29 May 2008

Cycle Chic Guide to Bike Commuting - #1 Choosing a Bike

We figured a quick guide to bike commuting Copenhagen style might be interesting. We may be wrong, but we're doing it anyway.

In a previous post about Terminology Folly we tried to highlight how, in some countries, the bike industry love it when you buy into their tech-lingo. In Copenhagen it is a much simpler process.

Most of the features shown below are standard issue in Copenhagen and come with every new bike. You may have to piece together your own accessories, but here's the highlights.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Guide to Bike Commuting - Choosing a Bicycle

In no particular order of importance:

1. Personalise Your Bike
Copenhageners, mostly ladies, have been putting flowers on their baskets for the better part of a century. There are many ways of personalising your bicycle and only the fantasy sets the limit. Stickers, funky bells or horns, colourful baskets. It's up to you.

Flowers you can do yourself and stickers can be bought cheap, but for funky bike bells in North America you have to google kids+bike+accessories to enter the realm of cool bells.
- Bike Bells
[Know other cool links? Leave a comment.]

Teapot Bike Bell personal style Argh Passion Amour Desir

2. A Bicycle Basket [Cykelkurv]
The all important bicycle accessory, the basket. I'd be interested to see a statistic about the net weight of everything transported in Denmark by bike basket on a daily basis. Handbags, groceries, dogs, oh my.

Many bike baskets are hang on the handlebars and can easily be lifted off and carried into a shop or on a picnic. See the first thumbnail below. This detachable design is sturdy and good for heavy groceries. Copenhageners choose traditional wicker baskets as a rule but there are many cool designs out there. As Wifealiciousness says, she couldn't live without her basket.

- Bespoke, hand-crafted baskets by David Hembrow, shipped worldwide.
- Carrie Bicycle Basket from Sweden.
- Henandhammock.co.uk - Basket made from recycled plastic

Canal People Basket Snowfall Bicycle Dog Cargo *

3. Back Rack [Bagagebærer]
A handy addition to any bike. You have all that free space right behind your bum, why not use it?

4. Kickstand [Støtteben]
You simply cannot exist in Copenhagen without a kickstand. There are many bike racks, of course, but sometimes you either can't find a parking space or you just need to stand it up, lock the wheel lock and off you go.

5. Gears [Gearer]
This is one issue that gets discussed quite often. Most bikes in Copenhagen have 3 gears. The most irritating sound I know is someone accelerating off the light in one gear and then clickclickclickclickclick, they hop past 78 gears to get to the one they want. Why not just buy a bike with the gears you need?

We often hear that three gears don't fly in hilly cities. Then get five gears. The vast majority of cities in the world can be cycled daily in 3-5 gears. Whenever anybody says, "Yeah, but my city is REALLY hilly", we just politely refer to European cities like Berne, Switzerland, where 25% of the population ride each day through a Alpen landscape. Or hilly Aarhus, Denmark's second city, or Gothenburg, or Trondheim, Norway. 3-5 gears and off you go.

6. The Weight of Your Bicycle
To be honest... who cares. This strange North American fascination with a bicycle's weight has got to be the most irrelevant tech-spec in urban cycling history. It's a hangover from decades of the bicycle being a product of the the sports/hobby industry. Those times are changing now. They can start putting kickstands, fenders, back racks and baskets back on now. We're not out to win the Tour de France. We just want to ride with style over speed to work or down the supermarket, thank you very much.

Just choose a bike that you like. If you have to carry your bike up stairs to your flat, is 5 kilograms REALLY going to make a difference? When you've seen petite Copenhageners lifting their bikes up onto the upper rack of a double-decker bike rack at a train station, you realise that weight is unimportant.

7. Bicycle Bell [cykelklokke]
See #1 for some links. We've included it here because you should check your local traffic code to see if bells are legally required. They are in Copenhagen. Lack of one results in a fine.

8. Bicycle Seat [cykelsaddel]
If you're going to ride your European style bike 100 km a day, go to a sports shop for a sporty saddle. If you're going to pedal around town, get one that is comfy and cool. Brooks England saddles are becoming standard on new bikes in Copenhagen. They're lovely.

- Brooks England.
- Selle Royal.

Rain Cover Spicylicious Bike Seatness Long John Bike Saddle Saddle Up with Brooks Target Stockholm Cycle Chic14 I Heart Copenhagen

9. Bike Lights [cykellygter]
#9 is on the wheel near the front fork because so many people in Copenhagen now use Reelights. They're always on and you never have to take them with you. Once again, check your local traffic laws regarding bike lights and reflectors.

In Copenhagen they must be on one hour before sunset until one hour after sunrise. Newspapers have Bicycle Weather for cyclists so you can check the times. See photo below. Here are the Danish bike light laws for your perusal - over at copenhagenize.com.

- Reelight

Reelight Bike Lights Bike Light Selection Leg Light Cycling Weather

10. Fenders [skærme]
Once again, a must have in a rainy, windy city. Who on earth wants water or slush sprayed up onto their lovely shoes and trousers/skirt? Front and back fenders, please.

11. Skirt Guard [frakkeskåner]
Standard issue on new bikes. There is no reason to get your skirt oily or dirty. Handy for men who cycle in long coats or trenchcoats - the word for skirtguard in Danish is translated as "Coat Protector".. As an added bonus, if you put a child's seat on the back, the skirt guard protects their footsies from the spokes.

- Make your own skirt guard
- Cambridge Cycle Company UK

Ride Kickstandish *

12. Chain Guard [kædeskærm]
Another 'can't live without it' accessory in Copenhagen. Why on earth would you pay good money for trousers only to roll them up? And a slash of oil doesn't look good on an ankle in high heels. Cover that chain up.
Hard to get in North America, unfortunately.

