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Velorbis Churchill Classic [Review]

After three and a half months, and over one thousand kilometers of riding, I hereby tender the most useful and impartial review I think you will find anywhere, of the Churchill Classic, made by Velorbis. 20 years of commuting on racing bikes is over for me. The Velorbis is now the only bike I would consider riding to work on. Starting with the main reasons, here's why:

PROS
I do not have to wash it. The all-around mud guards catch all the dirt, that is cleaned away from under those guards the next time I ride in the wet. A little grit has accumulated around the stand, that's all (see picture below). I've wiped the frame over a few times, to make it shine, but you would barely notice the difference. It looks good regardless. The internal hub everything means brake dust isn't dirtying the rims or hubs either. I haven't cleaned the hubs or chain at all, and after 1000+ kilometers they look cleaner than my road bike's would after one ride.

   
though I don't bother cleaning it...                              it looks pretty clean!

As well as not having to wash it, I do not have to wash me! Wearing jeans and a wet weather coat, I can ride in light rain without that old familiar water torture being aimed at my butt crack, then wear those same jeans around when I arrive. (In heavy rain, of course, you do need wet weather pants). Even on cold wet rainy nights, I would choose riding over being trapped in a car, trapped in traffic, trapped with fool DJs. In fact, I've come to relish bad weather.

And in wet weather, the upright position is so much safer as well. Hit the brakes, and you don't feel as though you're about to fly off the font. In the past, riding road bikes at night in the rain, I have hit potholes that have threatened my bike and my life. Give me a sturdy relaxed bike any night, in preference to something designed for maximum speed during a race.

I should note though, that the Velorbis does not allow you to sit completely upright. It is not a true "Dutch grandpa" bike in that regard. However, if you have ever tried standing out of the saddle to take on a hill on a Dutch bike, or tried to turn a tight circle and copped the end of a townie handlebar in your thigh, you will appreciate the reasoning behind the semi upright position. It is the slightly forward leaning position Raleigh gave millions with their legendary Sports model.    

While leaning you forward, it does not lean you over. Let's not think this is for time trialling! The Velorbis is undeniably slower, and harder to pedal than a road racing bike, being more than double the weight, having tires twice as fat, and having no concessions to aerodynamics in its design. The tubes are not butted and are joined with pressed lugs, not the lighter cast lugs used by performance frame makers—though with the non racing accessories alone outweighing the frame, one can hardly quibble over the weight of a lug. More to the point, extra weight and rolling resistance, I feel, is a huge plus. A motivation for me to commute, is to be race fit for Saturday. I would estimate I exert an extra one third effort getting to work now, turning my 30km round trip per day, effectively into a 40km trip (I could confirm that figure with a heart rate monitor, I guess, but that isn't my style). Where, on my road bike, I would use fewer cycle paths and footpaths, because pedestrians on those paths would make me slow down, the Velorbis itself limits my speed, such that I no longer find meandering pedestrians to be such a nuisance; in any case, most step aside with a smile when they hear my bike's old fashioned bell.

medicine ball training                awesome from light                       reflective side walls (those cables had to be trimmed)                 Just in from a serious storm

I do not need to think about recharging lights with this bike. The lights are hard wired to the frictionless internal hub generator, and come on automatically when it is dark. One slight complaint, is I can't figure out a way of making them come on in the half light before dusk, when I would prefer cars see me than not. That gripe aside, you can't imagine the freedom of being able to take illumination for granted. And how many lives would be saved, if those reflective side walls on the tires came standard on all bikes!

Other conveniences are the spring that keeps the wheel pointing forward, the two-point stand, and the immobilizer lock. We heirs to that age when bikes were seen only as sporting equipment, don't know what we're missing, not having these features on bikes we don't actually race on.  

Strangely, the 1940s styling that first attracted me to the bike, is something that only occurs to me when I bump into someone who hasn't seen me on it before, and they pass comment. A glutton for attention though, I still love these moments. I have my Brooks leather trouser strap and tool case, and a leather brief case from Florence that fits securely into the specially designed clasp on the rear rack. I even lashed out on the Velorbis leather coat guards! Add the sartorial splendor of my work suits and bow ties, and one would think I was handing out leaflets. The look is too perfect!  
 
