20 June, 2012

Observations on a Gentleman's Bike

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.


dweendaddy said...

I would love to see a build list, with the total: how much would that thing run? It looks fantastic and is just my style.

Janice in GA said...

Thanks for the info on the handlesbars! (I asked that on Twitter.) :)

Noah said...

I've been riding a bike setup much like this in the city for the last few years although with your porteur bars and I really love it for that type of riding. I do think that the biggest downfall for me though has been the width of the bars. They are fine when I'm going faster but in the city I find that I'm not thrilled with the handling when moving slowly. Something I don't experience when I have had the 48cm noodles installed. The width is really close between the two so perhaps it's something else all together. I've got some albatross bars on the way though so I'll see if wider is better. Also, I must say the logo on the chainguard looks much less pronounced when mounted on the bike. I still would like it to be a little more subtle but it's really not as prominent as it appeared on it's own.

dwainedibbly said...

Nice bike. Very similar to my Polyvalent 1.0 build, except I used an Alfine-11 rear hub and a SON-28 in front. (Parts of Portland are hilly, and our winter days are short.) My cranks are Nervar 50.4, brakes are Mafac cantilevers, chain guard is vintage French, as is the bell.

The narrow bars really are good for fitting through traffic, whether it's motor vehicles, or peds & bikes along the river.

I really love this bike.

Patrick in Indianapolis said...

I love the bike. It is the set up I would like to move into for my general purpose rides. The only thing that is missing is the lights, which for me would be essential since I ride pretty early in the morning for work.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant bicycle-- the new Polyvalents look great. I'm still searching for a way to avoid "unseemly perspiration". I don't believe you're not sweating in that hot Maryland haze.

I've always felt as if I was operating a steering wheel when using narrow bars with a 80-90deg sweep. What is your perfect handlebar, in a desert island situation (with roads, of course)?

ian_rm27 said...

hey,hey.I've got those Montmarte bars on my Bullitt.

Love em!



Eric Daume said...

I wish you currently sold a bag like this. Mostly, because of the closure method. After using traditional Carradice bags, I won't buy another bag with a buckle and strap system. Yes, it's traditional and all that, but what a daily PITA. I would much prefer a plastic (!) snap type buckle, like on my Super C, or a strap, or velcro, or almost anything else.

db said...

I've not seen a shifter like that before. What is it? I don't see one like that in your store catalog.

VeloOrange said...

DB, that's a regular SA 3-speed shifter with the logo plate removed. It's nice and shiny under the plastic.

pgc said...

Good looking bike.

I have the Montmartre bar that I am going to install on an old SR tourer.

Do you like the inverse brake levers? Prefer them over typical city levers?

Also, those pedals, ooh lala...


VeloOrange said...

PGC, I do like the inverse levers a lot and will use them over regular levers on any bike with the right type of bars.

jeff r said...

This post convinced me to finally do what I was dreaming of. I bought the Montmartre bars, Tektro city levers and cork grips and put them on my steel road bike.

I have a 130mm stem but noticed that in a tighter turn my knees bump into the ends of the handlebars. I don't really mind but am curious if this is typical for this style of riding or is it a sure-fire sign that my frame is just too small for this configuration?

Vancouver Island cyclist said...

White Industries platform pedals. As an old fan of the Lyotard platforms I can appreciate the design. But a pair of pedals that costs almost half the price of the frame!?