Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Domesticating the Transportation Bicycle?

[Bowery Lane bicycle, made in Brooklyn; image via bowerylanebicycles]

When a skirt-wearing woman is photographed astride a step-through bicycle, she is inevitably described as riding a "European bike." Transportation bicycles in North America are to a large extent synonymous with European bicycles, and the cause is understandable: Most classic bikes currently on the market are indeed imported from the EU. But ultimately, how good is this association for the fate of transportation cycling in North America? Tom Bowden taps into this idea in How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative, where he suggests to "refrain from gushing praise of European cycling culture, e.g. the Dutch, the Danes, or whoever. Conservatives are not inclined to emulate pre-colonial imperialist has-beens - at least not consciously." Funny, but true. And in my view not limited to conservatives. The US "as a whole" (inasmuch as there can be such a thing) prefers to be a cultural trendsetter, not a follower. Is it realistic to believe that bicycles are immune to that? 

[vintage Schwinn, made in Chicago; image via eva.lu]

A separate issue is that of cultural affiliation. Does a European bicycle really mean anything to the majority of the North American population? Are images of Amsterdam, romantic as they may be, really of personal significance? I don't see how they could be. Images of a glowing midwestern girl riding a '50s Schwinn through the noisy streets of Chicago, or a carefree Californian on a beach cruiser, are likely to be more relatable. And that brings me to yet another point: the US has its own upright bicycle manufacturing tradition. From Victor Bicycles and Iver Johnson in Boston, to Worksman Cycles in New York and the aforementioned Schwinn in Chicago, the history is there and the cultural associations are there. Can new American manufacturers emerge from these historical roots?

[ANT basket bike; made in Holliston, MA]

Please don't misunderstand: Obviously, I love European bicycles. English Roadsters, Dutch bikes, French mixtes, Italian city bikes - I am crazy about them all. But in addition, it would be exciting to see the US revamp its own distinct cultural specimen. To some extent, Mike Flanigan of ANT does this nicely - but he is a custom framebuilder and not a manufacturer. Perhaps over time, someone will step up to the plate and we shall see the classic (lady's!) transportation bicycle domesticated.

59 comments:

  1. One thing we really need to do is stop using the term "ladies bicycles." I just say "loop frame" or "step-through" frame and explain what that means if asked. We can leave out the "in Europe men ride these" part. There is hope; my son actually likes mixte frames and knew without me telling him that they are not "girl's bicycles." My husband likes them too, but he is English.

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  2. Lynne - I sorta disagree and think it's mostly a matter of opinion. Also, having lived in many European countries, I'd say that the "in Europe they are unisex" rhetoric is exaggerated. In the parts of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, England and even France I have been, step-throughs are most definitely considered women's bikes. Personally I like the idea of bikes designed for a woman (it's not just the step-through you know, but different proportions of the frame to accommodate the shorter torso) and do not have a problem with referring to the bikes as such. Of course if your opinion differs, that is fine too!

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  3. PS: Oh, and it's quicker to write "lady's bike" than "a bicycle which accommodates women who wear skirts and find diamond frames inconvenient" : )

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  4. Here in the UK we have a similar problem, most people who saw an English Roadster would identify it as a "Dutch bike." Despite the fact that we are a part of Europe and the EU, there is a strong anti-European sentiment amongst a significant section of the population, especially those on the right of the political spectrum.

    The odd thing is that going back to our parents and grandparents generation, both here and in the USA and these kinds of bicycles were much more widespread (The UK's modal share for cycling was huge in the 1950s and now stands around 1%) and the idea of cycling as transport was perfectly natural to most people. I think it can be helpful to exploit the European connection (especially for those who are more left-leaning), and a proud domestic history of these sorts of bikes (especially for those who are more right-leaning).

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  5. Have you checked out Kona transport bikes? I'm thinking of the AfricaBike or a UTE as a possible trade up from my current Giant. They aren't lugged, but they are inexpensive and widely available.

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  6. Love the post (and the pic on top). Keep an eye out for us this year. We have a lot of things going on and we are going to merge Classic Americana with style. It is going to be a fun year!

