Thursday, February 21, 2008

Porteur for the Masses

Joel Metz's Kogswell P/R. Click the pic to to Joel's site.

I'm not sure if this is a prediction or a hope or just wishful thinking, but here it is: I think 2009 or 2010 will deliver a mass-produced porteur-style bicycle. By "mass-produced," I would like to think Trek or Specialized, but I'm not that delusional. My buddy Alex has put his money on Surly or Raleigh. Raleigh may be a good bet considering the interesting bikes they've put out in the last couple years, namely the low-trail One-Way and the tourer/uber-commuter, Sojourn -- both of which ship with a Brooks saddle.

Anyway, here's why I think a porteur is ready for the mass market. I think it's an ideal "first adult bike" bike. By that, I mean, the porteur, if executed correctly, could be the bike that the 18-35 year-old, non-bikey folks would buy to run errands and be comfortable with for longer rides. And I think you could do it right for around $1000.

To be clear: I'm not talking about a take over of the mass produced comfort bikes, really, I'm talking about a blip on the overall industry of mass-retail bikes. But look what's happened with fixed gear bikes. Just about every mass-manufacturer has a fixed bike in the game now; just because they are shipping as single-speeds, doesn't alter the fact that the aesthetic/drive behind the bikes is the fixed sub-culture. Let's just hope that the mass producers don't over style the bike as they have with the fixed thing and forget the elements that make a good porteur work: namely low-trail and integrated front rack.

But, for style, the porteur delivers. Check out Joel's bike in the picture at the top; the classic porteur-style bars, reverse brake levers, front rack. It just looks cool, not mean-racey-gonna-intimidate-you-cool, but sensible, urbane, and smart cool.

Alex Wetmore's Kogswell P/R

While the bars, levers, and rack look cool, they also are designed for hauling loads up front. Put a net up there and your messenger bag or any bag, and the bike handles amazingly well with a load. People that buy the porteur can begin to replace short car trips the day they bring this bike home.

Joel's bike doesn't have this, but I think it's important: the bike should ship with an internally geared hub for zero-maintenance and ease of use. Again, talking to Alex about this online, he's convinced that the Nexus 8spd or the Sram 7 speed are the money hubs for this bike. Jamis has shown you can package the nexus in a mass-produced bike and still keep the cost down. In fact, Alex points to the Breezer Uptown as a good example of a bike with an internally geared hub and a generator hub-driven light for the $1100 price point.

The integrated fenders are a requirement as is a generator hub and light. The tires should be slightly puffy for a comfortable, but quick ride. Unlike a "comfort bike" or even the style of the Breezers, which, in my opinion sit you too much upright and make longer trips (>5 miles or so) arduous, a well-designed porteur puts you in a position on the bike that is suitable for longer rides.

Seems like this could ship for the $1000 price point if spec'd smartly.

If we get the Trek Porteur, let's remember where this started as we read the finely honed PR for it: this bike started with the French. In the 30's or so.

But looking at the history in the US, Joel Metz has been riding these bikes for over a decade. He has thrown in tons of input into Kogwell's design of the P/R, which is the first non-custom production versoin of the Porteur. It would be hard to imagine the P/R at all with out Alex, Mark, and Jan at Bicycle Quarterly publishing a bunch of data, photos, and history of the porteur design. Really, the Kogswell P/R has started the grassroots movement of a production porteur, and Matthew Kogswell deserves credit for actually sticking to it and bringing this bike to market.

This last shot is Adam Alpern's Kogswell P/R. Click the pic to go to his Flickr site -- great photos and great hand-made messenger bags.


Anonymous said...

Fisher Simple City?

John Speare said...

The Fisher has showed up on one of the bike lists. I can't find geometry for the bike, but to my eye, the HT/ST angles look pretty slack (low 70's?). Pretty sure that's a high trail bike and no fun with a load up front and really no fun if you want to ride more than a few miles. I would love to be wrong about the geometry in this case. The thing I like about the more traditional porteur geometry is that it's a geometry that works well for long-distance riding too. Kudos to Trek for putting the fenders (though the front one is for looks only; your feet will be soaked if you ride that through a puddle) and the chaingaurd and the internal hub.

joe said...

see here's the thing, why make a practacle do everything bike when you can build a long bike for hauling that is to big anything else meening you need to buy three bike instead of one. viva la consumer but I hope you're right

Alistair said...

Hey John,

good post and I hope you're right. The porteur type bicycle is just such a useful way to get around and carry useful amounts of stuff. Mine is my go to bike every day. It's to the point where I can't seem to own a bike without building a front rack for it. I hate carrying bags on my back now.
As far as Trek making a bike bike like this, well, it's already been done.