Can We Have It All? The Mirage of the Perfect Bicycle

This post has been long in the making, its birth finally inspired by the plight of a fellow velo-bloggerist - whose story I will use as a case study here. Taking care to keep her identity hidden, I shall refer to my fellow velo-bloggerist as "Dee".

[image: "Dee" rides cargo trike]

Case Study: Dee and Her Search for "The Bike"

Dee lives in the suburbs. She rides an enormous cargo trike, in which she carts around two children, groceries, drycleaning, sleds, and whatever else the day might bring. Being young, fit and vivacious, Dee hungers for a personal bike - one she could ride on her own with joyful abandon. Her husband agrees that she must have such a bike, and a reasonable budget has been allocated. All seems rosy ...until Dee tries to decide what bike to get. Let's see, what are her criteria? She wears mainly dressy clothing, she plans to ride the bike in all seasons, and she always carries a bag when she is out and about. An upright sitting position, internal gear hub, enclosed hub brakes, a chaincase, and a good basket set-up would be ideal.

["Dee" completes triathalon]

But wait. Dee also dreams of going on longer, zippier rides on this bike, in hilly areas. Perhaps try touring some time. She wants to keep up with her husband when he is on his carbon fiber road bike. She wants speed when she feels like it. And did I mention she has completed a triathalon? All this brings a different bike to mind: derailleur gearing, handlebars that allow for a variety of hand positions, lighter weight.

If you know about bikes, you can already see the problem here. The two "ideals" for the different styles of riding she plans to do, are in conflict with one another. The heavy loop frame, North Road handlebars and the internal gear hub that will protect Dee's ivory silk trousers as she pedals elegantly to her meeting in town, will not get her up hills alongside her husband's roadbike. Likewise, the sporty geometry and derailleur gearing that will allow her to glide uphill on those long rides, will not be kind to her dressy outfits once she is back to her town life. Not to mention that derailleur gearing is a pain to maintain in the winter season, and the caliper brakes that come with sporty bikes do not work as well in poor weather as enclosed hub brakes. As Dee shops around, goes on various test rides, and continues to weigh her criteria, she realises that she cannot have both sets of features on the same bike. What is she to do?

["Dee" wears elegant duds]

Here is a list of what, in my view, are the options available to a person in Dee's position:
A. Recognise that you need two bicycles rather than one: you need a city bike and a sporty bike. Adjust your budget, your manufacturer(s) of choice, or your purchasing timeline accordingly.

B. Determine what kind of cycling you will be doing most: city or sporty? Based on this, buy a bicycle that is ideal for that type of cycling, recognising that whenever you will be doing the other type, you will be riding a less than ideal bike and it may be difficult.

C. Try to find a bicycle that you see as the best possible combination of some city features and some sporty features.
Based on anecdotal evidence, my impression is that many people in Dee's position are naturally drawn towards Option C. Option A seems financially prohibitive. Option B seems scary, because it involves accepting that you will not be able to do some of the things you want to do on the one bike you're getting. Option C appears to make sense: It seems like a sensible idea to get a bicycle that lets you do some of this and some of that.

However, I think that Option C is often a mistake, and that those who choose it may ultimately be unhappy. A bicycle that has some city features and some sporty features is not "the best of both worlds" as we wishfully think, but rather, a compromise. Let's say Dee finds a bicycle with upright geometry and derailleur gearing. A comfortable bicycle that can handle hills, right? Well, yes, that sounds reasonable. But what about riding it in the city wearing those flowing silk trousers? And what about caring for that derailleur in the winter? During times like these, Dee will be wishing she'd gotten a "real" city bike. And what about those long rides, when her hands will begin to go numb because of the North Roads' limited hand positions? Well, during times like those she'll be wishing that she'd gotten a "real" sporty bike.

Essentially, "kind of good for both" means ideal for neither. That is my main caveat against buying "compromise bikes", especially if you plan to spend a great deal of money on the bicycle and rest all of your hopes and dreams on it.

While at first glance it might not seem possible that you can afford Option A, there are most definitely ways to do it. One suggestion, is to buy the dominant bicycle (for the style of riding you will be doing most) new, and the supplementary bicycle (for the style of riding you will be doing less of) vintage. This is the route I went when I bought a new Pashley for the city (retail price: $1200) and a vintage Motobecane for sporty rides (typical C-List price: $150). The extra cost of the Motobecane was marginal, but my needs were pretty much satisfied between those two bikes. A year later, you can save up and upgrade by replacing that second vintage bike with a new bike, if you feel that's necessary.

The main point that I hope to bring across here, is that the idea of that one bike that is perfect for every kind of cycling is a fiction - a dream that's as futile to chase as our own shadow. There is no such thing as the perfect bicycle, only the perfect bicycle of its kind. Versatility is good, but there is a fine line between versatility and compromise. It is up to you to decide where that line lies.


  1. Good points Filigree and a well thought out and rational approach. Like you I have the expensive Pashley and a cheap vintage Mixte - this covers my cycling needs. (Love the pic of you with Marianne... it illustrates the concept of dilemma just perfectly.)

    The perfect bike for all rides and situations hasn't been invented - because all of our needs are different. There are some superb options out there though.

  2. Impressive commentary. You're a great writer.

    Ideally I would have at least three bikes for different occasions:

    - functional beater bike for city cycling (don't worry about it being stolen)
    - cargo for shopping
    - well designed Dutch or Italian bike for social events and joy rides

    The functional bike should probably be the first purchase.

