Despite my background as a road and time trial cyclist I have become increasingly interested in town cycling especially since having children. I am convinced that town and city bikes are the way forward for everyday transport for everyone, including off duty bike racers. My new bicycle shop “There” will make this the focus of its offer.
I found the Pilens when I was researching the business and was attracted at first by their simple business philosophy. They are also some of the nicest people I have worked with and these two factors encouraged me to import their bikes.
On first sight the bike looked good, even in the box. It is very continental but clearly not Dutch and has a distinctive utilitarian look. The powdercoat finish is plain but very high quality. It comes equipped with LED rear and hub dynamo front lights, a stand and a sturdy rack with sprung luggage holders. The hand painted Pilen on the back is a nice touch.
Despite setting my road and fixed bikes up to within a millimetre, I just guessed this before realising the setup is really quite important on the town bike too. After I spent some time getting it right it felt brilliant. The bars are now set way higher than anything I have ridden before and the saddle is slightly nose up which looks a bit odd but feels right and is really, really comfortable. I know why racers put up with discomfort and its part of the deal, desirable even. What needs challenging perhaps is the notion that cycling itself is inherently uncomfortable. It’s not. Not on one of these anyway.
These bikes don’t want to go fast. They are made for going placidly amid the noise and haste and not getting involved in it. Trying to race around on it is futile and it does not reward extra effort. What it is good at is going at its own pace and once this penny drops it really works. Having said that I got from my home in Brentford, west London to Look Mum No Hands in Clerkenwell in 55 minutes without a sweat, not slow! When it is rolling it is a pleasure to ride and handles beautifully. It feels graceful and elegant and a lot more secure than my road bike or the fixed.
The steering is light but precise although it is difficult to no-hands. The sprung steering damper may account for this but unless you want to do a lot of no hands this is not a problem. I threw it about a bit but it never slipped or wobbled at all. Interestingly for a town bike it is really easy to wheelie. The only restraining factor here is the risk of trashing the rear mudguard when stepping off the back. Consequently my wheelies were quite modest.
The build is first class and everything on it is the best. The stainless handlebars and spokes and of course the Brooks saddle. This Brooks saddle is a bit uncomfortable at first but it softened up a lot quicker than the B17 I bought in May. I have done about 5 hours on this bike and the saddle has noticeably taken my shape and now feels a lot better. The springs help a lot particularly in this upright position. A manufacturer I spoke to recently told me that many people complain that the Brooks is uncomfortable and they don’t spec it. I think this is a mistake and first time Brooks user can be reassured that a few hours or relative discomfort will buy comfort for life, a good trade off in my book. The mudguards are coated steel and very effective. I was disappointed when it rained while I was out on the Pilen but it revealed the slightly fuller front guard that kept the water from the sturdy Schwalbe tyres off my feet.
The roller brakes are sure and effective without being snatchy. I quickly got used to the rear coaster brake and rarely used the front. In fact I got quite fond of the coaster and really miss it on the Bakfiets cargo bike I am demonstrating now. This is a matter of personal preference and the Pilen is available with a hand operated rear although I would encourage buyers to think about a coaster. The lights are excellent. The standard LED at the rear is as bright as all the others you see and the front hub dynamo is nice and bright even at slow speeds.
I really grew to love this bike and I want to keep it. The women’s version has a metal basket which is handy but is otherwise the same apart from the frame. I admit I have yet to have a go on the Pashleys, dutch bikes et al but this compares very well with a top end Gazelle I tried recently. Considering how long this bike will last with only a bit of basic TLC it is great value at £650 although I would go for an eight speed for the extra £50.
In time I will get someone more objective to review all the “There” range but for the moment I am delighted with the Pilen and encourage anyone to come and have a test of your own.
Jim Kent – There Cycling