A couple of years ago, I published a post about my favorite five bicycles. In the wake of a discontinued design and a couple of new discoveries, I figured it was time for an update.
These bikes I love are not racing bikes, daredevil bikes, fixed-gear bikes, mountain bikes or any other specialized configuration. These are basic bicycles anyone can jump on and ride, no matter what one is wearing, enabling the rider to pleasurably, effectively and stylishly get from A to B.
These bikes appeal to me for a few reasons. The big reason is design. Most modern bicycles fall victim to an unfortunate urge to “sport up” and modernize an engineering achievement that was already perfected a century ago. And what hurts me most is when a brand abandons the iconic design that made it famous in the first place. With the possible exceptions of advances in gear shifting and braking, “breakthroughs” in bicycle design are a redundant exercise intended to feed trends in the market. And carbon fiber? No thanks. I’ll take a steel frame any day. I don’t think sporty carbon fiber bikes will look as chic and timeless in sixty years as a 1957 Raleigh Superbe Sports Tourist does now. (And I’m not convinced it would hold up as well mechanically, either.)
Beyond style, other considerations included durability, quality and general value over time. These bikes will last longer than a car if you take care of them.
While they vary in price, ranging from the reasonable to the seemingly expensive, I also considered the bang for the buck. They all come with fenders and chain guards, some come with racks, and one even comes with a dynamo headlight, which is an inexplicable rarity.
Though a couple of them, especially the Vickers Roadster, may seem prohibitively expensive, you have to remember that these are extremely versatile investments that can be used anytime and virtually under any circumstance, unlike a $7,000 racing bike that can only be used for racing (with special shoes and other special gear, which you also have to buy).
So, in the spirit of style, longevity, versatility and overall value, I present my five favorite bicycles for 2016-2017…
1. The Chief “City Edition” from Heritage Bicycles
This is my current ride, which I bought in the summer of 2015 after a fruitless search for a vintage Raleigh in mint condition in my size. Of all the brands I’m including here, Heritage offers by far the most customization options, like frame size, color, saddle, gears and more. The Chief that I bought is essentially a customized version of their “City Edition” bike ($1,200), which comes with fenders, a chain guard and a rear rack out of the box. My own customizations included a black frame, matching black chain guard, chrome fenders, black tires, raised handlebars with rubber grips and a Brooks B-67 saddle in black, which raised the price to just under $1,500. Worth every penny.
While assembling a complete bicycle with other components made elsewhere, Heritage Bicycle frames (with crown forks) are made in Chicago with American High-Tensile steel. Not only are their bikes custom made in Chicago, but their actual shop also houses a café with pastries, baked goods and killer coffee. Every neighborhood should have this.
- Velo-Orange plush saddle
- Alloy mustache handlebars
- Tektro Caliper Brakes
- Natural Cork grips
- Velo-Orange Smooth Fenders
- Hand-built, double-wall, alloy wheelset
- Single-speed freewheel
- Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires with K-Guard®
- Wald rear rack
2. The Runwell from Shinola
Detroit’s own Shinola – the same company that makes some damn fine wristwatches – makes one of my favorite bicycles on the planet. The classic diamond-frame Runwell is a real head-turner. True, it is quite a bit pricier than other bicycles. But here’s the thing with that: it’s a beautifully-crafted machine with a fully-lugged frame, made in Motor City, a town that couldn’t hurt to become the bicycle capital of America. For that, and for the lifetime investment reasons I described earlier, this bike and its price tag has my full support.
