Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Paper Bicycle: Cool and Practical Transportation

Paper Bicycle, Railroad
I had the Paper Bicycle on loan from Adeline Adeline in NYC for several months, and have so many things to say about it that it is hard to organise my thoughts. While the unique look is what drew me to this bike initially, it is the handling that left the biggest impression. I will try to cover all the bases.

The Paper Bicycle is Scottish, designed by Nick Lobnitz originally for use by the Royal Mail. Over time, the design moved toward something that could be used by everyone, as an "everyday bicycle." The designer describes it as "relaxed and nimble... a machine that just works every time you need it to, and a journey that leaves you comfortable, clean and refreshed." While it is difficult to glean where the name "Paper Bicycle" came from exactly, to me it makes sense because the bike resembles an elaborate origami creation. 

Paper Bicycle, Railroad
The Paper Bicycle's frames are TIG-welded of oversized cromoly steel tubing, handbuilt in Taiwan and finished in Scotland. Notably, the frame has no seat stays and no top tube. Instead, it is reinforced with an elaborate "double chaincase" structure on both the drivetrain and non-drivetrain side.

Paper Bicycle, Construction
The structure is an inherent and multifunctional part of the frame that simultaneously gives it sufficient stiffness, contributes to the low center of gravity, creates a number of convenient spots for locking up the bike, acts as a lifting handle, and of course houses the full chaincase. 

Paper Bicycle, Internal Cable Routing
The joints of the frame are smoothly finished, as is the wide unicorn unicrown fork (typo was too funny to remove). The downtube protrudes slightly past the joint with the headtube, and the rear brake cable is routed through it internally, the tube's opening covered with a lid of sorts with a cutout for the cable. I have seen similar tube joints on a couple of other contemporary bicycles (VanMoof's protruding top tube comes to mind), but the Paper Bicycle's design strikes me as the most elegant and harmonious of the bunch.

Paper Bicycle, Railroad
The Paper Bicycle is available in one size only and will fit riders 5' - 6'4". It is designed for 26" wheels with fat Schwalbe Big Apple tires. It comes equipped with front and rear Sturmey Archer (roller) hub brakes, fenders, optional dynamo lighting, and it is available as either a single speed or an 8-speed. A number of powdercoat and chaincase panel options are available and the bike is easily customisable with company logos. For detailed specifications, see here

Paper Bicycle, Teapot Bell
The handlebars have just enough sweep to them for the hands and wrists to rest naturally, while remaining aggressive and allowing for a great deal of steering control.  The diminutive teapot bell works via a trigger mechanism. 

Paper Bicycle, Sturmey Archer Brake Levers
The gripping areas are quite long - for me at least a handful and a half each. The rubber grips are finely textured and non-slip. The Sturmey Archer levers provide good leverage and easy to squeeze.

Paper Bicycle, Saddle
I received the bicycle with a sprung vinyl saddle, though I believe other options are available. In environments where the bike is to be shared, the seatpost is quick release.

Paper Bicycle, Chaincase
The spring-activated kickstand is sturdy and resembles a tailpipe when folded.

Paper Bicycle, Pedals
The large platform city pedals incorporate non-slip rubber strips and side reflectors. 

Paper Bicycle Rack
An integrated rear rack (dubbed the Starship Rack) will soon be commercially available, and I reviewed the prototype here in detail. The rack plugs into the rear of the chaincase structure, takes less than 5 minutes to install, and is strong enough to support a passenger.

Paper Bicycle Rack
I rode the Paper Bicycle on and off for several months, first without and then with the rear rack. Most of my trips were around town, with a handful of longer distance (20 mile) trips to the suburbs. Overall I probably rode this bicycle for 150 or so miles. The riding position felt immediately comfortable, and remained so over longer distances. The bicycle has no toe overlap.

For some of the time during which the bike was in my possession, I left it outdoors for weeks at a time and observed no adverse effects. The bicycle is intended for all-weather conditions and for outdoor storage.