OTT leather accessories       rust in quill stem bolt              the saddle was comfortable from day 1, as pictured

With my satirical "get the look" blog entries  (Florentine Gigolo, Motorcycle rebel Really Suave Guys, grown ups) I've been underlining the importance of image for cyclists. As far as drivers are concerned, our minority status and assumptions that we are all greenies, would seem to deny us the right to fantasize, a right that drivers can indulge without raising an eyebrow. It is only right, I would contend, that cyclists get to pretend they are sporty, outdoorsy, classy, hip, or whatever they like, just as drivers imagine they're in Sweden if driving a SAAB, or in the wilderness if driving a Landcruiser, when in fact most of their driving is just done in the burbs. Velorbis have gone out of their way to make this bike stylish, and give cycling cache. The serial number pressed in the seat tube, the lugged and braised German made frame, the all-class head-badge, the true old-school frame construction: wherever you look, you see love. Like mobile phones in Cambodia, or smoking in the 1920s, cycling will catch on as it offers people who currently drive, the opportunity to increase their prestige with this more behooving approach to their moving.  

And what prestige bicycle does not have a Brooks saddle! And quite aside from their symbolic value, these seats truly are comfortable, and come into their own when riding in regular clothes, rather than nicks. Where other saddles take jean seams and lacerate groins, a gentleman's callosities rest in the hammock of a Brooks saddle's rear portion, while presenting the old Bishop's Bridge with a narrow rung of smooth leather on which his thighs may smoothly glide.
 
When it comes to corrosion resistance, Velorbis haven't really cut many corners. My house is beside breaking surf, meaning any insufficiently protected iron has already announced itself, by turning brown. Thus far though, the only offending item to which I might point, is the Allen bolt in the quill stem. The rest is holding up well. The Chrome cranks: so far so good. The handlebars and seat pole I do believe to be stainless, as per Velorbis's claim. The rims are polished stainless and gorgeous, something I don't believe Pashley provide on most of their range. I trust Germans when it comes to pickling cro-mo steel prior to painting, and am confident the galvanised mud guards have been made with due care as well. Most major fixings seem to be 316 stainless. I'm not sure if I need to, but I spray fish oil onto springs and under the mud guards, just to be safe.

It was my pre purchase scrutiny of bits that might rust that led me to choose the Velorbis over comparable bikes, all of which I have listed in an earlier entry. Neither do Velorbis cut corners the way other manufacturers so often tend to, hoping buyers won't notice. It's the things like the center stand, leather grips, stainless bolts, hub generator, stainless bars, stainless seat pole, and stainless rims that add up to a much nicer bike, to ride and to keep looking like new.   

CONS
Most of the design oversights on my bike relate to the SRAM 7 speed rear hub, that seems to have been added without the necessary changes being made to the frame.

Removing the rear wheel on this style of bike takes some getting used to, and is exacerbated on my bike by the fact that the internally routed light cable, where it pops out of the chainstay, almost touches the SRAM brake housing. If I don't one day damage this wire while removing the wheel, I worry that someday a twig will get jammed in there and damage the wire. Or perhaps I'm just paranoid :)

The frame hasn't been built with fixing points for the SRAM rear brake cable, that is held to the chainstay with a black cable tie. Meanwhile, on the drive train side of the bike, a fixing point has been welded to the chainstay to suit Sturmey Archer; it is completely redundant on a SRAM equipped bike.

brake cable crudely tied onto chainstay                  Light wire too close to brake      redundant fixing point            alligator clips

Like the Sturmey Archer, the SRAM 7 speed hub won't change up or down while you are pedaling. You have to back off for a moment for the new gear to engage. Having owned an old Raleigh Sports there for a while, I personally like this little quirk—it's charming and retro—but I do know the Shimano Alfine hub changes much better. The advantage of SRAM over Shimano Alfine and Nexus, is SRAM allows an easier wheel change. I would say the Velorbis might be worthy of a Rohloff Speedhub, but I know that would have greatly increased the price of the bike. I paid about 2K Australian for mine—good value, I think.       

Anyone who upgrades to the leather coat guards, will find these weight too much for the clips that are meant to keep them attached. After every few bumps, they fall off. I frigged around for two days before finally using alligator clips, purloined from lanyards I had kept from various conferences, to secure my new leather coat guards to the fenders. I'm not at all happy with the time I spent, or the compromised solution I finally arrived at, and really think Velorbis should do something to address this design fault. The coat guards should be able to screw tighten to the fenders securely. 