- Lugged, TrueTemper double-butted CroMo frame
- TrueTemper CroMo, custom cast fork crown
- Shinola Alloy, 55º backsweep handlebar
- Shinola leather grips w/alloy grip clamps
- Shimano mechanical disc brakes w/160mm rotors
- Shimano Alfine 11-sp RapidFire Plus shifters
- Shimano disc front hub, Shimano Alfine 11-sp disc rear hub
- Sun CR-18, 32º, one-eyelet, P/V, polished silver rims with DT Swiss Champion, 14g, stainless spokes
- Continental Contact Reflex, 700x32C, tires w/reflective strip
- Aluminum, toe clip-compatible pedals
- Shinola leather saddle with silver rails and rivets
- Front rack, fenders, bell and Shinola chain guard
The Runwell comes in a Regatta Blue (pictured), Red or Black. $2,950. www.shinola.com
3. The Willow 3 from Brooklyn Bicycle Co.
I rode one of these for a couple of years. Wow, what a smooth ride. The Willow 3 from Brooklyn Bicycle Co. (formerly Brooklyn Cruiser) is one of those rare bikes that comes packed with features without the extra charge for add-ons. And with a step-through frame, there’s no need for the Bob Fosse fan kick to mount the bike. Just step through. It’s an incredibly versatile, easy-to-ride beauty for $599, which is nuts.
- Chromoly steel step-through frame with a crown fork
- Rear carrier
- Sealed-Bearing Alloy 36H front hub
- Shimano NEXUS 3-Speed internally geared rear hub
- Shimano NEXUS Revo 3-Speed Shifter
- Brooklyn Cruiser Alloy City Pedals
- Brooklyn Bicycle Co. Vegan Leather Sprung Comfort Saddle with patented suspension & absorption systems
- Brooklyn Bicycle Co. Custom Upright swept back alloy handlebars & 180mm alloy stem
- Tektro Dual-Pivot Caliper with Tektro Alloy Hand Lever front and rear hand brakes
- Kenda Kwest Cream Tires
- Double-walled alloy rims with 14G stainless steel spokes
- Heavy-duty alloy center-mount kickstand, heavy gauge chainguard, full color-matched front & rear fenders, polished alloy rear carrier with integrated tie-down loops
It’s available in Cardinal Red (pictured), Columbia Blue, Tangerine, Black and Sea Glass (green). www.brooklynbicycleco.com
4. The Tourist De Luxe from Raleigh
I wrote about this discovery a while back. Just when I thought the classic Raleigh was dead, finding this was like finding a company that still made the original Volkswagen Super Beetle. Raleigh of Denmark seems to be the only extension of the brand that didn’t abandon its roots and preserved its integrity, both technically and aesthetically. In Denmark, where the bicycling culture is markedly different and more civilized than it is here, Raleigh still produces the tourist in its original glory, but with updated hubs, gears and brakes. It’s called the Tourist De Luxe and it’s glorious. I don’t know if they ship to America, but the price tag is 7.999,000 kroner (a little under $1200 U.S.).
5. The Roadster from Vickers
I have a weakness for many British things: tailoring, trifle, Bond films, that accent, a certain NBC/Universal cable television executive who shall remain nameless… And, I will add this sick city bike to that list of British turn-ons.
The English Roadster from Vickers Bicycles is simple, elegant, masculine, stylish, timeless and beautifully made with exquisitely considered details. Like a custom suit, it is made-to-order by hand, one at a time, with an 8-10 week production turnaround, and it is the ultimate fuck-off modern city bike for the discerning gentleman. I’d think of it as the David Brown Speedback GT or the Aston Martin DB5 of bicycles – a vehicle with a dress code. It’s sex on wheels. If you have the means (and a secure place to park it at the office), pull the trigger.
- Lightweight, lugged steel frame, handmade in Coventry, England
- Brush-polished, stainless-steel lugs
- High performance Tange Seiki headset & bottom bracket
- Nitto bars wrapped in Brooks leather
- Brooks saddle
- Bullet-proof Continental tires
- SRAM Automatix two-speed rear hub with automatic shift
- Integrated back pedal coaster brake
- Schmidt SON Edelux dynamo-powered front lamp
- Flat “strip” fenders and chain guard
The custom Roadster can be had for around $3,000 U.S.