My friend Linsey had been looking to upgrade a bit from her well-used Electra Townie commuter bike. In addition to wanting a new ride, she was bit by the loop-frame bug and wanted a new ride, but with the elegant look of a traditional step-through frame. Unfortunately, for most of those bicycles you have to go to Chicago, which has three or four shops that specialized in European commuter bicycles. Although both Wheel and Sprocket and Ben’s Cycles are looking into adding a line, as of today no Milwaukee bike shop carries any of the lovely and stalwart European bikes.
Linsey has had plenty of opportunities to ride our Workcycles Omafiets, so we skipped the Dutch Bicycle Company and visited Copenhagen Cyclery to try out a Velorbis and Boulevard Bikes to test ride a Pashley. Linsey owns Third Sector Creative, a Milwaukee design firm that specializes in working for non-profits. As a designer, she knew she wanted a red loop-frame bicycle with front basket, rear rack, chain guard and fenders, but other than the how the bike rode, she was going to leave the rest of the techie mechanical advice to me.
The first bike she tried was the very nice Velorbis Dannebrog at Copenhagen Cyclery. The Danish red Dannebrog is a modern take on the traditional looks of a step-through commuter bike. It is a complete package in that it comes with top quality components, front basket, a very well designed rear rack, chainguard, fenders, skirt/coat guards, double kick stand, frame lock, generator powered front and rear lights, and a 5-speed Sturmey Archer internally geared hub (IGH) in the rear.
The bike was gorgeous and road like a dream. The only thing Linsey could find she did not like much was the Velorbis logo on the back of the rack. That is funny, because I thought the rear rack was one of the nicest features of the bike. Although not as robust as the rear racks on the Dutch bicycles, the Danish ride incorporated an extra little hook on the side of the rack so you could hang a regular briefcase to it. If you look at the photo to the left, you can see this little extra feature on the right side of the rack. You can also see the logo Linsey disliked. Other nice features were the honey brown Books saddle, leather mudflaps, and big ding-dong bell. All these features come at a price of $1895, which puts the Velorbis at the top of the price-point for similar bicycles.
Although the Velorbis was certainly a fabulous commuter bike with loads of style, we wanted to compare it to the Pashley, which is priced at $1295. Before we headed off to Boulevard Bicycles, we stopped for lunch at Big Star and had awesome tacos and a great margarita while the house DJ spun vintage vinyl. If you have never been there, I recommend the long-bean tacos. As a meat eater and fan of all things pork, I thought I would like the Pork Belly taco the best, but to my surprise I preferred the long beans. Sorry, no photos, I was too hungry and my plate was clean before I thought about taking a picture!
Boulevard Bicycles did not have a red Pashley Britannia in stock in her size, so Linsey test rode a black Princess Sovereign. The Sovereign and the Britannia have the same frames and same price, but come with just different components. The Pashley is a very nice bicycle, but just a slight step down in overall build quality compared to the Velorbis and Workcycles. The Sovereign and the Britannia are the same price. Pashley seems to accomplish this by mixing components. The full chaincase is plastic on the Sovereign, but the chainguard on the Britannia is metal). Some of the badges on the Sovereign are glued on where they are decals on the Britannia. There are no mud guards on either model, no rear rack or frame lock (on the Britannia), single leg kickstand and the rear light is battery operated instead of wired to the dynamo hub on both Pashelys.
After a lot of riding, some serious thought and a bit of salesmanship on my part, Linsey ordered a red Britannia in her size from Boulevard. In the end she felt that both bikes rode very well, both looked quite lovely and she did not mind giving up on a few of those features like the double kick stand, color coordinated rear rack, and frame lock on the Velorbis given the $600 difference in price.
It took a bit over a week, but my friend John Greenfield bought the bike up on the Amtrak and saved her shipping or a trip back across the Cheddar Curtain. John and I are co-founders of the Chicago-Milwaukee-Chicago frozen snot ride at the end of February. He is also the former Johnny Appleseed of bike racks in Chicago. His latest gig is writing and editing for an exciting new Chicago blog call Grid Chicago.
Installing a rear rack on the Pashley requires clamps with rubber sleeves since the frame has no rack mounts. I went to Ben’s for the rack and clamps because I knew they stocked the very well-made stainless Nitto clamps. She ended up with a nothing-special Axiom rear rack, which has a longish top and quite a bit of rear offset to accommodate her Dutch-style panniers.
Linsey seems very pleased with her new ride. A side benefit I got from helping her was I got to try all these different bikes. Though all the bikes are in the sedan category, the Britannia and the Dannebrog feel a bit faster and are a bit easier to stand and pedal on than the Dutch Workscycle Omafiet. The Omafiet has much fatter tires than either the British or the Danish bike and it is heavier, so it seems to float over pot holes. I would liken the Workcycles to a ’63 Caddy, the Dannebrog to a Mercedes and the Pashley to a BMW sedan in the ride quality.
Having ridden all three, I can say that you cannot go wrong with any of these step-though bicycles as your year-round commuter, grocery getter, or Sunday-go-to-meeting ride. . They are all head turners, very well made and have high quality components. If you are thinking about getting one, perhaps my suggestions below will help you decide:
Haute Couture Style Winner: Velorbis Dannebrog. Buy this bike if you sweat the details of your daily outfit and like to get the best quality you can afford without going bespoke.
Style on a budget: Pashley Britannia. Buy this bike if you look at the fashion magazines for ideas, but put together your outfits off the sale rack or from a thrift store.
No-nonsense workhorse: Workcycles Oma. Workcycles Omafiets are handsome bicycles with the best components of the three (the only bike with Shimano 8 spd hubs and dyno-hubs) and much heavier tubing and are priced about $100 less than the Velorbis.