Monday, April 18, 2011

Intrigued by the Pedersen

While most of the time my reactions to bicycles are love or hate at first sight, my interest in the Pedersen developed slowly. I do not even remember the first time I saw one. It's sort of always been there, in a distant corner of my awareness - a lovely absurdity that I categorised somewhere in the realm of antique bicycle designs that have no place in practical, everyday cycling.

That began to change, as I watched my friend Wolfgang casually roll up on a Pedersen one summer day in Vienna last year. I knew that he had one in his collection. I just didn't know that he actively rode it, or even that it could be ridden in the same manner as a regular bicycle - in traffic, at commuting speed. Turns out I knew nothing at all about these machines. Still produced in Europe and even imported in the US, the Pedersen is a Danish design that, its proponents boast, is the most comfortable bicycle in existence.

The multiple-stay frame construction provides suspension. The hammock saddle, even more so. The result is an upright, cushy ride, that Pedersen enthusiasts describe as downright regal in comparison to standard bicycles. Wolfgang's bike was too tall for me to ride, so I cannot say whether I agree. But I find myself wondering more and more and would very much like to try one.

Though I do not remember the first time I saw a Pedersen, I do remember the last time: a couple of weeks ago in the garage of the office building where the Co-Habitant works. Yes, someone who works in his building commutes on a Pedersen and leaves it locked up with all the other bikes. I suppose they are all used to seeing it there by now and no longer process it as anything out of the ordinary, but I was terribly excited to discover it. And it seemed to be in my size. Perhaps I should leave a note...

If you are curious to know more about Pedersen bicyles, there is a history page here, and a great article in Bicycling Magazine by Florence Williams about hunting for one in Copenhagen. Feedback from owners is, of course, most welcome: Are they feasible as commuter bikes? How on Earth do you mount and dismount them?

48 comments:

  1. Hi there. I have trouble posting comments, so if this works, I'll be right back to tell you about my limited experience riding a Pedersen.

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  2. This brand of bike is strange. Very strange.........

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  3. Holly - Looks like it works!

    Walt - Strange how?..

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  4. It's hard to get a sense of this bike until you see someone ride one. I was out on a vintage group ride when we got to the coffee shop where we take a break and one was parked out front. The geometry and proportions are all so different from a "normal" bike that I could not tell what size person it would fit. I was in line getting my 11-sies, when I saw a guy get on the bike and ride away. Then it made sense. Still photos, or even just seeing one locked up, make it look weird. Seeing someone ON one, and my gestalt of bicycles completely changed. That's a worthwhile experience in itself.

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  5. I sure would like to ride one -- the structure is fascinating. I've found myself drawing and re-drawing them, trying to get a feel for how it all fits together. If only there was someplace nearby that had them for sale!

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  6. Okay. I think I just needed to move to another browser. (Strange, but most blogs that have this type of blogspot commenting system don't work for me in the version of Firefox I use.)

    So--I like Pedersen bikes! My friend who spent a year in Denmark bought one and brought it home to Wisconsin. I was so fortunate to spend time on that bike. He wasn't much of a rider, but he sure is a showman, so the bike's weirdities and quirky style really appealed to him. It seems to be a proud home display bike for him these days, if you know what I mean. ( I write that with some measure of crabbiness because that bike needs a rider!) Anyway, it seems you can't ride down the street in a small town and expect people not to comment on the Pedersen.

    I rode his bike on a lot of errand type/social jaunts in Green Bay, WI. It was awesome! Like you, at first I wondered how I'd get on and off the thing. It's really not that hard. You just push off and swing your leg over and the bike just sort "rights" itself. Same thing with the dismount. You can just dump yourself off as you would if you had a frame that was even slightly too large. (The road bike I ride now is a bit large for me so it seems the Pedersen was good training.) The suspension cable/thingie that's the "top tube" is a perfect thing because it doesn't really harm your "lady bits" if you dump off a bit ungracefully. I'm sure I did this a lot at first. The strange sling like saddle is really cool, too. It's utterly comfy without having that sprung comfort cushion-y saddle feeling that a lot of cruiser / city-ish bike have. (I HATE those puffy saddles!)

    The ride is delightful! It's so smooth and stately. It made me feel like I should do a parade wave at passersby, but as much as it's a sweet cruise-like, comfy ride, it can also barrel rather speedily if that's your wont. I think if you didn't mind figuring out how to outfit it for carrying stuff, it'd be a super commuter. I am not so sure it's right for skirt wearers, but I suspect someone could make it work. Really, though, it's nothing like I've ever ridden since and I do miss it.

    I'm glad you posted this. The Pedersen has been on my mind since Bicycling magazine did a little feature on the bike. At the time, I was reminded of all the fun little trips I made on that thing. It really is a charmer.

