Sunday, August 12, 2012

No Paratrooper Training Required

Pashley Parabike
When I saw the Pashley Parabike and Penny at Interbike last year, I was not sure what to make of them. "What are they for and how do they ride?" were my questions. This summer Pashley sent a pair to Harris Cyclery for me to try, and I still struggle to find the words to describe them. One thing is certain: These bikes have little in common with the Roadster and Princess models the brand is known for. I will write about each separately (Penny review now posted here).

Pashley Parabike
In a sense the Pashley Parabike is a replica of the WWII-era BSA Parabike, also known as the Airborne. But unlike Pashley's remake, the original Parabike was a folder. Here is one I was lucky enough to see in person - hinged and cleverly constructed, albeit monstrously heavy. Paratroopers would jump out of planes with the bikes strapped to their backs, then re-assemble them once on the ground and ride away. They must have been very strong, those fellows.

Pashley Parabike
I'll be honest here: The fact that Pashley copied the look and even the military colour scheme of the Airborne but not the folding functionality, biased me against the new Parabike at the start. I suspected it was mostly decorative and intended for military paraphernalia enthusiasts. But as the bike went into distribution I started hearing positive things about it, and so I tried to keep an open mind.  

Pashley Parabike
If I let go of my "but it doesn't fold like the original!" grudge, I have to admit the construction is interesting. Pashley calls this a "duplex-tube" frame. In place of the top tube and down tube are sets of twin stays, like on a mixte. The frame construction, from what I can tell, is very similar if not identical, to the Tube Rider and the (no longer produced?) Paramount models, save for the colour scheme.

Pashley Parabike
The upper and lower sets of stays curve away from each other, giving the frame a balloon-like appearance. The whole thing is brazed cro-moly steel. 

Pashley Parabike
Lugged fork crown.

Pashley Parabike
There are little bridges, connectors and braze-ons everywhere, arranged in a way that manages to not make the frame look busy.

Pashley Penny
The construction around the bottom bracket is interesting and complicated.

Pashley Parabike
I am guessing the purpose is to provide extra support for the lower set of stays.

Pashley Parabike
The seatpost is quick release. The aged Brooks B67 is the stock saddle. There are fenders and braze-ons for a rear rack, though no rack is included.

Pashley Parabike
Chainguard.

Pashley Parabike
Braze-ons for one water bottle cage.

Pashley Parabike
Mildly swept-back handlebars with short, raised stem.

Pashley Parabike
Faux cork grips, hub brakes, Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub. I don't have a good close-up picture of this, but the frame has horizontal dropouts with a derailleur hanger.  

Pashley Parabike
The Parabike is one size only, described as 19". The wheels are 26" with 1.75" Schwalbe Marathon tires. Basic Stronglight crankset with platform pedals. No toe overlap with my Eur 38 sized shoes.

Pashley Parabike in Action
I test rode the Parabike over the course of several miles, and mechanic Jim (pictured here) rode it briefly as well. We agreed it is a cool bike, and we agreed that it's hard to describe. But let me try. Two main impressions stuck with me. One is the excellent ride quality over bumps - by far cushier than the Pashley Princess I used to own. Not that the Princess was harsh; it just wasn't impressively cushy compared to, say, Dutch bikes. The Parabike, on the other hand, felt like butter over potholes. While its tires are a bit wider, I don't think that is enough to account for the different feel. It could it be the springiness of the "duplex tubes." The other impression I was left with was that of maneuverability and zippiness. The handling is all together un-roadsterlike, with greater agility and what I think is a lower center of gravity. The bottom bracket is lower, the rider does not sit up as high, and overall the bike comes across as being rather compact. Of the bicycles I've tried so far, the Parabike rides most similarly to the city bikes with mountain bike heritage group. However, it is a more compact and lighter-weight bike.

Pashley Parabike & Penny
Stepping over the Parabike in a skirt wasn't elegant, but doable. With true diamond frames I tend to be clumsy in this regard, but the curve here makes it a bit easier to lean and step over without having to swing my leg over the back. The fit of the 19" frame felt pretty much ideal for me, though on my own bike I would lower the handlebars.

The main problem I see with the Pashley Parabike is its identity. I like how the bike rides, but I am still not sure what it is for. I think the handling and durability (hub brakes and gears, tough powdercoat) would make it a great transportation bike - including in winter climates and seaside locations. But for a transportation bike, it is missing the rather crucial lights and racks. Although eyelets for a rear rack are provided, it will be difficult to find a suitable model for a bike so unique-looking - a topic I've covered before. I wonder whether Pashley has plans to design a rack specifically for the Parabike, or at least to source one that looks appropriate. An option with dynamo lighting would also be welcome. Of course if the bike is intended mainly for recreation, these practical considerations are less important. But then the hub brakes and fenders and chainguard seem overkill to me - I'd be tempted to strip it down, lighten it up, and ride it on trails.

