Not Your Typical 3-Speed!

I had never seen a Dutch Union before, so photographing S.T.'s bicycle was a real treat - not a run of the mill vintage 3-speed for sure!

This is S.T.'s 1973 Union "Savoy". It is a 22" straight step-through frame with 26" wheels, caliper brakes, 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub, dynamo lighting that runs off of a bottle generator, a vinyl chaincase, transparent dressguards, and lots of proprietary insignia.

In geometry and feel, this Union is very similar to the Raleigh Lady's Sports, but considerably fancier - with prettier lugs and all sorts of interesting details throughout. It is these details that make this bicycle really special, and so that is what I focused on in the photos.

The rich bordeaux frame is covered with neat decals and pinstriping designs in gold and cream.

It's all been preserved in great condition.

I know that decals are not a big deal, but they do contribute to the overall look. The bordeaux, cream, and gold combination looks very regal.

Chrome fork crown, caliper brakes, and bottle generator. I like the retro look of the bottle generators, but I am puzzled as to why bicycle manufacturers continued to use them when the Sturmey Archer dyno-hub has existed since the 1930s. Even today the Dutch seem to favour these over hubs - I wonder why?

The matching vinyl chaincase is stitched together around the edges.

Here you can see the stitching, as well as the Sturmey Archer 3-speed AW hub.

The gear shifter is remarkably well preserved, and the cream grips match the bicycle's colour scheme nicely.

Proprietary emblem on the kicktand.

Rear rack and fender, with tail light and Spanniga rear light/reflector.

Here is a close-up of the gorgeous vintage Spanniga reflector. This alone makes me want the bicycle!

S.T. uses this bicycle as her "commuter," and she has fitted it with this wooden crate that her father made for her while she was at college. She has also owned lady's Raleigh DL-1s, but overall prefers the Union. It is certainly a dramatic and unique bicycle, even in our 3-speed-saturated neighborhood!

If you have questions about this Union Savoy, please contact the knowledgeable and friendly somervillain.


  1. That is a gorgeous bike. Can I have one? :)

    Regarding the dynamo hub versus bottle generator issue - especially with the old dynamo hubs, the bottle generators tend to give a better electrical output.

    For instance, I have a 1950's Raleigh Sports with a SA Dynohub, and while it powers a halogen light enough to be worth having, I get a way brighter light with the same headlight from a variety of different bottle generators I've had on my Electra Amsterdam.

    It's not until the most recent bottle generator (my 3rd) that I've found one that works really well in heavy rain, but at $35, it's a pretty good deal compared to a $150 shimano dynamo hub, plus the cost of rebuilding a wheel.

    I think modern dynamo hubs give overall better output than their earlier predecessors, but I've still heard that in general, bottle generators give a stronger output.

    I guess it just depends on what your needs/wants are and how you intend to use the bike.

  2. portlandize - Interesting what you say re the dynamo generators, because I have basically heard the exact opposite. Hmmm.

  3. Like many others, I prefer a quiet bicycle. Had a bottle generator ages ago and hated the buzzing & drag so much! Now I can't even feel a difference to tell whether my SA hub dynamo is on vs off.

    Regarding output, aren't hub dynamos rated to produce so many watts at so many volts? I believe they do deliver as advertised and could be compared to the specs of bottle dynamos.

  4. Yeah, in my admittedly small experience with dynamo hubs, I've definitely gotten better lighting from bottle generators. I've never used a modern dynamo hub though.

    The main issue with even a good bottle generator, is that the heads wear out. A dynamo hub will generally last as long as the hub itself is functional.

    Noise is somewhat of an issue as well, just depends on how much you do or don't care about the buzzing sound a bottle generator makes.

  5. Dynamo hubs do still introduce drag, it just doesn't seem like as much due to the lack of noise (and it may be less depending on the bottle generator, some introduce more drag than others). But if you spin your wheel, you'll notice it doesn't spin as freely as the non-dynamo wheel.