- Beautiful antique chain guards
- US - Bike Front
- Canada - The Urbane Cyclist
[Thanks for the links!]

Personalised Chain Guard Crescent Copenhagen Bike

13. Did We Forget Anything You Might Want to Know?
Let us know.
Trouser Clips! This was mentioned in the comments. Sögreni Bikes has a cool design.


Sarah said...

Loved this post! So informative! I didn't know bells were required here in Copenhagen. The bell on my bike is broken. I usually just say 'ding ding' if I get stuck behind chatting friends or cross my fingers and pass quickly the second I can! :)

Colville-Andersen said...

Glad you liked it, Sarah. You get a fine for not having a bell... if you get stopped. Which is rare.

sarah b. said...

Oh! Thanks for this! I'm moving from Texas to The Netherlands in August and it will come in handy when I'm out choosing my beautiful new bicycle!

Far From Perfect said...

Good Morning... Love your blog. I live in Nebraska, in a small little flat town. Ride my bike to work daily, looking forward to coming to your beautiful city someday soon.

Anonymous said...

I really love this site. It inspired me last year to finally get on my bike. I've never looked back! I have an old raleigh that I use to get around my small midwestern US town. It has come in handy now that gas prices are so "high." My gas bill? $0.

I just wish I could get a chain guard for my bike. The bike shops told me no guards will fit my bike. It has a sort of guard, but my wide-legged trousers and bootleg cut jeans always get caught on the chain and get dirty....

I'll never give up hope!

Here is what American growth policies have created: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080529/LOCAL18/805290462

I'm surrounded by cities in the top 5!

Anonymous said...

I should add that I live in a hilly city (I have a 2/3 mile hill, ending in a steep incline to get to my job), and I ride it daily with 5 gears in high heels. It can be done.

2whls3spds said...

Thanks! Now I know the only thing left to choose for my new bike is the front basket! I already pretty much have everything else, including a set of Basil Karavan 2 panniers!


Unknown said...

One could add the pant clip, which I always used as an extra precaution, in addition to the chainguard my old DBS had. Especially for Christie or others who can't get a chainguard, such a clip is a good option.

The most basic form of this is the classic fold-tuck method, where you push down your sock, fold your pant leg flat against your leg and then pull up your sock OVER the pant leg.

Great post Zak.

Greetings from sunny gothenburg by the way. Now all I need is to get my hands on a bike.

Wilma Flanagan said...

I love this blog, and have been inspired to ride my bicycle for many errands. I'm about to start commuting to work part time, because of it! However, I'm really glad to have my 24-speed bike; the hill I have to climb is 3 km long, with a rise of about 300 meters, it's a consistent rise, but extremely steep in a few sections. It's not that I need all 24 gears, but I really need that small front sprocket with several of the larger sprockets in the back to make it! I have to peddle fairly fast, or I will fall over! For the rest of the commute, it will be nice to have the larger front sprockets with the smaller back sprockets, depending on the wind that I face. The total commute is 10 miles (16 km) one way. I don't think I would consider doing this on my old Schwinn 5-speed!

Unknown said...

In Denmark the lights has to be on from sunset to sunrise. Not one hour before sunset. If you look out the window at around 20.30 ( one hour before sunset ) you can see why.

Anyway it's not a bad idea to have lights on all the time as it you become more visible with the lights on. Those Reelights are quite handy

From hilly Århus :-)

Anonymous said...

What a great post! It's made me go "eeeee!" with inspiration from all the links and the accompanying pictures. I think I really want a front basket now to throw my large purse in. During the daily cycle to work, I have a rack bag that goes on my, er, rack. But on the weekends and at night, I just have a purse slung across my chest. Would be nice to just throw it in a cute wicker basket up front instead. Also would love to have a small dog to put in there as my compass! :D

That's great that bells are the law there. I feel like I am the only one here with a bell. And I cannot live without it! I ring it daily as I'm passing people in parked cars, going around pedestrians who are crossing the street, or getting the attention of dimwits who are chatting on their cell phones in cars at intersections. :-(

It's funny that you mention the North American phenomenon of being scared of heavier bikes. So true! I traded in my gearless cruiser for my 8 speed Townie last year. The Townie is *slightly* lighter but it's so long that I don't really feel a difference. When I showed the Kronan web site to my partner as I was spasming out over their gorgeousness, he pointed out how heavy they were, even the sportier 5 speed at 40 pounds! I had to ask if that was any heavier than my Townie and he estimated maybe 5-10 pounds heavier.

Anonymous said...

Correcting some misconceptions about gear systems:

It's not the number of gears, it's the range. However, technical restrictions dictate that to increase range, you have to increase the number of gears.

Back in the day, 7-gear derailleur systems with just a rear stack of 7 cogs was quite standard. Its range wasn't all that big. But it's not feasible to add many more gears in that stack in the back: the chain can't take all the bending. You also can't increase the ratios of the cogs much, because changing the gear would become clunky. Compare with the front derailleur that does not switch fast! I actually have a "granny gear" (or "megarange" as shimano calls it) rear stack: the biggest cog is considerably bigger than the others. It is also rather slow to switch to, but simply great for hill-climbing.

Anyway, since there are techical restrictions in increasing the number or ratios of the gears in the rear derailleur system, the solution is to add another derailleur system, in the front. But adding a second cog in the front of course doubles the number of "virtual gears", and adding a third cog triples them. Some of the combinations however effectively yield the same transmission ratio. Also, thanks to the chain bending too much, some of combinations should not be used (and you can hear it).