Pashley Parabike
Finally, to return to the Parabike's historical reference: Admittedly, I have not actually ridden an original BSA Airborne Parabike. But there is nothing about Pashley's remake that reminds me of a vintage bike other than the look. The ride quality feels distinctly modern - 90s mountain-bikey, in a good sort of way. It is a neat bike that is fun to ride, and the visual/historical aspect adds a layer to it that I don't quite know what to do with or where to fit into this write-up. It's as if the two things are entirely separate.

Pashley bikes are hand-built in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The Parabike is available in "ash green" (shown here) or "dusk blue" - a dusty indigo. Current price is $1,195. Both the Parabike and Penny demo bikes are available for test rides at Harris Cyclery in West Newton, MA. A separate write-up about the Penny is forthcoming.

61 comments:

  1. Even with this interestingly positive review, I'm sitting here going it doesn't FOLD!?

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  2. Cool! If I had unlimited funds, I would love to buy my dad the Paratrooper in green, as he's retired from the 82nd Airborne. Cool bike. :)

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  3. Can't explain it, but I totally love the look of that bike! No folding required.

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  4. Ive got one - well a Pashley Paramount which comes in nicer colours and a rack and is a much better looking bike - but is otherwise the same.

    I love it. My favourite bicycle. It will go off road and is a a comfortable bike on the road. It is an everyday bike - a trendy different version to the roadster.

    Solid, handling - a bike I feel safe in traffic - much more so than my racing bike, say.

    I read somewhere that someone has ridden one from Oxford to Manchester - approx 140 miles. It shows resilience, comfort, strength.

    I bought mine earlier this year (retailing at £540 in the UK). I wouldnt be without it and as a day to day transportation cycle its wonderful.

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  5. I first saw this bike online while searching for a women's frame version of the Guv'nor. It seems to me that the bottom bracket area is perhaps it's mostly distinguishing feature along with it's furthest departure from common frame construction. At minimum it seems to be the design feature that allows the continuous curve of the down tube/chain stay combination. So I was kind of surprised that there was neither a discussion of this or a photo, at least from the non-drive side which would best display the construction.

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    1. You are right. I noticed this as well, but did not quite know how to describe it. Will insert something about it though. Here is a picture of this area.

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  6. My eye loves the look. My wallet tell me to keep on walking.

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  7. The looks remind me of a couple of the 26" cruisers I rode as a kid. The had the split top bar but a single tube down tube.

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  8. "'What are they for and what do they ride like?' were my questions." These are cruisers, pure and simple. Not the modern, ubiquitous neo-cruisers with the aluminum frames and the goofy geometry, but classic cruisers like ppl used to ride before niche/specialty machines became popular with folks who are just out cruisin'.
    While the colorscheme of this particular model is meant to evoke memories of BSA Parabikes, there were other middleweight cruisers with a similar twinbar design. The various Pashley tube-rider models share the same frame without the military finish. (Actually, they seem pretty much identical, excepting the shifters and color scheme...) While it might be neat to have a true replica with folding capability, it probably wouldn't make sense for Pashley to add the weight and expense to make this foldable, when the market has pretty much rejected 26" folders.
    FWIW, I don't see how a black, tubular steel rack could possibly look out of place on this bike. Some might prefer something fancier, but why? The frame is fancy enough on its own.
    Looking forward to your report on the Penny; I imagine it's gotta ride quite similarly, but I expect you'll report that it doesn't. That these cruisers remind you of full-rigid mountainbikes and their ilk is not surprising; mountainbikes were born of the classic cruiser, and many of the geometry/ride elements lasted deep into the 90s on mtnbikes. Not that I'm a fashionable guy, but I think the Penny is the nicest-looking step-thru offered as a current-year model..
    -rob

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    1. I am not 100% clear on whether the Parabike frame is absolutely identical to the Tube Rider, or whether some modifications were made - possibly even in the type of tubing used.

      When you mention vintage cruisers, do you mean things like the Elgin twin bar cruiser and that ilk? To my eye, the Pashley Parabike resembles the actual BSA Parabike specifically, more than any of the similarly-styled cruisers I've seen. What should I be searching for to find Parabike-style cruisers?

