Thursday, 31 March 2011

Design for Use versus Posturing

[image via thefixfixfix]

For some time now, there has been debate as to whether the rise of "cycling culture" is positioning the bicycle as primarily a fetish object, with functionality a mere afterthought. As with any trend, the marketing industry harvests the readily identifiable, superficial aspects of a phenomenon, enhances them to the point of vulgarity, then sells to the eager public an attractive empty shell, devoid of any actual substance. BikeSnobNYC has been waxing lyrical on this topic since the start of his blog, satirizing a "bike culture" where sullen boys walk their brakeless neon fixies to the nearest cafes while airhead girls pedal their 70lb Dutch bikes at 5mph against traffic in billowing designer frocks - all of them laden with hundreds of dollars worth of cycling-specific accessories. 

[image via republicbike]

While I am accustomed to the Snob's endearing rants on this topic, reading Rivendell's version of the same complaint the other day was more novel. In several recent posts, Grant Petersen describes going to a bicycle trade show and being taken aback by the abundance of over-designed and impractical objects, such as rhinestone-encrusted lugs, heavy leather saddlebags and absurdly complicated toe clips. "A bag that weighs more empty than the contents it carries is quite a bag. A rack that shows off its beauty and never covers itself with a bag or basket is quite a rack. A bike and every part on it should serve a function." Agreed. But the irony of it - and I am sure Mr. Petersen is not blind to this irony - is that Rivendell played a role in these fancy/useless things being on the market today. Creating an interest in elaborate lugwork, leather, twine, and "old timey aesthetics" was a key part of Rivendell's marketing from the start. Now, it seems that the message has gotten away from them. Form is being imitated without substance.

[image via bornrich]

"A bike should look only so fancy," Petersen writes.  "There's a line. It's easy to cross it." Problem is, who draws that line, and where? Is it just one of those things where we know it when we see it? I am not  against extravagance in the bicycle industry per se: Ultimately I think it's marvelous if "luxury bicycles" become status symbols instead of luxury cars and electronic gadgets. But I guess for me, it's important that the bicycle be designed for actual use and with longevity in mind first and foremost. If I see a diamond encrusted bike and it's a good bike - quality construction and finishing, comfortable, great handling - then its excess does not annoy me. It amuses me, but I don't get mad thinking "how dare they make a diamond encrusted bike." On the other hand, if I see a bike where all the money went into the embellishments and the bicycle itself is shoddy or ill-conceived, that does bother me quite a bit: At that point it's not a bicycle, but a "BSO" (Bike Shaped Object). It may be expensive, but to my eye it is no different from those horrid things sold for $60 at big box stores: not a functional bike, but a sad waste of resources and human labor.

[image via bikehugger]

Of course, all of this does not just apply to luxury bicycles. Often I see bikes in the $400-700 range, where it is so plain that the majority of the manufacturer's budget went into simulating the aesthetics of high-end bikes and then marketing the heck out of the product, while paying only scant attention to things like geometry, quality of construction, and component choice. These bicycles are designed to look good in catalogues, but not to benefit the cyclist. They are essentially disposable.

[image via wallbike]

And I think the theme of disposability is also what's behind my dislike of the recent proliferation of leather saddles that come in neon colours and wild motifs. Admittedly I am being hypocritical here, because the saddles are well-made and perfectly functional - what's the harm in them being flamboyantly colourful or embossed with skulls and bones? I guess I feel that the styling trivialises a product that is made from an animal and is meant to last a long time. My intent is not to be political with the animal thing, but on a personal level I do feel bad when I see these new models. Will a cyclist really keep a neon saddle for the rest of their lives? For the next several years even? It seems to me that the flamboyant styling introduces an element of built-in obsolescence into a product that is otherwise intended to last. It's a contradiction in design that I find jarring.

The point where a bicycle-related product stops being merely fancy or trendy and becomes offensive is different for everyone; we'll never agree. Still, it can be interesting to evaluate one's personal parameters and to hear others' opinions. What's your view?

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Putting the "Meh" in Reme(h)dial

While this blog is ostensibly about "shed culture," I occasionally enjoy exploring other subjects such as bicycles, urban alpaca farming, and, of course, axes. That's why I feel it recumbent upon me to share with you the following recall, of which I was informed by a reader:

Yes, you read that right. The Gerber® Gator® Combo Axe--which is an axe with a knife inside the handle--is being recalled because it poses a "laceration hazard:"

Now, I may be a bit naive in the ways of cutting tools, but isn't the whole point of an axe with a knife on the inside to lacerate stuff? What's next, recalling Jack Daniel's because it's causing slurred speech, impaired motor funcion, and ill-advised sexual liaisons in some users? Last I checked, this was America--Canada's septic tank--and dadgummit I a-member a time when if a feller sauntered on down to the trading post and swapped a hunnert beaver pelts for a axe with a knife on the inside then that feller knew dolgarned well that he might git cut.