Also, you typically don't use all of the gears of a derailleur system. Consider e.g. leaving from traffic lights. You probably should be having the middle front cog selected, and something near the middle in the back. You accelerate while switching to smaller cogs (=bigger gear) in the back. Once you have gained enough speed, you raise the chain to the biggest cog in front, and start coasting. It's not that many clickclickclicks. The smallest front cog you only use for hill-climbing, typically with some of the biggest rear cogs. Consider the front derailleur selecting the gear range between hill-climbing, normal, and coasting. The rear derailleur fine-tunes the setting, and typically is used with small cogs with the biggest front cog, middle cogs with the middle front cog, and big cogs with the small front cog. In effect, only the lowest, middle, and highest gears of the range are in frequent use; the rest are merely needed for technical and transitory reasons.

A 21-speed derailleur system (7x3 cogs) has maybe 13--15 usable non-redundant gears, and I consider it still a sane gear system. 27-speed (9x3 cogs) don't however seem to add much: you can achieve the same range by slightly changing the front cog sizes in a 21-speed. I certainly don't need any more range than my 21-speed has, and surely there could be less transitory gears, but it's not technically feasible in a derailleur system.

Now, I agree that hub gears are in many ways more convenient in the city (for you can only change the gears on move in a derailleur system!), but 7-speed (or less) hub gears simply don't cut it in a very hilly setting, or if you do longer journeys. The range simply isn't there. I constantly see people pushing their hub gear bikes up a hill, while I just pedal past. It just isn't worth the effort of putting all the muscle needed to it.

Now, there is such a thing as the 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub that has better range than a 28-speed derailleur system. But those are expensive, have poor availability, and presently weigh more than derailleur systems. Also hub gears have lower mechanical efficiency, assuming a well-lubricated derailleur system.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one thing I don't like about hub gears is that those bikes typically come with that cumbersome pedal-back rear brake... I want a handbrake, thank you.

(OTOH, disk brakes in bikes are utterly pointless. Even modern V-brakes are often installed with "power modulators" -- those battery-shaped things -- because they are dangerously powerful as a front brake as such. And as for the rear brake, it does not have to be powerful, because the rear tyre locks very easily and skids.)

Colville-Andersen said...

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone.

Glad the post was inspiring for some.

- I'm working on getting some chainguards onto Ebay.

- Regarding bells, it's only fair that bikes have them when cars have horns. Bikes are equal members of the traffic flow, so we have traffic rules that reflect that fact. Which means no stripped fixies.

- Pant clips? Check out the cool Danish design pant clips from Sögreni in this post at Copenhagenize.com.

- Brakes? Most bikes have coaster brakes as standard, as well as a front hand brake. Coaster brakes are when you pedal backwards. I prefer them.

- Gears? When travelling around Europe to great cycling cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Ferrara, Berne, Paris, etc, the majority of bikes are 3 or 5 gears. Which is a sign that a majority of the 100 million cyclists in Europe who ride daily don't need any more than that.

Anonymous said...

> Which is a sign that a majority of the 100 million cyclists in Europe who ride daily don't need any more than that.

Or maybe it's a sign that you've only seen the bikes used for short distances (and show) in the (often flat) city centre?

Around here (in the proper northern europe) the split is about 50/50 between 21+-gears derailleur bikes and single speed or hub-gear bikes (which typically have 7 speeds these days).

A single speed is enough, if you're willing to push the bike. If the majority (living in an environment totally different from mine) doesn't want more gears, and wants to push its bikes, and take ages to travel long distances in the sprawl, doesn't mean I shouldn't have them. Pushing bikes is lame (as are traffic regulations that require you to do so).

Colville-Andersen said...

Short distances, absolutely. Which is one of the points of this blog. To encourage people to ride their bikes for short trips in their city. To work, the supermarket, the cinema, the kindergarten, etc.

Flat... European cities are far too diverse geographically to lump them together as 'flat'. Berne. Basel. 25% trips made by bike. And so on. China... 1 or 3 gears are the rule.

Everything else is overkill. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

> To encourage people to ride their bikes for short trips in their city. To work, the supermarket, the cinema, the kindergarten, etc.

The distances often aren't short in 20th century cities built for the car. And how about longer tripes? Visiting the granny in the countryside?

> Flat... European cities are far too diverse geographically to lump them together as 'flat'. Berne. Basel. 25% trips made by bike.

I looked at some photos of those places on Wikipedia, and they are flat, at least in the centre.

> Everything else is overkill. IMHO.

Your judgemental attitude about other ways and situations of cycling is overkill. IMHO. Not every place is Copenhagen. While "cycling with equipment" is lame, there are uses for higher gear ranges; mountain bike frames and studded tyres make winter (real winter, not Copenhagen wannabe-winter) cycling safer and more convenient, etc.

Colville-Andersen said...

We have stated on this website many times that we focus on the vast majority of people who have the possibility of riding a bike on a daily basis. Repetition is dreadfully dull.

Short trips are the main focus for any city with bike culture or cities aiming for it. Berlin is a fine example. They are concentrating their efforts on increasing 'cross-neighbourhood' trips by bike. It's a wonderful focus.

Yes, yes, yes.... there are people who live in Alaska, live halfway up a mountain, live 50 km outside of the city. They're welcome on this blog, too. But we aim for the majority.

This is one of the many reasons why:

In the US, according to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle.

60 percent of the pollution created by automobile emissions happens in the first few minutes of operation, before pollution control devices can work effectively. Since "cold starts" create high levels of emissions, shorter car trips are more polluting on a per-mile basis than longer trips.

Can i please go back to blogging now? Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

It's not about living 50km from the city. I live one kilometre from the centre located on a hillside, two from where I work. With a 3-speed I'd have to push much of the way back home from work; a 7-speed might just work with quite a bit of muscle, but isn't enough for occasional other trips with even longer steep inclines.

