A Bike that defies categorisation

David Arditti has written an excellent post Vole O’Speed: A post about bikes. In one part of the post he compares the category of a “Road Bike” and a “Hybrid Bike”. My Bike for Life is a Bike that defies categorisation in these ways and deliberately so.

In my opinion the categories of bikes sold in most British shops do not reflect the needs of reliable, convenient, long lasting, pleasant transport.

  • “Road Bikes” are impractical, their 23/25mm tyres do not cope with cycle tracks, potholes and daily use carrying loads. They are designed for speed, not comfort and so you rarely see anyone riding them in normal clothes. They come without mudguards (and often without the space for mudguards to be fitted), racks, lighting and pedals that can be used with normal shoes.
  • “City Bikes” are poor relations of real Dutch bikes. They frequently don’t have the features that make Dutch bikes reliable, long life, comfortable and practical. Eg chain guards, hub gears, dynamo lights, hub brakes.
  • “Mountain Bikes” are also impractical for transport in many ways. They come with knobbly tyres which while often quite puncture proof are very slow on roads. They come without racks, lights, mudguards and chain guards. They have low gears designed for climbing a mountain off-road but irrelevant for getting to the supermarket or work.
  • “Hybrid” is such a vague term that it can include what is essentially a road bike with flat handlebars (and with nearly all the disadvantages of a “road bike”) or a mountain without knobbly tyres, to a more traditional town/city bike (although typically without hub brakes or lighting).
  • “Dutch Bikes” we are starting to see a number of places selling Dutch Bikes, these are much closer to being what is needed. However, Dutch bikes are not perfect everywhere in the UK. Many designs assume fairly flat terrain (heavy and few gears) and good quality infrastructure (typified by not enough volume of air in the tyres and by a very relaxed riding position which I think works best when in a more cycle friendly environment).

It was partly in response to this that I came up with the phrase “A Bike for Life” when I started looking for a practical bike that defied these categories.

By a “Bike for Life” I mean:

  • A bike that will last a lifetime
  • A bike that is completely practical for everyday life
  • A bike that is reliable for everyday life
  • A bike that enhances life

Lets look at the features of that make a bike for life fit these criteria:

Last a Lifetime

  • A steel frame because unlike Carbon or Aluminium it can be repaired (plus with the added bonus of a lower environmental cost)
  • Components that are chosen for long life that can be serviced and won’t break. So handbuilt wheels with big tyres, hub gears, hub dynamo lighting, disc, hub or roller brakes (that work for ages without adjustment and which don’t wear out rims)
  • Security fastening of wheels etc so that the bike can be quickly locked more securely (I use Infinity3D)

Completely Practical

You need to be able to ride all year round for normal tasks in normal clothes. This implies:

  • Hub Dynamo lighting: always there, automatic, maintenance free. I use a Schmidt hub dynamo and eDelux front light (on two bikes) and a B&M rear light (on my Bike for Life).
  • Racks: Ideally front and rear. I have chosen Stainless Steel racks from Tubus for strength and long life.
  • Either a chain guard (to keep oil off your clothes) or a belt drive (no oil in the first place). I chose the belt drive.
  • Full length mudguards, preferably with mudflaps to keep you dry.
  • A stand for easy parking.


  • Puncture proof tyres on strong wheels. So 35/40mm tyres with loads of puncture protection (I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus).
  • Hub gears which last far longer and require far less maintenance than do derailleur gears. My (expensive) preference is for Rohloff for performance and reliability (amongst other things moving the indexing into the hub reduces gear cable problems)
  • Hub, Roller Brakes or Disc brakes (hub gears are the lowest maintenance, disc brakes the most powerful)

Enhances Life

This will be more subjective, but for me it includes:

  • The bike being great to ride, so not frustratingly slow or heavy.
  • The bike being comfortable despite the poor road conditions and infrastructure (big tyres, seat post suspension, ergo grips, Jones Loop H-Bar handlebar).
  • Supporting local manufacturing which helps with community, with our own economy and the environment. For me that included Shand Cycles, Hope, Middleburn, Brooks, Carradice, Atomic22, BridgeStreet.

Bikes for Life

I would be so happy if a shop would start selling “Bikes for Life”, by using less exotic components than I chose it should be possible to achieve the magical £1,000 Cycle to Work Scheme limit.

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  1. While I love the idea of your Bike For Life and have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your choices in building the bike – and your reports of using it, I don’t think there can just be one bike for everything.

    Think if someone advocated A Pair Of Shoes For Life. One wouldn’t want the same shoes for ballet dancing as for hill walking!

    So I have different bikes for different purposes. An old “hybrid” (if you’ll forgive the word) for shopping, going to the town centre, and so on; a mountain bike for off-road adventures; a touring bike for, well, touring; a folding bike for “multi-modal transport” (sorry about the jargon); and, at the age of 65, I’ve recently bought my first road bike (Italian and beautiful!).

    I love ’em all!

    • Ian,

      I quite agree. I still have multiple bikes. Bike for Life, Fixie, Cargobike, Full suspension MTB, Folding Bike, Recumbent Trike, Recumbent Tandem Trike – all of which are shared with others in the family. Also a unicycle which is not shared (or used much).
      I also hanker after a racing road bike.
      However, in terms of practicality the Bike For Life is so good that I don’t use any of the others as much now.
      It is a fantastic tourer, it is great for going to the shops and into Leicester, I take it to London by train when I go (fortunately rarely).
      The problem is that most people never see a really good practical bike in the shops. They see bikes with no lights/mudguards/racks or floppy 3 speeders with baskets (and in this country bizarrely with V-Brakes!).

  2. A Budget Bike for Life? | 42 Bikes - pingback on December 31, 2013 at 12:59 am
  3. For taking the train up to London, I almost always choose my Brompton. With London Midland (Northampton to Euston) there’s always space for full-size bikes – but with peak-time restrictions. The Brommie can also be taken indoors whether to the Royal Opera House cloakroom or under the table in a pub.

    Back to budget bike-for-life! How about an integrated lock? Or do you think the locking-to-the-immoveable-object with a chain is part of the British (insurance) psyche?

    • Ian,

      When the new secure bike storage opens at Leicester station I will probably leave my bike there and use a Boris bike in town.

      My Birdy folder is a little less compact than a Brompton so I don’t find it convenient enough to carry everywhere.

      I have used the integrated locks. But some kids climbing on my cargo bike broke a spoke with it. I now prefer Infiniti3D to lock components on and a D lock to attach to a rack.

  4. Was going to add that, on the odd occasion when I’ve pedalled over to Wellingborough to take an East Midlands train to St Pancras (your line from Leicester?) a Brommie is essential as those trains’ bike spaces need to be booked, don’t they? [And the fares are expensive too!]

  5. Ian,

    I book tickets using the Southern Railways website not East Midlands. It allows you to tick a box to book a bike place at no extra cost. Always found it ok. But I don’t travel at peak times.

  6. A British Budget Bike for Life: The Paper Bicycle | 42 Bikes - pingback on January 1, 2014 at 2:41 pm

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