Up-lifting Experiences

While a diamond-frame bicycle can be easily lifted by the top tube, a step-through frame does not have one - posing the question of how to hold the bike when picking it up. This becomes especially important when the bicycle is on the heavy side and frequently needs to be carried up and down the stairs. In the course of owning a number of loop frames, I have found that different bicycles require different approaches in this regard. 

My Bella Ciao bicycle likes to be picked up by the rear portion of the curved top tube. This is such a stable position that I can even carry it with one hand without the bicycle buckling. When held in this manner, I feel that the bike's center of gravity is directly under my hand, which is probably what accounts for the stability of this position. Also, my hand is snugly stuck in that little space between the upward sweep of the curve to one side and the top-downtube connector on the other - an important factor, because this way my hand cannot slip, even if the bicycle is wet from rain. 

By contrast, this is what happens when I attempt to lift my Gazelle in the same manner. It's not that the bicycle feels too heavy - in fact, lifting it by that loopy spot makes it feel lighter than otherwise. But something is off in the balance, and the Gazelle tries to flip over sideways, onto me, when held in this manner. It feels as if the center of gravity is not under my hand, but somewhere else. With the Pashley Princess I previously owned, this effect was even more pronounced - when lifted by this portion of the frame, the bicycle seemed to twist in my arms and threaten to bring both of us down. On the other hand, the vintage Steyr Waffenrad I rode in Austria was amenable to being picked up by the top tube of its "swan" frame. For reference, my Pashley was somewhere in between the weight of the Gazelle and the Bella Ciao, and the Steyr was as heavy as the Gazelle  - so again, it is not merely a matter of weight.

This is how the Gazelle wants to be lifted: by the seat tube. It stays stable and does not buckle when grasped in this position, despite feeling heavier than in the previously shown method. Could it be that for bicycles that prefer this method, the center of gravity is more toward the rear?

To get my bicycles home I must carry them up the porch stairs, through a narrow doorway, and then through another narrow doorway, after turning around in a cramped hallway. That may not seem like a big deal to those who have several flights of stairs to negotiate, but consider that I am a female with limited upper body strength and a bicycle like a Gazelle or a Pashley is half my weight once it's loaded with bags. Getting a good grip on the frame is key if I don't want to drop the bike or, worse, have it fall on top of me. If you own a heavy step-through bicycle, how do you lift it and how do you carry it up the stairs? 


  1. I have a 42 pound Dutch city bike with a step through frame.
    If I need to lift it over a curb or carry it across a field of goatheads, I pick it up by the front end of the "top" tube and the front part of the rear rack. Luckily I don't have to carry it up and down stairs!

  2. For small or short lifts, ie up a couple of stairs, I pick my Pashley up by the rear of the saddle and the front of the top (loop) tube. The bikes live in our garage so generally they don't get lifted about much.

    For lifting it onto the bike rack... I capitulate and ask my husband to do it ;-)

  3. I hold my Linus similarly to how you hold your Gazelle. I use my right hand to hold the seat tube and my left is on the handlebars. I just grab and haul, and make it up the stairs just fine. My bike usually lives in the garage, which is on street level. Occasionally I'll bring it up on the porch, but that's only 6 or so steps. I mostly lift it to put it in the back of a car. I tend not to think about how much the bike weighs, and just lift. Sometimes, I lean my hip into it to leverage my lower body strength.

  4. I lock mine outside for this reason. I'm going to try to get a cover for it. If I do have to lift it over stairs, I use the first version you posted.

  5. It appears that the center of gravity of your Gazelle is above your gripping point, which means the bike wants to twist in your hand, falling to the left or right. By gripping the seat tube, you reach a point higher than the center of gravity. I bet that the Gazelle tends to tip forward in that case, making for the heavier feeling.

    I often grip my diamond frame bike low on the seat tube as you do, because I can then walk with my arm hanging by my side. To use the top tube requires I bend my arm, which then tires quickly.

  6. Great tips - thanks. From one who is looking into invest in one of these bikes one day :)


  7. Collin - Yes, I think that's exactly it!

    jesse.anne.o - I have been meaning to start locking up my Gazelle outside, but I am still too nervous. It would certainly make things so much easier though.

