Saturday, October 16, 2010

DBC Swift Test Ride

Last night we stopped by DBC City Bikes (formerly the Dutch Bicycle Company) in Somerville, MA to have a look at their new "Swift" line of bicycles. DBC - whose focus was previously on importing Dutch and Danish transport bikes - has now changed direction and established their own line of classic handbuilt bicycles. The Swift models are designed in house by Wentworth and MIT graduates and built to spec by local framebuilders. They had a few floor models at the shop, and I test rode the loop frame ladies' version.

The Swift is TIG-welded cro-moly steel. The build includes upright handlebars, Brooks saddle, internally geared hub, front and rear drum brakes, dynamo lighting, fenders, chainguard, rear rack, and a cafe lock. The curvature of the top tube is executed nicely, and the welding is very clean. There are no dress guards, but nowadays it is becoming easier to purchase those separately. The lack of a full chaincase could be problematic for those who want one, but others would consider the chainguard sufficient. Everything else you might need in a transport bike is included. 

As always, I am not a fan of unicrown forks, but at least the welding here is nice and neat. The fork blades are curved. There are cable routing guides for the lights and brakes. Not sure how they are attached - they do not seem to be braze-ons - and why they were made in a contrasting colour.

The dynamo headlight and tail light are custom: DBC fitted what I think might be SunLite casings with LEDs and turned them into dynamo driven lights with a standlight feature. It's a neat system and the lights are very bright. 

Tail light. Front and rear hubs are Sturmey Archer.  The bicycle I test rode was a 3-speed, but they are also available as single speeds and 5-speeds.

The fluted fenders look like VO to me. The wheels are 700C.

The pedals are attractive and grippy, but it is a trade secret where they are sourced from! (Anybody happen to know?...)

Riding the DBC Swift was a very particular experience. In many ways, it handles like a classic Dutch bike (think Gazelle or Batavus, as opposed to Pashley or Velorbis), but is lighter and more responsive. The angles are steeper and other aspects of the geometry are a bit different, but still - all in all the Dutch bike qualities seem to dominate. In the picture above, you can see how tall the headtube is and how high up the handlebars are - almost at my chest. The resultant sitting position is bolt upright.

I was not sure what to expect, but I have to say the ride quality was nice: smooth, peppy, lightish, and with an easy feel to it. The bike is stable and easy to control. When my hat flew off my head, I caught it while continuing to cycle; the bike seems fairly klutz-proof. Another notable aspect of the bike, was the superior functionality of the drum brakes. All other drum-brake city bikes I have tried or owned were fitted with 70mm version, whereas DBC fitted the Swift bikes with the 90mm version. Especially for the front brake, the difference in braking power is substantial.

According to DBC, the Swift is meant to be comfortable and non-intimidating even for those who are new to bikes. In this respect, I think it is a success. At the same time, it was designed to be more maneuverable in traffic and easier to ride uphill than a Dutch bike. In this regard however, I am not sure that it feels much different from my traditional Gazelle. It is definitely lighter and somewhat more maneuverable, which some consider a plus for American streets. But it did not strike me as necessarily "better" than my Gazelle - on which I handle traffic and the local hills just fine. It seems like a good bike though, and whether one would prefer it to a traditional Dutch bicycle is a matter of personal taste - just as whether one prefers lugged vs welded frames.

As I was riding the ladies' Swift, the Co-Habitant took a spin on the men's version. I should note that the men's and ladies' versions of the Swift are completely different bikes, designed by separate teams. The angles are different, the proportions, everything. So while my experience of the ladies' model was positive, I have no idea how the mens' handles, and the Co-Habitant's feedback was vague. When it comes to city bikes, I think he is a creature of habit and prefers his Pashley over pretty much anything else.

