starting with those you can buy in Australia
This entry will take me a while to build up. The intention is to let Australian buyers know how to get any of these covetable brands, in the retro city bike category. Anyone who has been following discussions surrounding Sydney City Council’s vision of a cycling city, will have read articles like this one, forecasting a big jump in the number of sit-up-and-beg bikes we’re likely to be seeing in Australia in the next decade.
A degree of snobbery pervades my shortlisting of bikes, as a degree of sexism informs what images I choose to lift from manufacturers’ websites. For now at least, one of the delights of aging is the complete loss of control.
Can I help it though, can I? that bikes for women are always pictured with women draped on them, to help women imagine they too are sexy, while bikes for us blokes get shot on their own, so that we can gaze at the gear without some poncy male model blocking out view, or worse still, reminding us that we might be 1% gay?
Velorbis (Denmark) A survey of bike blogs would suggest this brand tops it for style. The brand’s creation myth has it that the bike was born as alternative to the tube after the bombings in London. All I know is it comes standard with all the best gear. That’s why I have one on order. Available in Australia via Morgan’s Bicycles, 95 Lawrence Street, Alexandria, 2015, p. (02)95194666, firstname.lastname@example.org (Sophia likes nice lines and streamlining)
Pashley (England) Where the Velorbis is modern yet retro, a Pashley has an antique quality. That is tenuous claim, given both bikes are the same, but it’s a claim that I stand by. You won’t find a Velorbis in a museum, or in a mock period ride, places you will find plenty of Pashleys. Allow me to digress and return in the interest of making a point:
As the resident philosopher to the South Newcastle Board Riders’ Club, I was called upon some time back, to resolve a dispute. One of their members had entered a retro board competition on a new "fish" style board, and had out-surfed all his fellow club members, who had all ridden boards that actually were made in the 1970s. What they wanted to know, was if the modern fish rider should not be disqualified. They were of course shocked by my answer, that it was everyone except the modern fish rider, who should have been disqualified. His fish was new yet designed to look old—in other words, it was "retro"—while all the 1970s boards, would be more accurately described as old, period, perhaps antique, or in real estate speak, "circa".
A Pashley, even if it were bought new from the shop, would more readily attract such tags as "old style", or "antique", than tags like "retro", because Pashley’s are built from old plans, rather than new plans contrived to look old. My readers are sufficiently intelligent for that to suffice.
In NSW you can get them at Steel City Cycle Works.
POST SCRIPT: it is with great disappointed that I must report, since my visit to Steel City Cycle Works, that many Pashleys in the $1600 and under price range, have aluminium replica rims. They come with quite a few cheap steel nuts and fixtures. As far as I can gather, the Guv’nor is the only faithful replica Pashley still make. I guess Britain sold the farm decades ago.
Raleigh (England) This once proud and still ubiquitous brand does not, as far as I can ascertain, continue to produce classic bikes, like their roadster with rod brakes. I defer to Sheldon Brown’s website for more definitive info than I can provide, and have emailed Sheldon and asked him to comment below. My wife is from Jersey and says "yes, we rode Raleighs." Workmates from Sri Lanka and India say, "those who could afford them rode Raleighs". I should imagine Sloane Rangers ride Raleighs. All I want to know Sheldon, is what we all need to do now, to ride Raleighs like the one pictured? The one on the right is my own 1975 3-Speed sports, with steel that just feels like the industrial revolution right there in your spanner.
Kronan (Sweden) When I think of Sweden, all I can think of are women. I spent a week in Sweden, supposedly taking the nature in Oland and these places, but still, all I can think of are women, of the bombshell variety, and bomb PROOF variety. Yes this is the land of the fat bottomed girl who wants to ride her bicycle, bicycle and mumma mia I don’t wanna die, sometimes I wish I’d never been Bjorn at all. I have no idea what I am trying to say here. Something about women, oh yes and bikes that are bomb proof, and—that’s right—to the tune of a Queen song! Of course the Kronan company are no less confused: they are cross marketing with their own line of underwear. There’s an Australian dealer who can mail the bike to you for just over a grand. Not so sure where the undies are sold.
