Thursday, 21 August 2014

Announcing: A Viking Invasion

Yes, I did it:  I ordered a Viking Bromley singlespeed mixte from Parkers of Bolton, taking my chances with buying via mail order. 

Opening the box.
(Is there anything else as exciting as taking
delivery of a big cardboard box
that by its shape and size screams NEW BIKE?!)

If you are thinking of doing the same, here are a few points to consider. 

Parkers claim that the bicycle will arrive "90% complete", that all that needs to be done after taking delivery is: fitting of pedals, stem and handlebars, front wheel, front brake cable, saddle, plus adjusting the brakes prior to riding.

The truth is, these bicycles are very cheap and one of the cost-savings was obviously in the building up of the bicycle. I have no idea yet how durable or well-made the frame is, but everything that has been fitted to it has been installed with minimal time and care. That means:

Very little grease in the headset or the wheel hubs (who knows about the bottom bracket...)

Nothing has been tightened to the correct torque.
All of which means:

You will not only need to fit the various "10% bits" but also completely dismantle the bicycle and build it up again, this time packing grease into all the critical moving parts and securing everything to the correct torque levels. If you're not qualified to do this yourself, you'll have to arrange for someone who is qualified to do it for you. (I'm really fortunate in that Adam can do all this. If however everything that had been fitted had been prepped and installed correctly, the "10%" to finish assembling the bike would have been well within my skill levels... though I'd probably want a little supervision with adjusting the brakes.)

Also connected to the low price point: 

The paint looks a little fragile. I expect dramatic degradation over the course of one winter.

The tyres that come fitted to the wheels are totally unsuitable for urban riding. They are made of cheap rubber and have no puncture protection. You will want to swap these out for better tyres before you venture anywhere. (You may as well upgrade the rim tape and inner tubes while you've got the tyres off.) 

However... the wheelset is a slightly odd size. You may have difficulty fitting different tyres to these rims.

Speaking of rims... these deep 'aero' rims may look sexy-as-hell but they wreck havoc with clearance. Despite what Parkers say on their website, there is no room for full mudguards. (We butchered an old set so that they are fitted in sections, which required some ingenuity to fit since the braze-ons were not, of course, positioned for this kind of "mickey mouse" set up.)

The brakes are not the grippiest. I'd say they're much on a par with the vintage Weinmanns on my Puch. But I've done a couple of emergency stops, including one at speed going downhill, and they do stop. Just maybe not as quickly as you might like, especially if you're accustomed to modern braking systems... especially if you're used to discs! 

Parkers may not pack the bicycle adequately to protect it from damage during transit. My bike has a small area of paint missing at the top of the left crankarm, where one of the wheels obviously rubbed or scraped against it. The cardboard tubing around the crankarm did not extend high enough to protect it and the wheel was not fully wrapped to ensure it wouldn't make contact.

On the other hand, once fully dissembled, greased up, re-assembled, new tyres fitted, brakes adjusted, pedals fitted and saddle height tweaked about a dozen times, my test ride impressions were surprisingly good. 

The bicycle is far lighter than I expected.

The ride is quite smooth.

The position is quite upright and the geometry is much more relaxed than I expected, as well, but this is a good thing in an urban transport bicycle.

I will post again about the ride quality and handling once I've had a few more weeks of riding, but so far I've noticed:

The whole front end has very slack angles. If I try to stand up to pedal -- for example, attacking short sharp hills as is my habit with a singlespeed -- the steering and balance does not feel good at all.

It has a bit of front end shimmy when descending fast.

Transferring a bit of load from the rear rack to the front (for example, draping a chain lock around the handlebars for a short distance) makes the bike handle as if it weighs twice as much. Or has gained 4 teeth on the chainring! Noticeably harder work than if that same load is kept at the back on the rack or in a pannier.

However, the bike handles very well indeed with weight at the back.

There is a slight tendency to under-steer around corners (especially when going quite quickly) but stability is excellent. I can take long full looks over my shoulder at traffic and conditions behind me. I am pretty confident that I could ride this bike 'no hands', something I've never attempted with any of the bicycles I've had as an adult.

Lastly -- the Bromley is a bit more of A Looker than I expected, indeed than I wanted in a London Town Bike. With that white paintwork, those matching white deep rim wheels and the brown (fake) leather saddle and handlebar grips, it's a very pretty bike. I am actively trying to get a little dirt on her to tone it all down!

I'll let you know how we get on in the coming weeks. 

The 'takeaways' so far are:  you get the quality you pay for and you should be prepared to put a lot of work into getting the bike ready to ride. Whether it's all worth it... at this price point, the answer may very well be 'yes' but the jury is out on that for the time being. 

Happy pedalling, whatever bike you ride!

P.S. Names?! Any suggestions? My shortlist at the moment consists of Hannah, Evie and Astrid... 


The Scandinavian heritage won out in the name stakes: the Viking has been christened Astrid (meaning "divine strength" so say the experts, but I like the "white star" connotations as well.)


  1. Yes those wheel rims look like a challenge. So you're still keeping the bike?

  2. Hi Jean

    Yes, I think I'll be keeping her... for the foreseeable future. Much depends on how robust she proves through an urban winter. How quickly she rusts up will be one issue, but to be honest, rain and damp are secondary to road grit in terms of what bikes have to be able to withstand here. It's incredibly destructive on frames, chain, brake workings, etc. At least she doesn't have derailleurs! Road grit and spray are really hard on shoes, too. I'm sure it's a similar situation for you and your bikes in Canada - if not worse!

    I am keeping an eye out for a higher quality replacement but I do hate waste so if the Viking doesn't totally disintegrate over the next 8 months, I'll invest in some upgrades and try to keep her going.

    Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. :)


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