Friday, April 13, 2012

Dutch Bike: Impressions After an Absence

90s Gazelle A-Touren
I own a 15 year old Gazelle A-Touren that is pretty much the prototypical Dutch bike. It was my main city bike for a while, until I put it in storage last November. Yesterday I retrieved the Gazelle (I am looking to sell it edited to add: I have now sold this bicycle), dusted it off, and rode it for the first time in 4 months. The nice thing about riding a very distinct type of bicycle after a long absence, is that everything about it seems new again and you notice aspects of the ride quality that didn't stand out when the bike was familiar. So I wanted to take this opportunity to write up my impressions of Dutch bike handling - from the altered perspective of someone who's now also ridden a variety of other bicycles. 

Gazelle, Philosophy Intrans Pannier
My first impression of the Gazelle upon our reunion had to do with the riding position. I forgot that it was even possible to be sitting that upright on a bicycle! I consider my other 3-speed and my mixte to be upright bikes as well, but they are certainly not compared to the Gazelle. The rider's position on this bike is akin to sitting in a chair: back straight, shoulders relaxed, hands holding the bars in much the same manner as one would hold an open newspaper or a tray. 

Purple & Green Skirt
The handlebars are dramatically swept back and very close to the body. There is no feeling of reaching at all - my hands just basically rest on the bars naturally if I simply plop them down, bent at the elbows. This also means that there is very little weight being placed on the handlebars, or on the front end of the bike at all for that matter.

The unweighted front end was a sensation that took getting used to after an absence. However, it was really just a matter of training my body to adjust to it. After circling the block a few times and picking up speed, the handling already began to feel intuitive again. With the handlebars way behind the font hub, this is not a super-responsive bicycle. There is almost a feeling of passivity or detachment in riding it, like being in the back seat of a vehicle instead of the driver's seat. 

90s Gazelle A-Touren
These factors combined are what's responsible for the "regal" feeling associated with riding a Dutch bike. The effortlessness, the perfect posture, the ability to observe one's surroundings in a way that cannot be done on other bikes - it all encourages a relaxed and confident attitude. The wide 28" tires create a plush ride quality that further contributes to the luxurious feel. The nuisance of potholes and rough road surfaces need not trouble the rider. As I rode the Gazelle around the neighborhood, it felt as if I were sailing aboard a luxury liner more than riding a bike. I had completely forgotten that sensation. 

Of course another thing I'd forgotten was the weight of the bike. At just under 50lb, the Gazelle is an armful to drag up and down even a small set of stairs on a regular basis. Having now gotten used to my "heavy" city bikes being a good 15-20lb lighter, I admit I did not welcome the extra weight.

Vintage Gazelle, Po Campo Pannier
The bike's weight however, does not pose a problem when the Gazelle is in motion. It accelerates easily and retains momentum extremely well. On flats I can fairly quickly get it to 17mph+ in the high gear, which is about as fast as I'd want to go in the city anyhow. 

Uphill is of course a different story, though it's not quite as bad as you might think just by looking at the bike. Uphill the Gazelle is slow, but responsive to hard pedaling effort. Unlike some other heavy city bikes, it does not attempt to pull me back, but is willing to advance slowly forward and upward as long as I am willing to push. 

90s Gazelle A-Touren
Having had the bike out of sight for so long, it was also nice to see its lovely little details again. Being of mid-90s production, the bike is not exactly "vintage," but still the details were more nuanced on these older models than they are today. Examining all the intricate, albeit now rusty, little embellishments on it is a pleasure. The bike was well used before I got my hands on it, and spent a great portion of its life outdoors as I understand it. In light of that history, the extent to which its functionality and aesthetics have been preserved is impressive. 

90s Gazelle A-Touren
While I love and respect the Gazelle, for my current transportation needs I've come to prefer a more active ride and a slightly more aggressive posture. Still, the positive qualities of this bicycle are hard to beat. 

The Dutch bike is an excellent choice for a cyclist who wants to be as upright and relaxed as possible, enjoys a plush ride, prefers to do little to no maintenance on their bicycle even in winter, lives in a fairly flat environment, and is undaunted by weight. It will also appeal to those who love vintage elegance: The basic design of the Dutch bike has gone largely unchanged over the past century and remains an icon of transportation cycling.

43 comments:

  1. Love this review. I have a Gazelle, albeit a new one (Miss Grace, 2011). You really captured the feel of riding this style of bike. I feel lucky to live in relatively-flat Belgium, where weight is rarely a concern :) Love your blog and read it daily :)

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    1. Thanks Karena. Weight really does not matter in a flat area, and especially if the bike is kept outdoors. When I am in Vienna, I ride an even heavier bike and love it.

      How does Miss Grace handle with that huge front basket?