  8. I carry my mixte up and down 52 stairs every morning in order to park it off-street. I grasp it on the downtube near the bottom bracket. I can then lightly hook the saddle over my shoulder. I don't use the saddle to take the weight, just as a bit of extra support. My other hand 'steers' the front wheel through the narrow doorways I have to pass.

  9. Gilbert is step through, not loop, but he caaries more like the gazelle if I have to do stairs. I lift and pull using the rear rack a lot..

    Minerva is more like the bell a I think. Now I'm going to have to pull down the dawn tourist and agnesvand see how the like to be lifted.

    I consider lifting and carrying heavy steel bikes to be my upper body workout !

  10. I am new to your blog. I love it. Just read your first couple of posts.
    I dream of having a bike. I live in the hilly countryside in NY. I can see that i will learn alot from you. Love your banner. XO

  11. I know you're not a self-professed sporty type (aside from road-biking), but being female doesn't necessarily mean that you should have limited upper body strength!

    My daily-use bike is a 1970's mixte Raleigh Record Ace that is older than I am. When I'm going down stairs or carrying my bike on a flat surface, I usually rest the seat on my shoulder and reach over the top tubes to grab the bottom tube and can usually carry it with one hand. Going up the two levels of steep stairs to my apartment, I grab the bottom tube from underneath the top tubes and use my other hand to steer straight up the stairs.

    However, I just bought a modern, new "Sunday bike" (42cm Surly Pacer) that seems light enough by comparison to carry with a single hand! I don't mind the heavier Raleigh, though, since I consider it an opportunity to build my strength.

  12. Pauline - Of course, but on average and all other factors remaining equal (i.e. weight and height), statistically women have less upper body strength than men. If we combine that with the fact that on average men are taller and weigh more than women, a randomly selected 240 lb man will have multiple advantages over a randomly selected 120 lb woman when picking up a 50lb bike. I am not trying to present myself as a fragile damsel or anything, these are just physiological realities.

    Re mixtes (Pauline & Caff) - I like to carry mine that way as well. My vintage Motobecane mixte was around 35lb and I remember thinking how freakishly light that was compared to my 50lb Pashley!

  13. My DL-1 ain't heavy, he's my brother.

    Hey I noticed in your pics you haven't raked the leaves yet. If you ride your bike all day those chores won't get done.

  14. Hmm, are the wheel bases and rim sizes the same on each bike?

    I carry my Raleigh DL-1 by the seat tube, near the bottom bracket. As you know it has a long wheel base and 28in rims. The Sturmey Archer hubs add a lot of weight to the rear too.

  15. I forgot to mention, I carry my DL-1 up and down very old, steep and shallow steps at work.

  16. Oh I like the leaves strewn over the ground. Besides I don't think the tenants are "allowed" to rake them. I need my own farm house : (

  17. I'd be OK with not being "allowed" to rake the leaves! We're not "allowed" to cut the grass at our apartment, but can plant whatever, wherever we want.

    I pick up both the mixte and the Hercules (straight step through) by the seat post tube (as far down on the tube as I can, since I'm so short) while steadying the front end of the bikes with the handle bars.

  18. Yeah, as far as I'm concerned the leaves can rake themselves.

    Now, aren't you forgetting to feed me?

  19. It's not just step through bikes. With both of my diamond frame bikes, when either touring or coming home with groceries I've found it much easier to carry the whole lot while lifting with one hand on the stem and the other on a chainstay or downtube.

    Part of it is that having to squat low then stand up allows me to use my glutes and leg muscles to lift the bike, whereas hoisting up the bike with just a grip on the top tube just uses the shoulders.

  20. The step-through Hercules gets one hand on the seat tube just above the top tube lug, and another on the top middle of the stem, since it has a large Wald basket on the forks that flops at will. The center of gravity is higher than you'd think, and moved forward because of the basket.

    The diamond-frame DL-1 balances much like Matthew says. The full chaincase probably makes it a bit more tail-heavy than say, MDI's variant.

    And yes, you do need your own farmhouse. Or at least a heated garage next door. ;)

  21. I've got a 29lb Italian bike like your Bella Ciao (a major upgrade from my 40lb+ Scwinn) and I love being able to carry it up a full flight of stairs so easily!

