preconceptions or even misconceptions seem to increase in inverse proportion to their desirability, or maybe it's just in my line of vision. when last in london, i walked past tour de ville probably around four times before discovering that it's not a shop in the conventional sense, and certainly not in the manner that river city cycles is in portland. so having made contact with super-relax super helper, austin ramsland, i was rather delighted to notice that his e-mail address indicated he was in some way connected with sweetpea bicycles, subsequently discovering he was natalie ramsden's other half. isn't life great?
natalie is one of only two builders in america responsible for making women's only bicycle frames; if women are from venus, and men are from mars, it makes perfect sense for a venusian to be catering for other venusians' velocipedinal needs. the very wonderful mrs slate olson is about to take delivery of an attractively green sweetpea bicycle, which i might suggest is probably a recommendation in itself.
however, i digress, and we must return to my concept of the misconception. those of us who have lived a sheltered existence on the outer edge expect things to be as we have every right to expect them to be, and when this turns out to be not so, horizons must be widened and expectations adjusted. sweetpea bicycles exists at 17 south east third avenue; one block south of burnside, one block to the right. how could anything be simpler? except all that appears at se 3rd is a large, anonymous building with few obvious means of access, and certainly no graphical indication as to that which may be contained within. surely sweetpea bicycles would have a front window displaying a fine range of venusian frames and a delicately painted sign above?
i asked someone unloading a van close by, a venusian by coincidence, but a blank stare was the best that could be achieved. fortunately the power of short range e-mail is a convenient method of communication, being as how i'm one of only two people in the world bereft of a mobile phone. the building at 17 se 3rd turns out to be an agglomoration of myriad businesses, all plying their crafts, art and trade from a series of low rent cubicles, one of which contained mrs ramsland and her barking dog. a friendlier space it would be hard to find: enough space to contain the clutter that accompanies the true artist, with more than enough light, gas bottles against the wall, pink rims hanging from the ceiling, workstand and work in progress just left of centre, and a bench vice that could hold the space shuttle when it too requires some fillet brazing.
answering further enquiry and shooting down another of those ill-informed preconceptions, while portland may be the hub of the universe (pun intended) with regard to the joining of steel tubes and brazing excellence, making them look pretty happens, in the case of sweetpea, much further south down the rocky mountain trail, in colorado. all sweetpea frames are powder coated rather than painted, a perfectly understandable choice when you have the chance to see how immaculate the thick, glossy finish is on the artwork hanging on a hook, and present on the transportation employed by mr and mrs ramsland.
natalie builds bikes only for women, though austin may be the true exception as i had just carried his blue sweetpea bicycle up the first set of stairs while he handled the door-opening duties. business is good, with a wait-list of between two and three years; the bare craftswomanship on display in the workstand testifies to the desire to wait that long. move your misconceptions several thousand kilometres east, and it would be hard to think of such a degree of success should a venusian suggest to do likewise on uk shores. thus, if you are of the fairer sex and have need or desire of amongst the very best handbuilt bicycle frame that can be had for your gender, i'd suggest that you develop a degree of patience, log on to sweetpea bicycles and break out those colour charts. natalie is more than happy to find a way of gracing britain's less than perfect roads with her beautiful bicycles.
posted on tuesday 12 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................