But it isn't even about where you live. Suppose I want to buy, say, a room plant. That's 7 kilometres, one way, to a big box shop where they sell such things. Likewise with furniture -- but in a perpendicular direction. It gets a bit boring to do such distances with a low gear range. There isn't much in the centre aside from clothes and cell phones shops, bars, and supermarkets. I actually seldom have any reason to go there. Everything else is found in the sprawling big box districts. There also is no public transportation to speak of.

No, this still isn't America, we're firmly on European soil.

Please stop judging others' choice of bikes.

Anonymous said...

As for "majority", I suppose that is the case if your conception of the world consists of a small corner of Europe.

melanie said...

My quality of life went way up when I got a basket! Velo-orange.com has some good basket options as well as other accessories that may be helpful for people in the States.

Alexander said...

Hebie chainguards are for sale at Bike Front in the US and in Canada at the Urbane Cyclist. I couldn't live without mine!

Anonymous said...

I live in a city with some hills (on the East Coast of the US) and I am fine with my very heavy 3 speed bike. I can ride all of the hills except for one which is very steep, but other cyclists with more gears also walk it. And the weight of the bike is no problem at all when I'm riding.

2whls3spds said...

All gears do is provide for better/more efficient power output from the rider, important if you are a top shelf racer, less so if you are just riding your bike to get somewhere.

Amazing how all of those internal geared bikes have those awful coaster brakes...I have not one, but 5 bicycles with IGH and not a single one of them has a coaster brake. Drum brakes, roller brakes and rim brakes are the order of the day, the hubs are 3,4,5 and 7 speeds, they range from over 60 years old to brand new yesterday.

FWIW my main mode of transportation for over 4 years was a Raleigh 3speed, uphill, downhill, rain or shine to the tune of over 15,000 miles...amazing I didn't hurt myself because I only had 3 speeds. People like Heinz Stucke have toured the world on a 3 speed, yes they might get off and push a bit or even a lot, but that gives the legs a rest and utilizes a different group of muscles. To each their own I choose ease of use and longevity over multiplicity and complication.


Colville-Andersen said...

Wonderful links, Alexander! Thanks for that. And, as always, it's great to hear everyones point of view. Even the grumpy ones.

2whls3spds: "amazing I didn't hurt myself because I only had 3 speeds..." - that made me laugh. :-)

Back in Bicycle Culture 1.0 - pre-war - when the entire Western World rode bicycles to get everywhere, they seemed to manage fine on those heavy, cumbersome bikes. Men and women.

Homo sapiens has a fantastic tendency to just get on with it.

Anonymous said...

I used to have a 3-speed. It's constant standing on the pedals to get those last little bits of torque, and then eventually pushing up the hills. And on stretches longer than a single city block, it's basically madly pedalling without a response, because you could go faster but the gears aren't there. (That depends of course on the sprocket configuration, but making it good for one situation makes it bad for the other; that's why you need higher gear ranges.)

Also weight does matter when you pedal --- or push -- up a hill. It's very noticeable. But for people here having a bike fitting their chic ideology seems more important than having a bike that is convenient to ride in your environment -- that includes not having to push. Convenience of cycling is the key to a cycle culture, and it just isn't there on a 3-speed in many places.

(I probably wouldn't find Copenhagen convenient either, though, with all those traffic lights. And surely more gears isn't an advantage if you have to stop constantly to wait for huge metal cages. But some people seem to put up with anything and force themselves to enjoy it.)

You purists should all be riding fixies!

Colville-Andersen said...

Madly pedalling? Then you're going too fast. Style over speed. What's the hurry?

Regarding traffic lights, we have a Green Wave system on the main approches to the city centre. If you ride 20 km/h, you'll hit green lights the whole way on the bike lanes.

Fixies are cool. but in a bike culture where bikes are equal partners in the traffic, they must be subject to the same traffic laws as cars. Brakes, lights, reflectors, bell.

You can't make special rules for bikes and expect the motorised traffic to respect them.

There are so few people who can properly ride a stripped fixie, especially braking, and i don't want to have to share the bike lanes with those who can't.

Anonymous said...

> Madly pedalling? Then you're going too fast. Style over speed. What's the hurry?

On longer stretches without stops, the bicycle "automatically" goes as fast as friction and wind resistance allow.
On a good flat surface without wind, a 3-speed quickly reaches the limit where pedalling is basically without response. You'd specifically have to try to pedal slower than it is is natural (i.e. at such a rate that there's response), to not reach that limit.

Hurry? I don't have all day to cover long distances. I'm not talking about leisurely cycling in a chic city centre for show; I'm talking about travelling longer distances outside the properly urban area to get things done, which involves going somewhere beyond a 5km range and getting back and not wasting all day. Few times I've had to do a 30km trip just to buy a simple thing, because one of the big box districts didn't have it, so I had to go to the other in the opposite direction. Etc.

Anonymous said...

Style over speed, speed by distance. It's all fine travelling slowly for short distances, but not everyone has the time and money to travel to the other side of the world on a bicycle, let alone 3-speed. Likewise, I'd like to see city districts being connected by high-speed cycle lanes, but the speeds in the districts could be slower, and bicycle traffic possibly mixed with pedestrians (on pedestrianised streets). There's no hurry in local neighbourhoods, but there's no point in travelling "unnaturally slowly" for longer distances.

Anonymous said...

A thing that might be added, for us coffee-holics, is a cup holder for bikes. De Fietsfabrik in Copenhagen sell some nice ones that mount straight on your handlebars. I haven't been able to find a picture, but here's another maker of a similar product, to give you an idea of what I'm talking about: http://www.campyonly.com/roadtests/2005/coffee_cup_holder.html

They're actually quite handy! You could argue that they're more function than style, but sipping your morning latte while bike commuting can be quite stylish.

Sarah said...

