Mission Bicycles Valencia
Is This the Perfect Commuter Bike?
Question is: how do you justify spending $999 for a Mission Bicycle single speed in an era where all it takes is eight clicks to buy the same thing from City Grounds or PureCycles for $300? Who’s paying the piper in the supply chain? Who’s sitting on golden cushions to justify that $699 price gap?
The rebuttal is: of course it’s not the same thing. Fine. Sure. It’s a bike from Taiwan with one gear, a traditional steel geometry, a front brake, two wheels, a saddle and some handlebars. What difference can it really make? How complex can this simple machine be?
Before starting, note that the more established companies like Pure Fix, Schwinn, etc., make good, affordable bicycles. I’ve ridden both brands on road, on gravel, up inclines and down hills. I’ve daily commuted with them, and there are no blatant flaws. The difference here doesn’t come from cutting down the competition (State also offers great bicycles, in a middle price range, though I’ve yet to test one); the difference comes from understanding the elevated nature of the product that Mission Bicycle presents to the user. And, considering whether you have enough cash in your pockets for this level of bike.
Elevation begins with the frame. Mission sources from Taiwan, like many manufacturers (nearly all bike frames come from China or Taiwan), but they use double-butted 4130 chromoly steel for their frames (and forks), to set them apart from the standard hi-tensile steel. This leads to an improved strength-to-weight ratio, saving Mission pounds over the competition, which leads to a snappier, more agile ride. The frame is TIG welded (and the weld points are clean), features internal cable routing (keeping the silhouette clean) as well as an integrated seat collar (to further streamline the silhouette and reduce moving parts) to achieve the minimal design.
Frame: 4130 double butted chromoly steel
Fork: 4130 double butted chromoly steel
Rims: Weinmann DP18 or Velocity Deep V
Brakes: Tektro (base)
Stem: Forged aluminum
Frames ship raw to San Francisco, where they’re painted (in South SF), and then the custom building begins. Customization is Mission’s calling card in the bicycle business. In 2008, they launched v1.0 of their web-builder, and according to Missions’ Marketing Manager, Kai McMurtry, they were the first to offer a simple, web-based, custom bicycle-building tool. The Mission Bicycle shop opened on SF’s Valencia Street in 2009, to complement the online side, and to allow people to meet with design/build consultants in person (you can schedule appointments through their site).
While the frame differences are notable, the customization is the raison d’être of the company. They offer 200+ color options, and nearly all components can be swapped or customized, from rim color to headset to seatpost. They pair the bikes with Brooks Saddles, Chris King headsets, and Velocity rims (the only aluminum rim made in the USA). The challenge is not the options, but not overwhelming the customer. “There is a point where you hit this paradox of choice,” McMurtry said, “where it becomes a burden and not a blessing to have to keep choosing.” For this reason, the web experience is more streamlined. For further customization (like cog sizes, custom paint, matching cable housings), buyers can call or visit the shop. The spec’s will increase bike price, but the service of having them under one roof and implemented in one build experience is — for those that care — very convenient. A Sugino crank and Plemmons straps for your fixie? You’re covered.
The total package results in both a lightweight (for a steel commuter) and sturdy bicycle. On the build I tested (priced at $1,249), the bike responds well to pedal input, and the steering is controlled without feeling limited. Ride quality is what you’d expect from a steel bike in a traditional performance geometry — a bit more supple than aluminum, but not cushy. It’s still meant to be a snappy commuter, made for lane splitting and dodging traffic.
The final cost-justifying point comes from the warranty, a 50-year guarantee that Mission slaps on their frames. They offer it knowing you won’t treat the bike like a chandelier. “We encourage everybody to ride it all the time,” McMurtry said. “And beat it up and lock it against parking meters. We expect all the normal things will happen to the bike that happen when you think of something as transportation and not as a fetishized object or a delicate road bike.” And so, while the elevation of quality comes standard, the treatment remains the same. This is a commuter. A very nice commuter, but one meant to be ridden, left, returned to, and ridden again for decades on end.