15 August, 2006

Elegant City Bikes

The city bike I mentioned has generated a lot of e-mails and comments. So I thought we should post a few photos of nice city bikes. As always, click on the photo to enlarge it.

The Cinelli photos below were sent by Neil Berg. Please note the integrated handlebars. And you thought only the French thought up this stuff.

Then there is Japan's CS Hirose:

Mike Barry of Mariposa knows a bit about elegant city bikes as well:

If we do build a city bike, here are some issues, at least the first of them:

  • Wheel size?
  • Internal gears, just a rear derailleur, or the usual?
  • Chaincase or chain guard?
  • TTT type bars or French bars?
  • Disk brakes... no, never mind. Hub brakes or side-pulls?

I'll post more photos later today.


C said...

26" simply because it's very common and there are more options when it comes to models with heavy duty puncture resistant casings. 650b is nice but going with a fairly obscure tire simply to be different makes little sense. Keep in mind, this bike isn't meant for long distances.

Leave bars up to the user. Lots of great options available.

Disc brakes work best but they are ugly so I'd suggest hub brakes.

If I'm riding this bike in my finest suit I'd want a full chaincase. This also means making the bike around either a single speed hub (for flatlanders and those who like to get sweaty in their nice clothes) or an internally geared hub (for everyone else)

Velo Orange said...


I agree with everything you say except:

Top tube length might need to change if you wanted to use porteur bars on a bike designed for Italian bars. So they should be considered ahead of time.

What about 700c wheels? They are a little more elegant.

Lesli Larson said...

26" wheels, French bars, enclosed chaincase, internally geared hub--or single speed option.


Anonymous said...

Big fellas like 700's. Gotta be careful here. If you just make another comfort bike why bother?

Anonymous said...

Another bike worth referencing, is the black Curt Goodrich. It's on his site and was recently listed on eBay, although reserve not met.

How about 700c for big frames and 650b for smalls? But fat 650b's might feel more like a balloon-tire cruiser than an elegant city bike. A trus city bike shouldn't need fat tires, right?

Riders in flatland cities could choose singlespeed. Hillier city riders might prefer a 3 or 5 speed internal or vintage deraullier.

What are the differences between Italian, Porteur, TTT and French bars?

Something incredibly custom and unique like the integrated handlebars/brake levers would make me buy a Velo Orange city bike rather than building my own.

Anonymous said...

Seriously- why not consider disc brakes? for a city bike, nothing makes more sense... again, you get flexible wheel size, when the wheel goes out of true, your ability to stop (or go) is not compromised, you get one finger braking, you get brakes that will work when it's wet...

If you just choose fashion over function, then why bother calling it a city bike? Call it what it is- a suburban.

To me, a city bike is a bike I can ride to the store in the rain, leave it out in the rain, lock it up to a jagged stop sign and not worry about it. It's a bike that's by definition going to be abused.

If you just make another beautiful suburban bike with a brooks saddle and a $600 paint job and shiny shiny fenders, all you're going to do is create another sunny day bike for rich kids, another "this season's must have" that will fade from use after a season or two.

THat said, I'm sure if you go the suburban route, it'll be absolutely gorgeous and will inspire much coveting from me!

Anonymous said...

I think you could make a bike that fits 559 thru 590 bsd wheels. 559 and 590 for ease of availability. 571 for the speedsters, and 584 for those sweet 650b tires! The Tektro 556 calipers might have enough adjustment for all these.
I don't like disk brakes, personally, but they could be an option.


Anonymous said...

Andy- I remember when the Goodrich was christened. It's stunning, but it's a real old school porteur and I'm not sure of the market. Incidently, I liked it well enough that 2 weeks ago I visited Curt's shop and put dowm cash on one for my wife. One year wait. I'm going to build it as a fendered 650b French style town bike except with some Ergo 8 drive train. So, maybe there is a market.

Anonymous said...

I think if you try to make one frame fit different size wheels you're starting to compromise geometry. Of course life is full of compromises.

