Thursday, March 18, 2010

A little rant about Liberty of London at Target, but mostly about bikes

I'm sure you, like everyone else in the blogosphere, has heard and read about the Liberty of London stuff at Target. I had been pretty excited myself, because I've loved Liberty for years, since I found out about it in high school *mumblety,mumbelty* years ago, when there used to be a Liberty of London store in one of the fancy malls up on the Mag Mile in Chicago. At that time, what I really coveted from them was this denim jacket lined in Liberty fabric. I'd still love one of those actually. I'd wear it with the sleeves rolled over a plain white dress during the summer.

And the stuff from Target looked so promising. The gorgeous colors. The wild prints. Oh, my heart sang at the prospects of it all. I'm sure you felt the same way. I know you did. Most of us were out there, first thing Sunday morning, to buy. I got there at about 11 and everything was pretty picked over already.

But honestly, the quality of many things was somewhat disappointing. A lot of the women's dresses were that cheesy polyester chiffon. Most of the dishes were melamine. I guess I won't rant too much about that. I figured that the quality of the fabric and other wares wouldn't be quite up to the full priced Liberty for obvious reasons. Still, I was bit disappointed that most of the sundresses were polyester. As an avid dress wearer, especially in the summer, I was hoping for cotton, because in the summer heat, that polyester chiffon can feel very hot and sticky next to the skin.

Actually, what I want to rant most about is the Liberty of London bike. I've come across more than a few gushing reviews of this, including someone who called it the most beautiful bike they'd ever seen. Really?

I've to come to the conclusion that the person who said that hasn't looked at very many bikes. As someone who loves bikes, who rides bikes pretty much every day, who's owned more than few bikes in my day, the bike itself looks, well, ugly. It's got a very nice paint job. That's all it has going for it. Look at the form of the bike itself. It's ungainly and ungraceful. The tubing that forms the frame is chunky. From the pictures I've seen, the welds look no better than what you'd find on any discount store bike, which is to say, downright awful. The bike just plain doesn't have good lines to it. And that, to me, is more important that a good paint job.

Because if you're actually going to use a bike, that paint job won't last. Or at least it won't last in mint condition. When you ride a bike, things happen to it, especially to the paint. Little rocks fly up from your tires and chip the paint. You accidentally ride over a fresh patch in the road and bits of asphalt or tar fly up and spatter the frame. You lock the bike up and you hit the frame with the lock. Or it accidentally bumps against some thing or another.

A few years back, I had my beloved Country Road Bob stripped down and sent off to be powdercoated. As you can see in the link, I chose a robin's egg blue that is about as lovely as you'll see, with an opalescent finish. Three, four years down the road, and it's chipped and otherwise marred. But I don't care, because you know, I still walk up to where it's locked up and I think to myself, that is one fine looking bike. It's got lovely lines. The tubes curve gracefully. The geometry speaks to me. It looks both sturdy and sporty to me. And every time I see it, I am happy that I own it, no matter that the paint job is looking, well, like you'd expect on the bike that sees city roads every day, no matter the weather.

On the other hand, I don't think it's the most beautiful bike I've ever seen. This bike, to the right is about the most beautiful bike I or you or any random blogger will likely ever see on the street. This bike is the A. Homer Hilsen by Rivendell Bikes. Someone in my building has one. One morning, it was still there in the bike room when I was leaving for work and it was like looking at something that belongs in a museum. Insteady of the catepillars left by cheap welds, it uses gorgeous lug work that is picked out in contrasting colors. Its tubes don't curve, true, but its geometry just sings. The font they use for the name on the tube is artful and the headbadge is a work of art. Do yourself a favor and click through the link to the full listing for the bike. Take in the lugwork and head badge. Then get back to me on how the Liberty bike is the most beautiful bike you've ever seen. Sure, the A Homer Hilsen doesn't have Liberty flowers, but it's got style, serious style and that's better.

Of course, none of this even touches the most important part of any bike- how it rides. The A. Homer Hilsen will ride like a dream, I can guarantee it. It'll be light, fast and comfortable. You'll go for miles without seeming to put any effort into it. Even my Country Road Bob, when it's tuned and the tires are pumped, is a great ride. It's fast and yet I'm still nearly fully upright when sitting in the saddle. The swept back handlebars mean my position is nearly as fully upright as it would be on a cruiser style bike, but the thinner tires and better geometry, plus more efficient gear ratio mean I go faster with a lot less effort.

A lot of people go on and on about how comfortable a cruiser style bike is, and I won't argue that the upright posture and broad seat lend themselves to a certain comfort, especially to someone whose last experience with a bike was a mountain bike where the handlebars are often actually lower than the saddle, which is hard and narrow, so their wrists ached, their seats ached and they went slow and cumbersomely on a bike never meant for city streets.

I fell for a cruiser a few years back and I have to say, never, ever again, especially not a discount store cruiser (like the Liberty bike). They are slow. They're heavy. The wide seat chafes the thighs after more than a couple of miles. The gear ratio is set up for someone without a lot of leg strength to be able to push this heavy thing around without much effort, so it's not very good for going fast. The balloon tires are squishy, which feels good at first, but they make for a lot of rolling resistance, which means it's a lot harder to push them around. They say that an ounce of weight on the rims is equivalent to a pound of weight on the frame, and most cruisers are pretty heavy as is. Like forty pounds of frame. My bike, the Country Road Bob, is around twenty-five pounds of frame, which isn't really light compared to many bikes, but is like a cloud of candyfloss compared to a cruiser. A good, well-designed bike is just easier to ride. You go faster with less effort.

Oh, but Rose, I hear you say. That A. Homer Hilsen is $2000 just for the frame alone! Sadly true. It's my aspirational bike, the one I'll buy someday, maybe when I win the lottery. Actually, if I win the lottery, I'd probably get a custom frameset. But anyway, I heard that, for those who could get them, the Liberty bike was $500 by the time you counted in the extra shipping. And $500 buys you a lot of good, functional and even beautiful bike. My first choice for that kind of money, for someone who likes the looks and comfort of a cruiser would probably be the Electra Amsterdam Original 3. Schwinn also seems to be making a comeback from its days of being a horrible discount store choice. I like the looks of the Jenny. She looks so much like the Schwinn I rode when I was growing up. Or how about a Flying Pigeon, that bike icon from China?

Or spend just over twice as much and your options go through the roof. You could get an awesome cargo bike. Or better yet, a Pashley Princess, which truly is a beautiful bike in all the ways I can think of, as well as being hand built in England since the twenties, a design credential almost equal of Liberty, yes?

Any of the bikes I've mentioned is, to my eye at least, a much better looking bike than the Target Liberty of London bike, but more importantly, they'll ride better and more easily, last longer (do not even get me started on the non-repairability of discount store bikes), and just be an all round better bike than anything from Target. No matter how many flowers it has on it.


Molly said...

I liked the Liberty of London for Target items I've purchased. I have a lovely bucket hat on my head right now in a nice pink print. I have a new gym bag that is a yellowy sunflower print. I got some nice boxers for Brian and a set of gardening gloves. I didn't try on the dresses, but I understand the problem with the lack of cotton.

Rose Campion said...

I'd be lying if I said we didn't buy anything from the LoL Target collection. We bought two of the shirts for Mr. Campion and they're cotton at least, but thinner and more wrinkle prone than true LoL fabric. And I bought a couple of the plastic/melanime bowls for kitty bowls. And I've got some curtains that are supposed to arrive in early April that I'll use for their fabric.

I think the stuff is okay for stuff like home items and maybe some clothes. But for a durable good like a bicycle? No thanks.

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