One of the standard models in most constructeurs' catalogs was an elegant city bike, a "gentleman's bike." There was usually a similar ladies bike on a mixte frame. These were comfortable city bikes meant to be ridden around town and to work, even when dressed in business attire. The photo below is of old Alex Singer and Herse catalogs.
We just finished building such a bike around a VO 60cm Polyvalent frame. I rode it home and a round town yesterday and thought I'd share some impressions. It's my second Gentleman's bike; the first was a custom by Ahren Rogers. But I've been riding a sportier singe speed/fixed city bike the past few years.
The Polyvalent frame handles beautifully and I find it easy to ride no-handed or to dive into turns. There is really little to say about it because it simply does what is asked with no drama or compromise. That's the thing about this style of bike; it simply gets where you want to go in a comfortable and relaxed manner. And much of that is due to low-trail geometry.
The handlebars are VO Montmartre bars. I really like their narrow width for slipping through traffic, and the rise allows one to sit upright. I have to admit that it takes a while to get use to the regal upright position, but once accustomed to it it's easier to look around. You really do see more. Some might wonder if 42cm wide bars fit me, being 6'3" tall with very wide shoulders. This was the standard bar width on bikes for most of the last century. They feel perfectly natural (we do have the similar Left Bank bars for those who want more width.) I think the trend toward wider bars has more to do with poor bike geometry than fit. Notice how wide the bars are on cruiser style bike and beach bikes.
The wide sprung Model 8 saddle provides decadent sprung luxury. I purposely sped over Annapolis' brick-paved and cobble streets just to enjoy the shock absorption.
The 38mm 650b Pari-Moto tires are very comfortable. I prefer them to the the Hetres I had on a previous city bike as they are, in my experience, less flat prone. But I'll probably switch to Panaracers Col de Le Vie tires which are even more rugged and have a deeper tread pattern. Some will argue endlessly over exactly which 650b tires are most comfortable, but given a 650b tires' large air volume and cushy ride I find it a rather ridiculous discussion. Is your bum really so sensitive? I'll also ignore small differences in rolling resistance; this is a city bike after all and the time spent fixing one extra flat will negate any advantage in rolling resistance. Give me a reasonably comfortable and flat resistant 650b tire with enough tread for the occasional unpaved park path or snowy day and I'll be happy.
The three-speed Sturmey Archer hub is perfect for this style of bike, particularly so in a city like Annapolis with only modest hills. The gearing is low enough to avoid unseemly perspiration, yet there is the option to shift up on the downhills. My previous gentleman's bike had a 1x6 drive train which might be better for hillier towns at the cost of a little more maintenance. Indeed, a 1x5 drivetrain is what most constructeurs used.
I'm trying the White Industries Urban Platform pedals, which are a nice copy of the French Lyotard M23 'Marcel Berthet' pedals. They work well with VO half clips, leathered of course.
The crank is a Grand Cru as is the chainguard. The bell is in the wrong spot for a bike ridden in an upright position; I'll move it to the handlebar. The leather bar grips are of a new thick oil-tanned leather we're trying. The front rack has an integrated decaleur which I now find almost essential on all my bikes. My old ALPS handlebar bag is perfect for my laptop, as well as a few groceries and a bottle of wine picked up on the way home.