Anonymous said...

I think if you try to make one frame fit different size wheels you're starting to compromise geometry. Of course life is full of compromises.

Joe said...

Wheel size? 26" up to 50cm 650b up to 60cm or so, then 700c. Debate on the transitions, but a bike with tires that don't "match" the frame size makes elegance tough, and this comes from a happy Bike Friday rider.

Internal gears, just a rear derailleur, or the usual? Gotta be internal. They've gotten awfully good and make chain protection eaiser. Bonus points for designing for easy tire changes.

Chaincase or chain guard? Chain gurad standard, chaincase optional. Depends on climate, I think.

TTT type bars or French bars? French

Disk brakes... no, never mind. Hub brakes or side-pulls? Rear hub, front caliper/centerpull. I'm not aware of a powerful front drum brake.


slack seat tube--pedaling upright is weird for me on anything steeper than 72.5.

generator wire guides or internal wire path for head and tailight

pump mount behind seat tube (easier to carry bike and hang on many living room racks)

mixtes available in small sizes (or all sizes!), so I can buy one for Rachel. Who wants a diamond frame when you look good in a skirt?

Thanks for taking this on!

C said...

700c could work for larger sizes but not for small. 26" goes both ways. Sticking to one wheel size is easier for production but if that's not an issue then mix it up. Plenty of good, durable 700c tires.

Of course with disc brakes it's pretty moot as you could run 26, 650a/b/c or 700c wheel size. Some will say "But that changes the handling!" My response to them is: IT'S A CITY BIKE!!!! You're not going to be doing a lot of high speed precision riding on this thing. Look at Chris' description. If you're tooling down the street in your suit you're not going to be that concerned about a minor handling change.

Dad said...

Top tube length matters hugely. I am currently building my own mongrel city bike out of a huge PX-10 frame. I just used straight bars, and even with one of the longest frames I've ever seen (60 c-c, with a steepish ST), it still took a 14cm stem to get the bars out reasonably far. If I'd used North Road or other swept bars, I'd have wanted to get them even further out there.

The reason for saying this: you can just move the seat a bit back for more reach when seated. But when you stand, it's almost impossible to ride decently with your hands down near your thighs. (Sure, on a city bike you needn't stand too much.)

I think 700c is so much more elegant, at least for larger frame sizes. I also think 700c bikes just plain roll much better than 26'ers do. I know zip about 650 bikes so have no insights there ...

The Goodrich porteur bike is kinda neat. It seems overdone to me to have a functional industrial object revisited as a yuppie toy though. Gimme a *real* one!

(BTW: anyone know where to source a set of those old GB reverse brake levers, where the cable then goes inside the handlebars?)

Anonymous said...

David Nj,
dia-comp still makes reverse brake levers, they are going on my moustache bars for my touring bike. I would love to have some GB's however. I have a pair of GB courier brakes they would pair up nicely with.

Dad said...

I also wanted to say, the black CS Hirose bicycle in the picture is truly stunning. Good God, man.

Anonymous said...

This is like herding cats. Obviously everyone has their own idea of what an "elegant town bike" is. The Bobbish folks on one side, the Frenchy guys on the other. Maybe the key word here is "elegant". Not cheap. Not practical. Not bomb proof. Elegant.
Another one for your perusal.

Velo Orange said...

I think this nmberg fellow has it figured out. If this were a car it would be an Alvis, not a Toyota. If it were a boat it would be a Morris, not a Hunter. If a camera, a Leica, not a Pentax. And so on.

We can't compete with the big guys on low cost, but we can on refinement, elegance, and style. The folks who value those traits will buy it, those who want a super practical, beater, lock-it-to-a-parking-meter-for-a-week sort of bike won't.

Dad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dad said...

Good example. Sheldon is truly a gift.