    Last night I made it up with my bike in one hand and a big paper bag of Thai takeout in the other, so I am especially receptive to this post this morning!

  22. With diamond frames, I usually prefer to lift them by the top tube - unless they have wiring routed along it in a way that cuts into my hand. Then seat tube. Thankfully, all 3 of my diamond frame bikes are light, so it's not an issue.

    Julianne - What Italian bike do you have?

  23. Your Gazelle compared to the 1st bike seems to have a lower loop tube, which with being a bit more top heavy with rack & frame lock helps explain the 2nd photo!

    My favourite 'hop off & run up steps' bike is the Raleigh Twenty. Just stoop, grab the main tube & off you go. Its small size means that the wheels don't bash into everything whilst being carried.

    P.S:- How reliable is the back light on your Gazelle??? Mine has a mind of its own. I'm thinking of replacing the reflector with a dutch led lamp to run off the dynamo.

  24. I have to take my Raleigh step-through (not terribly heavy - maybe 35lb with all accoutrement?) up and down six steps each day, and through a finicky little entryway/doorway bit. The best way to grasp it is much like how you hold the Gazelle (though I think a bit lower down). I hold onto the head tube with my other hand. And if the bike is notably weighted down, I can even balance the seat over my shoulder, so my shoulder bears part of the weight (this looks awkward, but is suprisingly comfortable and easy). The main obstacle is actually getting those wide, swept-back handlebars through the narrow doorway!

  25. Perhaps the best way to build upper body strength is to eschew an expensive gym membership and partake in Gazelle curls and Bella Ciao presses. Just think: Your bike-lifting workout could be the hottest fitness craze since Jane Fonda donned legwarmers.

  26. Reviewing the post on how the Bella Ciao handles the road bumps compared to other bicycles (including the Gazelle), and now verifying how the gravity center on the Gazelle seems to be higher than on the Bella Ciao, makes me think:

    Higer gravity center -> more flexing torque

    More flexing torque -> more comfortable ride

    Could it be?

  27. ian - Ah, the Gazelle's tail light. When I first got the bike (and keep in mind this was a 15-yo bike whose use/abuse history is not entirely known), the tail light did not appear to be working. We then noticed that the wires near the fork crown were disconnected. We connected the wires, but once in a while they would disconnect again and the tail light would stop working. The problem seemed to be that who-ever assembled the bike did not leave enough slack in the wiring, so that when the front wheel turns to the side dramatically the connecting point detaches. So finally we attached it with electrical tape and I try to be careful not to let the front wheel flop too much. So far so good and the tail light stays connected. Could this be the problem for you as well?

  28. MT cyclist - Maybe I ought to market my own exercise video...

    Jazzboy - But the Bella Ciao handles bumps very similarly to the Pashley (which is also not as good in that respect as the Gazelle or Raleigh DL-1) - so that does not seem to add up?

    Incidentally: A few days ago I rode 18 miles round trip to Harris Cyclery on the Bella Ciao. I took a VC hilly street route. Did the whole trip in 3rd gear with a few exceptions. I felt fine, like it was a normal trip, unremarkable. By contrast, here is how the same route felt on the Pashley. I don't know what accounts for the difference, but I don't think it's the weight alone. I think there is something in the Pashley's geometry that makes it lose momentum too quickly on hills.

  29. I go with the seat tube as far down as I can grab it although depending on the gloves I'm wearing and if it's wet it can be slick. I ride a mens road bike and carrying it from the top tube is kind of difficult.

  30. I'm on a 1974 Lygie that I've been building up for the past few months. My commute and favorite rides are all smooth and flat, usually along the beach, so my lighter bicycle is really much more appropriate than a heavy frame.

    This is what my bike looks like as of yesterday, but I've got a rear rack being welded which I am making saddlebags for.

