Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vintage Snobbery: Ted Baker - Quella Vintage Style Racers

Regardless of what some flawed self-assessment quiz says, I think that in some ways I really am a Cycling Snob. I just saw that Ted Baker (the upscale British designer clothing line) and Quella Bicycles (maker of British urban-fixie bikes) have teamed up to make "vintage-style" racers. "A thoroughly modern take on an Italian classic" the Quella website declares. Lugged frames, chrome-moly steel, Brooks saddles, and (mostly) Campagnolo components -- how could a retrogrouch find something to criticize? At a quick glance, maybe nothing. But look closer.

Just wondering. . . will that copper plating turn green with age? Notice that the bike comes with DiaCompe 610 centerpull brakes -- which should mean plenty of tire clearance -- but then look at that paper-thin gap between the rear tire and the seat tube. Might as well have used Campy's tire-skimming skeleton brakes. Those are listed as 28 mm tires, which isn't bad, but don't expect to get anything bigger in there. A little extra clearance never hurt anyone. By the way - what's with the big-ring-big-cog combo on the bike in the photo?
Not only that, but read the descriptions and the specs:

I'll admit, it's a cool head badge.
(photo from pocket-lint.com)
"Like a shimmering salmon that soldiers upstream, Ted believes one should always break from the shoal and follow their own current. . . Whether you take the rushing torrent of the town or the trickling tributaries of the country, each stunning showpiece is flawlessly designed with style and substance."

Actually, I'd say it's a lot more style than substance. Amidst all the pretentious-sounding prose there's really not a lot of actual, useful info given. Like, where are the frames made? Are they actually being built in Britain, or farmed out to the same Taiwanese factories that make a lot of other vintage-style, designer-labeled frames? (I'm guessing the latter). I checked out the company's About Us page and found lots more Rapha-esque marketing hype that talks a lot more about style and fashion than actually riding bikes.

The bikes, which are differentiated by color, are named "Redfin," "Bluetail," and "Greengill." For some reason, the model names and marketing puffery for the bikes are full of some kind of "fish" theme. "Let your scales shine brighter than the rest with Ted Baker/Quella . . . and ensure you never go with the flow."

That's right - be a salmon. Ride against traffic.
That's a modern seat lug without a doubt. Not Nervex.
Man, somebody did a job on that seat post, didn't they?
(photo from pocket-lint.com)

The listed specs seem a bit off to me. For one thing, the claim is that the frames are built with Nervex lugs. They certainly aren't any of the better-known ornate lugs that Nervex was known for, though there were some more plain models made -- but the big question is where would anybody get an adequate supply of Nervex lugs for a production run of modern bikes? The lugs have been out of production for decades. If I had to guess, I'd say that somebody in the marketing department (probably somebody raised in the era of welded aluminum and molded carbon fiber frames) has heard people talk about vintage steel bikes with Nervex lugs, and came to the conclusion that any classic lugged bike had "Nervex lugs" so that's what they called 'em.

There are only two sizes available - which means that many people would have an awfully hard time fitting the bike properly. Be ready to break out those extra long, extra tall stems and seatposts. Here's the size chart:
Notice there is about a 5 or 6-in. range of suggested heights for each of the two frame sizes. Also, do the British have a completely baffling way of measuring frame angles, or is it just Quella? Head tube angle 73 degrees. Seat tube angle 56.8 degrees?!

Of course, I'm all for lugged steel frames, and head badges, Brooks saddles - and many other elements that a bike like this brings, but I could really do without the pretensions. By the way, BikeRadar calls the bike "the perfect accompaniment for any self-respecting cycling snob." That alone kind of caps it off for me.

The Ted Baker specials, with their copper plating (to match the rivets in the Brooks saddle!), their leather bar wrap, supposedly Nervex (but probably not) lugs, and their pretentious marketing are set to retail for $1995, direct from Quella, or from the Ted Baker store in London. No American dollar pricing is given, but the current exchange rate puts it at a little over $3000. Not horrible, but for that kind of money, if I wanted a modern-but-classic bit of British steel framebuilding, I'd probably check out Mercian cycles and get a truly handbuilt bike made to my specs and measurements.

So, am I being a Snob by reacting negatively to this overly style-conscious attempt to market a "modern classic" bike? Or am I an Anti-Snob reacting against a bike obviously being marketed to overly style-conscious bike snobs? That just might be tougher than the Riddle of the Sphinx.

14 comments:

  1. That's a vintage-style racer, as imagined by somebody that has no hands-on experience with one.

    No sense of cohesiveness to it. Maybe it rides nice, but it seems like they really were going for a "looking-at" bike, not a "riding" bike. And, as such, I think they missed the mark.

    Subjective thoughts:
    I don't like mixed housings, they should all match.
    Look at the wheel-base on that. I bet it's a squirrely ride.
    I am the type that's "always silver components, everywhere" but the silver headset doesn't look right with the copper.
    Too much copper plating. It may develop an interesting patina. It may not. I surely don't think it will handle too many bangs against a bike rack (or other bikes), or road mung being cleaned off of it. It maybe would have been a better effect if they toned it down (a lot).
    Fork is boring and modern-styled.
    I agree RE: tire clearance. It doesn't need to fit fatties, but they could have allowed a bit more space up in there.


    I do appreciate the use of the quill stem and the real headbadge, though. Nice touches Also, I like centerpull brakes.
    For that much money, you're getting into the realm of really good bikes. And I am skeptical that this bike could compete with really good bikes.



    Wolf.

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  2. Brooks, you are definitely being anti-snob as this reeks of being a design exercise and publicity idea by a fashion designer and therefore is being sold to snobs. Actually, I'm surprised it isn't priced much higher, like a luxury good would be. Apparently, bikes are now accessories like a purse or cufflinks?

