The sit-up-and-beg Pashley Prospero, and its female counterpart, the Pashley Princess ( both from pounds 329), are the epitome of John Major warm- beer English summers: with wide leather saddles to accommodate comfortably spreading bottoms, roller lever brakes (the only British bicycle still to include these) and a ding-dong bell for blind country-lane corners. The Princess has a wicker basket - handy for transporting lashings of ginger pop - though the chaps on the Prospero will have to go dry, as their model does not include one. (In the brochure, the Princess's three gears are referred to as "mercifully uncomplicated". None such mention is made in the butch list of features for the Prospero.)
Despite the mild sexism of the marketing, David Ross, sales and marketing manager, says that at the recent Country Living Fair in London, "there was no criticism" of his products. He was overwhelmed at how women kept on telling him: "I love your Princess." One can picture them on their Princesses, from Hammersmith to Hawick: long denim skirt (safely guarded against oil by the built-in full chain-case), cheerful, chunky patterned cardigan and a child strapped into a child seat on the back.
Pashley is also the only British manufacturer still to make a classic child's ball-bearing tricycle upon which Noddy would look very fine. As Enid Blyton's adventures seemed to always take place in the long, hazy days of summer, the telephone lines at the factory in Stratford-upon-Avon go red hot as soon as the first ray of sunshine hits the country. Mr Ross arrived late to our meeting, heaving himself out from a pile of Post-It messages from cycle dealers who have just woken up to British Summer Time. The factory is prepared to some extent, on the floor, there are Princesses and Prosperos at the ready, stacked together in serried ranks like the parking lot at a Chinese factory. On the whole, however, it works to order, hand-building each bicycle on-site from raw tubing.
One of the latest lines epitomises the Janus face of the company: occupying a "niche" market in nostalgia, while contending with the modern all-round appeal of mountain bikes. Based on the bicycles used by paratroopers in the Second World War to get them from their landing place to the front line, the Pashley Paramount was launched to coincide with the VE Day commemorations last year as - "an easy-riding town bike that combines style, comfort and practicality". Nothing too controversial there: it looks a simple, sturdy creature, in sensible black, with no pretensions. Almost the same bike, the "Tube Rider", however, comes in whacky electric blue, with a yellow saddle and invites one to "explore the innermost limits of fun": the advertising leaflet shows it next to a "tube" wave. Presumably one is meant to ride this bike down to the beach, rather than put it on one's surfboard. The Brooks B66 leather saddle with coil springs "for natural comfort" of the Paramount, becomes a hard-hitting "no compromise" saddle for energetic young surfing dudes.
David Ross reckons that Pashley makes about 12,000 bicycles a year in its Stratford-upon-Avon factory, though many of these are what are termed as "work bikes". The Royal Mail and "about a dozen" police forces use Pashleys to go about their business on solid models that almost invite the rider to whistle a cheerful tune. Companies with large plants use the work bikes for getting from A to B in a quick and, as Mr Ross puts it, "environmentally friendly" way, though, in the case of Pashley's customers in the oil and car fields, we're talking gestures. On the day I visited, the finishing touches were being made to tastefully painted violet and cream bikes with large plastic front paniers ordered by Portsmouth University as a fleet to enable students to carry their books around campus. One wonders how long they will last there before turning up in odd parts of the country.
The company also makes tandems, unicycles and adult tricycles for the leisure market but the bicycle which has attracted most attention in recent years, is the Moulton (from pounds 549), designed by Dr Alex Moulton, who sorted out the suspension on the Mini and the new MGF car. This is rather Dr Moulton's thing, as the bike's selling point is the marvellous front- and back-wheel suspension that allows such a small-wheeled bike to travel on almost any terrain and, although it looks, to the ignoranti like a close cousin to the frustratingly framed "shipping bike", the Moulton holds the land speed record of 52mph for an upright bicycle. So great is the devotion it engenders, that there is even a Moulton bicycle owners' club on the Internet, discussing details such as wheel pressure and loading weights. One imagines that an information exchange for the Princess would be conducted en passant in firm handwriting on blue Basildon Bond, then popped in the basket and posted when collecting young Henry from school. Nostalgia is still what it used to be.
For a brochure and stockist list call Pashley, 01789 292263.Reuse content