    Bowery Lane Bicycles Crew

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  7. I think there is something to the idea that Americans have a hard time relating to "european bikes" and accepting them for what they are and what they perhaps represent.

    Think about it, early settlers to America fled Europe to get away from English Imperialsits and to create their own "free" society (simplifying, I know). Funny how we always turn into our parents - the irony is painful!

    Anyway, I think America will have a very hard time creating their own homegrown version of the "european bike" for one other reason - car culture.

    Car culture views bikes are toys or transport for the poor. Car culture is integral to suburban sprawl. Car culture overwhelms absolutely everything in your society. I have a hard time imagining a majority of Americans choosing bikes anytime soon. I think a more realistic expectation is that a minority of urban dwellers will see the ulitity possibilities of bikes - once gasoline gets too expensive to drive everywhere and forces people to sell their precious cars.

    Re: ladies bike or loop frame or step through - we prefer the term stepthrough because men have been buying ST bikes from us. Step throughs are great for anyone who has trouble lifting their leg over the toptube - especially with loaded panniers.

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  8. @Erin

    I used to have one, It is generally great but has limitations of you regularly want to do more than about 20 miles on it in a day

    Review

    Follow-up

    I should add that I bought it as a "One" and converted it to be equivalent to the "Three," so I effectively have experience of both bikes.

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  9. I don't see this as an issue of European (Taiwanese) /American (Taiwanese) brand bicycles Nor do I see it as a conservative/liberal issue. It's a matter of bang for the buck--follow the money. If folks are to be convinced to get out on the road, they need to be encouraged to upgrade their good old mountain bikes, city, touring, whatever bikes for transport. If they don't own a bike, you have a good list of economy options for them to consider as transport bikes. I think most folks who go shopping on a limited budget will be looking for a bike that serves them in more than more than one capacity, e.g.,transport, touring, family rides. To encourage folks to commute on cycles, we need to remember that for most, if it's not easy; it's impossible

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  10. On the transportation side of things I have seen a lot of American ingenuity. For example:
    Breezer Citizen, Villager, and Uptown; Civia Loring; the Burley Travoy trailer (that lets non-utility bikes transform into temporary utility bikes), and the Zigo convertible baby carrier/cargo bike. The latter was prominently diplayed a few months back in the window of Isis Maternity in Arlington.

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  11. Quite by accident my favorite bike has become a 1972 Schwinn Collegiate 5-speed. While I love British roadsters and Dutch bikes, I find the Americanized geometry of the Collegiate near perfection (70 degree ST & HT). The drawback of the Collegiate is the Schwinn S6 wheels.
    A modern version with a lighter frame would be ideal.

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  12. Interesting. I have to agree with "refrain from gushing praise of European cycling culture", or, I'd say any type European culture be it cycling or Medical care or views on cigarettes or tiny cars or global... Not that they are bad or wrong just that I have No interest in trying to be European. So, holding up European as being something I should strive for won't work with me. I will stop now and post no more on this issue.

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  13. My Chicago made "Dutch" 3 speed DF bike is sitting here across the room from me, so I rode my Little Falls, NY made single speed step through to the shop this morning. I've got one made in Allentown as well, lovely little swan's neck, and I'm looking at a straight bar from the same maker.

    I don't have no torso issues while riding them.

    I may break down and start collecting a bit, just because someone needs to start appreciating America's own "crappy" utility bikes. We made them by the gazillions (the Ross factory once ran 24/7 for three years) and many of them are still around; unloved and unused.

    While many of these bikes are quintessentially American, many of them wear a bit of their English heritage on their sleeves. The Chicago bike is a sportster with a Sturmey-Archer hub. The Allentown bike has EA3 tires. Hell, my Huffy is English if it comes to that.

    When America lost its way in making adult city bikes, it turned to England to find it again.

    The English talking about their "Dutch" bikes drives me nuts. Where do they think the Dutch bought their first bikes from? The bloody things were invented in Devon. The Gazelle roadster was made under license from Raleigh. Have a look into your own potting sheds and recover your own history instead of leaving it to the Anglophilic Yanks while you rush off to become Dutch.

    "Can new American manufacturers emerge from these historical roots?"

