Cycling is good for you, and although road bikes are immense fun, if you really want to get fit then I suggest 40lb of British steel with three gears and living somewhere built on seven hills.
To what am I referring? Well, to my new acquisition the Pashley Princess Classic. I took her out for a ride around Edinburgh on Sunday morning and relished every moment. I even had a cabbie give me space, more space than any cabbie has given me before in fact.
Maybe it’s the riding position, maybe it’s the not looking like a cyclist thing. I don’t know, but although I’d like to think the tide was turning there is a big bit of me that doubts it. I’d like to be wrong, very wrong.
For a little comparison – my Brompton weighs in at around 12kg, my carbon road bike is 10kg as set up right now, and the Pashley is 18kg without the basket or shopping. The Brompton has 6-speed gearing, lowered for the hills. The road bike has 27. The Pashley has THREE gears. The Brompton and the road bike have rim brakes, and the Pashley has hub-brakes. All three are adjusted to fit me, although in Brompton terms that means where you put the saddle and not much else. The road bike has a shorter stem, a raised angle on the stem, and the seat is adjusted to fit. The Pashley has had the seat adjusted and the angle of the handlebars.
Which is fastest? The road bike, by a country mile. Of course it is, and it’s the easiest on the hills with its multiple gears and the triple front chain ring, plus I have clip in pedals which allow more efficient power transfer. Which is the most convenient for travel? The Brompton as it folds away and can be carried easily on public transport, put in almost any car, and even popped in a flight case (large suitcase) and taken on holiday. Which is the most convenient for the city? I would say the Pashley, it’s polite over cobbles, has the best upright visibility, the most luggage space, and the least maintenance. Which is the most fun? Well, that’s a hard one, because it depends on what you want to do with it, but I do smile more on the Pashley and the Brompton than the road bike. All three make me happy though.
Which gets you the most fit? Well, all cycling will help with your physical and mental wellbeing, and all provide you with a form of exercise while you are using them. Even an e-bike will aid your physical and mental health, contrary to some it is not ‘cheating’ it is ‘enabling’.
Getting fit is often about pushing your body just a little bit more by adding resistance, distance and duration in small incremental steps. Moving from a car to walking and cycling will get you fit, and if you don’t overdo it then you’ll reap the rewards without injury. Cycling will get you fit quite quickly, even if you’re only using a bike for the short trips in your everyday life. You can even get fitter without even noticing!
Which of these will get you the most fit? Well, that depends on which one causes you to use it most, and what you do on it. They all will, but differently. The road bike will encourage more miles, whereas the Pashley and the Brompton will encourage more cycling where you might have otherwise used a different form of transport. For me, a pure road bike is a leisure cycle – no luggage, no mudguards, nothing practical for everyday transport. But that is purely how I use it. I push my body hardest on it, and for longer, so when I have the time and the inclination this is the bike that I can get fittest on, the quickest.
The Brompton is designed for being used with other transport options; by car, train, plane etc. It accompanies you on the longer parts of the journey and is then unfolded to do the city bit. Now before you all start shouting, I know people use them for a LOT more than this, and I know people tour on them and allsorts. I have considered it myself. But they were designed to compliment city travel and commuting. They’re also perfect for people with limited storage space. This is a do everything bike, and it will get you fit with repeated use. Think more of repetition of short duration.
The Pashley is a bike that replaces other transport. It has a very unique position in that it copes with everything you would use you car for within a town or city. The all-covered mechanics of it means you don’t need ‘special clothes’ and can cycle in anything you fancy. The basket and rack/pannier options mean you can carry a remarkable about of stuff. That could be shopping, or it could be work related. It could be anything. They were the original cargo bike really. Will it get you fit? Yes of course it will, because you can use it every day and you’re pushing 40lb around town and up and down hills, with your body and your energy.
Which is the most comfortable? Brompton and road bike tyres are inflated to around 100psi, which makes them roll better buy reducing contact surface area. This also reduces grip a little, and shock absorption. The Pashley’s tyres are inflated to 60psi. It also has a sprung saddle which adds further to absorption. No, it’s not the same as suspension, but it also doesn’t have the downsides to suspension. The way it is built makes it very robust, but also very heavy by modern bike standards. Is this a problem? Well, no, not really, because the gearing suits it and it suits its uses. You’re not going to be quick, but then it’s transport in a city and nobody is moving quickly in spite of what they may hope or think. You also ride it differently, you look around you a little more because of the leisurely pace and you can hold conversations on it. Perhaps the bike was the original conversation hands-free.
The Dutch have them in their thousands, because the Dutch don’t see themselves as ‘cyclists’ they are just people who happen to use bicycles as the most efficient, economical, and environmentally friends form of everyday transport. They also have very good life expectancy and low rates of early death, cancer and so forth. They also have less obesity, which in turn also contributes to longer life and better health. Bicycles have a long history and they’ve come a long way in their design, but this basic open frame step through steel design has changed very little in the late 1800s. This is a design which is now over 100 years old, and it still works.
A bike is a wonderful thing, and your choices are as wide ranging as the uses are. The choice is yours, but don’t blame me if you end up with three (or four, maybe five).