I find it infinitely more interesting to cobble together "found" bike parts, as he does. I like to do it with a bit more attention to finish, etc., than he does, but I get the ethos. The cost isn't the issue, but I would just never, ever buy an expensive city bike -- it's tons of fun to go jam stuff together that isn't quite intended to work.

I bet that 99.9% of the regulars on this blog have consulted or bought something from Sheldon at some point, or at least consulted his amazing website.

Anonymous said...

I would opt for a 700c wheel size (except on the smallest frames); internal gearing (Nexus 8 or SRAM i-9); horizontal dropouts; full chaincase; rim brakes (cantilever or V); Axa O-lock; a lockable bike trunk; braze-ons for racks, lights, and generator wiring; and French bars. The better internal hubs don't come with coaster brakes, and the optional drum brakes are really heavy and only moderately functional. I personally don't see the need for disk brakes, as rim brakes will be perfectly fine for all conditions in which a "gentleman's city bike" would be used.

I have thought about building up a Surly Cross-Check (nothing special but very serviceable and non-obnoxious) this way, but given the cost ($1400+) I'd certainly be open to other options. I find Dutch Gazelles very attractive, but their old-style bikes are heavy while their updated ones are heading towards garish. I frankly don't think Velo Orange would have any competition in the elegant lugged citybike category: ANTs are not quite so refined, Cannondale 50/50s much less so, Trek L300s impossible to find....

A mixte frame option would be marvellous....

Anonymous said...

Definitely a chain guard, My commuter has one and I never have to worry about what I'm wearing or using leg clips. Better yet, have the chain enclosed altogether (if using internal gears).

Anonymous said...

I think Mike Flanigan has been building to this aesthetic for a while, without making his bikes too precious. www.antbikemike.com/lr.html

Anonymous said...

Elegant city bike? I'm thinking something like this:


but with a SA XRF8 drivetrain.

Anonymous said...

I think the Goeland on p. 140-1 of "The Golden Age of Handmade Bicycles" is about the most perfect city bike.

* Wide front rack
* Porteur bars w/ reverse lever (in addition to dia-compe, tektro also makes these, in standard and carbon)
* Bell
* Full fenders, with wide front mudflap
* Canti (only one, but two would be best on an non-fixed hub)
* 3 speed hub (Torpedo) -- 7+ internally geared hubs are more available now, but how many people intentionally use them all?
* Front light w/ generator
* Small, elegant chainguard

Anonymous said...

I'd favor 700c wheels, 42" wheelbase, and non integrated bars/stem/brake levers to allow for changing one's mind. My experience in these matters is that due to a chronic neck problem, I have just about all of my bikes set up with upright bars. My primary commuter is a 1971 Raleigh Competition frame/fork w/ 27" wheels (not much clearance but enough to get Bluemels mudguards on there--w/ a Velo Orange mudflap, of course), Nitto Promenade bars, MTB levers, Weinmann center-pull brakes but the ones with solid steel hangers, and a Sturmey Archer alloy shell AW 3-speed gear (pics and more description are here: http://tinyurl.com/o2hxp). I also have a front rack and basket right now, but getting the load on the back would probably serve me better. Thanks for thinking of us city bikers, Chris.


Anonymous said...

No toe-front wheel overlap
Long chainstays for heel clearance with luggage
Hub gear (SRAM superior to Nexus for flat changes. New Sturmey-Archer?)
Rim brakes (c-pull or cantilever)
Full chain guard (for modern elegance see the Hebie Chainglider)
Vertical dropouts for ease and good mudguard lines.
Eccentric BB (for chain tension)
Rear rack standard, front optional
Full-wrap mudguards (sprayed to match?)
Sidewall dynamo bracket


Anonymous said...

Is a "city bike" the same as a "commuter bike" or whatever...?
As a designer by trade, I think we need more definition of what out target product is before we start specing the hell out of it. Thanks.

Dad said...

What Neil said.