    No. It has nothing to do with car culture. It's all about money. I have a quintessentially American cruiser in the room with me as well. It was made in China. Huffy was the last of the old mass manufacturers left standing, and even they succumbed to importing. Even Worksman which still has an American factory is selling Chinese cantilevers.

    I could provide Americans with "American" bikes (which I have noted previously are good enough for the Dutch to ride), but they would be made in Taiwan or China. You cannot lose money on every unit and make it up in volume.

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  14. As I see it the single biggest road block to transportation bicycles is that Americans still see bicycles as toys.

    One must admit that even you ,Velouria, use your bicycles as adult toys in addition to the bland transportation aspect of your bikes. All riders do. I'll hazard a guess that since millions of Europeans have to ride bikes to get around they view bikes much less than toys.

    That said, until bikes become a necessary method of transportation the toy label will be the guiding force for all American bicycles.

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  15. There are several elderly men in my area that I see on step through bikes. I prefer that term personally as I know at some point in the future(distant)I may be unable to lift my leg over my DL1 and will need a "step through" as opposed to me buying a "ladies bike"!

    US bicycle sales follow fads and with the rising of commuting on bicycle being the new growing fad, perhaps we will see more traditionally flavored bicycles. I have a feeling though that the mountain bike craze will have affected any attempts and there will be growing pains.

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  16. @Erin: I *LOVE* the Kona Africabike. It's dirt cheap and a great city bike. Throw some battery-powered lights on one and you are good to go. The coaster brake is a deal-breaker for me, but many people like them. I really think it needs a mention on the "Budget Options" page.

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  17. I think America had its own version of the utilitarian bicycle and it was Schwinn. Back in the 60's and 70's, it was the Brady Bunch style, made in Chicago (and then Taiwan), Schwinn. The Continental, the Varsity, just to name a couple of their models, were very utilitarian and transportation oriented. My first bicycle in the 70's bought in America when I was about 7 and was a red Schwinn with fenders and "ladies frame". Other than the banana seat bicycles, those were the standard bicycles everyone seemed to be using. Then came the big "mountain bike" craze and the "freestyle" BMX bike craze that boys went through. Having a younger brother, I distinctly remember noticing these changes. I personally think that Americans really like their Schwinns, just like the British like their Raleighs, the French like their Peugeots, and the Italians their Bianchis. They are nationally distinct brands. Americans are more apt to go hook line and sinker back into bicycles when Schwinn pushes it. Many of my American friends who are not into the "bicycle-know" like many of us here don't even know what a Batavus is. But they know what a Schwinn is. :-)

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  18. Clever Cycles has talked about this on their blog at some point as well - they would love to be selling bikes from local Portland builders, or at least someone in the U.S., but almost all the practical city bikes in the U.S. are made by one-person (or several-person) shops and they just can't produce any kind of volume (which is good in some ways, and bad in others). Most of the frame builders in Portland I think have about a year-long waiting list for new bikes.

    I think in terms of perception, Portland is kind of split. There is even some general awareness of European city design I think (outside of the transportation community), and I think certain parts of the population really favor that - small streets, low speed limits, focus on average speed over top speed, well-designed infrastructure. But there is definitely a notable segment of the population (overlapping into the group of people who ride bikes) who seem to get angry at the mere mention of Amsterdam or Copenhagen or whatever, and who view slowing down as reverse progress. We'll see how that develops in the future.

    If anyone from a U.S. bicycle manufacturer is reading this, could you please make bikes that have lugged steel frames, 3-speed internal gears, hub brakes, dynamo lights (front and rear) and a real full chaincase (not like the cheesy, horribly-engineered partial one on the Electra Amsterdam)? This is exactly what I want from a bike, but I don't know of a single U.S. made bike that fits the description.

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  19. I imagine your post was mainly intended as entertainment, but even so I can't say I see this as a conservative/liberal thing either- particularly as the most conservative people I know personally are all from Europe and thus have very European aesthetic sensibilities. Anecdotal evidence at best, to be certain, but it hasn't been my experience that the average person's emotional response to an aesthetic has anything to do with political philosophy. For one thing, they would have to know the socio-political history of the aesthetic in question, and the vast majority of people don't. If anything is keeping our steel framed lovelies from catching on in the states I think it is the perception of speed. Americans move FAST. They have deadlines. They are stretched to the limit. If the average American is going to consider transport cycling, they are going to choose what they think will be fastest and lightest, particularly when most chain bike stores tell customers that lighter means a better bike.

