City Bike Reviews
City Bike History
When it comes to defining the city bike, it starts to get a little more complicated than defining other types of bikes, like the mountain bike or the BMX bike. For example, when people hear or read the words “mountain bike”, they almost immediately get a visual image of what the term means. This is because there is only one common design of mountain bikes, no matter where you go.
However, describing a city bike is not as easy as the first example, because there are actually two city bike models that are recognized all over the world. These are the European and American city bikes. Both models are built and used for a similar purpose, which is allowing the owner to enjoy his bike for daily riding in urban areas and terrain, with the capability to carry a wide range of loads if necessary, in almost all weather conditions. And of course, the maintenance requirements of a city bike is generally lower than that of any other bike, due to its all-weather design and enclosed chaincase.
Since the purpose of city bikes are similar, whether in Europe or America, the real difference between these city bikes lie in the design. So let’s take a closer look at the two models to understand them better.
The European city bike model has so very little variations that it can safely be considered as a standardized design. It has a common set of features that can be found in probably 99-100% of all city bikes in Europe. The Dutch term “stadsfiets”, which literally means “city bicycle”, can be used to describe the common essence of the construction used in all European city bikes. Indeed, the Dutch bicycle is the most common example of a city bike that is widely-used in European countries, because it sports all the standard features that European riders expect from their bicycles.
A “stadsfiets” is recognized as a city bike with the usual set of features such as the enclosed chaincase, skirtguard, mudguards or fenders, hub gearing, o-lock, dynamo hub and pre-installed dynamo-powered lights. The bike only came in either a singlespeed or three-gear model. The frame is traditionally made of steel and is usually painted black. And of course, the overall design of the “stadsfiets” is specifically made to ensure an easier “get on and go” process.
This is made possible by the classic step-through frame that allows for faster and easier mounting and dismounting. This step-through frame is also called the “ladies’ frame”, and the bikes that used it were called “ladies’ or women’s bicycles”, particularly because the unique frame allowd women to easily mount and dismount the bike without ripping or stretching their skirts or dresses. The step-through frame also made bicycle riding more convenient and safer for the elderly, since they did not have to exert much effort to get on and off the saddle. There are also “stadsfiets” with a “gentleman’s frame” for the men, which meant that the bike had a frame with a high crossbar. However, the gender-distinction between the two frames never really took hold of the majority of bike riders in Europe, since both men and women frequently rode city bikes with step-through frames without fear of being discriminated. Thus, the gentleman’s frame design became more of an option rather than a requirement for men who wished to buy a European city bike.
However, the modern European city bike design nowadays boasts of additional features to make it more suitable to those with more contemporary tastes. You can now buy European city bikes with more color options than just black, including pink, ivory, green, brown, blue, and red. There are also options for 8-speed hubs, aluminum alloy frames, suspensions, fancy dynamo lighting with motion-detection technology, kickstands, and even childseats. The idea of these added features, however, is not to detract from the traditonal “stadsfiets” design which made the European city bike a well-loved classic, but to add to the utility and efficiency that these bikes are known for.
In the United States, however, the term “city bike” is more loosely used to describe any bicycle that is mostly used for commuting or utility purposes. These American city bikes or hybrid bikes carry a lighter frame than their European counterparts, and it is also common to see multi-speed gearing on these bikes, as opposed to the “stadsfiets” singlespeed or 3-speed hubs. The differences in both weight and gears in American city bikes allow them to be used in multiple terrain, whether as a stop-and-go utility bike in highly-urbanized areas or as a fast commuter bike that can be comfortably ridden in high-speed roads. To further lessen the weight on these bikes, some of the features that are usually found in European city bikes have been scrapped, and you will only usually see fenders, a luggage rack, and sometimes a chainguard on the American bikes. Front and rear lights are even optional, although recommended.
The huge weight difference between the European and American city bikes also account for the contrasting methods of storage. In Europe, the heavy, steel-framed, full-featured city bikes don’t allow for easy carrying when you want to store them inside your house, much less carry one all the way up a staircase when you live in a multi-story apartment building. For this reason, European city bikes are most often found outside offices and residences, locked for safety and enduring the elements, even during rough weather. This may also account for the sturdier, all-weather build and installed chainguards of European city bikes that also serve to protect the bicycle chain from dirt and water.
American city bikes, however, are generally lighter than their European counterparts, so they can be easily carried inside residences and offices, as well as up the stairs if necessary. The high rates of bike theft and vandalism in the United States also make the storage of bicycles inside residences and offices mandatory, so this may also be one of the reasons why American city bikes are generally lighter that those in Europe. Bike manufacturers in Europe, however, are also building folding bicycles for those who are looking for a lighter city bike that allows for easier storage and transporting. These folding bikes usually have most, if not all of the features that are found in their “stadsfiets” cousins.
As mentioned above, the term “city bike” by American standards can refer to a road bike, a mountain bike, or a combination of both, but which can describe any bicycle that is used for commuting and carrying cargo. The American-style city bike is also recognized as a hybrid bike, or at least a popular variation of the hybrid. There are several variations of hybrid bicycles, all of which are built for commuting and carrying loads on a variety of terrain, including paved city streets and dirt pathways. The actual definition of a hybrid bike depends on the purpose it was built for, so there are no real distinct lines between the variations. For example, a commuter bike and a comfort bike are both recognized by the industry and consumers as separate models built for separate purposes, but a comfort bike can also be used for commuting, and a commuter bike can also have the features that are present in a comfort bike. In addition, both these models are variations of the hybrid bike.
The commuter bike is an early variation of the hybrid city bike, and was already being manufactured and ridden in urban areas all over the world even before the term “hybrid bike” was invented. It sported a lightweight frame that was specifically built for traveling over short or long distances on paved roads, with the ability to carry light loads on its racks. However, modern commuter bikes are now equipped with better, sturdier tires and a stronger frame that allows the rider to travel comfortably over unpaved roads, even with heavier cargo. Modern commuter bikes also feature fenders, front and rear lighting, and various attachment points for cargo baskets or panniers. There are also options for an enclosed chainguard, as well.