  31. ian said: "My favourite 'hop off & run up steps' bike is the Raleigh Twenty. Just stoop, grab the main tube & off you go. Its small size means that the wheels don't bash into everything whilst being carried."

    this is so true! small wheeled bikes rule! honestly, i have an easier time hoisting my 20" wheeled tandem up and down my steps than i do any of my road bikes, despite it being close to twice the weight! when carrying my road bikes up or down the 17 steps to my porch, the wheels are always banging against the steps. not so with the tandem!

    in comparing the pashely and bella ciao in the way they handle bumps, i think far too much consideration is being given to geometry and frame flex, without controlling for so many other significant factors such as tires and tire pressures. my wife's aluminum cannondale mountain bike has one of the stiffest production frames ever made, yet with her new 26x2.0" schwalbe land cruisers, this thing rides like a cadillac. and the idea of center of gravity and its relationship to frame flex? interesting, but i don't think one can derive a direct correlation between degree and frame flex and ride comfort. on the contrary, my 20" wheeled tandem has an incredibly low center of gravity, and it's more comfortable than any of my road bikes. i'm sure it has tons of frame flex, but that's not necessarily where the comfort is coming from. that may be due to its 20x1.75" schwalbe marathons, which may be absorbing a lot more road shock than the tires on my road bikes. again, tires make a huge difference.

    velouria: your gazelle has a connector for the wire that leads to the rear light? on both of our dutch bikes, the wiring was direct from the bottle dynamo to the lights. i.e., two wires ran in parallel from the dynamo: one to the headlight and the other to the taillight; no removable connector near the fork crown. however, on those older dutch bikes, a common circuit failure point was at the termini, where the wires attach to the dynamo or lights. ian: i would recommend checking the termini, as well as the ground point for the taillight. the taillight is usually grounded to one of the bolts fastening the light to the fender. sometimes it gets all corroded there.

  32. Veloria & Somervillian - my tailight on my Gazelle oddly enough is battery powered. It certainly looks the same as yours though V. The front lamp is dynamo powered. Why it's a battery lamp I just don't know - it's a Primeur so not a low end model, and probably around 10 years old at a guess (bought 2nd hand).

    It's staying as it has its place on the mudguard, but think I'll replace the reflector on the rack with a Dutch reflector/lamp & wire the earth direct to the dynamo to avoid bad connections as Somervillian describes.

  33. Julianne - Wow, that is a beautiful bike!

    ian - How mysterious that it is battery operated. I think replacing that huge reflector on the rear rack with a dynamo tail light is a great idea.

    The lighting on my Gazelle is throwing me a curve ball as well, because initially it was dimmer than I wanted and had no standlights. We have now done a DIY LED conversion on the headlight, and I've just received some replacement LED "innards" from an acquaintance in Holland for the tail light. So both are considerably brighter now - but still no standlights, and I understand that it's quite difficult to rig that feature up on your own. So, I am still scheming...

  34. From the photos on this post, I think I know the reason why your Bella Ciao balances when you carry it by the curve of the top tube while your Gazelle doesn't.

    You have dress guards and a rear rack on your Gazelle that shifts the weight (and center of gravity) upwards and to the rear; also, the chaincase on the Bella has a cutout toward the back while the Gazelle doesn't. Without such additions, your Bella Ciao balances right in the middle as one would more or less expect. I suspect if you removed the dress guards and the rear rack from your gazelle, you might find it balances more easily in the middle as the Bella does.

  35. Hi V,

    I reckon all a lamp would need for a standlight would be a (Electronic 'lectrickery head on now) Diode on the + wire into the lamp, followed by a Capacitor connected after the diode to + & the other side to -.

    Without referring to a textbook, don't know what value of each to use though. They would be ickle enough to fit in the lamp housings if your lamps are anything like mine.

    Your LED conversion sounds interesting.

  36. thanks for doing this post! it sounds like most people don't hoist their bikes onto their shoulders like i see people do with diamond frames or road bike frames. and from your pictures, you don't either! i've been lifting my 30+ lb schwinn by grabbing the chainstay (opposite the chain side) with my right arm and keeping my arm flexed in this position. and then i steer the front by grabbing the headset with my left hand.

    my hand doesn't bang into the spokes of my back wheel. because i'm short, the wheels of my bike do tend to bang into the steps if i didn't lift the front end high enough. i was hoping i could accomplish what you're doing in the first picture, being able to carry it one-handed. or carry it on my shoulder, but this doesn't seem possible when the top tube is sloped.

    by the way, i second your upper body strength statement. as a modern woman, i have no problem admitting that men do have better upper body strength. but that doesn't mean i ask for help lifting heavy things i can manage to do by myself!


Post a Comment