As a fellow coffeeholic, it has often crossed my mind that a cup holder would be great, but I fear it would be completely worthless and a huge mess bumping across the grooves H.C. Andersen Boulevard! :)

Anonymous said...

As someone riding a 100lbs (unloaded) bakfiets with 5 gears, I can promise you that 5 is plenty. The spread is real nice. If you need to go lower, get a smaller chainring.

As for coaster brakes, I am coming to the view that they are a wonderful thing. They add a lovely rhthym to riding. The teach you anticipation, and make you feel more a part of the bike. I guess it's a mindfullness thing, but it's definitely a plus for me.

Anonymous said...

A 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub has 244% total range. My 21-speed derailleur system has 500% total range. That's twice as much difference between the lowest and highest gear. The range isn't there in the 7-speed for all-around use (hills and long distances). For daily use within the (hilly) city it should be enough with sprockets configured for low transmission ratio at the smallest gear, but I wouldn't want to go for longer trips on such a bike.

I also hate coaster brakes, so between choosing a bike with a cumbersome brake system and lower range of transmissions, and a bike with usable brakes and a range of transmission ratios that doesn't run out in all-around use, I choose the latter. (I actually seldom use the highest gear; the next and second-to-highest are good for long-distance travel without exerting yourself. The "granny gear" is often useful. No need to break a sweat going up that hill.)

Colville-Andersen said...

I agree, Sarah! A coffee holder is desperately needed in our bike culture. Something that can withstand the cobblestones without spilling the coffee. Perhaps a holder hanging on rubber, shock-absorbing straps? hmmm.

I like that, drmekon... 'teaching you anticipation'. I love coaster brakes.

Wilma Flanagan said...

Electra Bikes sells a cup holder for coffee cups in the U.S. It is designed for cups with slanted sides, not water bottles. I haven't got one, because the roads I ride on are so bumpy, the coffee would probably slosh out before I could drink it! These cup holders are also available on the U.S. Amazon site. (Do a search for Electra Townie and you will find it.) Sorry, I'm not sure how to code a link into this post!

Since there are more Starbucks than bike racks in my town, I just stop for a coffee when I want one! ;-)

gloria said...

Great post. Now I'll know what I need to fix up my "new" bike, a Norwegian DBS "grandma" bike I bought at a barn sale here in Wisconsin. It's from the 60's, I think, and it was covered in motor oil to preserve it. I stripped the oil and repainted it a British Green and painted the fenders and chainguard a pearly white. It's a thing of beauty! And I want you to know I was inspired by this blog.

I have been a biker since the late 70's and have gone through evolutionary changes, from Peugeot PX-10's to mountain bikes to utility cruisers. I don't think biking will become mainstream here in the U.S. until we get rid of the geeky look. And, as anyone who reads your blog knows, high heels function better on bikes than than they do for walking.

Charlotte said...

There are more ways to customize your bike than just adding flowers to a front basket! I finally have a bike that I've tailored to just my dimensions, and it is a joy to ride. Granted, it has a loathsome 10 speeds, but I only use 5 of them so you'll be happy.

As for bells, I assure you that you need not shop in the kiddie section of North America to find a bell. This one is expensive but a fun inspiration for a DIY personalization (see above re: flowers)

There are always nice chainguards on eBay - the next upgrade I intend for my bike is to build a rear wheel with the Shimano 7-speed internal hub (much better for Boston winters), at which point I'll remove the front derailleur and add a chain guard. In the meantime - I'm riding my bike just fine with trouser cuffs.

I think that's the danger of lists like this, people like my mother think that without the total package there's no point in starting, and so it never happens. Go ride your bike!!! Even if it has 21 speeds. You'll work out what you need eventually, and many things you choose to optimize your bike may be here on this list for your inspiration.

2whls3spds said...

I take if from anonymous' postings that we all should drive Ferraris and Maseraties because anything else is a waste if we need to go fast. ;-) Funny that the average trip for a city cyclist is under 12km, but they really should spend the money and get 27 speeds and v brakes...NOT! This is the very reason so many people don't like cycling, someone tries to make it too complicated. I bought my wife a nice 21 speed "hybrid" bike that fit, she rode it...occasionally. We "won" a 1972 Raleigh Colt 3 speed w/coaster brake ;-) it was just her size, added a wicker basket for video store and groceries and off she went. That bike has seen more use in the past year than the 21 speed saw in the previous 5. K.I.S.S...works everytime!


Charlotte said...

I didn't interpret anonymous' comments that way at all. I think he was arguing that a person needs the right tool for the job, and his particular job requires different gearing. There is a tone here that can be very insistent that there is only one true way, and he was fighting that perception. I am, a little, doing that myself, differently.

My position is always that any bike is a good thing, and I personally have a fondness for Raleigh three speeds, but you ride what works for you. Just get out and ride a bike!!!

The great thing about bikes is that there's room for everyone.

Anonymous said...

> I take if from anonymous' postings that we all should drive Ferraris and Maseraties because anything else is a waste if we need to go fast. ;-) Funny that the average trip for a city cyclist is under 12km, but they really should spend the money and get 27 speeds and v brakes...NOT!

It's Zakk here who started judging people who get bikes with more than 3 or 5 gears, to fit their needs instead of his (allergy for clickclickclick).

The average trip for a city cyclist is under 5km, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Hey anonymous at 10:06 on May 30 + Sarah, I have a screw on/off coffee cup holder that I put on my handlebars on the weekends. It's so ace! My partner bought it for me when I was in a sunny climate for a short holiday and had to return the next day to cold snowy Chicago. He knew I'd be grouchy so he bought me this coffee cup holder so I could put my weekend mocha treats in it. It was a surprise on my desk. Hee!

It holds tall and grande size Starbucks cups (haven't tried Venti) but yeah, when you go over bumps (and LORD do we have the potholes/ripped up roads here), it can spill a bit. Still, I'm very happy with it.