    You're right, it's best not to buy a "compromise bike".

  3. I knew from the first few lines that I was going to love this post and went to make a cup of tea so I could savour it properly. You write and reason like a lawyer (and I don't mean to insult you by saying that ... just the opposite). I agree completely with your analysis. I have found it impossible to confine myself to one bike. I could live with that but for the fact that my purchasing strategy is marked by a complete absence of reason. I bought a Pashley a few months ago only to decide this week that what I really need in my life is .... a Workcycles Oma! Just because.

  4. Two bikes? That's cruel. She needs at least five. More is better.

  5. Just to play the devil's advocate, I would argue that it could be possible to accomplish all of this (or at least almost all of this) in one bike. The biggest difficulty would be choosing between an IGH and derailleur gearing- I would personally choose derailleur, as I am of the opinion that internal gear hubs, while requiring less maintenance than derailleurs, aren't quite as maintenance free as people think. They still need oiling, and if they are neglected, they are more expensive to replace. Also, for me, the greater range and choice of gearing outweighs the ability to shift while stopped.

    Anyway, ponder the following:

    Rivendell Betty Foy frame

    Derailleur gearing- triple chainring front

    Moustache bar with bar end brakes as well as cyclocross interrupter brakes in the bends of the bar

    With a setup like this, one could add and subtract things like fenders, racks, bags, and a chainguard depending on what sort of riding one is doing. The stache bars with four brake handles allows them to be used in an upright position like north roads as well as down in an aero position for speed and stability in descents. The mixte style frame allows easy dress wearing, but it isn't as heavy as something like a batavus old dutch. With a triple chainring, she shouldn't have any problem selecting a gearing profile that would accomplish all of her goals. A Riv is certainly expensive, but is it that much more expensive than buying and maintaining two bikes instead of one? Is "Dee" going to be happy with a 20 year old Peugeot with its 20 year old parts, or will it just end up getting rebuilt from the frame up anyway?

    You might argue that having one bike that you are 'constantly' taking bits off of and putting them back on again is a huge pain, but keep in mind that with your two bike solution, you are still doing maintenance on two bikes instead of one, or three bikes instead of two in this case.

  6. My mother asked me the other day just how many bikes a person really needs (I've got her on two at the moment, but I'm still looking because neither one has an IGH).

    "Just one, of course," I said. "But I think perhaps three is optimum."

    Nonetheless I'll rise to the challenge of configuring a reasonably versatile compromise, just hypothetically. You can't buy a bike like this, you'd have to assemble it.

    Start with a lightweight mixte frame. Put a five speed hub with internal brake on the back. Mate that to a compact triple crank, with a cruising ring in the middle position, a bailout for the inner and a ring guard on the outer. Sidepull brake on the front wheel. CR18 rims with either 28mm or 32mm tires (to taste). Dove bars (the Nitto ones, not the chocolate/ice cream ones. They have more than one hand position). These will be mounted as risers for city riding, flipped to drops for fast riding and flipped and pointed FORWARD for really riding on the rivet. A pop top stem will make all that fairly quick and painless, if less elegant than a traditional quill.

    I wouldn't want to road race a rig like that, but I might be willing to RAAM it with the right oil in the hub.

  7. Of course it depends on the kind of person you are and the kind of riding you want to do, but I agree that it's highly unlikely to find a bike that is perfect for both transportational and recreational use, especially if the recreational use means going fast.

    A good Dutch or English roadster-type bicycle could make both an ideal city bike and a pretty good touring bike, depending on the terrain, but neither of them is meant to go fast.

    A light English roadster like my Raleigh Sports makes kind of a compromise between a city bike (full chaincase, internal gears, dynohub) and a fast bike (small frame, more of a touring-bike posture, rim brakes). This is the type of bike that club racers who couldn't afford real club racing bikes would usually have, I guess.

    In my ideal world, I would have my Raleigh, plus a WorkCycles Omafiets with a frame-mounted front rack. In the real world, I'm going to have to make do with just my Raleigh for a while, but the eventual goal is hopefully to fulfill the ideal world dream. We shall see :)

  8. Would an ANT Boston Roadster not be a good option for "Dee"? Perhaps it would be a good "compromise" bike in the sense of meeting most of her needs. "Compromise" is a completely unsuitable word to use when speaking of ANT's beautiful bikes though.

  9. Thanks for the positive comments about this post, glad you enjoyed it : )

    Jen - I know of several Pashley owners who now wish they had a Dutch bike, and several Dutch bike owners who now wish they had a Pashley. It's funny, because the bikes are just different enough to wonder whether the other style would have been better for you, but not different enough to actually justify both!

    Merkin - I was hoping to have "devil's advocate" views on this and to turn it into a discussion, so thank you.

    Believe it or not, I agree with you in terms of preferring a derailleur if I could only have one bike. I can always ride a derailleur bike in the city, though I'd have to somewhat alter the way I dress. But I could never go on fast, hilly rides on an IGH city bike like my Pashley. I know that some people do it and God bless them, but I will take derailleur gearing for touring please.

  10. Portlandize: "This is the type of bike that club racers who couldn't afford real club racing bikes would usually have, I guess."

    It's how I started. First with the North Roads flipped and then eventually converted to rams horn drops. It's the vehicle I first realized transportational freedom on and the bike that made me a "real" cyclist.

    The AW hub is not fit for sportive riding, however, and nothing else was available, so the switch to a derailer bike was made quicker than it might otherwise have taken place.