Paper Bicycle, Low Bottom Bracket
As I adjusted the saddle for my height, the first thing I noticed about this bicycle was the very low bottom bracket. This allows the rider to get full leg extension on the downstroke when pedaling, while also being able to reach the ground while remaining seated - useful in traffic.

Paper Bicycle, Lexington MA
This is how much of my foot I can put down while seated, and still have full leg extension on the downstroke. This aspect of the design makes the bicycle safe and easy to handle in stop-and-go traffic, especially for beginner cyclists.

Paper Bicycle, Lexington MA
When cycling on trails, a low bottom bracket can mean picking up leaves and twigs. Luckily, they cannot get tangled in the chain on this bike, since the chain is fully enclosed. The Paper Bicycle handles well on and off road, and it is remarkably stable. I normally do not ride no-hands, but this is the only bicycle on which I've been able to do so comfortably. At all times, the bike feels as if it is "unfellable" - it just wants to remain upright. I have written here earlier about the emerging breed of city bikes with mountain bike heritage, and the Paper Bicycle is probably my overall favourite among these.

Test Riding the Paper Bicycle
The bicycle I test rode was a single speed, and I was skeptical about how such a massive upright bike would handle without gears in the greater Boston area. It was not a problem, and I am still trying to understand how the 38x17t gearing can feel so versatile. It was low enough for uphill stretches and high enough for downhill stretches - for me at least, it was the perfect fast and easy gear. It is not for proper hills in mountainous terrain, but it is certainly adequate for the types of short hills one is likely to encounter in urban areas, as well as for long but gentle uphill stretches in the countryside. It also does fine in the headwind: The positioning makes it easy to lean low over the handlebars if so desired. 

Overall, I did not expect a bicycle this stately and stable to feel so fast on the road and so maneuverable in traffic. And with the 2" balloon tires, the ride quality over potholes was fantastic. Of all the upright city bicycles I've ridden so far, the Paper Bicycle's handling is possibly my favourite. 

Of the bikes I've ridden previously, the ride quality of the Paper Bicycle is most comparable to the Urbana and the Pilen. I found it more comfortable over long distances than the former, and faster than the latter. 

Paper Bicycle, Railroad
If I try to summarise my thoughts about the Paper Bicycle into pros and cons, they would be as follows: Positives include its ergonomic comfort, speed, stability, durability, low maintenance, transportation-readiness (full chaincase, fenders, rear rack), and aesthetics. And yes, I do love the aesthetics. The lack of lugs and the unicrown fork don't bother me on this particular bicycle, because they work with the overall design; I honestly find it gorgeous. The biggest potential negative for others is probably the weight (35lb as a single speed with no rack or lighting; more as you add stuff), though personally I do not care as long as the bike moves well for me, which it certainly does. 

Paper Bicycle, Internal Cable Routing
What I do care about is the lighting. While dynamo lighting is an option, it is set up like this which to me seems weird considering that the hollow joint in the front of the bike seems to be just begging for an integrated headlight. If Paper Bicycle made this type of headlight design happen, that would be out of this world.

Paper Bicycle, Handlebars
I will disclose at this point that I seriously considered buying the Paper Bicycle from Adeline Adeline at the end of my test ride period. The reason I did not, is that ultimately I was not prepared to let go of my current transportation bike which I also love, and I cannot afford to keep both bikes. But happily, the Paper Bicycle remains in my neighbourhood and it is now in the possession of Josh Zisson of Bike Safe Boston - who likes it quite a bit. Josh is looking into doing something clever with the lighting installation, and I am looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.

Paper Bicycle, Railroad
The Paper Bicycle is a cool and practical transportation bike, suitable for beginners and experienced cyclists alike. It is certainly different. But it is worth taking note of for reasons well beyond its visual eccentricities.

My sincere thanks to Adeline Adeline for the opportunity to ride and review this bike, to the designer Nick Lobnitz for entrusting me with the rear rack prototype and to the Ride Studio Cafe for receiving and setting up the bicycle. The full set of pictures can be viewed here.

64 comments:

  1. You really like those Unicorn forks dontcha? :) :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks : )) Darn autocorrect!

