Monday, August 24, 2009

Batavus Old Dutch: Not What I Expected

If you follow the Suburban Bike Mama blog, you may recognise that this is the fabled silver Batavus Old Dutch that has been the subject of some frenzied discussion due to its fabulous sale price. Vee didn't buy the bike because the frame was too large for her, so being in the neighborhood I hurried to see it. The price was so good that I was considering getting it as a winter bike and sparing my main ride  from Boston's salt and snow. Heading to see the Batavus, I was pretty much prepared to take it home. But alas, I left empty-handed.

On fist impression the bike looked nice enough (though for some reason the shop fitted it with this strange basket). The bicycle is all silver, including fenders, chaincase and dress-guard. I like silver bikes and the loop-frame looked classic and elegant.

But a closer examination gave me a different perspective. The frame is partly welded (as opposed to lugged), and the welds are kind of messy. Unicrown fork, too.

Seat tube.

And the "loop" connector. Now, some may be reading this and thinking "So what? Most modern bicycles are welded." True enough. But from a classic Dutch bike that advertises the "old" aspect of Dutch bikes, I would expect a more traditional frame construction.

But while the frame construction was disappointing, the more serious problem were the components. The front brake had almost zero stopping power - and that's riding around the flat parking lot in dry weather. We adjusted the brake and the bike shop even replaced the brake pads, but there was almost no improvement. Perhaps this had something to do with a combination of a low-end caliper brake and steel rims. Steel rims + caliper brakes = poor braking, especially in wet weather. The coaster brake did have decent stopping power, but was not especially strong either. Since I was thinking of getting this as a winter bike, that would rather defeat the purpose. Downhills might also be scary even in the best weather.

The closer I examined the Batavus Old Dutch, the more details I noticed that made it look cheaply made. The cable guides were plastic clip-ons that were starting to come off in places. The pedals and bell felt flimsy and loose. The chaincase was made of a vinyl cloth-like material apparently prone to yellowing and tearing (as it had both yellowed and torn... and this bike was a floor model that had never seen hard use).

I feel bad piling so much criticism onto this poor bike. I wanted to like it and fully expected to take it home. But the bike I saw did not make sense for me to buy, even at the sale price (which I think reflects its value more so than the retail). That said, the Batavus Old Dutch is sturdy and, from a distance, attractive. If bought at a discount, it could work nicely for someone who wants a Dutch bike for short urban trips and isn't bothered by the issues described here.

29 comments:

  1. I like *nice* welds, but I agree with you on these welds. Also note the bolted together rear triangle, one of my pet peeves.
    No thank you.

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  2. That's too bad! I found the single-speed Old Dutch I test-rode in Chicago inferior to my Batavus Entrada (and ended up returning it and borrowing the Abici instead), but did not inspect it as closely since we were late for the ride. All the joints on my Entrada are welded, but it's sportier than the Old Dutch and is not meant to be a traditional-style bicycle in anything other than riding position (and even that depends on what you do with the adjustable handlebars). Plus, they are beautiful welds.

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  3. I applaud your fair and detailed review of the bicycle. The fairness comes in as the lower price must be justified by lower construction standards, but at some point if the bike doesn't perform as a bike should, the overall target is missed. If the bike won't come to a halt safely, it doesn't matter how low the price is.
    I disagree about the welds, as a lugged frame is much more expensive to produce. It could have been all welded, I don't see the need for a partially lugged frame. But a modern bike, no matter how traditionally styled, must stop safely.

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  4. I test rode a couple of Old Dutches at Flying Pigeon here in LA and I didn't think they were that bad. I don't know if Josef is just super awesome at setting them up or what but they were fine bikes. I preferred the 3 speed to the single speed. I thought the brakes worked just fine. Though I am certainly not as into lugged frames as you are I didn't mind the look. I think perhaps if it were all welded it would have been less weird. When I compared the Fryslan to the Gazelle they were hugely different. I also have to confess I preferred the ride on the Old Dutch to the ride on the Pashley that I haven't written a review of yet. I do think that all of your points make sense. Next time I am at FP I'll have to take a closer look at the bike.

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  5. Look at the bright side. You made MamaVee feel even better about passing on the bike.

    I'm a bit surprised that anyone would still make a bike nowadays with steel rims combined with caliper brakes. It kinds of conflicts with the whole notion of why one puts fenders on a bike...

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  6. Cosmo - I just read your comparison of the Gazelle Toer and the Batavus Fryslan, very informative. When you say that you've tried the Old Dutch, do you actually mean the Old Dutch or the Fryslan? Because Fryslan is a higher-end model, which I believe has better components. As for preference of ride quality, that is such a subjective thing. I prefer the Pashley to both Gazelle and Batavus in terms of fit and ride quality. The latter two felt more difficult to control and maneuver; a bit more awkward.