I originally purchased my bike with Velorbis's front rack and artfully aged wooden crate, but decided not to even take these from the dealer when the bike arrived and I looked at how they attached. My head-tube would surely have creases in it now, had I tightened the U-bolts of the clamp sufficiently to handle the weight of the rack and the box, never mind the weight of whatever I might have wanted to carry. I would also have needed to remove the head badge.

Velorbis claims you will not find any plastic being used on their bicycles. Given the high strains of their sales rhetoric, it would not be overly pedantic of me to mention the chrome-look plastic headlight. It's an awesome headlight, don't get me wrong. I've even had an oncoming cyclist complain I was blinding him. It is plastic though. The SRAM grip shifter is plastic too. 

My understanding is these bikes reach their dealers having been almost fully built in a factory in Denmark—or maybe it's Germany? Either way, the factory is where I presume the following oversights occurred in the building of my bike. 1. The stirrup on the Brooks saddle was on the wrong way, and had to be disassembled and put back the right way. 2. For some reason, perhaps to accommodate a front rack if desired, the brake cables were excessively long, and required trimming. 3. The bolt fixing the stand was loose and had to be tightened. In their defense, there are far more parts to a commuting bike than a racing bike—fenders, stands, racks, lights, etc.—and these bikes hit the shops for a third of the price of a high performance racing bike. It is commendable that only 3 things weren't assembled perfectly.    

PROBLEMS FOR US, NOT VELORBIS.
My Basil pannier does not clip very neatly to the Velorbis rear rack—a fault with the bag not the bike. Marrying the bike to just the right pannier is something I really should get around to. Perhaps Velorbis could make one? (Postscript: I have since bought a Brooks Devon Pannier. Brilliant!)

Despite the Swalbe Marathon tire's reputation, I have had two flats—one front and one back—which is just my bad luck. One of those flats I could almost have fixed without removing the wheel, using just a patch kit and schrader valve pump, since the tires are loose enough on the rims to get them off and on with one's thumbs, and my actual puncture (from a grass seed) was easily found. Really though, you do need to carry a spare 700c tube, a shifter and levers, as well as the pump and some patches and glue. The frame does not come with holders for pumps, a traditional touch I would have preferred.

The first thing I did, and haven't regretted, was to add SPD pedals, with flat plates on one side and cleats on the other. Since the bike doubles as my medicine ball training device, to keep me race fit for the weekend, it is vital that I can ride with the same circular pedaling action I will use in a race. I'm not about to throw away twenty years of training my legs to make circles! I wear a pair of those Shimano suede SPD shoes that pass for regular ones when you stop at the shops.

 
the SPD pedals I added

LAST WORDS
Given we spend most of our lives doing ordinary things, it makes sense that we do them extraordinarily well. I spend an hour and a half every day getting to and from work. That time is mine to daydream, exercise, feel the elements, and feel like a kid or a dude or a wild animal or whatever I care to imagine. I need the right bike. I need a bike made to a recipe, not to a price point. I need a bike that is willfully stylish. I am as close as I will be, for at least the next decade, to owning such a bike with my Velorbis. This bike takes the quotidian chore of getting work, and elevates it into something ennobling.   

WAS THIS REVIEW HELPFUL?
If so, please share the link. Either way, feel free to comment or shoot me a question.

Comments

(Anonymous)
Sep. 18th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thankful for the Review
I had been on the fence as to which bicycle to invest in. This impartial review from a real Velorbis owner like yourself has helped me to finally make the big decision. I'm going for it! Thanks a mill for the careful review.
Sheryl
(Anonymous)
Nov. 5th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC)
nice review. I ride a Churchill Balloon, very fond of it - the convenience particularly. No trouser clips needed, lights ready to go, saddle that cuddles. Had a few issues with the rear wheel jumping out of alignment and rubbing on the LH stay, but that's all.