  11. Jen (2) - She tried a Boston Roadster. The question again is the IGH hub vs derailleur. The Boston Roadster is a classic loop frame IGH hub bike. It is great for transport and even long distance. But major hills? I don't know, ahven't tried it. It has a similar geometry and gearing as my Pashley, and while I can ride uphill on my Pashley, it is not my bike of choice for rides where there are constant hills. A.N.T. does make derailleur mixtes, which are beautiful, but then you have the same issues as with the Rivendell Betty Foy: derailleur means no chaincase, no enclosed hub brakes, etc.

  12. Merkin (2) - I can see your point with the "modular Betty Foy" suggestion. However, I know that many people don't think drops or moustache bars look good on a mixte, so that alone would be a dealbreaker. Also, and this may sound like blasphemy to some, but I don't find mixte frames that easy to climb over in a skirt. Loops and step-throughs yes, but mixtes are just high enough to make it uncomfortable. I have almost fallen countless times trying to disentangle myself from my Motobecane frame; it would be almost easier to just swing the leg over the back.

    kfg - What would be the 3rd bike in the "three is optimum" formula? Re your 5-speed mixte idea with flipped Dove bars... I am too speehless to react, I am still busy imagining it!

  13. Velouria: The derailer police will not arrest you for putting a gear hub on a Betty Foy. They were actually quite common on English club and TT bikes until the early 60s. Not AW hubs though.

  14. I wholeheartedly agree: "'kind of good for both' means ideal for neither." And unfortunately, most of us are unlikely to want to ride a bike that isn't ideally suited for the conditions.

    Right now I own a road bike, a fixed gear, two mountain bikes and a town/utility bike. Ideally I'd add at least two more to my already large stable... soon enough.

    Spencer Wright
    Traffic Cycle Design

  15. Velouria (2): I thought it would be the Dove bars as bullhorns that would mind boggle you a bit. The ram's horn drop bar is the most versatile to put on and forget; but a North Road with ends parallel to bike axis is probably more versatile if you're willing to move them around a bit.

    And people seem to forget that it isn't necessarily a choice between hub gears and derailers, you can mix and match. There's even a two speed bottom bracket.

    Of course my own choice for a "do anything" bike has been made as a three speed with no gear changing mechanism.

    As for what the particular makeup of the optimum 3 bike collection would be, that would depend on the riding needs and habits of the particular person, but for most it would break down as city bike, sport bike, cargo bike.

    Then you're just left to define those bikes. :)

  16. kfg - Oh I ain't scared of the police. I am just contemplating the aesthetics and feel of the whole thing. I know that some tour even on single-speeds and fixed gear bikes, but I personally am not confident that I could cycle on, say, the outer Cape on a bike with a 5-speed hub. I almost maxed out the gears on my 12-speed mixte.

  17. Another great post!

    I am sitting in my office/music studio/garage/junk room surrounded by many ukuleles and bicycles. They all have there uses for the many different situations life and music throw at me. I have had to spend a great deal of money to build up the collection and still have gaps to fill. There is also the cost of maintenance and parts. I am not wealthy but I can afford these things because I DO NOT HAVE A CAR. It seems odd to me that people will spend vast sums of money on buying, taxing, insuring, running and maintaining one or often multiple cars but seem shocked at the idea of spending money on buying and maintaining good quality bicycles.

    In the UK and US we both live in car dominated cultures, where the vast majority of middle class people cannot contemplate for a moment living without a car. I have never owned or even driven a car so I googled around and found the average UK running cost for a car is between £2500 and £10,000+ per year. For that kind of money top of the range bicycles of all types can be bought and maintained. Given that a good quality bicycle, that is well maintained, can last several years the cost of running multiple bicycles is a fraction of the cost of running one car. Long distances can be achieved with the use of trains (or if you are so inclined the occasional hire car) and still the savings are immense. Does Dee run a car? Could getting rid of it solve her dilemma?

    My car free life has worked well for over 20 years with just a Dawes Super Galaxy touring bike, however in 2009 I branched out and bought two trailers, a tag along bike, a Dahon folder, a Pashley and a Brompton; all for less than the lowest estimate for running a car. I still want a 3 wheel cargo bike, a tandem, a recumbent and a penny farthing... Then I really will have a bicycle for every occasion.

    BTW The Brompton is a wonderful machine and provides whole new opportunities for mixed mode transport. Perhaps the best thing about it is I no longer need to think about where to park and lock. Wherever I go I can just take the bike in with me. I have taken it into shops, to friend’s houses and best of all into the pub. I think Dee should start by getting a Brompton, the 6 speed has all the gears, the ride is upright, there is an option for touring bars (although they do look a bit odd) it's fast or slow, and it is suitable to be ridden in normal duds.


  18. Velouria (3): Look at my build again; it's a wide range ten speed.

    Nipper: I am on occasion taken to task for how much I spent on, gasp, a mere bicycle. Some people even get a bit angry about it even though it's my money and no skin off their nose.

    And yet my bike, which I may well ride "forever," cost less to own outright than they piss down the black hole of insurance premiums annually.

    I still need a tenor uke, I'm afraid I went a bit more than I really needed on fiddles. I'll probably end up with one o' them Chinese Bushman's for starters; although I have some ideas for my own designs for laters.