  6. The old Sturmey Archer dynohubs only produce 1.8-2watts and that is at speed (12mph or so) I had always thought they were the same as the bottle generators or even the more modern generator hubs but found out otherwise. FWIW I believe that the Spanninga "reflector" is actually a combination tail light and reflector. We have the same one on my brides Columbia Commuter II.

    Bottle generators have a couple of advantages over a dyno hub, they are less expensive and no drag when they are off. They are also easier to add to a bicycle after the fact. I have been contemplating the collection and deciding which bikes are getting generators and lights. A few are going to get the sidewall dynamos vs the hubs purely from a case of economics and easy retrofit.


  7. I now officially need a rear reflector, that's gorgeous!

  8. Reasons bottle generators are ubiquitous on fiets:

    1. You have to have lights
    2. Bottle generators are cheap.
    3. It is what everyone is used to.

  9. Union was a good brand until it was killed by inadequate management and a downhill market. It survives as a sub-brand used by the Dutch Bicycle Group and is sold through retail chains like Halford's. There's a history of the brand on; in Dutch only but a translation is easy enough - just ask.
    Recent production is based on Chinese components. Most of their original machines were bought by a former employee who started out for himself under the name of Azor.
    As for the bottle generator, I'm afraid it's mostly a matter of cost. They work well enough for a beater bike, they can take a lot of abuse (the usual way to switch them on is kick them with your left foot) and if they are broke they are easily replaced. Many Dutch bike manufacturers still offer them on their cheaper models.

  10. What about the bottles exploding at faster speeds? Do the modern ones still do that, or was that only an issue with vintage ones?

  11. I don't think it was ever the generators that exploded - it was that with older lighting systems, you could blow out the light if you went too fast, because the lights themselves weren't able to regulate the voltage coming from the generator.

    I could be wrong, but I think that is the case.

  12. @2whls3spds: if you're looking at getting bottle generators, there's a really nice AXA generator with replaceable rubber heads that can power a front and rear light, and works brilliantly in the rain. Just got one for my Electra Amsterdam and I've loved it so far. I don't have the model number on me, but I'll see if I can find it.

  13. What a beautiful bike, and what lovely photos. Those little details of design are just gorgeous - and how good to see them in such excellent condition after all these years. The bike's colour is divine.

    The rear reflector is a joy to behold; such organic lines. Lucky ST, that's a bike to be proud of :-).

  14. In my 40 years of riding I can't say I have seen a blown up bottle generator. I have seen a few destroyed after a trip into the spokes, and it took a few spokes with it. Plenty of blown bulbs and I suspect that would still be a problem with the less expensive units sourced from China.

    Forgot to post originally; that is one gorgeous bike. Makes you wonder what really goes on in the bike industry, that a beauty like that isn't being built today.


  15. "I don't think it was ever the generators that exploded - it was that with older lighting systems, you could blow out the light if you went too fast, because the lights themselves weren't able to regulate the voltage coming from the generator."

    Ah, my bad - I had misunderstood the problem!

  16. A.T. here, hubby to S.T. and caretaker of her Union Savoy. first off, again a warm thanks to filigree for taking the time to share her talents by photographing my wife's union!

    @ portlandize and filigree: i'm not a fan of bottle generators, but my findings on bottle generator versus dynohub is that the bottle generators do seem to put out a bit more power. both my wife's union savoy with bottle dynamo and my DL1 with dynohub have standard 2.4W front and 0.6W rear bulbs, and the savoy's definitely gets brighter, and at a lower speed. however, the bottle generator also generates a lot more resistance, and as MDI mentioned, they're so noisy that people in front of you hear you approaching behind them! (so i guess it's a kind of secondary safety feature, huh?). i've never ridden a bike with a modern hub generator, but my guess is that they are vastly superior to the old sturmey dynohubs. how a modern dynohub would compare against a modern bottle generator, i can't say.

    there has been some controversy over the output of the sturmey archer units, as portlandize mentions. i'll save my thoughts on that for another discussion, but suffice it to say i don't think *either* a hub generator or a bottle generator generate enough output to effectively be your sole source of lighting power. i always supplement with LED lighting.

    as for rain: i agree with you, portlandize. i have had several bottle generators over the years, and most have slipped when wet. however, this is a function of two basic aspects of the system: the generator wheel, and the grip of the tire sidewall. the savoy has schwalbe marathons, which have a nice ribbed generator strip on the sidewall, and this setup has never failed in the rain. i have a very similar bottle generator on my own dutch bike (a 1986 men's frame union, which filigree might feature in a future blog topic???). however, it runs against a smooth tire sidewall, and it consistently fails when wet.