Any pannier recommendations? I'm thinking Basil Kavans or Brooks Brick Lanes.
behoovingmoving
Nov. 7th, 2010 11:27 am (UTC)
Hi, I went for the Brooks Devon Pannier, and am enjoying it thoroughly. The made in China label detracts slightly from the old world British marketing image, but it just works so well! I got it online from Chainreaction cycles for, from memory AUD$350. A bit pricey, but the nearest compromises weren't all that much cheaper. Of course, the brief case holder on the Velorbis rear rack means you can only carry a pannier on the left side—not sure about the brick lane.
Anyhow, I wrote a review:
http://behoovingmoving.livejournal.com/35392.html
Thanks so much for reading my blog!
(Anonymous)
Nov. 12th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
thanks - will explore this option. Nice to read an Australian cycling blog.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 11th, 2010 03:24 am (UTC)
cool Velorbis review
The lovelybike blog has nothing on you. Your review is spot on! I own a Scrap Deluxe and I can totally relate to what you're saying. The bike is very well designed and a solid riding steed.
I'm actually in the process of installing an electric assist. My goal is to make it as seamless as possible by storing the battery in a wine box which is on my rear rack. I think it'll be pretty cool. Keep up the blogging.
Kimon Haramis
Long Beach, CA, USA
behoovingmoving
Nov. 14th, 2010 08:39 am (UTC)
Re: cool Velorbis review
Why thank you Kimon, for the high praise, and for recommending the lovelybike blog. There really are some delicious bikes there!
To be honest, my blog is somewhat broader in its scope, which I freely admit means it's less focused, bouncing as it does from art theory to pompous aristocratic dry-drunken nonsense :)
Delighted to hear from you! Would love to see a pic of your bike with the disguised electric motor on board. Precious idea!
Paul Squire
Apr. 15th, 2011 11:56 pm (UTC)
Re: cool Velorbis review
Kimon Haramis wrote:
"My goal is to make it (electric assist) as seamless as possible by storing the battery in a wine box which is on my rear rack."

Brilliant! and there was me dreaming up elaborate ways of carrying the batteries inside the frame tubes. Doh!
Paul

mellvangberg
Nov. 29th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
Great review!
Thanks for a well written review! I am thinking about bying a Churchill Ballon - and now I will go for it :-)
behoovingmoving
Jan. 6th, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
Re: Great review!
am jealous. I ride my wife's (women's) scrap deluxe quite a lot, and am even now thinking of buying a mens one for myself. The balloon tires and thin tube steal frame really do provide for a lively feel over bumps.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 23rd, 2011 11:27 am (UTC)
Velorbis
Hi Dr B.
Given your last comment, do you think the Scrap Deluxe would make a better commuter bike than the Churchill Classic? I like the look of both. Perhaps you could do a post comparing the two?

Like the blog by the way.
behoovingmoving
Jan. 27th, 2011 11:57 am (UTC)
Re: Velorbis
I'm honoured and grateful that you should seek my opinion. However, my wife's scrap delux doesn't have the right geometry for me, so I can't compare apples with apples. I can only guess that a scarp in my size would be slightly slower, but slightly more comfortable, especially up and down gutters/curbs. The Churchill Classic deals with bumps with long thin randonneur forks and wheels that are slightly larger, devices that work better at speed than when moving slowly. I sometimes play around trials riding on my wife's Scrap Delux, it lends itself so well to fussy maneuvers. I should write a blog entry though. Any buyer's choice will ultimately hinge upon what each model evokes in their mind. The Churchill appeals to documented preferences of British sloans for large wheels (shall cite references with my post), while the Scrap is distinctly Continental in its design sensibility (for Frogs, if you will).

Edited at 2011-01-27 12:01 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Feb. 7th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the fantastic review
I'm thinking of getting a Mens Velorbis Scrap Deluxe so your review fills me with confidence in their product.

The 2011 model will have a Shimano 7-speed hub instead of an SRAM. Any thoughts on this w.r.t. what you've written above?

Once again, thanks for taking the time to post your review.

Jim Moore
behoovingmoving
Feb. 8th, 2011 02:29 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks for the fantastic review
why thank you for saying! I have Alfine 7 speed on my mountain bike. No one doubts that it's more durable and quick changing than SRAM, and fast becoming the choice of many hard riding mountain bike riders — though, most are looking at the Alfine 11 speed, I admit. If you puncture with a shimano hub, and can't fix the flat with the wheel on, look forward to an extra 10 minutes scratching your head while you figure out how to slip off the cable. But squirt some Dr. Sludge in your tubes, and you'll be unlucky if you puncture at all.
These are not the ultimate bike in this category. Part of me wonders in a (heavy) galvanized frame might not be better. Or you could have a custom built titanium or stainless steel roadster built... and 15K later! The best thing about Velorbis is they've gone all out with the components.
Paul Squire
Apr. 16th, 2011 12:41 am (UTC)
The right answer or an affectation?
Having tried a variety of weird and wonderful cycling contraptions (all of which failed the tests of everyday life) I was going to simply buy a road-cross bike for $500. The semi upright position seems a good compromise between looking up over the traffic and bending to the twin toils of ascending steep streets and defeating headwinds. The agile geometry seems sensible amongst traffic as well.