    Thanks for taking me down Memory Lane again, Velouria.

    http://www.bicycling.com/news/featured-stories/strange-and-not-unpleasant-experience?page=0,1

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  7. Peppy (the amazing avant-garde cat)April 18, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    I ride a suspended 650b unicycle with a bottle dynamo, lowrider panniers, Nitto lugged seatpost and Brooks Swallow. So annoying that I'm forced to buy Honjo fenders in pairs.

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  8. Holly said...
    "...at first I wondered how I'd get on and off the thing. It's really not that hard. You just push off and swing your leg over and the bike just sort "rights" itself. "


    Oh, is that all! : )
    But seriously, I couldn't mount a bike that way if my life depended on it. I wonder if there is any way to lean it and stand over it first.

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  9. "Velouria said...
    Walt - Strange how?.."

    The frame and the "saddle" are the strangest features of this brand.

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  10. Michael Kemper also still makes them: http://www.kemper-velo.de/fahrraeder/kemper-pedersen/classic/
    Entirely tailored to the customer, in every respect - his gallery even shows one with a Gates belt drive. Wheels can be the usual 28" or if the customer prefers, 20". He says the Pedersen rides like a normal bike, only better.
    I'm afraid the price would be very much out of my league.

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  11. Velouria--You'd be surprised. It also seemed to be helpful that it seemed so lightweight compared to almost any other step-through, upright bike I've ridden. (like, say, my 'neighborhood' bike, a 70s Schwinn Suburban.)

    I think Phil is spot on with his assessment. It looks hard to ride, but it's not. I suspect it would completely change much of what you think you know about how you ride and your own capabilities and confidence level. I'd say that's a great way to describe this bike--it's a game changer!

    It's a really confident, simple and elegant bike, when to most, it looks like a slightly awkward piece of wacky machinery.

    I live four hour and a half hours from my friend's bike. Guess who I'm calling when I visit Green Bay this weekend?

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  12. I know that at least 3 manufacturers/ builders make Pedersen bicycles at the moment, and there is some dispute about which is the "authentic" one. As far as I can tell, it's all of them, or neither - as none are directly connected to the original Pedersens. I believe the N. American distributor gets them from Kalle Kalkhoff, though I need to verify.

    As I understand it, Pedersens can be set up with a variety of drivetrains, lighting systems, fenders, and racks. In that sense, there is nothing preventing them from being used as full fledged commuter or touring bikes.

    Interestingly, the US distributor states that the bikes do not work well with a double chainring up front, but my friend's bike is set up with one and seems to work fine. I would probably want a 5-speed SA hub on mine.

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  13. Very unique,rare and fascinating.I came upon several here in Portland.One being owned by a Sunday Parkways Superhero.They look awkward but are very comfortable and wasn't aware they were still being made until our nice conversation.

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  14. I think a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub would be great on it. I honestly don't remember if the bike had hub shifting or what. (It was about 20 years ago.)

    Heh...the guy whose bike I rode is an older gentleman. I wonder if it would be rude to ask if he might consider willing me his Pedersen? It's red with red powder coated spokes. I can't remember anything else about how it's configured...now I'm curious and will definitely have to call my friend.

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  15. Red powdercoated spokes to match the frame! That must look pretty neat.

    I can't believe that I'm already designing "my Pedersen" - but I am thinking dark silver powdercoat with brown saddle and cream tires...

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  16. I met a guy who had built his own Pedersen - he just copied the geometry from a few examples he'd see in a museum and in Copenhagen. He offered me a go but it was too tall for me. He's offered me a shot on his wife's one if I'm ever passing, I might have to take him up on that one of these days. Like you, I found the prospect intriguing but a bit daunting.

    here's my write up of the home-built pedersen

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  17. That is what those bikes are! I've been wondering because I saw a photo of John Fleuvog shoe man extra ordinaire riding one and may have even seen him on it in Vancouver....and often wonder what it is?
    While not necessarily related, yesterday I was waiting and waiting at a bus stop and 2 guys rode by on their tall monster road bikes. It was awesome!

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  18. Great post, and links.
    That's one intriguing bike. Does the saddle adjust up and down, or is the size 'fixed?"
    I have faith that if you decide to design your own Pedersen it will be awe inspiring.

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  19. MT cyclist - As I understand it, the seatpost has 5" of adjustment, but the angle of the saddle changes depending on that adjustment. According to the distributor, for optimum comfort the saddle should point up - which means that it's good to have fairly little seatpost showing, opting for a largish frame. See here for more.

