What makes a bicycle great?
I remember asking my grandfather the same question about wine before I had amply sampled the wares myself. “Do you enjoy the taste?” was his response.
Of course there is more to great wine than the taste, and great bikes are not only about the ride.
But most of the bikes that I have come across that strike me as exceptional, like my latest, Semmler and Matthiassen find, are a joy to ride as well as to look at.
This steel framed Copenhagen package bike from the 1940’s or 50’s amazed me with its intuitiveness, a testament to fine bike building.
Heavy by nature – the bike weighed around 18 kg– the front wheel tracked effortlessly and yet the wide-spread of the curved handlebars made this beast agile in crowded city streets.
A simple but elegant coil spring mechanism connecting the front fork to the frame tube assisted this near perfect steering balance.
Built to Last
Another mark of greatness to me is the longevity or enduring capacity of a bike, which really comes down to the quality of material and workmanship involved.
No doubt there are any number of excellent quality bikes being produced today. But I would be very surprised if any will be as enduring as the hand-built steel framed behemoths of the 20th century.
I picked this bike out of the trash, literally.
Repairs included: straightening a bent steel rim, replacing a punctured tire tube , tightening and oiling the coaster brake, greasing the frozen kickstand and oiling the rusty chain, adjusting the gorgeous full-faced chain guard, and replacing the decrepit original sprung leather seat with a brand new red acrylic vintage style saddle (of Chinese origin).
That’s it, for 75 years of service!!!
The tires, though probably not original, were still serviceable and certainly 30 to 40 years old based on the thickness and quality of the rubber.
Alas, this was number four in my personal bike collection after my city bike, my mountain bike and my roadbike – in addition to other unfinished projects – and did not fit in the cave.
With regret I bid goodbye to this great bike produced some 65 to 75 years ago, but rest content in the knowledge it continues to roll happily through the streets of Geneva today.