Top 3 Path Racer Bicycles: How to Find, Build, or Buy
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 at the time, 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.
This lens is all about the 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
- HandlebarsMost 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.
- Thinner Tires 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 sprung, as that was the most comfortable suspension-wise at the time. (Bumpy paths made riding extremely uncomfortable without this minimal suspension addition!)
A fantastic bicycle that can easily be converted into a path racer style bike with just a few additions.
Retrospec Siddartha Single Speed Path Racer Bicycle
A great basis for a Path Racer inspired bike build
The Retrospec Siddartha is a great foundation to create a path racer style bicycle. It's 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 Siddartha is a great bicycle to ride, super fun with it's single speed, and it looks really sharp. (I particularly like that it's not covered in 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.
Critical Cycles Path Racer Bike
Another great path racer bicycle conversion candidate
This bike by Critical Cycles is an extremely affordable model, and it's a good choice for a path racer bicycle conversion if you don't have a ton of scratch to throw around. 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 a rear luggage rack for pannier bags or what have you. It's a more upright riding position than the other bikes listed here, but you could flip the riser bars easily, and it already 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 version of the bike if you need a bit more gearing (this model is a single speed).
Pure City 3 Speed Path Racer Bicycle Candidate
A good cheap ride for a path racer bike conversion
The Pure City is a great bicycle for 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 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 classic 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 looks amazing.
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 next step if I bought one would be to flip those bars, and you've basically got a good, cheap path racer bike that's ready to ride.
Definitely a bike I recommend to anyone building a path racer bicycle.
Finding A Vintage Path Racer Bicycle
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 running around anymore. If you did find one, it'd probably not be all that road worthy anymore. Fortunately, you can find replicas that embody the spirit of the beautiful path racer today, or you can easily create the look with a modern style bike.
Furthermore, these modern path racer replicas have a lot of technological advantages over their vintage siblings. Braking systems are modern, meaning you'll stop better, and the alloys used in bike frame metals are much stronger, so your ride will take greater 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 great path racer lookalike options out there. The Sillgey Pizazz or the Pashley Guv'nor have the look 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 that I showed earlier is a good candidate, and with a small amount of work it will make a great path racer style bicycle conversion candidate.
If you're looking for a bit of a lower price, the Retrospec Siddhartha is a lower priced option that also looks great! It's a single speed that's pretty bare bones, but that embodies the spirit of path racer bicycles anyway. The Retrospec is a single speed so it's better suited to areas without a ton of hills, but the bike is a good path racer bicycle conversion candidate for sure.
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 single speed or 3 speed rear wheel (for that clean chain line), a nice leather or faux leather saddle (preferably sprung), and some dropped handlebars with that vintage flair. You'll be 'path racing' in no time with these minor modifications!
Brooks Leather Saddle - A Path Racer Looks Good With A Brooks
Most vintage path racer bicycles had leather seats in either brown or black, so that's something you'll want to look for. The best name in vintage looking and sprung leather saddles in the business is Brooks.
Sure, they are expensive. But they will conform to your body and become the most comfortable seat you'll ever have. Besides that, they look amazing.
Moustache Handlebars - A Path Racer Bicycle's Bars Are Important
A path racer bike needs to have dropped or moustache bars. It's a must for the look to be correct. Fortunately, handlebars are cheap, and they're easy to install too.
Consider getting some leather or faux leather handlebar grips to complete the look.
Single Speed Rear Wheel
A single speed rear wheel is really the spirit of a path racer bike, so you'll want to try to find one. You can usually find great deals on fixed gear rear wheels, like the one pictured here. If you already have a similar front wheel, there's no need to replace both.
For a bike like a path racer, you'll want to stick with a classic look, so go for silver / chrome, not fancy neon colors.
3-Speed Rear Wheel
It's also totally kosher to go with a 3-speed rear wheel, to help with those hills. The important thing is to go with an internally geared rear hub, so you won't have a messy derailleur wrecking that beautiful and simple chain line.
The three speed rear wheel pictured here is a great example of something that would probably work for your path racer bike. Be sure to do your research and get the right size. A note: installing a 3-speed wheel can be tricky, there's cabling and the shifter to account for. You might want a shop to install it for you.
© 2012 Graeme