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  20. @lynne: i like the term "step-through," too. it's more descriptive and less likely to be dismissed. and then i can talk about how they're good for older people, newer riders or people w/ mobility problems, not just ladies wearing skirts! even if i am a lady who wears skirts, which i am. :)

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  21. Although the number of us No.American "bike bloggers" are few we are all, in our own way, marketing bike culture to our readers. I agree with you statement that "images of a glowing midwestern girl riding a '50s Schwinn through the noisy streets of Chicago, or a carefree Californian on a beach cruiser, are likely to be more relatable"

    I live behind the "Orange Curtain" err the Conservative hot bed of California. I notice that the moment I start to describe the utopian bike cultures I've experienced of different European countries the conversation takes hard right and I'm accused of having my head in the clouds or not having a realistic view of American culture. It's a little disheartening but also forces me to be more creative in how I market bike culture on my blog.

    If America as a whole is not ready or willing to embrace bike culture as it exists in many European countries we really need to figure out what it is we want and how we are going to get it. It's not enough to sit and scoff at the European way of doing things. That will not foster and progress and we'll just be sitting [presumably in traffic} till the end of time.

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  22. "Even as a child, I had the habit of wandering, of exploring - in a way that was driven not so much by curiosity or desire to conquer, but by what I can only describe as an emotional response to the act of moving through natural space."

    Sigh...

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  23. @ Mr Colostomy
    Thanks for the review. That helps alot. I think I'm having the same posture problems on my current bike. I want a step through that is upright enough to save my back and yet zippy enough to pull my toddler trailer. And that is with in budget for a single income family of five.

    It is a difficult combination to master....

    Sigh.... Dreaming about winning the lottery so I could get one of those custom built Bella Ciaos. Unfortunately, a lottery win is the only way it is going to happen ;)

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  24. Bowery Lane Bicycles - Thanks for stopping by, and that's intriguing news. My request: lugs please.

    eva.lu said...
    "I live behind the "Orange Curtain" err the Conservative hot bed of California. I notice that the moment I start to describe the utopian bike cultures I've experienced of different European countries the conversation takes hard right and I'm accused of having my head in the clouds or not having a realistic view of American culture. "

    That pretty much echoes my experience in New England. Mentioning "how it's done in Europe" inevitably gets turned around as a reason why bikes can't work in the US: "Oh Europe, I see. Well, their streets are different and the people are different. It will never work here."

    gl. said...
    @lynne: i like the term "step-through," too. it's more descriptive and less likely to be dismissed.


    Ah but you see, I want to get to the point where the term "lady's bike" or "woman's bike" is in itself not dismissed. I don't like the fact that these terms are likely to be dismissed, and that even many women are apparently embarrassed by the terminology. Also, once again, consider that a woman's bike often refers not only to the top tube, but to women's specific geometry...

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  25. "Does a European bicycle really mean anything to the majority of the North American population? "

    I don't think that it does. It seems to me that for the majority of Americans who don't already ride (and maybe even for the majority who do), that a bicycle is a bicycle is a bicycle, you know?

    BikeBike said "Car culture views bikes are toys or transport for the poor. Car culture is integral to suburban sprawl. Car culture overwhelms absolutely everything in your society. I have a hard time imagining a majority of Americans choosing bikes anytime soon. I think a more realistic expectation is that a minority of urban dwellers will see the ulitity possibilities of bikes - once gasoline gets too expensive to drive everywhere and forces people to sell their precious cars."

    I think that pretty much sums it up for the majority of the country. I don't think that it's necessarily because we are a "car culture", but that just logistically speaking the car is the best tool for the job for most people in most areas of the country. Now, like BikeBike said, some people in urban areas might find the bicycle as an attractive solution for their transportation needs be it due to the cost of fuel or just wanting to make a change for their own good or what have you. I think that gasoline is going to have to get quite a lot more expensive here before people give up on cars, even in urban areas where the bicycle could be a practicable form of transportation.

