11 December, 2006

City Bikes and Paint and Baskets

The photos are of a mixte Ernest built for a friend. They were taken in Japan where Ernest lives and where such pretty bike baskets are still available. You may notice some Velo Orange bits on this bike, particularly the rear rack. This is really a lovely build. Everything just goes together perfectly.

The Velo Orange city bike will also be available in a mixte version. Frame number one, my bike, is now under construction. Frame numbers two and three, both mixtes, have been ordered and will be built in January.

The biggest headache in designing these is picking the colors. I just can't decide on colors.

Speaking of paint, I don't like fancy paint on bikes. How many cyclists who have contrasting head tubes, baroque lug shapes complete with lining or painted in a third color, would consider painting their cars in a similar fashion? You won't see three colors of paint paint or lugs like that on a Toei, Herse, Singer, Alps, Routens....

As it stands now the color choices for the VO city bikes will be black, light blue, and full chrome. But that will almost certainly change. Any ideas?

Accessories for elegant city bikes are in short supply. Almost all bike baskets sold in the US today are of truly awful quality. Even the ones from supposedly high-end companies leave a lot to be desired. We just ordered some made of willow by craftsmen on a small island in Europe. Hope they're nice.

High quality chain guards are another item that's hard to find. We may have to have some custom made. Finding the parts for an elegant city bike has been, in many cases, harder than parts for the rando frame, but I'm not complaining; it's a lot of fun. What do you think of the chain guards for the first few VO city bikes? When we can find these NOS old French guards we'll sell them, but only with a frame.


Anonymous said...

Does the bottom rack support weight or does it simply keep the basket upright and away from the brakes?

Dad said...

That's a neat bike. Baskets look a little, uhhh, light-in-the-loafers to me though. I'd say an old wooden ammo box would be cooler! But that's just me.

When you really think about it, chainguards and kickstands are just excellent ideas. Never thought I'd find myself writing the immediately preceding sentence!

James said...

The only decent metal chaincover I've found is this generic german model http://www.weltrad.de/index.php?cat=linierung&
It's polished aluminium, but looks better painted. It's available in several lenghts. It appears to be similar to the chaincover used on austrian 3 speeds and mounts in exactly the same way, fixed clamp in the rear and adjustable clamp in the front.

Another option is to build a copy of Wanderer's chaincover
For that you'll need a chaincase mount and a strip of aluminium or stainless steel and a "chain cover ring" on your crank. In theory you should also use a bb intended for use with a chaincase mount, from SKS or shimano or whoever else sells BBs in europe. A dutch bicycle importer or the pashley dealer might be helpful here, but it's been my experience that it's easier to just order these parts from europe. Perhaps velorution.biz would be of some use here.
I have two panasonic touring bikes I plan on turning into city bikes and am going to try out various chaincovers and try making my own stainless steel strip chaincover. I'll document the process on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Black, baby blue and fully chromed sound just about perfect. Maybe the baby blue is leans a little towards green or gray. I've always been fond of the copper brown/bronze of a late 1960s Mustang.

Longaberger makes a decent woven, wooden bicycle basket. It is only available as a sales rep giveaway, but is usually available on eBay. Maybe they would put a new version into production for V.O.?

The kid's furniture and toy industry is overflowing with bent plywood pieces made in and around Grand Rapids, MI. Perhaps V.O. could have a bent plywood box/basket made for the front of a city bike? I'm sure it could be done (with leather straps and a lid that stays shut for under $100. The Paul flatbed basket with wooden slats on the bottom is nice too.

James said...

Another option would be to use a raleigh sports chaincover, either the hockey stick or the short french style chaincover and have it powdercoated to match the frame, if you're merely trying to build an attractive city bicycle and not a replica of a french bike. The later chaincovers, post-65 had clamp on mounts and seem quite adaptable and were well made. It used to be that you could get replicas of these designs from oldroads.com.