  19. portlandize - The issue for both "Dee" and myself is not so much going fast, as hills. I can go pretty darn fast on my vintage Raleigh DL-1 Lady Tourist with rod brakes - as long as the terrain does not involve major hills. The Pashley is slightly better at hills, but still the image of "touring" on it through, say, New Hampshire, is a nightmarish one.

    Nipper - I suspect Dee would find being car-free problematic at this stage in her life. When there are lots of different errands to do and the locations are all far away, you can end up spending the whole day on a bicycle with no time for other activities. This is a serious considerations for those living in the suburbs, where distances between one kid's school, the other kid's school, the grocery store, etc., are huge.

  20. This really is a great post, Filigree! I adore my Pashley and don't find the (not insignificant, actually) hills of Brooklyn a problem, but I find that sometimes I just want to go faster and lighter. Kind of like sometimes I wear a little ballet flat and sometimes a stiletto. Anyway, this is not a thing I could have envisioned when I was a less experienced cyclist. I am still an extremely inexperienced cyclist, by the way. Anyhoo, here is another thing about the perfect bike. I want it to be there when I come out of a meeting! This is the thing that keeps me from riding it all the time, everywhere in the city. I am thinking of selling my old Raleigh sports and getting a Brompton so I never have to deal with the subway again.

    kfg I think you need a blog. I really like reading your comments.

  21. freddy.brett@yahoo.comJanuary 21, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    I cannot weigh in on the triple bike desire/dilemma, however I was soo brightened by the shadow Bicycle/Rider picture; it is solariffic. This blog is full of wonders. Thanks for that and the poor fallen bike on the Charles. Tears.

  22. kfg

    Have a look at the Ohana ukes they are better value than the Bushman and are actually made in the same factory. The cedar top tenor has a killer sound.


    Pashley and Brompton are a great combination, go for it.


  23. Nipper: Thanks for the tip; I'll do that (and how did you know I wanted a cedar top?).

    Neighbortease: Thank you. You aren't the first to suggest that. I've even considered considering it from time to time, but my interests are broad and variable and to cover everything that people have wanted me to cover would amount to writing a rather eclectic magazine all on my own.

    Commenting puts the publish or perish pressure on others, leaving me free to come out and play where, when and to a certain extent with whom I wish.

  24. neighbortease - I like the heels/flats comparison. And anybody who cycles in Brooklyn can hardly consider themselves "inexperienced" methinks!

    freddy/betty - Thank you, the shadow is me. If you like these, there are two separate flickr pools dedicated to such pictures: bike shadow and shadow panda - good stuff!

    kfg - Okay, I've had a closer look at your build. It is cool, in theory, and I do realise there is more versatility in gearing choices and combinations than we take advantage of. But who would be the lucky person blessed with the task of putting this together for the poor female cyclist who just wants a nice bike? The husband? The bike mechanic? Eccentric builds like this just doesn't seem like a sustainable option unless the person in question works on bikes themselves.

    And for the record, I too wish you had a blog. You can make it as eclectic as you wish, I don't mind. But if not, I will accept it and content myself with your fabulous comments.

  25. The perfect bike is the one you sneak back to look at after everyone else has gone to bed, just to look at. That's definitely NOT option C.

    There are a lot of nice, low mileage used bikes out there, bought by people who never used them the way they thought they would. The last time I bought a new bike for myself was 1972.

  26. kfg - I'd take one of those eccentric builds of yours!

    Filigree... is it Velouria now? At any rate a GREAT post.

  27. RidingPretty - I've consolidated my identities with flickr, bikeforums and Open : ) Hope it's not too confusing.

    Steve - I stare at my bikes as they sleep, cooing to them gently. Does that count?..

  28. Depending on your budget, one local rider likes Rohloff hubs so much he's bought at least 2 (1 for MTB/commuter bike, 1 for road bike). I believe the 14 speed IGH Rohloff has a range and steps comparable to derailleurs with IGH convience.

    I don’t own a Rohloff myself. (I’ve had and seen so many bicycles stolen/vandalized when I used to live in Boston and Philadelphia I still don’t want to pay for a Rohloff.)How do you keep a Pashley from being stolen in Boston or Cambridge?)

    I find for me the Sports/AW really is a good compromise since I value reliability far more than additional gears. I have noticed most other riders do prefer lighter bikes and more gears for 35-80 mile day trips. When I was touring in the Green Mountains 20 years ago I did have derailleurs.

    I am curious about the difference between the Pashley and the Dutch bikes - you note the difference is distinctive enough that some owners of each bike wish they had bought the other.

    I have a Raleigh DL1 and a Dutch (1960) Gazelle. I think there must be some subtle differences in geometry, and I have noticed the Gazelle is surprisingly heavy, even compared to the DL1.

    What are the differences between the Pashley and the Dutch bike or the DL1?

  29. My "whips" are both sporty bikes - a Bianchi Pista for the cliche fixed-gear feeling and a Bianchi Vigorelli with 20 speeds (I'll never debase myself with a triple crank).

    Now I use the pista for commuting simply because because it is cheaper and I don't mind much if it gets soaked out in the rain, exactly what happened tonight.

    I cursed my impractical choice as I slogged through many a puddle after work tonight. But where I live it doesn't rain often so most of the time it isn't an issue.

    The main thing is that the Pista flies - not to say the Vigorelli doesn't - but it feels faster and even with the relatively large gear hills are rarely an issue.

    I love riding fast around town with my Ironic Brake-Furnished Pista as I call it (mind you, always heeding traffic laws). It really hauls, and I won't give THAT up despite the obvious limitations it faces in inclement weather. 90% of the time it is a perfect commuter for me.