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  26. "That pretty much echoes my experience in New England. Mentioning "how it's done in Europe" inevitably gets turned around as a reason why bikes can't work in the US: "Oh Europe, I see. Well, their streets are different and the people are different. It will never work here."

    That's funny, because here in TN I've had many locals tell ME about how it is in Europe and how if they could do that here they would. This being a mostly conservative area. Strange how that differs around the country.

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  27. @Erin - You might want to consider keeping your eye on CL for a Ross Eurotour. They're basically a Lady Sports knockoff with an American one piece crank.

    As Ross does not have the brand cache of Schwinn or Raleigh they can often be had in ridable condition for as little as $25; at least outside of Portland.

    No Frascona Curve I'm afraid.

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  28. This question as to rather European men ride "ladies" bikes has come up recently on other bike blogs and I have been sort of keeping my eyes open and trying to notice. I must say that up here in Finland I can't see ANY pattern: a lot of men ride ladies bikes and a lot of women ride diamond frames.

    How about this image: an athletic young man with short hair who has obviously been working out to look at his shoulders and chest, in a sports jersey, riding a huge light blue swan frame with a skirt guard through the middle of town!

    Or just this morning I was talking to a man about 50 who was very proud of his cream colored swan frame made in 1952 (with skirt guard) that belonged to his mother.

    There is a woman here who rides a light weight Peugeot road bike made in 1987 (diamond frame). We have friendly commuting races from time to time. I ride a Crescent racer/road bike made in '66. It's an even match because while being a man, I am 25 years older.

    This is Finland after all. We have a women as both president and prime minister right now and the parliment in 40% women. This was the first country in the world where women gained the right to vote. There are womens questions here, serious ones, but I think that gender specific bikes is a rather trivial question.

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  29. I think Velouria makes a good point. People have their preconceived notions about things and places, and they sometimes it's hard to get beyond it. For instance, if you try to talk to someone who's culturally conservative about biking in Amsterdam, and all that person knows about Amsterdam is legalized pot and prostitution, well, there's a bit of a roadblock there!

    As for Worksman/made in the USA, as far as I know all Worksman branded bikes are American made, the ones they import are sold under a different name.

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  30. I think one of the things we forget about all our cycling cultures is that we expect one bike to do all our jobs. We only want, or can afford to buy, one bike and so the manufacturers have geared their offerings toward that. In the main, we now have generic bicycles with no soul from huge conglomerates who have no interest other than selling as many as they can and making them as cheaply as possible. There is very lttle room for the purpose-built or built for purpose bicycle, in whatever form that might take. And let's not forget that the bicycles we lust after on these pages are more expensive than the average family can afford, especially if there are a few family members. And also, most families spend their money on more cars to do mores specific jobs and so the priority is transportation by car, not investment in infrastructure and transportation by bicycle.

    Other than in Continental Europe, the bicycle is still a niche object, for odd sunny days, not for living and so we don't want to spend much money on one.

    Valouria,

    I agree with you about the term 'lady's bike'. It's such a shame that women still do not want to identify with something that may be thought of a somehow 'less' by men.
    Are we still too concerned with what men think rather than concentrating on what works for us and demanding to be taken seriously in the market. If we, ourselves, dismiss women's bikes then we'll never get the relaxed geometry we need for shorter torsos and comfortable road bikes.

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  31. @Amy, that is really interesting about Tennessee. And makes perfect sense to me, actually, when I think about it for a sec.

    @kfg, The Ross Eurotour is one of the bikes I see most in my neighborhood. Just tons and tons of them. I have considered getting out my angle grinder to liberate one I have seen abandoned for two years on the street around the corner for me. But I keep feeling like its owner will show up when she's back from rehab or trustfunded Eurotour or whatevs.

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  32. "women still do not want to identify with something that may be thought of a somehow 'less' by men."

    In terms of step through frames I am not thinking of them as somehow less, I am thinking of them as fully equal and fully human.

    A woman's bike is something else, although I know plenty of women who couldn't ride one. Don't think of women with "short" legs as being something "less" either. There may be a lot more of them than you realize. A lot more.

