I’m all for City Bikes and think that they should be more easily available for sale in the UK. For ordinary people looking for a low maintenance easy to ride bike to go to the shops and back, City Bikes are the right tool for the job. To pop across town on a hybrid or a mountain bike is the wrong answer to me.
With my interest in cycling advocacy and in what conditions are needed for 40-60% of a population to ride bikes everyday, having the ideal everyday bike is a key factor. In fairness it is way behind fixing the UK’s hostile road design and infrastructure but we need more practical bikes for sale in the UK to go with better infrastructure.
To quality as a city bike I think you need a bike that you can ride comfortably in ordinary clothes and that requires virtually no maintenance and can easily carry your shopping etc as you ride.
I’m not the only one who thinks this as it turns out. This post from leading UK cycling advocate Mark Treasure spells it out very well: http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/where-are-britains-practical-bikes/
In the small cycling advocacy group I’m a part of one of our members, a Dane called Jesper, showed up a few months ago on a Danish city bike from a brand called Ebsen. I had a quick ride around the car park and it was very, very comfortable and I was impressed. Jesper told me that when he’d moved his family to the UK from Denmark, they found it very difficult to find shops where you could buy Danish City bikes for either adults or children. So he did some research and decided to launch http://www.copenhagen-bicycles.com/ who are now selling part of the Ebsen bikes range and also some MBK bikes.
Jesper offered me the chance to try the Ebsen Street Trend and I jumped at the chance. I’ve been riding it around town for the last few weeks and have found the experience fascinating.
Ebsen have been in business for 16 years and is run from Denmark by Peter Stricker Ebsen. The company designs bikes in Denmark and has them made in Germany, Italy and Taiwan. The company has a wide range and sells 15,000 bikes a year.
The Street Trend that I’m riding is made in Germany and has a list of features I’d say are essential for a true city bike:
- Shimano Nexus 7 Speed hub gears (3 speed is fine if you live somewhere flat) – lower maintenance than external derailleur gears.
- Hub Dynamo and front light
- Battery rear light
- Coaster rear brake (back pedal to stop)
- Front V-Brake
- Chain guard and full mudguards
- Reinforced rear rack
- Kick stand
- Integral Frame mounted lock
The bike features an alloy frame and a nice comfortable upright riding position. I know from twitter discussions that some people who have some knowledge of Dutch bikes would argue there might be a few more features missing (such as a front rack, front roller brake, steering lock and a double sided kick stand) but having spent some time both talking to Jesper and looking at the model range from some large Dutch bike brands, it’s not quite that simple.
What does seem to be the case is that most city bike manufacturers in Europe have a wide range of bikes and specifications and people choose and pay for all of the features they want around a similar central theme. Buyers also often customise their bikes themselves after buying them to get them just so – which most cyclists do on any bike they buy.
As an example, if you live somewhere flat like Copenhagen, a 3 speed hub gear bike will be more than enough. Also in a flat city you might not actually use a front brake, just using a coaster rear brake, so the extra expense of a roller brake over a cheaper V-brake on the front of the bike might not be something you’d look for. Also you might upgrade the bike. Personally I’d prefer a dynamo rear light too and a light that kept running when you’re stopped at lights (we don’t have Copenhagen’s green wave or the intelligent road design of the Dutch sadly, so I’ll have to waste time at lights regularly). Chances are if you have specific features you want – then there’s a bike for you. Or if there isn’t quite – they’ll be something close and you can sort the last bits out afterwards. I could add a front rack and a steering lock for carry heavy things in a basket if I wanted to (and probably would).
So what’s it like to ride and live with?
The Street Trend is aluminium framed bike and the 7 speed Nexus gears give a good range of choices for steep hills through to descents and in between. The complete bike weight is about 17kgs, which has been fine for me. It’s not as comfortable as Jesper’s own Ebsen bike (the Habana), which is steel, so both heavier and more comfortable but the Street Trend is still comfortable and the riding position has been great (sitting up).
The coaster brake took a bit of bedding in but works well and reminds me of when I was a kid when I had the same type of back pedal brake on my first bike when I was about 5. I loved that bike and the skids I could do. I’ve been restraining myself and not doing skids on the Street Trend though as it’s not my bike but it is tempting.
Jesper also kindly loaned me a pair of Basil Panniers (Basil are a Dutch company that makes a great range of panniers and baskets http://www.basil.nl/).
I took advantage of the panniers immediately to ditch my rucksack and ride in my normal clothes on my admittedly short 2km commute. Being around twice the weight of my other race bikes it takes a bit more to get up to speed but the bike gets along very nicely. I love being upright on the bike, my visibility is better, I’m more comfortable and the number of stupid passes from motorists seems to have significantly decreased. I feel very comfortable on the bike. The Nexus gears are great and I’ve gotten used to the roller rear brake. The knack is to get your pedals into the position you want to push down backwards to brake (and to me that’s about 10 o’clock.) I find I don’t really use the front brake unless I’m holding position on a slope.
The built in lock is fantastic (although I’ve been using a second lock when locking it to a bike rack all day). That second lock just sits in a pannier the rest of the time, which makes life very straightforwards.
The Dynamo light works well but do switch off when you’re stationary. The battery powered attached rear light is fine too – not super bright but has good reflectors built and seems clearly visible. The kick stand is very handy but if I put too much heavy stuff in the pannier – it’s not strong enough to stop the bike from tipping. A kickstand is such a simple addition that means you no longer have to find somewhere to lean you bike against (great for stopping outside a shop).
We only live about 250-300m from a corner shop, which is a distance I’d usually walk (although I have neighbours who’d drive) but I’m now zipping up on the Ebsen. It’s easy, fast and convenient – especially when I can lock the bike right outside the door and put my shopping in the panniers.
The Ebsen Street Trend is a very easy bike to live with and everything seems to work well – but it should given it’s based on a very well proven city bike concept. Yes, you can buy cheaper bikes (you always can). But when you start look at the cost of the 7 speed hub gears, dynamo hubs and wheels and lighting. The built in lock, heavy dutry rack as well as full mudguards and chain guard – it’s not too bad. Also consider that bikes like this are designed to need almost no maintenance and last for many years – it’s not expensive transport. And that’s the thing, this bike is mostly about transport as any good city bike is. You could take it on bike paths and tow paths and maybe even a well surfaced Sustrans path (narrows it down a bit) but it’s an urban workhorse first and foremost and designed for years of weather and very little maintenance.
I’m probably even more convinced about city bikes after spending a few weeks on one than I was before.
Oddly the only thing I’ve been wondering if I would choose differently spending my own money is would I go for an open frame instead of a traditional mens version with a high cross bar? For a bike that’s all about convenience, comfort and ease – lifting your leg over the cross bar when you’ve got the panniers full is actually quite awkward. There are certainly some more unisex models and when you look at cyclists in the Netherlands and Denmark, lots of men are riding step through frames and now I understand why.
In time, I’d probably also upgrade the lights but as Jesper said that’s what people do – choose a spec that’s going to get them the basics of what they want and improve it over time.
I hope that Jesper succeeds and that more city bikes come onto the market as they’re a pleasure to ride and live with. They’re not too slow either. I’ve certainly not found a lack of speed to be a problem when I’ve needed it and I can keep up with slow moving urban traffic easily (and have a better view ahead than before). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Ebsen Street Trend and I hope you’ve found this interesting. I’ll be sad to give it back.
You can click to find out how to order one if you’re interested: http://www.copenhagen-bicycles.com/products/ebs-street-trend
For more on why Upright bikes are great, you might find this an interesting read: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/brent-toderian/upright-bike-vancouver_b_5831752.html
Thanks for reading