It's says a lot about the sorry state of the bicycle in this country that something as simple and as universal as a chaincover requires such effort, ebay, dumpster diving, fabrication. But this is to be expected. In bicycle design as in most other things, architecture, city planning, traffic engineering, automotive design, bread, coffee etc. we're off in our own alternate dimension.

Anonymous said...

An ammo box? Now ain't you the manly sort. And we could make the chainguards guards out of Budweiser cans. And a gun holster. We need a holster.

I've been pondering kickstands myself. Maturity and practicality are such a drag.

Anonymous said...

Chrome seems so 1950s to me.

If you are going to do only 3 colors, I would like to see a nice off white choice along with the darker colors.

If you really want to do one without paint, perhaps consider a matte metalic. Matte finish well done has such a timeless character.

In the end, I am confident your design choices will be very good.

(case in point, I am having my Velo rack set up just like the mixte in the photo)

Anonymous said...

I will likely be ordering one for my wife in about 10 months. She likes a nice tomato red. Her current basket is by cynthia's twigs

I might be able to help you with a chainguard, if you want to use a waterjet...

Dad said...

One thing that would be nice, does anyone know if there is a photo-sharing thing we could all use? I'd be interested in seeing some of your machines. I'm clueless as to what web tools might be out there to allow for such a thing. Could it be done on this blog?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if this was posted elsewhere and I missed it but - Who is making the city bikes?
Regarding the chaincase, I'm not a big fan of large, flamboyant cases. I think they draw too much attention from the lines of the bike. I've always loved the look & build of the brass rod chain guard that momovelo used to sell. It was either Swedish or Danish - and I cannot remember the manufacturer - but it was lovely!
Wald makes a decent chaincase that can be seen here:
Lastly, has anybody seen these before? I just came across this image today:


Anonymous said...

I actually kind of like the guards the French designed - all variations of Art Deco wings. They look as if they should be on Mercury's heels.

Dad said...


That was a Sogreni chainguard (see http://www.sogreni.dk/). It looks cool but no way would it offer much protection for your pants. Sogreni is run by a Danish architect and apparently it's a bit of a side endeavour for him. Looking at the bikes on offer on the Sogrenis site, it seems to me there's not much appeal for serious cyclists. They're a bit carried away on aesthetics ... although reasonable minds may differ.

The US distributor for Sogreni is Bill Laine at wallbike.com (which should give some comfort because he's the nicest person ever), but I believe Bill has found this guy to be a bit of a flake, combined with offering svelte but way, way overpriced products.

For a perhaps related aesthetic which is pulled off beautifully by a real red-blooded human being who is apparently just a _superb_ guy, check out Alternative Needs Transportation (antbikemike.com) up in Boston. The lines are nowhere near as tight and fussy as on some of the bikes discussed on this blog, but very wonderful in their own right too.

The city bike, in the hands of a skilled designer, is such a classic problem. It's kind of like an architect being asked to design a chair. Me, I'm happy to drink beer and watch the Jets, but I can also respect people with learning, skill and judgment!


Anonymous said...


If editor didn't cut link off,
that's a real 'complete' chain guard.

Anonymous said...

Here's another loveable/loathable hi-zoot "luxe city bike" concept from Koga. Gotta love those useless CF fenders (note the tangent regions...) ;-)


Apparently they sold 'em all, though - there's a market for everything!

=- Joe

Anonymous said...

Anon, link works fine as of 17:53 EST.

Not sure what I think about such a heavy guard. I guess if you ride in a lot of salted snow and sleet it would make sense.

What caught my eye (and I hope catches Chris' eye) is the lovely tie down strap. The LBSes here in Chicago all have only those ugly hook and elastic band things people use to hold car trunks down.

Dahon has a few real nice tie down straps as well.

I would like to think some aftermarket company makes attractive straps. If not, maybe a clever web seller can come up with another item that sells like saddle covers.

Anonymous said...

