Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dutch bicycles finding market in U.S.?

Image of Dutch bicycle
From the Vancouver Sun, 08.06.08:

Spandex-free cycling commute sells in Vancouver, importer finds
Cyclists can wear suits and skirts on Dutch-style bikes

If you like the idea of cycling to work but are loath to join Vancouver's growing army of two-wheeled, pedestrian-dispersing, 24-speed seawall warriors, there is an alternative.

Go Dutch.

"And there's no spandex," noted Rob MacDonald, co-owner of a company that's bringing the European way of urban cycling to North America. "We have fashion police out there and we'll find you." MacDonald and business partner Jane Cox own Jorg & Olif (www.jorgandolif.com), a Vancouver-based e-commerce company that imports Dutch city bicycles known for comfort, style and convenience.

So far they've sold about 1,000 bikes across North America--300 in Vancouver--but there's not a current storefront in Vancouver and they must be ordered online. The company, which recently closed its local warehouse, is now negotiating a store presence with a Vancouver bike store, where customers can test-ride and buy the bikes.

"The biggest challenge is introducing a new concept to the marketplace," said MacDonald, 36, of Jorg & Olif, his first business venture. "The idea of a bicycle just for the city is relatively new in North America, where [bikes] are mainly for recreation or sport. It's been an interesting learning curve for us to communicate that. And the supply chain has always been a challenge. It's more complicated than we ever imagined."

With just one, three or eight speeds, MacDonald's bikes--made in Holland and Belgium--are not road rockets. But they weren't designed to be. Unlike most traditional North American bikes, they have an enclosed chain and gear mechanism to prevent clothing from catching in the works. That allows people to wear work clothes, including suits or skirts, while cycling to the office. Instead of leaning over the bike, riders sit upright on a comfortable leather seat with swept-back handlebars. For protection from the elements, the bikes have no-slip, rubber-block pedals, an all-season saddle with springs, a skirt/coat guard and mudflaps. (Read more.)
Interesting article from Vancouver, about the growing appeal of classic Dutch bicycles. In the Netherlands, bicycles are an accepted and integral part of the transportation system, meaning bikes are designed to be practical and durable, just like the famous Flying Pigeons of China, the Atlas Roadsters of India, or the ubiquitous "mami charis" of Japan.

With the growing interest in bicycle commuting in the U.S., is the American bicycle market ready for a heavy, slow, urban bike (complete with kickstands)? There are many differences between the Netherlands and the U.S. (what an understatement): cultural, social, historical. A major difference is simply community design: Dutch cities tend to be compact and dense, with narrow streets and slow average traffic speed; while most American cities are spread out, low-density, with wider streets and faster traffic.

A few American bicycle companies, notably Breezer Bikes, have attempted to emulate European bike design while offering enough performance technology to deal with street conditions in the U.S. For some fortunate bike commuters with short trips, a Dutch bike might great. What do you think? Can you see yourself making your commute on a 40-pound bicycle?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Biking upright, Dutch-style, is catching on, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Visit: Dutch Bicycle Company
Visit: Dutch Bicycle Company Seattle
Visit: Clever Cycles, Portland
Visit: Dutch Bikes: Bicycles for Your Lifestyle, NBC Chicago
Visit: In Amsterdam, The Bicycle Still Rules, WorldChanging.org
Visit: Amsterdam: The Bicycling Capitol of Europe (Michael Bauch), YouTube.com
Visit: Dutch & other Euro bikes at Interbike, CommutebyBike.com
Visit: More inspiration from abroad, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bicycling inspiration from Europe, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

25 comments:

Dave said...

As a commuter on an Electra Amsterdam, I can certainly say that there is a place for these types of bikes. I don't know exactly how much the bike weighs, but I certainly have the paniers full with laptop et al. I'm no speed demon, but it is good to commute in style.

william said...

I'm all for the "slow biking" movement, but there's a limit to how long I can stand for my commute to be. It's at least an hour each way as it is, and as cool as I think the dutch bikes are, I can't imagine putting up with the extra 10-20 minutes in each direction that I suspect it'd cost me. If there were no traffic lights on the way, I'd consider it...

amsterdamize said...

I'm sorry, but the weight of an average Dutch 'sit-up-and-beg' bike is irrelevant for commuting, really.
I understand this popping up all the time, but if tens of millions of Europeans have historically (4 generations at least) preferred this type over 'sports' bikes for utility use (work/shop/school/leisure), I don't think I have to provide a lot of arguments.

