Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reader Question: Upright, Mixte, or Classic Road?

A reader emailed me a question and gave me permission to answer the question in a blog post. Here is her question:

Love your blog -- you're a woman after my own heart.   But clearly more educated than me. What I mean to say is, I'm a naive casual cyclist but mean to become an everyday cyclist. I care about function but I also care deeply about aesthetics (as you also seem to), as I am a designer by trade.

I don't currently have a bicycle as I was laid off (in 2009) just as my bike was stolen. :( (<-- That Sucked) I have been long-term borrowing sisters' and friends' but it's time to grow up. And by grow up, I mean take my parents up on their offer to buy me any bike, whatever I want, "get a good one." (!!!!)

If I may, let me lay out my sitch: 
  • I don't own a car, I live in Seattle, I pretty much will bike anywhere (bars, errands, work) in a variety of clothing (jeans, skirts, boots)
    • This makes me think I should get an upright.
  • I will be biking in a variety of weather (I mean, it's Seattle oftentimes in rain). 
    • This makes me think I should have fat tires.
  • It's also very hilly where I live. I also am toying with doing a triathlon and training for that.
    • This makes me think I should go for a fast, light, geared road bike.
I have been reading your posts but I wanted a visceral reaction from you to this dilemma: If I were to buy ONE bike right now, what would you choose for me - upright? mixte? or classic road? ughhh hybrid?

I know you're a busy lady but honestly, your feedback would mean a lot to me. I don't know where to start.

Many thanks,

Manny this is a great question, and I'm going to fearlessly tackle it head on. I say get the mixte.  I would not want to ride around a 50 lb upright bike in a city with hills - no way. So I would take that off the list immediately. You would also not be able to consider triathlon training on a bike like that. A well-built mixte like the Rivendell Betty Foy or the Sweetpea A-Line seem tailor made to suit your needs. I've never had the pleasure of trying those bikes, so I'm taking a bit of a leap of faith, but I've read a lot about them. They are both gorgeous bikes so I feel confident that they will satisfy aesthetically! They can be fitted with racks, fenders, baskets - whatever you need or want.

Photo via Rivendell

Photo via Sweetpea

I've been riding my Pashley Princess Sovereign for close to a year now and I have to tell you - there are problems. I feel that the range of where I can ride it is very limited because it is so heavy and slow. (I'll be writing a more extensive post on this later.) On the upside, I do feel like I'm riding a work of art. I just wouldn't advise you to have something like that as your only bike.

As far as the classic road bike goes - it would be good because it would be fast and efficient but you might have trouble wearing certain types of clothing and you might get dirtier than you want. On the mixte you can easily fit it with fenders to keep you clean. Also on the mixte, you'd  have room to put on fatter tires (especially with the Rivendell) if that's what you want to do.


  1. I ride an older Centurion mixte which I love. It gets me where I want to go, and with rear rack and saddlebags, I can carry what I need.

    I vote for Mixte!

  2. But it's a girl's bike. There's no horizontal bar. Have things changed since I was a kid?

  3. I was looking at a number of different models when I was in the market for a bike, but for reasons of convenience (as well as performance) I decided to get a full-size folding bike. I can ride everywhere I need to, and it's also really easy to keep inside.

  4. do you regret replacing your Bianchi?

  5. Hi, can I put in my two cents? I am lucky enough to have, um, all three of those kinds of bikes.... By buying them off of craigs list, having multiple bikes isn't so expensive, but that isn't actually what I am advocating. As mentioned in the post, an upright bike will be awful for longer rides. Mine I find especially hard on the knees, and much slower. It is great for short, local rides especially for grocery shopping or library runs.
    I have a mixte 10 speed road bike which I do most of my commuting on, but I find the drop handle bars are very hard on my neck. The speed is nice (much less effort than a mountain bike--I would never go back to a mountain bike) and it maneuvers well in traffic and is easy on the hills. While I find it harder on my neck than the upright, it is kinder on the knees, and you get a lot more power from your legs for less effort. (aka going up hills feels much easier).
    I also have a men's frame road bike with straight handle bars and this is my favourite for riding. I can ride it in most skirts even, once I mastered the lean the bike to mount thing, just not super flowy ones or pencil ones. A pair of leggings underneath can keep you modest if you are worried.
    If you want one bike for what you describe, I would say get a mixte frame but a lighter road bike type one (Seattle is hilly, so you want light frame and at least 7 gears). There are loads of older (80s) ones available second hand even with light frames, but make sure the frame is the right size for you as lots of the ones out there were originally sold to teenagers and can be a bit small. As mentioned in the post, there are also some good new ones to be found. Be open to trying different handle bars and find the ones that fit your body best. You can always change handle bars, so it's not as important to get that right as the frame size which you are stuck with.
    It seems to me that the hybrids on the market today are heavy and slow and in many ways the worst rather than the best of both worlds. The blog Lovely Bicycle has a discussion somewhere of the relative benefits/costs of second hand bikes to new ones which I found very useful.
    Enjoy riding!

  6. If you and your parents haven't bought the bike(s) yet I would wholeheartedly suggest my ride, the Globe Live 2 mixte. You might want to get fatter tires for it to suit the wet conditions of Seattle, but it's great on hills. Atlanta and its sprawl are monstrously hilly and I do just fine. I'm very comfortable on it--the seat never bothers me and my knees, back, neck never suffer on my commute which is 2.5 miles. I've been on longer rides with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and enjoyed myself. For the price of the Rivendell or Sweetpea you could get a Live 2 mixte and a road bike off of Craigslist.

    Oh yeah, and you can carry lots of stuff.