For another couple of basket sources, there is David Hembrow who makes beautiful baskets from willow


also there are the imported baskets of The Basket Lady:


And Cynthia's Twigs, who has made some of the custom baskets featured on Mike Flanagan's A.N.T. bicycles


Don't know about light in the loafers, but the typical woven utility baskets seem pretty tough and big enough to carry things without tumbling out, as their necks are a little smaller than the circumference of the basket bodies. Also, unlike metal baskets, they give a little, so that road shocks keep glass items from breaking. Not a bad idea if you envision the wine bottle and picnic uses

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is the Sogreni. I, too, doubt that it does much if anything in regards to keeping your pantleg intact but it sure is nice. I like nice. Can't help it, I was just born that way.
Oh, I was hoping folks can post links via tinyurl - most of the links posted here don't work for me.
Has anybody seen those Tektro centerpulls before? I'm wondering if they ever made it into production.

Anonymous said...



Is this brake intended for braze-on mounting? I don't see any bridge for the arms in these photos...

=- Joe
Pittsburgh, PA

Kris Hicks-Green said...

D'oh! I'd hoped to find a chain guard and chaincase for a couple of bikes of mine before you outed the idea. I find they really increase the utility of a bike.

I had a gorgeous (and tres fragile) aluminum cover by Simplex on a Peugeot UE-08 Caravan I owned for four days this summer, which sparked my interest in them again. And years ago I had a nifty little cantilevered-frame Schwinn single speed runabout that had some sort of light verigated plastic tubing that snugged around the chain (leaving, obviously, a clear path where the chain engaged the cogs). It worked surprisingly well, slightly lessening the likelihood of having my pantleg eating, while doing an excellent job of keeping the chain clean. The only downside was a little whirring noise, and it got a little ratty looking after about a year of trail riding. I'd put it on my fixies, maybe, but I've never found the stuff again.

AN said...

Can someone let me in on the deal with Cynthia's Twigs?

My neice has one and flipped over it, so I ordered one, too. But I was extremely disappointed. It was made in China (sticker on the bottom), even though the wording on the Twigs tag made you think it was woven in the North Carolina mountains. Plus there was rust on the mounting wires. Note I didn't order it directly from her, but through a distributor. Are there two distinct lines of baskets - the original and a lesser that's sold through a middleman?

Anonymous said...


Send it back. Even Chinese SS is ginsu knife grade and pits which is much worse than rust. Its what they use on BMW 650cc disk brakes(!). No metal from a Chinese manufacturer is rustproof to my knowledge. Even their cast iron is not good 'ductile' grade (lighter than steel and much denser) and is the trash grade(?) which is heavy and cracks (for car disk brakes too, lol).

Its always a good time to start learning materials engineering grades and Google when buying Chinese made products because it will always be a grade below acceptability. If they don't tell, don't buy.

Carbon is optional in Chinese steel and your basket wires will probably bend like PlayDough under any loads like going around corners fast ("but it look good new and standing still, see?")

If you don't give vendors immediate feedback, then they will think people enjoy 5% discounts for unacceptable quality products that may be thrown away after opening. This is especially a concern if safety is involved. Maybe that's why Chris sells classic parts, because its better quality and much safer too, lol.

Velo Orange said...

Those Tektro brakes are U-brakes for free-style bikes.

I'm not sure that they have much reach. All the specs on Tektro brakes are here:


Still, it might be worth trying them if the brazed-on post position is the same as Paul brakes. It would sure be a cheaper option. Isn't it funny how centerpulls get re-invented ever decade or so. I think the R725 brakes look cool.

I'll go through all those urls for chain guards. Thanks.

Velo Orange said...

The idea of a photo page of bikes owned by all of us is a great idea David. I'll try to figure out a way to do it.

Anonymous said...

are there any baskets that work with drop bars? I want to get a basket for Mary but for some reason the girl is really attached to drops.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps for a photo page, you could work with cyclofiend Jim, who already has a few pages of nice looking bikes up. Why reinvent the wheel?
m Burdge

Dad said...

