When a family member suggested that she’d like a bike to get around on and do some family cycle trails, I offered my help. Obviously I don’t need an excuse to spend hours scouring the online stores and second hand markets, but I also had another motivation. Adults returning to cycling will all too often end up buying/being sold an inappropriate bike: either a crap mountain bike or ‘hybrid’ that weighs a ton – neither of which will make the reintroduction to pedalling particularly enjoyable. This annoys me and I suspect that the majority of the bikes that Halfords have ever sold are abandoned in their owners sheds due to the bikes being disappointingly unenjoyable to ride.
Since becoming a cross bike convert, I’ve appreciated how a lightweight rigid bike with knobbly tyres pedals effortlessly on the road and is surprisingly able on the canal towpaths and such like. Unfortunately though, the idea of dropped handlebars would be completely alien to her so that wouldn’t work. I’d have suggested a single speed but she’s about to move somewhere close to hills. But what about a cross bike with nice thin knobbly tyres and a wide flat bar set up? That would be ideal, however I couldn’t find anyone that actually makes them. It’s a shame as I reckon this would be ‘the ideal bike for most people’
So a couple of visits to GumTree turned up a second hand Kinesis Crosslight for £100, complete with cantilever brakes, compact chainset, seatpost, stem and some tasty Deda drop bars (I’ll have them thank you very much). I had a saddle, stem and MTB handlebars already, so just wheels and gears needed. I sourced brand new wheels, tyres and a cheap and cheerful 8-speed drivetrain and still finished the bike for £275 and the end result weighs about 22lbs/10kg.
It was only once I’d built the bike that I recognised what it was: it was the style of bike that the older kids used to ride around on when I was young. A bit like the old Raleigh Bomber* but with more conservative handlebars. To confirm this, the documentary on TV I was half watching showed some footage of 70’s youth’s ragging such bikes around some urban wasteland. So if these bikes are so versatile and good to ride, why can’t we buy them anymore? There are some decent hybrids around, such as those from Boardman, but you don’t always get the necessary tyre clearance for decent knobblies or the confidence inspiring wide handle bars. They’re very much flat handle barred versions of road bikes rather than a more relaxed geometry suitable for casual riding.
Much as I love mountain bikes, it seems that cheap (and crap) versions have somehow become the entry level standard – complete with energy sapping rear suspension and front suspension so harsh that if it does actually compress then the rebound will be more hazardous than the original obstacle. I’m convinced that if companies started selling bikes like my latest creation that they’d not only sell lots of bikes, but they’d actually get taken out of the shed and serve their owners well.
*As a side note, I vividly remember an older lad on my estate who had a Raleigh Bomber who was able to wheelie it all the way down the main road. I can’t remember how many white lines that amounted to (standard youth measurement for wheelie distance) but he was named ‘Bomber’ after his bike. Another lad who was nearer my age rode a BMX called a ‘Predator’ and was known in some circles as ‘Pred’ until well into his teens. I had a Diamond Back ‘Viper’, but thankfully managed to avoid any reptilian references.