Then again, I suppose maybe an axe with a knife in the handle that's held in place by a magnet isn't such a great idea after all:

This seems like the kind of thing Specialized would design if they went into the axe business. I'm sure they'd market it as a laterally stiff yet vertically compliant "all-cutting" tool perfect for the serial killer who needs all the raw dismemberment power of an axe yet at the same time wants ready access to a knife so he can easily remove small body parts like ears and pinkies to add to his twisted trophy case. (Of course, it would also be made of crabon and have a Zertz insert in the handle.)

Most surprising though is that Gerber is located in my new hometown of Portland (though their wares are made in Taiwan) and frankly I'm disgusted that my smug neighbors would stand for this kind of shoddy outsourced "curation." As we say here Stumptownsburg, "Go artisanal or go home."

Speaking of going home, yesterday I temporarily repatriated to my ancestral home of New York City. After three whole days of pretending to live in Portland I was becoming a bit homesick, and I'm pleased to report that a leisurely ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan all but cured me of that condition.

Since beginning this blog back in 1972 I've been fortunate enough to travel to and ride in other cities, and I have to say that while New York City is on the "cutting edge" of many things (cuisine, media, art, mindless consumerism, soulless trend-mongering) I now realize it is very much a remedial city as far as cycling is concerned. Sure, the fixed-gear trend, the Dutch bike trend, and the moribund bike lane experiment have conspired to foster a new age of "practical" cycling here, but watching riders figure out how the whole thing works is like watching my helper monkey, Vito, try to carve a Thanksgiving turkey with a recalled Gerber® Gator® Combo Axe--by which I mean it's awkward and nauseating and you're lucky to come away from the whole debacle with all your limbs. Just stand on the Williamsburg Bridge for awhile and watch the legions of Nü-Freds streaming across it in their crooked skateboard helmets and with a look of terror in their eyes like doomed draftees storming the beach at Normandy and you'll know what I'm talking about.

However, some cycling sights in New York City predate this latest "boom," and one of these is the man in a sweatsuit riding a tricked-out mountain bike:

Just as the track bike appeals to fans of indie music and Apple products, so does the mountain bike appeal to the sorts of people who listen to club music even in their homes and who apply liberal amounts of cologne at all times in hopes that it will act as chloroform and incapacitate any woman foolish enough to come close enough to them.

In this particular instance the gentleman who shoaled me was not only clad in a tracksuit and riding a cross-country mountain bike complete with slicks and platform pedals, but he was also wearing Ferrari sneakers:

This is textbook "cycle chic" among the Eastern Bloc set.

Even more impressive was this singlespeed conversion, which marries the homespun rattlecan customization of yesteryear with the fixie "flambullience" of today:

That "colorway" is known as "LiveTarck."

In addition to the Nü-Fred phenomenon, another manifestation of New York City's remedial approach to cycling is in the recent proliferation of people salmoning on "bake feets:"

("Can we play 'chicken' with the taxis again, mommy? Pleeeze?")

I'm not sure what compels increasing numbers of wealthy New Yorkers to throw their children into wheelbarrows and then set out straight into oncoming traffic, but this is what's happening. I suppose it's because these are the sorts of entitled people who until recently triple-parked their luxury SUVs in front of their children's private schools but have since become born-again environmentalists. However, while their "carbon footprint" may be smaller, their ego and sense of entitlement are as bloated as ever, thus the notion that some tragedy could befall their Italian Ice Cart of Smugness is positively unthinkable. Still, you've got to hand it to them: It's a brave statement to "portage" your children by "bake feets" and leave the Range Rover out at the house in Southampton.

By the way, I have a sinking feeling that these parents are raising a generation of super-hipsters that will make our current crop seem like Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation." What's more, they're raising them in boxes like they're tulip bulbs:

It's like a Skinner Box of Smugness.

Then again, they may be on to something, since that particular contraption has three wheels and is not technically a bicycle. Therefore, they may very well have found a loophole through which to escape New York City's ongoing bicycle crackdown. This would also explain why young couples are doubling up on contraptions like this:

Hopefully I can physically move from here before they force us all onto Segways.

