25 April 2017

Men On Mixtes--And Women's Bikes--In Mosul

I bought Vera, my green Miss Mercian mixte, from a guy who had it built for himself after a hip injury and surgery.  

Now, I know some guys wouldn't be caught dead on a women's or mixte bike.  I was one of them, but not because of my insecurity about my gender identity, ample as that was.  You see, I wanted to ride only "performance-oriented" bikes and believed that mixte and women's frames weren't as stiff or strong as diamond "men's" frames.  The "stiff" part may well be true, but I haven't had much opportunity to compare diamond-framed bike models with their corresponding women's or mixte counterparts.  One reason is that many--particularly high-end--models come only as one or the other.

One difference I can find between the two types of frames in general is that diamond frames are generally more stable than those without a horizontal top tube.  I've especially noticed this when I've tried riding women's or mixte frames with fixed gears.  

Of course, another difference between the two types of frames is that the women's/mixte varieties are easier to mount.  That was, I think, the original rationale for such designs.  Sexism might have been a motive:  Perhaps bike designers and builders believed that we needed easier-to-mount bikes because we're the "fairer" (translation:  "weaker") sex.  Another reason for the designs was, of course, that at one time women almost always wore skirts or dresses, which make it more difficult (especially if the skirt is not flared or falls below the knee) to sling a leg over a top bar.

There are men, though, who ride women's or mixte frames.  I often see them here in New York.  Some of those guys are probably riding a bike they inherited for someone or got very cheaply.  Others, I suspect, are riding them for the same reason men in Mosul are on them.

That reason has only a little bit to do with the fact that women simply don't ride bicycles there.  Even before the Islamic State (ISIS) captured the city nearly three years ago, it wasn't done, though what I've read suggests that women not riding bicycles was more of a custom rather than the reult of an outright prohibition.  

Rather, men say they ride women's bicycles because they're easier to handle in the city's potholed,rubble-strewn streets, especially when cyclists are transporting food, medical supplies and other items.  The shop Mohammed Sabah Yehia recently opened on the east side of town, in fact, stocks and sells nothing but women's bicycles.

Mohammed Sabah Yehia in his East Mosul shop.

The way he entered the velocipedic trade is emblematic of what has turned Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris River, into a city of bicycles.  He used to sell motorcycles on the city's west (of the river) side, where there was a flourishing bicycle trade, until his shop was destroyed during the ISIS offensive.  Then motorized vehicles were banned because of gas shortages.  

A campaign to take back the city started in October has resulted in the liberation of the east side of the city.  Since then, traffic has returned.  But police have been stopping and confiscating motorcycles because ISIS members have been using them. As a result, many men are weaving their bicycles through the throngs of cars to find stores, pharmacies and other establishments that are open.

On the west side, on the other hand, cyclists ride on traffic-free streets.  But that is not a result of city authorities trying to make their community more "bike friendly". Iraqi and ISIS forces are still fighting, and the former have barred cars--which the latter use as suicide vehicles--and motorcycles. 

Some cyclists from the east side--like Yehia--don't want to venture onto the west side "until it's secure".  They also avoid riding at night, out of fear of remaining militant "sleeper cells".   Still, for the time being, it seems that for all of the hazards, cycling will be the best way to transport people and supplies in Mosul.  And men will be riding women's bikes. 


  1. With the change to a new website your favourite bicycle manufacturer suddenly dropped Mixte / women's frames from their regular lineup of frames. In Europe a huge percentage of bicycles have step through designs of one sort or another and they are not just ridden by women.

    For a while I had about enough to order a new Bicycle to see me through my later years, renovating my old bike has put an end to that dream. I often wonder how many others are out there wondering where to get a decent women's style bike...

    1. Yes, I would say that step through designs are a decided majority of bikes I see on the streets in Finland. The old swan frame design bikes are much in demand here and I see young, athletic looking men on decades old "woman's" bikes. And teenage boys also. It seems that the traditional step through is pretty much regarded as a unisex design. There are a lot on the road that were made as far back as 1950, big 30 kilo Husqvarnas, DBS's, Helkamas and Crescents with coaster brakes and bottle generators. They are virtually immortal. Some makers here are producing slightly lighter modern versions of these classics with internal hub generators, 3- or 5-speed transmissions and stronger steels. Check out he brands I mentioned and you might just find a decent women's bike, either a new one or an old one.


  2. I have a mixte myself. I don't think i can ever ride a bike with a top tube. It is said that you only need an inch of space between the top tube and your crotch, but with the awkward manner in which i brake/dismount, i need more than an inch. And i'm female.

  3. Coline--I hadn't looked at Mercian's site in a while, so I checked it out. I wrote to them to ask whether they indeed are no longer making women's/mixte bikes.

    Leo--It seems that over there, the distinction between "men's" and "women's" frames isn't as great as it is here. I would love to see one of those old Scandinavian bikes!

    Anon--I suspect that there are more riders like you than most bike-makers realize.

  4. . Legend says that it was used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity, and it has become an emblem of Ireland (no official status in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland). Fifty Dollar Eye Guy

  5. Alex--That never would have occurred to me in a million years. Thank you for sharing that.