Self Image and Sloping Top Tubes

Betty Foy and Detour Deluxe
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Mixtes were traditionally known as “women’s” or “girls” bikes, the concept being a low top tube is more well-suited to riding and mounting/dismounting in a skirt. As that stereotype has begun to fade in recent years, more gender-neutral frame designs with low-slung top tubes are showing up. Two examples that come to mind are the Rivendell Yves Gomez and the Civia Loring. When I was a kid, a boy wouldn’t be caught dead on a “girls” frame, but these days, more people of both genders are appreciating the ease of use step-through frames provide.

Ironically, some of the most “macho” frames out there have steeply sloping top tubes and nearly qualify as “step-through”. I’m thinking of modern mountain bike frames and some compact road frames. These frames differ from traditional step-throughs in that they don’t have the seat tube that extends vertically above the sloping top tube (thus requiring extremely long seat posts), but otherwise the top tubes can be nearly as low as on some mixtes.

Take a look at the photo above. I think it’s interesting that these designs are fairly similar, yet because they come from different lineages our perceptions of them are so different. The Raleigh on the right is clearly gender neutral, yet the mixte is clearly a “woman’s” bike. Of course, the way they’re outfitted plays a big part in this case; the pale blue paint and wicker basket exude a definite feminine vibe, whereas the silver and black motif of the Raleigh is more “manly”.

Rivendell came up against this self-image issue frequently enough that they took their Betty Foy mixte, painted it black, and renamed it the “Yves Gomez” for those men who wanted a step-through but didn’t feel comfortable riding what they perceived to be a woman’s bike. I have to admit, if I was going to buy a Betty for myself, I’d probably go with the Yves version instead. That’s probably a reflection of my own insecurities more than anything… LOL.

Loring Lens Test
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The bike that probably does the best job of blurring the line between what is traditionally thought of as a woman’s bike and a man’s bike is the Civia Loring (above). The top tube just slightly swoops, and it’s just barely low enough to step over, yet the bike doesn’t clearly say “girl’s bike” or “boy’s bike”. I think the design is subtle and genius, and I really appreciate the fact that it so successfully mixes up and messes with the old streotypes.

21 Responses to “Self Image and Sloping Top Tubes”

  • David Wellbeloved says:

    Sloping tubes are also of great help for people like me, with stumpy legs and can’t afford a custom frame.

    I’m 6ft tall but only have a 29 inch inside leg. With a bit of adjustment in the cockpit (replace the stem, etc.) that’s how I can get the right stand-over for my PBH without being to hunched.

    That’s why I bought my first Kona (a CinderCone) back in ’91.

  • Steven says:

    My go-to bike is a Globe Centrum. Having the sloped Top-tube makes it a lot easier to mount in jeans or slacks and given that I ride to get somewhere I’m always riding in jeans or slacks and never in lycra.

  • voyage says:

    Easily the best mixte restoration I’ve never actually seen in person is this little Shugon over there at Vic’s:

    http://vicsclassicbikes.blogspot.com/2010/11/shogun-mixte-375.html

    Nice, my wife (an old Team Miyata track chick) said, but off by a size.

  • Chris says:

    Best bike for blurring the image between a (what is point of the men’s) top tube and step through?

    A Brompton!

    Cheers,

    Chris

  • CedarWood says:

    My Cargo-T gets some comments, mostly young guys in baggy pants yelling, “Nice bike!” But then it’s bright green trimmed in black, and looks sorta tough. Roadies usually call it a ‘girl’s bike’, but it’ll haul more than their bikes can, so I don’t much care.

  • Alistair says:

    Nice topic,
    and check out these mixte style longtails from my neck of the wooks. I think they have their own aesthetic. The diamond has become a wedge; more motorbike chopper like.

