Doesn't Even Have a Top Tube
|Rivendell Betty Foy [review here]|
The other day I received an email newsletter from Rivendell, where, among other things, they announced that their mixte model - the Betty Foy - is becoming their most popular bike... which, they promptly added, "was quite a surprise considering it doesn’t even have a top tube."
Okay, so I know that was meant to be tongue in cheek. At least I think/hope. But it references a sentiment that is prevalent in the bicycle industry: that step-through/mixte frames are inherently inferior to diamond frames and therefore it is not worth making them with the same degree of care, precision and attention to detail. After all, customers are unlikely to buy these frames at the same price point as diamond frames. This idea comes from the fact that the "two triangles" design of the diamond frame construction is stiffer and stronger than any variation of the step-through design, and I do not intend to disagree. But there is more to a bike than that, particularly when we are talking about "real world" bikes. When it comes to accessibility, ease of transporting a rear load, and cycling in one's everyday clothing, step through designs are in fact superior. It is no surprise that people are willing to pay for them.
|Soma Buena Vista [review here]|
I was so excited when Velo Orange introduced its lugged mixte in 2010, and I was equally disappointed when they discontinued it in 2011 - due, apparently, to less than stellar sales. I have a theory about why the VO mixte did not sell, and I will state it at the risk of being perceived as sexist. My impression is that (despite some vocal commentators ready to argue the opposite) it is women who mostly want mixtes. But VO was reluctant to cater mainly to women, and so they intentionally made the colour scheme aggressively sporty/ masculine just to say "look, this bike really is unisex!" Okay, yes technically it's unisex. But what ended up happening, is that many of the women who would have otherwise loved to buy a lugged mixte frame found the colour scheme unappealing. And the men did not want a mixte in the first place. I have a strong feeling that if VO were to introduce the same frame in a different colour it would sell. I hope very much that they give this a try some day.
|Royal H Custom Mixte [review here]|
Even custom framebuilders have a difficult time constructing lugged step-through and mixte frames, because standard lugs for these designs are no longer available. A few years back Reynolds stopped producing tubing suitable for mixte stays, which is why Mercian has discontinued their classic mixte and now makes only this. I believe there is money to be made in producing batches of split-stay mixte lugs and tubing, for anyone interested.
Bike manufacturers need not be afraid of step-through frames. And they need not be afraid of catering to women. And they need not be afraid of acknowledging the fact that many women wear skirts and dresses, and for this and other reasons they prefer step-through frames. Please do make bikes without top tubes, and make them nice. Rivendell is a case in point that it makes sense financially.