Shoot-out Review: 3 Cheap Fountain Pens, Part II - Bic Select X Pen


Bic Select X Pen

Woe betide my wife. Whereas she prefers things to follow the more classical stylings so common to those fashionable books, magazines and television shows (which we will here define as "good taste"), my leanings are far more into those odd accoutrements so common to the dusty backrooms of pawn shops, hidden behind a musty curtain, and we here define such things as "tacky" (if cheap), "strange" (if medium-priced) or "eccentric" (if a second mortgage is required). Lavender walls backing mahogany furniture is apparently tasteful, while Superman wallpaper and faux-Lego tables are apparently not, even if it's an ultra-cool riff on Siegal and Shuster's original covers. I say this not to demonstrate my nerd cred, but to give fair warning as to the unique side of my tastes.

The look of the Bic Select X Pen fountain pen, which seems to have arrived as a lonely and mis-shipped item in my local small office supply store, leans towards my definition of tasteful --which is to say, not that of my wife's. This odd little pen seems to have emerged form the Bic assembly line --a place not normally associated with fountain pens, at least in North America-- as a bastard child of an economic writing utensil with Captain Nemo's Nautilus.

The shape of the pen is quite unusual. The barrel is a tapered cylinder with a rounded end and an oblong viewport to see the ink cartridge. The ergonomic section (what many people refer to simply as a grip) is a textured rubber formed with a slightly triangular cross-section, not completely unlike the Lamy Safari. The rounded cap sports a curved clip that rather reminds me of mid-19th century girders, and the nib has a slick industrial feel to it. Taken together, it engenders a funky retro-modern look that I find quite tasteful. If it went beyond looks into being a useful pen, I'd certainly use it. But unfortunately the unique look of the pen doesn't quite translate into either quality or utility.

The barrel and cap, molded of plastic painted silver-grey, feel rather cheap to my hands, and it occurs to me that a dollar or two worth of construction materials (such as the PVC plastic used in the Safari) would have made a world of difference. The cap is painted on the outside, instead of dipped, and thus a glance into the cap reveals a sloppy paint job and a lot of bare white plastic a few millimeters in. The whole cap, including the clip, is molded from a single piece of rigid plastic, and the result is a stiff clip with almost no give. And, while the ergonomic form factor of the section seems to be a great idea, the section seems far too short for my hands --my middle finger invariably wound up slowly sliding within a minute of writing to the uncomfortable base of the nib (where the cap snaps on).

Fountain Pens openThe pen has a decent steel nib, but the flow of my particular pen was inconsistent. First, it was a little difficult to get the pen started; it required a dampening of the nib and some very tight squeezes of the cartridge to get the capillary action going. Then, each time I used it, it took about a page of writing before the flow was consistent without skipping. Owing to the shape of the nib, the best flow seems to come when the pen is used at a steep angle (I like a medium one myself), along with a little more pressure than I'm used to. When the flow does come, the ink is very nice and dark and about a medium thickness. One minor note of caution: the ink can take a fairly long while to dry on certain papers --the ink on my lined Moleskine took up to 45 seconds before there was no risk of smearing. If you're the type who often finds the edge of your little finger running over a line you've just written, expect a mess if you're using a less porous paper. The good news is that the Select uses a regular international cartridge (it comes with a short, not sure if the long will fit) and so you can use easily available and inexpensive ink cartridges, or even a converter. The pen is thus quite economical and environmentally friendly in the long run, and you can use it to experiment with hundreds of different colours.

Speaking of ink, in my tests where I left the pens standing for a week in disuse, the Bic Select would not write at all afterwards. It was necessary to take a damp cloth to the nib to restart the ink flow.

Ultimately, though, the ergonomic issues are the biggest strike against the pen, outweighing both its design and its practicality. I wrote this entire article using the Bic Select, and found I needed to rest my hand every couple of pages. The shortness of the section grip, the steep writing angle that the pen encourages, the added pressure to get a consistent flow, and the middle finger sliding... all of these conspired to induce frequent cramping. Then again, I'm a "pincher" and tend to hold a pen a little tighter than I should. Your mileage may vary.

My cost for this pen was $9.99. Apparently, it was previously known as a Stypen, and the quality --as mentioned on various online forums-- seems very inconsistent, to the point of completely different materials used in construction. For example, the one used for a FPN review clearly has different attributes: real polished aluminum instead of painted plastic, a smoother nib base, a different nib, and so forth. (That review was also gushingly positive, unlike mine.) There also seems to be some confusion regarding where this pen is commercially available. Even the Bic catalogue implies that it's only available in Europe. Where --I hasten to add-- I am not.

