The Electra Ticino 20D

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The first car I ever coveted or even cared about was the 1968 Mustang coupe. One of my camp counselors (in 1969) had one in what, in my memory, was a stunning gold. I’ve loved those late ’60s and early ’70s Mustangs with a romantic abandon ever since. Every now and then, I allow my self a fantasy about having a fun car, something indulgent and impractical. And every now and then I rejigger that fantasy to take in something a bit more affordable than a Porsche Cayman, and back to my beloved Mustang I go. The problem I encounter is that the practical streak that causes me to rejigger that fantasy in favor of affordability, extends to my considerations of the driving experience.

You see, I know that I don’t really want a Mustang. Stick with me a sec and I’ll explain how a guy who wants a Mustang simultaneously doesn’t want the car that he just said he wants. I swear.

Those old Mustangs were called muscle cars for a reason. They corner with all the grace of a bowling pin balanced on a roller skate. Their suspension has all the sophistication of a 16-year-old boy’s libido. Their emissions as offensive (and hilarious) as the great bean scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Those seats? My couch is more comfortable. Lap belt? Are you serious? The sound system … don’t get me started about the aural offense that AM radio represents. But I’m started, so I just need to remind you how reception disappears as you pass beneath bridges, between buildings and in desirable driving terrain. AM radio is mono, not stereo, which is fine if you’re Vincent Van Gogh. And don’t talk to me about upgrades. That’s divorcing your wife for a trophy model; it’s admitting you didn’t really love her.

I carry a similar romance for those old English three speeds. When I was in grad school, I worked for Parker Ramspott at Laughing Dog Bicycles (back then, Bicycle World Too), in Amherst, Massachusetts, and at the end of each school year Parker would buy up all the used 3-speeds from departing students he could find. He’d sell them to incoming students the following fall. I worked on a hell of a lot of those bikes and they endured like the works Dickens.

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The thing is, those old three speeds were just that: three speeds. They carry all the same flavor of liability that the Mustangs do. What I really want is a car that looks like a Mustang, but actually works. I found it in Electra‘s Ticino 20D. Nevermind the fact that this isn’t a car, let alone inspired by American Muscle. The Ticino revisits the style and appeal of those older utility bikes while adding some touches that make it practical in a way watching coeds push 50 lbs. of English steel uphill through campus isn’t.

Electra begins with an aluminum frame. The 6061 tubing is butted to give the bike a noticeably livelier demeanor while mitigating the harsh nature for which aluminum is so criticized. The fork is chromoly and uses a chromed, investment-cast crown, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.

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These days, most utility bikes I come across are spec’d with parts that work well enough for weekend use but aren’t really sufficient to daily use. The Ticino is a clear exception to that. While the company is better known for cruisers long on style and maybe bashful on actual function, the Ticino demonstrates that the people at Electra know bikes today as well as back through their history. Allow me to explain.

Were you to build a 21st-century answer to the three speed, what would you include? Thanks, I’ll take it from here: I’d want more gears. I don’t need to fly downhill, but I’d like to get up them without needing to dismount. Similarly, in a land with hills, I’d like some real brakes. How about a rack to make errands practical? Why, thank you. Maybe some fenders for the rain? Absolutely.  Oh, and that aforementioned aluminum frame? When combined with a lightweight drivetrain, aluminum rack and fenders, they work together to keep the bike from weighing as much as a moped.

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It would seem a lot to ask for it all to carry some style, but a guy can dream, right? Well, therein lies the particular genius of the Ticino. From the chromed fork crown and faux Reynolds tubing decals, this bike all but fools me into thinking it was created in Nottingham. The crank evokes the old cotter-pin variety that was as much fun to work on as doing your taxes. Ack. The brushed aluminum found in the canti’s turns up in the pedals, and the high-flange hubs and they are high enough in luster to effectively match the many other components possessing a first-rate polish. The shine of the fork crown and cranks turns up in the brake levers, bar, stem, seatpost, rims, fenders and even the rack.

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The upshot is that this bike functions as well as it looks. Even the saddle is meant to evoke a bygone era, rather than the latest comfort tech.

I added a couple of blinkys in a shot at increased visibility and a Knog lock to make sure I could return to the bike post-errand. And then I set out for the post office, the bank, Trader Joe’s and the odd taqueria. I admit here, most of my actual miles were logged behind Mini-Shred in trips to the neighborhood parks because a day without a trip to the park is a day wasted, in his estimation.

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The forward-pointing brake levers, while cool and period-appropriate in look, are one of my only quibbles with this bike. Because of the way the cable exits the grip, it limits both the positioning of the brake lever and the shifters. Those levers also made it a bit more difficult to figure out the ideal manner in which to lean the bike against walls.

My one other criticism of this bike was the decision to pair a 50/39 crankset with a 12-30 cassette. Speed was never a concern while I was riding this bike. The cassette could easily have been paired with something smaller—a 46/34, perhaps—to ease the hills just a bit more and to make it easier to follow my son at low speeds.

Both of these criticisms are small points in an otherwise nearly impossible-to-criticize bike.

Thanks to its upright rider position, the Ticino’s handling is light and easy. With so little weight on the front wheel, I wouldn’t want to descend any mountain passes, but I feel safe enough in my neighborhood if gravity pulls me toward 20 mph. In turns, partly courtesy the 35mm tires, the bike imparts confidence if not dare-devilry.

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The Ticino comes in two sizes for men and one for women, and thanks to the sloping top tube they’ll cover a great many people. It also comes in three different trim levels: a seven speed, an eight speed and then the fully tricked-out 20-speed I’ve been riding. The entry-level bike goes for $650 while my loaded version goes for $1600.

People can buy their throwbacks and achieve authenticity, but I like the idea of splitting the difference, not having a bike that weighs 50 lbs., stops on command, gets me up hills with a minimum of fuss and still carries the appeal of the bicycle itself. That’s the real triumph of this bike. The Ticino is a bike for people who know bikes.

 

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