures) and the amount of stretching-out feels just right. But again this is something that is entirely rooted in personal preference.

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  13. Mixtes indeed are making a comeback. Just last week there was some publicity about a new internet-only Dutch manufacturer, Tulpfietsen (www.tulpfietsen.nl), which assembles rather simple bikes in Maastricht and has them adjusted by local technicians at the buyers' address. One of the models is a mixte based on what they call a pre-war Amsterdam model, with twin top stays (welded, I'm afraid - only their loop frames are lugged). Not much choice but the price is very reasonable.
    What is noticeable on the mixte is that its stance is rather aggressive. Details can be seen in the short video on the website, under "Over Tulpfietsen". It's all in Dutch but the pics and video are telling enough.

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  14. Oddly, a lot of vintage mixtes I encounter have steepish seat tube angles. I wonder if this is done partly because a relaxed bike would flex too much.

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  15. MDI - Why would a relaxed bike flex too much?

    I think the reason many vintage mixtes (from the 70s and early 80s) had steep angles, is because they were designed as female versions of road bikes, not as comfy touring or around town bikes. The fact that they came with drop bars and were matched to a male version of the same model pretty much makes that clear to me.

    Frits - Thanks for the link. Those are interesting, and a little strange-loking to me! The full chaincase that I am used to seeing on roadsters/ "Dutch" bikes looks a little out of place, and the angles do look very aggressive. The prices seem reasonable.

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  16. I have to say I have a soft spot for the twin side lateral Mixte frames. I recently rode a vintage Shogan lugged Mixte with the shifters near the head tube. It was the first time i ever rode a Mixte frame and it handled pretty well to my surprise. I'm still debating whether I should have purchased it. Love reading your reviews - thanks.

    SM

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  17. SM - I have never ridden a Japanese mixte (Shogun, Nishiki, Miyata), but as I understand it they were more relaxed then the French ones as they were built as touring bikes. I propose you get it and tell us how it handles : )

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  18. Yeah, I really see the major differences once you point them out. I love the big wheel-smaller frame look of your Royal H. I guess that is the classic French look you speak of. Gorgeous.

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  19. Enjoyed reading your post. Find it very interesting. Thanks for sharing it up. Great job.

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  20. I rode a couple of Japanese mixtes from Craigslist before deciding to buy a VO frame. I thought they were really comfortable, actually, way way more so than the Peugots I tried out. The ones I rode were in pretty bad condition and I wanted to build up my own bike rather than gradually replace faltering components. But I think they are a great and often super cute option. I had a red Univega mixte when I was 13 :)

    I think a lot of women's bikes, particularly those that are just a "ladies version" of a men's bike, are better suited to women with longer torsos.

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  21. neighbourtease - Exciting! Please-please consider emailing me a review of your VO mixe with some pictures, once you have it. I've just received a review from another owner, and would like to post a compilation of reader reviews in leu of my own ability to test-ride this bike.

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  22. I could not resist the frame when it went on sale and I would be happy to send photos and review. I would like to hear what the other owner says, too!

    I knew I would not keep the frame the color it currently is, but now I am seriously considering having it chromed instead of powder-coated. My husband keeps reminding me this was supposed to be more of a beater than my Retrovelo but I probably can't be stopped I think I might be clinically incapable of "beater."

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  23. Velouria, now you got my wheels turning. I haven't been able to get the Shogun mixte off my mind - it's in real good shape, a 10 speed. Seller said it belonged to his wife and that he estimates he purchased it in the 1980's. The bike will still need fenders, rack etc... He's willing to sell to me for $100.00, even though I offered slightly less from the original price of $125.00.
    But here's my dilemma, I'm also scheduled to pick up a 1960's Raleight LTD-3 this w/e, which from the photos that I saw (craig's list) looks to be in pretty good shape except for one of the fenders, which is slightly bent (looks like it can be fixed). Other than that the owner says it's in very good shape. I'm
    getting a super deal ($40.00). I plan to restore (using your recommendations from a previous
    blog). Look like it still has the original sturmey
    archer hub, so I'm curious to see how good a
    shape it's in. Will let you know what I decide.
    Your comments or recommendatios are
    welcome.

    SM

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  24. Anonymous: Funny you should mention $40. That's what I paid for a really nice double top tube Nishiki at a garage sale last summer. I shined/cleaned/fixed it up (new bottom bracket, freewheel, chain, cables, housing and a brass bell) and gave it to a friend as a surprise birthday present.
    She was thrilled, and I had fun with an easy bike project.
    The Nishiki's 27-inch wheels on a small frame make it look even more "compact" than Velouria's Royal H. Thanks for an excellent side-by-side comparison of two lovely mixtes of different pedigree.
    Hmmm. Maybe my wife should have a Betty with drop bars for her go-fast bike.

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  25. neighbourtease - You can also get it painted silver (I believe there is silver powdercoat as well), which will be less expensive and less risky (quality-wise). Can't wait to see the colour you choose!

    SM & MT cyclists - From my limited experience with Japanese mixtes, it seems that more of them exist with relaxed and comfortable geometry in comparison to, say, French mixtes. But that still doesn't mean that all Japanese mixtes are relaxed and comfortable - it depends on the model.

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