      Re full sized folders: In Boston they are pretty common actually. There is a company based here selling them. I would post a link, but they've annoyed me by posting spammy comments every time I write about folding bikes.

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    2. ...Oh and re the rack: It's not a matter of fancier but a matter of appropriate. They went through the trouble to come up with this weird frame design; the rack should be integrated into it and not just an appendage/afterthought. I have seen vintage cruiser-ish racks that would work, and possibly something similar is still, or can be, made today.

      The Penny's ride quality is similar, but there are some differences that puzzle me. Overall I like it, and the rack thing is not as much of an issue there as that bike looks more conventional (in my opinion) than the Parabike.

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    3. Wonder how it would look with a Pass Stow rack.

      The Pashley's swooping double tubes reminds me somewhat of the Retrotec double and triple.

      Curtis Inglis makes a swell rear rack for his Retrotecs, but goes with Matthew Feeney's standard Pass Stow when customers want a front rack. When you see the two together, it almost seems they were made by the same person.

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    4. my 2 p worth is that a rack would ruin the lines, it needs a carradice longflap saddlebag, to give it an even more military look..

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  9. Want this bike! However the girls version looks dreadful. Curious to see that review.

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  10. I don't hate this bike.

    I strongly dislike the crass commercialization capitalizing on Pashley's WWII heritage.

    Come to think of it, yes I do hate this bike.

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  11. I love the look of this bike! A shame it does not fold or come with lights.

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  12. Honestly, it feels like it's going for the section of market that finds almost all cruiser bikes look "too girly", even non-step-through frames, and is counteracting that with the military color and heritage.

    I'm kind of bewildered at it not folding, although I can understand them not wanting to get into that market and all the design complexity necessary, especially since it would be so heavy compared to other folding options.

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  13. This bike will definitely suit my dad. He likes to go for a ride with his bike every morning. Got to buy him a new one. This would be perfect.

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  14. ouch, talk about Rocky 6, if it could fold it would at least have been more faithful - I have an old Lafree Twist that has very similar looking geometry, and becomes unmanageably rear heavy with a rack at the back and two heavy panniers (though it does have a longer rear triangle and a battery at the back too), strangely I've found more aggressive geometry sometimes make it easier to carry very heavy loads on a rear carrier.

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  15. As someone said earlier, the Parabike is the same frame as both the Pashley Paramount and the Pashley tube rider.

    The Paramount comes in much nicer colour schemes (Claret, Crystal Sea Blue or Midnight Blue) with rear carrier and

    I believe that the rack is a Pletscher rear carrier (please check with vendor first!) and should sit on the rear of a Parabike.

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    1. Any number of racks will fit on the bike. What I meant was how the whole thing would come together aesthetically. I think most racks would just look "off."

      Here is a native front rack on a vintage Parabike.

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    2. Thanks for that - weird looking original bike - but pretty in its ugliness I feel. lol

      Ive got a strange feeling that Pashley may have secretly dropped the Paramount. I hope not it's such as pretty bike. Anyway - here's a Paramount on a website with rack and in my very humble opinion, it's a lot prettier than the parabike:
      http://www.bicycledoctor.co.uk/p_pashleyparamount.html

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    3. How about a Portland Design Works Payload or Loading dock racks? Both follow the curvy gestures of the Parabike. Hard to tell how well curves match until they are actually on the bike though. Black rack on military green bike shouldn't clash too badly though.

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  16. I think my wife and daughter would have preferred this bike to the Pashley Poppy and Sovereign Princess we took on the Hudson Way yesterday. Much more suited to trails

    I think it was a good idea not making it into a folder. My Brompton is heavy enough!

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  17. It seems to me that Pashley may have perfected the mid 20th century American utility bike. It has the nimble handling and basic simplicity of the best Schwinn/Ross/Columbia et all 26" bikes so beloved by kids, paperboys, and anyone needing a bike for around campus or on the farm. Before we all re-aligned our thinking about bikes to something closer to the European model(and I'm glad we did), this type of bike was what people thought of as regular bikes, especially the part about it only being available in one size.

    It's still a really useful type of machine and could be lots of fun to mess around with(I'm thinking how neat it would be to make a Single Speed mountain bike out of it, fat tires, discs etc.)but I'm afraid it will mostly be bought by people who are more into it's funky charm than any special utility. Either way, I think it's pretty cool.