I think the base assumptions might be something like:

1. the rider's not riding more than a few miles;

2. the rider may be wearing his Sunday best;

3. the rider wishes neither to soil his garments nor to sweat unduly;

4. the rider might regularly ride at night;

5. the rider is a man or woman of reasonable wealth and good breeding, and appreciates fine things;

6. whether or not he has read The Data Book or takes VBQ, the rider has a reasonably deep appreciation for the history of bikes and cycling in general;

7. the rider might encounter unpaved paths, but nothing too hairy;

8. the rider may want to carry an attache, or say up to about 20 pounds of miscellany;

9. the rider would not like to be seen astride needlessly ostentatious Yuppie Porn; and

10. all things being equal, it would be preferable if the bike did not unduly attract thieves and ne'er-do-wells.

Anonymous said...

Well defined. Although I do enjoy bikes that cry to be stolen (bike porn?), at least by a discerning thief.

Anonymous said...

"5. the rider is a man or woman of reasonable wealth and good breeding, and appreciates fine things;"

what the hell? I find this statement disgusting, and bordering on bigoted.

this is starting to sound like the white-suburban-bike rather than a city bike.

bikes are supposed to be the chariot of the proles. lets get back on track a little bit.

Dad said...


Do you have even the slightest shade of a sense of humour? Sheesh. Sorry to "disgust" some anonymous laddie on the internet. Maybe you didn't have your coffee yet (... which, believe me, I would understand as giving rise to a cup-half-empty view of the world). ;-)

In any case, "Chariot of the Proles" is a great term -- gives me an idea for my first novella. Still, I don't think that's what we're talking about here, to tell ya the truth. My own tastes in cycles, now that I've hung up the Speedplays, are far more proletarian (and tend distinctly toward recycling junk) than some of those shared by the gentle readers of this blog. The Cinelli pictured at the top is no machine for the hoi polloi; neither is the Hirose or, by any stretch of the imagination, the Herse.

So, chill. And be well!


Anonymous said...

As far as I can see, there are only two requirements necessary:

1. a bike design that permits an upright riding position that gives the rider the ability to see well in heavy city traffic

2. a bike design that allows the rider to comfortably use the bike while wearing street clothes without risking getting soiled by the chain or drivetrain parts.

Aesthetic considerations are nice, but those are window-dressing. The Hirose bike is very handsome. So are the ANT bikes and Sheldon Brown's Raleigh. The classic diamond frame is very pleasing to the eye, as is the threaded headset and quill stem.
The poster above makes a good point about the Bridgestone Moulton, that too would make a nice city bike, even more so if it were a folding bike (which it isn't). Light weight doesn't appear to be the requirement one might think it to be as many "city" bikes used all over the world are heavy.

Hirose, Toei, and those who build to their aesthetic are only one kind of city bike: elegant, beautifully-finished, and presumably useful. The flaw is the preciousness; would the owner feel comfortable chaining it to the bike rack at the train station?

Lesli Larson said...

I've owned both a Raleigh and a Phillips city bike. What I'd like out of a Velo Orange City bike is something more spry, with a light wheelset--a bike which moves forward without protest (or heavy leg churning). Both of my 3 speeds worked fine as commuters but I was always happy to cast them off for sportier rides out to the outskirts of town. My upscale city bike would look and function like a classic upright roadster but might even double, with drop bars, as a weekend cyclotourer.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, as a practical matter in this world full of human beings, there are really only two kinds of city bikes: beaters you could replace for under $20 and folding bikes you can always take with you rather than lock up. Just a thought.

An elegant little folder:


Dad said...

Oh, that _is_ a delicious little bike. Love the name: "Clean Speed Blend 20" -- how wacko cool is that?

What do those small-wheeled bikes ride like?

Man that thing's way cooler than, e.g., a Bike Friday.

Matt said...

