Sunday, June 5, 2011

Red and Blue, Old and New: Fun with Bike Comparisons

A couple of days ago I visited "Cycler" from Biking in Heels, asking her to test ride the Pilen I am reviewing and tell me what she thinks. While we were at it, we also compared the geometry of the Pilen to that of her modified vintage Raleigh Lady's Sports - the charming bicycle described here.

Unlike the traditional English roadster (which is similar to a Dutch bike), the Sports model is a zippier bicycle with somewhat more aggressive angles and a more leaned-forward posture. It made sense to compare it to the Pilen, which is also somewhat more aggressive than Dutch bikes.

Placing the two bicycles side by side, we did notice some similarities. The seat tube angles, front end geometry and bottom bracket heights were fairly close - at least in comparison to those of Dutch bikes and English Roadsters. The Pilen has a slightly more relaxed seat tube and a higher bottom bracket - but the extent of this is minor when compared to the more relaxed Dutch bikes and Roadsters with their high bottom brackets. The Pilen however, has a longer wheelbase than the Raleigh Sports - not to mention that it is dramatically larger.

When looking at this picture, consider that the saddles of the two bicycles are set to roughly the same height. Now notice the amount of seatpost showing on the 21" (53cm) Raleigh Sports compared to the 22" (56cm) Pilen Lyx (see here for a close-up of the Pilen's seatpost). Despite the 3cm difference in their frames, the actual size difference between the two bicycles is considerably greater. This is because the Raleigh has 26" wheels with 35mm tires, whereas the Pilen has 700C wheels with 50mm tires - raising the Pilen's frame higher off the ground. Wheel and tire size are definitely something to be aware of when determining the actual size of a complete bicycle. The frame size alone is fairly limited information.

Cycler and I are similar in height (she perhaps 1/2" shorter), and we prefer similar bicycles for transportation - both of us especially in love with the ride quality of the classic Raleigh DL-1. It was therefore informative to learn that she had a similar reaction to the Pilen as I did. On the other hand, two other (taller) persons who also tried the bike had very different reactions. I will write about that in more detail at a later stage, but suffice to say that there is a bike out there for everyone. It is amazing to me how many variations exist of the traditional upright step-through design; I never tire of learning about the similarities and differences between them.

33 comments:

  1. If you ride long enough, no matter what you're riding, you'll bump into another rider who wonders (sometimes not so politely) how in the world you ride what you ride. And you will have the same reaction to some bike someone else swears by, even though you and that person may be similarly proportioned and have similar riding styles.

    One of the funny things about bikes is that, as simple as they actually are, they are full of minute details that can turn one mount into pure bliss for one cyclist but a two-wheeled torture from somenone else.

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  2. Lovely pictures of good looking bikes (and lady!) :). We are looking forward to reading the comparison. This is great blog! //Magnus Tamelander, Pilen Cykel AB.

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  3. Justine - So true. When it comes to transportation bikes, I am beginning to realise that I have a fairly narrow and specific set of requirements for how I need the bike to handle. Bikes that on the surface seem very different from mine can nonetheless fit those requirements, and bikes that on the surface seem very similar sometimes cannot. For instance, the Urbana rides more to my taste than the Pashley - even though the Pashley resembles my favourite bikes and the Urbana does not.

    Thanks Magnus. I've asked a couple of other people to try the bike and will include their reactions in the final review!

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  4. From the difference in handlebar height, it looks like the Pilen might also have a more upright sitting position (much like the DL-1) than the Sports. Nice contrast between these two, as most of us know what a Sports looks/rides like, but not a Pilen.

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  5. LuckyChow - The Pilen's position is actually less upright, because the handlebars have very little sweep and are flared out almost like MTB bars. Also, I've lowered the bars as much as possible at this point (if any lower, they will interfere with the headlight), because to have them high up feels odd given the hand positioning.

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  6. This is interesting to hear, as I am slowly realizing that my Raleigh Ladies Sports might be too small for me (I'm slightly over 5'8"). Though I love that bike, I can never quite get the positionings right. I may eventually, once I work up the funds, look into getting a Dutch bike. The bigger and more relaxed frame appeal to me, though I'm also wondering how I would react to the Pilen.