For a city bike that I built up for my dad, which is an old PX-10 frame with a Nexus drivetrain, I just used an chainguard from an old Raleigh 3-speed and hit it with epoxy paint. To put it on, you can use the existing bracketry: I had one boss brazed into the lower side of the DT and then there's a threaded hole in the underside of the BB. Really works great, very rigid mount, definitely keeps trousers well out of the dirty stuff, and looks kinda/sorta like an old Herse Gentleman chainguard. Take a look:


Anonymous said...

Very neat. The PX-10 is a nice light frame. Good choice. I'm certain we would all like to see the rest of the bike.

Anonymous said...

Wow, David NJ,

Very nice and lucky Dad!
Thats a perfect combo of chain guard and fender/mudflap.

Nice bike too.

Kris Hicks-Green said...

Hey, David NJ:

How did you source that little pump? I need something similar to reside between the pump pegs on my Raleigh Sports. Without a pump there the bottom bugger is a better pant-leg grabber than even the chain. The proper steel pumps seem to have evaporated.

Also, do you have a blog open for public consumption? Your signature suggests you might, but I can't seem to link to it. I ask because I find your bike tastes to be similar to mine.

Many thanks.


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

It's actually a pretty big pump, just a plain vanilla Zefal MTB pump.

I'm pretty sure I have a pump that would fit just perfectly in between your pegs, you can have it gratis.

Blog? Me? Nope not at the moment! What would the topic be? Certainly not bikes, but many other things are fair game, if I had a clue how to run one!

Anonymous said...

Chrome is not very enviroment friendly. consider giving the enviroment a relief. it isnt the 1950's when noone cared. bikes should be kind to the environment. thx superfreak.

Dad said...

superfreak is right.

I may be a total redneck but damn me if I'm not an environmentally friendly one.

The chromish powdercoating you can get these days looks good -- not so good as real chrome but good -- and protects the underlying metal much better than real chrome does. Just get that. No need to hurt the environment just for the sake of a stupid _bicycle_, f'chrissakes! I mean if you're to harm Bambis, get a 30-06 and at least be a man about it. None of this "don't blame me, I didn't do it directly" stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hip, hip, hooray! Another person who likes simple paint schemes! I say black is 'the' color of choice for the city bike, and a black powder coat would not only look fine, but be durable as well.

Anonymous said...

As an alternative to chrome,how about having the thrid option be a media blasted then clearcoated frame? I think a nude city bike would look great - and why not show off the workmanship of these finely handcrafted bikes? A cleaned, clearcoated, lugged steel frameset would look great with fenders, racks, chaincase, cork grips and a brooks. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

My favorite bits are the reverse brake levers. Vintage? If not, is there a source for those? I've got a project that could use that kind of beautiful wierdness.

Velo Orange said...

Bergdo, I think the levers on that bike are Vintage. But Dia Compe, Tektro, and Soma make modern reverse levers. I understand that only the new Soma levers fit most city bike bars.

Anonymous said...

What about the beautiful small French chain guards?

Alleluia Chain Guard

I would buy one in polished aluminum. I've seen a smaller variant, more masculine.

Anonymous said...

Uh, what's the mission profile for an "elegant city bike"? Who is the expected owner, and how do they use the bike?


Velo Orange said...


I see the owner of an elegant city bike as a knowledgeable cyclist who wants a bike for errands and commuting. This is a bike one could ride to the office in a suite and dress shoes or to the farmers market or on a dinner date.

The idea is that one can propel oneself in a dignified fashion and without sweating. Yet because the bike is built with top quality tubing and to an exacting design it will get up and go. I want to take mine on the C&O canal towpath and around cobbled streets of Georgetown and Annapolis.

Dad said...

Are those little Simplex alloy chainguards fairly durable? They just mount to the seat tube with a little tab and so would not seem to me to be very solid. But they sure look super. No need for overkill if those will indeed get the job done. Anyone used one?

Velo Orange said...


