A bicycle should be a part of your life, an object you use everyday; one that you understand how to ride, one that becomes an extension of your body, and something that you know how to fix and care for. We haven't yet mastered the bicycle life here in the UK, but on a recent trip to Denmark I came to understand the potential of bicycle design, what it can do for us as individuals and for the wider communities in which we live. There is, I feel, a space for the perfect British bicycle, which centres around our local needs and aspirations.
Typical Danish bikes in Copenhagen
If you think of a country that has a distinct and well-established cycling culture, odds are it’ll be Denmark. Copenhagen is full of bikes, most of which seem to adhere to quite similar design principles. Without getting too much into the technical nitty gritty, their design can be summarised thus: a traditional steel tubed frame, easy to make and very durable. Upright riding position and ‘slack’ geometry, creating a stable and comfortable riding experience. Just one gear or concealed hub gears, keeping maintenance to a minimum. Full road bike size wheels, keeping your options open for new tyres and inner tubes. Mudguards as standard, allowing the bike to be used in all weather. A fold away kickstand and integrated lock, letting you prop and secure your bike anywhere.
Danish people don't seem to want to worry about their bicycle. They want it to work every time they jump on it, for it to rarely break down and also be able to withstand daily use in the harsh winters with gritted roads. Their country is flat and they lock their bikes outside their dwellings. They don't need a light bike for climbing hills or something that’s easy to carry up the steps to your flat. They spend a lot of money on their bikes yes, far more than the average UK bike buyer, but they understand the need to invest in quality – something that will last and not let them down. Bicycle lanes are a huge part of the infrastructure and a majority of the urban populations choose to travel by bike rather than car or bus. This has led to cleaner cities, a more healthy population and very little congestion. The bicycle is working here.
Look again to Europe and to Denmark’s neighbour, Germany, and you’ll find another distinct yet very particular cycling culture. Here, the trekking bike rules – think of roughly-welded aluminium frames, triple chainrings, heavy puncture-proof tyres, dynamo lighting (designed to strict regulations, of course) and rear-view mirrors. In much of Germany, outside of Berlin at least, cycling is a mostly leisure activity for those with a bit of spare cash for the requisite high-quality pannier bags and handlebar grips. Germany is also one of the key hubs of the growing e-bike market, thanks in part to this leisurely approach and also prompted by the country’s hillier landscape.
A functional and fully kitted out typical German trekking bike
Keep heading south to Italy and things change more dramatically. A combination of strong national heritage, some beautiful landscapes and, perhaps, the more passionate national character makes Italy the home of the very beautiful road bike. These days we’re talking high-end carbon fibre frames, shiny Campagnolo components, skintight team replica jerseys and razor-sharp tan lines. Bikes like these are designed to be ridden hard and fast, fuelled by copious espressos and overflowing machismo, and taken up the high mountain passes of the north. Leisure doesn’t come into it, nor even pleasure – beautiful suffering is the name of the game.
Head on over to France, and the typical image of a bike you might conjure up could be of a beautifully slender, pastel-toned, steel-framed and wide-tyred wonder, made for leisurely touring through the vineyards, loaded up with leather trimmed pannier bags and a host of intricate racks for fixing useful things to. Beneath the curious glamour, you might find some rare tube diameters and component fixings, making repairing and maintaining your vintage French steed a bit of a puzzle. Most of the bikes you see ridden in French cities seem to be old, a testament of their build quality, and brand loyalty to the likes of Peugeot and Gitane.
A classic Peugeot Mixte, inspiring a lot of what we do here at Temple
And then of course there's us Brits. Our topography and roads vary wildly. From the steep streets of Bristol, to the winding lanes of the countryside, the long straight flats south of Manchester and the traffic-heavy multi-lane roundabouts of London, the UK proves a challenge to the bike designer. A bike that can handle all of this needs to have versatility as its fundamental design driver. We’re all riding around on mountain bikes, racing bikes, fixies, town bikes and every other style of bike. There’s none of the consistency you see in Copenhagen, the pedigree from Italy, the practical nature from Germany or the subtle charm from France.
So what do we think our ‘Perfect British Bicycle’ should be? This is something we’re always working on at Temple, and we’re constantly developing our ideas, modifying our existing designs from the feedback we get from our customers, prototyping new concepts and trying to come up with a solution for a bike that almost anyone would want, use and enjoy. We currently produce a range of different bicycles for a variety of specific uses, but our most popular models are the ‘all-rounders’, appealing to urban cyclists, rural cyclists, daily commuters and leisure cyclists. These are the closest things we have to the ‘Perfect British Bike’ at the moment, but we will be developing an off-the-peg model that anyone will feel confident buying and riding. Essentially, we want to get more people enthusiastic about cycling, and sharing in the joys that it brings for many years to come.