  7. Definitely, the mixte. Tho' I've only test rode the Electra Ticino (just before buying the Amsterdam Royal 8i), it seemed like a great bike. I was in the market for an upright, internally geared bike.

    The Ticino was comfortable, yet still responsive. 21 spds, caliper brakes. If I'd had the money to buy two bikes, I would have gotten both, and am in the market for a good used, possibly vintage mixte to toy with.

    Before making my purchase, I'd posted on Bike Forums asking for other members imput on bikes. A few recommended the Globe Mixte as well. Linus also makes a mixte, but don't know much about it. All look good!

    Good Luck, happy riding.

  8. I added another bicycle recently and this is the most comfortable bike I have ever's the Jamis Earth Cruiser 3. Although in mens the womens model is available. Light and rolls with perfect balance. The 3 speed internal hub is all I need. So many compliments too.

  9. I'd say mixte - with a sporty fit and derailleur gearing. One caveat is that not all mixtes are the same! You can get one with the same geometry, tubing, fit and gearing as a loop frame (other than the loopiness of course) or you can get one with the same geometry, tubing, fit and gearing as a road bike. As far as specific bikes, I second the recommendations for the Betty Foy and Sweatpea, and would also add to it the Soma Smoothie - which is easier on the wallet. You might also consider a Brompton with the 6-speed lowered gearing. It works very well for me on hilly 20 mile+ commutes while keeping me very much upright.

  10. A few observations: A Pashley Princess Sovereign is not necessarily representative of the category of upright bicycles. That bike is designed for English country rambles and market shopping and has become popular mostly for aesthetic reasons. In any case, weight itself is not a huge issue for hills - the real weight is the rider and what stops you getting up them is the state of your muscles, not so much the bike. What's more key is a rigid frame, low gearing and your ability to stand in the pedals. There a wide variety of upright bikes available from many brands. I disagree with the poster who wrote that "an upright bike will be awful for longer rides". I've ridden my upright bike on 50 km tours and enjoyed it thoroughly. If your bike is hard on your knees it's badly fitted to you. Who says you have to hunch over your handlebars to do distance? Hunching over is something racers do to cut down wind resistance. Something often forgotten in these discussions that a heavier bike with a steel frame gives a much smoother ride, is a much better platform for carrying cargo and will last much longer.

    Given the hilliness she reports, if Manny had the budget, I'd invite her to consider pedelec bicycles - not the push-button/scooter type of e-bike - a bicycle you still have to pedal. Go for something German, not Chinese. It is quite pricey for a good one, but you'll use it all the time, even with hills and it's much cheaper than a car or scooter. It's quite hilly where I live, but my Kalkhoff Agattu has flattened the city for me. I also have a a bike from Amsterdam-based bike maker Workcycles - the Secret Service - a more modern upright Dutch bike, but with reduced ratio gears so that I can almost walk up the hill in first gear. (I got the pedelec because there are some hills on my commute with very steep grades, and it's not that I can't climb them on my Dutch bike, but that I end up quite sweaty and pooped at the top - which is not ideal for transportation cycling.)

    I have several problems with the design of the Mixte bikes you suggested. They don't have a decent mudguard - that's where a lot of the road grime comes from. A completely covered chain, Dutch-style, keeps your clothes clean and massively reduces the need for maintenance. These Mixtes also rely on caliper-style brakes - V-brakes, disc brakes, whatever, they're less durable, dirtier, and need much more maintenance than roller brakes. These bikes also have derailleur-type gears. I really don't see any advantage is having a derailleur for urban use - hub gears are a much better solution - cleaner, less maintenance, durable.

    The key problem I see with Manny's question is that the kind of bike one might use to train for a triathlon is not all what one would use for default transportation.) In my humble opinion, any attempt to square that circle will mean seriously compromising. 95% of what Manny wants to do is utility cycling: with one bike to do it all she'll end up getting something less than ideal for most of her transportation needs in order to be able to train for a triathlon.

    BTW, Velouria, I disagree that the posture on a Brompton is upright - it's 3/4 upright. Upright is your back nearly arching back from the seat. On a Brompton, you're still putting weight on the handlebars.

  11. How about a step through frame aluminum bike? I think this would be a good fit (and what I'm thinking of getting, maybe).

    The benefits for commuting/city riding are somewhat upright seating, racks, step through, integrated lights.
    Benefits for touring/etc are light bike, lots of gears, good components.

    It's not as pretty, but other than that, I think it hits part B: Very good for commuting. Reasonably good for the group rides. What do you guys think? I haven't bought one yet, just looking, and this one is a high possibility.

  12. Okay it's a year later but here I am looking at this post so maybe others are as well. The mixte bike is a cool and practical solution. Many mixte bikes by Raleigh, Univega, Centurion, are lightweight and have derailleur gears = low gears for hills. The person just above pegged the problem just right: the original poster is trying to train for a triathlon on the same bike as doing daily commuting? Didn't we learn that lesson back in the 70's when everybody rode a "race bike", even to the grocery store? The mixte bike is fast, agile, stable, reliable, stylish, and accommodates many styles of apparel. I disagree ith the above poster in one way, Dutch style bikes are uber expensive, and somewhat dependent on living in some ultra cool urban setting where they can be sourced, whereas 80s vintage mixte bikes can be had from craigslist for about $80-100. With a few modernizations they can be ultra cool. I have 3 of them. Also have 2 "race" bikes from the 80s, a carbon fiber Trek racing bike, a mountain bike....what affords me the ability to have more than one bike is craigslist. Check it out. Get a mixte. Chainguards can be had for about $20. Don't spend $1200 to get a chainguard on a Dutch bike. Get a vintage mixte off craigslist. No, forget I said that...more left for me to high grade! LOL