Bike Review: Pashley Princess Sovereign & Roadster Sovereign

Pashley Princess Sovereign in green

Recently I had a chance to make a trip up to Logan Square and pay a visit to the folks at Boulevard Bikes – a great neighborhood bike shop right on the circle. Along with the Surlys, Bianchis, Manhattan Greens and other bikes, they are also the exclusive (I believe?) Chicago dealer for Pashley – the classic British bicycle brand that began in 1926 and still hand-builds all their bikes in their factory at Stratford-upon-Avon. Those lovely Pashley Princess Sovereigns – like the green one pictured above – were the reason I made the trip as I wanted to take a test ride on another well-known and well-loved loop-frame bike.

When I arrived they kindly pulled out the tallest frame (22.5″ ) for me to ride – though it was a black frame, not one of the green ones. The Princess Sovereigns come in 17″, 20″ and 22.5″ frames and even though their website suggests that I should be fine riding one their largest frame, it didn’t  look like it would be tall enough.  I rolled it outside and parked it next to my own Oma for a comparison, and you’ll see that while the handlebars are distinctly different, they are somewhat similar bikes. And it didn’t seem that much smaller than my Oma.

A Pashley Princess Sovereign & WorkCycles Oma side-by-side

A Pashley Princess Sovereign & WorkCycles Oma side-by-side

They are both steel frame bikes with a very upright configuration,  loop frames, fenders, and skirt guards, Schwalbe Marathon tires, rear racks, internal hubs, dynamo lights, and they look great with wicker baskets. The big differences are the wheel size the handlebars and the overall geometry. I never realized until I actually rode a Pashley Princess Sovereign though, that they have 26-inch wheels as opposed to the 28-inch wheels on my Oma. I noticed it immediately however, when I got on the bike to ride it.

Pashley Princess Sovereign in black

The other difference that I noticed was the overall configuration, which had a lot to do with the handlebars I think.  I felt as though I was leaning forward more similar to they way I would ride a mountain bike or road bike. Now of course, if I transitioned from a mountain or road bike to the Pashley, I would immediately notice the upright position and feel like I was riding a completely different bike. However, when compared to a WorkCycles Oma, one of the Velorbis bikes, or even the Gazelle Toer Populair (which also makes one feel a bit ‘perched’) I definitely felt like I was leaning more forward as on many contemporary bikes.  When I was talking to the guys at the bike shop about the dramatic difference in the positioning on my Oma versus the Pashley,  they immediately stated that they preferred the Pashley bikes because they felt they were more agile than other traditional bikes and worked better in the city.  For me however, I did not feel as though it was agile,  it actually felt a bit awkward. I also think that the bike may have been just a little too small or just not the right geometry for me. It’s a lighter-weight bike than my WorkCycles Oma which would be a big plus for many people, but that lighter-weight along with the handlebar configuration made it a bit awkward, less sturdy,  and not agile at all for a tall woman like myself. I  had a completely different feeling when I tried out the Pashley Roadster Sovereign though.

Pashley Roadster Sovereign

Pashley Roadster Sovereign

The Roadster, besides not being a step-through/loop-frame bike,  has 28-inch wheels and a different stem.

Pashley Roadster Sovereign Stem

Pashley Roadster Sovereign Stem

Pashley Princess Sovereign Stem

Pashley Princess Sovereign Stem

The Roadster that I tested felt immediately more comfortable to me in terms of the distance to the handlebars and the overall geometry. Because I’m a tall woman (6ft tall) I often find equipment that is sized for women (like step-through bikes) but that doesn’t necessary fit me.  At times it almost seems as if manufacturers believe that women don’t exist above 5’9 or that if we are any taller, we take on the same proportions as men. But I digress. Another difference between all the other classic Pashley upright bikes  like the Princess Sovereign and the Roadsters, is that the Roadster Sovereign and Roadster Classic come with the rear fold-down style (or wheelstand) of kickstand instead of the side-mount kickstand.  There’s a nice description of the Pashley Princess Sovereign over at Lovely Bicycle as well as one of the Roadster Sovereign and she notes the differences in frame geometry between the two bikes and I am here to tell you that the two bike are definitely configured differently.  Female cyclists who are shorter than I may find the Princess Sovereign to be a perfect fit.  For me it felt too small and the geometry felt awkward, though I can see why many people love it as feels lighter and ‘faster’ than some of the other traditional loop-frame bikes.