With the ladies' Swift, my impression is that DBC accomplished what they set out to accomplish in terms of performance. The price of a fully built bicycle is in the $2,000's, depending on the options. Each bike is built to order and custom paint colour is included in the price. How will the DBC Swift do in the long run of course remains to be seen. But it is good to have options: When it comes to handbuilt TIG-welded ladies' bicycles, DBC joins the likes of ANT and GeekhouseThe work of all three builders is different. If you are in the area, try them out for yourself!

35 comments:

  1. Nice bike! The pedals are probably VP Components (aka Victor Pedals) VP-610

    http://www.vpcomponents.com/pedals_show.asp?pcat=&pcat2=4&pid=100

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  2. Yup, it looks like them - thanks!

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  3. This is great! I hadn't heard that Dutch Bicycle Company (different from Dutch Bike Co., kinda confusing) started its own line of bicycles. As you said, looks like an excellent (and beautiful) addition to the growing line up of everyday bikes, which is always a good thing. Major bonus points for the frames being made locally.

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  4. The pedals are actually Sunlite Pro Cruz available from Niagara Cycles - $15. As I don't use toe clips, I've put them on a couple of 650B-wheeled bikes and found they are narrower than the MKS and greatly lessen pedal strike when cornering. And they are grippy and comfortable. The only drawback has been that they, like so many pedals, need to be greased and adjusted from new - they have almost no grease inside.
    Also good to see a traditional looking LED generator light.

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  5. I thought these were built by Geekhouse. No?

    Also, I don't understand why the headlight is mounted so high up. It would work much better at the fork crown.

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  6. was that the only men's model they had available for the co-habitant to test ride? it looks to be way too small for him.

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  7. herzog: the placement of the headlight, along with the retro teardrop housing style, are consistent with that of a classic dutch bike. i'm not sure if placement was to maintain that consistency, or for some other reason.

    i too had been told awhile back that geekhouse was going to be building the frames... not sure if that's still the case.

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  8. Hmm, the Sunlite Pro Cruz and the VP look like the same product to me.

    Herzog - Geekhouse built some of the prototypes, but they do not build the current bikes. The production models are built by, I think, Ted Wojcik.

    The headlight placement is traditional for a Dutch bike. See my Gazelle.

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  9. somervillain - There were a couple of men's bikes, but they were all small frames. You are right that the bike is several sizes too small.

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  10. I'd been watching their website for updates about their line and was glad to see your review. The headlight placement is very nice, though would it get in the way of a basket? It seems built for transportation rather than cargo, and of course traditional Dutch bicycles are meant to accomodate weight/goods along with as the rider. The color customization option is nice. The price is on the high side for a Dutch bike but not for a custom bike; it will be interesting to see how they do.

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  11. The price is higher than any of the Dutch bikes currently produced, but in the same range as Retrovelo, which is a non-custom production bike. Same price range as a Rivendell Betty Foy and an ANT lady's Boston Roadster, too. Hard to say how it compares to any of those, of course; they are all such different bikes.

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  12. FUNNY i actually saw those pedals yesterday while searching for some bear trap pedals...those pedals are VP-610 from VP Products

    http://www.vpcomponents.com/pedals_show.asp?pcat=&pcat2=4&pid=100

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  13. Achielle (http://achielle-usa.com/) makes a bicycle that can approach this price range as well. While technically Belgian, they are very much Dutch in functionality. With customization, they'd be comfortably over $2K. They are without doubt the most beautiful Dutch bicycle I have ever seen, with pin-striped lugging and really lovely lines.

    They might not be widely enough available here to count, but fyi, for your mental rolodex!

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  14. I love the looks of Achielle bikes and had contemplated buying one and having them ship it to me when I was first shopping for a transport bicycle. Their prices at the time were under $1,000 Euros though, if I recall correctly!

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  15. I should have known you'd know about them! I have only seen the black ones in person, but the colors look wonderful. And did you notice -- the website features bicycles with cream tires?