  30. I can write well too!

  31. Brian - I do not own an ironic bike yet. Darn, one more to add to the list.

    Eustacia! Don't make me start checking IP addresses in my stats...

  32. Stephen - the differences between the Pashley and a traditional Dutch bike like the Workcycles Oma are mainly aesthetic I believe. The Oma has 8 gears (Shimano Nexus) instead of the Pashley's 5 (Sturmey Archer), although as Velouria has shown in another post, that can be upgraded on the Pashley. The things I like about the Oma over the Pashley are the simple and elegant square Transport handlebars, which seem quintessentially Dutch to me, the bigger 28 inch wheels, the double kickstand and mudflap (easily add-able to Pashley), and the sturdier racks front and back. I also have a general sense that the Oma is sturdier. I will always try to squeeze my Pashley into the garden shed I share with my neighbours rather than leave it out in the harsh Scottish weather, whereas I would have no hesitation about leaving an Oma locked up outside my house. It's designed for the Dutch market, many of whom have no choice but to leave their bikes outside, in the cities at least. You might want to look at Dottie from Lets's Go Ride a Bike's comparison of the two, which can be found if you do a search on her site under 'Pashley'.

  33. Stephen/ Jen - I have to disagree with Jen on many of her comments. The Pashley Princess and the Azor Oma have different frame geometries and different forks. The result of this is not just cosmetic. Pashley is "a bit zippier", whereas Azor is "a bit more relaxed", meaning that the seat tube is angled backwards a tad more.

    There is also a difference in wheel size between the female models. Some people prefer 28" (Oma), others prefer 26" (Princess), and trying to determine which is "better" is controversial. However, the male models both have 28" wheels, Azor and Pashley.

    Yet another significant difference between the two bikes is the weight: the Oma being about 10 pounds heavier than the Pashley.

    The differences in the number of gears, handlebars and accessories are insignificant, as these can be easily altered on either bike to be just like the other.

    And the Pashley, just like the Oma, was most definitely designed to withstand the elements. English weather is not much better than Dutch weather. My husband commutes to work on his Pashley Roadster daily in the snow and roadsalt, and the bike is undaunted.

  34. Stephen (2) - Others have noted the same differences between Dutch bikes and English Roadsters. Even when the geometry is seemingly the same - like on Gazelle vs the DL-1 - the Dutch bikes seem heavier and more sluggish. Somervillain owns both bikes as well, and he notes this difference often. I have test rode Gazelle and several other Dutch bikes, and overall I prefer my Pashley. But I prefer my DL-1 even more, if it weren't for the rod brakes.

    Re the Rollhof - you've presented both sides of the argument already: it is better than a regular hub but very expensive. Also, I understand that they are massively heavy?

  35. Due to a lovely case of insomnia, I have been giving this another thought, and I am struck by the idea that this little thought experiment (real world scenario to "Dee," thought experiment to us readers) seems to be set up to fail, at least a bit. You are correct in that there is probably not one bike that can be used as a city commuter in dresses, a club racer, a tri bike, and a loaded touring bike that is both incredibly versatile and extremely low maintenance. My earlier Betty Foy idea is still the closest I can come up with, but it would probably get you laughed away from a triathalon. This, however, is an extremely extreme case. I think that a significant percentage of people can be perfectly happy with one well chosen and well equipped bike, because a significant percentage of people aren't looking to do all of the things that "Dee" is looking to do. Even if one item is knocked off of that list, solutions can be found, regardless of which one. I admit that it would be easier for men to accomplish than women. I am a guy, and although i do own a Kilt, I don't tend to be seen very often in a dress. If I needed a city commuter/club racer/touring bike, I would probably build a Surly Pacer or something of that ilk. I am not in to the racing, so I am currently assembling the parts and loot to build the world's sexiest long haul trucker over the winter to replace my Sears Free Spirit Greenbriar, and it will be able to accommodate all of my needs- transportation, recreation, distance, wooing the ladies, grocery runs, etc. It will handle everything from visiting friends to the RAGBRAI. Is it the only bike I want? No. Is it the only bike I will likely ever NEED? Probably. Granted, at some point down the road, I plan on replacing the surly frame with a riv frame, at which point I will probably add an xtracycle to the LHT, and I would enjoy owning a nice tandem for things like touring and Advanced Wooing of the Ladies.

    The other issue is the difference between 'does' and 'would like to do.' If you take extra time and extra loot to build a 'would like to do' bike, and you either don't do it or find out that you hate it, you have wasted a good bit of time and loot. On the other hand, if you build a 'does' bike, you know that the Kung Fu put in to it will be rewarding, and if that 'does' bike is so completely unsuitable for something you 'would like to do,' you can rent a bike for a day or thirty to determine if you want to turn your 'would like to do' in to a 'does.' This might actually be a wise thing to do before building or buying a bike.

    TL;DR: It is possible for a single bike to do everything a person wants it to do, unless that person wants it to do absolutely everything.

  36. There is a compromise position between B & C of course - buy a bike which is primarily for your dominant activity, but with nods towards your secondary one. So it's not fatally compromised, but you won't curse it quite so much on the days when it's operating out of its comfort zone

    I don't know why I'm saying this, though. I've just pointed my other half towards this article in order to justify why I need N+1 bikes.

