Guest Bike Review: The Mighty Pilen

This review from guest blogger Stephen first appeared on his blog:

The mighty Pilen: a review

I now own a Pilen Lyx. It’s a big, robust city bicycle, designed by Swedes, made with modern components, but decidedly old school.

For some years now I’ve been gravitating towards old-fashioned bicycles intended for commuting at low speeds in your work clothes. I like the upright posture: you can see more, and you’re more visible to drivers. I don’t mind the weight: yes, it’s harder to get going, but once you’re going, who cares? I find the ride quality of classic style steel frames and curvy front forks delightful.

When I first reached this conclusion I started out with a customised Linus. Since then I have also acquired an elderly single speed Rudge of uncertain age and a 1950s 3-speed Raleigh Sport. The Rudge is fun but ramshackle, and now awaits conversion and stripping down to path racer style. The Raleigh is a joyous ride, but is in such good nick with its original paint that I don’t want to ride it every day, especially not when it might get wet. And the Linus has been great as my main commuting bike, yet after almost 6 years it’s showing a lot of wear and the issues with build quality are becoming apparent: the paint is soft, the chrome is thin, and maybe wedging an 8 speed Nexus into the rear forks was ambitious (the back wheel has a distinct tendency to slip forward in the dropouts over time no matter how tight the nuts).

What I wanted was a bike that felt like the Raleigh — upright riding posture, good handling, solid — but made with modern technology. The Pilen fits the bill. Shimano 8 speed rear hub, dynamo front hub, integrated roller brakes. Welded (beautifully so) frame. Chain guard, stainless mudguards, LED light, carrier that you could safely give your mate a double on. 28 inch wheels that smooth out the rough road surfaces of post-quake Christchurch.

A friend of mine works at Bicycle Junction in Wellington, and he told me they had a sale on. I was visiting Wellington anyway and got a test ride, and I was sold.

The Pilen Lyx bike

The Pilen Lyx bike

My one has a fancy Brooks saddle, and I got Dan to change the tires to something narrower because I don’t like fat tires. He delivered it free to Back Alley Bikes in Addington and Rufus set it up for me. There was a comical initial teething problem, where somehow the front brake lever was electrically connected to the dynamo, in such a way that when the light was on, you would get electric shocks through the brake lever, but Dan took my unlikely story seriously, sent down a new cable and light and all was well.

I’ve been riding this bike around for a few days now. I still feel good about it. I am oddly reminded of the experience of driving a large powerful car with power steering.

Here’s the verdict.

COST: $1700-ish for this model, including the Brooks saddle, free delivery to Christchurch, $50-ish assembly/setup costs.

GOOD:

  • Great ride quality. Handles smoothly, glides over bumps.
  • Beautiful paintwork (“Durablue” is a dark rich sparkly blue).
  • Super strong carrier with super strong spring-loaded trappy thingies (what are they called?)
  • Built-in lock for when you nip inside a shop for 5 minutes.
  • It’s a big bike, you sit up tall on it and you sail around, master or mistress of all you survey.
  • Lumotec LED light is bright and focused.
  • Chainguard means a chap can bike in office clothes without a trouser clip.
  • Generally solid feel and finish: it’s easy to believe the “rustproof” claims and trust it will still be good in 20 years.
  • Good solid kickstand.
  • Roller brakes are sealed and need next to no servicing.
  • 8 speed hub likewise.

BAD:

  • If you are short, this will not be a good bike for you. Big frame, big wheels, wide handlebars.
  • If your daily ride has steep hills in it, they are going to be a lot of work.
  • The front light does not have a capacitor or battery to provide current when not in motion. Considering that such lights are only US$10 more than ones without, feels a bit mingy at this price point. I am dealing with this presently by using a little Lezyne as an auxiliary light on the handlebar. I may yet cave and get a mail-order light that stays on after you stop.
  • The builtin rear light has only one LED and no obvious way to change the batteries without unscrewing the cover. Hard to understand why this isn’t dynamo driven. I foresee replacing this in due course too.
  • The brake and gear cables are fitted with plastic clips. Again, at this price and given the other fittings, you’d kind of expect shiny metal.
  • The bell is pretty but not loud, and jingles slightly as you ride which I find intensely annoying. I immediately replaced it with my favourite Crane bell.

VERDICT:

  • A lovely bike to ride for the person who wants a bomb-proof, stylish commuting bike and doesn’t care about weight. Minor niggles can be fixed easily. It will probably still be in good shape when you die of old age or the apocalypse comes, whichever arrives first.

If you want this kind of ride but don’t want to spend heaps, best start haunting TradeMe for one of those big old English bikes that come up every so often. There are plenty of them around in Canterbury that will be a good ride if you give them the love.

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