One example, though, for clear reference: I ride a 'sturdy' Dutch transport bike (Sparta Pick Up), which would weigh a ton in your perception. It doesn't, as it's 100% aluminium. I use it for short and longer trips (up to 20 km). I don't break a sweat, I'm very comfortable, it's a 3-speed and I can match any mountain bike for a commutes like that. I would go further by saying it's way better.

One would argue that the Netherlands is flat and all, with 'fair weather'. Well, don't be fooled by any of that, we do have those 'obstacles', contrary to myths that people like to use as excuse not to try it or dismiss it.

I've been looking over the fence for quite a while now and I'm happy to see much of the 'slow biking' phenomenon taking root in the US and in other places. If my perspective helps in any way, that cause is served. It's just hard sometimes to bring about good impressions of somethings that's still pretty much alien to a lot of people.

Just sayin'. :)

Hayduke said...

I do it every day ... on a 3-speed Breezer.

Furthermore, unsatisfied with just riding to work, home for lunch, back to work and back home again, I take a recreational ride during my noon hour and ride my Breezer around town. I put in about ten miles a day, most of it just riding around town.

Now if my commute were ten miles one way, I would definitely opt for a lighter bicycle and more gears. But then, I chose my job so as to be within a comfortable biking and walking distance from work, and I chose a part-time job so I would have time to ride and walk in my community.

Choices, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Tom said...

I think bicycle weight is way over rated. When you consider that the weight of average rider is 3 to 5 times the weight of these bicycles it provides some perspective.

I ride two bikes to work, one is a 45 pound '68 Raliegh Sport the other is a 24 pound '84 Trek 520. Over my eleven mile trip the Trek is less than 5 minutes faster going to work (down hill)and 10-15 faster going home.

The problem with the Raliegh is not the weight but the stout first gear. I sucks the life out of my legs climbing hills on the way home. On the flat, without wind, the time difference on the two bikes would be imperceptable.

My daughter has a single speed Dutch (Consol brand) that is about 40 pounds. It rides like a dream and is incredibly easy to maintain. I could easily commute on this bike if she let me.

Anonymous said...

It's a good question as it pinpoints two major cultural differences between our culture and theirs.

Cycling under STR conduct requires more speed and agility. In addition, cycling is more recreational here than commuting.

Niche market will grow as more organize their transportation choices around commuting on bikes in cities that support cycling. I wish (hope) that the slow cycling movement becomes more popular in the USA.

I use one of old mtn bikes to run errands and to carry groceries. Also converting some 3-speeds to serve these purposes but they are relatively slower.
Jack

Rob E. said...

Can I see myself making my commute on a 40-pound bicycle? Yes, I think I can, more days than not. I alternate between two bikes, both of which come in over 30 pounds easily when they're loaded up, and I wouldn't be surprised if I regularly broke the 40 lb. mark as well depending on the load. One is just old steel: sturdy, thick, and heavy. The other would probably weigh in a lot lower if I hadn't added fenders, front and rear racks, a lock, a pump, a water cage, headlight, tailight, and a bag with tools and whatever I might need at work that day.

I don't think these Dutch bikes are necessarily that much heavier, but they do tend to already have a number of commuting-friendly accessories added to them by default. I certainly see the use for them, and, if people start to ride more and for more practical reasons, then getting there fast may not be nearly as important as getting there dry, comfortable, and with all the stuff you need. At the moment we're still car-centric enough that you often don't buy a bicycle for self-sufficient travel with all your gear. You buy it for those days when you don't need all your gear and the weather's nice. If a decently sized group of people start really using bikes as their primary transport, I expect we'll see a difference in the kinds of bikes on the road. If not Dutch bikes, then some amalgam of current Dutch and American styles.

Anonymous said...

Doing my daily commute on a 40 lb bike? I guess I could, but I really prefer my favorite machine, carefully handcrafted to suit my many needs. Of course, that one weighs...um...around 100 lbs, give or take my lunch. Some days my commute is around 40 miles, and this is still the bike I prefer. One reason is the traffic and the lack of separated facilities. I am not fast (on any bike), so I like to have a bike that is big and heavy enough to intimidate the drivers (and it does), while still rolling comfortably at a reasonable speed. I use light bikes occasionally on my days off, but give me some weight for that competetive edge in traffic. Val

brett said...