Gloria, your bike sounds lovely. Link to a picture?

Colville-Andersen said...

wilma: very cool! i'll check it out. i need a coffee holder. thanks!

gloria: fix it up and send photos!
here's a bit of DBS magic

charlotte: thanks for the link and info!

2whls3spds: i'm pleased that you and the vast majority of the readers on this blog understand the fact that in order to get more people onto bikes it is important to remove this 'sports gear' mentality. which is the inspiration for this blog. encouraging and inspiring people to get out and ride and realising that the vast majority of us don't need all the crap they try to sell us. 1-3 gears sufficed for the better part of50 years in Bicycle Culture 1.0, and our grandparents/great-grandparents didn't whine. they just got on with it. something i respect immensely.

I loved the story about the Raleigh Colt! Send pictures! :-)

jennifer. cool link!

2whls3spds said...

A self named blog is in the works.

Here is a link to some of my bike photos. Feel free to use any you want. Most of these bikes have been updated and upgraded since the pictures were taken.

Bike Pictures


Stéphane Brault said...

I have "Shimano Nexus" 7 speeds but i only use 3. Montreal is not a flat city, and i go to work every days with 3 speeds. I realy dont understand the need for bikes with competition gearing.

Anonymous said...

Re coaster brakes, several people here have said they hate them but don't say why. I wish they would.
Personally I love them. They give a far better feel, you can brake ever so lightly, just a touch, ease off, etc etc. Handbrakes are far too grabby and they wear out too quickly, need adjusting, add clutter...
BTW I'm talking about fairly relaxed urban riding patterns here, not long distance, not track riding, not mountainbiking.

2whls3spds said...

A couple of comments on coaster brakes. I can take them or leave them. I have ridden bikes without them for so long they are no longer intuitive to me. There are a few other types of hub based brakes that are better in many ways, roller, drum and disc are the ones I am thinking of. Also at least in the US the main coaster brakes available are the super cheap ones that are available on the crappy Chinese built big box store bikes, they are unsafe at any speed! I have one and destroyed in less than 2 weeks under lightly stressed riding at my job. Unfortunately not all coaster brakes are created equal, my wife's Colt has one of the Sturmey Archer TCS hubs, the brake is horrible and barely works most of the time, parts are NLA. I have a suspicion that the hubs in use in places like Denmark are of a better quality that what is typically seen in the US, and probably are much more effective.


Colville-Andersen said...

Regarding brakes, as mentioned most bikes have coaster brakes here for ease of use.

They don't wear out like handbrakes. They suit urban cycling to a tee.

With that said, it is the law that bikes have front and back brakes, so your coaster brake is accompanied by a front hand brake.

Jon said...

I once built a 3 speed mountain bike (30 tooth cog on rear, 28, 36, 52 chainrings) and took it to Moab, Utah, on a trip with some friends. They all said I was crazy to not run 24 or 27 gears, like them.

High, medium, low. Thiose are the gears you use the most, and the gears I had. No problems keeping up with the guys, that week.

Unknown said...

I remember when I visited Copenhagen, I found it to be quite wonderful right when I arrived, but a day or two later, when I went window shopping at the bike shop and I saw the wheel lock, well, I don't even remember what I did. It was either falling to my knees in praise, or I started crying! I asked my Copenhagener host whether people really relied just on that, as I couldn't believe it. It says a lot (of good!) about the culture that you can leave a bike like that!

Since here you can't leave any bike for two minutes without supervision, the bike stand isn't that useful, you're going to lock it anyway, right? So sad.

For the gears, I'd point out that San Francisco is a city with brutal hills, and has a very high proportion of people riding single-speeds or fixies. You can comment a bit on how "normal" these people are, but the fact is that it's possible, and I'd probably be totally cool with a seven-speed internal hub there.

I would bring a counterpoint to a few items like the gearing or not caring about the weight... Here in Canada (and probably most of the US), what most people would call a "normal bike" is found in the toys department, and is a profoundly depressing. It's got gears up the wazoo, but the most questionable derailers you could think of, a frame made out of steel worthy of building bridges, but bad welding that I have seen break on more than one occasion. They are tremendously heavy, and have no redeeming features or good looks for it, they're just a horrible pain to get up a hill.

Bikes like you talk about are nothing but normal here, most like those were either rather old (which can be nice, but makes them uncommon) or imported, which is very expensive.

So what I focused on when people asked me for advice was to get something reasonable, just fancy enough that it wouldn't fall apart, and light enough that they wouldn't dread riding them (so many "hybrids" with useless suspensions here)... A few tweaks like fenders (not standard), a pause to wish for chainguards to fall from the sky (they never do), and off they went.

Things are starting to change, though! My girlfriend is pondering an Electra Townie 3 speed 700c, which I expect will only need a front basket to make her perfectly happy.

Anonymous said...

The other side of the gear argument, too, is that not all riders are physically equal. If the goal is to get everyone out riding, then let riders who want and/or need lower gears to navigate steep hills (or ones who are nimble and strong enough to use only one gear) get the kind of bike that fits their needs. Me, I love the simplicity of a singlespeed, but there's no way I could get it up the steep hills around here (one of which, and the steepest, is directly between me and work) in my current state of fitness or lack of same. When I can get my low-geared bike up without pushing I'll think about changing :)

Lack of easily found chainguards makes me cry. But it seems like the Fear of Kickstands is finally passing away, as the [U.S.] bike shop I got my latest bike at offered to install one as a matter of course. No more "Can't stop and get off here, nothing to lean the bike against"-affected navigation!

Anonymous said...

A few points from the perspective of an English cycle commuter.