  37. stephen, as veloria pointed out, i've also noticed differences in feel between my raleigh DL1 and my union unitas (dutch roadster) (see my flickr sets by via my profile). the geometries are very similar, and both have 24" seat tubes and "roadster" geometry. the raleigh has an uber-relaxed 66 degree seat tube angle, while the union's is 69 degrees. the raleigh has 28" wheels and a whopping 118cm wheelbase, the union has 700c wheels and a slightly shorter 110cm wheelbase. despite the more "aggressive" seat tube angle on the union and "tighter" geometry (if you can call a dutch bike "tight"), it feels heavier and slower than the raleigh. what confounds me is that, inconsistent with all this, the union is 4 lbs *lighter* than the raleigh.

    there's got to be something else factoring in here...

  38. Wow, this was one of your best posts ever!

    I'm not going to get into the minutiae, but i agree with you idea of getting a dominant bike and a secondary bike. That will also give you plenty of time to realize what you want to do when you upgrade/replace your secondary bike.

    like the betty Foy, the Soma Buena Vista is also a snappy looking mixte.

    as for Dee, if she already has a cargo bike, perhaps going for the racing style bike would satisfy her needs. I know from experience, it's still very fun and no work at all to noodle around on an unloaded cargo bike!

  39. No 'compromised' bicycle for me.:p
    I'm 'polyvelous'! :D heehee
    Have a 'harem' of bikes if availability of space and fund pose no problem.
    (One should)Keep one's mind calm and prioritize one's acquisitions -avoid hastiness(I've 5 - 2 too many -& 3strays' that are still to be 'rehabilitated')


  40. The "perfect" bike is the one that gets you where you are going. Once upon a time, when I was touring in the Benelux, on my "perfect" touring bike, with wide range derailleur gears and carefully selected gear throughout, I met a pair of Dutch bike tourists. When I met them we were in Luxembourg, which has terrain that is primarily vertical. After a day of struggling up hairpin roads to the top of one ridge, only to plunge down into the ravine on the other side in preparation for the next ridge (repeat until limp), I enjoyed relaxing in the campground with them. It was not until the next morning that I looked at their bikes: classic Dutch omafietsen, repainted black many times, each with one speed, and one coaster brake. Each bike weighed probably 50 pounds, and each had at least another 60 pounds of gear piled high on the monumental rear rack. "Don't you find these hills difficult with these bikes?" I asked. "Oh, yes, the hills," replied one ?Dutch rider, "well, you just push a bit harder, and then you get to the top." I was seriously humbled, and still am.

    Besides the issue of appropriate functionality, it is also important to remember that any bike will need repairs and maintenance, and that it is always worthwhile to have a spare, no matter what its configuration.


  41. Wow, a lot of different subjects all in one shiny thread! Where to start?

    Here's completely different suggestion for Dee- if time, space, and the local building codes permit, build a bike shed outside of the garage. Make it have secure locking doors, some sort of ventilation, and a floor higher than the outside to keep snowmelt and rain out. Insulate it- R-13 or R-19 insulation is only $10 or so for 40 square feet. Foam sheeting for the floor under 3/4" plywood will work well. I'm envisioning something on the order of about $350 at Central California coastal prices.
    Local planning department permitting, put in an electrical outlet for a heater or trouble light to keep mold away, and an overhead light fixture, so you can see what you are doing. Then you can keep 3-4 bikes out there, and only have the Bakfiets in the garage to take up precious woodshop space.

    And the idea of renting a bike to try it for a few days is a fabulous one.

    You folks out there have real treasures in places like Harris Cyclery and Open Bicycles.
    Here we make do with some skilled local shop owners, and of course The Bike Church in downtown Santa Cruz. I'm not sure if one can get the same sort of service out here as you can in Boston & Cambridge.

    Somervillian & Velouria, I have a question for you both on the zippiness of your DL-1s VS the Union and Pashley bikes. What are your crank lengths and chainwheel/ sprocket teeth on the DL-1s compared to the other two?

    I find my DL-1 is also quite a bit faster off the block than my stock-drivetrain '83 Stumpjumper.
    Though I have not figured out the gear inches for each, I know the DL-1 has longer cranks.

    Corey K

  42. After thirty-plus years of cycling, I'm still trying to find the right balance of bicycles--or to make enough money so that I can have them all!

  43. I have to side with option A. Assuming that you are more important than the bike, make the bike your servant and since it is not as adaptable as you, it should be the specialist. Humans can adapt and as such could ride a cargo bike in the country, but why not make the choice to use the right tool for the job, rather than a compromise for all? Well stated article!

  44. so many posts and I must come back to read them all.

    I have a devils advocate comment however. What if "dee's" city is hilly. So to do simple city biking like going to the store, getting some coffee, riding to a friend's house all entail decent sized hills. Then really most of the riding would be hilly and of a sporty nature even if in a relaxed city manner.

    then what?

    great great post. thank you! I was riveted. I wonder if I can ever meet this Dee for lunch. Sounds like my kind of person.

  45. Well, Dee already rides a cargo trike though her hilly town, does she not? The cargo trike is insanely heavy, especially with the kids and the groceries, yet she still manages to pedal up hills with it. She doesn't enjoy it too much, but she manages. Now, I'd venture to say that the main reason it's difficult to pedal the trike up hill is not the internal gear hub, but the fact that it's WICKED HEAVY. A normal size solo bike would be, what 1/3 of the trike's weight? 1/4 even if you count the kids? IMO that difference in weight would be sufficient.