      I wonder what a unicorn fork would look like...

      Delete
    2. Possibly a more elegant version of a Cannondale Lefty.

      Delete
  2. I seriously can't get enough of this bike. I left it at home yesterday, in favor of my (much) quicker Jamis Beatnik, and I found myself missing its simple, relaxed ride. Having never ridden a step-through frame before (those are for girls!), I hadn't experienced the joy that comes with sliding both feet to one side and hopping onto the curb while the bike is still moving. Definitely the most graceful of all dismounts.

    One thing: the rear brake cable is routed through the frame, and it makes a dinging noise when I go over bumps. The cover for the chain case also tends to make some noise over bigger bumps, but I plan to remedy this with some rubber washers (or something).

    ReplyDelete
  3. I remember the complaints about weight on your other posts about this bike, but honestly in the category of Dutch/Euro city bikes it is well below average. My Gazelle single speed coaster brake no front brake is close to 50lb!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right. For anyone who cares about weight, this entire category of bikes is just not appropriate for them.

      I am surprised that your single speed Gazelle weighs quite that much though. If it's a newer model, I wonder whether it's the massive rear rack with the integrated pull-down kickstand. My 15 yr old 3-speed Gazelle is around 45lb.

      Delete
  4. Nifty! I think the paper bike is a good illustration of how a practical city bike doesn't necessarily need to have the "retro" aesthetic (not that there's anything wrong with retro!) to be attractive. I especially like the way they handled the rear rack.

    The weight, at 35lbs, is heavy if you're a small person and have stairs to contend with, but I can't see it being excessive (my own transport bike started at 30 lbs, but is probably often rolling closer to 60 with various bags full of stuff, racks and a mandolin strapped to the front, and I routinely carry it across a series of stepping stones along one of my canalside routes, it's all relative).

    ReplyDelete
  5. What would one have to pay to ride one these for transportation--or fun?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't like to list prices for European bikes in my reviews, because they are liable to change. In the past there have incidents where customer would apparently come in to a store and quote the prices they'd read here! So I prefer to link to the manufacturer's website. You can see the current US prices here (for a single speed) and here (for an 8-speed).

      Delete
    2. you mean a customer demanded that a store honor the price you posted in a review? that's crazy, and not your problem!

      Delete
    3. Grrr sorry for all the typos.

      Technically it is not my problem, but I just don't want to deal with it. After several(!) complaints, I simply stopped posting prices for European bikes and problem solved. I do link to the pricing in the post, plus this info is pretty easy to look up.

      Delete
    4. Another reason to buy local :)

      Delete
    5. Hmm, okay...It just seems like another relevant piece of information along with handling, weight, frame quality, etc...But I looked up the price and it's up there! Thanks.

      Delete
  6. Jennifer in ScotlandMarch 13, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    I tried out the Paper Bike and absolutely loved it. I found it much more nimble than my Dutch bike and just a joy to ride really.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Very informative review. Just one question: You write that "[t]he handlebars have just enough sweep to them for the hands and wrists to rest naturally, while remaining aggressive." Can you please explain what "aggressive" means in this context and how it is related to handlebar shape? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Straight handlebars (like on a mountain bike) put the rider into a more aggressive, leaned forward posture than do "North Road" style swept back handlebars. The bars on this bike are kind of in between the two styles.

      Delete
  8. I've used a 58 gear inch on my upright singlespeed for several years with similar findings. It's big enough for the flats and downhills and a low enough gear to climb moderate hills with relative ease. It seems to hit the sweet spot, 12-16 mph, matched with pedal rpm that works for that style bike.

    ReplyDelete
  9. As a 200+ pound rider, I worry about the lack of a top tube. When I stand and pedal hard on my bike with top tube and chain stays, I feel my current bike flex under my power (weight...) and get ghost shifts. I wonder what sort of twisting and bending I'd get out of the paper bike's down tube.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't worry about that. Even for a 200lb+ rider, the bike is plenty stiff for regular riding and more.

      Delete
  10. Did they come up with the "starship" moniker for the rack independently or based on your calling it that in your review? Either outcome is interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The name is entirely theirs.

