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Cannondale enters city bike fray with Dutchess concept bike

Posted Nov 17 2009 10:02pm

UPDATE: Wytze van Mansum, a Dutch engineer who created this concept in conjunction with Cannondale, contacted me to let me know more about it. The photos from Carlton Reid are the initial prototype which is evolving with development (including the eventual inclusion of a kickstand.) The riding position is a little more variable with handlebars that split in the middle also functioning as a lock. Also, the oversized bottom bracket was built to allow the upgrade to a pedal assist electric bike. Video of the bike in action here.

As a dedicated transportation cyclist and builder of city bikes, I have been pretty disappointed by what the bicycle industry has attempted to offer the U.S. market as utility or transportation bikes. The offerings have inevitably been a variation on the mountain bike or fixed/single speed bike or both. If we are wanting anyone other than the already dedicated cyclist to regularly replace car trips with trips by bike, these products leave a lot to be desired.

The Dutchess concept includes integrated lights, fenders, and rack. Image courtesy of Cartlon Reid.

The Dutchess concept includes integrated lights, fenders, and rack. Image courtesy of Cartlon Reid.

The fact of the matter is that most people just want to get from point A to B in regular clothing in the cheapest, most efficient way possible. They don’t see themselves as urban warriors or racers. It is also true that the majority of trips people take are less than 5 miles from their house. It would seem like the bicycle would be a great match to this, but it has to be the right bicycle for people who happen to ride bikes (as opposed to cyclists) to use them regularly. Unfortunately, usually these folks either purchase a low quality, desposible bike from a big box store or get something performance oriented foisted upon them at the local bike shop.

On the up side, the bike industry is slowly catching on with several serious attempts at offering true transportation bikes showing up at Interbike this year. Now, BikeBiz is reporting that Cannondale is entering the fray with a concept bike called the Dutchess. Considering Cannondale’s pathetic presentation of the urban bike at this year’s Interbike, there is a lot to like here. Based on the Dutch city bike concept, Cannondale modernizes the look with brushed aluminum and integrated lights, fenders and rack. This yields a bike they say is around 30 pounds, a shockingly low weight for so much utility. Full chain guard and drum brakes are also included, a practical, low maintenance touch that is pretty universally ignored on U.S. city bikes. Curiously, this bike also has a very radically oversized bottom bracket with a huge open space in the middle. One assumes this was done as a wow factor for a concept as I know of no one actually making something like this right now.

All the functionality of a Dutch bike, but why the "sit up and beg" geometry? Image courtesy of Carlton Reid.

All the functionality of a Dutch bike, but why the "sit up and beg" geometry? Image courtesy of Carlton Reid.

It’s not all good. Cannondale kept the hybrid geometry that yields the sit up and beg riding position instead of the highly comfortable fully upright, arms at the side position of a true Dutch bike. Also, the marketing material on this assumes a gender bias in the design. “Designed for women keen to express their style amongst the fast paced and ever changing urban vibe, the Dutchess brings modern lines to the environmentally conscious whilst at the same time offering longevity and low maintenance.” I know us men can be kind of bone headed, but since when is having a well functioning, nice looking city bike a women’s specific design? I know we have a North American gender prejudice on step through frames, but this gender design designation is inspired by 19th century hoop skirts, not 21th century transportation needs. When you are carrying things or in stop and go traffic, the step through is a hard design to beat as our European brethren have learned. Finally, a kickstand is curiously absent from the mix. Ever tried to load some groceries on a bike with no kickstand? Do it once, and you’ll throw all concern about Fred-dom out the window and strap one on.

Short comings aside, Cannondale’s Dutchess concept is a welcome 21st century take on the tradition Dutch city bike. When you think about the needs of an average person just wanting a bike for transportation (regular cloths, low maintenance, low physical impact, short distances, carrying stuff), the Dutch design has a lot to offer and more refinement is great to see. I’d say the biggest down side to this bike is that it is not available for sale to the public right now.

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