I'm not a daily commuter as I work at home, but I ride a J&O all around Portland. Admittedly, it's a much more compact city than most in the US, but I've taken my Oma for rides of 10 or 15 miles and I get there almost as fast as on my hybrid, and with less sweat and stress. The ride is so smooth and comfortable I want to ride more than ever. For biking in the city, it's just ideal.
I had no idea that the upright posture and shock dampening effect of a steel frame and spring saddle could make such a difference. It's worth leaving 5 minutes earlier to have such a smooth ride. The 8 speed Shimano Nexus gears have so far been a match for Portland's hills.

I'm noticing more and more of these kinds of bikes here lately, no doubt because we have a store that specializes in them: Clever Cycles. At this point, price would seem to be a major obstacle; if I hadn't gotten mine on craigslist, I couldn't have afforded it. But even at full price, they are a lot cheaper than a car. It will probably take improvements in other infrastructure and planning (bike friendly light rail, as in Europe and Portland, denser cities, separated or at least much safer bike paths, etc) to really boost bike commuting in the US, but I think Dutch bikes will appeal to current non riders because of their stability, the feeling of safety from being higher up and able to see the road, durability (no tinkering), chainguards etc.

erin said...

It really depends on the terrain. My last bike was a 'comfort' bike- fat seat, upright riding position, heavy, outfitted with a rear rack that never came off and usually had at least one pannier on it. This setup worked just fine for me and I loved the concept of these utility style bikes. There were a couple of hills I didn't like, but they weren't really a big deal.

But then I moved to Seattle. No, I didn't buy a road bike because I'm a victim of hipster culture. I bought it because I learned what real hills are, and had a hard time dragging myself and my heavy bike up thems. I can't go around them, I can't avoid them, they are there on almost every block, and they are STEEP. A lighter bike with more gears lets me keep riding in this environment.

So yes, I think there is a place for the utility bike, but I doubt it's going to take America by storm. There are too many different environments that make up our country for one type of bike to be as ubiquitous as those are in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Erin: I forgot to mention - Seattle (Renton, Kent, Bellevue, Issaquah, West Seattle, etc.) is my home turf. Yep, hills are fun. Make you work, get you in shape, and then give you a thrill ride on the other side. Light bikes are nice, but even here they are not strictly necessary. Low gears and slow bikes forever! Val

Anonymous said...

The reason I wanted my bike (and more important, my wife's bike) to be as light as possible is that we live in a rohouse and don't have a garage. Wee need to carry them up and down a half-flight of stairs to get them in the basement, and lift them to hand them from hooks.

My bikes probably weighs 40 anyway, with the heavy duty chain and two u-locks included.

Alex said...

A heavier Dutch-style bike wouldn't work so well on my current commute (between North Oakland and central SF), since I have to contend with stairways and snarled traffic pretty often. But for tooling around Oakland and commuting in some hypothetical bike-friendly city, I would love it!

Axel Lukassen said...

Everybody should have there own oppinion on "those" Dutch bikes... Anyway, I am Dutch and owner of a bicycle store to sell over 500 of these bikes each year. Offcourse we also sell mountainbikes, cruiser and other, in the USA commonly used bikes. But riding the Dutch bike as we do in our country will change everybody's opinion. Everything is well thought off and all bikes are very high quality build with only the best materials (www.gazelle.nl www.batavus.nl) They can be used on any terrain, flat or hills. Don't think there are no hills in The Netherland! Most is flat but going to the south or east you will have to climb 11% or more. There is only 1 main reason these bikes are not sold in the USA. There is no larger bicycle manufacturer in our country who would like to be sued when an american puts a finger in the wheel and loses it..... "The manual didn't say I could not"

Me...I am not affraid to put the Dutch bike onto the US market. As long as terms are written by the importing party...I would be interested...

I see it as an opportunity for a lot of parties to slowly build a bicycle subculture (like the Dutch) next to the CAR culture the USA has.

Axel Lukassen
TWEEWIELER TOTAAL
www.tweewielertotaal.nl

Spa said...

this is a faced out model in India....

Anonymous said...

i commute on an electra Amsterdam here in NYC and absolutely love it. My ride is about 30 minutes but i'm not really going fast enough or climbing hills to get too sweaty by the time i get to the office. I guess i take a very dutch/european attitude toward commuting in that i dont want to race and try and enjoy the experience/views along the way.

Darren said...

I picked up the OPA Transport from the Dutch Bike shop in Seattle several months back. The weight does make a difference for the first two weeks of riding -- particularly if you have to ride up hills like I do. Nevertheless, I've since adjusted and love how I can load the bike up and cruise along comfortably. The bike turns heads and gets some interesting looks from the bikers hunched over their handlebars racing to work.

spiderleggreen said...

