Three Variants Of The Roadster Bicycle
A roadster bicycle is a type of bicycle that was once common worldwide and is still common in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Europe. During the past few decades, traditionally styled roadster bicycles have regained popularity in the Western world, particularly as a lifestyle or fashion statement in an urban environment.
There were three basic variants of the roadster.
Known as the English roadster, the classic gents’ roadster features a lugged brazed steel diamond frame, upright North Road handlebars, a single gear ratio or three- or five-speed hub gears, a chaincase, steel mudguards, steel cranks, 711 mm × 38 mm (28 in × 1+1⁄2 in) (ISO 635 wheels), Westwood rims, and frequently a Sturmey-Archer hub dynamo.
The Roadsters Weight
Roadsters weigh upwards of 18–20 kg (40–45 lb). They are designed and constructed primarily for durability; no serious attempt is made to save weight during the design or construction process. Roadsters were frequently the mounts of police officers and rural letter carriers. The ladies’ model, a variant of the roadster, is rarely referred to as a roadster.
The primary differences are that continental bicycles tend to have a higher handlebar position for a more upright riding posture and are more likely to have rod-actuated drum brakes. The roadster is very similar in design and intended use to the European city bike, a model still used in Germany, Denmark, and, most notably, the Netherlands (see below).
The Ladies’ Roadster
By the 1890s, the ladies’ version of the roadster design was largely established; it featured a step-through frame instead of the gentleman’s model’s diamond frame to allow ladies to mount and ride their bicycles with ease while wearing dresses and skirts, and it frequently included a skirt guard to keep dresses and skirts from getting tangled in the spokes and rear wheel.
Similar to the men’s roadster, the frame was made of steel, and the handlebar and frame placement provided an extremely upright riding position. Although the early models had front-spoon brakes, subsequent models had much-improved coaster brakes or rod-actuated rim or drum brakes due to technological advancements.
The ladies’ roadster,
The ladies’ roadster, known as an omafiets (‘grandma bike’) in the Dutch language, has been a national icon and is even used by men in the country; for this reason, some call bicycles of this design Dutch bikes. Despite being largely out of style in England and many other Western nations as the 20th century went on, the ladies’ version of the roadster has remained popular in the Netherlands to this day.
The classic omafiet, which is still being produced in the Netherlands, has not changed much since 1911. It has a single-speed gear, 711 mm × 38 mm (28 in × 1 1/2 in) wheels, a black painted frame and mudguards (with white blazoning at the back of the rear one), and a rear skirt guard. Newer models, whether they are painted a different colour, have aluminium frames, drum brakes, or multiple gear ratios in a hub gearing system, will all share the same basic dimensions and appearance.
The equivalent of the Dutch gentleman’s roadster is known as the “grandpa bike” or “stadsfiets” (sometimes known as the “city bike”), and it resembles the gentleman’s roadster in England and other countries with a “diamond” or “gents'” frame and most of the other features.
The Sports Roadster
The sports roadster, also called the “light roadster,” is a variation on this style of bicycle. It usually has a lighter frame and a slightly steeper head- and seat-tube angle of about 70° to 72°. It is also typically equipped with mudguards, comfortable “flat” North Road handlebars, cable brakes, and three, four, or five-speed internal hub gears.
Sports or light roadsters were called “English racers” in the US because they were equipped with 660 mm × 35 mm (26 in × 1+3⁄8 in) (ISO 590) traditional English size wheels with Endrick rims, which resulted in a lower bottom bracket and a lower stand-over height. These bikes also weighed about 16–18 kg (35–40 lb).
The Club Sports
Club sports, also known as semi-racers, were the top-of-the-line bicycles of the day, so named because they were the prefered model among the numerous active cycling clubs. A typical club bicycle would have Reynolds 531 frame tubing, a narrow, unsprung leather saddle, inverted North Road handlebars (also known as drop bars), steel “rat trap” pedals with toe clips, 5–15 speed derailleur gearing, alloy rims, and light, high-pressure tyres measuring 660 mm × 32 mm (26 in × 1+1/4 in) (ISO 597) or 686 mm × 32 mm (27 in × 1+1/4 in) (ISO 630).