However, I may now delay the decision until my next trip to the big smoke where there is a shop that stocks Velorbis, Retrovelo and Gazelle. Will you condemn me for driving 1000km (return) to do so? Will I find the bikes to be similarly expensive, impractical affectations as the other devices I tried? Time will tell.
behoovingmoving
Apr. 16th, 2011 03:49 am (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
I would not select shoes purely on the basis of practicality, much less such an important reflection of my taste as a bicycle. All these town bikes use non-butted steel tubes, and have many components vulnerable to oxidization. The $500 bike you refer to, would be more practical, on some fronts. As stylish though? Professor Squire, I only dwell on these matters because I want the next generation of cyclists to mate with more than their fair share of women, to help the species evolve with more gumption. Industrialization created a race or half humans half pussies. Cycling eugenics: that's what we need!
Paul Squire
Apr. 16th, 2011 04:34 am (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
To my sense of aesthetics style needs to be integrated - a whole package. The problem today with the sartorial cyclist is the helmet. Yakka may be heading in the right direction, although they may need to secret a solar panel and fan into the design. (Does this thought make me a propeller head?)

In the meantime, a road cross bike, dress(ish) travel clothing in modern breathable non creasing fabrics and a normal helmet seems best able to avoid the problem of having to get changed when you arrive. (I can see you cringing as I write this.)

I have already mated and produced four offspring - all of whom are cyclists. My wife is seven years my junior so I have no spare energy for others. Perhaps I need not concern myself too much with style.

Of course, when Yakka produces our pith helmet I will immediately acquire a safari suit and town bike. The handlebar mustache is already sprouting.
behoovingmoving
Apr. 16th, 2011 10:16 am (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
Though I'm no expert (yet) on cycle specific dress clothing, the type of clothing you describe was in profusion here when I last popped in for a look:
http://www.sableandargent.com.au/#/index
The epitome of the genre has recently come down in price I note also:
http://www.rapha.cc/tailored-jacket
Paul Squire
Apr. 16th, 2011 12:11 pm (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
Have you discovered Dashing Tweeds? There is a fine line between tweed and twee but I don't think he crosses it. I especially like this jacket: dashingtweeds.co.uk/dt/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/alex-blog.jpg
Paul Squire
Apr. 16th, 2011 12:20 pm (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
I wonder too if the kilt might not find a place in the cycling gentlemen's wardrobe. The draft would be a blessing in summer and the look is quite something: dashingtweeds.co.uk/dt/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/web-sklit-blog.jpg
behoovingmoving
Apr. 16th, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
Oh you are killing me sir. I am truly dying here. Now what is that acronym the young use on their phones when they want to say "laughing out loud and having toiletry mishaps"?
behoovingmoving
Apr. 16th, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
Oh he crosses it! But when you choose to cross such a line, you must go all the way. I like very much!
Paul Squire
Apr. 16th, 2011 01:14 pm (UTC)
Re: The right answer or an affectation?
All or nothing, of course.
He already has the suit ready for the pith helmet. dashingtweeds.co.uk/dt/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/blue-suitblog.jpg
(Anonymous)
Sep. 2nd, 2011 07:33 pm (UTC)
fit for a wise man
This is a bicycle fit for a wise man. A slow moving bike is something to behold when man and machine come together in Tantric rhythm.

I own a mundane Electra Amsterdam but I've given it some touches of wisdom to make it look close to the originals.

-Wise TibetanMonkey, Nirvana Banana Tantric Master, Comandante Banana
behoovingmoving
Sep. 3rd, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
Re: fit for a wise man
Comandante Banana and the Zen of Electra enhancements: brilliant!
(Anonymous)
Dec. 17th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
lock
what is the best lock you use? i am a little unsure! i do not want my flashy new bike to be stolen :9

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