Both the Pashley Princess Sovereign and the Pashley Roadster Sovereign have the following:

  • Traditional lugged and brazed frame
  • Sturmey Archer 5-speed hubs
  • Sturmey Archer hub brakes
  • Alloy non-slip pedals
  • Brook Saddles (different models on each bike)
  • Schawalbe Marathon Plus tires
  • Full chaincase, fenders, and skirt/coatguards
  • frame-mounted bike pump
  • Ding-dong bell

The two bikes differ in the following ways:

  • Wheels
    • Princess Sovereign has 26-inch wheels
    • Roadster Sovereign has 28-inch wheels
  • Rims
    • Princess Sovereign has polished rims
    • Roadster Sovereign has black rims
  • Frame Geometry
  • Frame Sizes
    • Princess Sovereign comes in 17″, 20″, and 22.5″ frames
    • Roadster Sovereign comes in 20.5″, 22.5″ and 24″ frames
  • Stem Geometry
  • Colors
    • Princess Sovereign comes in black or green
    • Roadster Sovereign only comes in black
  • Kickstand
    • Princess Sovereign has a standard side kickstand
    • Roadster Sovereign has a wheelstand-style kickstand

If you’re someone who loves traditional city bikes, and you don’t have to ride up steep hills every day, then a Pashley Princess Sovereign (like other traditional upright English and Dutch bikes) might be just the right bike for you. They are beautiful well-made bikes that will last for many years.

Note: When I was reading over the Pashley website I learned that they made a couple of special needs trikes for kids! You can read more about them here, though I’m not sure if they are available in the United States.

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  • tinybiker

    My bike purchasing was thwarted when I realized I am too small to ride an Oma – I’m not even 5′.  I am wondering what will quite fill that void, so looked into the Princess Sovereign.  Thanks for the comparison here!

    • Ms. Ding

      I’m glad it was helpful! Let me know what you ultimately decide on!

  • maureen

    I have the Pashley Princess Sovereign and very much enjoy it. I’m 5’5″ with a 23″ inseam, so for me getting a small size was a dream! Love it!

  • martha p

    My final big bike decision was between Pashley Princess and Oma – and I had the same feeling as you Ms D that the Princess was still too far forward for me. I need to keep my head up straight and shoulders back to avoid another trip to the neurosurgeon, and so went with workcycles Oma (which, BTW earned two thumbs up from my physical therapist). But at 5’3″ it is a big bike, not sure if I could have managed it at 5′ even.

  • Amy

    Interesting how the Roadster Sovereign felt more comfortable for you than the full size Princess. Maybe b/c it’s closer in size to your Oma? I imagine that going from the Oma to the Princess would be much like going from roller skates back into sneakers. That’s how I always feel after riding my mixte and then getting on the Pashley, and vice versa. I’m a short lady (5′ even) and from what I can tell most Dutch bikes are just WAY too big for me. I test rode one (don’t remember what maker. Something that I hadn’t heard of before) at my LBS and the handlebars were so wide that it put my hands far enough apart that it became awkward. Also, even with the seat all the way down I had to tip-toe on the pedals. :/ So, Pashley for the win for short peoples! I’d still like to get a chance to try out an Oma in a 49cm. I bet that might actually work for me. And swap the handlebars out for something narrower. 🙂

    • Ms. Ding

      Yes, I think you are correct that the Roadster was closer in geometry/size to my Oma than the Princess Sovereign. Besides the height there is the distance between the handlebars and the seat as well. I have a problem with many bikes not having enough room for me to pedal fully – no leg or torso room, and that was definitely the problem for me on the Princess Sovereign – I felt all crunched up. Incorrectly sized mountain/hybrid bikes pose a similar problem for me as well. Most bikes ‘made for women’ usually do not fit me in this regard. Which is why I do so love my Oma!

      You should give an Oma a try sometime, though you’re right that it might just be too big for you. Your comment about the handlebars is funny too. I had to borrow Mr. Ding’s cruiser bike for a few days and I hated it! It was too small and the handlebars were waaay too wide – really awkward. I don’t feel that way about the handlebars on my Oma, but I do know what you mean now.. that’s a horrible feeling.