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    2. Don't know about Karena's experience, but my ex-Miss Grace was very stable with a front load. (And it holds a TON.) Plus it has a steering lock for ease of loading and unloading and a double-kickstand for ease of parking. Still, I much prefer a rear load -- which is one of the reasons I gave mine away. Great bike, though.

      Deb

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    3. It handles really smoothly! In fact, I just made a huge haul at our local outdoor market today. It's never wonky :)

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  2. Why does the second photo look like an instance of velourius salmonellis?

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    1. Staged on a tiny street with no cars, it was the only way to get a good shot without a cluttered background. I salmon for my art.

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  3. You say you are looking to sell. I would be interested. How many $$$?

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    1. Just wanted to update that this bicycle has been sold.

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  4. The first picture is so iconic and art deco, I love it! Your accessory modifications have made this bike more lively and vibrant than it looked in the early posts. Great choices.

    Where I live a Dutch bike wouldn't work so well, but if I move to Brooklyn next year I will seriously consider it. I hear the used market for Batavus, Gazelle and Workcycles is pretty good.

    Anyway thanks for this write up. I had wondered what your thoughts on the Gazelle were after all the road cycling you've been doing. It would be great if you could keep all your bikes through the years and continue comparing the new ones to the old ones, but I do understand the need to sell.

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  5. I once had an argument with a gentleman who was saying that most people prefer upright bicycles. I said my Raleigh 3-speed was upright, and he said, not as upright as a Dutch bike. At the time it made me angry. But then I tried an actual Dutch bike and realized he was right!

    Dutch bikes are gorgeous, don't get me wrong--but I definitely prefer "British" upright to "Dutch" upright. I don't mind the small amount of weight on my hands (although I'm thinking of getting fancy Ergo grips just to make it really comfy) in exchange for making it easier to climb the hills in Portland.

    Bah. I wish they'd start building something as awesome as my old Raleigh Sports. I feel kinda like the "perfect" around-town bicycle has already been invented, y'know? I mean, I know a guy in La Crosse, Wisconsin who makes British-style 3-speed bicycles, but they're made custom. Why can't a modern manufacturer make something just like the Raleigh Sports at a nice low price-point?

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    1. Have you seen my review of the Bobbin Birdie?

      In terms of ride quality alone, I prefer "British upright" as well and namely the Raleigh DL-1. But it is hard to find those with well functioning brakes.

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    2. I forgot about the Bobbin, funny when I remember that I entered the contest for one. I don't know if anyone's selling them in Portland (yet).

      I'd love to find a DL-1 myself because the loop frame is so pretty, but the Sports does have better brakes.

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    3. Yeah, I would say the Bobbin and also the Bella Ciao are very similar to the vintage English 3-speeds. Not exactly the same, but as similar as it gets.

      The Sports brakes don't work well for me either, in the rain at least, without getting the wheels rebuilt with aluminum rims.

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    4. I've never ridden a Dutch or English bike, but I received my Bella Ciao on Monday (and it has rained every day since. poo). But when I took it around for the first spin on Monday, I was amazed at how comfortable the bike is and your description above about how your hands rest perfectly on the handle bars is exactly how I felt about being on the Bella Ciao. So April, check out a Bella Ciao if you can. Incredibly comfortable, and beautiful bike.

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    5. With the Bella Ciao, the optimal setup is for the handlebars to be a bit lower - slightly above saddle height is ideal. But some might prefer differently. The higher the bars are setup, the more upright the bike feels. The lower the bars the faster it is.

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    6. yeah, the dealer assembled the bike with the handlebars pretty high. It was comfy, but I guess I'll have to see what it feels like trying to get somewhere across town with them at that height. Thanks for the tip.

      That Blu Vectra color is amazing in person, btw. :) Just as you said.

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    7. Yellow Jersey in Madison has Fibrax leather insert pads that will make your steel rimmed bike stop much better in the wet. They also have 60mm long Fibrax pads for your DL-1.

      Yes, DL-1 brakes are notoriously hard to tune.

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    8. For those who have DL-1 rod brake rims and aren't following the news cycle closely: There are now also KoolStop pads for the DL-1!

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    9. I've not studied up on upright bicycles, but I remember being impressed a few years ago by an all aluminum Specialized model in a local, high-end bike store that was built very much like the Sport but half the weight; $700 for a single speed, IIRC, and I daresay you could get a 3 speed. I was tempted myself, having owned several Sports and getting rid of them quickly because of the weight. I forget the model name.

      The Bianchi Milano was also a very nice 3-speed type bike: I desperately wanted to buy one for my then 8 year old daughter but she chose instead a pink Electra Townie 3i 24" wheel cruiser (nice, too). The Electra Amsterdam for men appealed to me: it's "semi-recumbent" style -- an exaggeration -- was no defect for such an upright, around town bike. I almost bought one on sale but it got snapped up.

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    10. MDI, I was excited as you about the KoolStop rod brake pads, but it turns out that they don't make a huge difference. They're better than the plain black pads of the same size, but not as good as the extra-large 59mm black pads (Fibrax SH144).