      Delete
    2. The Paper Bike sounds like a good alternative to Dutch-style city bikes and other utility bikes. It seems like a well thought-out design and, yes, I like the looks, even thought individual parts of the bike go against what I normally like.

      You mention that the bike is designed with specific components (e.g., tires and hub) in mind. I wonder how much flexibility one would have in replacing parts. It's one of the reasons I talked myself out of buying a Brompton (a different type of bike, to be sure): I wondered how easily I could replace parts.

      Delete
    3. Justine, I thought about spare parts too. I ended up getting a Brompton anyway though, because there's a bike shop nearby which can get parts and do repairs. With mail order and internet forums, it's even easier.

      Regarding flexibility, do you mean flexibility in getting the parts, or flexibility in choosing from a large selection of parts? Niche bikes like Bromptons and Paper Bikes might not be compatible with accessories like other bikes, but on the other hand they can do things that few other bikes can. That's a kind of flexibility too :)

      Delete
  11. "...it is available as either a single speed or an 8-speed."

    Why no 3-speed IGH?

    ReplyDelete
  12. "While it is difficult to glean where the name "Paper Bicycle" came from exactly,"

    The Royal Mail is a newspaper, so a bicycle designed for it would be the Paper Bicycle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Er, no, the Royal Mail is the UK's postal service. Although since most mail is made up of paper...

      The Daily Mail is a newspaper. Perhaps that's what you were thinking of.

      Delete
    2. Manufacturer's web site explains he wanted to call it wallpaper bike as the chain case cover can have designs like wallpaper or advertising applied. But wallpaper bike was already trademarked.
      RJD

      Delete
  13. Re: my previous comment: I take it back. Thought that was a newspaper for certain!

    ReplyDelete
  14. It may very well ride like a dream, and I would trust your judgement in that category, but for me, aesthetically, this bike is a complete disaster. There are possible feng shui issues here. In fact when I look at it it gives me the willies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I had the room and the do$h, there would be two here in the bike quarters.

      Of course, my house has *terrible* feng shui....

      Delete
  15. I never liked the looks of this machine from the get-go, but I find your review fascinating. I prefer classically styled bikes, but the simplicity and your review of it's wonderful ride surely trumps my opinion. It also goes to show that you can't pre-judge it's cosmic look without actually trying it.

    While the ride might suit first-time riders, it's price would not. Ouch.

    I am in love with those cool pedals. What kind are they?

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's called a "paper" bike because postmen used it to deliver mail, surely?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seem to recall reading* when this was just at prototype stage, Nick said when setting out to design a new bicycle for the Royal Mail, he didn't want to be influenced by designs already there, instead started 'with a blank sheet of paper'. Urban myth?

      And until you first posted about this bike, the only source of information I'd seen/heard for it was Nick's own website, which I stumbled across when searching for a suitable trailer for my Brompton nearly 3 years go.

      Delete
  17. So even with 26" tires, a person under 5'4" can't ride this ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is actually 5'0", my apologies.

      Delete
  18. How did this handle on hills? I live in a town build on two steep hills. It is literally a steep climb to anywhere in town, and another steep climb coming home. I have a hard time finding an upright bike that'll handle it. Do you think the Paper Bicycle would work?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For steep climbs this is probably not the right bike, at least not the single speed.

      Delete
  19. according to the page you linked, the bicycle will fit most riders from 5' to 6'4" tall. as someone who is 5'1", those few extra inches matter :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right, I misread! Corrected.

      Delete
  20. That empty chaincase is just asking for a battery so as to turn this into an e-bike with low center of gravity. Batavus recently showed a prototype along these lines with a battery hidden in the chaincase itself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. et voilĂ , Paper E-Bike:

      http://www.velobility.ch/technical/03/new-e-bike-for-2012.html

      RJD

      Delete
  21. If you like the gearing that much try a 22T cog on the back of the Mercian. Could be interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The positioning is so different; I doubt I will like the same gearing on the Mercian. It would certainly tach me to spin though!

