The opposite of the lightweight race bike, a roadster is supremely practical for shorter-distance commuting in normal clothes.
The roadster is the default bicycle in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling accounts for a large proportion of daily journeys. As cycle commuting levels rise in the UK, it's bound to be rediscovered by more cyclists here too. A roadster enables you to dress for the destination rather than the journey, just as you would if you were going by car. Roadsters are heavy because they're built for practicality not speed, and they best suit shorter journeys – but then most cycle commutes are short. Here's a checklist of things to look for.
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Upright riding position
A tall stem and backswept handlebar provide a sit-up-beg riding position that takes the pressure off your hands, shoulders, neck and lower back. Sitting upright gives you great visibility. As you're not as aerodynamic, it encourages are more leisurely pace, which should stop you racing and getting your street clothes all sweaty. You don't need to worry about necklines or builder's bum either, as you're not leaning forward.
Sitting upright means that almost all of your weight is carried by your backside, so a narrow racing perch won't do. A wider saddle is comfortable in normal clothes, as seams aren't pressed painfully into your soft bits. Many roadster saddles have springs in the rails to provide shock absorbing suspension over bumps.
Unlike derailleur gears, which are exposed to the elements, hub gears are hidden away inside a larger hub shell. This protects the gears from rain, muck and wear. The single chainring, single sprocket chainline can be covered by a chaincase (see below). Hub gears can be shifted while stationary at junctions, so you never need set off in the wrong gear in stop-start traffic. The range is usually narrower than derailleur gears. If you live somewhere hilly, get a 7- or 8-speed rather than a 3-speed and consider getting your bike shop to fit a larger sprocket to the hub.
Full-length mudguards are essential when you're cycling in normal clothes on damp roads. The front guard, or its mudflap, should extend well below the bottom bracket to prevent your feet being sprayed with water. Most roadsters have some kind of chainguard to keep your clothes off the oily chain; a full chaincase is best. Many roadsters also have coat or dress guards over the rear wheel to prevent loose clothes becoming entangled.
You don't want sweat patches on the back of your shirt or blouse, so it's better to carry luggage on the bike. Most roadsters come with a rear pannier rack, often with thicker diameter rails; check in store that your preferred panniers will fit. Roadsters aimed at women sometimes come with front basket, which is fine for lighter loads like a handbag.
Dynamo lighting powered by the front hub adds to the price but is a big advantage. The lamps are bolted to the bike, so you don't have to remove them to prevent theft – and then hunt for them afterwards. You don't need to charge or replace batteries either. Good dynamo lamps have a 'standlight' function so stay on for a while after you stop.
Stand & lock
A kickstand or fold-down rear-wheel stands enables you to park anywhere, which is really useful around town. An integral rear wheel lock is not a substitute for a D-lock and a solid bit of street furniture but is great for short stops at a shop or cafe.
Drum brakes and roller brakes are fairly common above £500. Like hub gears, hub brakes do the dirty work inside the shell. They work equally well when the rims are wet or buckled, and they don't wear our wheel rims. They do complicate wheel removal, however, so ensure your bike has tough enough tyres.
Here are three good quality roadsters at different prices.
Styled like a classic Dutch bike, the Vienna is lighter than most thanks to a frame that's aluminium rather than steel. It's equipped with chain and skirt guards made from shiny leatherette, which shouldn't rattle like plastic or steel. The mudguards are steel, so they're both durable and weighty. There's a rack for bags and a kickstand for convenient parking. A sprung saddle should filter out any jolts that get past the 700x47C tyres. The gears are Shimano Nexus 3-speed, so suit flatter commutes. V-brakes aren't as maintenance-free as drum brakes but have plenty of stopping power. There's no gent's equivalent.
Cyclescheme Price: £334.11*
Pashley Roadster Sovereign
It's a classic steel roadster that's made in Britain. The chaincase is fully enclosed, which will extend the life of the chain as well as protecting your clothes. Steel mudguards, rear rack, and fold-down stand provide practical touches. The front light is powered by a hub dynamo, while the rear is a long-lasting LED one. Gearing is a 5-speed hub from Sturmey-Archer, who also supply the drum brakes. The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are virtually impregnable, and in this unusually large size (40-635 or 28 x 1.5in) roll easily over badly maintained roads. The Brooks B33 leather saddle is comfortable too. The women's Pashley Princess Sovereigh, with wicker basket, is the same price.
Cyclescheme Price: £521.86*
Gazelle Chamonix C7
A modern, sportier-looking Dutch bike, the Chamonix C7 retains the classic roadster's practical features. There are mudguards, a coat guard, a rear rack, a wheel lock, and hub dynamo lighting. The chaincase is an unusual shape because there's a chain tensioner inside it. That enables Gazelle to use vertical dropouts on this hub-geared bike, making it easier to refit the rear wheel. The rear hub is a Shimano Nexus 7-speed, with a wide enough range for reasonably hilly commutes, and the Shimano roller brakes are weatherproof. The riding position is upright, although instead of a sprung saddle Gazelle provide a suspension seatpost. There's a small amount of suspension travel in the fork too. It's available in a women's version.
Cyclescheme Price: £569.92*
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