You need to find the instructions on line for those Simplex guards; they are out there. It is not at all obvious how they mount. The tab bolts onto a Simplex front dérailleur and then you drill a little hole in the guard beside the down tube. Then there is a series bars, tubes, and bolts that look like the shifter linkage on a pre-war Renault. This is where one usually stops for a pastis. The remaining bits secure the front of the guard to the down tube and you're off to the cafe.

AN said...

I am severely bummed, and orders are in danger of not getting shipped today.

This post has superceded the all-time comment-generator: the leather-covered thermos (coffee, calvados), which is certainly more relevant than basketry and chainguards!

Dad said...

Thanks, I realize you can mount them to one of the telescoping-type Simplex FDs, but I'm talking about a single-ring application so maybe that's a bit easier. I guess I have to figure out some way to mount it to the down tube. There's one for sale for $9 in a bike store with no instructions, but at least it does have a seat tube clamp, and I was thinking it would look cool on my ultra-low-end-merde-quality Peugeot that I'm converting to an ECB.*

*Elegant City Bike

Anonymous said...

I tried one of the Simplex mount on the derailleur, fust until you get pissed, chianguards. I gave to someone with more patience.

We all love you. Chainguards are important. Now, get back to work.


*Elegant Nantuckett Bike?

Anonymous said...

I guess it's the "elegant" part that's throwing me. If the suited commuter can park it at the executive bike rack inside a secured area, and if valet parking will be responsible for it during shopping or that dinner date, then it makes sense. Otherwise, won't these elegant bikes have a half-life of around two weeks with their original owners, or worse, be "too nice to use" and wind up in a bike museum in pristine condition in 75 years?

I love fine bikes as well as the next rider, but it just seems like this is a bourgeoisie tool for a proletariat endeavor.

All the best,

Velo Orange said...

TCS, In some cases that's true, but, as an example, a good friend worked for a Washington DC "K street bandit". He simply rolled his bike into the elevator and to his office, actually a lot of people do that. And I feel very safe leaving a bike on Main Street in Annapolis while dining, even at night. So it's not for everyone, but some will appreciate such a bike.

Anonymous said...

I try to leave a small footprint on this planet. I will not be made to feel guilty for having a nice bike in a world where people are driving Hummers.
I feel blessed. If I left my bike somewhere in this town, someone would probably return it to me. Thank heaven for elegant bikes and small towns.

Anonymous said...


Abus chain and pit-lock skewers have kept my rather toney Sycip safe parked all over the mean streets of Chicago.

Not sure why you think of cycling as proletarian. The idea the bicycle is something only for those who can not afford other transportation is dated and should die a sudden, painful death.

Bicycles are the right transportation for a large majority of the people. Those of us who understand employ a good looking ride to underscore the fact.

Dad said...

Looking at it again, that pictured black bike is really attractive. I mean it would be perfect to give to an S.O., etc. The more I look at it, the better it looks. Is there any change of getting a few more hi-res photos of it?

Anonymous said...

I am Cynthia Tenney owner of Cynthia's Twigs bicycle baskets. I have been selling my baskets retail and wholesale to individuals on the web, bike shops, pet boutiques and major bike distributors for more than 17 years. I am disappointerd to report that there are many companies offering my baskets for sale when they are not in fact my baskets. Sportsbay.com and Bicycle Revolution are two that I can think of at the moment. There is a distributor in New Jersey as well as one in Canada that both reproduced a cheap version of my baskets and sold them to bike shops for resale. Many companies use my name as well as pictures of my baskets on their site eventhough they are not selling my baskets. They do this because I have been in business for 17 years and have a wonderful reputation for selling exceptionally high quality bike baskets. You cannot get a patent for a basket so my hands are tied. If you buy directly from me you know you will get the best as I have an unconditional money back guarantee if you are not satisfied for ANY REASON. Check out my site for some wonderful willow European style bicycle baskets. http://www.cynthiastwigs.com