It seems to me the English 3-speed was the epitomy of what a utility bike should be, sturdy, dependable and low maintenance. It came as standard with mudguards, chaincase and usually a wicker basket. It had relaxed angles and a sprung saddle that made it easy and comfortable to ride.
Yet the only place you're likely to see one these days is if you take a trip to Oxford or Cambridge, where dependability is a must for students and others who use their bicycles everyday as their main form of transport. Many of these bicycles are 40 years old, running mainly the same components as when they were originally built up.
Elsewhere in the country, the cheap mountain bike is king. £90 for some dual suspension lookalike that'd crumble at first sight of a bridlepath. The fact that it is a "mountain bike" and has "dual suspension" is it's main selling point. Little wonder nobody cycles anymore.
I can't help but feel the mountain bike, in however an unfortunate a manner, has had a sizable role to play in the demise of cycling in the UK. 95% of the riding done on these bicycles is on roads or paths. Their derailleurs come out of alignment too easily, the tyres are heavy and have high rolling resistance. These are not bicycles that are pleasant to ride on the road, least of all the £90 jobbies.
Now you may say that Pashley still makes a nice traditional bicycle, to which I'd agree with you. But it costs £450, this means it is a specialists bicycle. The kind of person who puts down £450 on a bicycle usually knows enough about cycling to know what it is he/she wants from his/her bicycle that they are willing to pay that bit extra if it is to specification.
What I believe we need is a traditional style bicycle, complete with mudguards, chaincase and wicker basket for around £200. True, it wouldn't be the nicest bicycle ever, but I believe a large manufacturer could put out a bicycle of good quality and dependability for such a price tag. Of course, such a bicycle would need to have a jazzy paint job or some such to appeal to the publics fickle tastes. But if we could get such bicycles into shops, into vogue and get the general public riding them, we might start to see a culture where the bicycle isn't looked upon as simply a toy or something to go out for a ride on with the kids on a summers day, but as a means to an end, a tool if you will.
That's the dream, anyway. Discuss...