Photo by Ben Johnson
Chances are, you’ve been seeing mixties on the streets more often, whether you’ve noticed them or not. The mixte – pronounced meext in French, but MIX-tee in English – is a step-through frame with a twist. The top tube is replaced by smaller-diameter twin stays that run from the top of the bike’s head tube down to its rear dropouts, bisecting the rear triangle.
Appearing in design sketches as early as 1901, these uniquely beautiful and stable frames proliferated in Europe throughout the 20th century, with notable models produced by French manufacturers Rene Herse and Peugeot after WWII. Some mixte varieties have a single top tube that splits into twin stays between the seat tube and rear dropouts; others have curved twin stays, offering greater clearance, that still terminate at the dropouts. Most bike-history enthusiasts agree that the French term mixte, which eventually came to be universally appended to these bikes, implies “mixed-gender.”
“I first started noticing mixte frame bikes around the early 1970s,” Washington State-based cyclist, mechanic and blogger Kent Peterson recalled, “when the rising environmental movement and the first oil price shocks kicked off the Nixon-era bike boom. The true mixte frame with its twin top tube was a good way to make a strong, yet fairly lightweight bike. In Europe and Japan, they were ridden by both men and women, but in the United States they were clearly thought of as women’s bikes.”
Peterson recalled seeing mixties in US shops into the 1980s. “But as US cycling culture grew to view cycling primarily as a sport rather than an activity, mixties and a lot of other practical bikes became very scarce in the US marketplace,” he explained. “For many years – and even today in many shops! – most of the bikes seem to be designed to answer the question ‘Do you want to race on the road, or race in the mountains?’”
During the mixte’s North American heyday, the US and Canadian market saw offerings from almost every major manufacturer – from high-end, sleek machines to heavyweights with bolt-on wheels. But by the late 1980s and 1990s, as mountain bikes became a unisex bike of choice, mixties faded from popularity. Tour de France champion Greg LeMond went out of his way to recommend against what he called the “mixte or ladies’ bike” in his 1987 Complete Book of Bicycling: “The reason people buy mixte frames is that they are afraid they will have trouble standing above the top tube.” By 1999, sports writer Jennifer Kulier was noting that the mixte had “gone out of fashion.”
In a scholarly essay on bikes and gender, UK design historian Nicholas Oddy identified the “crossbar” (i.e., horizontal top tube) as “the key signifier” of a bicycle’s intended rider’s sex: “Prior to the diamond frame, all bicycle designs were presumed male unless stated otherwise; since its establishment, any bicycle which did not have a clearly defined ‘crossbar’ was presumed female. The so-called ‘mixte’ frame, which originated in France in the inter-war period as a ‘unisex’ design, for example, was quickly feminised because it lacked the crossbar.”