Last week I was alerted to a new blog, The Complete Bicycle. I’ve known its author, Tony, for several years, meeting up with him in St. Paul when I was there in 2016. He elaborates on “What is a Complete Bicycle?” in this blog post here.
For me, a complete bike is one that I can grab and go with minimal to no thought for what I need to accomplish on a given ride because it is equipped to do what I often need to do. It is designed to be used every day. The other day I decided on a whim to stop by Trader Joe’s after work to grab a few items. I was able to do it because I have a bike designed for the task. As summer turns to fall the mornings are going to stay darker later. Whether it is dark or not when I hop on to go to work does not enter into my mind because my lights are always ready to go. The other day it rained while I was at work and I didn’t know it was supposed to. Though the streets were soaked and puddled, I was perfectly dry when I got home because weather changes quickly in Minnesota and my bike is equipped for that as well.Tony Hunt, The Complete Bicycle
And from my perspective, things haven’t gotten any better over the past three years, even with a couple years of pandemic to increase bicycle sales. Finding “all dressed” bikes is hard. We’ve got the usual Linuses, Publics, and Breezers. Electra makes a few non-cruiser style bikes that can fit the bill, like the Loft 7i. None of these bikes come with integrated dynamo lighting, though Breezer used to. Civia, QBP’s city-oriented make, died a couple years ago. You can get a Dutch Workcycles bike, which are great, but designed for a nation where hills don’t exist. 1 You might have a local shop that imports some exotic city bikes, like Clever Cycles does here in Portland.
But that’s a pretty slim list when there are many, many more brands out there. I’m sure the major manufactures, the Treks/Giants/Cannondales of the world, after half-hearted attempts to build city bikes for the American market, will tell you that “there aren’t people looking for these kinds of bikes.” Explain that to Jim Grey, who has been looking for “a modern version of the traditional 3-speed” to replace his tired mid-80’s made-in-Taiwan-by-Giant Schwinn Collegiate. There are people out there that want these kinds of bikes. But when your marketing pumps the latest in road/mountain/”gravel” and the salespeople and mechanics in your dealer network turn their noses up at anything that’s not road/mountain/”gravel”, of course you are not going to connect with them. 2
And at this point, I don’t know what can be done about it. Let’s face it: practical bikes are boring. They don’t feature “the latest and greatest”, they feature the tried and true. You can’t do product spreads of people “shredding the gnar” on a Dutch-inspired city bike. The magazines that would feature these bikes in tasteful urban spreads, the Momentums and the Bicycle Times, are gone. Many of the bloggers who were pushing this aesthetic have gone away, leaving a few stalwarts like myself to keep the torch burning. The fact that there is a new blog about this stuff honestly astonishes me! 3
And let’s face another fact: The current bikes that do check off all the boxes, the ones that have racks, fenders, chainguards, integrated lighting, and the like, are all electric. This is where much of the market is going. The aesthetics may be hit and miss, but I’m sure that over the next few years, as the technology improves, we’ll be seeing more e-bikes that look good. Yes, it would be nice to see some non e-bikes that have all the bells and whistles, but e-bikes are going to dominate from here on out.
But there is one non e-bike that you can find that is “all dressed” and that is Brompton. Many Bromptons come with lights, racks, and fenders. You’re not going to be able to load them the same way you might do to a “big” bike, but I’ve found that the convenience of a folding bike trumps a lot of things.
I don’t give up hope for more non electric practical bikes. But unless the big movers are convinced there’s a market, any positive movement we’ll see is going to be from smaller companies and/or imported brands. Until then, I’ll be happily riding my Brompton–and my Raleigh Superbe!
1 Yes, geography nerds, remind me about the small section of low hills in the southeastern corner. But they are still a small part of a small country.
2 Yet these makers will create all-dressed city bikes in markets that like them, like the aluminum Trek “loop-frame” for the Dutch market that’s mentioned in this 2011 post.
3 Lovely Bicycle, probably the person who exemplified the Practical Bike Blog Revolution, stopped posting several years ago. But she’s been posting again about photography (including film!) on her new blog–and under her real name!