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  20. As the proud owner of two Pedersen bikes I can assure you that Pedersen bikes can be used as any other bike. I bought my first one in 1999; build by the Danish blacksmith Jesper Solling who started remaking these wonderful bikes in the seventies in the hippie community Christiania in Copenhagen. It is a very nice and elegant bike with a SRAM 3x7 hybrid drivetrain and 28 inch wheels. I have used it extensively for over ten years for errands, tours and even long distance hollidays. In 2007 I had another one made by Michael Kemper in Germany to my own specifications especially for cycling hollidays, fitted with a Magura brakes,a Rohloff internal hubgear (14 gears) 26 inch wheels and 50-559 Scwalbe Xtreme tires. I have ridden this more sturdy machine on long (over 1000 kilometer) tours, partly over bad or unsurfaced roads in England, Scotland as far North as Shetland, Switzerland, Germany etc and it has never let me down. Due to the upright position these are not fast racing bikes, althoug Mr Pedersen in the beginning of the 20th century also designed a racing model; Michael Kemper has recently made a remake of a racing Pedersen as well. More info on Pedersen on http://www.dursley-pedersen.net/

    Arie Dekker, Netherlands

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  21. Arie - Thanks so much for sharing this. What makes your Kemper Pedersen a sturdier bike? Is it the basic construction, the wheels, or the component choice?

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  22. "I can't believe that I'm already designing "my Pedersen" - but I am thinking dark silver powdercoat with brown saddle and cream tires... "

    But Dear Velouria...it's what you DO.
    (laughs)

    Will this be before or after the truss-frame?

    I have to admit I find them intriguing, too. I really like the idea of copper-plated tubing sections, for some reason. I bet yours would be about the most elegant treatment yet.

    There is a local woman who rides an updated one she bought from Kalle Kemper in the late 70s. I've seen her around town once or twice, but always too faraway to sidel up and talk to.
    Josh Muir of Frances Cycles did some frame repair on it and posted pics in his blog.

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  23. Oops, I mean Jesper Solling made the local bike.

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  24. This is the first time I've seen one of these bikes. Interesting design. If you ignore the tri-angulation of the frame and just look at the body position of the rider, it seems to put the rider in a position similar to a bike with the old "ape hanger" handle bars.

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  25. Corey - Truss frame is a reality, so it's only a matter of when Mr. F has time : )) We have a trade agreement going. Pedersen is a fantasy, but a nice one!

    I too have copper on my mind lately. I love the stainless frame Bryan made for Jim P. and keep imagining an alternative version of it with copper-painted lugs instead of the rainbow rings. If anyone wants to order one so that I can "curate" the paintjob, feel free!

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  26. Wow--the tandem Pedersen! I don't recall my hands being nearly as low when riding my friend's bike as these two are positioned on the tandem.

    It doesn't surprise me at all to know you're already designing one in your head. I made the contact with my friend and unfortunately, he's not in Green Bay this weekend, so I guess I'll have to wait until another time I visit. I'll definitely try to get some photos and share them with you.

    Also, I want to chime in and say that the bike does ride really well on rough roads. My friend lives on a county highway with lots of farmland around it and the roads are often pretty bad.

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  27. What a timely post. I was just browsing my local CL and saw a Pedersen for sale. It was built up as a commuter with front and rear racks. An odd looking beast indeed. I don't think I would be able to commute on something like that.

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  28. Amanda - Ooh, could you please send the link?

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  29. I remember a few years ago in a bike show in southern florida that there was this gentleman by the name of Henry Meudt that came in with two perdersons, one was an original one from the early 1900s and the other a more recent reproduction model.

    It was a rather strange bike, with a three speed rear hub with very strange flanges and the guts exposed. Everything on it with the exception of the rear hub was black enameled (who knew that there were Bowden cables used in 1904). When I rode it it was a rather strange ride, the saddle pivoted down the middle like a hammock which had the effect of lowering the saddle of the leg doing the downstroke. This is the reason why the frames are rather large, in order to accomodate this.

    http://www.dursley-pedersen.net/originals/original_1904.html

    This is a link to a site detailing his pederson.

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  30. Velouria, if you check your yahoo email, you will find the link inside.

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  31. OMG, it's the Co-Habitant's size, but he wants nothing to do with it!

    Incidentally, I asked the US distributor for the price sheet out of purely academic curiosity, and prices are reasonable.

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  32. I've been thinking about how to describe them all day. "normal" bikes are like sport motorcycles. Pedersens are like Harleys or their ilk. Upright, you sit in the bike. Funny how this bicycle didn't take off like the motorcycle did.

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  33. There is a lot of good information available at http://www.pedersenbicycles.com/

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  34. ^ Yup. That is the US distributor, and my "history" link goes to that site.

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  35. Pedersens are so interesting for SO many reasons. I want one, I want one, I want one.

    I've never seen one in person but have been enthralled by them since seeing them in an ancient book about cycling at the library when I was about 11(and already a bike "collector"). The construction seems overly complicated and flimsy to eyes used to conventional bikes, but to those of us used to vintage airplanes we know it's going to be stiff, light and full of personality. All those skinny tubes and straps remind me of the all the struts and flying wires on early bi-planes. Like an old plane, I wouldn't be surprised if a Pedersen sort of murmurs and hums to itself as it makes it's way through the wind.