    I doubt anyone’s saying Todd Fahrner’s Xtravois is just a girls bike.
    http://clevercycles.com/bike/xt/xtravois.html

    Or this beautiful longtail from Vanilla.
    http://clevercycles.com/blog/xtravanilla/Pages/P1000868.html

    Cheers, Alistair

  • MU says:

    Reflecting upon on the photos I’ve realized that masculinity appears to reside in the top tube meeting up with the seat stays. It has little relation to slope of the top tube itself. Why a broken junction implies femininity, I don’t know. Any gender studies/geometry dual majors out there?

  • Steve Grimmer says:

    Top tube and seat stays meet at the top of the seat tube: Masculine.
    Top tube and seat stays meet somewhere above the halfway point of the seat tube: Gender neutral, possibly masculine.
    Top tube meets the seat tube around the halfway point, along with an extra set of stays that are not seat stays: possibly feminine; better check your other gender signals.
    Top tube meets the seat tube at or below the halfway point, below the seat stays: Feminine.

  • Cecily Walker says:

    I think my next bike will be a Rivendell and I think it’ll be the Yves Gomez. I just hope they remove that tagline about it being a \man’s mixte\ from the body by the time I can afford one.

    Why the Yves instead of a Betty? The paint job – pure and simple. I’m a girl, but I don’t like riding girly looking bikes. As beautiful as the Betty is, something about that blue paint scheme always made me squirm.

  • urb anwriter says:

    @ Steve Grimmer

    what if they ‘curly stays’ ; )

  • markbikeslondon says:

    Great photos as always, but that green frame? Wow, am I jealous. Am adding a Civia Loring to my shopping list (which seems to be getting somewhat aspirational and over long these days!)

    Thanks for sharing, great stuff.

  • Pete says:

    I find that a step through is almost mandatory for hauling any kind of cargo. I know because my commuter/hauler doesn’t have one! After smashing my shin the first time I strapped a milk crate to the rear rack and tried to swing my leg over it, and dumping groceries all over the sidewalk when I tried to lean a loaded bike over to get on it, I’m totally sure my next utilty bike will be a low top tube of some variety!

  • Bob Baxter says:

    $200 more for a different color and masculine name, I don’t think so. I ride my Betty Foy every day and don’t have any gender ID problems.

  • anniebikes says:

    I find it interesting that as I get older(okay, just middle-aged) I am leaning more towards riding my Mt. St. Helens Ross beacuse it has the step through frame. It’s a tank compared to my touring bike or my mountain bike, but it has the ease of use that you point out so succinctly in your post.

  • Alan says:

    @markbikeslondon

    I wasn’t sure about the green when I first picked up the bike, but I’ve grown to like it. It certainly gets a lot of compliments on the road!

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Bob Baxter

    “I ride my Betty Foy every day and don’t have any gender ID problems.”

    Good for you, Bob! I think that’s super! :-)

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Patrick says:

    Here in the Netherlands young people always cycle on so-called “oma-fietsen” which is the girly version of a classical dutch bike, don’t matter if boy or girl, they always cycle on the femine-version.

  • Brian says:

    I have found myself riding my wife’s Soma mixte frame bike the last few weeks – I can wear my regular shoes (using it to ride to work) and not have to worry if it is icy, since I can easily dismount.

    And the soma mixte frame in white is “gender Neutral”. I admire that Rivendell has put out a mixte for males – anything to provide more options for cycling…

    And I loved observing everyone riding mixte frames in Europe 2 years ago. No hangup about a certain type of bike for one gender only…

  • edde says:

    sloping top tubes rock. My favorite ride is a T-Town Traveler by Old Field Cycles in Tallahassee – even more slope than a RANS crank forward, long & low. Foot down while seated? No problem. Great for loaded riding…

  • Jim Borowczyk says:

    Would you consider the Trek Soho DLX gender neutral?

  • Jim says:

    @ eddie…..I really like the T-Town Traveler. I’m thinking one over a RANS CF. It sounds like Your quite happy with Yours. Justin’s work looks impeccable too.

    Curious about your build…possible we could discuss it?

    Happy 4th

 
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