The P/R is Dead. Long Live the P/R!

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The Kogswell P/R. Remember this modestly-priced, TIG-welded, made in Taiwan frameset with new-fangled “low trail” geometry and painted-to-match fenders from 2006? When I first came across photos of Adam A’s build, my dreams for a European-style utility bicycle seemed to come true. Little did I know that the P/R would set off a flurry of low-trail madness. Together with Rivendell’s early efforts, the P/R also helped solidify, if in a niche way, the return of 650B to the United States. I suppose the P/R defined the current steel-bike zeitgeist, albeit in a flawed way.

From Bicycle Quarterly

From Bicycle Quarterly

Matt G. of Kogswell was really ambitious. He was able to bring quite a few products to market for budget-minded fans of steel bikes – from frames to brakes to hubs. The original custard-color P/R seemed to be a damned good idea – a creative way to return to an old, largely forgotten design of the French Porteur. From what I understand, Jan Heine was a consultant on the design. The three fork options (50mm, 40mm, and 30mm of trail) helped define offset and trail figures and subsequent load carrying for a wider range of customers than could be served by the small cadre of custom builders doing classic French design. The tubing was strong – I remember hearing it was the same as a Surly Long Hall Trucker. The horizontal dropouts allowed for fixed gear or an internally-geared hub to be used, along with derailleurs. People set up their G1s mostly as porteurs and with all kinds of gearing set-ups. The powdercoat color was sharp – understated, vintage-inspired, and looked good with both silver and black parts. The color-matching steel fenders evoked the aesthetic of utilitarian British 3-speeds that provided basic transportation to the masses in the UK after the war. The upslope on the top tube wasn’t dramatic (although I would have liked a level top tube), keeping the lines fairly classic. The original P/R still turns heads and evokes questions when I ride my “G1″ around town. I think its the fenders.

Elegant simplicity: 'Duke's Kogger

Elegant simplicity: ‘Duke’s Kogger

Then Kogswell opened up the design. Smart people contributed. The “G2″ was skinny-tubed with black powder. The second generation P/R brought in folks’ desire for an lighter bike that could be more “R” (randonneuse) than “P” (porteur). It was still classic looking, but I fear that design-by-committee lost the focus of the original project. It became all-things-to-all-people-who-didn’t-want-to-spend-a-lot-of-money. I was one of them. I picked up a used G1 and set it up as an inexpensive transportation-oriented porteur that I could lock up overnight in the city with aplomb. But as I followed the development of Kogswell, it became difficult to keep track of G2 and then G3, and the 700c models, 26″ models, rack prototypes, and then flaws in design, and finally liquidation of the remaining stock. I picked up my wife’s black P/R for a couple hundred dollars. I don’t know what version it was. Matthew moved on.

Anthony at Longleaf planned to carry on the P/R project but I read recently that he won’t be able to pursue it further. There’s likely no one reason the P/R is no more. But some of the design-by-committee chaos may be to blame, as I saw repeated with Rawland. The original Sogn – a mid-trail all-rounder designed by and for Kirk Pacenti’s 650B tires was just a blissful, tough trail bike. Then it moved again to skinny-tubed, low trail, huge clearances, etc. It may be perfect for some folks, and I totally respect that – but I see Rawland trying to be too many things for too many people. So we have older models dropped, new initiatives sketched out with lots of discussion… and what I see as a lack of focus. Innovation is good, but original, consistent vision and reliable products are good too. I won’t pretend to know how hard it is and the guts it takes to do a start-up frame business. I’m just writing as a rider and observer, so take it with the ignorance it arrives from.

Back to the P/R: I still like the original idea and I’ll bet there’s a good market for a porteur-centric frameset. Velo Orange has the Polyvalent – but I don’t follow V-O stuff so I can’t speak to that frame’s qualities. Better photos and less chrome on the builds would help me with that one, though. Soma’s forthcoming randonneuse may work as a good porter, too. My Pelican does the job wonderfully, but your close to the realm of custom/small batch offerings and that’s a different discussion. But the idea of a simple, relatively inexpensive porter as either a mixte or a level top tube’d frame set with color matching fenders and horizontal dropouts for city-utility riding remains a winner in my mind. City-Utility. Maybe it could be called the C/U.

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7 thoughts on “The P/R is Dead. Long Live the P/R!

  1. The P/R series was certainly flawed in many ways. I view the Kogswell series as prototypes to test ideas at a time when we were less certain about low trail and planing. The Saluki and Berliot were demonstrations that 650B had virtues, thank you very much Rivendell. G1 was a demonstration that low trail would enhance front-loaded handling. G2 demonstrated the virtues of a more flexible frame.

    In hindsight, after riding the bikes mentioned, I think it is difficult to produce a bike optimized for both transport and long distance touring. The front end geometries are very close, but requirements deviate after that. Who knew?

  2. What a trip down memory lane! I recall thinking that BQ bike would look sharp with black parts, so that’s how I built it up before shipping it out to Jan in Seattle. Jan’s biggest complaint: the black parts!

    I agree about the design-by-committee thing. It’s important for somebody to step up and say “I’m the expert here, and this is how it’s gonna be.” GP is brilliant at that, and his designs get a lot of respect as much because he’s good at selling himself as a designer as for the frames themselves.

    • I agree, Jim. Grant and Hiroshi are both designers who will only customize within their range of preferences. Some custom builders are the same way. I think the original G1 Kogswell was worth sticking with and could have really blown up. BTW, mine, if you recall, was consigned through your shop by Eric and we corresponded a bit about it – he finally let it go a few months later. That murdered-out kustard bike has always been the coolest. I’ve only ever seen this photo.

    • You built that PR up for the BQ article Jim? Well kuddos to you, I still think it’s one of the best looking builds I’ve seen. Each time I come back across that BQ photo I want one like that in my stable.

  3. I always loved the “kustard” kogswells.
    The “near-constructeur” way of Grant and Hiroshi seem to work well within reasonable cost framework. I think the new Boulder Bicycles line also fit into this category. These designers have come up with concepts that work. They’ve worked out all the kinks and, in the case of Grand and Hiroshi, will not deviate beyond their vision of how their bikes should look and behave. That gives me, as a customer, confidence. I ordered a bike from Hiroshi knowing and appreciating his aesthetic.

    • Agreed. Hiroshi & Grant are designers who know what makes a good bike from their perspective – you buy their expertise and design history when you buy one of their bikes. Boulder and the BDB Pelican have also stuck to their designs, after lots of testing of prototypes. Its a difference between giving people what they want, and giving them what you think they need, as a designer.

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