02 April 2013

The Persistence Of Dropped Top Tubes

What if Salvador Dali were hired to design a bike frame--and he only did the top tube?

The result might look something like this:

I had never before seen such a frame sporting Bianchi logos.  But now that I think of it, I'm not surprised.  The Bianchi in the photo was made in Japan for Bianchi during the 1980's.  Back then, the most famous Italian bicycle manufacturer was rebranding bikes built by Panasonic, Bridgestone and, it was rumoried, Miyata, for the US market.

When you look at this Panasonic closely, you realize why Bianchi made such a move.  During the 1970's and early 1980's, Japanese makers like the ones I've mentioned, and Fuji and Nishiki, took over much of the entry- and mid-level market for road and touring bikes in the US. There were good reasons for that:  The Japanese companies were offering better bikes for the money than most of their  European and American rivals.  Their quality control was more consistent:  Highland Park Cyclery sold Miyata and Panasonic when I worked there, and I don't recall having to return one for a defect.  On the other hand, I saw braze-ons break off a Peugeot and Treks that had miscut threads and wheels that didn't hold up for very long.  

Perhaps the biggest "draw" of Japanese bikes was that their drivetrains usually shifted more accurately and (a major selling point with new cyclists) more easily than those on their European counterparts.  The Panasonic in the second photo was the lowest-level ten-speed bike the company offered at the time, but its Shimano derailleur outshifted all but the very top models made in Europe at the time.  The BIanchi is a few levels up from the Panasonic, and its Shimano gears were more accurate and less fussy, I would submit, than any others--except for the ones made by Sun Tour.  

Of course, BIanchi would not be the only company to re-brand Japanese bikes for sale in the US.  Some of the most famous examples of such bikes were the "Voyageur" and "LeTour" lines Schwinn sold; Raleigh, Peugeot and other companies would also offer bikes from the Land of the Rising Sun.  Other companies, like Motobecane, would continue to make bikes in their home countries but equip them with Japanese derailleurs, freewheels and cranksets--and, later, other components--for American cyclists.

But not all of those companies offered bikes with the frame design of the BIanchi and Panasonic you see in this post.  In fact, frames with top tubes so shaped were made for only a few years, or so it seemed.  A couple of years ago, Trek revived  a modified version of it on their "Belleville" city/porteur bike:

I have never ridden a bike with such a configuration, but I can see the benefit of it, particularly for cyclists with disproportionately short legs.  I would think that people who, for other reasons, want a frame that offers more clearance than the traditional diamond design but don't want something more rigid or stable than a traditional women's, or even a mixte, frame would also like such a design.

Here's what I always wondered:  If you buy one of those bikes, do you get a watch with it?  Or a bike computer:  Imagine if Salvador Dali designed those!


  1. I like the looks of the Belleville. The front and back rack compliments the dropped top tube. The others look weird to me.

    My Miyata has held up quite well over the years. It came with Suntour components and they still function flawlessly.

  2. Annie--I agree that the Belleville is an attractive bike. And I'm not surprised to hear what you say about your Miyata, or the SunTour components. May you and they have many years of good roads and clear skies ahead!

  3. I have the blue 1982 Panasonic Sport pictured; it needed a bit of work when I got it, but it rides very well. Finally glad to see another in existence. -Nick

  4. Nick--Panasonic made some great bikes, so I'm not surprised yours rides so well. I'm glad to know you're riding it!