      Delete
  22. Is there like a hole where the rear brake cable goes through the cutout into the frame or is there a black rubber gasket there? From the photo it looks like there might be a way for rain to get inside the frame.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I no longer have the bike in my possession, but I seem to recall a rubber gasket. Will try to find a picture.

      Delete
  23. What a fascinating review. The time may come when I'll have a ground-floor apartment or a garage (so I don't have to bike-wrastle) and I've been wanting a winter-weather transportation bike. This would fill the bill. And you are so right about the design begging for an embedded headlight!

    ReplyDelete
  24. How does it compare with the Gazelle?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As far as speed, for me the Paper Bike is faster to accelerate than the Gazelle and faster to get going from a stop. Though Gazelle is plenty fast once it gets rolling.

      As far as handling, the Paper Bike is more stable at slow speeds.

      As far as geometry, the Paper Bike has a lower BB and is generally MTB-ish more than it is Dutch bike-ish.

      Hope that helps some.

      Delete
    2. What do you prefer about the Gazelle?

      Delete
    3. I don't prefer it; they are just different bicycles.

      Delete
  25. I thought the embedded headlight would be a great idea when I first saw this bike too, but there would be a loss of lateral light unless the light protruded from the frame a little and there was scope in the light for it to shine light from the sides of it. This is a gorgeous bike!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the stock light placement.
      RJD

      Delete
    2. Here's a couple of designs that bet them to it.
      http://www.vanmoof.com/m2

      http://copenhagenparts.com/products/magnetic-bike-light-2

      Delete
  26. "It comes equipped with front and rear Sturmey Archer (roller) hub brakes"

    Shimano makes "Rollerbrakes®". This bike comes with Sturmey Archer DRUM brakes.

    I recently dismantled a rear rollerbrake (on accident!) and can confirm that there are rollers used to actuate the brake, but the actual braking surface is basically a drum, pushed out by the rollers, so it is a type of drum brake.

    This is what a S-A drum looks like on the inside: http://manchestercycling.blogspot.com/2012/02/sturmey-archer-drum-brakes.html
    It looks like the two halves pivot outward, to press the brake pads against the inside of the drum.

    This is the inside of a rollerbrake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/henryinamsterdam/6206702535/in/photostream/
    The three outer sections press outwards, when the inner part rotates and pushes the rollers outward. The rollers do not do the actual braking. Notice tons of grease; it's metal to metal with grease, instead of brake pads.

    ReplyDelete
  27. seems like a good option for a city share bike program. not entirely unlike the ones in the paris program.

    disappointed they've outsourced production to the third world... especially at the same high retail price. they should sell at somewhere around the cost of a linus bike, maybe a little higher considering sa hubs.

    totally agree with the comment about building a light attachment into the headtube. i'm sure it will happen.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Do you have a preference between the Pilen and the Paper bike? It's not easy for me to test ride either. I live in the north of England and could try a Pilen in London or a Paper bike in Scotland!

    I would like an upright riding position after damaging my neck through years of drop handlebar riding. I prefer the look of the Pilen but would like to support the Scottish maker of the Paper bike.

    If you have any advice i would be very grateful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I were buying a bike for myself, I would get the Paper Bicycle. It handles better for me and the size is more appropriate.

      But I have never seen such inconsistent feedback about a bike as I have about the Pilen. Some feel it's fast, others feel it's slow. It may depend on your height and weight more than anything.

      Delete
    2. Thanks. 5 feet 8 and not slim - under 200 pounds but not by much!

      Delete
  29. I've now been looking at a Skeppshult. Tough call. I really need to try to do some test rides.
    I appreciate your help as well as the blog.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Just to update that after trying a Paper bike and a Pilen Lyx I went for the Pilen and so far I love it. The Paper bike was great too, but in the end I preferred the look and feel of the Pilen.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I know commenting on an older post is always a gamble on whether you get a reply, but hear goes.

    Does anyone have experience with the 8-speed model of the Paper Bicycle? Biking in Atlanta there are a host of hills about town, and I'm curious how the multi-speed version of this would cope.

    ReplyDelete