After three and a half months, and over one thousand kilometers of riding, I hereby tender the most useful and impartial review I think you will find anywhere, of the Churchill Classic, made by Velorbis. 20 years of commuting on racing bikes is over for me. The Velorbis is now the only bike I would consider riding to work on. Starting with the main reasons, here’s why:
I do not have to wash it. The all-around mud guards catch all the dirt, that is cleaned away from under those guards the next time I ride in the wet. A little grit has accumulated around the stand, that’s all (see picture below). I’ve wiped the frame over a few times, to make it shine, but you would barely notice the difference. It looks good regardless. The internal hub everything means brake dust isn’t dirtying the rims or hubs either. I haven’t cleaned the hubs or chain at all, and after 1000+ kilometers they look cleaner than my road bike’s would after one ride.
As well as not having to wash it, I do not have to wash me! Wearing jeans and a wet weather coat, I can ride in light rain without that old familiar water torture being aimed at my butt crack, then wear those same jeans around when I arrive. (In heavy rain, of course, you do need wet weather pants). Even on cold wet rainy nights, I would choose riding over being trapped in a car, trapped in traffic, trapped with fool DJs. In fact, I’ve come to relish bad weather.
And in wet weather, the upright position is so much safer as well. Hit the brakes, and you don’t feel as though you’re about to fly off the font. In the past, riding road bikes at night in the rain, I have hit potholes that have threatened my bike and my life. Give me a sturdy relaxed bike any night, in preference to something designed for maximum speed during a race.
I should note though, that the Velorbis does not allow you to sit completely upright. It is not a true "Dutch grandpa" bike in that regard. However, if you have ever tried standing out of the saddle to take on a hill on a Dutch bike, or tried to turn a tight circle and copped the end of a townie handlebar in your thigh, you will appreciate the reasoning behind the semi upright position. It is the slightly forward leaning position Raleigh gave millions with their legendary Sports model.
While leaning you forward, it does not lean you over. Let’s not think this is for time trialling! The Velorbis is undeniably slower, and harder to pedal than a road racing bike, being more than double the weight, having tires twice as fat, and having no concessions to aerodynamics in its design. The tubes are not butted and are joined with pressed lugs, not the lighter cast lugs used by performance frame makers—though with the non racing accessories alone outweighing the frame, one can hardly quibble over the weight of a lug. More to the point, extra weight and rolling resistance, I feel, is a huge plus. A motivation for me to commute, is to be race fit for Saturday. I would estimate I exert an extra one third effort getting to work now, turning my 30km round trip per day, effectively into a 40km trip (I could confirm that figure with a heart rate monitor, I guess, but that isn’t my style). Where, on my road bike, I would use fewer cycle paths and footpaths, because pedestrians on those paths would make me slow down, the Velorbis itself limits my speed, such that I no longer find meandering pedestrians to be such a nuisance; in any case, most step aside with a smile when they hear my bike’s old fashioned bell.
medicine ball training awesome from light reflective side walls (those cables had to be trimmed) Just in from a serious storm
I do not need to think about recharging lights with this bike. The lights are hard wired to the frictionless internal hub generator, and come on automatically when it is dark. One slight complaint, is I can’t figure out a way of making them come on in the half light before dusk, when I would prefer cars see me than not. That gripe aside, you can’t imagine the freedom of being able to take illumination for granted. And how many lives would be saved, if those reflective side walls on the tires came standard on all bikes!
Other conveniences are the spring that keeps the wheel pointing forward, the two-point stand, and the immobilizer lock. We heirs to that age when bikes were seen only as sporting equipment, don’t know what we’re missing, not having these features on bikes we don’t actually race on.
Strangely, the 1940s styling that first attracted me to the bike, is something that only occurs to me when I bump into someone who hasn’t seen me on it before, and they pass comment. A glutton for attention though, I still love these moments. I have my Brooks leather trouser strap and tool case, and a leather brief case from Florence that fits securely into the specially designed clasp on the rear rack. I even lashed out on the Velorbis leather coat guards! Add the sartorial splendor of my work suits and bow ties, and one would think I was handing out leaflets. The look is too perfect!
