Like a dog’s tail communicates its mood, the top tube of a bicycle indicates its intention. A flat top tube implies a bike of classic proportions and dignified handling. A slope suggests light weight and quick acceleration. And a top tube low enough to easily lift your foot to get on the bike means this is a ‘girl’ bike, not a bike designed to be ridden hard by serious riders.
While the purpose of the slip-on frame was originally to fit a woman’s wardrobe (women in pants were a radical concept in the early days of cycling), the gender-specific designation essentially became without meaning now that we all wear what we want. . It’s also ironic that we tend to view level crossings as somehow less serious than top tube bikes, as it was the bikes themselves that upended Victorian conventions of femininity in the late 19th century. century. If anything, the step-through bike is the epitome of the revolution – and yet most laymen still believe today that any bike on which you don’t have to strain a groin muscle. to ride is a bike to pass for one with the UCI. – approved geometry. Go figure it out.
As a rider whose tastes have always been influenced by a racing aesthetic, I admit that I never thought much about owning a pedal bike. That changed once I needed to carry more stuff, and I finally got a cargo bike with a low frame that allowed me to saddle up without giving my kid a karate kick. . In my turn, swinging one leg over a bicycle – something I hadn’t thought much about before – started to feel a little silly and unnecessary. Why would jumping on a bike require Rockette level flexibility? That’s not to say that I was tempted to part with my vast possessions of high-end tubular-frame bikes (you’ll have to rip my titanium road bike from under my cold, dead crotch), but it did. certainly did look at stepper bikes in a very different way. The simple usefulness of the design now seemed elegant to me, and I began to covet them, before finally acquiring a Rivendell Platypus. It’s the first step-through (or “mixed”, or at least mixed) bike I have ever owned for versatile riding, and it kicks the ass.
Of course, the traditional high tube bicycle offers certain advantages; primarily, the simple diamond frame design provides a strength-to-weight ratio that even Festivus Pole engineer Frank Costanza would envy. (Triangles are inherently strong, and a diamond frame basically consists of a front triangle and a rear triangle.) This makes bikes with higher top tubes ideal for competitive applications, where maximum stiffness and minimum weights are essential and where to get on and off the bike is hardly a consideration – excluding cyclocross, of course, in which the gymnastics of disassembly and reassembly is an integral part of the sport. Yet even race-oriented bikes reveal our latent desire to do without the top tubes, or at least rule them out. Mountain bikes started out with level top tubes, but as the sport evolved, builders realized they needed to build extra clearance for emergency takedowns while simultaneously accommodating these. Bouncy forks longer and longer (and evil), so they went down. And in 1998, Giant shocked the cycling world by putting the ONCE team on compact Giant TCRs designed by Mike Burrows for the Tour de France. Granted, the design wasn’t so much about rider convenience as it was about creating a stiffer, lighter frame that could be sold in small, medium, and large sizes like a t-shirt, thanks to all that top tube clearance. Purists were squeamish about the TCR, but the sloped top tube approach revolutionized road bike design, and today it’s hard to find a drop bar bike without one.
While the top tubes of professional bikes have inexorably declined over the past decades, it stands to reason that those of bikes ridden by “normal” people would drop even more drastically. But while stepper bikes increasingly abandon their gender associations, they are still mostly relegated to the realm of the comfort bike, the stylish city dweller, or the fitness bike. Comfort, style and fitness are certainly wonderful things, but there’s also a whole world of spirited driving between cruising and running, and this is where low top tube frames have so much to offer. cyclists looking for sturdy and versatile platforms for fun and adventure. While my Platypus is great for riding around town, it’s also perfectly suited for long rides, accepts all kinds of racks and bags, and is ready for anything other than a technical singletrack or a fully covered group hammerfest. of Lycra.
Plus, once you’ve gotten rid of the dedicated cycling clothing, clipless pedals, and drop bars, the top tube is the next logical step. Is swinging one leg on a traditional frame really a big deal if you’re reasonably fit and flexible? Of course not. Nonetheless, the inviting dip into the middle of the platypus frame calls you like a hotel bed that has just undergone a nightly turndown service, and it allows you to get off the bike to do other things (sneak in in a cafe, jump into a swimming hole, relieve yourself) much easier.
And while non-gender-specific adventure stages may be something of a niche product at the moment, Rivendell isn’t the only bike company embracing the low top tube in the service of high performance. For years, Jones has offered the Spaceframe, touting its comfort and handling as well as its ability to shred crap on just about any type of terrain. There’s also the Soma Buena Vista, a mixed that sits on the racy end of the spectrum for the cyclist looking for something more road bike oriented, as well as Marin’s Larkspur 2 gravel.
In recent years, serious cyclists have come to embrace all sorts of technologies once thought to be soft, such as wide tires and low speeds. Not only do modern materials and construction methods mean that this product is not penalized by weight, there is also a greater understanding that comfort is synonymous with performance. As we let go of the idea that we should all be riding 120 psi jackhammers with corn cob cassettes, we should also at least entertain the idea that our diamond frames can, at times, be unnecessarily inhibiting. The higher top tube may look racy, but why let the dog wag the tail?