    Mr. Pedersen seems like the best sort of Engineer if not a very good Businessman. He appears to have been a genuine original thinker and creative pragmatist. I've spent my life around Engineers and there are only a few who are capable of this type of thinking. Most of the rest of them seem to spend most of their time looking for opportunities to sidle up to you and ask in a patronizing way if "You wanna' know a better way to do that?"

    I have too many projects under way to even think about finding an old one or building a replica of my own but sometimes I do anyway. When I finish the 2 bamboo bikes I've got going now maybe I could make a bamboo Pedersen... It might take my mind off old airplanes for a while and for that reason alone maybe I should try.

    Some designs or inventions really do have something about them that makes a bunch of steel or wood or whatever, seem to spring to life in some inexplicable way. A guitar is sorta just a box with a handle and a bike is a funny looking cart that wandered away from the horse. A Pedersen seems to be in that category of devices to me.

    Spindizzy

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  36. Velouria, the custom build Kemper Pedersen is a sturdie, strong bike in comparison with the Solling Pedersen for a variety of reasons. To start with there are the smaller 26 inch wheels with extra broad rims and tires. To facilitate this the fork bridge (where the rear tubes of the fork make an angle) is extra broad, giving it a more solid appearance. Then some of the tubes are a mere 2 mm more in diameter. And last but not least the components (Tubus rear rack, bulky Rohloff hub gear) also add to a robust bike. All this since I do have to take about 13 to 15 kilograms of luggage on my holliday tips. Although I have used the more fragile Solling Pedersen also in this way this was not ideal. Especially going fast downhill or over rough paths the combination was rather vulnerable. I have got plenty of pictures if you are interested. Also pictures available from the Dutch Pedersen Society on http://www.pedersen-genootschap.nl/
    Arie Dekker

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  37. Spindizzy said...
    "but to those of us used to vintage airplanes..."


    : ))

    Arie - Thanks for the information and for the link. Great pictures! And I see that at least one woman seems perfectly able to ride it in a skirt. Fascinating.

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  38. There is a brief clip of my daughter riding mine here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pantsmonkey/3639387490/in/set-72157619850301707

    If I can manage, I'll post some more extended shots of mounting, dismounting etc. at the weekend.

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  39. A guy I know in Chicago has a Pedersen. He also has a Gazelle and a couple other bikes, I think. He says the Pedersen is his favorite - super comfortable but very slow. He has a blog that he updates now and then.

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  40. I saw one in Paris and another in San Francisco. Both times, I asked their owners about them. Both owners raved about the comfort of their Pedersens.

    Spindizzy: Interesting that you thought of vintage airplanes. I thought of a few steel bridges I've seen. And I happen to like the looks of vintage planes and bridges.

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  41. I received this link to a video made by a Pedersen owner showing the different ways to mount it - excellent!

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  42. Just rode a Pedersen in Los Angeles at the Flying Pigeon bike shop -- the U.S. distributor has one on display there, and it turns out to be just my size. It rode really beautifully, turned responsively, super comfortable; compared to my Dutch bike (an Azor) it feels quite light, though I'm not sure they're really that different. The seat/hammock made it feel sort of wiggly, but still centered and balanced. I liked it quite well, and just might head back there on Monday to buy it!

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  43. Pedersen group on Flickr:


    http://www.flickr.com/groups/684984@N25/pool/page8/

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  44. I use mine to commute to and from work in London on an almost daily basis, travelling just over six miles each way.
    It is incredibly comfortable and I am probably only a 1-2 mph slower than a mountain bike, but so much more stylish!
    You just get on them like any other bike and go - depending on the handlebars, they are slightly wider than a normal bike and so it is slightly harder to weave through traffic. But otherwise no problem at all.
    Below some links .....

    http://www.fordfocuscam.com/#tijimjk-iQE
    http://www.fordfocuscam.com/#3aBBcG-AyZA

    and, if you're in London, get in touch and I'd be more than happy for you to have a spin on mine!

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  45. Hello, i have question to all the pedersen fans, i'am looking for some drawings or blueprints of a Pederen bike, on the i-net or maybe i can buy them somewhere?

    Greetings.

    e-mail; a_leusink@hotmail.com

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  46. I brought mine home yesterday from the Flying Pigeon bike shop. The first two that came in were large. I happened to watch th inventory video a couple of weeks ago and I saw it as the camera panned by, a medium. It has a red band Shimano nexus 8speed hub which is perfect for the hilliness around here. It is comfortable and rides smooth as butter.

    It was a stretch financially, but i have chronic pain. Nothing hurts while riding this bicycle. Riding is one of my favorite thing to do, and i am more confident. Hopefully my Terry Mixte on eBay will sell well.

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