Fresh Produce: A Real Cool City Bike Words and images by Tim Schamber

Back in Issue 01 (December 2010) of Peloton magazine, editor-at-large Heidi Swift profiled Portland, Oregon-based Natalie Ramsland of Sweetpea Bicycles. Ramsland and her husband Austin have been handcrafting steel bikes for a while now, and added the Farmers Market bike to the “lineup.” With a little bit of coaxing, we had her build one for us. While Ramsland suggested we go custom geometry, we decided on a standard dimension.

The frame is a TIG welded Reynolds medley, painted in Eugene, Oregon. While the Lime Green is the standard paint color, we chose a burnt orange. Orange is a tough one because companies tend to go too bright. This mix stands out, but not obnoxiously so.

Ramsland went the extra step and included Paragon belt-drive compatible rocker dropouts for possible future modifications. The Pacenti Paris-Brest-Paris fork crown adds to the overall retro look.

There are two sides to this bike: one is the cool, retro, stylish bike that turns heads and is utilitarian, and the other is a bike you can stand on and go real fast with. Having both personalities is a plus—we’re not always hauling groceries! We were surprised at how responsive this bike really is. The Sugar Wheelworks handbuilt wheels with White Industries hubs contribute to quickness of this bike. With off-the-shelf wheels, this bike wouldn’t respond so immediately.

As a commuter bike, the 42T chainring is perfect. Starting from stop lights is clean and stopping is immediate with the Avid disc brakes. Usually hauling stuff in a front rack can be a dicey affair, but because the Trucker rack sits lower than normal, it actually adds to the nimble feel of the bike. For comfort, the Brooks B.17 is ideal, but it is the Ahearne Cycles bar and PDW grips that allow you to sit and cruise, or hit the gas with ease.

Overall, the Farmers Market is a work of art. It’s a workhorse, commuter and a speed demon all wrapped in one.

Two kids and more than eight years later, Ramsland is still at it… making bikes, and professionally fitting folks on bikes. Here’s the interview we did with her in 2012 about the special Farmers Market bike.

Did you create the Farmers Market so you could have something cool to scoot around town on? People seem to do their everyday cycling on well loved, but let’s face it, crappy bikes. Bikes that don’t fit, bikes that would rather be doing something else, or bikes pieced from otherwise good ideas. We saw an opportunity with the Farmers Market to elevate your everyday ride by designing delight, real functionality, and versatility into every detail. Some of the best miles we ride could be just rolling around town from coffee shop to bookstore, your porch to the park, or taking the route along the river on the way to work before the fog has lifted. We wanted to build a bike that made those miles even more beautiful.

You collaborate with Sugar Wheelworks and Trucker among others on the Farmers Market bike. There are plenty of bikes out there that really romanticize a kind of bike that existed in another time or place. Bikes built as much from wood and leather as from steel. But I am more interested in a modern American aesthetic emerging from our own landscapes and our own thinkers and makers. Finding it was easy. There are seven Portland companies alone represented on the bike: wheels from Sugar Wheel Works, a Trucker front rack, handlebars designed by Ahearne Cycles and MAP Cycles, Portland Design Works Speed Metal Grips, and a Chris King headset. We’d rather skip the romantic re-enactments and get busy building the next golden age of American cycling.

Are Sweetpea bikes just for women? Sweetpea’s mission is to get more women on bikes that fit them beautifully. So yeah, most of our customers are women, but we’ve had some notable exceptions. I even designed a bike for a wonderful guy who clocked in at 6’7”!

We’ve heard that you are a fanatic about fit? Is it true? Women have spent enough time on bikes that don’t fit. And I realized that if I was going to focus on designing the best product I could, I couldn’t chalk up bike fit as some “dark art.” So I dove into the science by studying bike fit under Michael Sylvester, learning the skills and developing the eye of a fitter before opening our Sweetpea Fit and Design Studio last year. Here we offer bike fits to the general public, custom fits for other bike builders, as well as doing fits for Sweetpea customers.

While it would be easy to make generalizations about the fit needs of women and design accordingly, we design each bike around the ideal riding position of individuals. The result is bike that is worthy enough to love you back.

How has becoming a mom changed your work life? This is counterintuitive, but true: having a daughter has been really good for our business. It has demanded that we focus, delegate, and grow Sweetpea in ways that we would not have done if I had endless time available. So, I’m spending a greater portion of my days working on design, product development and special projects. When you can’t do everything, you really have to focus on what you do best.

But in addition to the focus it’s brought to my time, I have also had a chance to see bikes through a different lens. I was a bike messenger for six years. I have spent countless thousands of miles riding the roads outside of Portland. Now, I get to bike around town with my daughter on the back of my Xtracycle. Each phase of my life has changed the type of cycling I’ve done, and the taught me new things. This is no exception.

THIS BIKE EIGHT YEARS ON
It’s been eight years since I first got the bike and a few things have changed with it since then. Naturally, the tires have been swapped, but the originals lasted several years without issue. They’re tubed, but are burly enough to handle all the junk of city streets.

The paint has a few chips in it, but that’s simply because of normal wear and tear, of leaning the bike against things (no kickstand) and locking it up to poles and fences, against other bikes and more!

I swapped out the Trucker front rack for a traditional Wald wired version. While the Trucker is cool, painted to match and gives the bike a nice retro look, it simply doesn’t have the ability to haul things like beer, groceries, you name it. The Wald was then replaced by what is essentially a wooden box that’s a couple inches deep, but does have a bottle opener on the front! Why replace the Wald? One time I grabbed too much front brake and washed the front end out, thus crushing the Wald.

In the beginning, Ramsland also suggested I opt for multiple gears but I didn’t. It’s a single speed and since moving to Portland, Oregon in 2017 from Los Angeles, I regret that choice. Don’t get me wrong, I get around fine with one gear, but I should have listened to her!

I have not touched the wheels. This bike has been all around Los Angeles and Portland. Off curbs, in gutters, on dirt, you name it. They sit today as straight as they were when Sugar Wheelworks built them. I have added some metal fenders from another bike I had and leave them on year-round. They’re green and don’t match, don’t fit quite right and are zip-tied in a spot or two, but they serve their purpose. Some day I will invest and get some that fit.

At one point, too, I added a rear rack with netting to keep things secure. It was good for a bag or other random things I would haul around, but mostly I carried a kid on it for fun until they got too heavy to do so.

The original PDW grips are long gone and replaced with their Whiskey model. They’re more ergonomic and the comfort is just better.

The mechanical discs have been amazing. I love the ease of adjustment with a simple twist of the dial. The pads have been replaced a few times but I’m grateful to have discs in the city.

More than eight years on, I still love this bike as much as I did when I first got it. It rides exceptionally well and can get up and go with ease, and do so quickly. It may get beat up and battered by the elements and the normal day-to-day grind that a town bike endures, but I’ll never get rid of this bike.

–Tim Schamber (Creative Director, Peloton magazine)

Check out sweetpeabicycles.com