I took a test ride on some Dutch bikes at Clever Cycles, a few weeks ago. The word that popped into my head was Cadillac. Those bikes handle like a dream. Smooth ride. I'm now seriously considering putting a chunk($1800) of money down on one.

As for commuting long distances with heavier bikes. I have been commuting 13 miles on a 40 year old Schwinn for a while now. And it is surprising that the heavy Schwinn hasn't cost me much time, compared to my Gary Fisher. Plus the ride is so much more relaxing. Plus, riding the Schwinn has really strengthened my legs. When I get on my lighter bike it really shows.

For the hilly folks, these bikes gear ratios can changed to make climbing hills, easier. Maybe you won't make it up every hill, but that just gives you something to shoot for.

soraya nasirian said...

Well we just opened our business MyDutchBike in San Francisco that solely imports Dutch bikes form Henry's Workcycles. They are definitely heavier but its doable even in San Francisco. We took our bakfiets and omafiets from Crissy fields all the way to the farmer's Market at the Ferry Building. We encountered one semi big hill by Fisherman's Wharf and it was doable with the omafiets but not the bakfiets with kid in tow. Its a great experience to travel in style with your kid or computer and still be biking not driving. What can i say its just awesome. Wieght of the bike isn't even considered if your view is that this IS your transportation.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I rented bikes for a week long ride in France last month, and after the tour ended up buying a new bike and bringing it home for my wife's commute. She loved the European feel and ride. Yesterday she sold her 1 year old Trek in favor of her new, German Bergmeister, all 17 kilos of it, along with a cute Arbus pannier and a locking wire front basket. She's as happy as can be. We're in San Jose, which is much flatter than SF.
British Airways was great. No charge for the boxed bike. It just counted as one of my two bags allowed.

Chris said...

I have a De Fietsfabriek cargo bike (2 wheel). The thing weighs about a ton, but is extremely comfortable to ride. It's great for taking the kid to the beach, going to the grocery store, things like that. I've actually found that when really loaded it rides very smoothly and quickly. I'm about to start using it most days to take my daughter to school and then go to work. For something like that, it's far easier than a lighter bike with a kids seat and loaded panniers.

I've also found it a nice change of pace - the upright position alters how I ride. I don't try to race. For my average commute to make a nine o'clock meeting, I still prefer a lighter bike though.

Mistie said...

There is an American bicycle company making affordable ($600) high quality hand made Dutch Style bikes. They're called Bowery Lane Bicycles - www.bowerylanebicycles.com

They're based/made using solar energy in NYC and have been receiving a lot of press. Their made from steel and weighs 29lbs which is the kind of sturdiness you need for commuting in a city like New York without be clunky and heavy.

Tom said...

Torker is another company that sells Dutch-style bikes in the US. I have a Cargo-T which is a (licensed) copy of the Batavus Personal Delivery bike. The Batavus retails for $1300, is made to sit out in the weather and last 40 years. We'll see how the Chinese-made sub-$500 Torker holds out.

Mark S.R. Williams said...

I discovered Dutch type bikes when I was living in Paris, and when I moved back to the States, I imported two Gazelles (the Colnago of Dutch bikes).

I live in Santa Fe--i.e., high altitude and mountainous. On my 7 mile commute to work, I'm on average one minute slower on the Gazelle than I am on a Surly LHT, which weighs about 20 lbs. less.

I regularly sit in on pacelines of racers when on the Gazelle, even when I'm carrying a shopper pannier that weighs upwards of 25 lbs. As annoying as it is to the peleton that an obviously non-performance bike is in the draftline, I don't have any major difficulty staying with the group.

The conventional wisdom that you need a super light weight performance oriented bike for longer American type commutes is simply not the case. Higher end Dutch bikes are extremely well-made and can move along at a decent clip. Of course you can't accelerate the way you can on a crit bike; you need to build up to speed more slowly. But for commuting I honestly prefer the Gazelle over the Surly because it's a great deal more practical, handles much better with a heavy shopper pannier, and it's pleasant to be seated upright for a change.

By the way, not all Dutch bikes are the full on sit up and beg type. The two Gazelles I own have (relatively speaking) more performance oriented frame geometry--more like a vintage 3 speed "English Racer" than the ultra shallow frame geometry that people usually associate with Dutch bikes.

GJ Baan (anddutch@gmail.com) said...

www.anddutch.com has just launched in the US & Canada. They specialise is predominately high quality original (and variety)of Dutch designed bicycles and stunning accessories. Most brands are actually unknown these shores as of yet..but huge in the Netherlands!

Worth checking out!