What a world of elegance is captured in those two words: ‘town bikes’! Step-through frames, swept-back handlebars, enclosed chains and perhaps a net over the back wheel to keep your flowing scarf from snagging in the spokes. You, a cross between Victoria Pendleton and Audrey Hepburn, step lightly to the pavement outside the florist’s, from the sprung leather saddle, to purchase a spray of freesias for your wicker basket. Suit you, sir – er, madam!
The Danes have mastered this look and Copenhagen is the place to study it, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t aspire to what they have. From a purely practical point of view, the old “sit up and beg” could well be the most highly evolved form of the commuting bike, for man or woman. The view of the road from a town bike is (or should be) akin to that from the cab of any “people carrier”, and the load-carrying ability is not far short.
You may choose the gearing to suit your city – be it the fuss-free simplicity of a single sprocket (perhaps with a back-pedal brake) for Cambridge, or an 11-ratio internal hub gearbox for Edinburgh. While many modern designs plump for aluminium frames, there are still high quality offerings built from traditional steel and, as we all know, “retro” is chic.
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The geometry and riding position should preclude haste. Why rush? The Dutch and Danes cycle everywhere without ever breaking a sweat and there’s no reason why you should arrive at work with your hair looking like Boris Johnson’s and needing to be hosed down in the yard before your colleagues will share a desk with you. Nor should you need to dress in cycle-specific clothing, or require a change when you eventually reach your destination.
Typical Dutch or Copenhagen bikes include a number of features that have been all-but-forgotten on sport-orientated UK bikes. The kickstand would earn you a hearty ribbing on your club road bike but is a real bonus when the bike racks are full and you are trying to load your shopping into your panniers. Town bikes are generally unconcerned with keeping weight down, and additions such as bar-mounted mirrors allow you to keep an eye on the following traffic, or attend to your lipstick at the red lights. Many incorporate some form of security, usually a locking-bar that goes through the back wheel and prevents it from being spirited off when you nip into the bakers for a Danish. You may find hub dynamos powering your lights so you never have to think about batteries. And for extra style points, try carrying a rabbit or a small dog in your basket.
In the end, the commuting bike is a tool for a job and, as any good workman will tell you, the right tool gets the job done quickly and safely. When we fill the streets of Britain with bikes like these, we will truly be able to call ourselves a cycling nation.
Whyte Strawberry Hill
RRP: £599 | Cyclescheme price: £425.29
This ladies’ bike from British brand Whyte might look traditional, but the black paint-job hides some sophisticated tube engineering that makes the ride comfortable and light. Hidden behind the chainguard is a tried-and-trusted Shimano 27-speed transmission. This has a gear range close to that of most mountain bikes, so there are no excuses on the hills! Coming down again, reliable Tektro v-brakes take care of stopping. The full-length mudguards cover 42mm wide tyres which offer plenty of cushioning on rougher cycle paths, while the swept-back bar gives an upright ride that is ideal around town – though may be tiring on longer outings. whyte.bike
RRP: £579 | Cyclescheme price: £411.09
A hugely practical and well-thought-out bike, the Town comes in standard diamond frame and a step-through version for those who can’t, or won’t, sling a leg over a crossbar. Transmission is through an 8-speed Shimano internal hub gear which allows the chain to be completely enclosed for clean and trouble-free running. This also contains a coaster brake, complementing the v-brake at the front. Also at the front, a hub dynamo runs LED front and rear lights. The bike comes complete with a rear rack, prop stand and suspension seatpost, and is built in a wide range of sizes. Excellent value for money. cube.eu/cube-bikes
RRP: £675 | Cyclescheme price: £506.25
Available in red, white and – yes, of course – blue, the Britannia is as traditional a town bike as it is possible to find these days. That means some old-fashioned touches such as the thoroughly imperial 26in x 1 3/8in Schwalbe tyres in cream, and the Brooks sprung leather saddle that may take some breaking in but should last forever. The reliable Sturmey Archer 5-speed rear hub might suit your needs, or there’s an 8-speed model available for £755, and the hub brakes require next to no maintenance. Pashley’s build quality is unsurpassed and the bike looks superb. pashley.co.uk
Coaster brake Rather than relying on pulling a lever on the handlebar, coaster brakes live inside the rear hub and are activated with backwards pressure on the pedals. They’re simple and reliable, although not all that powerful or controllable.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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