Having scoured the internet for "Classic Bicycles" "Real Bicycles" & "Gentlemans Bicycles" etc. etc. etc. I decided that it pretty much came down to one of the two marques above.
I cannot deny that my leaning in the early stages went towards the Velorbis. It felt a little like I imagine it feels for a man intent upon selecting a new whore....the old one has proved serviceable, it has taken good care of you, you are comfortable with what is being offered but their is a yen for something new...the grass is seen as greener on the other side of the hill.....the lure of a sophisticated well put together European model having slightly more kudos than the old familiar British version. Once more, a bit like choosing a lady of the bed-chamber, the front of house element is important however much you try to tell yourself it is not, so I was a little put off by a certain dismissive arrogance displayed by those offering the Velorbis for sale. On entering a certain London cycle boudoir I was met with a deep sense of sympathetic, haughty, distain by a salesman who had watched me secure my ageing Pashly to railings. I grant you that it's probably not the best move to take leave of your old mount at the entrance to a place where you hope to find a new one,...... but needs must!
So, to the Velorbis; the model I selected was the rather impressively named Churchill Classic......forgive me but the name of "Churchill" seems an out and out marketing ploy intent on pulling on the heartstrings of forty-somethings English speakers and readers of Military History. I'm not certain if the bike is marketed under this name across all European countries....if it is, I imagine that sales might not be going too well in Dresden?
The Velorbis website (http://www.velorbis.com/) I viewed I can only describe as "Nazi Bike Porn"..... with strapping Aryan chaps resplendent in their blondness with leggy short skirted females looking ripe for the bedding.....the website is certainly slick and stylish and works very well....sucking you in. The bike itself on first viewing is I have to admit a tad disappointing. The luscious pictures of well oiled tools, smooth paint, glossy leather and rugged chiseled components on the website is, in my humble opinion, not supported by the reality. Pushing the whore analogy further, a bit like entering a room to find that the advertised 21 year old leggy goddess is a 39 year old stunted hag!
Well...not like that really.....I exaggerate for comic effect, but it was just a little disappointing. The badge struck me as a rather curious amalgam of pseudo-euro-royalty-coat-of-arms and an alpenstock badge. Unperturbed I decided to get up close and personal and examine the merchandise from the bottom up...so to speak. The first thing that struck me was the chain guard. Velorbis have made much on their website of the fact that theirs is metal, powder coated rather than plastic. The point I thought of a chain guard is that it protects not only the rider from muck but the chain too....but the Velorbis chain guard is not a complete cover...only covering the off side of the chain and not the rear most section. While fine for keeping muck of the spats...it's not going to help much with keeping detritus off the chain. I am sure that the company has an explanation for that but if you are going to have one it might as well go the entire distance?
Other components appeared to be well chosen.....the bike had a sturdy tight feel to it, the frame a taughter prospect than the Pashley, and all had been well assembled. However, it somehow lacked the heft and quality I expected to find given the description on the Velorbis website. Paintwork was good without being great, a couple of blemishes from spraying here and there, the rims looked solid & the wheel rims and tyres well chosen ....but nothing was really out of the ordinary, and while the leather handlebar grips were hailed by the manufacturer as a luxury feature I wondered at their longevity and durability after a few seasons sweat and grime had penetrated their initial lustre?
So what of the test ride? Well gentle reader I cannot lie. I failed to make one. The sniffy attitude of the sales person, the rather lacklustre overall impression of the bicycle upon me, the uninspiring ambience of the machine, all conspired to put me off it.......but there was more to it,....something else.....something about the "look"...it tried hard...but somehow it just did not add up to the mount of an English gentleman. Perhaps it really is a well put together sophisticated European model that would have provided me with the ride of a lifetime, but in it's soul it did not have the character I craved.....and in the end, for my money the Pashley delivers a better total package.
So like the conservative (small "c") I am, I return to the familiar.....the Pashley may have a plastic chain guard (but it works superbly I have come to discover), it may not have leather hand grips, the frame might be considered rather soft and lazy, and in the quality of its seperate parts it might very well not be up to the Velorbis...but we do not choose our mounts for such reasons alone. Taken as a whole in it's quintessentially English character the Pashley was and still is the ride I desire. It may not have the gimmicky sophistication of a European Boutique Hotel, but it has the class, comfort and refinement of a fine British Club.....and at almost two hundred quid cheaper, I still have change to get my leg over with a rather glamorous Latvian blonde who is advertising her services in the neighbourhood!
Bon chance mes amis!