By Samantha Doyle
Sizes: 17.5” 20” 22”
Size tested: 17.5”
Strawberries and cream on two wheels!
For me, Pashley are the world’s leading authority on hand-made city bikes, and the Pashley Sonnet is a joy to ride. It’s well balanced, super-comfy and provides me with mile upon mile of care-free cycling.
Salisbury is a small and vibrant city that’s most famous for its beautiful cathedral. The cathedral and the surrounding Close are a magnet for tourists and locals alike, and yet even in the height of summer there’s always room for cycling around this stately oasis.
But the greatest pleasure aboard my Pashley Sonnet is during a cold and clear winter’s day when I get out early, put Harry in the basket, and have the Close to myself.
Pashley's elegant Sonnet comes in two versions, there’s the simpler and slightly lighter Sonnet Pure, or there’s my choice, the fully-equipped Bliss – and oh, how it is to ride! I love this bike.
Fully kitted and fitted
For starters, the Sonnet Bliss has a very handy key-activated bike lock fitted unobtrusively around the rear wheel (note to self - don't lose the key!) a fitted lock is something less for me to carry or forget. Not that Salisbury is a den of bicycle thieves, mind you, but better safe than sorry.
There’s also an old-fashioned alloy pump that sits securely to the rear of the downtube by an even older fashioned set of brazed on anchor points. The odd times that I actually need to use it, the pump works really well making it easy enough for me to keep the tyres pumped up.
The roads around the centre of Salisbury aren’t Wiltshire’s finest, but the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres have proved to be totally puncture proof and grippy over the wet cobbles along the old High Street leading to the cathedral. The tyres have a reflective strip that runs around the whole circumference of the tyres and are pretty effective at being picked up in vehicle headlights.
The Sonnet Bliss also comes fitted with a very substantial rear carrier and hinged bracket that holds my wayward hound and library books safely without any fear of losing any of them. There’s a powerfully bright LED rear light incorporated into the carrier which is a thoughtful addition to the reflector on the rear mudguard.
The Brooks B66 leather saddle is a work of art, there's really no breaking in period, if there is, you know it's going to take a few years. The quality of Brooks saddles are amazing, again, it's British workmanship at its best. Brooks say that the B66 saddle is designed for ride positions where the handlebars are set higher than the saddle.
It's a system that works as I perch myself fair and square onto the saddle with no discomfort whatsoever. It's wide enough and short enough in the nose of the saddle to enable me to step off the bike at a road junction without any mishaps.
And good things always last!
The saddle is very comfortable and the cushioning is excellent. I've never felt the need to wear any cycling shorts ever. The heavy-duty springs that support the saddle also help make you feel as if you’re floating on air across the roughest of cobbles and paved roads.
Ride position is classic sit-up-and-beg and the handlebars fall naturally to hand, so to speak! The Pashley Sonnet is armchair cycling and the five-speed Sturmey Archer hub gears provide easy pedalling up all but the steepest of Salisbury’s hills.
The thumb-shifter is reasonably easy to shift, but it's my least favourite component of the bike, if that's possible?, I don't have the strongest of thumbs and in the cold weather I sometimes wish that there was an easier option, like a twist grip or similar.
The cable and chain actuation of the Sturmey Archer gears are holding up well, but the shifting does feel a little vague at times, especially when setting my self up for riding up a slope or hill. I just accept that that's how it is, there's nothing wrong with the gear set-up, it just feels vague at the only time I might need to do something in a hurry on the bike.
The design and weight of a steel bike of this stature is always going to make the bike a bit of a handful while climbing, but let’s keep things real here, you don’t buy a Pashley bike to gain valuable King of the Mount points, do you? The ladies step-through frame is built using traditional brazed and lugged steel tubing - it's as safe as the bank of England!
The finish on the frame is quite exquisite, and there are no sharp edges to any of the welds. The whole thing has a finished by hand quality to it, but then again it's nothing more than you would expect from one of Britain's oldest bike manufacturers.
The full length mudguards protect my clothing in the wet and their hand-applied gold linings go to show the detail of how far Pashley will go to create a bike that appeals to a wide range of riders. It's this sort of attention to detail that helps create the Pashley following.
Ok, so a Pashley Bike isn’t always going to be your cheapest option, and I Scrooge-like saved my pennies over a couple of years to get the bike that I always craved. Firmly of the belief that you get what you pay for, I can't help but feel that the Pashley Sonnet is money well spent.
The colour coded paint is Ivory coloured with Claret mudguards and chainguard. The chainguard isn’t one of those fully-enclosed jobs, you can still get to the chain easily enough if there are any problems – which there hasn’t been after six months of regular use.
There’s a handy propstand for ease of loading the basket. I can get the stand out with just a well-practiced sweep of my left foot.
The incredibly helpful and knowledgeable staff at Stonehenge Cycles prepaired and set the Sonnet up for me, they have been main Pashley dealers since the Stone Age and know what they're talking about. It's nice to have this kind of service, it fits in nicely with the whole Pashley ethos, but I'm pretty sure that Chris and his staff at Stonehenge Cycles are like this no matter what.
They listened patiently to my novice bike-related ramblings and questions. Never patronising, just polite and helpful - what more could you want?
The front of the Sonnet is dominated by the large wicker basket that devours all my local shopping, but neatly tucked away underneath is the hub-dynamo powered front lamp which lights up the late afternoon shadows when my trip into Salisbury is done.
I really enjoy the sound of the over-sized ding-dong bell and I need little excuse to let it chime. It politely lets both pedestians and road users know your there. Often when they look to see what it is, they always have a smile on their faces.
The Pashley Sonnet is a very charming and disarming bike, but I try never to be in a rush when cycling around town. Why should I? Riding my Pashley Sonnet is always a moment to savour.
In summary: for me, the Pashley Sonnet is as British as Earl Grey tea and red post boxes, with a bit of National Trust thrown in for good measure.
The Sonnet is a great mix of old-school British values and craftmanship that's kitted out with modern equipment that will keep me in good measure for many years to come.
Harry and me continue to enjoy our early morning sojurns around the cathedral Close aboard one of Britain's flag-ship cycle brands. We're both very proud of our Sonnet.
Slow and reliable, the Pashley Sonnet turns heads on every corner and at every set of traffic lights. Just like Salisbury Cathedral and it's surrounding Close, life on a Pashley is often enjoyed best at a slower pace.