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  16. That bike looks like a good value to me, given the components, origin, and the fact that it's made of better steel than many of the dutch bikes we're comparing it to, price-wise. Also, to purchase a dutch bike in the states, alot of the markup comes from transport and the paws of middlemen; to spend that ca$h on a domestic product makes more sense, imho.

    In terms of who is building the frames, I'm willing to bet that DBC will not publicize this b/c it is to the mutual benefit of DBC and whoever the framebuilder is at the time. The builder is likely to change depending on who is busy or not, and who is cheapest at a given time. It won't help DBC to make a big deal about Ted Wojcik making the frames if another builder ends up making them later on in the same year. Also, Ted Wojcik wants to be known for his own bikes, not as a subcontractor. He also deserves some recognition for his pedal-powered lawnmower: http://www.recumbentjournal.com/news/gear/item/101-recumbent-lawn-mower-a-cut-above-the-rest.html . So, in my opinion, so long as these are MUSA frames, the actual builder is inconsequential.

    -rob

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  17. Jeannette - Yup, have a look at the "Manufacturer Profiles" page : ) The black bike you saw, was it an Achielle, or a Jorg & Olif made by Achielle?

    rob - It's hard to say whether the builder matters or not. On the one hand, you could say it does not matter who the builder is if they just follow the designer's specs to a T. On the other hand, some builders are more competent than others, and the bicycle's structural stability will no doubt depend on that.

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  18. The ones I've seen were definitely Achielles, not J&O's. They look a little lighter than many of the heavy Dutch bicycles, and I'm curious to see how that translates in terms of the ride. I'll have to test ride one, one day...

    (Did J&O use Achielle exclusively, or other builders as well? I cannot recall...)

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  19. if the thing was a wojcik, and not a geekhouse, would you not buy it? if it were a gunnar, rather than an ant, would that be a factor?

    these folks are all staking their reps on their work. i don't think the dbc ppl would even approach someone who wasn't able to make a simple utility frame...

    -rob

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  20. It's true that the builder isn't super important here and indeed DBC insists that they--and not the builders--are behind all the specs, geometry, materials and design decisions of the bike. So, in a way, the builder is just welding metal to their exact spec, and hopefully welding it well. I imagine they are making a business decision when selecting their builder and may change builders several times over. They say they are offering a "lifetime" warranty on these bikes, so it follows that they must think hard about quality of face unhappy customers.

    I will add that DBC advertises that they tweaked the geometry (MIT design team, etc.) so it is different from garden variety Dutch bikes and other "city bikes." So, if you are considering one of their bikes, definitely test ride it to make sure it handles the way you like.

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  21. rob - If it were between those builders, then of course it would not matter. What I was thinking is more like Geekhouse vs someone who's just finished their 10 week course in Weld Your Own Frame. If a shop offering locally built bikes did not disclose the builder(s), I don't think I'd be comfortable with that - at least not until the bikes had been in production for a while and withstood the test of time.

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  22. Hi Veloria,

    How does the new 90mm drum brake compare
    to the 70mm drum (for example that is on the Guvnor) ? Is it more powerful?

    Thanks,

    John I

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  23. Ah, forgot to mention this! The front brake feels considerably more powerful; substantial difference. The rear brake feels marginally/somewhat more powerful; not sure whether an upgrade would be worth it. Front brake upgrade would definitely be worth it though.

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  24. i'm curious also how the cable routing guides are attached. they look similar to the plastic ones that cannondale used back in the '80s, which snap-fit into two small holes in the tubing. the tabs that fit into the frame holes would snap off, leaving two small holes in the tube and no other way to fasten the cable. if that is how the guides are attached to the fork, that would mean a lot of tiny holes drilled in the fork.

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  25. I think the guides are metal, but I only vaguely recall asking DBC about them and I think they said "riveted."

    somervillain--If you're curious, why not stop by DBC and see if you can test ride the same green bike I tried. Let me know what you think, if you decide to do it. I have some observations, I'd like to compare with someone else who rode this bike.