OTT leather accessories rust in quill stem bolt the saddle was comfortable from day 1, as pictured
With my satirical "get the look" blog entries (Florentine Gigolo, Motorcycle rebel, Really Suave Guys, grown ups) I’ve been underlining the importance of image for cyclists. As far as drivers are concerned, our minority status and assumptions that we are all greenies, would seem to deny us the right to fantasize, a right that drivers can indulge without raising an eyebrow. It is only right, I would contend, that cyclists get to pretend they are sporty, outdoorsy, classy, hip, or whatever they like, just as drivers imagine they’re in Sweden if driving a SAAB, or in the wilderness if driving a Landcruiser, when in fact most of their driving is just done in the burbs. Velorbis have gone out of their way to make this bike stylish, and give cycling cache. The serial number pressed in the seat tube, the lugged and braised German made frame, the all-class head-badge, the true old-school frame construction: wherever you look, you see love. Like mobile phones in Cambodia, or smoking in the 1920s, cycling will catch on as it offers people who currently drive, the opportunity to increase their prestige with this more behooving approach to their moving.
And what prestige bicycle does not have a Brooks saddle! And quite aside from their symbolic value, these seats truly are comfortable, and come into their own when riding in regular clothes, rather than nicks. Where other saddles take jean seams and lacerate groins, a gentleman’s callosities rest in the hammock of a Brooks saddle’s rear portion, while presenting the old Bishop’s Bridge with a narrow rung of smooth leather on which his thighs may smoothly glide.
When it comes to corrosion resistance, Velorbis haven’t really cut many corners. My house is beside breaking surf, meaning any insufficiently protected iron has already announced itself, by turning brown. Thus far though, the only offending item to which I might point, is the Allen bolt in the quill stem. The rest is holding up well. The Chrome cranks: so far so good. The handlebars and seat pole I do believe to be stainless, as per Velorbis’s claim. The rims are polished stainless and gorgeous, something I don’t believe Pashley provide on most of their range. I trust Germans when it comes to pickling cro-mo steel prior to painting, and am confident the galvanised mud guards have been made with due care as well. Most major fixings seem to be 316 stainless. I’m not sure if I need to, but I spray fish oil onto springs and under the mud guards, just to be safe.
It was my pre purchase scrutiny of bits that might rust that led me to choose the Velorbis over comparable bikes, all of which I have listed in an earlier entry. Neither do Velorbis cut corners the way other manufacturers so often tend to, hoping buyers won’t notice. It’s the things like the center stand, leather grips, stainless bolts, hub generator, stainless bars, stainless seat pole, and stainless rims that add up to a much nicer bike, to ride and to keep looking like new.
Most of the design oversights on my bike relate to the SRAM 7 speed rear hub, that seems to have been added without the necessary changes being made to the frame.
Removing the rear wheel on this style of bike takes some getting used to, and is exacerbated on my bike by the fact that the internally routed light cable, where it pops out of the chainstay, almost touches the SRAM brake housing. If I don’t one day damage this wire while removing the wheel, I worry that someday a twig will get jammed in there and damage the wire. Or perhaps I’m just paranoid 🙂
The frame hasn’t been built with fixing points for the SRAM rear brake cable, that is held to the chainstay with a black cable tie. Meanwhile, on the drive train side of the bike, a fixing point has been welded to the chainstay to suit Sturmey Archer; it is completely redundant on a SRAM equipped bike.
brake cable crudely tied onto chainstay Light wire too close to brake redundant fixing point alligator clips
Like the Sturmey Archer, the SRAM 7 speed hub won’t change up or down while you are pedaling. You have to back off for a moment for the new gear to engage. Having owned an old Raleigh Sports there for a while, I personally like this little quirk—it’s charming and retro—but I do know the Shimano Alfine hub changes much better. The advantage of SRAM over Shimano Alfine and Nexus, is SRAM allows an easier wheel change. I would say the Velorbis might be worthy of a Rohloff Speedhub, but I know that would have greatly increased the price of the bike. I paid about 2K Australian for mine—good value, I think.