By the way, here in New York the bicycle backlash is inextricably intertwined with the hipster backlash:

Granted, I'm sure the above sticker is ironic, since only hipsters go around stickering street signs with designs they curated on their MacBook Pros, but nevertheless the backlash is real. In fact, commenter Ant1 informs me they're among New Yorkers' top annoyances:

As you can see, that's a New York Post survey, and I find it telling that the readers of that paper can't stand any of the above, yet they're perfectly fine with crime, bedbugs, police brutality, high taxes, public school layoffs, and rats that crawl all over your face while you're riding the subway.

No wonder it's so easy to make them hate bike lanes. It takes their minds off all the itching caused by the insects that are feasting off their blood in the night.

Speaking of hipsters, another reader informs me that the TV show "Triple Rush" is on the lookout for "Skid Extras:"

Skid Extras
Date: 2011-03-29, 8:43PM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Needed for next seasons Triple Rush messengers reality show
This time we're stepping it up to include more Hipster Culture. So we need extras with Top Fixed Gear Skills that want to show them off.
Shooting begins late spring and ends mid summer so we need you to apply NOW!
Reply with photo of your bike and any still shots of you doing "Fixie Tricks."
This is an example of what we're looking for.

Sadly, I'm certain the post is fake--not because its ridiculous in itself, but because there's no way "Triple Rush" will go past the first season.

Good-Bye 'Blueskies' ...Hello Blueprints

A couple of days ago, Seymour Blueskies packed up his things and went home with a very nice couple. I bid him farewell as I fondly recalled our times together.

From the start, my intent had been not to keep the vintage Trek, but to learn what I could from it, then move on to explore other bicycles. It was around this time that I recognised having two categories of bikes: a few that I "truly owned" and others that I considered transient and experimental. But experimental for what?

It took me some time to acknowledge that I was "seriously" interested in bicycle design, and acquiring the Trek last summer coincided with that realisation. I began to learn about bicycle history and frame geometry in a more systematic manner, to formulate ideas about the relationship between form and function, and to apply my previous training (in psychology and neuroscience, as well as art and design) to the realm of bicycles and cycling. I realised that the reason I keep acquiring more bikes, is not because I necessarily want to own them personally, but because I want to try out new ideas and to learn new things - then share the results with others. I enjoy the process of conceptualising a bicycle, then bringing about its existence and the result being successful. Now if only there was some way to do that over and over again, without ending up in financial ruin or with a hoarding disorder... Oh, I know: I could design bikes for other people.

After saying good-bye to Seymour Blueskies, I stopped by to see Bryan at Royal H. Cycles - with whom I am now collaborating on a bicycle. How on Earth did that happen? Well, funny story... You see, in this post about a month ago, I expressed a desire to try a bicycle with traditional randonneuring geometry (à la Jan Heine), and received some suggestions as to how this could be accomplished. There wasn't an easy way; these bicycles are rare. But one idea was that I could design the bike myself - and an intrepid reader was prepared to commission just such a bicycle from Royal H should I feel up to the task. And so here we are. The plan is that I come up with the specs, we discuss, Bryan builds, and we'll see what happens.

As this project begins and the Bella Ciao project nears completion, I am filled with nervous energy and self-doubt all around. I know my weak points: I am not an engineer and I am not a framebuilder. But I am perceptive and increasingly knowledgeable in other ways that are essential to bicycle design, and I do feel that I can collaborate with others to create something special. It's possible that I am over-reaching, that it's all too soon. But life is short and you never know unless you try. So I'm trying.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Bike-Coastal: A Tail of Two Cities

Greetings this fine Wednesday morning from my virtual Stumptown! I can't tell you how much happier I am since I pretend-moved to Portland. Actually, I can. I'm this happy:

Or, for you rural folk, I'm this happy:

Really, telling people how aaahsome things are is the best part of "living" in Portland, for as we Portlanders say about life, "If everybody doesn't want to punch you in the nuts then you're just not being smug enough." Sure, I have occasional hourly crying jags, and sure all the indigent people who live under the bridges are kind of depressing, and yeah, I suppose if you really pressed me I'd admit that Portland is like a big Williamsburg only without a real city around it. But there are plenty of bike lanes, and of course the goddamned coffee is fantastic, and what else do you need, right?

Yes, every day it's another shade of grey in the land that reality and diversity forgot:
Things are looking up briefly around 1:00pm though.