    Spindizzy

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  18. however, those mudguards do hug those wheels in a very very yummy dragsterish way, add a rohloff, cut the weight in half (maybe some really expensive Reynolds tubing?), get rid of the very naff chain guard and make it fold (gimme a break, how much weight could hinges possibly add? and the Reynolds will cut weight and be stiff) - it has potential

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  19. Personally I like it that this bike does not fold. Unless you specifically need a folding bike, why add the unnecessary complexity. Love the Parabike and looking forward to your thoughts on the Penny.

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  20. I like the bike. I'm even more interested in it now that it's been described as zippy and somewhat light because, as others have mentioned, it might make a great trail, commuter and Winter bike (I like such bikes to feel zippy).

    Maybe I'm way off but I think a VO Constructeur rear rack or a Tubus Fly would look just fine. They both have some swoop in their lines that would match the shape of this frame, and also might add an old school military functional yet minimal look. The front rack in the pic on the true parabike looks ok to me as well.

    -- Rolly

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  21. admit it, you just like bikes that are the color of your blog ;)

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    1. How can one resist a lovely puke green?

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  22. Heh, I've lived with these colours almost all my working life!

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  23. A well balanced review. I like that you take manufacturers to task for lack of holistic design. The Parabike has real potential to be an excellent alternative to the Roadster, but it needs accessories that are durable and well integrated. Otherwise it is an expensive toy.

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  24. Any idea of the weight?

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    1. This information is not provided and I do not carry a scale with me. My guesstimate is 30-35lb as shown.

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  25. Weight is: 13kg - 28lbs

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    1. Thanks. Where did you get this info?

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  26. Slight correction. Paratroopers jumped from the plane holding the bike in front of themselves. The parachute was on their back. Once clear of the plane they simply dropped the bike, which was secured to their harness with a suspension line. Hopefully they landed next to the bike and not on top of it.

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    1. Ah thanks. Interesting. I thought it was somehow under the parachute - the bike strapped to their backs first, then the chute over it. If the bike had to be dropped on the ground, that speaks a lot of how durable it had to be.

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  27. Strangely its not on the Pashley website!?!


    I googled pashley parabike weight and it came up on a no of sites. Britains largest bike chain is Halfords and this gives a full spec!

    http://www.halfords.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductMobileDisplay?catalogId=10151&storeId=10001&productId=822085&categoryId=231005&langId=-1



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  28. My understanding was that the bike was strapped to their backs but that they had to release it and let it drop to the ground before they landed as they needed to roll when they landed.

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  29. A 531 adaption of the BSA parabike was tried on the public in 1948. It was called the 'Success' and it obviously wasn't, as around only 26 were made. See link for photo of frame:-
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/chris531/4238213458/in/pool-984579@N24.

    More information here:-
    http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk/builders/success.html

    Minor variations in the frame design to get round BSA patent, but the twin tube idea and curved tubing is all there. Just goes to show that Pashley weren't the first to try it!

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    1. stumbling across THAT at an autojumble would rate as a year changer in my somewhat obsessive life..

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  30. ‎'Tis a brilliant way for Pashley to give historical context to its new cruiser.

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  31. The really good parachutists rode their bikes out of the airplane and pedaled on the way down so that they would hit the ground with wheels spinning.

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  32. That is a truly beautiful bike that brings back quite a few memories of when I was a kid riding bikes with my friends and enjoying my first taste of freedom that a child on a bike often experiences.

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  33. reminds me a bit of the J.C.Higgins Flightliner I rode when I was a kid
    http://flic.kr/p/cH4B8d
    Just the twin tube bit everything else is pretty different

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  34. I absolutely love the look of this thing. Thanks for the review and pics!

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  35. Good review, but I think "What's it for?" is the wrong question! It's for anything, pretty much.

    I have one of these (well, a Tube Rider: same thing, different colour); it travelled around Europe with me for 9 months, and took in trips to the beach with a surfboard under my arm, a ride up the Col de Peyresourde with my terrier in a basket on the back rack, snowy descents to the village we were staying near in winter, off-road trails through the woods... just about everything. Obviously it won't do full-on mountain-bikey off-road, and it's not a whippety race bike, but you knew that. Everything else, no worries.

    My only complaint is the gearing. The front is 46t, and if you're carrying a good load or riding up a steeeep hill, it's out of the saddle. For both, pushing. Meantime, the 5th gear rarely gets a workout. I think a 42t, or even a 40t, would make the bike even more versatile.

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    1. Or you can swap the rear sprocket on the SA hub for a larger one, in the UK they only cost around £3 each.

