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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Step Through's: Geezer Bikes not Girly Bikes

I walked into a bike shop today and was smitten, bowled over. Didn't mean to be, wasn't looking for it, but wow.

I mean, it had me at the chain guard, just look at that. The skirt guard over the rear wheel was overkill. The 7-speed internal gearing told me this was an aspirational bike, something for better-me to hope for rather than for now-me to covet.

I saw it at Mike's Bikes in Palo Alto, California, which is an excellent shop and I really like they way they have their service area laid out. I've never seen anything like it, their bike service area is a lot like a car dealership's service area; it's in an outlying building with a waiting area, couches, a fitting room, you can see into the shop space. It was a very thoughtful execution, something unique.

But I must say, the industry at large is dropping the ball by playing distaff in the marketing copy on step-through frames. For instance, the write-up on this bike begins, Classic lady bike. Pure elegance for the sophisticated lady. Classic style with perfection in every detail. Classic skirt guard built into the frame. Front logo made from raw copper, which will age nicely with time.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It's not "ladies" buying step-through frames, you sillies. It's aging baby boomers, that's why they've stopped calling them girl-bikes and started calling them step-throughs and yet you can't help but call them lady-bikes.

When you pitch it as a "ladies" bike, you alienate the women who might otherwise have bought it, and you alienate the men who would have liked to have bought it. Here's the thing: all those baby boomers, that huge, self-focused, wealthy demographic wave of discretionary income, are getting old and stiff and they're not hiking that leg over the old diamond-frame as easily as they used to. Want to sell 1955 Biff a bike? Then it's a step-through.

P-shaw, you say? Ask Rivendell. Rivendell made a bike called the Betty Foy, but they made the mistake of positioning as a women's bike. It's an excellent bike, and men wanted to buy it but very few closed the deal.

So Rivendell painted the frame differently, made a few adjustments to the equipment, and sells the same bike as the Yves Gomez, and they're selling a lot of them (for $225 more) to high-net-worth Boomers who can't get their legs up over the rear seat. Hip replacement? Bad disc? Just plain old? No problem! (whisper) Did you know that Yves Gomez was the man who taught Don Juan how to make love to a woman? He also told Juan Valdez to go into the coffee business! And this is the type of bike he had made for himself, no shit!

Marketing. But I'd bet that the next bike I purchase, if I ever buy one again, would be a step-through - because that leg swing is getting a bit more ridiculous for me, too. It's all about my generation.

(Once, there was something called the Smothers Brothers' Comedy Hour on something called TV, and though it's hard to believe it was considered very controversial in its day) This video captures an odd bit of TV history, worth reading and then watching again.


  1. As a young male, I much prefer a step-through frame. I could never understand why the "men's bikes" had a bar which was perfectly placed to cause intense pain in a particularly sensitive area of the male anatomy. It's certainly not because the step-through frames aren't strong enough (maybe historically this was the reason, though).

    Funnily enough, when hiring bikes in the Netherlands, I experienced a curious cultural distinction between the regions. In the south (Rotterdam, Den Haag, Maastricht) both my partner and I were always both given bikes with step-through frames, whereas in the north (Assen, Groningen) I was given a "men's bike" and my partner was given a "woman's bike". When I asked for a step-through frame it was a source of mirth to them! (But not unfriendly.)

  2. I've been looking for a step through bike myself. When I load up the rear rack with shopping I can't swing my leg over the rear and onto the bike.

    I'll either end up with a Dutch paastorfiets or TTY to cobble a mixte together -assuming I can find a frame big enough for me. (6'2").