It's a pity. I really wanted to like this pen, but in the end the ergonomics really got in the way. With some slightly higher quality materials, more consideration for the section grip, and a bit more testing (especially for ink flow), this would have been a winner. I still quite like the design, but --as you no doubt suspect by now-- my wife doesn't.

Pros: Very unique look; inexpensive; decent nib and barrel; can use widely available ink cartridges and adaptors; short ergonomic grip not bad for smaller hands (though it may be too wide for them).

Cons: Cheap-feeling cap; clip is hard plastic and inflexible; included ink can take a while to dry; can induce cramping and uncomfortable positions with larger hands; flow can be inconsistent.

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bummer

It's a shame about this pen. I've been looking for a year for this pen here in Krakow, and now, I find it's not worth the effort. Bummer---I wanted to like this pen. Thanks so much for the review.

-Jon

Won't be on my short list, either

Thanks for the review, Doug. The rubbery grip would have disqualified for my use -- I detest those things -- but the actual shortcomings you detailed definitely rule it out as an addition to my collection.

The Safari, I have nothing but praise for. True, mine have required tweaking, but that is of every pen I've ever bought, except one -- and that is a BIG surprise, for it's a Montblanc 146. As I wrote to a well-known pen dealer, Montblanc must have had a slip-up in quality control, for this pen actually wrote right out of the box, no adjustment, and it still, years later, writes perfectly, with glassy smoothness, on halfway decent paper. (Anything above a really fine nib is apt to be somewhat choosy about paper, for a variety of reasons I won't go into here).

I think the Safari is the least expensive pen that is known to be reliable, is beautifully made, feels good (with the cap off, that is), and writes in the way a writer wants a pen to write. The steel nib is nothing to be concerned about; with modern inks steel will last potentially for a lifetime or several lifetimes. As most here probably know, gold was only introduced because of the acidity of the inks in the older days. Now it's a fashion statement --- and 18-carat nibs are a nuisance as they are too soft to be consistent performers, in many cases.

Didn't mean to go on so long. I was going to rant about the miserable quality of paper nowadays, in the journals section, but this was more fun. I'm still mad that I had to jettison one new blank book (purchased) because it was totally unsuited to anything save perhaps some gel and ballpoint pens and Crayolas. But I found an old one from Barnes and Noble with splendid paper inside. Thank goodness I stocked up on those. I don't know if the ones they sell now that look the same, have the same high-quality acid-free paper inside.

Bic Select X

I feel as though I should start with: Hi my name is Will and I am a fine writing instrument addict.

Here's my story:
A few weeks back I read about the Cross Roadster and loved the look of this stubby little gem. I scoured Staples and my favorite Stationers Bob Slate's in Cambridge (MA-USA) and the clerk brought out a similar pen called the "Stypen Up". It's a shorter pen like the Roadster which, by the way, I have since found and bought.

She opened the case of the Stypen Up and showed me that it was a retractible fountain pen, twisting the shaft as the nib popped up. I HAD to have it. I'd never seen a retratcible fountain pen. The body of the pen is cool, a gradient dark blue that lightens along the length, and I admit the plastic cap is a bit tacky but the clip on this model is made of metal with enough flex to be able to actually clip it without fear of breaking the plastic cap. In short, I love it. It writes very smoothly and every time I pull it out to use it people comment on how unique it is. Talk about pen envy!

I think the cost was about $10.00 and it has the refill cartridge type cylinder. I'll send a photo if anyone wants one.

Recommend Platinum Preppy...

Hi Doug,

My friend gave me a pack of five Platinum Preppy fountain pens some months ago. They come in various standard and bright colors. The pen has a clear barrel and cap, with a clip and nib colored to match the ink cartridge that comes with it. The nib is a smooth Japanese fine, which works out to something like an extra fine, perfect for planners or journals. The cap has a spring loaded inner cap, which does a surprisingly good job of sealing the nib when the cap is closed. After I started up a green Preppy, I left it lying around for a couple of months. When I took it out, it still wrote the first time. Pretty impressive for a cheap pen.

It looks like it takes the Platinum cartridge, which is unique to Platinum, and it holds quite a bit of ink. It supposedly will take the Platinum converter (for bottled ink), which costs about double what the pen cost. :-) The Preppy is available from JetPens.com for only $3 each. Cartridges are available from there too. I'm sure the pen is available elsewhere.

I'd recommend it.

Walter

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"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." Albert Einstein and Buckaroo Banzai

part III?

When can we expect Par 3--the Parker? ;-)

-Jon

reflex

How well does the Reflex compare to these two?

where can you buy these?

where can you buy these? i'm in orange county, cal.
thanks!

I found them on eBay

At this store: http://stores.ebay.com/Temecula-Pens

and elsewhere http://www.isellpens.com

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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)