    David - Those were my thoughts exactly; if I can't bring the bicycle safely to a stop, then the fabulous sale price doesn't matter. The lug vs weld thing is just a personal preference. To me, a classic/traditional bicycle means lugged steel, and this is an aesthetic component I just can't compromise on. Pashley sells fully lugged bicycles (the Poppy and others) for as little as $500 retail, handbuilt in England. Biria Classic is also fully lugged and retails at $450. So for a retail price of $795, my feeling is that Batavus could have done it as well.

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  7. Steve A - Yes, the steel rim + caliper brake combo boggles the mind. Additionally, I think the brake itself was simply not a very good one, since it was weak even in perfectly dry weather. My 1970 Raleigh also has caliper brakes and steel rims, but they work splendidly when it is not raining.

    Trisha - Oh yes, the Entrada has much better components and I agree that welds are appropriate on a bike of that style.

    Charlotte - Funny that you dislike the bolted rear triangle; I am actually okay with that on transport/ loop-frame bikes, since I see that on most of them. My Pashley has the bolted triangle, and this seems more secure than some of the welds I see. I am not okay with it for road bikes though, including mixte frames.

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  8. yes. I feel much better. And yes, that basket was wack. And yes, I am not an expert but it didn't feel great when I stopped. I said before I thought it was me, it being too big, the coaster brake, or something. But I didn't feel solid on it for the very short time I rode it around the parking lot. too bad. I was all set to take it home my own self.

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  9. That's the weirdest effin basket I've ever seen. What could you put in it, comic books? A short stack of pancakes?

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  10. I'm glad to hear that you were not so impressed with the build, because I felt the same way when I test rode an Old Dutch last year. Before I was able to test ride the Dutch bike I ended up buying, I test rode an Old Dutch single speed and was a little worried that all Dutch bikes were not quite what I had hoped. My husband even mentioned that he thought the Dutch bikes I was obsessing over were fancier, more elegant. Luckily, when I test rode the Azor, it was all quality. Trisha's Batavus Entrada Spirit is so much nicer than the Old Dutch.

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  11. @Filigree, I tested the Batavus Old Dutch single Speed and the 3 speed before the Fryslan was released. It was on my first trip to Flying Pigeon back in June. I have a photo on my blog of a similar silver Old Dutch only the one in the photo is a single speed.

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  12. Great review. You are absolutely right....the Old Dutch doesn't have the same quality as the higher end Pashley or even higher end Batavus bikes. You have to remember that even though they are still a little expensive for the North American market, in Holland these are the cheapest of the bikes and everyone has one as they are so obtainable. Most people in Holland have a couple of bikes...a good Gazelle or Batavus to tour on or an Old Dutch to ride around town and lock up as bike theft is a huge problem over there and they don't want to leave there good bike in town. The Old Dutch is really the Target Mountain bike of North America. In Holland these are under $300 Euros.

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  13. Dean - Thank you for explaining this. I had no idea that these were considered low-end bikes in Holland. I live for parts of the year in Vienna, and the only time I see these there, they are clean and shiny as if the owners think highly of them, so I assumed it was the same in the NL.

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  14. Dean is right, the Old Dutch is the cheapest Batavus. According to the factory specification RRP is 400 Euro which in shops is usually much less. Ex factory they don't have a brake on the front wheel, only a coaster brake at the rear - they are meant for town use. Front and rear lights are battery operated. In your case the front brake and tyre dynamo are add-ons, again as cheap as possible.
    Remember, Oma bikes are like T-Fords: nostalgic, and basic, very basic.

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  15. I might add: Batavus' "normal" bikes are a lot better. If you have access to VeloVision see their March 2008 issue (here: http://www.exacteditions.com/exact/browse/399/442/3618/3/16)

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  16. Filigree, there are no clean and shinny bikes in Holland :) It rains too much. But seriously, you've never seen so many junk heaps in your life. You see far more junky bikes then good ones in Holland....especially oodles of 30 yr old hand me down Old Dutches. As I said before...theft is a huge problem there so everyone rides an old junk heap. You have to realize that to them...it's just a vehicle for transportation. It's not like us where cycling is a passion and we buff our bikes up every night with a diaper. My family over there has oodles of these bikes and when I go there and ask them questions about their bikes they look at me strangely like...who cares....kind of like if someone asks me a question about my beat up car.

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  17. Very informative review, thank you very much. Probably another reason to buy a Gazelle Basic or Toer Populair instead. :)

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  18. A Dutch news site referred today to this: http://www.slate.com/id/2225698/
    featuring the Batavus Breukelen (which is for the North-American market only).

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  19. For the record, the rims on the Batavus are Stainless steel, not regular chromed steel. That makes them much more weather resistant, stronger and expensive!