1. Weight is an issue. A lighter bike requires less energy to pedal at at a given speed or go up a hill and will be easier to lift up steps or onto a bus/train.

2. Gearing. I have an old rigid (no suspension) mountain bike with 21 (3x7) gears. Never had a commuting need for the granny ring on the front - even on hills. Both the other two front chainrings were used in equal measure and the whole rear cassette was used too. That gave a good commuting range of gear ratios. I am currently rebuilding the bike with road bike
components and will be installing a compact chainset which will be much better suited to commuting.

3. Speed. Various posters have mentioned 'Bicycle Culture 1.0' and how everyone managed on singlespeeds or Sturmey Archer three-speeds. Had cycling fast been invented back then or is that a Bicycle Culture 2.0 innovation? I cycle commute because I can get across the city faster than a car or bus (and because I can park wherever I like and because I can get up half an hour later because I'm not held hostage by the limited bus timetable) and I need a good range of gear ratios to do that. Being limited to a very narrow range of gear ratios on a 3/5/7 speed (as I have been in the past with an broken front derrailleur) is very frustrating for me! Trundling slowly along takes most of the appeal of cycle commuting away for me.

4. Commuting bikes. I see a lot of people over here commuting on cheap 'supermarket' bikes. They're MTB (style) affairs - very heavy full suspension frames, fat tyres, massive disc brakes and a saddle as wide as an armchair set far too low for comfortable pedalling. Most of the owners of these machines just ooze along with much of their pedalling energy going not into propelling the bike forwards but instead into bouncing the awful suspension up and down. I'm sure that they'd be much better suited to the sort of bicycles discussed here but what few models are available rarely seem to be considered as suitable machines for leisuirely city rides.

5. Saddles don't have to be wide to be comfortable. However, a cheap narrow saddle will be uncomfortable. A plastic carrier bag is also an essential accessory for the commuting bicycle - to cover the saddle when the bike's parked in case it rains (maybe this is just a British thing?). I've not yet seen a saddle with an integrated rain-cover like you get with some rucksacks.

6. Brakes. Decent brakes are a must! I find the performance of hub/coaster brakes quite unnerving but accept that they may be the best low-maintenance solution for 1/3 speed bikes whose speed is already limited by the gear ratios available. Cheap rim brakes tend to be noisy and a maintenance nightmare (I've spent many an hour fiddling and fettling cheap Shimano centre-pull cantis) and V-brakes, while very nice, still suffer with greasy city dirt. Disc brakes however have proved suprisingly good for commuting. They've got way more stopping power than is needed but mine are well modulated, they're a doddle to maintain and being at the hub aren't so badly affected by city dirt and muck.

7. Mudguards, cycle-clips, racks and panniers rule! No rucksacks though - can't cycle with a sweaty back, that's just awful.

Colville-Andersen said...

I think it's safe to say that i disagree with everything you wrote.

We prefer demystifying the bicycle instead of overcomplicating it. It's just a machine, used to get around.

Nothing more than that for the vast majority.

Unknown said...

I'm really loving this site, the pics are fantastic!! I've taken up cycling abouut 6 months ago as it's the easiest way for me to get around, and initially felt I should have all the right 'cycle gear' but have been slowly shedding it, and sticking with my own clothes, as it's a pain to carry so much around!! But I wonder, how long would be the average cycle in Copenhagen>? I have quite far to cycle,and it can be difficult to remain stylish!! :)

Wilma Flanagan said...

I have been commuting most of this summer with my bicycle, and loving it, and I've found you have to adapt your style to your needs and your situation. I go about 11 miles, one way, to one work location, and about 17 miles to the other location. For the 17 mile trip, I cut down the time a bit, by popping my bike onto a bus carrier for the stretch up and down my steepest hill. For that, I'm grateful to have a bike that is not horribly heavy. I wear normal clothes, but find I do need to change once I get to work, because it's just not pleasant to work in sweaty clothes. Now that it's much colder, I'm very grateful for warm cycling tights (worn under my ordinary clothes, so it doesn't look too dorky!) And my hands would freeze if I didn't have warm gloves. These are things I wouldn't be wearing if I were driving a car. Doing an 11-17 mile ride (one way) slow enough to not get a bit "dewy" would mean I'd have to take more than two hours to do these trips. I don't have that much time, especially in the mornings! So, I wear what is comfortable on the bike, and take along something to change into at work. The change takes about five-ten minutes, so is not a burden. And I have a very stylish carrier from Basil to transport it in.

Unknown said...

wow, fair play to you!!! That's a serious cycle!! I do the same usually, change into clothes when I get into work, it'd just be easier not to have to. Now that it's got cold and wintry I'm barely sweating at all on my bike tho!

JJIA said...

IMHO, as for braking power and maintenance, city duty is not mechanically as hard as other duties like long-distance commuting.

Even if mud can get into the rims and the brake shoes we are talking here about low speeds and uncomplicated bike driving across town.

Although I personally have a longer commute distance having to get from my town to a neighbour one by road, I certainly agree that city bound bike driving is not as demanding of disc braking or extended gear ratios or even total weight as it is going out of town and going up and down hills at higher speeds while 'accompanied' by traffic.

Great site and very nice photographs by the way you have made here. Please, keep up with the concept.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and especially this post! But I just wanted to ask if you could write something about the basics of bike maintenance- choosing a pump, changing the tires etc? I'm a young woman living in a rather bike-unfriendly city and I'm sick of getting laughed at every time I go to the bikeshop in a skirt! Any ideas on DIY would be much appreciated!

Unknown said...

I think I finally found a bike that's both nicely practical and fits my nerdy love of technology!

The Trek Soho comes with fenders, an internal hub, roller brakes (no brake dust, and works well in the wet), and... a chainguard! OMG!