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  6. I will really miss seeing the Gazelle on Lovely Bicycle! When I picture a lovely lady on a beautiful bicycle, you and that Dutch bike, with those cream tires, sitting upright and regal, in a stylish coat, are always one of the best examples to me :-)

    I'd very much like to sit more upright, and on my mixtes I'm constantly pushing myself up then resting on my fingertips. Unfortunately seeing as how some days I can barely move a 30 pound mixte, I don't think I am strong enough to get around on a Dutch bike, especially accounting for hills (which I am sure my idea of hills are probably flat to you, haha).

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    1. "on my mixtes I'm constantly pushing myself up then resting on my fingertips. Unfortunately seeing as how some days I can barely move a 30 pound mixte, I don't think I am strong enough to get around on a Dutch bike..."

      This is one reason I wish they could make inexpensive titanium Dutch bikes. Alas, it is not realistic.

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  7. Wow...I wish I could buy that bike. It's gorgeous!!

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  8. Hmmm you are really tempting me, but I am trying to thin the herd, not add to it:)

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  9. MDI thats great information on Kool-Stop now offering brake pads for DL-1s. Thanks, I owe you.

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  10. Surely the heavier your everyday transportation bike, the more benefit you will feel when on a lighter, sportier bike. In my experience, riding mostly lighter bikes doesn't make a faster rider, but a weaker one, as the body adapts to having to put out less power more of the time.

    I love the feel of the Brompton after a weekend on the YuBA Mundo.

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    1. If I've been riding just my Raleigh Sports for, say, over a week....I get on my touring bicycle and I think, OMG this is FAST.

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  11. Such a civilized bicycle! I don't think it would be well suited to the suburbs (which are, of course, the "Wild West" of bicycle commuting) but it's a lovely machine.

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  12. I am sorry if you have mentioned this elsewhere. But how does this bike compare to Gazelle bikes sold today? Have you tried them? I test rode a Gazelle and a Batavus in Portland Maine but have not made up my mind yet.

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    1. I've ridden several current production Gazelles (Tour Populair and Basic). These classic models ride similarly to my bike, but I can't say for sure, because I simply have not ridden them enough and across a sufficient variety of circumstances to compare properly. As far as construction, they are not the same: The new bikes have fewer lugged parts than my mid-90s model. But the geometry seems the same.

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  13. I find my vintage Fuji lugged steel frame rides almost entirely on the back wheel. This makes it highly unstable. Since 85% of the weight is on the rear wheel, the front wheel is jittery and the steering unreliable.

    One easy test of how stable any bike is to try riding without hands. On this unstable vintage Fuji, its impossible to ride more than 1/2 second without hands.

    When the co-habitant got himself a Surly LHT I think it was a watershed moment for me. The aluminum frame has it's advantages.

    :0)

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    1. Surly XC (cross check). Steel cromoly frame.

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  14. "While I love and respect the Gazelle, for my current transportation needs I've come to prefer a more active ride and a slightly more aggressive posture."

    I dare you to ride a nice carbon fiber bike Velouria. In fact, I double dare you. And its not about the weight -- I love carbon because it allows for a chatter/vibration free ride on even the crappiest streets.

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    1. I've tried carbon fiber bikes. A Trek Madone, a Specialized Ruby, a Calfee and a Cervelo something or other. They were nice, but I prefer the feel of titanium by far. And a couple of lower end ones I've tried were not so nice.

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    2. When it's well done it can be a nice ride, but bad carbon feels like plywood.

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    3. And snaps like it, in crashes. Sometimes the good stuff does the same thing.

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    4. Don't the make bicycles out of plywood as well nowadays?

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  15. Riding a new tour populair every day on hilly dirt roads I don't want to miss the comfort and can accept the weight. The seven gears are usefull, at least the first four of them. I think it is worth to mention that with the male version the level between handlebar and seat is less extreme.

    I will miss the reports from your Gazelle.

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  16. Wow, that is very upright....I don't even walk that upright!

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  17. I have that same skirtguard on my vintage Speedwell, it looks so classic on any loopframe bike!

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  18. Before anyone comments on comfort, try riding a Pedersen if you get the opportunity.

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  19. So sad to see the Gazelle go!

    For my "Fauxpafiets," I put the Humpert Dutch parallel bars on a 1960s Raleigh Sports copy.

    Loving it so far! It has the bolt upright riding position but still retains much of the nimbleness and responsiveness of the Sports frame. I'm eager to see how it might change after I add a Steco downtube-mounted front carrier.

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  20. The Gazelle is such a beautiful bike. If you don't find a local buyer, certainly keep this Minnesotan in mind. ;)

    On a related note, I, too, was surprised (upon testing a newer-model Gazelle) how upright the ride is. It makes even the DL-1 seem "sporty" which is no small feat!

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