Work Cycles (Holland) An equally sturdy breed of woman and bike can be found a few countries over from Sweden, in Holland. My recollections of Holland are of rugged up women on grandma bikes, butt naked women in a sauna in Haarlem, a mandatory lap of the van Gogh museum, and the smell of weed everywhere. I wonder what anyone there actually does for a living? To my mind Holland really is just a Calvinist retreat that somewhere along the line became sidetracked, by bikes, nudism, painting and pot. The nearest I’ve come to finding an Australian outlet is the bakfiet dealer in Melbourne who has not answered my emails. Good luck!
De Fietsfabriek (Holland) A quirky range of bikes in the category, with an emphasis on cargo solutions. They do a nice box bike!
Skeppshult (Sweden) How to compress the state of being blond, spoilt by your government and generally more attractive than people you meet on all your semesters abroad, into a bike. That seems to have been the design brief for the Swedish bike makers Skeppshult.
Flying Pigeon (China) There would be no overindulged youth in Mao’s China though. They could have straight black hair, grey clothes, and Flying Pigeons for those rare excursions back home from school. Poor Mao, he’d roll in his mausoleum if he could see what they have done to his country. Why could they not have developed economically with a range of new bikes, instead of new cars? Their spoilt sons could be 2 Fast 2 Furious on BMXs and Fixies and get their beans out that way instead.
Hero (India) There have been so many distasteful stories regarding attacks on Indians here, that I’d really like to see a few of you guys snubbing your noses at the xenophobes by riding your national bike. Have Hero rallies outside 7/11s. Clutter the stairs to university computer labs with your Heroes. Ride your Heroes with no lights as you go about your mysterious ways at 3 in the morning.
Where every other bike brand, even the Flying Pigeon, charges more these days for rod brakes, the hero just comes with rod brakes. This would make it the most uncontrived old school bike anywhere, right down to the rattles and rust. Very cool.
To the Indian seeking solace and pride in Australia, I say snub everybody. Add "Don’t touch me I’m Brahmin" custom decals to your fenders. Slap some sort of GPS enabled Vastu Mandala compass up on the handle bars. Cart your text books around in a Thaipusam chariot hooked on the back. And big up you r-r-respect for giving some back.
Umberto Dei (Italy) Tomato, basil, gold, chrome: the Umberto Dei is like an Italian deli interior pressed into the form of a bike. If you’re one to race a retro Colnagowith super-record and zipps, then this is the bike for meeting friends at the cafe. As far as I can ascertain, you buy these in Italy.
Abici (Italy), An Italian brand I’m still learning about
Retrovelo (Germany) The actual use of the prefix "retro" within a brand name, spoils the illusion of authenticity one craves in such a bike. The Germans are not known for their linguistic subtlety though. What I will say is they produce a nice catalogue. The nearest dealer to us is a shop in New Zealand who sell Velorbis and Gazelle too.
Batavus (Holland) To my mind this brand is Gazelle without the big distribution, and is a bit elcheapo when you look at the specs. While they do classic/retro bikes too, I’ve pictured their designerly BUB model, because it’s the only one with any appeal to my mind.
Rivendale (US) God Bless America! They don’t just learn to weld frames in America, they get together for Frame Luggers’ conventions in Vegas, braze pump holders to their actual shin bones, pray that god might make every weld worthy of his kingdom on earth, and generally treat actions and gestures as ends in themselves, rather than ends to tangible means. For the rest of us, enjoying what America has to offer (for quite cheap now too, since the ass fell out of their dollar) requires just a little magnanimity, a choosing to forget their confusing of Austria and Australia, their telling us they would love to get down to Scotland sometime to see the Great Barrier Rock, and all their other charming faux pas.
A.N.T. (US) How American too, to coin bike brand names from three letter acronyms, like Alternative Needs Transportation. The neat marketing conceit here is that you’re buying from a real Ma and Pa outfit, right down to shed wall all their bikes are photographed leaning against.
Jorg&Olif (Canada) will sell you anything from a bike, to authenticity, to wellness (it all sounds expensive), and by the looks, do none of it well. I’ll have my bike with a better headlight, and less sanctimony, thanks. Worth a look though, for tips on how sell piety.
Addendum: other stuff it should be more easy to buy in Australia