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  36. I actually called my local Pashley dealer for information on this bike. I was told that Pashleys "do not last". I was told that I would be better off with a Jamis, whatever that is. Can anyone comment on the durability of Pashleys? Thank you.

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    1. Pashley powdercoat is one of the best I've seen. They use quality bolts and hardware. The frames, welds and lugs are done well. From what I've seen, they try to select quality 3rd party parts for items they must source elsewhere (like SA hubs).

      I think there was some other reason you were told this.

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    2. Pashley are the official supplier of delivery bicycles to Royal Mail. They're used daily in all weathers for up to 10 years delivering mail. Being overloaded, crashed up and down kerbs, leaned against walls and lamp posts, dropped , and generally abused. After all that they get sent to Africa to be used as everyday transport by people who can't afford other means of transport for decades more. Do you think you need a bike more durable than that?

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  37. Anonymous, that was just the dealer trying to sell you a Jamis as they get a better commission from them than Pashley.

    Ironically enough, Pashley last longer than Jamis, least the one we sell in our bicycle shop, I can tell you we don't get much commission selling Pashley as well but that doesn't stop me recommending them.

    We got a LOTS of commission from Jamis, Specialized and BMC (as far as I remembered), so naturally a lots of salesperson will try and recommend you those bicycle.

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  38. Thanks for the replies. To be more specific I was curious if the Pashley could safely handle my weight as I am 300 pounds. The individual I spoke to did not directly answer that question but instead just switched to the Jamis sales pitch. The Jamis he did recommend only cost about $300 but I just do not care about what I consider to be generic 21st century style. I like the Pashley aesthetic and unlike Achielle for example I can actually afford one.

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    1. I am certain that the diamond frame Pashley Roadster will handle a 300 lbs rider fine. The Brooks B33 triple rail saddle (that comes with the Roadster) is very comfortable and durable, but it's possible to break the springs on it (I did it), after which you must replace the saddle if you're outside Brooks 2-yr warranty. You may break rear spokes on your Pashley wheel (I did). Make sure the shop you go to to deal with that is familiar with hub bikes. They will need an oversized spoke wrench. Pashley uses ridiculous spokes. They probably will not have the Pashley heavy guage spokes in stock, but they should have the more durable regular guage DT swiss spokes which will be fine (better). You may break a couple spokes if you ride this thing a lot over the years.

      This isn't a question of durability, but you may want to replace the rear cog with a slightly bigger one to lower the gear range a bit. You will again need to look for a good shop that knows hub bikes.

      A big rider will accelerate swiftly downhill and may find the hub brakes slightly underpowered.

      Are you comfortable carrying a 55 lbs bike up stairs?

      I would recommend test-riding before you buy.

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    2. If you break a spring on a Brooks saddle you can simply order replacement springs directly from Brooks. They sell just about every component.

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  39. I can't wait for the review of the Penny! I've been looking for a new commuter bike and I'm really drawn to the look of the Tube Rider/Parabike and the Penny. I think the Penny is more of those "love it or hate it" type of designs, which I just happen to love. Looking forward to it!

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  40. It seems to me that the Parabike is nothing more or less than another version of their Tuberider with a different paint job. The name could also be a rehash of the previous model name "Paramount" rather than anything to do with the military (has Pashley actually said that it's based on the paratroopers folding bike?)

    As far as the bike itself is concerned I think it's a beautiful looking model along with its mate the Penny. It smacks of absolute quality in the Pashley tradition. I'm not so concerned about lighting as being a modern looking bike you can put many types of modern lights on it. I do however wish it had a matching rear rack. I'm saving my pennies (no pun intended) for this one and I hope the Canadian distributor brings it in so I can test ride it before committing myself to order one.

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  41. I've ordered a Parabike from my local dealer (UK). I too thought about the issue of a rear rack, not really fitting in with the visual of the frame. The Portland Design Works one is a firm contender though, while it's painted black as standard, it wouldn't be difficult to respray it with an aerosol. Most car paint suppliers can mix paint to match a sample if Pashley wont tell you the actual pantone colour code. A Carradice saddle bag is an alternative though, they even do them in green and tan.
    It is very obviously the same frame as the Paramount and Tube Rider. Just like the Poppy, Britannia and Princess all use the same frame in varying colours with differing options bolted on. The Paramount obviously derives it's name from the Parachutist connection and the Parabike is just a revision of the design. The Paramount used to come with a cheap plastic chainguard, SKS plastic mud guards and an ugly adjustable stem. I certainly think they've improved the aesthetics of it. Lights are easily added, Pashley would only buy in lights from B&M anyway.

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