14 April 2018

A Twist In The Mixte

Most Americans never saw a twin-tube mixte frame before the 1970s Bike Boom.  That, of course, is also the first time most Americans saw a bicycle with a derailleur.  So, perhaps, it's no surprise that bike manufacturers like Peugeot, Motobecane, Raleigh and Fuji sold boatloads of ten-speed mixtes--though, to be accurate, many more diamond-frame (men's) bikes were purchased.

Nearly all of the mixtes available then, and now, have more or less the same design:  a pair of narrow parallel tubes that slope from nearly the top of the head tube to the rear dropout, or some point near it.  The twin tubes usually crossed the seat tube about halfway down, or maybe a bit lower.  The result was a frame that wasn't quite as "open" as the traditional women's frame, with a single curved top tube, but easier to mount than the traditional diamond frame.

What's not commonly known is that mixte frames with twin top tubes mixte frames, or at least frames that resemble them, have been made almost since the first "safety" bicycle (ones with two wheels of equal, or more-or-less equal, size) was introduced in the late 19th Century.  And they have taken on a variety of configurations, such as this example from Geoffrey Butler:

The South London builder made it to the specifications of a then-young woman who owned it until recently.  Its  eBay listing doesn't specify the tubing used to build the bike, but my guess is that it's some variation of Reynolds.  All of the parts are what one might expect to find on a touring or club bike from its era (1962):  all British, except for the Michelin tyres. (Yes, I had to spell it the British way!)  And, I must say, it is lovely.

I was struck in particular by two things.  One is, of course, the configuration of those top tubes:  They don't slope down as far as those on the more familiar kind of mixtes.  In fact, they don't seem much less horizontal (Is that a real phrase?) than the top tubes of most diamond-frame bikes.  Moreover, they end at the seat tube in a sort of semi-lug, which I find to be an interesting touch.

(Don't you just love seeing that pump between the parallel tubes?)

The other thing I immediately noticed is its size. I can't recall seeing a mixte that was too big for me:  For that matter, I haven't seen many mixte frames as tall as Vera, my Miss Mercian.  If the measurements listed are accurate (and, from what I see in the photos, I believe they are), it's indeed larger than my Miss Mercian, or almost any other mixte.  In fact, at 58 cm (for the seat tube) it's even larger than all but one diamond-frame bike I've ever owned. 

With all due respect to Vera, it is a rather uniquely (Is that a real phrase?) lovely bike.  If I were about three inches taller--or had the money and space have a collection--I probably would buy it.


  1. That seller often has some really neat items on eBay. I looked at his other auctions currently running and saw quite a bit of interest. I'd love to visit the shop if I were in the U.K. That bike is very interesting- the owner probably just needed a little more stand over than she'd have gotten with a more standard men's frame, but the bars would be at a nice height in relation to the saddle. Very cool bike.

  2. Many years ago I had a Schwinn Wasp. This type of frame was called a cantilever frame, for reasons I am not sure of. Perhaps because the top tubes were "cantilevered" off of the side of seat post on there way to the chain stays. So like mixte with a different path. It was the standard paper boy model of the time. Mine was 1956.

  3. Brooks--Yes, that seller does have some interesting stuff. I, too, would go there if I were in the UK--after visiting Mercian and a couple of people I know, of course!

    Roger--I recall those bikes. It's funny that with all the revived interest in "cruisers" and other baloon-tired bikes, no one has revived that design. Like you, I never figured out why it was called a "cantilever" frame.