Stewart’s Quest for the Sensible Bicycle

A trip to the Toronto Islands yesterday got me thinking about the perfect bicycle for me — and why nobody makes it.

In Scotland I had nearly the perfect bike. It was a ridiculously solid Pashley delivery bike. It had huge heavy steel wheels, full-length mudguards, hub brakes, hub gears, and a dynamo (generator) lighting set. It took minimal maintenance, and didn’t require special clothes to ride it.

The mountain bike, though promising so much to utility cycling at its birth 20 years ago, is failing to deliver. Complex suspension systems and derailleur gears make maintenance difficult, and so users seldom do. The complete lack of chainguards and mudguards mean that riders have to wear different clothes just to be on the bike. Can you image a car trying to sell itself by requiring special clothes just to travel in it?

So this is what I want from a bike:

  • Fully enclosed chain — I don’t want my drivetrain anywhere near road grit. Neither do I want my trousers to meet chain grease.
  • Full mudguards — I don’t get mucky, riders behind me don’t get mucky. We all win.
  • Hub gears — once you’ve used them, you’ll never consider anything else for utility cycling.
  • Dynamo lights — with a standlight, for preference. I don’t like getting stranded without lights.
  • Proper carriers — riding wearing a rucksack is bad and wrong.
  • Anything but rim brakes — why do we still use these relics? Hub brakes work in all weathers, and seldom, if ever, need maintenance.

You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of suspension. Good tyres, at the right pressure, are great suspension. They are also light and very puncture proof, if you know how and where to ride.

We’re not all athletes. Some of us would just like to incorporate exercise and sustainable local transit in our daily routine, with the minimum of hassle.

So who comes close to making these bikes? Pashley still do, but they’re murderously expensive in Canada. Workbike manufacturers Worksman and Mohawk almost do, but they’re short on mudguards and chainguards. Kronan is nearly there, but why they only have one brake (a rear coaster, which is terribly inefficient) is beyond me. Maybe I’ll find an importer of Dutch bikes. My search continues …

13 thoughts on “Stewart’s Quest for the Sensible Bicycle”

  1. WRT the fully enclosed chain, how do you put it back on the cog(? round thing the chain is on) when it falls off? I don’t ride too often but I know that the stupid chain comes off from time to time. Perhaps the enclosure is easily removable?

  2. The chain very seldom falls off a properly-adjusted hub gear bike. Can’t remember the last time the chain came off either of my non-derailleur bikes.

    Nearly all European bikes (exluding sports bikes) used to have chain guards. The reason they’re not popular over here is that there was a higher import duty on a complete bike, so if importers left off the chain guard (and presumably the mudguards too), the bike wasn’t taxed so heavily. And we’re paying for it still.

  3. If you want a proper city bike you might want to look at Biria, Kettler and Breezer, I don’t know if breezers are available in Canada, I did so something similar in victoria. see threespeedbicycles.com

    There is a posh european grocery store chain in Ontario that sells dutch bikes, probably cheaper no name bikes but even those are pretty nice, compared to the rubbish out there, sorry I can’t remember what the store is called.

  4. I just this on global tv yesterday. There is an importer of dutch bikes.
    Jorg & Olif– The Dutch City Bike Company Inc. Vancouver BC.

    Jack Russell

  5. I went on the same quest after riding a Pashley. In the US, I found that the best alternative was a Kettler Delta — 7 speed SRAM, enclosed chain, coaster and V brakes, carrier, lights, even a bell. It was shipped free in the US. $650 in 2005.

  6. It’s true. Dutch bikes from Batavus are now available in Canada at Curbside in Toronto and I think they will soon start to appear at other shops. There are traditional bikes as well as new model commuter bikes.

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