Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Have I got a bike for you!

Me and my lovely new ride
For over two years now I have been happily riding throughout Vancouver on an upright, step-through bicycle, also known as a city bike, or a Dutch-style bike. Prior to this, I could be found on a heavy mountain bike, complete with twenty-one speeds, shocks and extremely straight handle bars. It was a good bike, and got the job done, but after spending years hunched forward and putting a lot of strain on my wrists, shoulders and back, riding my bike was becoming less and less enjoyable. So when I saw images of people riding upright on beautifully sleek bicycles on photo blogs like Vancouver Cycle Chic and the other Cycle Chic blogs, making the switch was a no brainer.

Living in a city where at least three-quarters of my fellow riders are on road bikes, hybrid commuters and the occasional mountain bike, when I'm out on my city bike I tend to stand out, even more so when I'm on a family ride, riding alongside my husband and daughter on their upright bikes. However, instead of feeling like an outsider, I feel more like I'm holding onto this big secret that has yet to be revealed to most people. That secret? Riding an upright bike is a pretty spectacular experience.

It happens almost every day I'm out riding that someone, a friend or complete stranger, will compliment me on my bike, most notably that on its beauty. This has only increased now that I'm the happy owner of a shiny new, red Papillionaire Sommer. I do enjoy the compliments, but I can't help wondering why more people don't choose to ride upright bicycles. With all the adulation, one would think that there would be an increase in the number of people out there on city bikes. Still, I'm one of the few people I know who chooses to ride upright. Perhaps it's just a lack of education of what it is upright bikes have to offer. So here it is, I'm going to share with you the joy of riding a city bike, and why it just may be the bike for you!

Riding upright I can see everything around
me, and people see me, too!
There really are many advantages to riding this classic style of bike, aside from being told that you look "like a photo" as you bike along (yes, this has happened to me). Most notably, for me, was the reduced strain I was placing on my body. As I mentioned, riding hunched on my mountain bike was doing a number on my back, shoulders and wrists due simply to my weight being heavily dispersed forward. Almost as soon as I switched to an upright, I noticed how my back and wrist pain nearly disappeared, and I could ride much longer distances and all that would really hurt was my bottom after spending hours in the saddle. Instead of riding my bike being a chore, I love heading out for a day of riding, whether for errands or just enjoy riding throughout my city. 

In addition to less bodily strain, I feel incredibly safe riding around on a city bike. Because the nature of the bike is to sit upright, I can see everything around me easily without having to crane my neck around to check blind spots for passing bikes and cars, or checking for oncoming traffic at intersections. And while I can see more clearly, sitting so straight means drivers see me more clearly as well. Because I'm not leaned forward, I'm not hidden by parked cars as I come to a traffic circle or intersection, and it's hugely comforting to know I'm that much more visible to those I share the road with. Along with being more visible, it's a natural tendency on an upright bike to ride at a slightly slower pace. Due in part to my body position, the materials used to make city bikes and that most max out around 7 speeds, it is unlikely that I'll be racing from point A to point B at high speeds. This means I have time to see the traffic around me and react quickly to the erratic and unpredictable behaviour from drivers, fellow cyclists and pedestrians.

Outside of all the practical reasons to choose a city bike, there's one really important reason why I choose to ride an upright bicycle. I ride the bike I do because when I'm out on a ride, I want to fully experience the world around me. I want to see everything I can, which isn't easy with a more leaned forward position on a bike. Just yesterday, I took an unexpected morning ride with my husband along the seawall, and the sights I was privy to were such a great part of my morning. From the tug boat pulling a barge into False Creek for a pick up (not an every day occurrence), to the beautiful skyline through the foggy clouds, and the still water in the Marinas, I was completely in awe of the beauty unfolding before me. I also had my day brightened by many complete strangers smiling at me as I passed, making eye contact and saying good morning as they went about their days. Riding my upright bike I feel so connected to the people and the places I pass, and I would be remiss to not have those moments because I was hunched over on a bike focused only on the road ahead of me.


When all's said and done, the best bike for you is one that makes you happy and eager to get back on it for a ride. What I hope, though, is that this post gives you a better understanding of why city bikes aren't just for show, and could quite possibly be the bike you've been searching for all along. While the simple bicycle has evolved so much over time to meet the needs of the racer or the mountain biker, there is something to be said for the early 20th century design. One meant for transportation, not just for recreation, and designed for civilized travel, dressed in even your Sunday best. I am personally very happy to see a resurgence of the city bike, and invite you to join me as I travel through my city and others at a leisurely pace, enjoying every aspect of my surroundings and the people I meet along the way!

12 comments:

  1. You might enjoy your bike even more if you had your feet a bit further back on the pedals. You get more leverage and less stress with the pedal axles under the ball of your foot than your instep.

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    1. Thanks for the read Stewart! Generally I do ride with the pedal under the ball of my foot, but when posing for a photo while on a bike, the key is just staying upright ;)

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  2. Thanks for the inspiration. The last paragraph, every day. :)

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    1. I'm happy this resonated with you! It's so nice to have positive feedback for something that is dear to my heart.

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  3. I like your orange coat. Cool! It feels good to sit up!

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    1. Cheers! The brand is called Synergy Organic, one of the labels I rep in my day job. Happy riding :)

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  4. I agree that 'the bike you like is the one for you', and I'm glad you found yours. It bothers me to see people buying and riding bikes unsuited to their needs and REAL wants, mostly because of style and price. (I say that as one who builds mass-market trash; besides the fact that SOMEBODY has to, and I have a mortgage, I feel an obligation to use my skills to make this trash the best it can be.)

    For me personally, the best bike is a mountain bike; suspension helps my back, as does the forward lean -- it actually IS the only time of day my back DOESN'T ache.

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  5. Great article! I've been thinking of purchasing a Papillionaire Classic and having it shipped to Vancouver. How has your experience been with the Sommer?

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    1. Thanks for the read Kevin! While my experience has been limited so far, I've found the Sommer very easy to ride. It's a bit lighter than my old upright, which isn't a huge deal, but makes the ride a bit easier on Vancouver's hillier areas. I'm not sure if you've ever few or no gears, but I've found the transition from a seven speed to the three speed internal hub very easy, and enough gears to get me around the city. Good luck and be sure to let me know how it goes!

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    2. Awesome! Thanks for the quick review. It's a shame that Whoa Nellie closed down here. One of the only places to buy great city/upright bicycles

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