Chasing the Mirage

The ongoing search for a Dream Machine took us this weekend back to Bike Gallery to see the Electra Royal they’d brought from one of their other stores for me to try (an aluminum-frame 8-speed as opposed to the steel 3-speed Electra Classic of last week).  The staff – all fresh-faced, long-limbed, mountain-biking types – were very friendly and eager to help, though not as familiar with the classic-styled bikes that I’m in love with.

The Electra Amsterdam Royal was a fine bike and I enjoyed biking up the Park blocks by the museums and theaters, beneath the trees, towards the campus of Portland State very much.

Maybe not so exhilarating as the first ride on the Electra Amsterdam Classic – it was daylight for one thing.  And the element of surprise lacking.  And maybe that’s the difference between steel and aluminum.  Also I had to admit as I rode along that the seat tube position was indeed “very, very slack” as was described last week by Lovely Bicycle.  So slack that after a while I felt I was sitting in a chair with my legs out in front of me trying to pedal.  It’s not a terrible position for riding on the flat, but quickly wearing even on the slight incline up 10th Avenue.

So, over the river to Clever Cycles.  The pleasant fellow I spoke to at Clever Cycles knew at once what I was talking about when I described the kind of bike I was looking for.   And there on the floor of the showroom they had an Azor WorkCycle Secret Service.  Despite repeating the mantra, no such thing as the perfect bike, no such thing . . . “ I was still hoping that the Secret Service would be near enough perfect for me.

My husband rode a Brompton - a rival to his Bike Friday? "Very possibly. It's a great ride. You want to try?" But the seat is positioned almost? actually? higher than the handlebars - not this girl's dream anyway.

But the Secret Service?  Oh, yes.  The leg position much more directly under the body.  Nice upright position.  And the Brooks saddle – leather with no padding at all – was more comfortable than any of the carefully constructed women’s saddles I’ve tried over the years.  I loved the look of the white tires.  And appreciated the double kick stand, the attached tire pump, dress guard, and chain case.  And fenders.  And mudguard.  I know, I know – these are all window dressing – but I could see myself growing old gracefully on this bike.


More than anything it was the smooth ride that wooed me.  Accustomed to a stiff aluminum frame that registers every change in the road surface, this ride was more of a glide.  The only disagreeable was that the handlebars were a little too low – probably because the bike frame was just not big enough for my 5’11” frame.  We’d had to raise the seat several inches.  And the style itself is more compact – and probably a little too crowded for me.  The Secret Service has less space between seat tube and head tube, the man helping us explained, which is part of what makes it lighter than its grandmother.  The Oma, which we’d seen next to it in the showroom, has a longer wheel-base as well as thicker tubes.  The Secret Service is lighter – not much – but lighter and would be a grand bike for a shorter rider.

After biking up Hawthorne to Salmon, looking for hills (which were not as difficult to climb with this much heavier bike as I had worried), it was with some regret that we returned to Clever Cycles.  Our helpful and knowledgeable guide had set up three other bikes for me to try as well – a sporty cherry-red Breezer, a silvery beach-style Gazelle, and the Oma.  He said he’d check for a larger frame on the Azor Secret Service.

The Breezer Uptown 8 step-through – no.  Lovely color but the ride-position was almost as bent over as on my hybrid. Someone else will absolutely love this bike.  I took a turn around the side street and brought it back.

The Gazelle Bloom 28″ was a nice size – if anything, too big.  I felt seven years old riding it around.  An especially long wheel-base allows lots of room. Really a fine bike, but – I could not love this bike – not for deep nor technical reasons but just because the styling was too beach-comtemporary with a big poofy plastic seat splashed with a big flowery design.  I felt silly riding it.

“Oh, and we can only get the Secret Service in a step-through in a 57cm,” was the news when we got back. So much for that contender for Dream Machine.

We’d spent a couple of hours already – on a day that we’d planned other important errands – and none of these bikes, nice as they all would be . . .  for someone else . . . were going to do for me to continue dreaming about.  “We’ve got about twenty Retrovelo actually waiting on the dock for their paperwork,” said our helpful bike-expert.  “And by comparison to the WorkCycle they’re downright sporty.”  Which would help get me up hills, though I kept remembering one of the comments on the Lovely Bicycle post about the perfect bike:

The “perfect” bike is the one that gets you where you are going. Once upon a time, when I was touring in the Benelux, on my “perfect” touring bike, with wide range derailleur gears and carefully selected gear throughout, I met a pair of Dutch bike tourists. . . . “Don’t you find these hills difficult with these bikes?” I asked. “Oh, yes, the hills,” replied one ?Dutch rider, “well, you just push a bit harder, and then you get to the top.” (Anonymous – Val)

And sporty is not necessarily what I’m looking for.  Anyway, “Well, we’ll have to come back,”  I said.

And that’s what this quest is all about.  More test rides.  More dreaming impossible dreams.  I asked about the Pashley, which they could order – sight unseen – for me.  “Sportier than the Oma,” said the guy helping us.  And I know from pictures they’re beautiful bikes.  But as the Pashley’s largest frame (22.5″) measures smaller than the Azor Oma’s largest (61cm), which we had decided was the size I’d want, I couldn’t see risking the blind order of a Pashley without a test ride first.  “Maybe I could find one to try in B.C. or Alberta?”

The closest Pashley I could try would be down in southern California.

And the mirage recedes always a little further away.


4 thoughts on “Chasing the Mirage

  1. thanks for dreaming. a tech note: the secret service you rode was a 49cm, not 57. so we can get a bigger one. do be sure to try the Oma when next you visit!

    • It was incredibly fun – I meant to take my time and really enjoy the searching process for months and months but then I rode the Oma and they were discounted 10% that week only . . .

      I’m not entirely used to the 2 websites either. 🙂

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