    It's pompous crap like this bike that keep bicycles from being more accepted by everyone. Now I'll be run off the road because I'm in the way AND I'm a pompous dandy for riding luxury goods.

    I like how the bike's geometry shows track dropouts while the bike has multiple cogs and is clearly vertical dropouts in the photo. And who knows where those seat tube angles are supposed to be.

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    1. Though it certainly is not cheap, the price is one of the reasons I'm guessing the frame is Taiwanese. Campy crank and shifters don't come cheap, and a British built frame with all that plating would probably push the price higher.

      That geometry chart makes no sense -- then again, neither does having only 2 sizes for such a wide range of people.

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  3. You're right, it has to be Taiwanese with those high end components. BTW, I learned about Mercian through your blog and I cannot believe the price they sell for being British-made, custom-made, have lug work, and fancy paint schemes. They are too fancy looking for my tastes (I'm an introvert), but they are a heck of a deal. Maybe a nondescript Audax version for me one day. Or a King of Mercia since my last name means "friendship" and it has the heart cutouts.

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    1. That's actually a nice thing about the Mercians is that you can go plain, fancy, or something in-between - and still have a lot of choice on paint colors and schemes. The Audax is probably the most basic. The KoM with the heart cutouts, or the Strada with the clover leaf cutouts are a nice middle ground. Vincitore gets pretty fancy and isn't to everyone's taste. You still have to figure in the exchange rate, and count on shipping (they go FedEx for international shipping) which adds a bit. But for a hand-crafted bike made to measure, they're a great deal.

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  4. This is where consumer knowledge is key. Those lugs cannot be true NOS. Your assessment is spot on.

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    1. That seat lug is the giveaway for me - with its cast-in binder ears. That's an investment cast lug, I'm just about as certain as I can be. I can't find a good close image of the head lugs, but I'm sure they're the same. Nervex lugs, my foot.

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  5. Harsh group here. This bike wasn't designed nor built for the vintage bike collector (as you'd buy a new retro bike anyways?) It's built to look pretty, be used by someone for occasional outings and then be stored in a closet till it's sold after being used 10 times. Tire clearances etc don't matter as it's doubtful the owner will even go through the first set of tires it come with. Not everyone feels they need FAT tires on their bikes nor wants too either.

    It's a retro bike, nothing more. Pretty much like many companies building something cool, hip and in for the upscale buyer that wants something off the showroom floor that looks old. Personally I like the copper plating, Doesn't matter if it turns green or not and should be fine if not left in the rain for weeks on end. Lugwork is ok, but nothing exceptional and again it doesn’t matter if they used original nervex lugs or not but maybe they should have said "Nervex Like” to appease all the critics.

    I agree on the geometry chart, seems very odd frame design if those numbers are true. The seat angle is way to slack to ride well, but maybe for a city bike not going fast........ Centerpull brakes just add to the retro look, I'd have used a nice set of side pulls instead.

    Again this bike is a design statement more than a practical bike to use daily and like so many retro designs it’s made to hang on the wall to look at, that’s all.

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    1. Your assessment is less harsh, but I don't necessarily disagree. But I think calling the lugs Nervex (I'm pretty certain they aren't) reveals a certain ignorance of classic bikes - and if I'm right, then it's misleading.

      I don't think the geometry chart is correct at all. The seat tube angle is probably 73.

      About the center pulls - doing it for vintage look is disingenuous and pointless if one doesn't also get a little more clearance. Even if one doesn't want fatter tires, the extra clearance wouldn't hurt anything, or slow the bike down, but still has other benefits. Besides, the truly vintage bikes that used center pulls had the extra clearance to go with them.

      I do enjoy modern-but-retro bikes (I have a couple) but I think they can be done better than this one.

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    2. I'd lump this bike in the same category as the new retro Bianchi L'Erocia as being a design effort 1/2 done right. To me they both missed what some buyers could have expected. They put centerpulls on this bike to make it look old and chose a close tire clearance to make it look more of a "racer" to the general public. It's not what a vintage bike enthusiast might have done, but it gave them the look they wanted. After all it's all about looks not function in a bike like this. Flashy sells.

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  6. The bike looks like a cynical attempt to cash in on the vogue for "retro". As has been pointed out, the kind of person who buys it will know nothing about bikes, care only about the look and sell or store it after riding it (to the café, not doubt) a few times.

    The good news is that if you really want one of these bikes, it will be cheap on eBay in about ten years.

    As a fellow Mercian rider, I second what Brooks says: You can get a much better version of the Ted Baker from Mercian as well as other classic builders like Bob Jackson--for about the same amount of money, or even less. And the Mercian or Jackson (or bike from other traditional builder) will fit you much better!

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  7. Well its not perfect its still a beautiful object. Style over substance? Perhaps a little... But perhaps it rode very well.

    Not for me tough, i'll stick with my old stuff. Especially a that price.

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  8. According to this article, after some QC control issues with chinese manufacture, they started using a Taiwanese framebuilding factory that may or may not be where Soma frames are made. They are finished in Cambridge.
    The tyre clearance is incomprehensible, but perhaps makes sense if you imagine that they don't know much about what makes a bike functional, and that they are used to making frames with track fork ends rather than dropouts. Its a lot of money for a bog-standard 4130 frame with some nice parts and fancy finishes.

    Finally, the British use the same angles as everyone else, and that seat tube is clearly not 58º

    http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/quella-seeking-independent-bike-store-partners/014818#after-ad

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    1. thanks for that link -- good to know.

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