Meanwhile, "back East" in New York City (where my physical presence resides slumped in an armchair like a character from "Inception"), it looks like the Mayor's office is trying desperately to rehabilitate the bike lane network's negative public image:

Ironically, a key component of this propaganda campaign involves making the network seem utterly insignificant by downplaying its size:

The memo cited improvements to street safety and played down the growth of the lanes, noting that 255 miles had been added in four years, a small fraction of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. In the past, the city has bragged about its swift expansion of the bike lane network.

You might think that "swift expansion" would be positive. After all, when it comes to transportation networks and public projects, "swift" and "expansive" are good, while "sluggish" and "limited" are bad, right? Wrong. These are bicycles we're talking about. People hate bicycles. Therefore, the general public needs to be reassured that this is just another ineffectual project that the city is approaching in a typically half-assed fashion and that will ultimately come to nothing.

Consequently, the city is now selling the lanes like a self-effacing Viagra salesman: "Yeah, it's technically erectile dysfunction medication, but look how tiny the pill is, and I promise it'll hardly make your penis move at all."

This is also why, as much as pretend-living in Portland is increasingly making me want to tear my own face off in boredom and frustration (is that why so many Portlanders wear beards?), I'm not sure I could ever go back to acknowledging that I live in New York. New York hates cycling so much that Robin Williams can't even ride in a balaclava there. That's right--I was reading The New Yorker in the bathroom recently, and in the "Talk of the Town" section the hirsute comedian and über-Fred related the following anecdote:

"This morning, I biked up the George Washington Bridge. It was cold, so I put on my black Army balaclava, covering my face. A cop stopped me and asked me to take it off."

Granted, he could have been joking (without that hairy forearm applause meter thing he does it's tough to know for sure) but I have a feeling he's probably serious, especially given the fact that the NYPD has managed to almost completely rid Central Park of cyclists:

On the surface of it you'd think a bunch of local taxpaying businesses complaining about the loss of revenue might actually influence the city to ease up on the "crackdown," but when you consider that all the bike shops in Manhattan probably generate about as much taxable income as a single hedge fund operator then you start to realize what you're up against.

Yes, everything's outsized in New York, which is why normal reasoning rarely applies. Consider these tips from my Freds friends at "Bicycling" magazine about how to keep your bike from getting stolen if you don't have a lock with you:

Rig the chain
As you're coasting near your stopping point, shift into the big-ring/big-cog combo. When you stop to park your bike, shift just your shifters (don't pedal) into the small-ring/small-cog combo.
Thief jumps on, tries to pedal, gears go crazy, chain drops off, thief freaks out and splits.

Loosen the rear
Open the rear quick--release skewer.
Thief pedals for a bit, wheel starts to wobble, bike eventually becomes unrideable, thief drops bike and runs.

Secure it secretly
Use the straps on your helmet to "lock" your bike to a secure object.
Thief grabs bike, straps stop thief, thief fumbles with helmet, gets frustrated, leaves.

Use your mini-tool
Loosen the side pinch bolts on your stem and turn your bar 90 degrees; loosen your seat clamp bolt and turn your seat backward.

Thief looks at bike, thinks he's losing his mind, wants nothing to do with it, thief moves on.

It goes without saying that all of these methods would be laughably ineffectual in New York, and I don't even think the thieves in Portland are easily vexed enough to be hindered by them. The last one about turning the bars around 90 degrees is especially ironic considering that's how most people's Walmart Mongooses (Mongeese?) are set up anyway. I'm surprised they left off the old "leave some fake poo on the saddle" trick--or my personal favorite, "The Riddle of the Spinx," in which I leave a note on the bicycle explaining to the thief that he may keep the bike, provided he solve a cunning brain teaser. Yes, many's the time I've emerged from the store only to find a thwarted thief still puzzling over a real head-scratcher like "What bleeds for five days and doesn't die?" (Answer: A hemophiliac with a really tiny papercut. Duh.)

Yes, we New Yorkers (or former New Yorkers) love to pride ourselves on our "street smarts." Indeed, that's what's behind the proliferation of bike messenger movies and concomitant boasting about urban survival skillzzz. Then again, being a bike messenger in New York can be very difficult--at least when compared to being a bike messenger in Los Angeles, which mostly just involves modeling:

Though this is not to say it isn't also possible to take a potentially dangerous wrong turn when working as a bike messenger in LA. However, instead of, say, getting hit by a truck, you're more likely to fall victim to the unsafe-for-work world of messenger-themed porn:

Guess he was a little late on that "triple rush."

