Saturday, 12 March 2011

Helen Pidd's brilliant article on the Velorbis Victoria Balloon

I know there are not many left-leaning Guardian readers amongst those who glance at my blog, so I'll have to state now that I am probably the only one. Every Saturday I buy and enjoy reading the Guardian for so many reasons, some of which I've already discussed in a previous post. Something I probably didn't mention the last time I brought up my favourite broadsheet, was a regular feature in The Guide, a small A5 magazine devoted to what's on the television.

In the Guide, in addition to finding out what movies are being screened during the week on television and at the cinema – and, up until recently, a brilliant column by the great Charlie Brooker – is something entitled Michael Holden's All Ears. It is, arguably, one of the funniest columns in journalism at the moment and if you want an example, click here to check out this Saturday's edition, it's very, very funny. Alright, I know there's nothing worse than having other people's sense of humour forced upon you (and I'm not saying you'll laugh as much as I always do) but give it go, it's great.

Something else that makes the Guardian on a Saturday praiseworthy in the extreme – apart from the property column, Snooping About, in the magazine, and the celebrity Q&A (this week it's Sarah Brown, Gordon's other half) is that, in addition to car reviews, also in the magazine, there's occasionally reviews of bicycles.

This week, Helen Pidd, has penned a review of the Velorbis Victoria Balloon. First, what a great name for a bicycle. It sounds like something out of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.

The Velorbis Victoria Balloon – my type of bike.

Anyway, Pidd lives in Berlin – a great city – and there are a lot of cobbled streets there which, she points out, are not good for cyclists. So, rather than ship over her 'skinny-tyred road bike', she decided to buy the Velorbis Victoria Balloon, a bike from Holland. With a ladies frame and high, chromium handle bars, this is what you could call a 'proper bike', the sort of thing that, by rights, should have a basket. I'm sure there must be a men's version.

Here's the bloke's version! Look at those tyres!

Pidd likes the bike because the tyres are 'as fat as three bratwursts' and won't get stuck in the tramlines of the city and, no doubt, make easy work of the cobbled streets. The problem is the price – £695! Mind you, I can talk. I bought a bike for £684 a few years ago and it too has huge, bulbous tyres that, like Pidd's new bike, would make easy work of cobbled streets. In fact, I'd love to ship my bike over to Berlin just to ride the cobbles on it. One day, perhaps.

And here's Helen Pidd! If you Google her, there's loads of stuff.

Pidd employed similar reasoning behind her purchase of the Velorbis Victoria Balloon as I did when I purchased my Kona Scrap. "There is no getting away from the fact that this is a big, heavy, expensive bike – £700 is a lot to spend on something too sluggish ever to transport you very far, very fast. But – and this is a big but – it's both beautiful and indestructible." My sentiments exactly about the Kona Scrap, a bike a friend of mine refers to as my Dewhurst bike. He means that it looks like a butcher's bike and he's right, it does, but I love it.

Tyres like bratwursts and begging to be abused – my £700 Kona Scrap.
Note the Spongy Wonder saddle, which I added.

Pidd's love for the Velorbis is infectious. "If you are forced to keep your poor bike out in the cold, this is the model that says, "It's OK, don't worry about me." Except that, knowing it cost me the best part of £700 would make me worry and produce countless sleepless nights – perhaps not so much in Berlin, but over here in Croydon I wouldn't fancy it's chances.

The Velorbis is hand-made from German steel and is coated with a special rust repellent, says Pidd, and I love the fact that she's detected 'a masochistic streak' in a bike that dares its reader to take it out in the snow (who would ever do that with a brand new bike?). I remember, when I was about 10 years old and the proud owner of a brand new Moulton Mini (yes, I know, they're naff, but it was my first ever bike and I loved it). There was no way that I was taking it outside in the rain for fear of getting it dirty.

The Velorbis sounds like my sort of bike, although it only has three gears (good old Sturmey Archer) and a 'coaster brake' that, says Pidd, 'kicks in when you pedal backwards'. Excellent stuff! The Velorbis dispenses with a conventional rear brake – giving it even more cred. There's a Brooks saddle too and, something else you see little of these days: a dynamo lighting system (now that would be useful for somebody like me who risks life and limb (and the threat of the law) by riding out without lights in the early morning darkness of the winter months.

Pidd clatters along the cobbles of Kreuzberg in 'a regal riding position' and claims that the bike is 'just the job'.

Bicycle: The Complete Guide to Everyday Cycling by Helen Pidd is now available. It is published by Penguin and costs £14.99 – or £11.99 if you buy it from the Guardian bookshop by clicking here. 

If you want to buy a Velorbis bicycle, click here!

1 comment:

  1. Its a beautiful looking bike thats for ure. I am in PAris on the 23rd, and I am looking at Singer Cycles. Built by hand by Alex Singer they are very retro 1970s still racers and tourers. Very good looling machines but at $4000.00 euro each a bit out of my league