Willow Basket Included

Pashley Princess

Pashley Princess (note dynohub in front)

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.


8 replies
  1. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Since you asked…

    Yes, I have a Pashley Sovereign Roadster. I love it! It gets me everywhere in style and comfort.

    Right now, here in Toronto, the roads and bike lanes are wet and nasty with the usual layer of winter salt. The full chaincase, fenders and coatguard keeps my nice work clothes clean and protects the chain from the salt.

    Maintenance? Zero. The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres have never, ever got a puncture. Never. Ever. I’ve never had to clean and lube the chain. Love that chainguard.

    Internal hub gears and internal hub brakes have also had zero maintenance. The internal front hub dynamo has powered the front light – also zero maintenance.

    The bell is at two-tone “ding-dong” bell. Retro, very nice, I’ve had lots of comments on the bell.

    And everything I’ve described is standard equipment on the bike. I bought it, got on and rode off.

    In the English roadster style, the bottom bracket is rather high and the wheelbase rather long. I like this because it puts me in a nice high riding position with excellent elevated sightlines. I can look over other traffic, “read” what is going to happen and react accordingly. Pashley describes it as “a whale among minnows.” I agree.

    Who would want to change it? It is geared for a rather flat city like Toronto. If I lived in a very hilly region I would probably change the sprocket to lower the gear range. But it is just fine for where I live here. Or if I had to haul it up and down stairs, its size and weight would be an issue. But the bike room in the building where I live has level street access so that isn’t an issue for me.

    Post-purchase I added 60L Basil panniers. That gave it an impressive load hauling capability. When I’m doing “big” grocery shopping I’ll also put a basket on the rear rack and carry shopping bags on the handlebars.

    I got the large frame with the double top tube because I am rather tall at 6′ 8″ (200 cm). This makes it look somewhat like the Chinese “Flying Pidgeon.” But that’s because the FP was designed and patterned after English roadsters.

    In short, I love my bike. It came with everything I need as standard equipment and takes me everywhere I want to go in style, comfort and clean.

  2. John
    John says:

    Hmm…If Pashley makes up about 1% of the UK market of 2,5 mio bicycles that means that sell 25.000 bicycles per year and in the article it is mentioned that they produce 8-10.000 bicycle in Stratford that means that 15.000-17.000 bicycles are made in the Far East..I knew it!

  3. eddie
    eddie says:

    I have an old pashley roadster with the rod brakes. I really like the ride. 28 inch wheels give it a different feel. I also really like how pashley is trying to create a luxury bike.

  4. Lovely Bicycle!
    Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I am very happy that Pashley is doing well, and that there is an increasing interest in classic English bicycles! Pashley is a company whose business ethics and conduct I admire very much.

    My husband and I each own a Pashley: He the Roadster Sovereign in black and I the Princess Sovereign in green. The husband is crazy about his Roadster; it is the bicycle on which he commutes to work year round (including in the recent blizzard!). I am quite happy with mine as well, but its geometry and performance are not as perfect for me as my vintage Raleigh DL-1 Lady’s Tourist.

    Also, the trivia/facts-lover in me can’t help but think that it is not quite accurate to say that Pashley has continuously been making these bicycles for the past 80 years. Traditionally, they have specialised in vendor transport bikes. As far as I know, they did not begin making the loop frame bicycle like the Princess until the 1970s.

    Still, it is great that the beautiful design of the Princess is seducing people all over the world to embrace the classic lugged loop-frame bicycle. Hopefully the trend is here for the long haul.

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