President John F. Kennedy once said, "Nothing compares with the simple pleasure of a bike ride." There is an irresistible joy that washes over you when you hop on and start to roll. It's a tactile nostalgia for long summer days of playing with friends until the street lights came on.
Bicycles now outsell cars in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, according to a recent NPR report, and the Netherlands is the most bike-centric society on the planet. In Europe, bike riding is less a sport than a way of life, one Americans are beginning to embrace.
If your bike is the fashion statement, you don't need to squeeze into those special Lycra clothes serious riders are wearing. The machines themselves say plenty -- and cost plenty. Two years ago, Italian fashion house Missoni did a limited-edition cruiser for Target stores. The bike came in two styles; black and white zigzag and the more recognizable colorful Missoni pattern. Starting at $400, they sold out quickly and now sell for much more on eBay. Kate Spade, Chanel and Hermes have all done limited-edition bikes.
"More and more I think people are realizing the potential of the bicycle. It is a fun way to keep fit whilst it is a cheap and practical method of commuting," said Charlie Cooper of Cooper Bikes, a British-based company with roots in the automotive world.
Cooper Bikes is the bicycle division of Cooper Car Co., famous for the Mini Cooper. Their Oporto model is a classic easy ride that retails for between $1,500 and $1,700.
Many of the hottest bikes are the old-fashioned upright style that allow riders to sit up rather than bend over the bars as they pedal around town. For those who need a little help, the Biria Easy-Boarding design will keep you feeling in control. The company, which began in Germany, makes a lightweight aluminum frame that can be outfitted with more gears or handbrakes if you tire of the old-fashioned back pedal brakes. It comes in one speed or multiple, depending on your preference, and can change as your ability changes.
Keeping it really simple is Martone Cycling, which offers five colors -- black, white, red, gold and silver -- in men's and women's frames and the same price for all bikes, $899. Bright chain and pedal colors make them a standout on the street.
Swedish company Skeppshult has been operating for nearly a century, turning out commuter bikes before that phrase was in our lexicon. The company holds the Swedish royal warrant for high quality and design. The women's seven-speed model is priced at $1,795 and comes in two sizes, five colors (black, blue, red, green and vanilla) with comfort handlebar grips, headlamp, kickstand and more.
Bamboo bikes are considered a novelty by some but not by Calfee Design of California. For Calfee, bamboo is the perfect building material light, strong and durable material, which also happens to look great. "Our tandem bike was actually used in a wedding," said Michael Moore, director of marketing and sales. It retails for $12,995 and can be outfitted with a trailer for towing groceries, toddlers or both.
A more common sight on American streets is the Trek brand. The family-owned company was founded by Dick Burke in 1976 and his son John now runs the show. The Allant 7, a nice-looking, upright cruiser, retails for $550.
Another American company building beauty into the bike is Shinola, which launched an ad campaign with the tag line: "The latest luxury vehicle from Detroit is hitting the road." Handsome, sleek and pricey -- ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 -- it is a luxury worth looking into. Both the Bixby and Runwell models have gained acclaim from cycling enthusiasts.
You can't drink and drive, but you can surely ride and sip, which is why the Sonoma-based winery Clos du Bois teamed up with C. Wonder, the home decor and fashion company, to create the limited-edition Clos Cruiser by C. Wonder. It comes in navy or pink and includes the wicker basket with a wine bottle holder. You can find it at C. Wonder stores or online at www.ClosduBois.com for $350.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2613 or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pasheridan.