My bicycle history, part the third: mixte mania!

I totally meant to post this ages ago, but the day I got back from the New Year’s trip to Stub Stewart (which my boyfriend wrote about here!), I got a cold, and so have been out of commission.

On to talking about mixtes!

So, there’s one thing I want to get out of the way first: “mixte” is a French word. It means unisex. Mixtes aren’t just women’s bikes. And I’ve been told that in French it’s pronounced “meext” but most Americans I’ve met pronounce it “MIX tee.”

Wait, do you know what a mixte looks like? This is me, on a mixte: - Bike Move in PDX

(photo taken by Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled, on Curt D’s move-by-bike, summer of 2009)

Most mixtes have two skinny top tubes going straight from the headtube, past the seat tube, and back to the rear dropouts. Some, (like Rivendell’s) have a single top tube that becomes two at the seat tube. Either way, there’s generally a lovely straight line from the head tube to the rear dropouts. I don’t know why, but I love the graceful line that it gives. I’m not the only one who finds them aesthetically pleasing, and if you want to see lots of examples, there’s a flickr group just for mixtes!

So in March of 2008, I decided I wanted a lighter bike. As lovely as the Raleigh is, it’s heavy and slow. One does eventually get tired of being passed by everyone, and tired of longer trips being intimidating. My friend Zoë was into mixtes first, she’s the one who first told me about them! The basic idea, I’ve read, is to have a step-through frame with the strength of a diamond-frame. So-called “lady’s” frames end up not being as strong as diamond frames because of their angled top tube, and are often heavier.

(A historical note: the original reason for making women’s frames, is so that you wouldn’t flash people getting on the bike. I ride a diamond-frame in dresses and skirts all the time, but every time I swing my leg over the back to get on, I risk showing people what’s underneath!)

I perused Craigslist looking for a mixte bike I could afford, and when came up for a good price, I rode the bus out to North Portland and paid $60 cash for a Carabela mixte, in a lovely shade of blue with beautiful lugwork. Carabela?! Yeah, I’d never heard of them either. I’ve looked and looked online, but all I can find out is that they made an okay road bike called the Windsor in the 1970’s, they’re based in Mexico but their bikes were designed by an Italian guy, and they only make motorcycles now. I seriously cannot find any other info on them making a mixte!

The tires were completely shot, as in they were flaking bits off. So first order of operations was taking the whole front wheel (since I didn’t know the size) to a shop to get new tires and tubes. Then I replaced them all myself, using a bike repair manual and a lot of swearing. I pinched each thumb at least once, I had to redo one because the valve was at an awkward angle once inflated, and I was sure I was going to kill myself since I’d never used quick-release wheels before and didn’t know if I had done it right! But now that the bike was, in theory, rideable; I rode it to a meeting–and had someone check if I’d done the quick-release correctly.

Oh, my first rides were very entertaining. Drop bars? Stem shifters? Friction shifting? I hadn’t had those on a bike since I was 16! I’d been riding a three-speed for two years! Nothing like being in a high gear, getting a red light, and then trying to get back into first gear when the light changes. *Rattle-rattle-rattle* Oh crap, the chain came off!

I quickly changed out the stem (or rather, I had Citybikes do it) so I wasn’t reaching so far that it hurt. I learned how to make it so the chain wouldn’t go flying into my spokes if I downshifted hard, by turning little screws on the derailer. I got better at shifting.

Ah, my mixte. It seemed So Light! to me at the time, and now I see it was a tank–there are other mid-70’s to mid-80’s mixtes that are far lighter. It was, in retrospect, probably a bit on the big side, and the cranks were definitely a bit too long.

But I loved it anyway. It’s the bike I rode on my first “long” ride on the Hood River Fruit Loop (about thirty miles, and now it seems funny to me to think of it as a long ride), and on my first few bike-camping trips, cursing my way up every hill due to the crappy gear selection. Or as I’d say to people, standing on the pedals, hammering away, almost dying from lack of air: “This is my lowest gear!”

A few months after Shawn and I started dating and going bike-camping in mid-2009, I realized that I need a bike that was better suited for touring–something with a granny gear. Something that wouldn’t feel wobbly when loaded with panniers. Something not so heavy. But I’ll save that for a later entry.


(Shawn’s Surly Long Haul Trucker and my Carabela mixte, on a trip to the Columbia River Gorge.)

I still love mixtes and plan to get another one eventually…probably a Nishiki or Univega or Raleigh. There was a woman on the Stub Stewart trip with a Raleigh mixte, it had matching fenders and a three-speed hub. I offered to trade bikes. She laughed. I was serious. But I’d love to turn a mixte into a dedicated city bike, something with all the awesome functionality of Dutch bikes but a little speedier. Generator hub, upright handlebars, fenders and a rear rack, an internal hub gear…maybe even drum brakes…

One last note: Shawn had an art show for Montavilla’s First Friday last night at the Oregon Bike Shop, a lovely shop near our house, owned by the super-friendly Jim and Sue. While we were there, I asked, quite timidly, if, since it was January and they weren’t busy and all, if I could bring in my Novara (the bike I’m obsessing about getting perfect for touring) and work on it there–use their stands and tools and all that. To my pleasant surprise, I got an enthusiastic yes! I’m so excited about this, I can hardly stand it. You normally have to pay to use a shop’s stands and tools, and often it’s only a few hours a week, which can be a hassle if your bike needs a lot of work and isn’t very rideable. And here I have an open invitation to come down and work on my bike there, and have two experienced mechanics around. I can hardly wait. Guess it’s time to buy the handlebars and brake levers and figure out which stem I want, and then I have to decide on front and rear derailers….did I mention I’m excited?

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2 Responses to My bicycle history, part the third: mixte mania!

  1. Jonathan says:

    Mixtes are the best; I am on my 3d frame now, a Motobecane. They offer more rear suspension than a double-diamond or girls’ frame, and they are less desireable to thieves.

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