Speaking of porn, I can't help noticing that many of VeloNews's "Training Center" articles are are at least mildly suggestive:

You can see this when you implement the old "add 'in bed' to the fortune cookie fortune" trick:

Then again, maybe I'm watching too much messenger porn.

Finally, speaking of bicycle delivery and things that are sexually suggestive, a reader informs me that a woman in San Francisco will rendez-vous with you in order to give you some hot pie:

These days you can get your cupcake-sized pies delivered by bicycle if you live in the right San Francisco neighborhood, or can convince Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies to schedule a rendezvous because you can't live without her apple-cheddar, shaker orange or sweet potato-chard mini-pies.

Yes, pies are apparenty the new cupcake:

In short, pie seems to have hit a tipping point similar to the one that propelled the lowly cupcake to pastry superstardom.

Right. Because up until a few years ago, cupcakes were totally obscure.

Anyway, I visited the Bike Basket Pies website, which led me to this video:

From it, I learned that the proprietor "started this when I didn't have...I wasn't doing any other kind of like," Actually, that's exactly the same, like, reason I'm starting an artisanal "squirrelrito" bicycle delivery service in Portland:

As it happens, I was watching an episode of "No Reservations" last night in which Anthony Bourdain was eating squirrels, and given the "Americana backwoods revival" movement I think the next urban dining trend is going to be Ozarkian cuisine--though I'm giving it a twist by serving it in burrito form. Naturally, my enterprise will be totally sustainable for two reasons:

1) I will deliver your "squirrelrito" by bike;


2) Those little fuckers are everywhere.

I also think it's going to be way more successful than the failed "ratrito" joint I previously launched in New York City:

Not only did they make a tasty subway snack, but they also delivered themselves right to your mouth while you were sleeping.

I have no idea why it never caught on.

The Pashley Roadster Sovereign: Review After Two New England Winters

If you are a regular reader, you probably know that the Co-Habitant owns a Pashley Roadster Sovereign. We bought a pair of Pashleys when I first started this blog, and while I've since sold my Princess, he has kept his Roadster. He loves this bicycle. It is his main transportation bike, taking him to and from work every day for nearly two years now - in sunshine, rain and snow. This review is based on both his and my impressions of the bike.

Pashley bicycles have been made in Stratford-upon-Avon, England since 1926. The Roadster is a traditional lugged steel English roadster frame with relaxed geometry and 28" wheels. It is powdercoated black and fitted with a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub, dynamo lighting, and drum brakes. See here for the full specs and here for the complete set of images. This bicycle was purchased in May 2009 from Harris Cyclery in West Newon, MA (not a sponsor at the time).

One interesting thing to note about this bike is the sizing. The Co-Habitant is 6' tall and his preferred frame size is normally 60-64cm, depending on geometry. However, his Pashley's frame is only 22.5" (57cm), and yet it is his size. That is because the Pashley Roadster has an unusually high bottom bracket (330mm), which makes the standover considerably higher than it would be on a typical bike. For comparison, the bottom bracket height on his vintage Raleigh DL-1 Roadster is 310mm, which in itself is considered high. This explains why the Raleigh and Pashley are both his size, despite the former being a 24" frame and the latter a 22.5" frame. When in doubt, go down a size with the Pashley Roadster.

The Pashley Roadster Sovereign is a bicycle fully equipped for commuting: generous fenders, full chaincase, vinyl dress guards, large rear rack, drop-down kickstand and an integrated wheel lock. The Co-Habitant finds the dressguards and chaincase convenient, because they enable him to wear pretty much anything he wants on the bike - including dressy clothing and overcoats. He does not like tucking his trousers into socks or wearing ankle straps when riding to work, so these features are important to him. The chaincase has kept his chain immaculately clean through two winters and does not stand in the way of rear wheel removal. For those who dislike the drop-down kickstand, the frame does come with a kickstand plate, so it's possible to install an alternative. Initially, we installed a Pletcher double-legged kickstand and used it instead of the drop-down, until it broke, so now it's back to the original.

Though the headlight on the Roadster is dynamo-powered, the tail light is battery-operated. The 2.4W dynamo hub makes it difficult to modify this lighting set-up, and we are really not sure why Pashley chose to do this instead of using a 3W hub and bulb. We are considering eventually replacing the lighting on his bike with a front and rear LED system with standlights. Trouble is, there aren't any classic LED headlights in a style that would suit the Pashley.

Supplementary Cateye battery lights attached for situations when visibility is especially poor. The bolts on the Pashley's front axel make it easy to mount these.