    @ filigree and 2whls3spds: the rear reflector is indeed a combination reflector and light. the wiring is routed inside the frame, inside the hollow fender and finally along the underside of the fender and into the light. the small LED taillight seen on the underside of the crate is a discreet supplement, since the old dynamo lighting doesn't have a standlight feature.

    @ fritz b: thank you for that account of union's history. i have tried researching this and the site is the only one that has yielded any real info outside of fragmented discussion groups. i had heard that union remained independent until around the 80s-90s, and then after absorption into the DBG became a department-store brand. but even before then, union only produced utility/city bikes, and had no higher-end divisions like other companies such as gazelle and batavus. union did sell a high quality racing bike, but production of that bike was outsourced to some italian racing bike maker and got union decals slapped onto it.

    and i think your reasoning for bottle generators still being sold today is very true-- they are not only cheaper than hub generators, but they are easily replaced, unlike a hub generator!

  17. Just a gorgeous bike. With that geometry, I bet it is surprisingly responsive, too. What kind of gearing does it have? Typical 44+18?

    Nice shots, too, Veloria. You obviously have a feel for the subject matter. ;)


  18. corey k, the gearing was originally 46/18 but i lowered it to 46/22 to better deal with the hills of my neighborhood.

  19. i got a bottle generator recently for my christiania trike-- it was much cheaper than figuring out how to properly equip a tadpole trike with hub generator(s). i got the additional wire roller which provides more friction in wet weather.

    we have shimano dynohubs on our other bikes. less drag than the bottle generators, but not much, though they are quieter. The nice thing about a hub dyno (with an LED lamp) is you just leave it on and forget about it, and your lights are always on.

    three speed saturated neighborhood? how cool! cheers

  20. I love the burgundy and cream color. LOVE! Boston is crawling with gorgeous vintage bikes.

  21. Bike generators may make a comeback again with all the new high wattage LED lights taking over from those dim incandescents of yesteryear. And now we also have mobile iPhones and more mobile gadgets coming on. Several folks have just come out with dynos equipped with USB plugs: Dahon, B&M e-werk, Rollergen. Generators back on bikes - everything old is new again.

  22. One way you can deal with bottle generator bottles that slip in the rain is to find one of the rubber caps that used to be made to fit generator pulleys. Velo Orange had them for a time; I don't know whether they still do. If they don't, perhaps a shop like Metononomy has them.

    Or you could use what I recommended for slippery-soled shoes: friction tape.

    Either the cap or the friction tape will also reduce the noise that some complain about.

    I had bottle generators "back in the day" and never blew one up. However, I blew out a couple of bulbs on fast downhill rides. As for the issue of drag: You don't have any when a bottle generator is turned off. However, you always have it on a dynamo hub.

    As much as I like the retro look, I don't use generators anymore. If you ride a lot in the dark, today's LED lights are brighter and battery life has improved greatly. Also, recharging batteries is much easier and the charge lasts longer than it did on the older equipment.

    Finally: Yes, the bike is beautiful. Burgundy is one of my favorite bike colors, especially with gold pinstriping. I'm surprised that Pashley or one of the other makers of deluxe three-speeds is not making a bike in that color combo. And who will ever again make a reflector/taillight that looks like the one on the Union?

  23. A lovely and unusual bike and it's great to learn more of the history of the dutch bicycle industry.
    I'm looking for a really dark "black red" to paint my bike- like this but with slightly less blue undertone- that's what first caught my eye.

