Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Review: Reid Vintage Ladies 7-Speed Classic

Not having acquired the skill in childhood, I recently learned to ride a bike as an adult. I’ve written about that journey elsewhere, so I mention the fact here only because it obviously affects my perspective on the bike I’m about to review. It’s effectively my first bike, and my only basis for comparison are the public-hire CityCycles available in my city. So I’m evaluating this bike purely on its own merits.

Just to recap what I was looking for in my first bike though:
  • Upright riding position
  • Platform pedals
  • Step-through (“ladies”) frame
  • Hub gears and twist shifter
  • Pretty!
  • Inexpensive
The Reid Vintage Ladies 7-Speed Classic satisfied every one of these criteria except for the gearing: it has a (single) derailleur and a thumb shifter instead. But at a discount price of $200, I was willing to compromise.

So, on to the review. Well, for a start, I find this to be an insanely good-looking bike. See for yourself! 

As pictured, the bike is exactly stock. Note the white bracket at the top of the head tube to which a basket available as an option mounts. I love the little finishing touch of the whitewall tyres too — they’re standard, as are the fenders and rear carry-rack. The finish overall is really nice: shiny, bright, and very cheerful.

I was looking for a comfortable ride, and Reid provided one. At 184 cm (6 ft) tall, I’m right at the top limit Reid recommends for this, the Large-size frame (for people 165 cm to 183 cm tall; the bike is also available in a Small frame, recommended for people between 151 cm and 165 cm tall). Still, even with the seat and handlebars close to their lowest positions, as in the photograph, I could ride comfortably upright, with my arms relaxed and easily able to reach the grips. With the bike properly adjusted (more on this later), it’s even more comfortable.

I found that I got used to the thumb shifter very quickly, so the decision to compromise on my preferred gearing solution turned out OK. The only (slight) downside is that while I was still getting used to commuting by bike, I was gripping the handlebars very firmly and with my right hand very close to the shifter, meaning that I quickly developed a callous on the knuckle of my right index finger that’s only now starting to go down. But I don’t consider this a flaw in the bike itself.

The gears seem ample for my commuting use-case. If anything, I would probably be just as happy with half the number of gears, but I guess it’s nice to have the finer grain there if I ever need it.

The saddle is comfortable, but not nearly as nicely sprung as the CityCycles I learned on, and I will probably replace it sometime soon. The “leatherette” vinyl of the saddle and grips looks attractive, but feels a bit cheap. That’s not something I’m going to complain about on a $200 bike, especially when these items are so easily upgraded at any time.

The only really poor feature on this bike is the chainguard. This is extremely flimsy and easily bent out of shape. Combined with the fact that its design is such that it’s snagged several times on clothing or footwear, I really wonder how long it will last. I’ve already got my eyes open for an after-market replacement (suggestions welcome!)

But overall, I’m extremely happy with this bike. Indeed, although I purchased it with the intention of it being a proof-of-concept bike from which I’d upgrade when I knew I’d continue commuting by cycle, I now can’t see what a dearer bike in a similar style would offer me that I can’t get by just accessorising this one. (But let me know if you think there’s something I’m overlooking. This is my first bike, remember).

The purchasing experience

I’ll just finish this review with a few thoughts about the experience of buying this bike. Unfortunately, it did leave quite a lot to be desired. When I went into Reid’s Fortitude Valley store on a Saturday, they didn’t have the size and colour combination I wanted right there, but told me they would order it in for me and text me when the bike was ready to pick up, expected to be by Tuesday. They never contacted me, and when I phoned on Thursday to find out what was happening, they confirmed that the bike had arrived and had been ready to pick up for days.

I picked it up on Friday afternoon and rode it home. A number of issues big and small soon set in.

On my way home from work on my fourth day of riding, the saddle suddenly and unexpectedly tipped back while I was in motion. Fortunately, this didn’t result in a fall, but I did need to walk my bike the rest of the way home. It turned out that the nuts securing the saddle to the top of the seat post could have used a lot of tightening. No big deal in daylight and with the right size spanner handy, but disappointing on a new bike and obviously not something you want to happen while actually riding it.

Not dangerous, but annoying, was all the noise that the bike made, especially from the front fender. I initially put it down to a design quirk until I discovered that the nut that secures the fender and front brake caliper to the fork also needed a lot of tightening, at which point the noise went away completely.

Finally, when comparing my bike to another Reid Vintage Ladies 7-Speed Classic that parks in my building, I noticed that the rear brakes were set up very differently, in that the brake pads on mine were very low (at the very bottom of their adjustment slots) so that only half the pad actually contacted the wheel rim. This was different from the front brakes on my bike and from the brakes on the other bike. I moved the brake pads so that all their surface area contacted the rim, and braking became a lot more effective.

If I had to take a guess at what happened, I think someone got most of the way through setting it up before being called away to do something else. Hence final adjustment and tightening never happened and I was never contacted to pick it up.

It would also have been nice for Reid to at least have offered to set the bike up for me when I came in to collect it. I had read about these adjustments during my basic bike research, but had no idea of how much difference it made until I adjusted it myself on the advice of a cycle coach. If I hadn't obtained that third-party opinion, chances are that I'd still be riding a bike today that wasn't even close to being right for me.


I wholeheartedly recommend this bike for anyone who wants to commute with a bit of style.

As for the customer experience, I have no way of knowing if this was typical for even this Reid store, let alone any other Reid store, and I like to give the benefit of the doubt. So, I'll just say to any other novices out there:

  • if you don't know what you're doing, take an experienced cyclist with you on the day you buy your bike.
  • bicycles should be next to silent. If yours is rattling and clanging along, something needs tightening
  • bikes should be adjusted to your body. It makes a lot of difference.
  • if you didn't have an experienced cyclist with you when you purchased the bike, have one check the bike's mechanicals as soon as possible afterwards: wheels, drivetrain, brakes.

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