    For the record, I have cycled in Dee's town on my Pashley and it was fine; I would not feel the need for a derailleur bike just to cycle there. But I would not (absolutely not) be able to cycle on the Pashley through the hilly part of the peninsula where Dee vacations.

    Bottom line: If Dee is willing to (1) not wear flowing loose clothing while cycling and (2) deal with some derailleur maintenance in winter, she should go see a little lady named Betty.

  46. Update on Dee:

    This post was read to Dee's husband who had been a bit perplexed on why Dee kept talking about so many types of bikes. He felt like a good derailleur bike should be fine right? Just put a band around your pants and then attach said band around helmet. After he read this post and a few comments, he pondered for a moment and said---

    I think you need a IGH ANT. You aren't doing the speedy long runs really and even if we were to ride together it would be a slow ride down the bike lane with the kids. ( And I don't have a carbon fiber road bike btw!). I think for the zippy rides you need a Betty Foy on Cape cod and leave that there. Yeah, I think that would be fantastic actually.

    Ms. Velouria- you have successfully gotten him to make it sound like it was his idea. Hats off to you.
    ( to everyone reading- the idea of two bikes is not about money. It's really about space. Husband and I are fighting over garage space as garage is for woodworking not cars. Cargo bike takes up a huge amount of space and is a source of contention. Revenge is enacted by getting sawdust all over the sweet big bike) Of course now I need to figure out what to do with the Townie xtra down the road. )

  47. An ANT Boston Roadster and a Rivendell Betty Foy?
    Looks like my job here is done! : )))))

  48. Or actually I was thinking about a geekhouse mixte test ride. If I can have both beauties US/MA made that would make up for the Danish imported beauty.

  49. Oh I see! That would be interesting; none of the velo Bloggerins have a Geekhouse bike yet. They have floor model mixtes available for test rides?

  50. Great post. Is there any such thing as the perfect bike? Probably not. I use my beautiful upright but I have also been known to ride my cheaper mountain bike in more wintry weather. Merkin's comment about the weather also struck a nerve. I cover up my Swedish Skeppshult from the weather but I left my mountain bike out in the rain and the snow...even though the big Swedish bike is much more of a bad weather bike. Go figure!

  51. This is where I'm stuck. I currently need a bike for "commuting" to work (it's only about 4km) that's sturdy enough to carry a fair amount of groceries home a few times a week. A city bike would be perfect for this. Preferably a low-step model for the ease of it despite not currently owning any skirts. But. If I get a new job or move out of the city this bike would no longer be very appealing but I'd still need the grocery carrying capacity so a touring bike seems like it would be most fitting for that. A touring bike would probably come with diamond frame and if I live long enough a diamond frame might not be the best fit and I don't like the idea of outgrowing a bike. I also don't want to need a different bike should I have children and need room for a bike seat. If I get a new bike it should be because I want something for a different purpose, not because the old one is no longer useful new situation or not. Impossible, I know.

    And I have no idea how to talk to salespeople without turning my brain and wants off and just agreeing with whatever they're saying to get out of there as fast as possible since I find the whole situation so unpleasant no matter how nice and non-pushy they are.

  52. If you rely on a bike for transportation, it's great to have more than one. If one has a flat, you can ride the other. It also makes it easier to experiment with new parts, if you're in to that.

    With this as a starting point, it might be easier to figure out what different kind of bikes you would like to have.

  53. I agree that cars are evil. Too judgemental. Cars are very, very, very, very bad. But, unlike some here I couldn't live without one where I live. When I lived in a city it was easy, but out here I would be cashing in on emergency services and friends too much and I can't rent or car share. So...I have 2 bikes, both beaters compared to many because my budget is limited and the climate and salty roads would pummel the better of the two. A 5 speed wouldn't cut it on my hills (considering my 40 year old knees!). So, I agree that it would be nearly impossible to hit all of my needs with one bike. I unfortunately can't spend the whole budget on one. I do have a Uke...actually I use my 7 year old son's cheap my bikes.

  54. i have a different bike for all my needs. good secondhand bikes can be cheap. i have eight different bikes only one of them bought new. i get pleasure out of building them into what i want.

  55. Well said and said very well. I have being making this point to the bloke at my local bike shop for years. Everybodybshould have at least two bikes, one for transport ie High Nelly and one that is for fun, exercise whatever you want to do

  56. This is the perfect bicycle! I want it so badly, but have one problem, no money : (

  57. I think I may be stuck in a rut, too! :( I currently have a men's mountain bike (standard North American kind) that is my size. But for the previous four years, I'd been riding a men's Dutch bike that used to be my grandfather's. It's too big for me (my grandfather is around 6'3" and I'm 5'6") but despite this, it is still more comfortable than my mountain bike. I really like the upright position for cycling. I've done a few long rides (longest was 50km). I'll be biking to work this summer as well. I'm planning a few more weekend bike trips this summer, but I know my mountain bike won't cut it. Do you have any recommendations on how I can find a good bike that will let me comfortably commute and trip? I'm a student in university, so my budget is tight, which means I won't be able to buy two bikes. :( Do you have any suggestions?

  58. I'm going to buy a new bike in a few days - after these last weeks spent on cycling one borrowed by a friend - after ages I did not ride. I had so many positive feelings these weeks by doing it again! And, like you, I felt my health problems getting better after these short rides. Your website is very inspiring, I'm looking forward having the new bike and customise it :-) I will keep on following/reading you: thank you so much!

  59. I'm thinking that option B can be addressed -- I do more commuting, city, riding. And I'm seriously considering this bike:

    It's got good components, is sort of upright, fenders, integrated lights, rear rack, step through frame.