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  33. Other than in Continental Europe, the bicycle is still a niche object, for odd sunny days, not for living and so we don't want to spend much money on one.

    What about Asia?!

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  34. Speaking of gender neutrality, a third gender has just been officially recognised in Nepal!

    On a separate note, I have never ridden a Schwinn...

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  35. Most the people who come up to talk to me about my bike (Retrovelo Paula) are older men with a vintage Schwinn obsession. There is a subspecies of this group who are downright fetishistic and want to know everything about my bike because they recognize its crazy combination of references. It's interesting and appealing to the Euro-American mutt in me that young German bike guys were the ones to rediscover and re-imagine (for their urban European market) the incredible mid-century American industrial design that was Schwinn.

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  36. Neighbortease - "Retrovelo Paula"

    Dang! Those look good in red. Maybe my "mom" (who actually has something of a vintage Schwinn obsession) needs one.

    Sausend - http://tinyurl.com/63cu373

    Velouria - "I have never ridden a Schwinn"

    Well then it's about bloody time, innit?

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  37. P.S. The Retrovelo is actually a classic German design rediscovered. The original Schwinn balloon tire bikes had tires imported from Germany on them. Schwinn himself was a German immigrant and a bicycle maker before he came to Chicago.

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  38. Re: bicycle nomenclature: I think that the terms/concepts of ladies'/men's bikes is devisive at its core, and potentially insensitive to those of us riding a frame that is "wrong" for our gender. The "WSG/WSD" terms make me a little more comfortable, but I think that as long as we are all buying bikes, they will keep making bikes for all of us, in terms of fit and preference. (Sure, market forces come into play and limit this somewhat, but that's not really an issue when we're merely discussing gender.)

    I think that the central premise of this post is that we need to create an endemic US cycling culture, which I think we have, but we persist in referencing europe while trying to explain our position. I agree that the "europe does it" argument has limited appeal to ppl who aren't already kind of into cycling and/or europe.

    But, what I really wanna say here, after reading at least 2 ppl deny that transportation cycling in the US is a left vs right thing, is this: I know very few conservatives (in the republican sense of the term) who commute by bike. The few I do know live in center city phila, where it's pretty stupid to NOT commute by bike. I realize that there's a lot of danger in generalizing too much, but do yourself a favor: take an informal poll of the cyclists you know, and see where they fall on the socio-political spectrum.

    Republican who ride? Sure, there's tons. GWB is one glowing example, but he rides trails for fun. Republicans who regularly ride to work? I'd like to hear from a few of them.

    -rob

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  39. PS- Worksman does sell chinese-produced bikes under the marque "atlantic coast". Velouria, the bowery bikes are already lugged, but they're not the lugs favored by y'all "elegant" types. I feel fairly certain that worksman is making the bowery frames, too. They're selling virtually identical bikes under the model name "NYC Dutchie Commuter."

    My new year's resolution is to buy a worksman this year; i just have to decide between the LGB and the m2600. Really, we need to start supporting domestic manufacturers, beyond the folks who get @$1500-$2000 for a frameset.

    -rob

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  40. Worksman has their new Dutchie model which comes with a 1, 3 or 7 speed IGH drivetrain, coaster rear brake, optional drum front brake, and a lugged steel US built frame.

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  41. "chinese-produced bikes under the marque "atlantic coast"."

    A Pacific for the rest of us.

    "I feel fairly certain that worksman is making the bowery frames"

    The giveaway is how long the company has been in business and how long the builder has been in business. Bowery is a trading company, not a maker. Still a decent looking bike, if a bit pricier than repainting a Eurotour.

    Oh, and I'll stand up for the "home team" (in a perhaps left handed sort of way) by pointing out that European roadsters are not exactly noted for having particularly foo foo lug work. They're basic. They're black. They're made out of "gaspipe," and if they're English in a sweatshop largely employing overworked, underpaid third class immigrant workers.

    It's mostly just the decals that are ivy covered.

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  42. I like "rugged" lugwork on transportation bicycles, so I am all for it. And you have a point about the production practices in English factories in the olden times. Pretty sure that's not the case with today's Pashley though!

