Graeme is a Victoria-based web developer who worked as a bicycle mechanic for three years. He loves writing about bike-related topics.
How to Find, Build, or Buy a Path Racer Bike
Working as a bicycle mechanic for over 3 years, I got to see and work on a lot of beautiful machines over that span of time. I gained an appreciation for anything exceptionally beautiful.
One of my favorite designs of all time is the path racer bicycle. These bikes are absolute beauties, with a style that I think will be popular forever.
The path racer bicycle combines a lot of aesthetics into one shape and structure. They are at once lovely works of art, and at the same time very simplistic and minimalist in their construction. A vintage path racer bicycle is perfect for anyone who really appreciates the machine itself. If you love your bike, you'll love these things.
Inspired by French racing bicycles from the turn of the century, the path racer bike has a classic frame shape and utilizes low slung handlebars and thinner tires for extra agility. Somewhat inspired by track bicycles, the path racer was intended to fit on the track, but also run on paths and roads outside the velodrome.
In this piece I'll cover three things.
- I'll describe what a path racer is and what makes it different from other styles.
- I'll cover three of my favourite path racers for sale (or models that could easily be converted into one.)
- I'll talk about converting your existing bike into a path racer style.
This article is all about beautiful path racer bicycle and the components that make it up. Enthusiasts, aficionados and the casually curious are welcome!
What Is a Path Racer Bicycle?
A path racer bicycle doesn't belong to a particular brand. Rather it's a style that was very popular among velodrome racers in the earlier part of the 20th century. The idea was to create a bicycle that could easily cross from the street to the track and back again. This made for a very utilitarian, sleek, and minimalist look.
Many examples of path racer bikes can be seen today, and there are some variations between them. However, they have a few common threads that hold them together.
Features of a Path Racer Bike
Most vintage path racer bikes had extremely aggressive handlebars, styled in the racing form of the time. This mean that they were aerodynamic, low slung and put the rider in a lower stance, hunkered over the top tube of the bike.
Frequently, this meant that mustache handlebars or inverted risers were the best fit for the job. Often eschewing brake handles, the riders would instead affix simple leather handles to these bars.
These bars on a path racer bike not only looked very sleek and fast, they ensured a rider was aerodynamic and thereby much faster on the track.
Although not necessarily that thin by today's standards, the tires of path racer bicycles were quite thin for the time. They were intended to reduce drag to a minimum, while still being beefy enough to handle a cobblestone path or two (thus the name).
Commonly white or black tires were used, although it's not uncommon to see a vintage path racer with a red sidewall tire attached.
Single-Speed, Track Dropouts
Path racer bicycles often use single-speed gearing. They had 'track dropouts' that allowed for manual tensioning of the drive chain by simply moving the rear wheel backward in its dropouts.
The gearing on these was also usually fixed, meaning the pedals would move in conjunction with the rear wheel spinning (no coasting or pedaling backward on these ones!). You don't have to go fixed or single-speed, but it's the look you're after.
- Vintage Saddle
The saddle on a path racer bicycle was usually leather, brown or black. The saddle was typically softened with a spring suspension, as that made the ride moderately more comfortable at the time. (Bumpy paths made riding extremely painful without this minimal suspension addition!)
Windsor Oxford: A three-speed path racer bicycle candidate
A great basis for a Path Racer inspired bike build
The Windsor Oxford is a great foundation to create a custom path racer style bicycle. The bike is extremely inexpensive, and it comes with just about everything you'll need. You can upgrade the seat, handlebars, and wheels if you're so inclined.
Even on its own, the Oxford is a great bicycle to ride, super fun with it's three speed internal Shimano Nexus hub and included fenders and chain guard.
It also looks really sharp. (I particularly like that it's not covered in gaudy branding and logos, so you can really make it your own.) Just lower the bars and upgrade a few components and you'll be riding in style in no time.
Even if you just bought the bike for the frame and forks alone, it's a fantastic deal price wise. But I recommend keeping the components. The primary thing to get that classic path racer look? Remove and flip the mustache bars so they aim downward. That's it!
Critical Cycles Parker: A gorgeous, minimalist path racer bike
Another great path racer bicycle conversion candidate
This bike by Critical Cycles is an extremely affordable model. The Parker is a good choice for a path racer bicycle conversion if you don't have a ton of cash to throw at a bike project. Its simple and clean lines mean that the bike is mostly there in terms of looks already.
It also includes some great features like a high tension steel frame, full integrated fenders on both the front and the back, and nearly flat mustache bars that perfectly capture that vintage french aesthetic. It even includes a bunch of leather-look components that fit the image.
This great path racer bicycle candidate comes in a few different styles, including step through and standard frames. Critical Cycles have also created a seven speed bike called the Beaumont if you need a bit more gearing (this model is a single speed).