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  26. I've added comments about the drum brakes into the text now.

    The cable guide tabs looked like alloy to me; didn't want to fiddle with them lest I accidentally break them off!

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  27. Oh wow.

    I've been meaning to get there to try the swift but am having anxiety about driving there and I have not had enough time to bike there. I almost biked there in the summer and got a far as harvard square and was drenched in sweat and just didn't feel like going on esp on a route I didn't know....

    so tell me- how do you think the swift would do on Newton's Hills? that is the 1000 dollar question for me.

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  28. Vee - That part of Somerville is probably the least pleasant to cycle through. I've actually never cycled to DBC; the couple of times we've stopped by have been in a car, on the way home from some faraway destination.

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  29. Ok- that makes me feel much better. I had driven there before once and knew it didn't fit my comfort zone... But somehow my new GPS keeps putting me on the highway and I am having trouble getting the route I took before which was on back roads cuz that's how I roll.

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  30. If there are back roads from there to W Newton, I'd be surprised - unless you mean via Harvard Sq and then Rt 16? It is right off 93 though, so that should be fairly easy (says she who does not drive!).

    Oh, and I forgot to answer your question re hills. Unfortunately, I just don't know, as I did not test the bike extensively enough. There was a bit of a hill on one of the streets where I rode it, and the bike did fine. But the Bellmont / W Newton hills are, as you know, another animal!

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  31. Thanks!

    RE: my route- I def took a roundabout way. Perhaps harvard street. I can't recall but it was fairly ok with the help of my GPS. I didn't freak out at all. Yeah- no- I won't be getting on 93 at all. But I am wondering when I really get down to choosing a two wheeler- I might beg DBC to let me borrow the bike for a weekend. He let me do this with the sorte so maybe....

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  32. I got a men's swift in September and I've been riding it around ever since. I got a 3-speed. I really like it - it's been a super solid smooth running machine. I decided I was just going to use removable lights and I requested a slightly wider handlebars and I don't ride it quite so upright. Also, you'll notice if you look at mine
    http://www.clickscape.net/IMG_0247.jpg
    http://www.clickscape.net/IMG_0399.jpg
    that the fork blades are curved unlike the one pictured here ;
    http://www.dutchbikes.us/swift.php
    I was told that change was made to give it more strength because the straight forks flex too much under the strain of braking

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  33. Anon 4:57 - Thanks for chiming in about your bicycle. I looked at the pictures and it's a very attractive bike! Is that colour a light gray?

    Whether a fork is straight or curved in itself does not necessarily have to do with how much it flexes; there are other factors involved. But as long as your bicycle handles well, that's all that matters. I liked how the lady's version handled.

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  34. As I was choosing the color we were calling it slate blue, but depending on the light it can look gray. Even though I think they did a reasonable job matching the color swatch I created, I was kind of surprised how that color ended up looking on the bicycle. Also the painter decided on his own that he should paint the fenders... which in the end I decided to go with (maybe that gives it a more old school euro look ?) I actually didn't want something that would attract too much attention. (Anonymous : )

    My experience with Dutch bikes has been limited to a couple rentals while on visits to Amsterdam (and Amsterdam can warp your perspective to make any bike ride enjoyable), but I feel the swift is a bit more swift while still feeling so solid - and the drum braking is really nice... I find myself much more willing to ride in wet weather etc. And when I have a passenger standing on the back rack leaning on my shoulders I'm not afraid something is going to brake...

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  35. actually, the curvature of steel tubing has everything to do with flex, strength, and therefore ride quality and control. Straight-bladed forks will have a tendency to vibrate at a low frequency under hard braking as the forward flex wants to pull the front wheel off the ground, fighting the natural tendency of deceleration and gravity. a fork with "camber" however, wants to push the wheel into the ground under braking, effectively making a stiffer structure during braking.

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