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  7. In England, the Lady's Sports was available (in limited quantities ) in a size 23", but these larger models are very, very difficult to find!

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  8. Velouria - I have a 23" Lady's Sports which I don't ride since I've moved out of the country! Maybe you should check it out.

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  9. Love the contrast in colors between the two! What model Brooks do the bikes have? I can't tell if it's a Flyer or a 67/66 variety...

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  10. AM -Where can I check it out?

    Rebecca - That's a B66S on both bikes.

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  11. Something clicked for me when I read this post about frame sizes and practical bicycles. I worked in a bunch of bike shops over the years and used to wonder why so many people insisted on buying bikes a size(or two) larger than the "correct" one. It was especially common with my fellow rural Mennonites here in Va. and in Pa.(what we regular car driving Mennonites call "Buggy" or "Old Order" Mennonites that don't drive cars and use bikes and buggies to get around)

    So often they would choose the largest frame they could swing a leg over to purchase and have me mount fenders, racks and lights on. I gave up trying to steer them towards smaller more appropriate frames when I realized that they knew what they wanted and weren't going to be swayed. I often wondered how they could stand such an ill-fitting bike since they piled on enormous mileages in all kinds of weather, loaded down with all sorts of things in the baskets and strapped to the bars. Always in dresses with long skirts or long pants and workshoes, and a bonnet or black hat for headgear.

    When I ask them about it they always, without fail, reply that it's more comfortable and they feel more in-control on a big bike. So for all these years I thought they were just crazy and wondered what the real explanation could be. Well DUH. If a whole community of people who use bikes for every trip/errand/adventure that doesn't require a horse says that it's because it works better this way, well, maybe it works better that way. I've been carrying Ockhams razor around all these years and evidently never pulled it out till now.

    I remember how marvelous it was to ride my dads Raleigh DL1 when I was a kid and was too "small" to ride it. Now that bike is mine and while I really love it, it doesn't feel like a ship bravely plowing through the waves any longer. I wonder just what specific geometry would help re-create some of that character. I'd love to have a bike again that rode like that. Maybe it just has to be HUGE...

    Spindizzy

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  12. Peppy (the amazing I can swing paw over it cat)June 5, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    Well duh. That's why I ride a 26.5" tripple top-tube custom Rivendell. Size matters.

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  13. Peppy (the trend-setting cat)June 5, 2011 at 10:43 PM

    (P.S. because of me they are thinking of making the triple top tube model standard on their production bikes.)

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  14. Peppy - don't tell me you were the inspiration behind this : (( As much as I love Rivendell...

    Spindizzy - Could it be also that the larger bikes were better for heavy loads?

    As far as transportation bikes go, I've noticed that usually I feel better on a larger bike. But on roadbikes, the downside is that I can't get the handlebars low enough on a too-big frame.

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  15. Spindiz, 36er long wheelbase.

    Yes for the big, long bike.

    re: road bike. Don't go too low yet; see if you can easily get to the brake levers from the drops.

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  16. I can def get to the brake levers from the drops. The reason I had trouble with braking from the drops on the Riv (where the handlebars are just a tiny bit below the saddle now - but that is, as you will see, irrelevant), is that they are hard to modulate for me from that hand position (not height, but specifically position). This is a problem I have with most dropbar levers... except, apparently modern Campagnolo.

    On the 56cm (c-t) vintage Bianchi I picked up last Fall, there is nothing I can do to get the bars down to saddle height or below. I can't raise the saddle any higher and can't get the bars any lower. So while the crotch-grazing standover in itself does not bother me, I recognise that that the frame is too big and will eventually sell that bike.

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  17. I think for some people there comes a time when a bigger frame is too much. While my super short mother in law just springs up into the seat of her tall Gazelle omafiets with no problem, I had to sell off my Sparta Trendy. The bottom bracket was just way too high off the ground for me. Every stop, every intersection, every mounting and dismounting was misery. Even that trick where you get close to the curb and put your right foot on it so that you don't have to dismount completely at a light didn't help. I'd rather deal with getting my foot over a mixte than the constant springing up to the seat on a stadfiets. :/

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  18. Hello, lovely blog, I believe the tyres on a Pilen is 700x35, not 50?