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  20. Anon - That may very well be. Nonetheless, the front brake had absolutely no stopping power even in dry weather.

    An update: We recently stopped by the shop that was selling the Batavus again, and it is no longer there. Hopefully it found a loving home. It really is a pretty bicycle.

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  21. @Filigree - you mention Pashley Poppys and Biria Classics in the $450 to $500 range. WHERE? I know it has been almost a year, and currencies have fluctuated, new models introduced etc, but I'm seeing very little from Europe under $900. Maybe it's a real store vs. online thing, maybe it's the nature of a city's bike market and stores, but I've not seen a good deal down here in NC like those... any help appreciated :)

    Happy riding!

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  22. Thanks for the review...I love the Old Dutch in Silver and if I could find a similar but better quality Dutch bike in Silver I'd get that for sure. I think my bike harem is going to significantly grow if I keep reading your blog:)

    Right now on my "must buy" list

    Vintage Loop Frame Raleigh
    Pashley Princess Sovereign or Workcycle Oma
    And possibly the Old Dutch for around town nice weather biking.

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  23. This is great info! Any reviews on the Batavus Personal Spirit? I was just in Netherlands and had my 9 month old riding on my handle bars on a BoBike...loved it! Now I am ready to buy a good Dutch bike and the Bobike seat...just not sure of which to buy and wondering if they differ in the ability to put a child in the front?

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  24. I have a $1700 Batavus bike and it is not lugged either but its an aluminum bike. For $1700 I dont want a steel bike. Personally this sounds a bit silly to me. I feel read this as if its someone just looking for a flaw on a Batavus model in order to say she has the better bike. I have seen this several times from Pashley riders and I cant imagine why its important. I have an 8 speed and have had a 3 speed but feel as they are heavier bikes, even for the smallest hills you really need the full 8 speeds

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  25. BTW, I owned a Batavus Diva originally which was an $1100 bike and I did find the brakes on that bike peculiar. It did stop but you had to pull it harder than I ever have before but then on my new $1700 Batavus, it stops on a dime and its completely different than the Diva Model

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    Replies
    1. hi there
      think dad just got me a diva 2011 but he insists it has 8 gears - seems unusual ... anything else you can tell me? CHEERS, Melbourne girl

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  26. I dont understad the brae system I am reading about here? Granted I have never had this style of Batavus you are speaking of but mie have always been internal brakes. Never have I ever come across such great brakes. In fact my husband recently purchased a $3500 Rocky Mountain bike which are my fav Canadian made bikes and this Batavus has a better set of brakes. I havent ever used a Pashley so I cannot compare although they are certainly just as beautiful to look at

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  27. Get a "Gazelle"
    Buy once cry once

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  28. well, though a lover of old bikes, i never thought i'd be defending Batavus against which i have an unexplainable irrational aversion,
    BUT
    i think this article is both true but after scrutiny i have found it to be very misleading as well.

    see, the true part is that it really is not what you expected, but i think that what you expected is off topic of what this bike is all about.

    and this is where the misleading part begins. you viewed this bike in a light of what you wanted to do with it (winter driving with lots of slopes, as i got the picture), and not what this bike was meant for - to be cost-efficient workhorse for mostly flat terrain. and if you ask me, concerning it's price, i think they did a good job putting it together.
    i mean, if you aim to spend little money on buying a entry level bike then, no offence, but who cares how the frame is welded together? if one wants a true work of art, then 40+ original dutch bike is the way to go.


    as for brakes and coaster not being enough, well, i also disagree. my conviction comes from 15 years of driving of driving a similar coaster hub plus caliper bike in all weather conditions with (i can almost guarantee is) both my coaster hub (Velosteel) and calliper brake being weaker than on that bike. yes, in deep snow and heavy rain also. and while i wouldnt exactly descent a mountain on it, it works fine on slopes in my town. plus i often drive it pretty zippy.
    the bike in your topic, on the other hand, has a Shimano coaster hub, known for it's performance. it can (and does) more than hold it's own in Holland (where i currently live).
    but i got kinda carried away.
    my point is: it's a cheap bike but with no structural flow - frame may be "messy" welded, but it is strong enough. it has a shimano coaster AND a calliper brake on that. so that's all you need for basic a cheap bike. some patching up of cables and stuff is expected, but hey - it's cheap, and still can be used for years on end. i think this bike is about that. AND if you invest a few dozen bucks in better quality components after these ones wear out, your low-quality components problem is solved.
    about the name Old Dutch... well, as misleading to expectations (to those who know), it's branding. plus, average folk don't know to differ a dutch bike from indian roadster, so writing it on the thing is a good idea. plus, if you write it, then it becomes "retro" (thus fashionable ) and removes a stigma associated with driving what an average Joe or Jane in west would percieve as outdated (thus undesirable) bike.

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