    But it's still kind of sporty -- it's light, somewhat aggressive, lots of gears.

    It's not as pretty as some of the others I was considering, and its expensive (but my major form of transport, so worth it I think), but I think it's a good fit. What do you think?

  60. I respectfully disagree with you conclusion. Twenty years ago I found the perfect bicycle in a 1993 Claoi beach cruiser.

    It was so comfortable, easy to operate, and fun to ride, I began extending my use of it beyond commuting, shopping, and errands to all-day rides and then a week-long 400-mile relocation down the Florida Peninsula - climaxed with my first century.

    After that, I wondered just how far this marvel - this everyday bicycle - could take me, and viewing one of those large photographs of Earth from space focused on North America, I set my goal for Alaska. Naively, I thought upgrading to a 3-speed hub would do the trick, but eventually I had to retreat with many lessons learned.

    The next try was with a 7-speed coaster brake hub and though I lost 2 gears along the way, I made my time goal - themed One Continent, One Season (Spring '98) - with 12 hours to spare. I realize this was no record but I think a respectable performance nonetheless. More than that I got to take it all in sitting up straight.

    Together with 10,000 miles both before and after that trek, the bike spun out a distance equivalent to one orbit of low flight before becoming infected with rust from seahore exposure. Caloi still makes beautiful cruisers but sadly terminated its stateside business.

    So actually your conclusion appears to be right for now, but I'm still looking. I'm curious about Bixi(?) bikes used in a few big city bikeshares, but have limited knowledge of them and hope you do a post on them sometime.

  61. Perfect, as such, is no doubt impossible particularly if you have really diverse needs as a cyclist. I never considered having more than one bike myself, even though I use my bike for commuting to work, shopping, errands, visiting friends and riding through bushland trails for relaxation/exercise. I don't drive, so my bike is essential for transport and I enjoy recreational cycling. I have a mountain bike, the only modifications are a more comfortable saddle than the 'sports' model it came with, a rear rack for carrying my bag or shopping and I had the riser handle bars adjusted to a greater height. My bike is great, zippy as a commuter bike and I appreciate the front suspension in town - going over gutters and pot holes is a breeze, the tyres are fat but not knobby, so no issues there either on the street or on the trails. The mtb elements are no disadvantage in town and a great advantage when I 'go bush'. I like the simple, sturdy frame and as a day on my bike can include town and country, this is the best bike for my style of riding.

  62. I see the last posting reply was 2014, so let's have one a year.

    We're updating our web site ( and are providing links to some of your posts that are so helpful. Thank you so much for your invaluable writing. While Sheldon Brown wrote almost everything anyone needs to know about bicycles, you did something equally important... opening up the beauty and aesthetic of rediscovering riding as an adult. How to get past the big-box store bikes and avoid the bike store salesman convinced you, a newbie, need a carbon-fibre road racing bike or a front-and-rear shock absorber'd mountain bike because that is what he rides and loves.

    As I looked at this posting that we had bookmarked years ago, to consider if it should be linked in our site (which is educational, not selling anything), I realised how time has moved on since you wrote it in 2010. In 2015, Dee should first read your post (when an ebike rode in the forest).

    The 2015 answer for Dee is to buy a Pashley Britannia, Bella Ciao Neorealista Veloce, Abici or Gazelle and then have a Bafang BBS01 mid-drive motor installed. Dee will look the way she wants to look, go on longer, zippier rides on this bike, in hilly areas, including touring (bigger battery = longer distance with juice).

    As for keeping up with her husband, a while back I rode with a friend in California while I was living there for a year. On his 27-speed, ultra-light, street racer, he was clipped in, lycra clad, pumping up a sweat (this guy did the Alaska Iditarod, won the masters world championship in single sculls and is a master jock). I was riding upright on a 1951 Raleigh DL1 wearing street clothes and riding side-by-side enjoying myself chatting with him while staying dry.. with a 300W Bafang BBS01 mid-drive motor under my feet. They say Lance Armstrong pedals at 400W whereas the typical street rider puts out about 100W. So with my 300W assist, I was doing Lance power without the drugs. My friend's comment? "I'm buying one of these for my wife. She wants to ride with me, but can never keep up." Sounds like Dee's story, eh?

    In 2010, I would not have made such a recommendation, ebike motor kits were still the realm of guys who like soldering irons and talk about shunting (don't ask, I don't understand it either), and dealer-sold ebikes were weak, ugly and not deserving to be called bicycles.

    But all that began to change a couple of years ago. We hear now that half the bicycles sold in Holland are ebikes. As you discovered in the forest, 2015 motors do not mean your bicycle becomes a moped. Instead it means that the hills are flatter, the wind less vicious, and you arrive glowing, but not dripping. You also ride upright, with tweed coat tails flapping and people smile as you go by. Drivers apologise for trying to kill you or at least wave nicely; having seen you in time since you made eye contact. You also find the battery on your car starts to go flat, and the windscreen needs washing even though its parked inside the garage. Finally, you deregister one of the cars; the family only needs one car it seems... for collecting guests at the ferry or delivering paintings. The coffee tastes better in the village. The sheep pay attention when you pass by. And when the weatherman predicts rain and you have to do a 25k ride to the city, it's sunny on the ride in and out, and the clouds only come over when you're back home.

    Well, actually, that's what happened today, but I'm not going to buy a lottery ticket on it.


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