Ok, admittedly, the chainguard does look a bit flimsy and like it might not be all that much protection, but here comes the tech nerdery to the rescue: it has a greaseless, noiseless belt drive. Allegedly, even if my pants went through it, it should be fine. I'll have to try that out. :-)

It's no classic roadster in style, and it's missing a few things (no lights, kickstand, or baskets, but can all be added), but it's a nice start.

Cyclechicster said...

This post was so fantastic! I'm actually in the process of saving to convert my Kent "Grabber" road bike to a commuter bike. Now I have a much better idea of what I should get done.

Regarding coaster brakes, I'm one of those people who doesn't like them mainly because I've gotten so used to using just the handbrake, that I naturally relax by pedaling backwards. Recently I borrowed my friend's cruiser and I would accidentally brake rather abruptly... needless to say, I looked rather style-less as I repeatedly fell over...

Also, I second Anon on 5th of April. My town isn't bike unfriendly, but it certainly doesn't have a bike culture. It'd be nice to be able to do all these things without worrying about messing them up.

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend has a pretty heavy bike. This causes her trouble when she has to take it on the train or just carry it down the five steps to put it in the basement.

It's a daily annoyance for her. And she's actually pretty strong for a girl :-)

Weight does matter.

Not in the way that you should unscrew your basket or other convenient stuff. But weight surely isn't irrelevant when you consider buying a new bike.

Glenn said...


I have a 19 year old "mountain bike" as they were affordable and available when I needed one. Regular bikes were rare and expensive. I think I paid $350 U.S. in 1991 for mine. It has "21 gears", 3 rings in the front and 7 cogs on the rear cluster. Well, you aren't supposed to cross shift, so that takes you down a set, to about 14 gears.
In reality I find I ride most of the time with the rear cluster on the middle cog and do 90% of my shifting with the front. I do use the lowest (largest) 3 cogs on the rear on very steep hills. I have no use for the "upper 3" (smallest) on the rear; I'd rather coast (glide, in your terms) than go that fast.
The result is that for practical purposes I'm riding a "6 speed". Which means I could do fine with a 5 or 7 speed rear hub, so long as the lowest was the same ratio as I'm using now. Our hills aren't big, but they are frequent and steep.


Anonymous said...

I have an old 15 year old Granny bike mudguards, chainguards, 7 hub gears, dynamo and carrier. Cycling around my hilly and windy city is nearly effortless but always easy and pleasent. Yesterday a fellow daily cyclist commented about the drag created by the dynamo and my waisted energy. This was from someone whose journey is about 25 to 30 mins (Roughly how long it would take me). She had special hi viz clothes splattered in mud (no fenders) a dedicated bag to carry her working clothes and of course a shower when she got to work.

I dont see why it has to be that difficult. I dont understand how intelligent people cannot see how easy it can be.
The truth is if you want to get around a city door to door at 16km an hour with out the sweat, enjoying the view, sharing a word or greeting with other people in comfort and safety just use a simple upright, Granny, Dutch or whatever you want to call it bike.

Ps I like the coaster breaks its great for turning across a road while making a hand signal.

Unknown said...

While I didn't end up getting the Trek Soho last year after all (I got their very nice District while on a trip to San Francisco, made for a bit of adventure on the return flight to Montreal!), I did replace my city bike a bit earlier this season, and I think it's worth a mention here...

It's the Lugano, by a company called Opus Bike that is local to the Montreal area (bonus points, for me!). It's a very classy looking bike, anthracite grey with a bit of sparkle, 7 gears (internal), roller brakes (works just as well in the wet, and no brake pad dust everywhere!), standard rear rack that is painted to match, nice fenders (with the rear end painted white, of course), and, lovely of lovelies, a chain guard!

And it manages to pull all of this off in clever practical ways, IMHO, using painted plastic for the chain guard, and aluminium for the frame (to keep the weight under control, even though it's no racer, handier to lug around).

I had to add some lighting, and I'm looking to add a front basket, and maybe a coffee cup holder, but all in all, I'm finding that Opus (who used to make mainly racing bikes, I believe) has done extremely well.

Anonymous said...

A little late to the party, but here goes:
Every kind of bike and gearing system has its advantages and drawbacks. Personally, I love my old single-speed super-heavy bike, and I love my 3-speed, middle-weight bike, and I love my two derailleur 10-speeds. They're used for different kinds of riding. One of the 10-speeds is for fast city commuting, visiting friends or family in and near Copenhagen etc. - in fair weather (fenders, and a heavy duty lock, though). The other is for longer touring, 40-120 km. The 3-speed and the single speed are for rain, snow and generally poorer conditions, or for transporting things that won't fit in my backpack. I love cruising along on the heavier bikes, and I love the adrenalin rush of riding 50-70 km/h down a steep hill on the 10-speeds (or zigzagging through inner Copenhagen at 30 km/h!).

The 1- and 3-speeds are very low maintenance, but certainly can't be used for all kinds of hills, not even right outside of central Copenhagen - at least not if you're in the slightest bit of a hurry and don't wish to arrive soaked in sweat. The 10-speed is high maintenance, and gets you over any hill around here, no probs. An internal hub gearing around 7 speeds might be the best solution for most people in most places, really.

Different bikes for different needs. But I think it's safe to say that derailleur gears are not that smart in the Copenhagen (and Scandinavian) winters. However, they will probably be the best solution in places with a lot less snow or rain. It's no coincidence that almost any old city-bicycle (equipped with fenders and all) you come across in France or Italy has derailleur gearing.

TerryNYC said...

Thanks for this posting & this site. Really helped de-mystify bikes for me. I cannot fit a Workcycles Fr8 in my NYC apartment, however a Brompton folder is in my future in part because of this very good intro to city biking. Best regards, Terry

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Road Bicycle