Anyone who upgrades to the leather coat guards, will find these weight too much for the clips that are meant to keep them attached. After every few bumps, they fall off. I frigged around for two days before finally using alligator clips, purloined from lanyards I had kept from various conferences, to secure my new leather coat guards to the fenders. I’m not at all happy with the time I spent, or the compromised solution I finally arrived at, and really think Velorbis should do something to address this design fault. The coat guards should be able to screw tighten to the fenders securely.
I originally purchased my bike with Velorbis’s front rack and artfully aged wooden crate, but decided not to even take these from the dealer when the bike arrived and I looked at how they attached. My head-tube would surely have creases in it now, had I tightened the U-bolts of the clamp sufficiently to handle the weight of the rack and the box, never mind the weight of whatever I might have wanted to carry. I would also have needed to remove the head badge.
Velorbis claims you will not find any plastic being used on their bicycles. Given the high strains of their sales rhetoric, it would not be overly pedantic of me to mention the chrome-look plastic headlight. It’s an awesome headlight, don’t get me wrong. I’ve even had an oncoming cyclist complain I was blinding him. It is plastic though. The SRAM grip shifter is plastic too.
My understanding is these bikes reach their dealers having been almost fully built in a factory in Denmark—or maybe it’s Germany? Either way, the factory is where I presume the following oversights occurred in the building of my bike. 1. The stirrup on the Brooks saddle was on the wrong way, and had to be disassembled and put back the right way. 2. For some reason, perhaps to accommodate a front rack if desired, the brake cables were excessively long, and required trimming. 3. The bolt fixing the stand was loose and had to be tightened. In their defense, there are far more parts to a commuting bike than a racing bike—fenders, stands, racks, lights, etc.—and these bikes hit the shops for a third of the price of a high performance racing bike. It is commendable that only 3 things weren’t assembled perfectly.
PROBLEMS FOR US, NOT VELORBIS.
My Basil pannier does not clip very neatly to the Velorbis rear rack—a fault with the bag not the bike. Marrying the bike to just the right pannier is something I really should get around to. Perhaps Velorbis could make one? (Postscript: I have since bought a Brooks Devon Pannier. Brilliant!)
Despite the Swalbe Marathon tire’s reputation, I have had two flats—one front and one back—which is just my bad luck. One of those flats I could almost have fixed without removing the wheel, using just a patch kit and schrader valve pump, since the tires are loose enough on the rims to get them off and on with one’s thumbs, and my actual puncture (from a grass seed) was easily found. Really though, you do need to carry a spare 700c tube, a shifter and levers, as well as the pump and some patches and glue. The frame does not come with holders for pumps, a traditional touch I would have preferred.
The first thing I did, and haven’t regretted, was to add SPD pedals, with flat plates on one side and cleats on the other. Since the bike doubles as my medicine ball training device, to keep me race fit for the weekend, it is vital that I can ride with the same circular pedaling action I will use in a race. I’m not about to throw away twenty years of training my legs to make circles! I wear a pair of those Shimano suede SPD shoes that pass for regular ones when you stop at the shops.
Given we spend most of our lives doing ordinary things, it makes sense that we do them extraordinarily well. I spend an hour and a half every day getting to and from work. That time is mine to daydream, exercise, feel the elements, and feel like a kid or a dude or a wild animal or whatever I care to imagine. I need the right bike. I need a bike made to a recipe, not to a price point. I need a bike that is willfully stylish. I am as close as I will be, for at least the next decade, to owning such a bike with my Velorbis. This bike takes the quotidian chore of getting work, and elevates it into something ennobling.
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