Many club bicycles were single-speed machines, usually with a reversible hub: single-speed freewheel on one side, fixed-gear on the other. Derailers began to be used on this type of bicycle starting in the early 1940s. Club bicycles were primarily intended for fast group rides, but they were also frequently used for touring and time-trialling. Some club bicycles would likely have a more exotic Sturmey-Archer hub, perhaps a medium- or close-ratio model, 3 or 4-speed, with very few even being equipped with the rare ASC three-speed fixed-gear hub.
The History Of the Roadster
For many years after the invention of the motorcycle and the automobile, adult roadster bicycles remained the main mode of transportation for adults. Major manufacturers in England were Raleigh and BSA, though other manufacturers included Carlton, Phillips, Triumph, Rudge-Whitworth, Hercules, and Elswick Hopper. Roadsters made up the majority of adult bicycles sold in the United Kingdom and in many parts of the British Empire from the early 20th century until after World War II.
The sports roadster, also known as the “English racer,” was brought to the United States after World War II and quickly gained popularity among adult cyclists looking for an alternative to the conventional youth-oriented cruiser bicycle. Although the English racer was not a racing bike, its lighter weight, tall wheels, narrow tyres, and internally geared rear hubs made it faster and more adept at climbing hills than the cruiser. In the late 1950s, American manufacturers like Schwinn started making their own.
“lightweight” versions of the English racer.
The Utility Roadster
The utility roadster saw a sharp decline in popularity in Britain in the early 1970s as manufacturers focused on producing lightweight (10–14 kg or 23–30 lb), reasonably priced derailleur sport bikes—essentially, slightly modified racing bicycles from the era. This was due to the boom in recreational cycling.
The roadster was nearly extinct by 1990 when annual U.K. bicycle sales reached an all-time record of 2.8 million, nearly all of which were mountain and road/sport models. In the 1980s, riders started switching from road-only bicycles to all-terrain models, such as the mountain bike. The mountain bike’s sturdy frame and load-carrying ability gave it additional versatility as a utility bike, usurping the role previously filled by the roadster.
However, by 2014, most Asian countries have moved on. Roadsters are still made and used widely in China, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Pakistan, and other places. Hero Cycles, Flying Pigeon, and Sohrab Cycles are among the leading roadster makers.
During Vietnam’s long war for independence, structurally reinforced roadsters were often used to haul munitions and supplies across the countryside. Generally, the bicycles were so heavily loaded that they could no longer be conventionally ridden and were pushed instead.
Roadsters in modern society
The roadster remains the most common bicycle used for daily transportation in many parts of the world. Manufactured in large quantities in Asia, they are exported in large quantities (primarily from China, Taiwan, and India) to developing countries as far afield as Africa and Latin America.
Two of the world’s top producers of roadster bicycles are still Eastman Industries and Hero Cycles in India, while China’s Flying Pigeon was the most widely used vehicle globally.
The roadster is by far the most widely used bicycle in developing countries, especially for those living in rural areas. This is because of their relative affordability, the strength and durability of steel frames and forks, their ability to be repaired by welding, and their capacity to carry large payloads.
The Black Mamba
The roadster is known as the Black Mamba in some parts of East Africa, where it is used as a taxi by enterprising cyclists and drivers, or boda-bodas. Black Mambas are frequently customised, repaired, and made locally for low costs. In an effort to further lower the cost of the Black Mamba, engineers have started testing 3D printed bike parts that comply with CE regulations.
With the notable exceptions of the Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Belgium, along with other parts of north-western Europe, traditional roadster models became largely obsolete in the English-speaking world and other parts of the Western world after the 1950s. However, they are now becoming popular again in many of those countries that they had largely disappeared from due to the resurgence of the bicycle as local city transport, where the roadster is ideally suited due to its upright riding position, ease of use, low maintenance, and capacity to carry shopping loads.
Updated versions of the classic roadster are made by a number of manufacturers in the United Kingdom (like Chasely Cycles), and many more are imported from the continent (like those from Dutch manufacturers like Royal Dutch Gazelle). In Australia, roadster use has increased, especially in Melbourne, along with the growth of local bicycle companies like Lekker and Papillonaire. Many vintage ones from the 1950s and 1960s are being found and restored.
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