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  43. Erin said...
    Have you checked out Kona transport bikes?


    Thanks, I've added it to the Budget Options page. I have never seen one of these in person, but it looks like a good option.

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  44. A big deal is often made about how Raleigh workers rode Raleighs to work. That's because they didn't make enough to by a Ford Anglia, even on time. (Side note; they rode sportsters, not roadsters. Roadsters were for farmers, postmen and . . . the upper classes who had cars to travel any distance in)

    "Pretty sure that's not the case with today's Pashley though!"

    Which brings us back to how the issue of starting up a modern Schwinn, Ross, Columbia is about money. Utility bikes for the masses are about solid dependability at a reasonable price. We may "need" good $200 bikes, but somebody's kids have to be Morlocks for that to happen.

    An American manufacturer would have one advantage over the Asian though. The Asian bikes have to be ordered in one big lot months in advance. A streamlined American outfit could produce on demand.

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  45. Velouria: I agree that certain bikes should be labelled as "ladies'," "women's" or, if you want to be politically correct, "female specific" or "female-oriented." A bike designed for women is not just a matter of how low its top tube goes. It also has to do with other design characteristics such as shorter top tubes (as women tend to have shorter torsos) and shorter-reach handlebars.

    Of course, not all women would want or need the features I've described. But I think that they have more to do with what makes a bike more suitable to one gender or another than whether the frame is a loop, mixte or other variety.

    As for the political part of this discussion: It amazes me that some so-called conservatives talk as if cyclists are robbing them of their right to drive as big a car as fast as they'd like. Yet they're the same people who complain loudest about the price of gasoline. (Never mind that we still pay less than half of what Europeans pay for their petrol!) One would think that they'd see that more cyclists would lead to less dependence on foreign oil, which in turn would bring prices down.

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  46. Here is a pic of the Worksman Dutchie. If you look closely you can see the lugs.

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  47. Amy said:

    "I don't think that it's necessarily because we are a "car culture", but that just logistically speaking the car is the best tool for the job for most people in most areas of the country."

    Amy, I think that
    the car is the best tool for the job
    in the USA because of the car culture which designs towns and cities to cater for cars, and people thus lead lives that require a car.

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  48. Bob - I like the one-piece crank! Why are the fenders so short.

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  49. Interesting post! I can draw parallels to other things I like, and find when Americans make a domesticated version, that is, on a cultural level, as in art/design. One can easily see the recemblance of a European area that is in favor atm. In the first part of last century hunting rifles, when hand made in the USA looked Teutonic. And indeed, many makers were native to that area, but the whole industry preferd "german stuff". Now its mostly British influences that shows through.

    The Beach cruiser looks alot like some French bikes of old. But I do agree, its a good reference to point too if you want to show what Americana looks like. It´s a very good design.

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  50. I have found the Ashtabula 1-pc cranks to be the key to the longevity of the drivetrains on my Chicago Schwinns. I can overhaul one in about 15 minutes — with the only cost being that of the grease. The American steel chainrings seem to last forever. In contrast, some entry level transportation bikes will require new "cartridge" bottom brackets in relatively short order.

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  51. i don:t have time to read through all the comments, but after reading this post, I wonder if you:ve considered public bikes? They may be the closest modern approximation to a classically styled american machine. and there are models for ladies and gents. Of course, public bikes aren:t made in the US, but due to economics only the handbuilts are these days.

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  52. rob - If you buy a Worksman, please post pictures. Not sure whether I have ever seen one in person - though I may have, and not known it.

    Re politics, I for one am happy not to know whether the people I see riding bikes are republican or democrat. I feel that the distinction is in many ways unhelpful and forced anyhow.

    The male/female biological distinction, on the other hand, is real and has real implications for frame construction. I disagree that it is "divisive" or "insensitive" to refer to bicycles as men's or women's. I use the terms "step through" and "lady's bike" not interchangeably, but to signify what I mean. Step through describes a step through construction. Lady's or woman's bike, describes the idea that the bike is especially suitable for women.

    Justine - Do conservatives really talk about cyclists robbing them of the right to drive big and fast cars? I read this a lot on cycling websites, but have never actually experienced that kind of attitude from conservatives themselves.

