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bike stuff

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 …