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If You Fancy Classic English Bicycles, How About a Tweed Ride?

As the unabashed lover of the classic English 3-speed, I often wonder: What could be better than cruising along city streets, enjoying the Cadillac-like glide of steel, the comfortable sprung seat and simple but effective 3 gears of my Raleigh?

Well, riding it in the company of other 3-speed enthusiasts, all dressed in tweed, of course! Thus, the modern "tweed ride" was born.


Before we delve into the rides though, a brief history of classic English steel bikes is in order. Back in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, Britain was the world's largest producer of steel and British steel was the pride of a nation. English steel bikes provided comfort and stability for commercial deliveries, everyday transportation and recreation. Comfortable and made to last for decades, they were woven into the fabric of British society and provided much-needed mobility to the working class.

Tweed ride, Washington, D.C.Manufactured from the 1880s through the 1980s, they remained virtually the same in style and function for more than 100 years. Some notable brands you might recognize include Raleigh, Rudge-Whitworth, Humber, Phillips, Sunbeam, Triumph, New Hudson, Hercules and Robin Hood.
 
Built as single-speeds or, most commonly, internally geared 3-speeds, these bikes came in Roadster, Sports and Club styles. Most featured an upright ride (the exception, Club bikes, featured drop bars) and a leather saddle (sometimes sprung).
•    The Roadster was the heaviest model, popular in rural areas for its ability to handle dirt roads, cobblestone streets and foot trails. Used by mail carriers and policemen ("bobbies"), they sported the iconic full chaincase and full fenders to protect uniforms from greasy chains and splashing rain. Large 28" wheels and heavily sprung seats gave hours of efficient, comfortable riding. Other features: rod brakes, front and rear lights, a handlebar bell and racks or a basket for carrying cargo.
•    The Sport bike was a slightly lighter version of the Roadster, with smaller 26" wheels, a lightly sprung seat and usually a hockey-stick-style chainguard. The most ubiquitous style, they were ridden by the urban working class for transportation and recreation.
•    Finally, a Club bike was the lightweight, racing cousin to the utilitarian Roadster and Sport models and was stripped of most everything extraneous. Many featured a fixed-gear hub (aka "fixies") that prevented the rider from coasting, as the pedals moved with the wheels. Sporting dropped bars, narrow leather saddles (with no springs) and pedal cages, they were built for fast-paced club rides, where camaraderie and friendly competition were the rule. Beautiful metalwork in the form of incredibly ornate lugs often graced these bikes. Revered British builders included Carlton, Hetchins, Bates, Claud Butler, Falcon, Flying Scot, Ephgraves and Ron Cooper.

Tweed ride fashions, Washington, D.C.The first Tweed Run debuted in London in 2009, created by members of an online forum called, "London Fixed-gear & Single-speed." Dedicated fans of the old English steel bikes, they met to celebrate the pure joy and culture of the ride.

The idea caught on. Now, thousands strong, with rides across the globe, tweed rides and runs have become an under-the-radar hit amongst bike enthusiasts.

But riding such classic bikes begs for more than everyday street clothes or cycling gear common to modern-day riders. So, with a nod to tradition and British finery, those who mount such regal steel steeds don their best period-specific riding attire.

And what's more English than tweed? From tweed jackets, caps, jodhpurs, vests and skirts to argyle sweaters and socks to leather dress-shoes and lace-up boots (sometimes finished off with a fine English pipe), this crowd takes its attire seriously.

Don't own a stitch of tweed? No English steel bike in your garage or shed? Not to worry. All bikes and tweedy expressions are welcome! A tweed ride is really all about the Spirit of the Slow Spin, of celebrating the culture of leisure, camaraderie and finery of all stripes.  

Tweed ride, LASo, haunt your local thrift store or your closet and create your own version of fine bicycling attire. Then dust off your old steel (or aluminum, carbon, titanium, bamboo or penny farthing) bike and come join the fun—tempered with just a touch of British decorum, of course.

With tweed rides sallying forth in cities like Kansas City, Flagstaff and Seattle, as well as far-flung destinations like Sydney, Paris and Tokyo, with more added every week, you're likely to find a tweed ride in your neighborhood (or close to it). And, be sure and tarry awhile—post-ride festivities usually include some toe-tapping music, awards for coolest bike, dandiest dresser and sometimes, best mutton chops (of the facial hair variety). And, no British romp would be complete without thirst-quenching libations of the celebratory sort… Pimm's, anyone?

To find out more about upcoming tweed rides—both in the US and abroad—visit The Tweed Ride Report

And if you're prone to fancy frippery or more interested in vintage lightweight racing rides, check out the annual Seersucker Ride of Washington, D.C., or the monthly Rose Bowl Vintage Ride in Pasadena, Calif. Either is sure to spin your crank.

Whether dapper chap or dashing dame, Tally Ho! Oh, and don't forget your ascot.

Tweed ride video by Tim Sessler, courtesy of dandiesandquaintrelles.com.

Tweed ride still photos, top and middle: Washington, D.C. (Klea Scharberg); bottom: Los Angeles (Boban James). Below: Indianapolis tweed ride (Jeremy Albert).


Posted on at 5:08 PM

Tagged: Cycling, English steel bikes, fixies and tweed ride

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Ann B

I love it. I had no idea these rides existed. Can't wait to see one in action here in Seattle. Thanks for the enlightenment, geargirl!

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SteveSgt

I wonder if this is a hint that REI is about to start carrying Pashley bikes?
[ http://www.pashley.co.uk/ ]

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