Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sensible Bikes

From Holland, and available in the US (at a price!) here are two examples of the sort of sensible bike you see by the thousands all over The Netherlands. They make a great alternative to a car for all kinds of daily tasks. The Dutch bikes shown here are from Batavus. Electra offers a tempting--and reasonably priced--clone called "The Amsterdam."

Work bikes are not meant to be fast or sporty, but they are built like tanks and will quite literally last for decades (see the Dutch "work bike" parked beside a canal in our logo at the top of this page). Note the raised handlebars, which are well above seat level, thus sparing the lower back. They have steel frames, wide tires, racks, fenders, lights and mudguards over the chain. If you want to make a bike part of your work life, this could be exactly what you need. Alan (recumbent blog) makes a persuasive argument below for such practical bikes as an alternative to the automobile for daily transportation.

Nevertheless, such bikes are rare in America. But now that gas is closing in on $4 a gallon...

Addendum: May 5==Thanks to the blogger who pointed the way to CLEVER CYCLES, a West Coast dealer for Batavus. Another blogger sent me an email in which he claims that a classic fat tire American Schwinn is every bit as good, if not better, than a Dutch bike--at a fraction of the price--at garage sales everywhere.


  1. Gordon: For what it's worth, some of the Batavus bikes now available are quite high tech. The one in the picture on the right, for instance, has an aluminum frame, and may even have a NuVinci infinitely variable rear hub (can't quite make out the model from that picture). This is not to say that they are light by American standards, or any less durable than the ones made twenty or thirty years ago, but it's good to know that they continue to improve. Val

  2. Val,

    True. I saw such bikes in Holland last fall. Aluminum would lighten the bike, but it doesn't flex at all the way steel does. My own experience with an Aluminum bike was sobering: as soon as the road turned rough I stopped enjoying the bike. My steel bike, however, tends to absorb small bumps and generally rides quite well.

    I'm a fan of the classic steel Batavus type Dutch bike and would love to own one some day.

  3. They are available in the US now....Val

  4. Val,

    I see them at a trade distributor in Seattle, but it's not clear how--or where--one could shop for a Batavus here. Do you know a USA shop that carries them?

    I'm wondering if you work for Batavus.

  5. You can get Batavus bikes in Portland at Clever Cycles.
    I don't work for Batavus. But I am working toward a Batavus, if you know what I mean, and hope to be able to afford to buy one at clever cycles sometime this year.

  6. Dear Gordon,

    Just found your blog tonight and within the first few minutes reading I encounter yet another Ode-to-the-Dutch-Bike (Apr 3, "SENSIBLE BIKES") . Seems like every one of the bike-fashion / fashion-on-bikes / chic / etc blogs are doing it.

    OK, Dutch bikes're maybe nice and certainly it's maybe neat to buy something new (to us here in the States) and trendy.

    I submit though that old Schwinns are a much better fit for the American commuting and city-bike scene.

    1) Old Schwinns are ubiquitous and cheap. Every thrift store in every metro gets maybe 50 of them per year. Here in the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities' seven thrift stores I find them priced between $5.38 (don't ask me - that 38-cents thing is unique to Goodwill nationwide apparently) and on up to, but never higher than, around $25.

    2) With a disassembly, cleanup, lubing, and new rubber/cabling/chain, they'll likely be good for another 28-44 years. Those are the ages of the youngest and the oldest of the twenty-some Schwinns that I refurbed this past year.

    3) They are city-riding-comfortable. Fenders, upright handlebars, and really comfy old mattress seats are on every Schwinn that I put out, even the ones that originally came set up as roadies. I mostly prefer the 3-spd internal Sturmey Archer hub bikes altho I have put out a few 5-spd derailler bikes, two 10-spds, and I have converted four 10-spds to different gearing/drive set ups.

    4) They can be _very_ chic. Please look at <<>> and scroll backward to April 4th "Flamingo Floozie" or << >> to see some photos and a narrative about one such Schwinn I recently finished.

    Gordon mentions your grandfather's fat-tired spring-fork coaster monsters, but the ones which I believe make the best city bikes are the seventies and eighties 26X1-3/8 wheel "lightweights" [Schwinn's own terminology] and 27-inchers, some with 3-speed Sturmey Archer internal geared hubs or some with a derail and 5-speed, and maybe even a 10-speed or two.


    So anyway, it's my opinion that the ideal bikes for putting Americans back onto bikes for urban riding are here, right under our noses and we're perhaps acting too snobbish to see them.

    Thank you Sir,

    Alf, in Davenport, Iowa

  7. Alf; hi--

    I'd much rather be sensible than snobby. And I had no idea that I could buy a city bike for $5.38.

    Do you take credit cards?

    And can you send photos of these bikes? I will make that a separate post.

  8. Our Blog janitor says:
    " And I had no idea that I could buy a city bike for $5.38.

    Do you take credit cards?"

    HAH! Not from me you can't. Go see what you can find at your local Sally or Goodwill, and then put what parts and effort you choose into making it your own custom city bike.

    The value added component of a refurbished old bike really can vary widely, from maybe only a single cable and a pair of tires and tubes (at whatever a local bike shop charges, or with some time-consuming on-line shopping a total of about $20) on up to a week or more time and labor plus all new rubber/cables/chain and the consumables like rubbing compound/car wax/grease/etc.

    A full refurb from a hobbyist might cost $150-$200. A brick-and-mortar local bike co-op or work-program shop would charge maybe around $250.

  9. Gordon, can I attach photos to e-mails to that address I've been using for you?

  10. Should work; let's try it. I will post them.


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