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  19. On the Bianchi you have a Nitto stem that's not as tall as the Technomic but still has some height to it. The bottom of it is impacting, so it won't go lower. But we could theoretically find an 8-10cm stem of same length you have now that has no height at all. Basically minimum insertion mark right there. They occasionally pop-up. I didn't know at the time you'd want bars so low.

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  20. Anon - The tires are Schwalbe Big Apple 700x50.

    Rona - The high BBs on Dutch bikes are indeed difficult to deal with. The very slack seat tube angle balances that out somewhat, at least on the Gazelle. I can have my leg more or less straight when pedaling and still stop with a toe on the ground in traffic. Looking for a curb every time I needed to stop just wouldn't work for me!

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  21. MDI - I didn't really understand the full implications of the Bianchi's size at the time. But I did think/hope that eventually I'd get the bars lower.

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  22. Really love Cycler's bike, especially the color. You're lucky to have so many cool bikes --and folks--around to engage in this fascinating dialogue of comparisons.

    The Bianchi, too, is a classic and btw it's quite easy to replace that stem with one which will sit much, much lower. If you were to resell it I'd consider finding a classic 3T or Cinelli stem to restore it to it's intended set-up.

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  23. We even have a perfectly good 12cm 3T stem that it came with.

    And that nice polished super Nitto stem (8 or 9cm I think) can go on your Sam Hillborne.

    Problem solved!

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  24. MDI, sadly that means you've got to unwrap bars, remove levers, and route those curved things through that stem opening once again....Maybe leaving well enough alone is best :)

    Aren't threadless stems the cat's meow!

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  25. Just the other day I changed the threadless stem on my Cross Check to a 9cm -17* and the whole thing took 5 minutes. No cables needed to be touched. It's my own fault I ended up with the wrong stem to begin with, but if I had made the same mistake with threaded--OMG bartape pain city.

    It looks kind of interesting with the faux-classic level stem now.

    Anyway, the Sam actually is going to get everything changed anyway, so it's OK.

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  26. I know that we could get a shorter stem for the Bianchi, but won't the bike look odd with the bars down all the way? Or rather, isn't there a reason why there should be some stem exposed? I could be wrong, but I remember reading something about this in relation to handling.

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  27. The bike will look more badass.

    No.

    BTW never raise your seat to get more drop - it needs to be where it needs to be.

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  28. When these came out they were set up for speed. At least that's how I remember it in the 80's. If we set up one in the shop with bars level to seat we'd be laughed out of town by those hard core folks who actually rode the things for their intended purpose. Times have changed, though. Do with it as you please.

    MDI, can we see photos of the new set-up?

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  29. Anon @ 1pm. Well, eventually. Just imagine 3cm of steerer (3 x 10mm with bell drilled into the middle spacer) and then parallel to ground 90mm flipped -17 degree VO stem with the little crest logo. The headset and spacers are shiny/polished and the whole thing kind of looks like a faux-quill.

    I have about 70cm of reach on this bike (61 + 9).

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  30. I think the right thing to do is to sell the bike to someone who fits it better. To be honest, since I started riding the Seven I have on loan, I haven't touched my vintage roadbikes. The comfort, the lightness, the speed and the Campy brifters are difficult to give up, lugs and historical interest notwithstanding.

    MDI's Cross Check just looks better and better; we need to take some nice pictures of it. Of course the downside to my riding the Seven is that I never have my camera. Keeping a DSLR in a jersey pocket... not so easy!

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  31. MDI, I can imagine it quite well -- but do post photos!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/61932626@N07/5651035992/in/photostream/

    hope you're enjoying many, many, fun miles.

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  32. Imagine a vintage pathracer style adjustable reach stem with a really serious drop angle that puts the bars about level with the headset crown-race. It would look pretty vicious but the frame would still be "too big".

    Ground Round, 36ers are so ridiculous that it might just have to happen... maybe I can write a grant or something to come up with a budget...

    Spindizzy

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  33. Those are two totally gorgeous bikes!

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