I've done a big Schwinn World Sport (mid-80s) frame into a City bike. I used a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub for a classic bike tour but now have a Nexus red band 8-speed on it. The main annoyance is that the twist-grip shift action is backwards from what I'm used to. The actual gearing range is very useful. The clean chainline also allowed me to install a Wald chainguard (great thing to keep trousers out of the grime). I also consider important, although nobody has mentioned this yet, a kickstand (Esge/Pletscher 2-legged one) which I mounted on the frame's kickstand plate. Kickstands are underrated, they're ever so useful, and you might consider making accomodation for this. The plate allows for a very clean installation compared to clamping the damn thing on my Atlantis's chainstays.

A Shimano generator hub on front, some Nitto Albatross bars, a Topeak Super-Tourist rack with the exceptionally useful quick-detach rear basket and the bike is a bit goofy looking but extremely practical and not robber bait either.

Philip Williamson said...

This is the greatest conversation ever. I've been aching for an elegant integrated city bike for years.

Functions: short commutes (my shop is two miles from my house), small grocery runs, farmer's market trips, evening outings, accompany the kid to school.
Paris-Living in America. It's an ideal, but you can live like this in cities or smaller towns.

Two styles:
Mixte with smaller wheels, rear baskets, in a pretty burgundy red.
Larger sizes: diamond frame with 700C wheels, front rack or basket, in black.
Subtle gold details and silver components.

1. Baskets.
Either a front basket, or two Wald folding baskets on a rear rack.
Not all of us have attache cases, but often we have to carry some stuff to work, or bring our purchases home.

2. Fenders, obviously.
Could be painted, but silver fenders on a solid-colored bike look great. If painted, a large chevron of reflective tape on the fender-ends.
Small skirt-guard on the mixte.

3. Internal gears.
Three is plenty, and the wider the ratio, the better. Lower top gear than the classic three speed setup.

4. Vertical dropouts. Choose the chainwheel and cog sizes and put the dropout where it needs to be.

5. Chainguard. Winged, like a classic French one. Lovely. Could be made out of a tough plastic, but not the kind that gets grubby. Silver on the men's frame, painted and pinstriped on the ladies'.

6. Small racks. Internally wired would be amazing, but an LED taillight mount would be fine.

7. Bottle generator. No clamps. Braze it on, or put it on a canti stud. No visible wires. The light is part of the bottle, or run a wire inside the fork or rack to the light.

8. French bars with reverso levers. That Cinelli bar is stunning, but looks like it would cost more than the whole bike.

9. Basic wheels. Thornproof tubes.

10. Dual-pivot sidepulls. On the mixte, put them on the middle stays to avoid the up-rising cable that collects water.

11. TIG weld them. Head lugs if you must have them.

12. Kickstand. Double-legged, for ease of grocery or Bobike baby-seat loading.

Velo Orange said...

One of the problems with city bikes built by, or for, serious cyclists is that, being used to drop bars, they put the bars too far forward. I wonder, from his comment, if David is doing this. It takes a long time to get used to it, but there is much to be said for sitting bolt upright on a wide saddle with no weight on one's hands. It causes one to feel rather regal rolling by all the cars stuck in the traffic jam.

If a bike is designed to be ridden that way it is still fast and fun. That is the position I use on my Motobecane, and there is a certain pleasure in passing a lycra-clad type while sitting bolt upright on a well sprung saddle.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late to reading these comments - I think some are perhaps a bit over-romanticized. The refined bike described above is what I'd be more apt to call a "townie".

Any "city bike" discussion HAS to start with the fundamental question of WHAT CITY? which hasn't been asked yet.

A big city like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco is fundamentally different from an old world European city, and just as different again from modern subdivision-based sprawl.

This is my idea of a city bike. Simple, good lucking, durable, with a bit of storage space, and without any excess of adornment -- look how much milage it gets out of simply having red grips and brake cables. That's all you need.

Dad said...

> I'm a bit late to reading these > comments - I think some are
> perhaps a bit over-romanticized.

Fair enough Adam, but isn't that the point? There are zillions upon zillions of unromantic city bikes around. Not at all sure we need to create yet another model.

That being said, and to agree with you, we don't need to bask in J. Peterman-ish bullshit either.