September 26th, 2010

Rekindling national pride


Pashley Roadster on left and Pashley Guv'nor on right.
Both have the long wheel base and relaxed angles.
The Guv'nor has a longer quill stem and upside down bars.  


If just one bike could serve all my quotidian needs, what would it be? It is a question I come back to repeatedly. Broadly speaking my mind's eye vision takes the unsurpassable form of a classic roadster. One can ride with a thumb in ones pocket sitting bolt upright, or else lean slightly forward with two hands on the bars to pedal in earnest, or if need be stand out of the saddle to climb with one's hands still in front of their waist. Then on days when a gentleman wakes with the urge to survey unknown reaches of father's estate, or perhaps rendezvous with a friend in the town and be back before raising suspicion, he need only switch to balloon tires, invert his roadster's moustache bars and viola: an all terrain sports tourer, craving exertion. In the same way that I would advise my son to first invest in that one pair of trousers, and one jacket, that can also be worn as a suit, I would have every man equip his bicycle stable with a roadster—assuming he already owns a titanium racer, that is.

Yet if roadsters were suits, I'm afraid most would be prickly. The Victorian era insisted all clothes be prickly. Wool, tweed, cashmere, and various fabrics of choice were, until the mid nineteen-nineties at least, intended to remind us of Adam's sin, cursing our skin with thorns and thistles like the ones that supposedly infested creation. The aim was to force our eyes toward Heaven. Built as traditional roadsters still are, with rack stays looping axles, light leads entangling chain stays, and headsets working loose by design, many a stylish retro roadster has been known to lead even the most faithless to cry from the roadside, "Jeeesus C-h-r-r-r-ist who designed this?" wishing this life could end and His reign would start.

A hair shirt, and The Fall of Man and the Expulsion From the Garden of Eden, by Caravaggio

However, the Augustinian weltanschauung really isn't to blame. The detachable seat stays, ridiculous dropouts, chain tensioners, and myriad of nuts that slip through our tools, are simply a product of outdated modes of production. These were the best ways bike manufacturers had of joining steel tubes together, and those tubes to wheels, and forks to handlebars, back in the day. Then, from the 1970s until the present, when technological advancements in cycling followed the money—to bikes made for sport—commuting bikes were neglected. That is why we see the emerging market for behooving commuting bikes, being served by bikes built as they were back in the interwar era. You will note I am discounting aluminium commuters with plastic chain guards, looking like toys, and thus not to be seen dead on. Genetically, these tell of the era just past, when R&D, if and when it was ever directed toward bikes not for sport, focused on hitting a wholesale price of eighty bucks, thus making it worth some scoundrel's time to put "recreational" bikes into shops for that magic tree-fiddy ($350). A beastly enterprise, that impoverished cycling, and made driving the winner.

The rise in sales of prestigious handmade commuting bikes, signals an occasion to bring some classic roadster designs into the twenty-first century. We would naturally hope this current generation's designs assumed their own place in the cannon of classics, making them worth caring for into the future. To achieve that goal, our designs should be rear-garde, not avant-garde, for reasons I have philosophized upon in an early post; in their styling, angles, Brooks saddles, and array of inclusions, they would be Pashley's, Raleighs, Kronans, Skeppshults, Flying Pigeons, Heros, Umberto Deis, or Abicis—8 makes of roadster with scarcely a difference. The salient feature of our generation's roadsters, is they would have sliding dropouts, boss holders, braised on fixings for racks, and sensible routes for light cables. Other advances they should be availed of, from the world of bikes built for sport, might include disc brakes, LED lights, and flat/clipless pedals.

A reader has made me aware of at least one Chinese manufacturer ready to make you or I any kind of frame from titanium, delivered to our house for $600. But before we race off to China with our new roadster CAD plans, let us pause to consider the eight classic brands listed above. Do we distinguish them according to weight? Actually, it is their country of making that matters. Australia needs a national bike[!] far more than we need Chinese made ti sportster frames. We are rightfully wary of titanium welds, in a way that we are not of cast lugs. Remember: rear-garde. In any case, why lighten a bike by 1kg, when it is designed only to reload with groceries, work clothes, picnics or kids? Lugged cro-mo is time-tested, charming, and dare I say "green". I don't think we can fully dismiss the cache of green cred in this day and age. If nothing else, it pulls chicks.    
     
Brass gum leaf head badge on clear coat finishead tube. Raw stainless fenders recalling Murcutt aesthetic.

So we are talking about a lugged and braised classic roadster, made in Australia, cautiously employing an essential range of mod cons. Could though it have an Australian aesthetic? Would RM Williams make us a seat, or hold-alls, or pannier bags? Might we use unpainted metals thus achieving that edgy chic air of a Glenn Murcutt faux farm house? Might the head badge be a brass gum leaf?
  
Disguise high powered LEDs as old carbide lights, follow latest cool looks, or finf middle ground? The RM Williams cycling shoe, with hidden cleats.

By the time we add disc brakes, a hub generator, a titanium centering spring on the forks, a strong center stand, leather coat guards, Brooks stuff, an immobilizer lock, a stainless chain guard, the user friendly SRAM 9 rear hub, stainless fenders, and stainless everything else for good measure, we are talking about a $2500 bike. Pre orders now being taken.