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  53. Few thoughts-

    I'll post pics of any worksman i get on BF; they have an old LGB at Trophy bikes in Phila, and an ice cream cart at a coldstone near me. I'm sold, least enough to give it a try.

    i'm aware of the anatomical differences between men and women, but as I'm sure we're all aware, these are not universal. Should a leggy guy but a wsd road bike, for it's shorter toptube? Then, he's gotta ride around on a bike with pink or teal highlights and "wsd" on the frame. Similarly, should a woman with a long torso buy a "man's" bike? The problem w/bikes, from a gender issues standpoint, is that the whole thing has been aimed at men for so long, and even the prevalent geometry was primarily designed for typical male physiology for so long. More so than separate labels for different bikes, we need more options and more education for riders of all body types. (Especially given that many manufacturers don't even alter frame geo; they give the bike a shorter stem, a lady's saddle, narrow bars, and a barbie paint job to create "WSD" bikes.)

    Ppl do actually act like cyclists are eroding their right to fuel consumption, but I can't say for sure that these folks are entirely conservative. I do consider that to be a conservative point of view, though. On the flip, my wife's conservative uncle applauds cyclo-commuting under the "more gas for ME" POV; he himself rides his roadbike alot in-season, but never to work.

    -rob

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  54. I loved the article, Velouria. I've always been one to wonder whether one can be a member of the cycling "culture" without accepting the politics that often go along with it. Around here, people who are active in cycling advocacy groups overwhelmingly tend to be of one political persuasion and I've noticed that there is a working assumption that this is normal because people of the other persuasion are simply not interested in cycling/conservation/health/the environment.

    The tendency, therefore, is for my cycling friends to assume that just because I share their love for all things bicycle-related, I also vote the same way they do. Sadly, I see a little bit of that attitude reflected in the comments here. Until we can see past political name-calling, how can we really see the cycling culture as something that is open and friendly to everyone? If we give with one hand by saying that we're making cycling available to all, aren't we taking with the other by then name-calling and saying, for example, that conservatives are hostile to cyclists etc? Doesn't that, in itself, create a rather hostile environment for someone interested in cycling?

    After all, just because I don't agree with someone on political matters or vote the way they do doesn't mean we can't both appreciate the joy of riding a bike.

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  55. MFarrington--I certainly agree that cyclist usually assume that other cyclists share their hatred of all things car and also have similar global political views. That's true, although it may become less true if cycling grows more popular. After all their stereotype is reinforced with experience. But where do you see name calling in this thread?

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  56. MFarrington - Can one be a member of the cycling "culture" without accepting politics that often go along with it? Probably not. But who cares? Maybe you don't have to be part of any "culture."

    It took me a while to gain confidence and realize that I don't have to conform to any sub-culture to ride my bike. You can just ride a bike as an individual and interact with other cyclists on your own terms.

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  57. Bob B - I often daydream about one-piece cranks. Sigh. :) Why, oh why can't I have them on my bikes? Why? It would make life so much easier. God bless Mike Flanagan for having the vision to make them standard on his bikes.

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  58. I think it has less to do with "conservatives" , "liberals" etc, but yes, there are drivers who hate bicyclists with a rare enthusiasm. There are plenty of people who would literally like to murder a bicyclist for "hogging the road" and making them be attendant motorists for a minute. Their cheeseburger or cell phone call is worth more than your life, to these arrogant "real road users" and they hate cyclists (call riders "bike fags") just for making them think for a moment about working out or scaling down their lifestyle. They want you (cyclist) to pay higher taxes, forced insurance purchases, and registration fees yearly, for the "privilege" of bicycling that one already has, if one will simply pedal. They don't think that most of the cyclists they encounter are over-taxed under paid motorists like themselves, who are simply on a bike at the time.

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  59. Lyen, because 1 piece cranks are typically heavy, with unshielded bearings, and seen as cheap crap even among shoppers buying cheap crap. I had a cheap crap road bike that I put a 180mm BMX crank on, though, with toe-clips, and it was a MONSTER. I loved it, riding everywhere mashing the 5 speeds with a vengeance.

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