Pure City: A 3-speed modern path racer with classic good looks
A good affordable ride for a path racer bike conversion
The Pure City Classic is a great, ideal bicycle for a quick and practical path racer conversion. It has riser bars that could be turned upside down for that low slung handlebar look, and the frame has a classic diamond shape and a certain vintage elegance to it. The stance is perfect for the type of riding the path racer bike is intended for, and it's sleek and attractive with a throwback shape to it.
Another reason why this bicycle is a good candidate for conversion is that it uses a 3 speed rear internal hub, which maintains the clean chain line that's so essential for the proper look. It has a good range of gearing for most situations, and it's a capable city commuter that you can ride all year long.
It comes with a full warranty, and with a light and strong chromoly frame, good brakes and a Nexus hub the components and build are high quality. The first and only step I'd recommend would be to flip those bars upside down, and you've basically got a good, cheap path racer bike that's ready to ride.
The Pure Cycles Classic is a bike I recommend to anyone building a path racer bicycle.
Can I find an actual vintage path racer to restore?
Today, unfortunately, there aren't a lot of vintage path racer bikes available anymore. Since they had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, there aren't too many working examples.
If you did find one, it'd probably not be road worthy. More likely a museum piece.
Fortunately, you can find replicas that embody the spirit of the beautiful path racer today, or you can easily recreate the look.
Furthermore, modern path racer replicas have technological advantages over their vintage siblings. Modern braking systems mean you'll stop better, and the alloys used in bike frame metals are much stronger, so your ride can take more punishment.
Also, unlike the path racing bicycles of yesteryear, modern ones tend to have multi-speed gearing, so they're a lot friendlier for hills.
There are a ton of good-looking, ready-made path racer lookalikes out there. The Sillgey Pizazz or the Pashley Guv'nor have the vibe down pat.
You can also save a bit of money (since both of those bikes are quite expensive for what they are) by building your own bike from a 'nearly there' model. The Pure City Classic that I showed earlier makes a great path racer style bicycle conversion candidate.
Turn your existing road bike into a path racer
Accessories you'll need...
It's also possible to turn your existing road bike into a path racer inspired machine by adding a few simple accessories and components. Let's take a look at what you'll need to start your conversion:
For the simplest project, you should probably find:
- A classic bike frame. A lugged diamond frame is perfect. Avoid anything too modern or hydroformed, it won't quite look right.
- A single speed or 3-speed rear wheel (for that clean chain line)
- A nice leather or faux leather saddle (preferably sprung)
- Mustache / dropped handlebars with that vintage flair.
That's really all there is to it. You'll be 'path racing' in no time with these minor modifications!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Graeme
What do you think of path racer bikes?
Graeme (author) on February 21, 2013:
@anonymous: Good tips, and good advice about inverting the bars, thanks!
anonymous on February 14, 2013:
Coupla notes about path bikes: to get the authentic look, try British 'North Road'-style bars from any '50's, '60's or even '70's Raleigh (or Rudge or Hercules) 26" roadster. Mount them upside down, and finish them off with leather grips or cork grips; shellacking the cork grips keeps them from discoloring from you skin oils. Many path bikes had a 'gallows'-style seat post; these look similar to a quill-style handlebar stem, with a horizontal post that allows fore-aft adjustment of the saddle. They show up on eBay from time to time. Path racers usually had 'fishtail' (rear-facing) dropouts; common practice for these is to use a set of chain tighteners, allowing adjustment of the chain as well as rear wheel alignment; they add a nice authentic period detail. Another neat detail for this type of bike is a set of wing nuts. Before the invention of the quick-release hub, wing nuts allowed cyclists to change wheels easily on the road; for three-speed hubs, there are even rear wing nuts with the correct center for the hub adjustment chain and viewing hole. In addtition to the two bikes mentioned, Pashley makes the Guv'nor, single-speed with the option of a 3-speed hub; authentic path racer look and details for about $1500.
julieannbrady on July 04, 2012:
Gosh, in my lifetime, I've basically owned Schwinn bikes.
ismeedee on July 04, 2012:
I used to have an old racer bike and I loved it- I do like to go fast!! But alas it wasn't terribly practical here as there are so many steep hills, so I had to say goodbye to it.
Graeme (author) on July 01, 2012:
@BLemley: Thank you! Yes, converting old bikes to path racers is pretty simple, good luck to you if you do it!
Beverly Lemley from Raleigh, NC on July 01, 2012:
We've got a lot of old bikes in the basement we picked up at a yard sale years ago...could be a path racer! Great lens! B : )
PaulWinter on June 30, 2012:
A very cool looking bicycle .
William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on June 29, 2012:
Thank you for sharing this useful information. Love it! ;-)
Graeme (author) on June 29, 2012:
@bikerministry: Thanks! I do recommend path racer style bikes, they are a personal fav.
bikerministry on June 29, 2012:
Wow, you are an expert in this field. Thank you for this information. It will help me decide what bike to get next. Blessings.