STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, England (Reuters) – They may look as if they were plucked straight from a sepia-toned photograph of your great-grandfather’s years as a student at Cambridge, but vintage bicycles are all the rage at the moment.
Traditionally styled bicycles with names like the Roadster Sovereign, Princess, Guv’nor and the Sonnet Pure are flying out the factory doors of England’s longest-running bicycle manufacturer, Pashley Cycles (www.pashley.co.uk ).
Orders for Pashley bikes have defied the recession by increasing 100 percent over the previous year in June, driven by growth in overseas enquiries and a raised level of interest at home for authentic craftsmanship.
“There’s a growing trend for the classically styled bike,” Pashley Managing Director Adrian Williams told Reuters. “And we’ve been doing ‘retro’ for the past 80 years.”
The “sit-up and beg” bikes, so named for the upright position of the rider, mostly come with classic handbuilt frames in black and green, wicker baskets and sturdy construction.
But don’t be fooled by the retro styling and the leather saddles. These bicycles also come with some very mod-cons.
The classic black, five-speed Roadster Sovereign and its female equivalent the Princess come with gears, brakes and the dynamo for the front headlamp built into the hubs of the wheels.
The chain is fully enclosed in its own housing in most models to keep the muck and grit out and the grease in — so no need to tuck your trousers into your socks. A fitted rear lock secures many Pashley bikes with the push of a lever.
Pashley also make a contemporary line of bicycles called “Tube Rider,” various types of tricycles for children and the handicapped and a whole range of popular work bikes for postal workers, shop deliveries and even ice cream sellers.
While Britain buys around 2.5 million bikes mainly from China and Taiwan each year, Pashley makes up about one percent of the British market with fellow cycle companies Brompton and Moulton.
And in a bizarre reversal of a trend, the manufacturer, founded in 1926 by William “Rath” Pashley, is attracting fresh interest abroad, including in the Far East.
“We used to be a bit of a curiosity at international bike shows,” said Williams. “But now they’re starting to ‘get us’ — people are looking for something more distinctive.”
A weaker pound has also boosted overseas enquiries at an already busy time.
Around 25 percent of Pashley’s cycles are exported to over 50 countries worldwide, including destinations as diverse as Abu Dhabi, Sierra Leone and Kazakhstan.
“I’ve even sold three ice cream tricycles to Iceland this year,” Williams said.
At the small factory in Stratford-upon-Avon, where eight to 10 thousand bicycles are made annually, employees are working flat out to process the influx of orders. The manufacturer has had to build additional storage as it deals with rising demand.