Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Step-Through Frame (formerly the “lady’s” frame): Some thoughts & encouragement

When I purchased my last two bikes (the most recent being a 2012 Raleigh Classic Roadster), both times I chose what has become known as a “step-through” frame. When I was younger, these were universally called a lady’s or a girl’s frame—depending on the size. Few men would be caught riding one.

A lot has changed since then…thank heavens.

First of all, I think sex roles have begun to become less rigidly defined. Second, people who either visit Europe or the utility cycling culture there know that the “step-through” frame is not universally viewed as a woman’s bike design. It is commonly ridden by men, and is the basis for a wide variety of town-type bikes, often with a certain elegance built in to the frame pattern. Perhaps another important reason is practicality: the step-through is a lot easier to deal with when riding with parcels, and in stop-and-go traffic.

One of the concerns I had in moving to the step-through frame was strength. I’m no lightweight. I wondered if my being a fairly solidly-built person would mean I could easily break the frame. I was assured by those selling both bikes that I was nowhere near being in danger of that…especially because these were steel-framed bikes. I certainly haven’t had any problems with either bike in riding around town, even with considerable additional weight from items I’m carrying.

Step-through frames allow a person to mount a bike easily. This is particularly true when carrying packages, bags, &c. on the rear rack. Utility cycling really benefits from that capacity. This alone would seal the deal for me.

The step-through frame allows a person to do something else: to dismount easily and safely. Since switching to a step-through, I have given up counting the times when I was glad (especially in city traffic situations) not to have to deal with a high top tube! I can remember some fairly painful outcomes to life with a diamond frame in the past.

Some people express concern that a bike with a step-through frame will be too wobbly. While I have noticed a bit of this when there is extra weight on the bike (packing a great deal of stuff around…and I do mean a lot), it really has little impact on things. The speeds at which a utility cyclist usually travels negates much of the drawback. Probably the only clear downside with such a frame is when transporting it on a rear-mounted car rack: one has to buy (and use correctly) a special adapter that replaces a top tube. It costs extra, but is easy and reliable.

The step-through frame makes a great deal of sense to me on a practical level…and for the future. I can see myself being willing to cycle about when I get older on such a bike more than a diamond frame. This frame style seems much more forgiving of an aging body.

Being a person committed to the “long haul” in life, this matters to me. I once heard that the best thing one can do for the environment is not to purchase a new car. While I’m not sure that is actually true any longer, I believe the underlying ethic—that long-term purchases and a simple, stable way of life is preferable to rampant consumerism—applies to bikes as well.

I made an initial mistake in buying a bike with the wrong geometry a while back, but when I finally found the right replacement bicycle, I stayed with the step-through frame. I am delighted with the look, the practicality, and the message about the nature of utility cycling it sends.

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