    About generators and lights, I just had a lot more problems with my bottle generator getting out of alignment, getting disconnected, etc. I spent too many rides leaning forward and trying to adjust the damn thing while moving- not the safest thing!
    A.T. about the power of dynamo driven lights- you should see my Edeluxe- it's incredibly powerful. Now that the newer generation of LED dynamo driven lights is arriving I think that the need to supplement with battery powered lights will start to wane. Yes the Edeluxe is expensive, but the IQ fly is reasonably priced, just not as classic looking. I bet that B&M will start making retro LED lights with in 5 years for under $50.

  24. Thanks for the positive comments about this bicycle! Even though it is not mine, it feels as if I "know it so well" after photographing it.

    Regarding the gearing - I agree with somervillain that 46/22 is perfect on these bicycles. Works on the hills of the Boston area just fine.

    cycler - if you're going to be powdercoating, get the RAL colour chart; that's what most powercoaters use. Plenty of dark reds there. Have a look at 3000 through 3011, as well as 4004. Which frame will you be doing this to?...

  25. Some hub dynamos make more noise than others and some have more drag. If you have an opportunity you must try to spin a couple bare hubs in a store to compare brands, particularly the uber-expensive Schmidt hub dynamo and perhaps the neat SA drum brake + dynamo combo hub, we have that one on our Pashleys.

    [Warning: Getting a little off-topic, I know the question of built-in hub brakes did not come up, but it's relevant because you can get a hub that does both now! Properly adjusted and broken in, the SA dyno-drum hub will throw you, so don't discount them for potentially wimpy breaking. I recently skidded my 300 lbs "Pash & me" to a screeching stop on a downhill run from what must've been 20mph at a sudden light change.]

  26. MDI - "broken in" is a good point. The hub brakes on my Pashley (while good to begin with) improved considerably in the course of the first couple of months.

  27. Gorgeous bike/ fiets. Did you weigh it? 40 pounds I would guess. 18 kilograms . I have a 1960 dyno hub on a Phillips tandem, no drag but weak light output so I removed the rear red light but still mediocre light output up front. I have an Enwell bottle generator with clear lite attached and it is much brighter. (also it was n.o.s ) another dyno hub off a 70's Raleigh Superbe is also barely adequate for a single lite up front. The bottle job is noisy especially if it catches a knobby sidewall. Dyno hubs with steel rims 635 on the vintage tandem weigh a Lot and I need a scale which goes over 1 kilo. a kickstand weighs 600 grams and I remove them usually because a 38 pound Raleigh Twenty is not easy to haul up and down a flight of stairs. The dyno hub does look more elegant than the bottle dyno for sure and sometimes that is a consideration on a Black Beauty of a Raleigh Roadster with Brooks B72 and North Road handlebars and rod brakes and a Brooks saddle bag and a fresh wax job. Thanks Eduard

  28. This is a wonderful bicycle. I found this post during a google image search and just have to comment. After having the mens/opafiets version of this bike from the same era a 1976 "Union Arizona 28" and having had it recently stolen all I can do is share what I've learned about Union of Holland: What you have is piece of art. Union was one of Holland's original "A" brand bicycles on par with Gazelle, Batavus, Fongers, and Simplex and was one of the last to survive the wave of corporate globalization and consolidation that has swept the bike industry until being purchased by a holding company in the early 2000's and having the factory closed and production moved to China. Yours was made in the original Union factory which was burned down in the late seventies during an arson scandal involving a dispute between management and workers. Yours looks to be missing a piece of chrome trim that should be running along the top of the skirt guard.....SUCH A MAGNIFICENT BICYCLE!

  29. I have one of these for sale.

    Poor thing needs some love.

    It is going to waste so please get in touch if you're interested. I'd much prefer to see it in the hands of an enthusiast.

  30. Hello, together with my son we are restauring a dutch Union bicycle, an "Estafette". Does anyone know where we can find the frame stickers, decals? I hope someone will respond.
    Kind regards,
    the Netherlands


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