The rear rack is spacious, but made of such thick tubing that most pannier mounting systems will not fit it. The Ortlieb QL2 and the R&K Klick-fix systems sort of fit, but just barely.

Tires are Schwalbe Marathon Plus. They are not my favourite tires, but the puncture protection is unbeatable.

The saddle is the super-sprung Brooks B33 - especially suitable for the larger gentlemen on upright bikes.

And of course, the shiny "ding dong" bell. That's us, reflected in it.

Though we are both lovers of customisations, there wasn't much that the Co-Habitant modified on this bicycle. All the components have remained stock thus far. As far as positioning, he lowered the handlebars to make them level with the saddle and angled them down a bit, for a more aggressive position. He also shoved the saddle forward by means of reversing the seat clamp. He added a Brooks Glenbrook saddlebag and Millbrook handlebar bag, which are permanently affixed to the bike. The saddlebag contains his lock, bungee cords and saddle cover in the side pockets, with the main compartment kept empty for quick grocery trips and other errands.

The handlebar bag contains his rain gear, gloves, bad-weather cycling glasses, flashlight, and epic toolkit. The toolkit he carries only on longer trips.

The original plastic handlebar grips were replaced with the Brooks leather washer grips. Front and rear drum brakes are hand-operated, and he has them routed right-front. And just in case you haven't noticed, the handlebar set-up includes a cycling computer and twined water bottles in their DIY handlebar mounts. The computer is fairly unobtrusive, blending in with the black part of the riser stem.

And a close-up of he bottle cage mounts. The set-up with the twin bottles sticking out like miniature cannons over the handlebars is over-the-top eccentric for me - but over time I've grown used to seeing them on his bike and even find them endearing. He has also carried paper cups full of coffee in those bottle cages - successfully.

We considered washing the bicycle before taking pictures for the review, but ultimately decided against it. These pictures realistically portray what the bike looks like after a winter of commuting - and a harsh winter at that. The only time this frame has ever been wiped down was after the previous winter. With everything either fully enclosed or stainless, the Pashley Roadster is as low-maintenance as they get. The powdercoating has held up excellently, with just a few scuffs here and there. Over the time he's owned this bicycle, the Co-Habitant has broken two spokes on the rear wheel (one per year) and had them replaced. The wheels also had to be re-trued a couple of times, no doubt due to the horrible pothole-ridden roads on which he commutes. Otherwise, significant adjustments have not been necessary.

As far as ride quality and subjective feedback go, there is a distinct feeling of the bicycle being stable, reliable and enormous.

It can comfortably travel at high speeds, with the cyclist feeling relaxed, perched high above city traffic. And this isn't merely an illusion - with the high bottom bracket and the upright sitting position, the height at which the rider is placed really is out of the ordinary.

The bicycle handles well on the road and off, in dry and wet conditions. In the winter, it has proven to be a trusty companion.

Even during blizzards, the Co-Habitant continued to commute on this bicycle, and felt comfortable doing it.

When describing the Pashley Roadster's ride quality, it is worth noting that it is not the male equivalent of the Princess model: The geometry and handling of the two bikes are different. Performace-wise, the Roadster accelerates faster and climbs hills easier than the Princess, which can be problematic for those who buy the two bikes as a "his and hers" pair. Though this discrepancy between the men's and women's models is unfortunate, the Roadster's performance in itself is terrific.

As for my own impressions of the Co-Habitant's Pashley, I've come to see the bike as his permanent companion or even an extension of his personality. He loves the bike, never complains about it, and uses it daily for transportation, which is fantastic. But sometimes I do wonder whether the bike is overbuilt for his purposes: To me it seems excessively heavy, and I don't get the point of having that monstrous rear rack if it is seldom used for anything other than saddlebag support. Also, it takes great effort to convince him to leave the bike locked up in the city, which is frustrating. At work he has secure locking facilities, but when we go out he worries about the bike too much - which in my view somewhat undermines its usefulness. However, the most important thing is that he enjoys the bike and rides it, which I feel has been accomplished here pretty well.

Though the Pashley Roadster Sovereign is not inexpensive by any means, it is a good value once you consider what is included and add it all up: a traditional lugged frame made in England and a fully integrated "commuting package" consisting of fenders, drum brakes, full chaincase, dressguards, puncture-proof tires, lighting, and a high quality sprung leather saddle. After close to two years of daily use, including two New England winters, the bicycle looks hardly worse for wear - a testament to its durability. As with everything, your impressions may differ, but the Co-Habitant is a happy owner. He is not looking for another transportation bicycle for the foreseeable future.

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