Wheels, etc: The Pendleton Somerby
An Olympic star? Or a cupcake on wheels?
Price: £279, Halfords
Frame size: 16in or 18in steel/aluminium frame
Wheel size: 700c
Weight: 15.1kg (approx)
Gears: 7 gears, Shimano Revoshift gear shifter
If you close your eyes and imagine the kind of bike design that world and Olympic champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton might come up with, it's fair to say that you won't be picturing anything that looks much like the Pendleton Somerby, one of a new range of women's cycles she has designed in collaboration with Halfords. In pastel blue, with cream mudguards and tyres, brown faux-leather saddle and handgrips and sit-up-and-beg handlebars, this is definitely more Call the Midwife than Tour de France.
The new range is designed exclusively for women (as opposed to being an add-on to a men's range). The bikes are stripped of the extraneous whizzy features and multitudinous gears that Halfords' research tells them we don't want and are aimed at beginners and those returning to cycling (which is perhaps a chivalrous way of saying middle-aged women, like me).
So here I am, squarely in the target market. And yet. I find I resist the whole concept of a "women's bike" (this one is "perfect for shopping"). The truth is that one of the things I find exciting about cycling is that it brings out a competitive, macho side I never knew I had. I feel no desire to add the Somerby's optional wicker basket and fill it with flowers. My cycling fantasies run more to gleaming, Hoxton-friendly fixies than the girly Pashleys upon which this bike seems to model itself. But that's the fantasy. In humdrum reality, my main ride is a bulky Boris bike. At home, I ride a hybrid in an entirely gender-neutral colour, whose styling hints at mountain-biking aspirations. I bought it from a colleague on the grounds that it was unlikely to get stolen. Of its 21 gears, I use seven. It's a women's bike, but at least it's not a girl's bike. The slightly sportier white Dalby, another of Pendleton's three designs, might be a little bit more up my street.
So how do I feel about riding this cupcake on wheels? First impressions are not so good. Image problem aside, there's quite a bit of rattling considering it's fresh from the box and I immediately notice that it's a bumpy ride. It's hard to forget this because he vintage-style chrome bell rings whenever I go over the tiniest bump – ping! ping! I set out on the 5.5-mile ride home from the office with my thumb jammed on the bell to silence it.
That's when I discover the upside. The Somerby is suprisingly nippy. Whether it's down to a light frame or Pendleton had more of a hand in the technical side than she admits (she says she leaves that to the experts), I can get up real speed and feel in control. Gear changes are smooth. There are seven gears, though on the flattish terrain I ride regularly I can't imagine ever having a use for gears one, two and three, and I could definitely have done with an eight and nine to give me a bit more oomph when riding through London's parks.
So ultimately, the Somerby won me over. Bumpiness aside, for the price it's a practical choice for non-techie, lycra-shunning women commuters. Or shoppers, even.
The Poppy by British vintage-style experts Pashley comes in, erm, blush pink and pastel blue. It cost £450, for which you get classic good looks, three gears and a steel frame, which makes for a slower-but-sturdier ride.
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